"Holy harlots" in Jerusalem, temple sex
in the service of Aphrodite? Many ancient authors describe sacred
prostitution in drastic terms. Are the accounts nothing but legends?
Historians are searching for the kernel of truth behind the reports.
The "ugliest custom" in Babylon, the historian Herodotus wrote (who
is believed to have lived between circa 490 to 425 B.C.), was the
widespread practice of prostitution in the Temple of Ishtar. Once in
their lifetimes, all women in the country were required to sit in the
temple and "expose themselves to a stranger" in return for money.
"Rich and haughty" women, the ancient Greek historian railed, arrived in
The Persians on the Black Sea were apparently involved in similarly
nefarious activities. According to the Greek geographer Strabo, "virgin
daughters," hardly 12 years old, were dedicated to cult prostitution.
"They treat their lovers with such friendliness that they even entertain
There are many such reports from classical antiquity. Tribes from
Sicily to Thebes are believed to have indulged in perverse religious
The Jews were also involved in such practices. There are about a
dozen passages in the Old Testament that revolve around "Qadeshes," a
word for female and male cult practitioners. The Bible calls them
"lemans" and "catamites." In the Fifth Book of Moses, male prostitutes
are prohibited from donating their "dogs' money" to the House of Yahweh.
Twentieth-century researchers eagerly seized on the references, which
were often mysterious. Soon it was considered a fact that priests in
the Eastern World performed forced defloration. It was said that there
was "dowry prostitution" and "sexual copulation at the cult site."
Temple sex, according to the "Encyclopedia of Theology and the
Church," was a "moral and hygienic plague spot on the body of the
But is this true? More and more academics are now questioning the
erotic fables of the ancients.