Saturday, April 09, 2011

Cultic Prostitutes & The Temple

My husband Heshy was learning Tanakh and came across an interesting verse in 2 Kings 23: 7. The verse referenced 'quedeshim.' The Artscroll translation of the verse read as follows: "He demolished the rooms of the idolators that were in the Temple of Hashem, where the women would weave curtains for the Asherah."

Hmm, thought Heshy, it's odd that quedeshim has been translated as meaning idolators. It seems more likely that it should mean prostitutes. In that case, perhaps the cultic temple prostitution rites that I'm learning about in the Ancient Near East actually did exist at some point in the time of the Temple.

At this point, we decided to go on a search for various verses that seemed to contain the word. Here's what we found:

1. When Judah sleeps with Tamar, he comes back and questions (Genesis 38: 21) וַיִּשְׁאַל אֶת-אַנְשֵׁי מְקֹמָהּ, לֵאמֹר, אַיֵּה הַקְּדֵשָׁה הִוא בָעֵינַיִם, עַל-הַדָּרֶךְ; וַיֹּאמְרוּ, לֹא-הָיְתָה בָזֶה קְדֵשָׁה. - namely, "Where is the harlot that was here?"

2. 1 Kings 14:24 - וְגַם-קָדֵשׁ, הָיָה בָאָרֶץ: עָשׂוּ, כְּכֹל הַתּוֹעֲבֹת הַגּוֹיִם, אֲשֶׁר הוֹרִישׁ יְהוָה, מִפְּנֵי בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

3. 1 Kings 15: 12- (Regarding Asa doing what was right in the eyes of God) וַיַּעֲבֵר הַקְּדֵשִׁים, מִן-הָאָרֶץ; וַיָּסַר, אֶת-כָּל-הַגִּלֻּלִים, אֲשֶׁר עָשׂוּ, אֲבֹתָיו

4. 1 Kings 22: 47- (Regarding Jehosaphat removing them) וְיֶתֶר, הַקָּדֵשׁ, אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁאַר, בִּימֵי אָסָא אָבִיו--בִּעֵר, מִן-הָאָרֶץ

It certainly seems, from all these verses, that quedeshim could take the meaning 'cultic prostitutes.' But we decided to check Chazal to see what we could find. And indeed:

Ibn Ezra writes to Deuteronomy 23:18:

ואמר אליהוא וחיתם בקדשים (איוב לו, יד), כי נפשם כנגד חיתם, והנה קדשים כנגד נוער. וכתוב וגם קדש היה בארץ (מ"א יד, כד), בתי הקדשים (מ"ב כג, ז), ושם כתוב אשר הנשים אורגות שם (שם). ואני לא אבין טעם הקדשה. וכאשר נחפשה היטב טעם המלה, אז היא ידועה שהיא מזומנה לכל עובר ושב. והעד: איה הקדשה (ברא' לח, כא). אם כן יהיה קדש כמעשה המצרים. והמבין יבין. ובעבור קדשה (יח) נסמכה פרשת אתנן (יט) זונה:

Malbim says explicitly on 2 Kings 23: 7 (our verse):

(ז) ויתץ את בתי הקדשים . ששם היו נשים מיוחדות לזנות ולארוג בתים ויריעות לכסות האשרה:

Metzudas David, in contrast, is gentler:

בתי הקדשים - העשויים לשבת בהן המיוחדים לעבודת האשרה:

Rashi himself says:

בתי הקדשים - בתי הזמה:

Thus it seems very clear that indeed there were cultic prostitutes in the time of the Temple and it's fascinating to see that they actually practiced their prostitution within the very Temple!

Less importantly (but still of interest), I owe Dan Brown an apology. He's still inaccurate in that this wasn't a Jewish prostitution ritual, but rather one devotees of the Asherah engaged in. He was right, however, that it took place in the Temple.

So in short: how cool is Tanakh? Yay Ancient Near East and Comps studying and yay Heshy questions. Huzzah.


nachum j said...

actually yehuda never said "ayyeh hakedesha?"- that was his pagan friend
reread the story. yehuda consistently calls her a "zona"- he has no conception of kedasha; only his friend does

Anonymous said...

You need to read Tikva Frymer-Kensky's In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture, and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth. It blasts apart the argument that there was such a thing as cultic prostitution qua cultic prostitution in the ancient Near East. Cultic functionaries who were prostitutes? Yes. Cultic functionaries who prostituted themselves as a function of their cultic duties? No.

Noam said...

