Sacred prostitution  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
sacred sexuality

Religious prostitution, sacred prostitution, or temple prostitution is the practice of having sexual intercourse (with a person other than one's spouse) for a religious or sacred purpose. A woman engaged in such practices is sometimes called a temple prostitute or hierodule, though modern connotations of the term prostitute render the signification of these phrases opaque.


Ancient Near East

Sacred prostitution is often held to have been widespread across the Ancient Near East, (See, for example, James Frazer (1922), The Golden Bough,

The ancient Greek historian Herodotus was the first to state that the ancient Mesopotamians practiced temple prostitution:

The foulest Babylonian custom is that which compels every woman of the land to sit in the temple of Aphrodite and have intercourse with some stranger once in her life. Many women who are rich and proud and disdain to mingle with the rest, drive to the temple in covered carriages drawn by teams, and stand there with a great retinue of attendants. But most sit down in the sacred plot of Aphrodite, with crowns of cord on their heads; there is a great multitude of women coming and going; passages marked by line run every way through the crowd, by which the men pass and make their choice. Once a woman has taken her place there, she does not go away to her home before some stranger has cast money into her lap, and had intercourse with her outside the temple; but while he casts the money, he must say, “I invite you in the name of Mylitta” (that is the Assyrian name for Aphrodite). It does not matter what sum the money is; the woman will never refuse, for that would be a sin, the money being by this act made sacred. So she follows the first man who casts it and rejects no one. After their intercourse, having discharged her sacred duty to the goddess, she goes away to her home; and thereafter there is no bribe however great that will get her. So then the women that are fair and tall are soon free to depart, but the uncomely have long to wait because they cannot fulfill the law; for some of them remain for three years, or four. There is a custom like this in some parts of Cyprus. --Herodotus, The Histories

The Canaanite equivalent of Ishtar was Astarte, and according to the contemporary Christian writer Eusebius temple prostitution was still being carried on in the Phoenician cities of Aphaca and Heliopolis (Baalbek) until closed down by the emperor Constantine in the fourth century AD.

Greece did not know much sacred prostitution either. The only known cases were at the fringes of the Greek world (in Sicily, Cyprus, in the Kingdom of Pontus and in Cappadocia), and the city of Corinth where the temple of Aphrodite housed a significant number of servants at least since the classical era. In 464 BC a man named Xenophon, a citizen of Corinth who was an acclaimed runner and winner of pentathlon at the Olympic Games, dedicated one hundred young girls to the temple of the goddess as a sign of thanksgiving. We know this because of a hymn which Pindar was commissioned to write (fragment 122 Snell), celebrating "the very welcoming girls, servants of Peïtho and luxurious Corinth". During the Roman period, Strabo states that the temple had more than a thousand sacred slave-prostitutes (VIII, 6, 20).

Hebrew Bible

The Hebrew Bible uses two different words for prostitute, zonah (זנה)‎ and kedeshah (קדשה)‎. The word zonah simply meant an ordinary prostitute or loose woman. But the word kedeshah literally means "consecrated female", from the Semitic root q-d-sh (קדש)‎ meaning "holy" or "set apart". Qedesha also became the Canaanite name for their goddess of sex (or perhaps a title for either the goddess Astarte or the goddess Asherah in this role), adapted into Egyptian as Qetesh or Qudshu.

Whatever the cultic significance of a kedeshah to a follower of the Canaanite religion, the Hebrew Bible is quick to connect the term with a common prostitute. Thus Template:Bibleverse warns followers:

None of the daughters of Israel shall be a kedeshah, nor shall any of the sons of Israel be a kadesh.
You shall not bring the hire of a prostitute (zonah) or the wages of a dog (keleb) into the house of the Lord your God to pay a vow, for both of these are an abomination to the Lord your God.

The religious aspect of kedeshah is underlined by the ancient Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible into Koine Greek, which renders the first verse as a double prohibition, both against prostitution, and against being an initiate of foreign cults:

None of the daughters of Israel shall be a prostitute (porne), neither shall any of the sons of Israel be porneuon;
none of the daughters of Israel shall be an initiate (telesphoros), neither shall of the sons of Israel be a teliskomenos.

