Sacred Prostitutes

The radical Haredi read the Torah fanatically. Apparently they have spotted something in the Torah that needs to be remedied in order to bring about the salvation of the Jews. Blaming sexual misconduct for the downfall of the Jews is as old as the hills. Tamar played the prostitute amongst the sons of Judah. Did Mary Magdalene play the role of a sacred prostitute?

Jon the Nazarite

Sacred Prostitution
Sacred prostitution was part of Canaanite religious practice, and Canaanites were the dominant social group at the time of Tamar and Judah. The Canaanites saw sexuality, either human or in Nature, as a divine force. According to Herodotus, a Greek historian writing in about 450BC, a Babylonian woman would undertake the following ritual:
she would disguise herself at least once during her life, covering her face with a veil. In this way she discarded her own personal identity. She would then go to the temple and receive a man who was a stranger to her (Herodotus 1.199). This man, in this particular act, represented the incarnate god. Their sexual act was meant, by what is called ‘sympathetic magic’, to reflect and encourage fertility in the Great Mother, Nature. Herodotus emphasized that, once a woman had fulfilled this obligation, she was virtuous and loyal to her husband for the rest of her life.
This of course was in Babylon, not Canaan, but the Canaanites seem to have followed a similar practice.

and say, ‘Thus says the LORD God to Jerusalem, “Your origin and your birth are from the land of the Canaanite, your father was an Amorite and your mother a Hittite. (Ezekiel 16:3, NAS)
Jerusalem was the capital of Israel, and Israel was on land formerly occupied by Canaanites. Canaan was the land of Palestine west of the Jordan (Numbers 34:2-12). The Hebrew form of Canaan came from Hurrian, “belonging to the land of the red-purple,”4 which was the color of an expensive dye used for royal robes. The Canaanites were evil and steeped in idolatry. Associating Israel with the Canaanites was a way of attributing to the Jews evil abominations of idolatry. The Amorites and Hittites were the two worst Canaanite tribes.
Amorite means “western highlander.”5 The Amorites lived on the west side of the Dead Sea around Hebron and on the east side of the Jordan from the Dead Sea to Mt. Hermon. The Akkadians called the Amorites Amurru. In the third millennium BC, Syria-Palestine was called the land of the Amorites. The First Dynasty of Babylon (c. 1850-1550 BC), also called the Old Babylonian, was Amorite.5 Since the Amorites lived in Babylon, their religion is believed to be associated with the Prostitute of Babylon previously described. However, they added the god, Marduk.6

Hittite, a descendant of Heth, could be translated terrorist. The Hittite Empire was in the region that is now Turkey during the time of First Dynasty of Babylon (c. 1850-1550 BC). The Hittite Empire was one of the three great empires of the ancient world and rivaled the Egyptians and Mesopotamians. The Hittites discovered the secret of iron smelting, and with their superior weapons were much feared. They conquered the Babylonian capital of Hammurabi about 1750 BC. The Hittites were probably Aryan, Indo-Europeans. It is believed that the Hittite religion was associated with the sacred Prostitute of Babylon and the god, Marduk, just as existed in Babylon. Esau married Hittite wives, which gave his mother fits (Genesis 26:34-35; 27:46). But Uriah the Hittite was a believer and one of David’s best generals.

Ezekiel continues the allegory of Jerusalem and the Jews personified as an abandoned baby (Ezekiel 16:4-6). The baby was described as “thrown into the open field” (Ezekiel 16:5), which refers to crossing the Red Sea in the Exodus. The baby grew up and reached puberty.

“I made you numerous like plants of the field. Then you grew up, became tall, and reached the age for ornaments of cheeks; your breasts expanded and your (pubic) hair had grown. Yet you were naked and bare.” (Ezekiel 16:7)
The LORD symbolically married Jerusalem, which refers to the giving of the Mosaic Law.
“Then I passed by you and saw you; and behold, it was your time: A time for conjugal love; so I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. I also swore to you and entered into a marriage covenant with you so that you became Mine,” declares the Lord Jehovah. (Ezekiel 16:8)
“My wing” refers to the hem of the robe. Spreading the wing over her is a metaphor referring to marriage, which covers the nakedness (Ruth 3:9).
“Then I bathed you with water, washed off your blood from you, and anointed you with oil. (Ezekiel 16:9)
She was “bathed in water,” which refers to sanctification. Her “blood” was washed off, which refers to expiation, purification from guilt. And she was “anointed” “with oil,” which refers to Spiritual rebirth.
“I also clothed you with embroidered cloth, and put sandals of dugong leather on your feet; and I wrapped you with byssus (a turban) and covered you with a silk veil. (Ezekiel 16:10)
The LORD adorned her with fine clothing and jewelry, and she was very beautiful (Ezekiel 16:11-14)
“But you trusted in your beauty and committed prostitution (fornicated) because of your renown, and you poured out your prostitution (promiscuity) on every passer-by: his it became.” (Ezekiel 16:15)
The verb is the Hebrew hn^z* (zanah), which means to commit prostitution, play the harlot, fornicate. The noun form of the word used by Ezekiel was tWnz+T^ (tazenuth), which means prostitution or promiscuity. Here was Israel running to gods of the Canaanites, the former gods of Babylon. Thus, the Jews of Jerusalem were in the habit of running to the temple prostitutes.
“And you took some of your clothes; made for yourself high places of patchwork and committed prostitution (fornicated) on them: Things which should not come and should not take place.” (Ezekiel 16:16)
She made high places (shrines) with patchwork bedding where she committed prostitution.
“You also took your adornment of jewelry of My gold and of My silver, which I had given you; and you made for yourselves male figurines and committed prostitution (fornicated) with them.” (Ezekiel 16:17)
She used male idols to set the stage for acts of prostitution (Ezekiel 16:18-24).
“You built your high places at every cross road and prostituted your beauty; and you spread your legs for every passer-by and you multiplied your prostitution. (Ezekiel 16:25)
The Jewish women were heavily engaged in the sacred prostitution of Babylon, and the Jewish men frequented the temples of prostitution of the foreign tribes, such a Canaanites.
They practiced prostitution with the Egyptians. This happened when they were in Egypt in slavery and later when they entered into military alliances with the Egyptians for protection against the Assyrians and Chaldeans.

