Religious prostitution, sacred prostitution, temple prostitution or harlotry is the practice of having sexual intercourse (with a person other than one's spouse) for a religious or sacred purpose. A woman engaged in such practices is sometimes called a temple prostitute or hierodule, though modern connotations of the term prostitute render the signification of these phrases opaque.
The New International Version of the Old Testament translates the Hebrew text in several places as "shrine prostitution", reflecting their view of the term. For example, Genesis 37:23 as translated by the New International Version reads: 'He asked the men who lived there, "Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Emenaem?" "There hasn't been any shrine prostitute here," they said.' The older King James Bible and Jewish Publication Society translations use the term "harlot." (see also .)
The term "Kdesha" used in this and other contexts for a prostitute is very similar to the term "Kdosha" which means "A holy woman". believe that this linguistic similarity is evidence of the prevalence of the institution of religious prostitution in early Biblical times.
Christian hagiography records the nearly-identical stories of the two pairs of saints, Theodora and Didymus and Antonia and Alexander, centering on a Christian virgin being sent to a brothel against her will, saved by a virtuous man pretending to be her "customer" and culminating with both undergoing martyrdom. This repeated theme might reflect the institution of religious prostitution as remembered in a highly-disapproving Christian tradition.
Bernal Diaz del Castillo (16th century), in his The Conquest of New Spain, reported that the Mexica peoples regularly practiced pederastic relationships, and male adolescent sacred prostitutes would congregate in temples. The conquistadores, like most Europeans of the 16th century, were horrified by the widespread acceptance of sex between men and youths in Aztec society, and used it as one justification for the extirpation of a native society, religion and culture, and the theft of the lands and wealth that belonged to the indigenous people of the lands; of all customs of the Nahuatl-speaking peoples, only human sacrifice produced a greater disapproval amongst the Spaniards in Mexico. The custom died out with the collapse of the Aztec civilization.
The practice devadasi, as it has come to be seen, and similar customary forms of hierodulic prostitution in Southern India (such as basavi), involving dedicating adolescent girls from villages in a ritual marriage to a deity or a temple, who then work in the temple and act as members of a religious order. Human Rights Watch claims that devadasis are forced at least in some cases to practice prostitution for upper-caste members. Various state governments in India have enacted laws to ban this practice. They include Bombay Devdasi Act, 1934, Devdasi (Prevention of dedication) Madras Act, 1947, Karnataka Devdasi (Prohibition of dedication) Act, 1982, and Andhra Pradesh Devdasi (Prohibition of dedication) Act, 1988.
In the 1970s and early 1980s some religious cults were discovered practicing sacred prostitution as an instrument to recruit new converts. Among them was the alleged cult Children of God/The Family who called this practice "Flirty Fishing". They later abolished the practice due to the growing AIDS epidemic.
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