It is in this context of a sinful world soon ending that Paul agrees with the Corinthians that "it is good for a man not to touch a woman" (1 Cor. 7:1). He apparently does not mean to denigrate women--Paul could just as easily say (were it not for the patriarchal mind-set of his day), "It is good for a woman not to touch a man." He is counseling Christians of both sexes who are unmarried to remain so, and thus to be celibate, as Paul has chosen to be; for those who are married "careth for the things of the world," such as how to please one's mate, when one should be caring instead, given the shortness of time, about "how he may please the Lord" (1 Cor. 7:32-34). "I have espoused you to one husband," Paul tells the Corinthians metaphorically, "that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ" (2 Cor. 11:2). The passing of this world is why Paul expresses no interest in procreation, so highly valued by his Hebrew forebears. But if a man and a woman, for the short time left, cannot contain their sexual desire, "let them marry," says Paul, "for it is better to marry than to burn" (1 Cor. 7:9). He also counsels married couples to "come together" regularly, except for any agreed periodic abstentions, to avoid extramarital temptation (1 Cor. 7:2-5). As for what Paul considers illicit sex, such as homosexuality and any sex outside of marriage, he condemns such "fornication" irrespective of time frame (see FORNICATION: "GOING AFTER STRANGE FLESH).
But considering Paul's discouragement of marriage in his words to the Corinthians and Romans, what should we make of the later letters to Timothy and Titus, in which marriage and procreation are encouraged? "I will therefore that the younger women marry," says 1 Tim. 5:14, "bear children, guide the house." What had happened in the interim to cause such a reversal of position?
More to the point is what had not happened, namely the end of the world. Scholars suspect, based on style as well as content, that Paul's words to Timothy and Titus are not Paul's words at all, but those of someone writing in his name, years after Paul's death, and with an oppressive agenda toward women. Specifically, with the Parousia (Christ's second coming) seemingly postponed indefinitely, it was time to get women out of leadership roles in the church. Women prominent in the church of Paul's day included Lydia, Priscilla, Phoebe, Junia, Tryphena and Tryphosa (Acts 16:14-15; Rom. 16:1,3,12). But patriarchy was the world's social norm, and, as the years wore on, conformity, so male church leaders said, would keep Christians out of trouble--giving "(no) occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully" of the Christian community (1 Tim. 5:16).
This meant putting women in their culturally perceived place, which the church proceeded to do. Thus women, according to the letter to Titus, are to be "keepers at home" and "obedient" to their husbands, "that the word of God be not blasphemed" (2:5). "Let the women learn in silence with all subjection," says 1 Tim. 2:11, for "I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man." This was reinforced by what appears to be an addition, out of character with the rest of Paul's text, to 1 Corinthians (14:34): "Let your women keep silence in the churches." Nor was this subordination just a matter of worldly custom, for 1 Tim. 2:13-14 would have us know that Adam, not Eve, was formed first in Genesis, and that it was the woman, not the man, who was deceived and "was in transgression." (See GENDER.)
This is Paul the woman hater, as though the earlier Paul's statement that there is "neither male nor female" in Christ was some kind of mistake, or has in any case become inoperative. And it is this later "Paul," with help from Augustine (354-430 C.E.) and other church fathers, who saddled Christianity with misogynistic baggage that it still totes today. (On to BABYLON)
The Embrace of Saints Peter and Paul (12th-century Greek fresco) / Hellenic Ministry of Culture
This sad victim of "riotous living" finally decides to head home. His father, seeing him from afar, runs to meet him with a hug and a kiss. "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight," says the repentant lad, "and am no more worthy to be called thy son." But the joyous father, saying "Let us eat, and be merry," orders the killing of a fatted calf, and has his servants fetch his son some fine clothes.
When the elder son in this family comes home from the field to find "music and dancing," and is told it's because "Thy brother is come," he is so angry he will not go in. "Lo, these many years do I serve thee," with every order obeyed, he bitterly tells his father outside, "yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends," but as soon as this other son comes home, who "hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf."
"Son," the father explains to him, "thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine." But "we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found." (See also HARLOTRY: "A-WHORING AFTER OTHER GODS.") (Luke 15:11-32)
Gustave Doré, The Prodigal Son in the Arms of His Father / Bible illustration
Legal prostitution in the Bible reflects the old double standard at work. While his wife must be faithful, a Hebrew man can consort with an unmarried prostitute and not be guilty of adultery. But if the whore's a wife too--virtually another man's property under the patriarchal system of the Hebrews--then both she and her customer are adulterers, a crime for which the penalty is death (Lev. 20:10; Deut. 22:22).
In the New Testament, Rome is symbolized in the book of Revelation as "Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots," riding on a scarlet beast while holding a cup "full of the abominations and filthiness of her fornication" (17:1-5). It is prophesied that the horns of the beast will destroy her with fire, and the kings with whom she has committed fornication will bewail her upon seeing the rising smoke (18:9; see BABYLON).
Until recent years it was the conventional wisdom that cultic sex or sacred prostitution took place in Israel and elsewhere in the ancient Near East. It is certainly true that the Bible makes extensive use of adultery, whoring, and other sexual metaphors to describe the children of Israel's unfaithfulness to Yahweh (see ADULTERY and HARLOTRY.) But metaphors are figures of speech. Many biblical scholars now point to a lack of textual or any other kind of evidence for the practice of sacred prostitution. Tikva Frymer-Kensky calls the whole idea "a myth" based on "ancient and modern sexual fantasies."
Central to the issue is the significance of the word qedeshim and its related forms. In Israel, in addition to the all-male priests, there were male cultic functionaries called qedeshim ("holy men") and female ones called qedeshot ("holy women"). Their only biblically stated activity is found in 2 Kings 23:7: "The women (qedeshot) wove hangings for the grove" (see ASHERAH). Yet translators and commentators have traditionally called these functionaries cult prostitutes. A key passage is Deut. 23:17, in which these personnel are outlawed: "There shall be no qedeshah ('holy woman') among the daughters of Israel and no qadesh ('holy man') among the sons of Israel." This verse is immediately followed by: "You shall not bring the wages of a prostitute (zonah), or the price of a dog (keleb) into the house of Yahweh your God." But it is not clear, from the juxtaposition of these two verses, that qedeshah ("holy woman") and zonah ("prostitute") are being equated, or that the qedeshim are being referred to as dogs. (On other problematic passages, see JUDAH AND TAMAR and COZBI AND ZIMRI.)
It is known from the Ugaritic texts that the Canaanite cult (predating the Hebrew) also included holy men (duties unknown) called qedeshim. Perhaps a desire to rid the Hebrew cult of any vestige of Canaanite influence led to the Deuteronomic law against these functionaries. Thus King Josiah, in addition to destroying Baalim altars and cutting down groves, "broke down the houses of the qedeshim that were by the house of the Lord" (2 Kings 23:7). King Asa similarly "took the qedeshim out of the land" (1 Kings 15:12). But whatever the qedeshim were, Frymer-Kensky and others consider it presumptuous to translate the term as "cult prostitutes" (RSV) or, as the KJV renders it,"sodomites" (1 Kings 14:24, 22:46, 2 Kings 23:7). Carol Yee suggests that a better translation of qedeshah, etc., in the absence of more information, would be "hierodule" (as used also by Theodor Gaster in editing Frazer's The New Golden Bough, and by Phyllis Bird), which simply means "temple servant."
Martial Courteys, Oval Dish with the Whore of Babylon / National Gallery of Art (D.C.)
Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550)
The Prodigal Son Wasting His Patrimony
Engraving, National Gallery of Art, D.C.