Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Temple Women

Dr. Alice C. Linsley

Sargon the Great lived from about 2290 to 2215 BC. Sargon's empire included the southern region of Mesopotamia, Syria, and part of Iran. When Sargon died, his son Rimush (Ramesh) by his sister-wife ascended the throne. 

Sargon's maternal grandfather - Sargon the Elder- conquered Nippur in 2340 B.C. and established his capital in Akkad (Agade/Agadez). His daughter was the mother of Sargon the Great. She was a temple dedicated Sumerian princess according to Sargon the Great's birth narrative: 

My mother was a high priestess... My high priestess mother conceived me, in secret she bore me. She set me in a basket of rushes, with bitumen she sealed my lid. She cast me into the river which rose over me. The river bore me up and carried me to Akki, the drawer of water. Akki, the drawer of water, took me as his son and reared me. Akki, the drawer of water, appointed me as his gardener. 


High status temple women such as Sargon the Great's mother were independently wealthy. Some served as royal officials over the king's water shrines with their luxurious gardens. That was the case for Sargon's daughter, Enheduanna. Sargon appointed Heduanna as the En (master, mistress, royal official) of the shrine at Ur. This was a shrewd political move to secure power in the south of his kingdom. En-Heduanna served the Creator God Anu, at the house or temple (pr) of Anu (Iannu). As with Roman Catholic nuns, she would have been considered “married” to the deity she served. En-Heduanna is credited with a large body of cuneiform poetry.

Some temple women went into business as tavern keepers. They were skilled beer brewers because this was one of the duties of temple women. Temple women performed sacred music and dance. They drew water, wove fabric, and ministered to women. They also baked bread and brewed beer. As early as 4000 B.C. beer was offered in the inner sanctum of the temple to gladden the deity’s heart. Some temple women were so adept at brewing beer that they operated taverns. This enabled them to become women of independent means. A tavern meant financial independence for the fortunate women who had the resources to own one. In some cases, women were able to set up a business because they had received royal beneficences. Temple women also received wealth from their mothers who were temple women.

The Sumerian King Lists name Kug-Bau as a "tavern keeper" and the single ruler of the Third Dynasty of Kish. She ruled between 2500 B.C. and 2330 B.C. The King List refers to her as lugal (ruler), not as eresh (queen consort). She was deified centuries later as the protector of the city of Carchemish. She also was known as Ku-Baba. The prefix Ku means holy or righteous.

Beer was ubiquitous in Mesopotamia, the Nile Valley, and the Indus Valley. In addition to its ritual use as an offering at the temples, it was consumed at sacred festivals. Beer was also a dietary staple and was served at taverns to local people and to travelers. It is likely that the Hebrew tavern keeper Rahab had at one time been a temple woman. She married Salma whose ancestral home was Bethlehem, and she is listed as one of Jesus Christ's ancestors. 

Rahab of Jericho

Taverns were near the city gates and were attached to the city walls with casemate cells as rooms. This sheds light on the probable arrangement of Rahab's tavern. In fortified towns such as Beersheba, Khirbet Qeiyafa, and Jericho, houses attached to the city walls had casemate foundations. Rahab’s tavern likely had casemates in which she stored provisions. Jericho’s casemate walls were engineered to prevent collapse in the event of an earthquake. The casemates were constructed of two parallel walls with perpendicular braces. Some of the casemate cells were filled with dirt to increase stability. An earthquake might cause an individual casemate to collapse without causing the rest of the wall to fall.

Rahab's city of Jericho was situated at the major commercial routes of the Via Maris and the King's Highway. Her tavern would have been a prosperous business that required considerable executive and management skills. Rahab preserved her household and business from attack when she hung a scarlet cord from a window. This was the sign that had been decided beforehand with the Israelite visitors. The cord was visible from outside the city walls.

Biblical sources used different Hebrew words to describe Rahab. One refers to a sacred prostitute (tantric sex), and the other to an inn keeper. The first word is qādēš, and the second is the biradical zn. Leah Bronner points out that the ZN root could refer to zonah (one who sells her body) or to the word zon, an innkeeper. The biblical scholar and archaeologist D. J. Wiseman noted that tzond can be translated as “barmaid.”

The hospitality that Rahab showed to the Hebrew spies suggests that she was simply doing her job. There is no evidence that Rahab was a harlot or that she ran a brothel. In fact, her marriage to a Salma, a Hebrew chief suggests that she was Hebrew since the Hebrew ruler-priests married exclusively within their ruler-priest caste

The punishment for Hebrew women who had sex outside of marriage was severe. They were to be stoned to death or burned alive. Leviticus 21:9 states, “And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.” Neither happened to Rahab. Instead, she became the wife of Salma (Salmon), a righteous Hebrew. Their son Boaz was a ruler or elder of Bethlehem. Boaz married Ruth and their son was Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of King David (Matt. 1:5).

Music, beer, and sex are found in combination throughout human history. It is likely that among the non-Hebrew the occupations of innkeeper, brothel manager, and prostitute were considered as synonymous in ancient times. Because inns gained such a bad reputation, it is not surprising that the Jews and early Christians recommended keeping an open house for the benefit of strangers. The early Christians were admonished to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb. 13.2) and they were encouraged to “practice hospitality ungrudgingly to one another” (1 Pet. 4.9).

Temple Dancers  

Some female tavern owners were former temple dancers or “Devadasi.” They were highly trained in the mudras of sacred dance. Some came from royal bloodlines and were among the few literate women in the region. The temples were under the rule of regional kings who sometimes gave these women sufficient gold and gems to gain their independence. It was considered an honorable deed to sponsor the Devadasi.

Hindu temple dancer performs mudras. 

Mudras are gestures that convey specific meanings within Buddhist and Hindu culture. They are used in daily life and, in a very stylized form, in temple dancing. This is a photo of a temple dancer taken around 1956. Her hands say, "My heart is aflame."

Many of the professional dancers worked in taverns. Nubian women who managed taverns were known for their skill as dancers and their devotion to Hathor. These women are related to the cattle-herding C-Group peoples who migrated out of Africa. The importance of cattle to the early Nilotic and Sumerian herdsmen explains the association of Hathor with her crown of bull horns in which the solar orb rests as a sign of divine appointment by overshadowing (cf. Luke 1:35). The early Hebrew were devotees of the High God and his son who was born of Hathor. Like the Nubians dancers, Horite Hebrew temple dancers participated in ritual performances to honor Hathor, the mother of Horus (HR - "Most High One" in Egyptian). The festivals included the consumption of beer. However, the Nubian dancers and tavern keepers lost status when Islamic law forbade beer consumption and the Hindu temples in northern India were demolished.


  1. I really learn a lot from this blog post. As you say, it iis not possible to understand women in the Bible without this info. Pray you are well👍. John Bierma

  2. By God's grace, I am well. Thank you, John.


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