Unfortunately there were times that the Beit Hamikdash did not follow Halacha.
There are numerous mentions in the Mishna regarding assorted vile practices that occurred, often instituted by the current king.
Even the Kohen Gadol was suspected of being a heretic, see Yoma 1:5.

There were and always will be, fringe groups who attempt to deviate from Torat Moshe. Some innocently and oftentimes not so innocently.

harry-er than them all said...

when i visited Ir David once they pointed out to us statues which they found in excavations. They queried us about what they were, and when nobody guessed correctly pointed out that they were idols which were used for service. The pesukim talk about having avoda zara in the Beis hamikdash as well as mishnayos (like the one in Sukkah which talked about the Nisuch Hamayim ceremony)

Also according to Philip Hitti in his work "the History of the Arabs" the idol worship of Bal was a worship of the depths which is also a worship of fertility. The mishnayos (in sukka) again point out that underneath the mizbe'ach there were two holes which led to the ta'hom (the depths) which when the Jews practiced idolatry, prayed to.

Jewish Atheist said...

Asherah was a goddess who was the wife of El in the local religion(s) and YHWH was a god who was a son of El. Judaism evolved out of those local religions and you can find traces of them all over the tanakh, which itself (or the writings that eventually became the tanakh) evolved over the centuries.

Ultimately, Judaism merged many of the gods into one (YHWH and El become YHWH/El) and declared others to be false gods (Ba'al) but this transition was not complete until well after the building of the second Temple.

Those quedeshim were simply worshiping El's wife. It's not just a weird coincidence that they were practicing their rites in the Temple.

Jewish Atheist said...

(E.g. "Elohim" came to be treated as a synonyn for El/YHWH but it originally was actually a plural noun referring to all the Canaanite gods. "In OUR likeness and in OUR image" was not referring to angels as we were taught as children. The original source material for the creation story in Breishis was almost certainly polytheistic.)

Jewish Atheist said...

("Breishis bara HAelohim." It wouldn't say "Breishis bara HAYHWH.")

Ben-Torah said...

Somehow - among the examples,
were not listed - the two most
directly related chumash verses
on the cultic prostitution topic,
& also relevant to temple worship:

לֹא־תִהְיֶ֥ה קְדֵשָׁ֖ה מִבְּנֹ֣ות יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל
וְלֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֥ה קָדֵ֖שׁ מִבְּנֵ֥י יִשְׂרָאֵל

לֹא־תָבִיא֩ אֶתְנַ֨ן זֹונָ֜ה וּמְחִ֣יר כֶּ֗לֶב
בֵּ֛ית יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ לְכָל־נֶ֑דֶר
כִּ֧י תֹועֲבַ֛ת יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ גַּם־שְׁנֵיהֶֽם

(Deuteronomy 23:18-19)

therapydoc said...

They don't call it the oldest profession for nothin'.

Anonymous said...

JA, It would be nice if you did not state your statements as undisputed fact.

Ben Torah,
your second example does not have the word "kedeshah."

Ben-Torah said...

True, it does not, but it would seem to provide the relevant context for the previous verse by focusing on the temple in the process of castigating the practice of such prostitution,
and it may also afford us some manner of explication of the previous verse as it expands the proscription to apply even to the tokens associated with participation in the practice.

Furthermore, though it does not use "qedeishah," it does employ the arguably synonymous or contrasting buzz word: "zonah" -- saliently mentioned by one `nachum j`.
Although there must be more to the close reading of the story of Judah than just that... if you are looking for an example of "etnan" from the second verse, well...

Jewish Atheist said...

JA, It would be nice if you did not state your statements as undisputed fact.

I'm just offering my understanding of what the secular (and even non-fundamentalist Christian) experts on the subject think as opposed to what OJ dogma claims.

Anonymous said...

It's no surprise to me that this has been mistranslated. It's kind of like how Artscroll mistranslated Shir HaShirim, even the parts that had no reference to body parts or human love, such as "Mayim Rabim Lo Yochlu Lechvot et Ha'ahava", which they miswrote as "many waters cannot drown my faith." At that point it just becomes irksome. I think Shir HaShirim (and consequently, Malachim) should be translated correctly, since anyone who understands the Hebrew will know what it means anyway.

Anonymous said...

can we expand this? is it not possible that lovers of that time, as do some today, felt they were experiencing G-d at times of sexual ecstasy and included that as a legitimate form of worship? this is viewed as shameful in the common era, but might have been appreciated as a legitimate form of worship then.