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In Mesopotamian lists, the Semitic word kharimtu , usually translated "prostitute," was often written with, or close to, the titles of female cultic personnel. As a result, the latter became "tainted" by proximity (Assante 1998:11) . Thus not only qadishtu but other female cultic titles were translated "sacred or temple prostitute" (Assante 2003:32) .
The Mesopotamian Semitic titles which have usually been translated as "sacred prostitute" include naditu , qadishtu , and entu (Oden 2000:148-150; Assante 1998:9; Lambert 1992:137-141) . In general, naditu priestesses were high-status women who were expected to be chaste (Assante 1998:38-39; Henshaw 1994:192-195) . At Sippar in Old Babylonian times (ca.1880-1550 BCE), they included royal and noble women (Harris 1960:109,123ff.) . There is no evidence that a naditu ‘s duties included ritual sex (Oden 2000:148) . The title qadishtu , "holy, consecrated, or set-apart woman," has the same root as the Hebrew q e deshah (Assante 1998:44-45; Henshaw 1994:207-213) . After scholars have carefully scrutinized "extensive evidence of [the qadishtu’s] cultic and other functions" (Gruber 1986:139) , it is clear that the qadishtu was no "cult prostitute" (Oden 2000:149) . Indeed, it is likely that most Mesopotamian priestesses, with one possible exception, were expected to be pure and chaste.
The one exception might have been the entu , whom the Sumerians called Nin.Dingir "Lady Deity" or "Lady Who Is Goddess" (Henshaw 1994:47; Frayne 1985:14) . If the "Sacred Marriage Rite" ever involved human participants, this priestess might, as "Inanna," have had ritual intercourse with the king. However, the entu had very high status (Henshaw 1994:46) and, according to Mesopotamian law codes, had to adhere to "strict ethical standards" (Hooks 1985:13) . Whatever else she was, she was not a prostitute.
For a certain period, the "Sacred Marriage" was an important fertility ritual in Mesopotamia (Frayne 1985:6) . As a result of the king’s participation, whatever form it took, he became Inanna’s consort, sharing "her invaluable fertility power and potency" (Kramer 1969:57) , as well as, to some extent, her divinity and that of her bridegroom Dumuzi. Unfortunately, no text tells us what happened in the temple’s ritual bedroom, not even whether the participants were human beings or statues (Hooks 1985:29) . However, in a persuasive article, Douglas Frayne argues that, at least in early times, the participants were human: the king and the Nin.Dindir/ entu (Frayne 1985:14) .
In the "Sacred Marriage" material, the female participant is always called Inanna (Sefati 1998:305) , so her human identity is obscured. That is not surprising, for I suspect that, during the ritual, the only female present was Inanna. What I am suggesting is that the Nin.Dindir/ entu was a medium. Through talent and training, she went into a trance and allowed Inanna to take over her body. Then the goddess could actually be present during the ritual. To a greater or lesser degree, the king could similarly have embodied the god Dumuzi.
A medium is "… a social functionary whose body only, the person’s awareness suppressed while in an ecstatic state, serves as a means for spirits to assist and/or communicate with members of the medium’s group in a positive manner" (Paper 1995:87) . The "witch of Endor" in the Hebrew Bible (I Samuel 28:7-25) was likely a medium, and other ancient examples include the oracular priestesses through whom Apollo spoke at Delphi and the Maenad devotees of Dionysus (Kraemer 1989:49) . Today mediums function in many religions: for instance, Chinese, Korean, African, and African-Christian of the Americas (Paper 1997:95,104-107,222-226,303; Sered 1994:181-193) . Interestingly, the majority of contemporary mediums are female (Paper 1997:95) .
Ancient Mesopotamia, like most other cultures, had its prophets and seers (Westenholz 2004:295) . A number of them probably worked through trance. Indeed, "… ecstatic religious functionaries, that is, those whose religious functioning involves trance, are virtually ubiquitous in human cultures" (Paper forthcoming) . So it would not surprise me to discover that the Inanna of the "Sacred Marriage" rite was actually properly named, for the goddess was using the body of a willing and devout ecstatic and priestess, who was certainly not a "cult prostitute." On the contrary, she would have had extremely high status and have been deeply revered, for she was chosen of the goddess. Finally, then, the identity of the human female participant in the ritual is irrelevant. She was Inanna!
"Tragically," says one contemporary scholar, "scholarship suffered from scholars being unable to imagine any cultic role for women in antiquity that did not involve sexual intercourse" (Gruber 1986:138) . However, recent scholars are fast setting the record straight. Even if ancient priestesses were involved in ritual sex, even if they received offerings for their temples, they were not prostitutes but devotees worshipping their deity.
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