Prostitute, Nun Or Man–Woman : Revisiting The Position Of The Old Babylonian Nadi?tu Priestesses

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Peer-Reviewed Research
  • SDG 5
  • Abstract:

    Present–day scholars debate the status and role of the Old Babylonian nadi?tu, describing them as priestesses who served as sacred prostitutes (Astour 1966), and/or living as virgin–celibate devotees of god(s), comparable with present–day nuns (Launderville 2010; Stol 1999; 1995), and/or acting as secluded priestesses outside the normal boundaries of patriarchal control (Diakonoff 1986). However, scholars such as Harris and Stone rather focus on their economic and social roles in the family and in the institutions of the city–states: see Harris (1975, etc.) on the nadi?tu from Sippar, and Stone (1982) on the nadi?tu from Nippur. The origins of these two scholars? textual sources differ, although their studies still show that the nadi?tu institutions were not a homogeneous group. In this study, I contend that three nadi?tu groups possess a variety of attributes, depending on the type of group and social–economic circumstances in Old Babylonian Nippur and Sippar institutions, as well as on the intentions of the paterfamilias and male family members. In addition, the nad?tu?s religious role did not include living a virgin–celibate life such as that of a present–day nun, and these priestesses have erroneously been classified as sacred prostitutes (Roth 1999). Rather, the nad?tu institution?s raison d être was to serve as an advantage to her family and society. When allowed to do so, the nad?tu could by her wit and labour accumulate property securing to an extent some financial independence. Still, her financial independence from the patriarchal household was limited and in some instances prohibited in the interplay among the different OB institutions.