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Sacred prostitution, temple prostitution, or religious prostitution is the practice of having paid sexual intercourse for a religious or sacred purpose. A person engaged in such practices is sometimes called a temple prostitute or hierodule, though modern connotations of the term prostitute may or may not be appropriate, given the religious and cultural signification of the activities.

Ancient Near East

Sacred prostitution is often held to have been widespread across the Ancient Near East,[1], but this has since been proven to have been more a construct of the 19th Century Western European mindset than a true representation of the facts [2]. While there may well have been some religious prostitution centred around the temples of Inanna/Ishtar, the evidence 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).[3] It is far more likely, however, that these unions never actually took place but were simply used to embellish the image of the king. Many hymns that praise the king were written and, while some describe his coupling with the goddess Ishtar, many also include details such as the king running 320 kilometres, offering sacrifices, celebrating at a festive, banqueting with the sun god Utu and receiving a royal crown from the god An, all in one day. As Sweet shows: "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" [4].

The bizarre image of the ancient Mesopotamians partaking in 'religious' sex at every possible opportunity was first expressed by the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, who wrote:

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.[5]

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. [6]

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" [7]. 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)‎[8][9] and kedeshah (קדשה)‎.[10][11] The word zonah simply meant an ordinary prostitute or loose woman.[9] But the word kedeshah literally means "consecrated female", from the Semitic root q-d-sh (קדש)‎ meaning "holy" or "set apart".[10] 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.[12]

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 Deuteronomy 23:17-18 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.[13][14]

It is notable that every occurrence of the female kedeshah appears to be paired, at least to some degree, with the word zonah.[14] Thus Hosea (4:14), 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[15]
   And offer sacrifices with kedeshot.

Even closer is the association in the one other usage, the story of Tamar at Genesis 38, 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 (38:15) 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," (38:21) which he duly reports to Judah. (38:22).

The meaning of the male form kadesh or qadesh is not entirely clear.[16] Some early English translations, following the Greek porneuon, rendered it as a "whoremonger" - ie a prostitute-seller or pimp;[17] 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".[18] The Hebrew word keleb (dog) in the next line may also signify a male dancer or prostitute,[19] 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";[14] while in Greek the word kinaidos ("dog-like";[20] 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 Revelation 22:15.[14]. 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,[21] Stephanie Lynn Budin[22] and others,[23] 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. Not all authors are convinced, however.[3]

Christian saints forced into 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.

Central and South America

Homosexuality, ephebophilia, pederasty, and pedophilia were allegedly widespread in pre-colonial Central and South America.[24] Many European missionaries reported these practices to be widespread among all Central and South American peoples.[25] In the 16th century, Bernal Diaz del Castillo reported in his The Conquest of New Spain that the Mexica peoples regularly practiced pederastic relationships.[26][27][28][29] The Mochica and Chimu peoples of modern Peru also appeared to practice it, and images on their pottery frequently depicted homosexual acts.[25][30][31] Mayan parents often gave their adolescent sons access to prepubescent boys as a source of sexual relief prior to marriage,[27][31] Homosexuality was also common among the Aztecs, sometimes involving children as young as six,[31][32] and transvestite boy prostitution was widespread throughout Aztec society.[29][31]

Homosexual sex was often integrated into religious practices as well. The Mayans maintained several phallic religious cults, possibly involving homosexual temple prostitution.[25][31] Aztec religious leaders were heterosexually celibate and engaged in homosexuality with one another as a religious practice, temple idols were often depicted engaging in homosexuality, and the god Xochipili (taken from both Toltec and Mayan cultures) was both the patron of homosexuals and homosexual prostitutes.[26][28][29][31] The Inca sometimes dedicated young boys as temple prostitutes. The boys were dressed in girls clothing, and chiefs and headmen would have ritual homosexual intercourse with them during religious ceremonies and on holidays.[27][33]

