Prostitution, (whoredom or harlotry) is the engagement in sexual acts with a person (a prostitute), oftentimes (but not always) a woman, in exchange for some sort of payment. Prostitution was widespread throughout ancient times in Canaan , Israel and in Rome. In those days (especially in the period prior to the exile), prostitution was a less taboo and more widely recognized part of society- though still ridiculed by the population as a whole. Prostitution had an important cultural significance in those days so much so that the historical accounts within the Bible are greatly shaped by prostitutes and even the writing itself is informed by it.
While primarily an individual practice, religiously sanctioned cult prostitution was widespread, especially in the worship of Ba'al before the exile and afterwards in temples of Aphrodite throughout Rome. Due to links between idolatry, worshipping false gods, Adultery and prostitution, God uses prostitutes as a symbol of unfaithfulness and spiritual apostasy. In the messages of the prophets, God portrays Israel's unfaithfulness through the imagery of prostitute engaging with foreign nations that would have been shocking and repulsive to the hearers.
As a notable part of society, prostitution was an important moral issue. Asides from wisdom to avoid them given in Proverbs, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, Paul gives ethical exhortations about the dangers of prostitutes in his First letter to the Corinthians.
Being of a profession that was disdained for obvious reasons, prostitutes were an archetype of the unrighteous in the The Gospels. Jesus made a particular point to associate and show compassion to prostitutes alongside tax collectors to the dismay and criticism of the religious elite- the Pharisees, Sadducees and scribes in particular.
When Dinah was raped by Shechem, Simeon and Levi slaughtered all the men of the city. When Jacob confronted them about this, they justified it by saying that Shechem had treated Dinah like a prostitute.
Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah had lost her husband before he was able to provide her with children. Therefore, Judah asked Onan to fulfill a Levirate marriage, however he refused to do so. Wanting children desperately, Tamar covered herself with veilings of a prostitute and sat the outside the city gate of Enaim. When Judah passed by on his way to Timnah, he lied with the veiled woman, thinking she was a prostitute. Acting as a prostitute, Tamar asked for a form of payment. Judah offered her a goat and gave her his ring and staff as a pledge.
The sexual engagement of Israelite men with the Moabite women and subsequent worship of Ba'al is described as "whoredom"
In the Prophets
Prostitutes are only mentioned in passing in Proverbs, yet always with negative connotations. In the descriptions of an adulterous woman, prostitutes are mentioned as being the price of a loaf of bread. Furthermore, the adulterous woman is described as being dressed like a prostitute. Later in a small proverb, the prostitute is equated with an adulteress. Specifically, the prostitute is described as a "deep pit" who like the adulteress lies in wait like a robber.
One proverb describes companionship with prostitutes as destroying wealth. While the wise man will please his father, the one who spends his money on prostitutes will loose everything, the implication being the person who does this is not wise and will not please his father.
In First Corinthians
Prostitutes are mentioned in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. When addressing the issue of sexual immorality, Paul describes how those who partake in sexual relations form a union. Therefore, Paul gives the admonition that a person who has sex with a prostitute joins in union with her- something that is compatible with union with God. In the context, Paul may be talking about the union of the Corinthian Christians with cult prostitutes in the Temple of Aphrodite.