Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ritual Sex and Ancient Egyptian Priests

Alice C. Linsley

Perhaps you have heard the expression "the flesh pots of Egypt" and wondered about the phrase. Recently a poorly informed journalist used this to imply that the ancient Egyptians participated in ritual sex. That is not the origin of the expression, however. The phrase refers to the availablity of lamb that the Habiru/Hebrew enjoyed while in Egypt.

The Habiru were a caste of priests who were known for their wholesome lives. In fact, most of the priests of ancient Egypt and the Nile were concerned about sexual purity and disdained sexual immorality.

The priests of ancient Egypt who maintained shrines along the Nile regarded ritual purity as essential to their ministry. Many of these priests were devotees of Horus and are called "Horites" in the Bible. The Horites were a caste of ruler-priests who maintained high standards of moral behavior. Before their time of service in the temples they shaved their bodies and did not consume wine. Plutarch wrote that the “priests of the Sun at Heliopolis never carry wine into their temples, for they regard it as indecent for those who are devoted to the service of any god to indulge in the drinking of wine whilst they are under the immediate inspection of their Lord and King. The priests of the other deities are not so scrupulous in this respect, for they use it, though sparingly.”

Horite priests enjoyed married life but they abstained from sexual relations before serving in the temples. Ritual sex was discussed because it represented a departure from the ways of the Horim. We have no evidence that Horite priests followed the practices condemned by the prophets in Canaan. In the ancient world Horite priests were known for their purity and devotion to the High God.

After the establishment Solomon's temple, women served as person consecrated to the temple in various capacities, but not as temple prostitutes. Fertility rites involving ritual sex were known in association with the cults of Venus and Aphrodite, but not in association with YHWH. That is not is say that fertility was not extremely valued among the people of Israel. They regarded "be fruitful and multiply" as a divine injunction or command.

Edward Lipinski writes:

Contrary to the claims of some 20th-century scholarship, the Hebrew Bible never refers directly to cult prostitutes. Many modern Bible translations are simply misleading in this respect. Much of the confusion results from a misunderstanding of a few Biblical texts that mention qedeshot, the plural of qedeshah, which is related to qodesh, “holy place.” Originally qedeshah referred to a “consecrated maiden,” but Biblical authors used it in the sense of “harlot.”

In the ancient Near East, women could in fact be dedicated by their fathers or their masters to a deity. Women could also devote themselves to the service of a god or a goddess in order to secure their living. This was done mainly by young widows without grown children, by repudiated wives, by female slaves sent away (like Hagar, Abraham’s concubine in Genesis 21), by lonely women, etc. These “consecrated” persons performed tasks in the sanctuary, provided domestic help in temple annexes, perhaps provided musical entertainment and possibly sexual services, remitting their fees to the temple. However, qedeshot in the Bible never appear as performing religious sexual rituals, which is the key attribute of a cult prostitute. Women on duty at the entrance to Israelite sanctuaries are mentioned in Exodus 38:8 and 1 Samuel 2:22, but their tasks are not described, and they are not called qedeshot.

The figure shown in the BAR article quoted above is an 8-inch silver-painted bronze statuette found in Syria. It shows the widespread religious syncretism of the Ancient Near East. The woman wears Hathor-Meri's horns on her head and these serve as a solar cradle, expressing the ancient belief that the sun inseminates the earth. Among Abraham's Horite ancestors the sun was regarded as the emblem of the Creator and they expected a woman of their ruler-priest lines to conceive the Divine "Seed" (Gen. 3:15) by the overshadowing of the sun. 

Related reading:  Wine Use in Antiquity; 2,400 B.C. Tomb of Purification Priest; Purity Seal From Herod's Temple; Edward Lipinski, Cult Prostitution in Ancient Israel?


Anonymous said...

Herodotus said that these priests didn't enter temples when they had had affairs with their wives until they got bath( they washed themselves). like it is stated in the Quran, So also for the wine or beer.
The mnotheist religions convey the same message But many of these messages were perverted.