The conquistadores were horrified by the widespread acceptance of homosexuality, ephebophilia, pederasty, and pedophilia among Central and South American peoples, and used torture, burning at the stake, mass beheadings, and other means to stamp it out both as a religious practice and social custom.[31]

India

The practice devadasi, as it has come to be seen, and similar customary forms of hierodulic prostitution in Southern India (such as basavi),[34] involving dedicating adolescent girls from villages in a ritual marriage to a deity or a temple, who then work in the temple and act as members of a religious order. Human Rights Watch claims that devadasis are forced at least in some cases to practice prostitution for upper-caste members.[35] Various state governments in India have enacted laws to ban this practice. They include Bombay Devdasi Act, 1934, Devdasi (Prevention of dedication) Madras Act, 1947, Karnataka Devdasi (Prohibition of dedication) Act, 1982, and Andhra Pradesh Devdasi (Prohibition of dedication) Act, 1988.[36]

Recent Western occurrences

In the 1970s and early 1980s, some religious cults practiced sacred prostitution as an instrument to recruit new converts. Among them was the alleged cult Children of God, also known as The Family, who called this practice "Flirty Fishing". They later abolished the practice due to the growing AIDS epidemic.[37]

See also

References

  1. See, for example, James Frazer (1922), The Golden Bough, 3e, Chapter 31: Adonis in Cyprus
  2. Assante, Julia. 2003. "From Whores to Hierodules: The Historiographic Invention of Mesopotamian Female Sex Professionals." Pp.13-47 in Ancient Art and Its Historiography. Edited by A.A. Donahue and M.D. Fullerton. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
  3. 3.0 3.1 John Day (2004), Does the Old Testament Refer to Sacred Prostitution and Did it Actually Exist in Ancient Israel? in Carmel McCarthy & John F Healey (eds), Biblical and Near Eastern Essays: Studies in Honour of Kevin J. Cathcart. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 2-21
  4. Sweet, R. "A New Look at the 'Sacred Marriage' in Ancient Mesopotamia," in E. Robbins and S. Sandahl, eds., Corolla Torontonensis. Studies in Honour of Ronald Morton Smith (Toronto, 1994) 85-104.
  5. Herodotus, The Histories 1.199, tr A.D. Godley (1920)
  6. Eusebius, Life of Constantine, 3.55 and 3.58
  7. (French) Trans. Jean-Paul Savignac for les éditions La Différence, 1990.
  8. Associated with the corresponding verb zanah.
  9. 9.0 9.1 Blue Letter Bible, Lexicon results for zanah (Strong's H2181), incorporating Strong's concordance (1890) and Gesenius's Lexicon (1857)
  10. 10.0 10.1 Blue Letter Bible, Lexicon results for qĕdeshah (Strong's H2181), incorporating Strong's Concordance (1890) and Gesenius's Lexicon (1857).
  11. Also transliterated qĕdeshah, qedeshah, qědēšā ,qedashah, kadeshah, kadesha, qedesha, kdesha. A modern liturgical pronunciation would be k'deysha.
  12. Johanna Stuckey, The "Holy One", MatriFocus, 2007
  13. Blue Letter Bible, Lexicon / Concordance for Deu 23:17 and Deu 23:18 (note that the Septuagint numbering has slipped by one verse, compared to the Hebrew)
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3 Kim Kemmis (2002), Deuteronomy 23:17,18
  15. Plural of zonah.
  16. Anderson, Ray Sherman (2001), The shape of practical theology: empowering ministry with theological praxis, InterVarsity Press, p. 267, ISBN 9780830815593, http://books.google.com/books?id=CagagOo11-QC&pg=PA267 
  17. Douay-Rheims Bible, Young's Literal Translation
  18. For example, the New American Standard Bible
  19. Lexicon results for keleb (Strong's H3611), incorporating Strong's Concordance (1890) and Gesenius's Lexicon (1857).
  20. But an alternative etymology is from kineo ("I move") + Aidos (the goddess of Shame)
  21. Robert A. Oden (1987), The Bible Without Theology: The Theological Tradition and Alternatives to It, University of Illinois Press, ISBN 025206870X. pp 131-153.
