PROSTITUTE. A word that, with “whore” and “harlot,” is designated by four terms in the OT: (1) zonah, the most frequently used; (2) qedēshâh, a religious harlot, a priestess of a heathen religion in which fornication was part of worship (
Legal measures were in force concerning prostitutes. Parents were not to force their daughters into the practice (
The actual punishment of prostitutes was severe when enforced. In
Such a common sin needed to be guarded against. The Book of Proverbs, which mentions every term for harlot except qedēshâh, teaches about and warns against prostitutes by admonition and illustrations. The situation in the Corinthian church was such that Paul had to give the Christians there special warnings against fornication with prostitutes (
The words harlot or prostitute, harlotry or prostitution, are used very often, especially in the prophetic books, to describe idolatry. This figurative use was evidently based on the idea that the Lord was the husband of the nation of Israel (
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 (
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 (