The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity

One modern myth ( the word in the popular sense as untruth)  is that a sacred prostitution was common in both the Ancient Middle East and the Greco-Roman World. This myth of course is found within the Bible in which the charge is commonly made that fornication, adultery, and other forms of illicit sex  were involved in the pagan cults of Canaan / Israel. In the late 19th century and  early 20th century scholars of the ancient world assumed the basic truthfulness of the biblical writings on this subject. When they combined the biblical sources with some of  the writings  of a small number of  Greek authors such as Herodotus and Strabo,  the full fledge theory of the prevalence of sacred prostitution in the Ancient World was born.
Given the fact that the primary testimony for the idea of sacred prostitution is a Biblical source, one would  think that modern members of  the Neopagan community would be suspicious of a theory based on such testimony. Unfortunately that is not the case. In fact many modern Neopagans are in love with the myth of the  sacred prostitute as evidence that ancient Paganism had the same belief in the sacredness of sexuality as does much of modern Paganism. This of course sets Paganism  off from the supposedly anti sexual ideologies  of  the bad old monotheisms of Judaism and Christianity.
Supposedly the sacred prostitutes of the ancient world primary role was to  unite the ordinary man to the sacred sexuality of the Goddess. This modern myth of sacred sexuality and prostitution has helped lead to the development of a glamorous view of “sacred prostitution.” which has at least great theoretical  attraction to some  within the Neopagan community. Within the modern Christo-Pagan movement it has contributed to  modern speculation that  Mary Magdalene was a priestess or holy prostitute of Isis inspite of the absolute lack of evidence  that the ancient Isis cult or any other of the Egyptian cults were ever homes of sacred prostitution.
The problem with the modern myth of sacred prostitution is that during the last 30  years much of the scholarship of the Ancient Middle East and the Greco-Roman world has become very skeptical about the very existence of sacred prostitution in that world. Scholars such as Julia Assante, Tikva Frymer-Kensky, and Stephanie Budin with her “The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity” have shown the real  lack of  evidence that such cults of sacred prostitution ever existed. For those interested in reading an excellent summary article on the subject I would recommend  “Sacred Prostitutes”  by  Joanna Stuckey the editor of  Matrifocus: Cross Quarterly for the Goddess Women. Its link is http://www.matrifocus.com/SAM05/spotlight.htm
Glenn