“You also played the harlot with the Egyptians, your great of flesh neighbors, and multiplied your prostitution to make Me angry. (Ezekiel 16:26)
“Great of flesh” is the Hebrew ld@G* (gadel), meaning becoming great, or growing up; plus rc*b* (basar), which means flesh and refers to the phallus. Thus, “great of flesh” refers to large, or erect, phalluses. The influence of the Prostitute in Egypt was a little different than the other countries. In Egypt, young girls joined roving bands of entertainers upon reaching puberty. The entertainers traveled around like a carnival. They would entertain villagers with song and dance, which would be followed by fornication. When the young girls got pregnant, they went home with proof of their womanhood and later married.7
Israel’s prostitution in Egypt was also mentioned in the allegory of Oholah and Oholibah, who symbolized the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of Israel, respectively, and the Prostitute of Babylon.

And they (Oholah and Oholibah) practiced prostitution in Egypt. They practiced prostitution in their youth. There their breasts were squeezed erotically; and there were fondled the teats of their virginity. (Ezekiel 23:3)
Ezekiel 23:19-21
19 Yet she (Oholibah) multiplied her prostitution (promiscuity) so that she remembered the days of her youth when she practiced prostitution in the land of Egypt. 20 She burned passionately with lust toward their paramours, whose phalluses were like the phalluses of donkeys and their semen like the semen of horses. 21 Thus, you longed for the lewdness of your youth when the Egyptians fondled your teats because of your youthful breasts.

Israel was later punished by the Philistines, who were ashamed of the lewd conduct of the Jews (Ezekiel 16:27), even though the Philistines were no angels. The Northern Kingdom of Israel committed prostitution with the Assyrians and tried to enter into peace treaties with them before the Assyrians destroyed them (Ezekiel 16:28). And the Southern Kingdom of Judah committed prostitution with the Chaldeans. This was the Prostitute of Babylon because Babylon was the capital of the Chaldean Empire.
“You also multiplied your prostitution with the land of merchants, Chaldea, yet even with this you were not satisfied.”’” (Ezekiel 16:29)
Israel was a “a domineering woman prostitute.”
“How languishing is your heart,” declares the Lord God, “while you do all these things, the actions of a domineering woman prostitute. (Ezekiel 16:30)
“Domineering” is the Hebrew fyL!v^ (shallith), which means to have one’s way with, domineering, bold, shamelessly refusing to change one’s behavior. “Prostitute is the Hebrew hn*oz (zonah), and “woman” is the Hebrew hV*a! (‘ishah).
Israel was described as worse than a prostitute because unlike a prostitute, who is paid, Israel was a prostitute who paid its lovers (Ezekiel 16:31-34). Israel had a history of committing prostitution with the Prostitute of Babylon, not only in Babylon, but in all the surrounding countries.

