The wikipedia article is not clear:

Prostitution was common in ancient Israel, despite being tacitly forbidden by Jewish Law.

What was the law forbidding prostitution? Given that prostitutes could take professional disputes to court, what was the legal role of prostitution?

I can't simply google up this type of question. This question is controversial due to it's political significance.

Most sober historians would argue that, as some of the comment says, that the Torah only prohibits cult prostitution and not regular entrepreneurs.

Most "born again" Christians would argue that it's always been illegal.

Also what constitute marriage and prostitution may differ in ancient Israel than what's now.

Now, we probably decide based on 2 things. Whether the marriage is registered at the state and whether an explicit contract of sex for money is involved.

I bet ancient Israelites do not differentiate marriage and prostitution that way. I bet most "marriage" in ancient culture is never registered officially anywhere. Perhaps they think promiscuity is the issue?

So the answer to this question is pretty "nuanced"

I asked in history stackexchange because I want a more sober objective answer. I bet laws in ancient Israel isn't much different from laws in pretty much most ancient culture. And perhaps we can make more educated guess on that.

  • 1
  • 1
    Why the vote closes? This is a very important historical question.
    – user4951
    Nov 27, 2013 at 6:46
  • 4
    It's not obvious, it's a question whose answer can be easily looked up with a simple search, and is answered in Wikipedia. You have added some parts, which improves it a bit but now it is instead unclear what you are asking as you now answer the original question. Nov 27, 2013 at 8:18
  • More relevant questions are how the Jewish Laws and the laws during say, Roman era in ancient Israel differed, or what exactly the legal status of prostitutes are in the Bible (which is a complex topic, although probably also best left to external sites who can delve into those depths) and similar. Nov 27, 2013 at 8:25
  • 2
    @JimThio It seems to differ by period, and the Wikipedia doesn't actually claim that Jewish law explicitly forbids it. And "Ancient Israel" is a fuzzy concept stretching thousands of years and multiple religions. Nov 27, 2013 at 10:41

2 Answers 2


As a question of law, it is pretty obviously not legal; but if you read the prophets you find it was understood that it was practiced throughout the entire time of the divided kingdoms. If you read carefully, you find a reference during the reign of 1 Kings saying "but the people continued to offer sacrifices in the high places". An again in the proverbs there is warning upon warning about the prostitutes where mainly it refers to spending ones youth or wealth on time, as opposed to wayword woman which is described as destruction. It's almost like it was tolerated due to being too difficult to stamp out and nobody willing to bring charges, despite the penalty for the john being rather severe.

A careful reading reveals that prostitution does not carry the death penalty for the prostitute in the normal case (neither betrothed nor married) so there's no reason they would not have access to the courts.

  • a careful reading reveals? What careful reading? But the people continued to offer sacrifices in the high places has little to do with prostitution. It's more of the king of Judah wants people to offer sacrifices in, and only in, beith hamikah which he controls. The motives is probably similar with people wanting others to send money to his btc address.
    – user4951
    Oct 27, 2017 at 8:10

To the best of my knowledge, there are no surviving records outside the Bible that can be linked to the time of Solomon. There are surviving mentions from the records of other nations to King David, and to some of the kings who reigned after Solomon, but not to Solomon. (Not shocking in itself -- lots of people in ancient times are known to us from only one or two sources.)

It's instructive but not definitive to examine the Mosaic Law. I was surprised when I checked on this to find that the Mosaic law does not have any clear prohibition of prostitution. Deuteronomy 23:17 bans cult prostitutes, but not prostitutes in general. Deuteronomy 22:21 says that if a man marries and discovers that his bride was not a virgin, she can be executed. But if a prostitute never tries to marry ... there's no clear law against it. It was certainly condemned as horribly immoral. It makes me wonder if it was like pornography or alcohol abuse in the U.S. today: widely condemned, but not illegal.

I say it's not definitive because just because something was written in the law 430 years before doesn't prove the law was still enforced or even thought about. Or new laws may have been written.

So I think the answer is: no one knows. I'm happy to hear if anyone has information I'm not familiar with.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge that you have read and understand our privacy policy and code of conduct.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.