Harlot (prostitute)

See also Prostitute


Another class of harlots entirely is that known as, Heb. קְדֵשָׁ֖ה, “temple prostitute,” lit. “dedicated one.” The term is derived from the common Sem. root, Heb. קדשׁ, “holy,” “sacred.” There is ample evidence that the ancient Near Eastern archaic-religious states usually involved the worship of a dual deity with a dialectic notion of sexuality which is seen in the male and female cult idols. Part of this was the “sacred marriage” often performed in an imitative magical ceremony in the temple precinct first by the king and a temple courtesan and then by any citizen and the temple harlots. Not only are such practices clear from the Babylonian and Ugaritic texts but also are mentioned in Herodotus (Histories, I, 179-184). Archeological and textual research has shown that this fertility cult worship was common also among the Canaanites. From early times a syncretism had developed and so the prophets often inveigh against the physical fornication of the Israelites with the pagan harlots and later temple prostitutes brought into Jerusalem.


Even when actual prostitution was not involved, the wickedness and degradation of harlotry was the ultimate evil to which the false worship of heathen deities was likened. Often in the prophets of the 8th cent. b.c. the terms for “cult prostitute” (qedesāh) and “street harlot” (zōwnāh) are interchanged. The names of the gods thus served also are altered and their devotees defamed; e.g., calf of Samaria (Hos 8:6). Phrases such as “played the harlot” and “go a whoring” are used of the awful iniquity of idolatry (Jer 3:6; Ezek 6:9, et al.).

In the NT the Gr. term is πόρνη, G4520, “prostitute” and πορνεια, “prostitution” (Eng. cognate, “pornography”). The terms are used: (1) of the lowest social caste, the outcasts (Matt 21:31; Luke 15:30); and (2) of the immoral practices of such women (1 Cor 6:15). In the same fashion that Hosea demonstrated the love of Jehovah in his marriage with a prostitute, Christ does not shrink from redeeming them by their faith (John 4:14).