Sarah gave Abraham her slave girl to beget a child in her stead. The Torah doesn’t envisage the modern romantic family.
Modern men-and-wife families are a romantic invention with no basis in Judaism. Patriarchs were polygamous. Prophet Shmuel lashed against kings for greatly multiplying their wives; presumably, a few wives were okay.
Romanticism is counterproductive. It is responsible for the decreasing size of families as people think they need to provide every child with love and affection and live to his benefit. Not at all. Parents’ obligations to their children are limited to food, clothes, and education; there is no need to mend our ways to suit the little ones’ preferences. We can go on with our habits and still be good parents. Children must be happy to receive the gift of life and cannot claim our lives, to sacrifice our pleasant habits for them.
Romanticism worsens the wife’s situation. In polygamous families tolerant to concubinage and prostitution (Judah and Tamar), wives were assured of their status. As they grew old, they were still entitled to support and respect. Their husband’s other women did not compete with them, and there was little room for jealousy. Also, the husband had little incentive to divorce, as he could legally enjoy the best of two worlds: his old, trusted, and respected wife and a younger mistress.
Polygamy held great advantages for a woman compared to monogamy. In typical leftist fashion, rabbis tried improving on divine legislation, only to worsen a finely tuned system. Eventually a wife becomes unattractive to her husband, who remains a potent male. According to the Torah, he can choose between side relations, taking in a younger wife, and unhappy relations with his old one. Rabbis closed the first option with a ban on prostitution and the second one with monogamy. Now a man who loathes unhappy living has to divorce his old wife for a new one. The rabbis made the wife’s position less secure. Polygamy, on other hand, provided an acceptable solution: as the man brought in a younger wife, the older one remained in the household and could actually increase her social status by becoming the head of the clan’s female part. The husband had no reason to evict her: she was a respected woman, the mother of his children, and she accepted her lost attractiveness as a fact of nature. The Torah’s attitude to polygamy is revealed in its prohibition of marrying two sisters: they would compete and quarrel, while presumably no such competition would arise between unrelated wives, especially when their age and status is clearly different.
The Jews married very early, almost in childhood. This explains the biblical prohibition of pre-marital sex. Not so in our day, when religious Jewish girls marry at twenty, twenty-two, or even later, well past their biological need for sexual relations. Even in antiquity, pre-marital sex was not punishable as long as it led to marriage. The Torah provides a wonderfully balanced legal system; when Jews changed a single contextual component (marital age), the concept of premarital chastity could not stand.
Patriarchs were unconcerned about the age of their brides. Rachel was so young when Jacob met her that he felt free to kiss the girl. Immediately, Jacob asked Rachel’s father for her hand, a clear case of child betrothal. Since she was sufficiently attractive even 14 years later when Jacob married her, Rachel was probably less than ten years old when betrothed. Their marriage was a happy one.
The forefathers were setting an example for us, but nevertheless their marriages were odd, with numerous wives and concubines. Joseph, an assimilated court Jew, married an Egyptian priest’s daughter. At best, the priest in question belonged to the monotheist cult of Ra, incorporated into Judaism during the Exodus events.
Moses’ marriage is the most enigmatic of all: he married a daughter of the Midian high priest. The problem is the Midians were notorious idol-worshipers who engaged in ritual sex and orgies. Jews copulated with Midian women, and incurred divine wrath on themselves and extermination on the Midians. Moses was commanded to annihilate the Midians—his dear relatives—as the last divine commission before death. Moses’ wife was no exception from her tribe’s worship: their child Gershom was initially uncircumcised, and his later circumcision smacks of a pagan rite: the Midian wife (rather than Moses) performed the ritual to establish a “blood covenant” with divine forces. Moses did not take the wife seriously, and at one point sent her away. There is no chance she would have passed Orthodox conversion in our time.
Continuing with his enigmatic marital habits, Moses took an Ethiopian wife, at which point his relatives revolted. Classical commentators have labored to explain what was so irritating about an extra wife, but the answer seems to lie in the fact that Moses was tongue-tied. He was fluent in Ethiopian rather than Hebrew. According to midrashic and haggadic sources, Moses spent considerable time in Ethiopia. So a Kushite wife was a return to his old habits and allegiances. Emboldened by the direct contact with God, Moses came to believe that everything was permissible to him—which raised sharp objections from his brother and sister.
Patriarch Judah walks on the road, and sees a lonely woman named Tamar. Casually, he approaches her and offers a goat for sex. The Bible contains not a hint of condemnation. Moreover, the thing was common among Judah’s compatriots: he insisted on paying the woman properly lest he be dishonored. There was a certain honor code concerning relations with prostitutes. Indeed, the very sight of a road prostitute was common to Judah, and he did not hesitate to approach the woman.
The Torah imposes a ban on Jewish prostitution (“don’t give your daughters”), but tellingly avoids any restrictions on visiting foreign prostitutes. Jewish men are forbidden from associating with foreign women lest they drive Jews away from Judaism: “he follows her as an ox goes to the slaughter.” No comparable situation arises with prostitutes. They need not be courted, association with them is very short, and their influence on Jewish men is negligible. In a sense, Torah treats prostitutes as we would treat doctors: there is no shame in visiting a doctor of the opposite sex; it’s all strictly professional.
The Torah’s extensive regulations about men with genital discharges confirm that marital chastity was not widespread among Jews and the legist did not imagine it to take root.
The Torah bans Jewish prostitution as defilement. Thus, it relates to purity rather than morality. Since other nations are only obligated in terms of morality, nothing bars them from engaging in prostitution. The Torah does not describe engaging a prostitute as defilement, thus Jews can do so freely.

About Royal Rosamond Press

I am an artist, a writer, and a theologian.
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