(1.) Hebrew: zonah (Gen. 34:31; 38:15). In verses 21, 22 the Hebrew word used in kedeshah, i.e., a woman consecrated or devoted to prostitution in connection with the abominable worship of Asherah or Astarte, the Syrian Venus. This word is also used in Deut. 23:17; Hos. 4:14. Thus Tamar sat by the wayside as a consecrated kedeshah.
It has been attempted to show that Rahab, usually called a "harlot" (Josh. 2:1; 6:17; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25), was only an innkeeper. This interpretation, however, cannot be maintained.
Jephthah's mother is called a "strange woman" (Judg. 11:2). This, however, merely denotes that she was of foreign extraction.
In the time of Solomon harlots appeared openly in the streets, and he solemnly warns against association with them (Prov. 7:12; 9:14. See also Jer. 3:2; Ezek. 16:24, 25, 31). The Revised Version, following the Septuagint, has "and the harlots washed," etc., instead of the rendering of the Authorized Version, "now they washed," of 1 Kings 22:38.
To commit fornication is metaphorically used for to practice idolatry (Jer. 3:1; Ezek. 16:15; Hos. throughout); hence Jerusalem is spoken of as a harlot (Isa. 1:21).
(2.) Heb. nokriyah, the "strange woman" (1 Kings 11:1; Prov. 5:20; 7:5; 23:27). Those so designated were Canaanites and other Gentiles (Josh. 23:13). To the same class belonged the "foolish", i.e., the sinful, "woman."
In the New Testament the Greek pornai, plural, "harlots," occurs in Matt. 21:31,32, where they are classed with publicans; Luke 15:30; 1 Cor. 6:15,16; Heb. 11:31; James 2:25. It is used symbolically in Rev. 17:1, 5, 15, 16; 19:2.
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