Alice Linsley said...

Herodotus (B.C. 485-425) is the source of a great deal of information about ancient Egypt and the Nilotic peoples. He tells us about circumcision, saying: "Egyptians and the Ethiopians have practiced circumcision since time immemorial. The Phoenicians and the Syrians of Palestine themselves admit that they learnt the practice from the Egyptians, while the Syrians in the river Thermodon and the Pathenoise region and their neighbours the Macrons say they learnt it recently from the Colchidians. These are the only races which practice circumcision, and it is observable that they do it in the same way with the Egyptians."

He tells about how sedge was prepared as a food source, saying: "... they pull up from the fens the papyrus which grows every year, and the upper parts of it they cut off and turn to other uses, but that which is left below for about a cubit in length they eat or sell: and those who desire to have the papyrus at its very best bake it in an oven heated red-hot, and then eat it." (Herodotus, Histories, Vol. 2)

Herodotus' water people were Nilotes and Afro-Arabians. He uses the Greek term for the Red Sea to encompass the Gulf of Suez, the Gulf of Aqaba, the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea. He referred to the Sudanese are Sudra and to the Dravidians of the Indian Ocean as the “eastern Ethiopians.” This is how he described them: "The Eastern Ethiopians differed in nothing from the other Ethiopians, save in their language, and the character of their hair. For the Eastern Ethiopians have straight hair, while they of Libya are more woolly-haired…” (Herodotus VI.70, Histories, trans. George Rawlinson, Dutton)

Ade said...

What sexual practices did Canaanite prophets condemn?


Alice Linsley said...

Homosex and ritual sex at asherah poles. Asherah poles were erected to mark shrines dedicated to the Ugaritic fertility goddess Asherah. This development arrived in Canaan long after the time of the Patriarchs.

But, first let's back up and clarify who we are speaking about.

The Bible passages that speak about “the Canaanites” reflect authors who lived well after the time of the Patriarchs. In Genesis 10 the peoples who descend from Noah through his grandsons Sidon and Het (Heth) are said to be the original inhabitants of Canaan (Palestine). This is supported by evidence from many disciples, including linguistics, archaeology, anthropology and genetics.

In II Chronciles 8:7 and I Kings 9:20 the term “Canaanite” is used to distinguish the Israelites from the other clans living in Canaan. However, it is clear from Genesis 10 that the Israelites and the Canaanite rulers were related by blood. The Canaanites were Afro-Arabian peoples. The Nilotic and Proto-Saharan ancestry of their rulers is traced using the Genesis King Lists. Genesis 10 acknowledges that the rulers of Israel and the rulers of Canaan are blood related as descendants of Noah. We are not talking about different ethnic groups, or races, but of related ruling houses who were responsible for preservation of the ancient ways of the Horim (Fathers).

Genesis 10: 15-19 traces the Canaanite rulers to an otherwise unknown descendant of Noah named Canaan.

"Canaan fathered the Sidon his first-born, then Heth, and the Jebusites, the Amorites, Girgashites, Hivites, Arkites, Sinites, Arvadites, Zemarites and Hamathites. Later Canaanite clans spread out. The Canaanite frontier stretched from Sidon all the way to Gerar near Gaza and all the way to Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim near Lehsa."

Homosex was practiced in Sodom. The Biblical writers regarded this as a violation of the order of creation and an affront to the Creator.

Anonymous said...

Genesis 9:22 gives the identity of Canaan. He is the son of Ham, who is the son of Noah.

Alice Linsley said...


Since Canaan's name does not appear in the Genesis king lists, he is likely an apical ancestor of the two lines Heth and Sidon. Where there are two lines, we usually have two first-born sons whose descendants intermarry. Very likely the name Canaan is linguistically related to Kenan (listed in the Gen. 5 king list). Kenan was the grandson of Cain by one of his un-named daughters. The royal lines of Cain and Seth intermarried.