No, Ancient Israelites Didn’t Practice “Cult Prostitution”

Aug. 17 2018

Biblical Hebrew contains two words that translate as “prostitute”: zonah and k’deshah, with the latter deriving from the same root as the word kadosh, or “holy.” For this reason, the New American Standard Version and some other popular Bible translations render k’deshah as “cult prostitute,” reflecting the practice of some ancient pagan sects. Citing the work of the scholar Edward Lipiński, Bible History Daily explains that this view is incorrect:

Some biblical scholars, for example, have interpreted the story of Judah and Tamar as a case of sacred prostitution. According to Genesis 38, the unsuspecting Judah mistook his daughter-in-law Tamar for a veiled “prostitute” (zonah). For her services, Judah promised Tamar a sheep and gave her his seal as assurance the debt would be honored. When Judah’s friend returned to redeem the pledge, he asked in a nearby village where he could find the k’deshah. . . . [H]owever, there is nothing in the story of Judah and Tamar to suggest sacred prostitution was involved; rather, it seems that zonah and k’deshah were synonyms and that the latter has simply been misinterpreted by translators.

[The term] k’deshah likely originally referred to “consecrated maidens” who were employed in Canaanite and later Phoenician temples devoted to worship [of the goddess] Ashtoreth. As such, the biblical writers came to associate the fertility rites of Ashtoreth worship with sacred prostitution, and the word k’deshah, therefore, came to be used as a pejorative term for “prostitute.”

Indeed, archaeology has shown that Ashtoreth worship and associated rites of sacred prostitution were common throughout the ancient Mediterranean. At the Etruscan site of Pyrgi, excavators identified a temple dedicated to Ashtoreth that featured at least seventeen small rooms that may have served as quarters for temple prostitutes. Similarly, at the site of Dura-Europos on the Euphrates, archaeologists uncovered a temple dedicated to Atargatis, the Aramean goddess of love. [Near] the entrance to the temple were nearly a dozen small rooms, many with low benches. Although the rooms were used primarily for sacred meals, they may also have been reserved for the sexual services of women jailed in the temple for adultery.

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More about: Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Idolatry, Religion & Holidays, Translation

 

Syria’s Downing of a Russian Plane Put Israel in the Crosshairs

Sept. 21 2018

On Monday, Israeli jets fired missiles at an Iranian munitions storehouse in the northwestern Syrian city of Latakia. Shortly thereafter, Syrian personnel shot down a Russian surveillance plane with surface-to-air missiles, in what seems to be a botched and highly incompetent response to the Israeli attack. Moscow first responded by blaming Jerusalem for the incident, but President Putin then offered more conciliatory statements. Yesterday, Russian diplomats again stated that Israel was at fault. Yoav Limor comments:

What was unusual [about the Israeli] strike was the location: Latakia [is] close to Russian forces, in an area where the IDF hasn’t been active for some time. The strike itself was routine; the IDF notified the Russian military about it in advance, the missiles were fired remotely, the Israeli F-16s returned to base unharmed, and as usual, Syrian antiaircraft missiles were fired indiscriminately in every direction, long after the strike itself was over. . . .

Theoretically, this is a matter between Russia and Syria. Russia supplied Syria with the SA-5 [missile] batteries that wound up shooting down its plane, and now it must demand explanations from Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. That won’t happen; Russia was quick to blame Israel for knocking over the first domino, and as usual, sent conflicting messages that make it hard to parse its future strategy. . . .

From now on, Russia will [almost certainly] demand a higher level of coordination with Israel and limits on the areas in which Israel can attack, and possibly a commitment to refrain from certain actions. Syria, Iran, and Hizballah will try to drag Russia into “handling” Israel and keeping it from continuing to carry out strikes in the region. Israel . . . will blame Iran, Hizballah, and Syria for the incident, and say they are responsible for the mess.

But Israel needs to take rapid action to minimize damage. It is in Israel’s strategic interest to keep up its offensive actions to the north, mainly in Syria. If that action is curtailed, Israel’s national security will be compromised. . . . No one in Israel, and certainly not in the IDF or the Israel Air Force, wants Russia—which until now hasn’t cared much about Israel’s actions—to turn hostile, and Israel needs to do everything to prevent that from happening. Even if that means limiting its actions for the time being. . . . Still, make no mistake: Russia is angry and has to explain its actions to its people. Israel will need to walk a thin line between protecting its own security interests and avoiding a very unwanted clash with Russia.

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More about: Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war