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Archive for July 28th, 2011

Come, Shamhat, take me away with you
To the sacred Holy Temple, the residence of Anu and Ishtar
.  –  The Epic of Gilgamesh (Tablet I)

Peer review is the process by which scholars are kept honest and mistakes in methodology or data are discovered; it means that studies are first published in academic journals where other scholars in the field can read them, criticize their flaws, attempt to reproduce the results and otherwise ensure that flawed or even falsified studies are discredited before being quoted by other authors and thereby contaminating the pool of knowledge.  Though the process can certainly discover cases of outright lying or misrepresentation, its main purpose is to discover honest errors and cut through the bias under which even sincere scholars may misinterpret their findings.  One could not ask for a better example of the necessity of the process than the 2001 Estes and Weiner study, which would have been trashed had it been peer reviewed, but was instead published without review and subsequently spawned the “300,000 trafficked children” and “average age of entry into prostitution is 13” myths.

Estes & Weiner weren’t the only scholars whose anti-whore biases caused them to make ridiculous assertions, nor is sociology the only field afflicted by such bias.  On June 26th I pointed out the ignorant prejudice which utterly ruins a recent study by two economists, and we’ve discussed the absurd contentions of the neofeminists many times; in my column of one year ago today I described the convoluted process by which neofeminist “researchers” like Melissa Farley design studies to produce the exact conclusions the researchers want them to produce, and unfortunately these bogus studies go unchallenged because most of their authors’ peers are themselves affected by the same bias.  Neofeminism has so infected many universities that it’s virtually impossible to find any social science which it has not tainted to one degree or another, and when combined with Christian prudery and plain old Anglo-American Puritanism the result is a widespread prejudice against prostitutes which tends to pollute the scholarly detachment of many academics and to make it far less likely that their erroneous and often asinine pronouncements about our profession will be properly criticized.

Though deeply-held beliefs have always influenced the interpretations of past events made by historians who adhere to those beliefs, the idea that it is acceptable to literally rewrite history, to project modern attitudes upon those who lived in other times and places, is a comparatively recent phenomenon.  Even the ancient historians, fond as they were of editorialization, generally accepted that different people have different customs and that those in the past might behave in a manner very different from the Greek or Roman ways with which the writer was acquainted.  But modern Marxist, feminist and “queer” scholars often make the bizarre assumption that many if not most people in history shared the scholar’s notions and prejudices, and that historical behavior which violates modern doctrines must be explained away or reinterpreted with a Marxist, feminist or “queer” spin.  As a result, scholars addled by neofeminism (who insist that prostitution is “violence against women”) feel compelled to reject, deny and reinterpret every historical instance of prostitutes with high status.

Now, this isn’t really new; even the ancient Hebrew writers often conflated zonah (whore) with kedeshah (sacred harlot), using the two words interchangeably throughout the prophetic books.  And a few Victorian writers preferred either to portray the courtesans of old as something entirely different from modern prostitutes, or else to use them as proof of the inherent moral turpitude of pagan cultures.  In the 20th century, the occasional bluenosed professor harrumphed that Theodora and Aspasia couldn’t have been courtesans because no whore could be that intelligent or respected, and that the plain fact of their harlotry was supposedly “invented” by those who were trying to defame them.  The idea that being a courtesan was not dishonorable in ancient or medieval Greece does not appear to register in the minds of these stuffy academics; they were raised to think of “whore” as an insult and like many modern people could not imagine it as anything else.  But these were isolated cases; for the most part, scholars recognized that the notion of prostitution as a social ill is largely Judeo-Christian, and the notion that it should actually be abolished dates only to the late 19th century.

All that started to change about 20 years ago, when neofeminist anti-sex views began to permeate academia.  At first there were only a few such revisionist papers, but in the past decade a new crop of courtesan deniers has sprung up, and many of them have not limited themselves to denying the harlotry of our most famous sisters; instead they have gone straight for the root like crazed gophers, making the grandiose claim that the entire concept of sacred prostitution is a “myth”.  All the records of it from the Middle East, the Far East, India, Greece, Rome and Central America?  Fabrications and misinterpretations, according to these neofeminist “historians”.  As one of them expressed it, sacred prostitution is “more of a construct of the 19th Century Western European mindset than a true representation of the facts,”  those “facts” being of course that prostitution is “violence against women” and a manifestation of “patriarchy”, and therefore it is impossible that prostitutes could ever have been priestesses.  Their chief support for this notion is that the only Greek historian who describes the Babylonian version of the practice is Herodotus (who had a tendency to embellish many of his stories) and that some of the Mesopotamian texts which mention sacred prostitution also describe things like kings feasting with the gods.  Of course by that same token we must also disbelieve that the Sumerians had cities, agriculture, weapons and all the other things described in these same texts, but since none of those things contradict neofeminist dogma it is only prostitution which is suspect.  And somehow, casting doubt on Sumerian texts is held to “disprove” sacred prostitution everywhere in the world.  Modern prohibitionists have succeeded in establishing formal persecution of the last sacred prostitutes on the planet, the devadasis of India and the deukis of Nepal, and now in their hubris they wish to retroactively wipe out our tradition back to the beginning of civilization, profaning the memory of the sacred whores of antiquity by denying they ever existed.

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