From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [1]

The Old Testament. Common Prostitution . While the law forbids parents from forcing daughters into prostitution, there is no penalty attached ( Leviticus 19:29 ). In one case there is a penalty: If a woman has been betrothed to a man and he discovers that she is not a virgin, she may be stoned to death for prostituting herself ( Deuteronomy 22:13-21 ). These two passages lead some scholars to conclude that when two adults, neither of which was betrothed or married, consented to have sex, it was not considered a very serious crime, because no sanctions were expressed. However, before the Mosaic Law, burning was the penalty in one instance ( Genesis 38:24 ). Perhaps Israelite society, like modern ones, tolerated a certain amount of prostitution, but it was clearly immoral and the sages sternly warned against it ( Proverbs 23:27;  29:3 ). Priests were held to a higher standard than non-priests for they could not marry harlots, although again, there was no specified punishment for doing so ( Leviticus 21:7,14 ). A priest's daughter, on the other hand, could be burned for harlotry ( Leviticus 21:9 ); the intent of this was to keep the priestly line pure.

Apparently, prostitutes in ancient times dressed in recognizable ways ( Proverbs 7:10 ). In the patriarchal period, a face covering might be a distinguishing feature ( Genesis 38:14-15 ). Some well-known biblical passages mention prostitution. Rahab, who helped the Israelite spies at Jericho, was a harlot ( Joshua 2:1;  6:17,22 ,  25 ); she figures in the genealogy of David and Jesus ( Matthew 1:5 ). Jephthah was the son of a harlot ( Judges 11:1 ). Samson slept with one ( Judges 16:1 ). Two prostitutes asked Solomon to adjudicate between them over a child ( 1 Kings 3:16 ). For resisting the word of the Lord, the priest Amaziah would be taken into exile, forcing his wife into prostitution to survive ( Amos 7:17 ).

Sacral Prostitution . The fertility cult was a central part of Canaanite religion. It is thought that sacral prostitution was a form of sympathetic magic. As people performed sex Acts with the temple harlots, this stimulated sexual activity among the gods, ensuring the fertility of the soil. The terms qades and qedesa (  Deuteronomy 23:17 ) designate male and female sacral prostitutes. The words come from the root qds, meaning "set apart, " "holy, " "consecrated." These men and women considered themselves consecrated to their gods for the purpose of religious prostitution.

The practice was known by the patriarchs, for Tamar was taken for a cult harlot ( Genesis 38:21 ). The law of Moses forbids the practice of sacral prostitution ( Deuteronomy 23:17 ), but Israelites were led astray by the fertility rites of Baalism in Moab before they even entered the promised land ( Numbers 25:1-5 ). Although sacral prostitution is not specifically mentioned, it is likely, since they were priests, that when Hophni and Phineas slept with the women who ministered at the entrance to the tabernacle, that they were borrowing the Canaanite practice ( 1 Samuel 2:22 ). The fertility cult was established in Judah early in the monarchy ( 1 Kings 14:24 ) and periodically purged ( 1 Kings 15:46 ). When Josiah carried out his reform, he had to remove the male cult prostitutes from the temple itself ( 2 Kings 23:7 ).

Spiritual Prostitution . The relationship between Yahweh and Israel was that of husband and wife. Therefore, when the Israelites went astray by worshiping other deities, they were prostituting themselves to other gods ( Exodus 34:15 ). Ezekiel gave female names to Samaria and Jerusalem (symbolizing Israel and Judah), calling them Oholah and Oholibah. He described their harlotry and pronounced judgment on them ( Ezekiel 23 ). Hosea entered into an elaborate sign act in order to preach to the northern kingdom about its sin of spiritual harlotry. God told him to marry Gomer ( Hosea 1:2-3 ). When she was unfaithful, he took her back in love (3:1-3). In the same way, God had taken Israel as his bride (2:15), but she had prostituted herself to the Canaanite deities (2:2-13). The divine husband was going to punish his "wife" for a time so that Israel would repent and return (2:3,8-13). Although divorce was invoked (2:2) the ultimate goal was reconciliation (2:16-20).

The New Testament . Jesus pointed out that harlots and tax collectors were quicker to repent, believe, and enter the kingdom of God than the proud religious leaders ( Matthew 21:28-32 ). The prodigal son, who apparently wasted his inheritance on harlots ( Luke 15:13,30 ), was welcomed home when he repented (vv. 20-24). Paul warns against immorality, because he who sleeps with a prostitute becomes one with her, which is not fitting for the believer, who belongs to Christ ( 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 ). The Apocalypse refers to Rome (= Babylon) as "the great harlot, " which will be punished forever for persecuting the Lord's servants (17:1-18; 19:1-3).

William B. Nelson, Jr.

See also Pagan Gods And Goddesses; Idolatry Idol; Sexual Immorality

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [2]

In the ancient world, as in the modern, prostitution was widespread ( Genesis 38:15;  Joshua 2:1;  Judges 11:1;  Judges 16:1;  1 Kings 3:16;  Proverbs 2:16;  Proverbs 6:26;  Luke 15:30). In Israelite law the penalty for prostitution was death, usually by stoning ( Leviticus 19:29;  Leviticus 21:7;  Leviticus 21:9;  Deuteronomy 22:21;  John 8:5).

