This name replaces in the Revised Version (British and American) "whore" of the King James Version. It stands for several words and phrases used to designate or describe the unchaste woman, married or unmarried, e.g. zonah, 'ishshah nokhriyah, qedheshah; Septuagint and New Testament porne. porneia is used chiefly of prenuptial immorality, but the married woman guilty of sexual immorality is said to be guilty of porneia (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; compare Amos 7:17 Septuagint). These and cognate words are applied especially in the Old Testament to those devoted to immoral service in idol sanctuaries, or given over to a dissolute life for gain. Such a class existed among all ancient peoples, and may be traced in the history of Israel. Evidence of its existence in very early times is found (Genesis 38). It grew out of conditions, sexual and social, which were universal. After the corrupting foreign influxes and influences of Solomon's day, it developed to even fuller shamelessness, and its voluptuous songs (Isaiah 23:16), seductive arts (Proverbs 6:24), and blighting influence are vividly pictured and denounced by the prophets (Proverbs 7:10; 29:3; Isaiah 23:16; Jeremiah 3:3; 5:7; Ezekiel 16:25; compare Deuteronomy 23:17). Money was lavished upon women of this class, and the weak and unwary were taken captive by them, so that it became one of the chief concerns of the devout father in Israel to "keep (his son) from the evil woman," who "hunteth for the precious life" (Proverbs 6:24,26). From the title given her in Prov, a "foreign woman" (23:27), and the warnings against "the flattery of the foreigner's tongue" (6:24; compare 1 Kings 11:1; Ezra 10:2), we may infer that in later times this class was chiefly made up of strangers from without. The whole subject must be viewed in the setting of the times. Even in Israel, then, apart from breaches of marriage vows, immoral relations between the sexes were deemed venial (Deuteronomy 22:28 f). A man was forbidden to compel his daughter to sin (Leviticus 19:29), to "profane (her) and make her a harlot," but she was apparently left free to take that way herself (compare Genesis 38). The children of the harlot, though, were outlawed (Deuteronomy 23:2), and later the harlot is found under the sternest social ban (Matthew 21:31,32).
The subject takes on even a darker hue when viewed in the light of the hideous conditions that prevailed in ancient Syria affecting this practice. The harlot represented more than a social peril and problem. She was a qedheshah, one of a consecrated class, and as such was the concrete expression and agent of the most insidious and powerful influence and system menacing the purity and permanence of the religion of Yahweh. This system deified the reproductive organs and forces of Nature and its devotees worshipped their idol symbols in grossly licentious rites and orgies. The temple prostitute was invested with sanctity as a member of the religious caste, as she is today in India. Men and women thus prostituted themselves in the service of their gods. The Canaanite sanctuaries were gigantic brothels, legalized under the sanctions of religion. For a time, therefore, the supreme religious question was whether such a cult should be established and allowed to naturalize itself in Israel, as it had done in Babylon (Herodotus i.199) and in Greece (Strabo viii.6). That the appeal thus made to the baser passions of the Israelites was all too successful is sadly clear (Amos 2:7; Hosea 4:13). The prophets give vivid pictures of the syncretizing of the worship of Baal and Astarte with that of Yahweh and the extent to which the local sanctuaries were given over to this form of corruption. They denounced it as the height of impiety and as sure to provoke Divine judgments. Asa and Jehoshaphat undertook to purge the land of such vile abominations (1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46). The Deuteronomic code required that all such "paramours" be banished, and forbade the use of their unholy gains as temple revenue (Deuteronomy 23:17,18. Driver's note). The Levitical law forbade a priest to take a harlot to wife (Leviticus 21:7). and commanded that the daughter of a priest who played the harlot should be burned (Leviticus 21:9).
See ASHTORETH; IMAGES; IDOLATRY.
It is grimly significant that the prophets denounce spiritual apostasy as "harlotry" (the King James Version "whoredom"). But it would seem that the true ethical attitude toward prostitution was unattainable so long as marriage was in the low, transitional stage mirrored in the Old Testament; though the religion of Yahweh was in a measure delivered from the threatened peril by the fiery discipline of the exile.
In New Testament times, a kindred danger beset the followers of Christ, especially in Greece and Asia Minor (Acts 15:20,29; Romans 1:24; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Galatians 5:19). That lax views of sexual morality were widely prevalent in the generation in which Christ lived is evident both from His casual references to the subject and from His specific teaching in answer to questions concerning adultery and divorce (compare Josephus, Ant, IV, viii, 23; Vita, section 76; Sirach 7:26; 25:26; 42:9, and the Talm). The ideas of the times were debased by the prevalent polygamous customs, "it being of old permitted to the Jews to marry many wives" (Josephus, BJ, I, xxiv, 2; compare Ant, XVII, i, 2). The teaching of Jesus was in sharp contrast with the low ideals and the rabbinical teaching of the times. The controversy on this question waxed hot between the two famous rival rabbinical schools. Hillel reduced adultery to the level of the minor faults. Shammai opposed his teaching as immoral in tendency. kata pasan aitian (Matthew 19:3), gives incidental evidence of the nature of the controversy. It was characteristic of the teaching of Jesus that He went to the root of the matter, making this sin to consist in "looking on a woman to lust after her." Nor did He confine Himself to the case of the married. The general character of the terms in Matthew 5:28, pas ho blepon, forbids the idea that gunaika, and emoicheusen, are to be limited to post-nuptial sin with a married woman. On the other hand it is a characteristic part of the work of Jesus to rescue the erring woman from the merciless clutches of the Pharisaic tribunal, and to bring her within the pale of mercy and redemption (Matthew 21:31,32). He everywhere leaned to the side of mercy in dealing with such cases, as is indicated by the traditional and doubtless true narrative found in the accepted text of the Fourth Gospel (John 7:53-8:11).
George B. Eager