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Ann Naffziger, M.A., M.Div.
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Our readers asked:

There seem to be a whole lot of prostitutes in the Bible. Can you tell me why and a bit about some of them?

Ann Naffziger Answers:

Prostitution existed in biblical times so it’s not surprising it got some press from the biblical writers who were firmly rooted in the particular culture and time. More often than not, the concept of prostitution was used by biblical writers as a metaphor for unfaithfulness to God (“prostitute themselves to a foreign god”) or as a judgment against detestable moral behavior, be it sexual misconduct or economic injustice.

There are actually not many prostitutes mentioned by name in the Bible. Probably the best known is Rahab, who helped hide the Israelite spies as they scouted out the town of Jericho for conquest in Joshua 2. We know nothing of her practice of the profession, but she is upheld in biblical history for recognizing the sovereignty of Yahweh. Otherwise, most prostitutes in the Bible remained nameless, such a the prostitute Samson laid with, the mother of Jephthah, and the two women who came before King Solomon to plead his help in judging their case (1 Kings 3:16-28).

Sometimes women were misidentified as prostitutes by other biblical characters. For example, Judah conceived twins by his daughter-in-law who was dressed as a prostitute so that she might fulfill her legal obligations to raise up children for her dead husband. In the end, Judah upheld her as “more righteous than I.” (Gen 38). Sadly, some biblical women were equated with prostitutes out of sheer misinterpretation. The Samaritan woman at the well (John 4), the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair (Luke 36-50) and Mary Magdalene are still sometimes mistakenly identified as prostitutes although there is absolutely no biblical evidence for such identification.

It may come as a surprise that the one and only statement Jesus explicitly made regarding prostitutes was in response to a question posed by the chief priests and the elders. He said, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Mt 21:31).

The Author : Ann Naffziger
Ann Naffziger is a scripture instructor and spiritual director in the San Francisco Bay area. She has has written articles on spirituality and theology for various national magazines and edited several books on the Hebrew Scriptures.
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