Prostitutes bring lasting damage to themselves and their lovers. The Bible gives strong warnings against them ( Proverbs 2:16-19;  Proverbs 5:1-14;  Proverbs 6:23-27; Proverbs 7). Christians in particular should have no union with prostitutes, since they already are spiritually united with Jesus Christ ( 1 Corinthians 6:15-20).

Although the Bible condemns prostitution, it does not reject prostitutes as being without hope of salvation. In the time of Jesus, prostitutes and other socially despised people were usually more willing to listen to the message of Jesus than were religiously respectable people. Some believed in him and found forgiveness ( Matthew 9:11-13;  Matthew 21:31-32;  Luke 7:37-50;  Luke 15:1). (See also Adultery .)

In Old Testament times Israel was unfaithful to God in leaving him and going after false gods. This unfaithfulness was likened to the behaviour of an unfaithful wife who leaves her husband to become a prostitute ( Isaiah 1:21;  Jeremiah 13:27; Ezekiel 16;  Hosea 1:2;  Hosea 2:13;  Micah 1:7). Israel’s idolatry, besides being spiritual prostitution, involved physical prostitution. In many of the idolatrous religions, prostitutes were available for sexual rites that people believed gave increase in family, crops, flocks and herds ( 1 Kings 14:23-24;  Jeremiah 3:6-10;  Jeremiah 13:22-27;  Hosea 4:7-14;  Amos 2:7-8; see Baal ).

God’s prophets sometimes likened political and commercial agreements between Israel and pagan nations to acts of prostitution. Such agreements were often unions of shame designed solely for personal advantage. They ignored God’s standards and defied his authority ( Isaiah 23:17;  Nahum 3:4). This anti-God spirit, symbolized by the prostitute, found its expression in New Testament times in the Roman Empire. It will find its fullest expression in the days of the world’s final great rebellion prior to the return of Jesus Christ (Revelation 17).

Holman Bible Dictionary [3]

 Genesis 38:1 Hosea 4:14 Judges 11:2

Although the Old Testament records no laws prohibiting men from visiting prostitutes and making use of their services, there are strong counsels against such behavior ( Proverbs 23:27-28;  Proverbs 29:3 ). The apocryphal Book of Ecclesiasticus gives similar warnings ( Proverbs 9:3-9;  Proverbs 19:2 ).

The Holiness Code prohibited Israelite fathers from turning their daughters into prostitutes ( Leviticus 19:29 ), which might have been a temptation during times when poverty was widespread. It may be that most prostitutes in Israel were foreign or Canaanite women. That would help explain why the Book of Proverbs speaks of the harlot literally as a “strange” and “foreign” woman (translated in the RSV as “loose woman,” “evil woman”) ( Proverbs 2:16;  Proverbs 5:3;  Proverbs 6:24 ).

Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that harlots would go into the kingdom before they would ( Matthew 21:31 ), not because He condoned prostitution, but because harlots did not have the self-righteousness which kept the religious leaders from repentance. Paul reminded Corinthian Christians that their bodies were the temple of the Holy Spirit; therefore, they should refrain from immorality, including sexual relations with prostitutes ( 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 ).

The term cult prostitution is frequently used to refer to certain practices in Canaanite fertility cults, including the cult of Baal. See  1 Kings 14:24 ,  1 Kings 15:12 ,  1 Kings 22:46;  2 Kings 23:7 ). Cult prostitution is outlawed by the Deuteronomic law code ( Deuteronomy 23:17-18 ).

The presence of both “secular” and “cult prostitutes” provided the prophets with a powerful metaphor for the unfaithfulness of the people toward God. The covenant was imaged as a marriage between the Lord and the people; their continual interest in other gods, especially Baal, was seen as a form of harlotry. This idea is graphically presented in  Ezekiel 16:1 (compare   Ezekiel 23:1 ). Because the Lord's bride has become a harlot, she will be punished as a harlot. Hosea also attacked the Israelite attraction to the fertility religion of Canaan as harlotry. He felt called of God to marry a harlot ( Hosea 1:2 ), a symbolic action (or object lesson) representing God's relationship with Israel. Hosea's love for his unfaithful and harlotrous wife was analogous to God's love for unfaithful Israel.

The Book of Revelation applies the image of harlot to Rome, which is likened to a woman in scarlet and jewels, to whom the kings of the earth go ( Revelation 17:1-6 ).

Wilda W. Morris

Webster's Dictionary [4]

(1): ( n.) The act of setting one's self to sale, or of devoting to infamous purposes what is in one's power; as, the prostitution of abilities; the prostitution of the press.

(2): ( n.) The act or practice of prostituting or offering the body to an indiscriminate intercourse with men; common lewdness of a woman.

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [5]

PROSTITUTION. See Crimes and Punishments, 3 .