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

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations