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The qdesha in Hosea 4:14: Putting the (Myth of the) Sacred Prostitute to Bed

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Despite a lack of evidence for the practice of sacred prostitution in the ancient Middle East, scholars have continued to understand the word qdešɔ in Hosea 4:14 to denote a female officiant who performed sexual acts in a cultic setting. This article argues that the understanding of the qdešɔ as a cultic prostitute has appealed to interpreters for over two millennia because the Hebrew word has a semantic range that includes both female cultic functionaries and prostitutes. The lexeme denotes a class of women who are employed outside of the patrimonial estate, including priestesses or prostitutes (but never both at the same time). When the prophet indicts the Israelites for sacrificing with qdešot, he deploys a pun that strengthens his metaphor of Israel as a wayward woman.

Affiliations: 1: University of Chicago


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