It is notable that every occurrence of the female kedeshah appears to be paired, at least to some degree, with the word zonah. Thus Hosea (Template:Bibleverse-nb), in a sequence complaining that the men of Israel have not remained true to Yahweh, but instead have gone whoring after foreign gods, writes using the parallelism typical of Biblical Hebrew poetry:

I will not punish your daughters when they act like a zonah
   Or your brides when they commit adultery,
For the men themselves go with zonot
   And offer sacrifices with kedeshot.

Even closer is the association in the one other usage, the story of Tamar at Genesis Template:Bibleverse-nb, where the two words seem to be being used effectively interchangeably.

Tamar, left widowed and childless, disguises herself and tricks Judah into thinking she is a zonah (Template:Bibleverse-nb) to get herself pregnant. But a few verses later Judah's friend the Adullamite, sent to find the woman again, asks the men of the place "Where is the kedeshah, that was openly by the way side?" And they reply, "There was no kedeshah in this place," which he duly reports to Judah.

The meaning of the male form kadesh or qadesh is not entirely clear. Some early English translations, following the Greek porneuon, rendered it as a "whoremonger" - ie a prostitute-seller or pimp; but it may have been a closer analogue of kedeshah, ie a male cultic attendant, apparently again with some sexual implication, hence the King James translation as "sodomite". Many recent translations simply say "cult prostitute". The Hebrew word keleb (dog) in the next line may also signify a male dancer or prostitute, perhaps a transvestite or eunuch. The cuneiform sign UR.SAL for assinnu (a male devotee of Ishtar who took on feminine characteristics) means both "dog" and "man/woman"; Latin cinaedus) was used for men who were flamboyantly effeminate and behaved as though they were on heat for homosexual advances. In the New Testament the word "dog" may have a similar meaning at Template:Bibleverse.. The kadeshim are also mentioned four times in the Books of Kings (1 Kings 14:24, 15:12, 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7), when they evidently rose to some prominence, until purged by Jahwist revivalist kings such as Jehoshaphat and Josiah. Again, ancient translations vary. At 1 Kings 15:12 the Septuagint hellenises them as teletai - personifications of the presiding spirits at the initiation rites of the Bacchic orgies. Aquila at all four instances translates them as endiellagmenoi ("changed ones"), while the Vulgate of St. Jerome renders them as effeminati.

Revisionist views

Recently some scholars, such as Robert A. Oden, Stephanie Lynn Budin and others, have questioned whether sacred prostitution, as an institution whereby women and men sold sex for the profit of deities and temples, did in fact ever actually exist at all. Julia Assante believes that the classical view of temple prostitution is more of a construct of the 19th Century Western European mindset than a true representation of the facts. While there may well have been some religious prostitution centred around the temples of Inanna/Ishtar, Assante suggests that the concept of the 'Sacred Marriage' hieros gamos has in fact been misunderstood. It was previously believed to have been a custom whereby the king coupled with the high priestess to represent the union of Dumuzid with Inanna (later called Ishtar). It's much more likely that these unions never occurred, but were embellishments to the image of the king; hymns which praise Middle Eastern kings for coupling with the goddess Ishtar often also speak of him as running 320 kilometres, offering sacrifices, feasting with the sun-god Utu, and receiving a royal crown from An, all in a single day. Once scholar comments: "No one, to the best of my knowledge, has been so wooden-minded to propose that human actors played the role of Utu and An at the banquet". Not all authors are convinced, however.

Christian saints forced into prostitution

forced prostitution

Christian hagiography records the nearly-identical stories of the two pairs of saints, Theodora and Didymus and Antonia and Alexander, centering on a Christian virgin being sent to a brothel against her will, saved by a virtuous man pretending to be her "customer", both undergoing martyrdom.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sacred prostitution" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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