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A Tale of Two Reviews

April 4, 2009

For an interesting experiment in dueling reviews, check out the two reviews of Stephanie Lynn Budin’s The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity over at Review of Biblical Literature. Mayer Gruber and Lena-Sofia Tiemeyer review the book with quite differing conclusions.

I truly recommend Gruber’s review. It serves as another case in point of always doing your lit review (as well as another amazing Israeli scholar whose work seems to be being overlooked). His summary at the end is amazing for the conflagration it ignites:

For students and scholars of biblical studies, the target audience of Review of Biblical Literature, I cannot recommend this book because it offers nothing of value to them…. In short, Budin claims to prove what has already been proven and camouflages the evidence for her unoriginality by systematically removing from the index the names of a distinguished group of scholars (some of whose work indeed appears in her bibliography and in the body of the book) who already proved more than a quarter of a century ago that neither Hebrew Scripture nor Akkadian texts mentioning qadishtu refer to sacred prostitution.

However, a real contrast can be seen in Tiemeyer’s review. Hers gives an overall summary of the work without the (well deserved) vitriol that Gruber brings to the discussion. Tiemeyer sums up her review

Budin presents a coherent and convincing case, although, at times, her style is rather
polemical and her verdict a foregone conclusion…. Despite these minor shortcomings, the book definitely is important, and I hope it will have the impact it deserves.

I recommend reading both reviews, but I’m not sure I’ll be reading Budin’s book.

  1. April 4, 2009 12:39 pm

    Hi Jim,

    Last time I checked, Mayer Gruber was male.

    For the rest, the one problem with well-deserved vitriol is that virtually no one is undeserving of it on occasion. I reviewed a volume by Gruber here:

    Gruber’s edition of Rashi’s commentary on the Psalms is anomalous in the sense that it does not follow standard text-critical procedures.

    Finally, I thought the existence, extent, and forms prostitution took in the vicinity of, if not under the aegis of, cult centers in the ancient world, remain matters for open discussion. I suppose it’s possible that the massive number of prostitutes who worked the pilgrims who went to Rome in the Middle Ages was an atypical phenomenon. Somehow, I doubt it.

    • April 4, 2009 12:59 pm

      Misplaced pronouns are a pain, thanks for catching that. It’s now fixed.

      I completely concur with your perspective on vitriol. That should be part of this cautionary tale as well.

      More interestingly, I wonder about terminology. Are the medieval prostitutes you note “sacred prostitutes”? Did the pilgrims consider such sexual dalliances an act of religious duty? I’m not being rhetorical, just confessing my ignorance.

      Conversely, could there have been women of negotiable affections in the ancient world who plied their trade on a steady flow of passing pilgrims and as such gained an ironic or pejorative designation as “holy” or “sacred”?

      So much that we just don’t know…

  2. April 4, 2009 2:29 pm

    As far as Rome and the Vatican are concerned, it was of course out of the question for the religious authorities to give a stamp of approval on the phenomenon of prostitution in the proximity of pilgrimage destinations. Still, they taxed it, which means they must have had inspectors. I seem to remember reading that the income was very significant. In short, there was a symbiotic relationship.

    Did ANE religious authorities in various times and places provide ideological cover of some sort for prostitution in the proximity of , or on the grounds of, cult centers? How were the financial transactions handled? These need to be open questions. What happens in Vegas (Babylon), stays in Vegas (Jerusalem) – but not really.

    As far as what the terminology covered, it’s appropriate to keep the options open. At this point, that’s what I am arguing for.

  3. June 4, 2009 6:14 am

    Dear Jim (if I may),

    Having read your comments on my review, as well as Gruber’s review of Budin’s book of (the absence of) sacred prostitution, I wish to add a few comments. I agree with Gruber that Budin’s research on the biblical evidence rests upon the shoulders of many scholars and she is by no means the first to argue that there was no sacred prostitution in ancient Israel and in Mesopotamia.
    However, the bulk of Budin’s book looks at the issue of sacred prostitution as attested in Greek texts, something that Gruber refrains from commenting on in his review. Given this, Budin’s book should be judged based on all its content, not merely by its first 34 pages (out of ca 300 pagers).


    • June 4, 2009 7:25 am


      Thanks for your comment.

      You’re right. If RBL had only posted a review by Mayer Gruber, it would seem that the bulk of Budin’s book was Mesopotamian and biblical in character. To be clear, I think that your review is more helpful precisely because you give an overall summary of the work. Gruber’s review is useful only to the extent that you’re already an expert on the subject.

      I’ve noticed a similar trend on other RBL recent reviews of posting two reviews: one more general and another more specialized. I think it is helpful to the scholarly community and hope that SBL continues with this policy.

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