  22. Stephanie Lynn Budin (2008), The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0521880904. Preview: pages 1-10. Mailing-list discussion on some classical and near-East references.
  23. Recent papers skeptical of cult prostitution in the Ancient Near East
  24. There are some scholars who disagree with this view. For a discussion, see: Guerra, Francisco. The Pre-Columbian Mind. Burlington, Mass.: Academic Press, Inc., 1971. ISBN 0128410507; and Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton, 1875. For a discussion of the reliability of missionary vs. secular accounts, see: Greenberg, David. The Construction of Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. ISBN 0226306283; and Tannahill, Reay. Sex in History. New York: Stein and Day, 1989. ISBN 0349104867
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 Thompson, John Eric Sidney. The Rise and Fall of Maya Civilization. 2d ed. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1973. ISBN 0806103019
  26. 26.0 26.1 Diaz del Castillo, Bernal. The True History of the Conquest of New Spain. Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, ed. Cambridge, Mass.: Library Reprints, 2008. ISBN 1422783456; Trexler, Richard C. Sex and Conquest: Gendered Violence, Political Order, and the European Conquest of the Americas. Paperback ed. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1999. ISBN 0801484820; Keen, Benjamin. The Aztec Image in Western Thought. Paperback ed. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1991. ISBN 0813515726; Idell, Albert. The Bernal Diaz Chronicles. New York: Doubleday, 1956.
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Guerra, Francisco. The Pre-Columbian Mind. Burlington, Mass.: Academic Press, Inc., 1971. ISBN 0128410507
  28. 28.0 28.1 Mendelssohn, Kurt. Riddle of the Pyramids. Paperback ed. New York: Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1986. ISBN 050027388X; Estrada, Gabriel S. "An Aztec Two-Spirit Cosmology: Re-sounding Nahuatl Masculinities, Elders, Femininities, and Youth." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 24:2 & 3 (2003).
  29. 29.0 29.1 29.2 Taylor, Clark L. "Legends, Syncretism, and Continuing Echoes of Homosexuality from Pre-Columbian and Colonial Mexico." In Male Homosexuality in Central and South America. Paperback ed. Stephen O. Murray, ed. San Francisco: Instituto Obregon, 1987. ISBN 0942777581
  30. Kauffman-Doig, Federico. Sexual Behavior in Ancient Peru. Lima, Peru: Kompaktos, 1979.
  31. 31.0 31.1 31.2 31.3 31.4 31.5 31.6 Greenberg, David. The Construction of Homosexuality. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. ISBN 0226306283
  32. Bancroft, Hubert Howe. The Native Races of the Pacific States of North America. 2 vols. New York: D. Appleton, 1875; Kimball, G. "Aztec Homosexuality: The Textual Evidence." Journal of Homosexuality. 26:1 (December 1993).
  33. Flornoy, Bertrand. The World of the Incas. Trans. by Winifred Bradford. New York: Vanguard Press, 1956; Scott, George Ryley. Phallic Worship. London, Luxor, 1966; Brundage, Burr Cartwright. Lords of Cuzco: A History and Description. Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Press, 1967; Murra, Victor. The Economic Organization of the Inka State. Greenwich, Conn.: JAI Press, 1980. ISBN 0892321180.
  34. Anti-Slavery Society. Child Hierodulic Servitude in India and Nepal
  35. Human Rights Watch. Caste: Asia's Hidden Apartheid
  36. United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Thirty-seventh session: 15 January – 2 February 2007
  37. Williams, Miriam (1998). Heaven's Harlots. New York: William Morrow/ Harper Collins. pp. 320. ISBN 978-0688170127. 

External links

da:Tempelprostitutionlt:Sakralinė prostitucijano:Tempelprostitusjonfi:Temppeliprostituutio zh:廟妓

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