Temple prostitution in Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy 23:17 (KJV) states:
There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.
This is an “error” by the authors of the King James Version. The word qadesh in the original text was mistranslated as “sodomite.” Quadesh means “holy one” and is here used to refer to a man who engages in ritual prostitution in the temple. There is little evidence that the prostitutes engaged in sexual activities with men. Other Bible translations use accurate terms such as shrine prostitute, temple prostitute, prostitute and cult prostitute.
To reiterate: In this passage, the actual word that is being translated is qadesh, which means “holy one” or “someone set apart for a holy purpose.” In this case the word is referring to people who commit ritual acts of prostitution in order to honor their deity. The clearest translation of this concept would simply be “temple or ritual prostitute.”
For example, Deuteronomy 23:17 should be translated thusly: “There shall be no ritual prostitute of the daughters of Israel, or a ritual prostitute of the sons of Israel.”
Any translation which translates qadesh as “pervert” or “sodomite” is blatantly mistranslating. An example which shows this clearly is found in the New King James Version, which translates qadesh in its male form as “perverted one” but translates qadesh in its female form as “ritual harlot” — both should be “ritual harlot” or “prostitute”!
Founder of Motley Mystic and the Jubilee! Circle interfaith spiritual community In Columbia, S.C., Candace Chellew (she/her) is the author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians (Jossey-Bass, 2008). Founder and Editor Emeritus of Whosoever, she earned her masters of theological studies at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, was ordained by Gentle Spirit Christian Church in December 2003, and trained as a spiritual director through the Omega Point program of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta. She is also a musician and animal lover.