|The Role of the Harlot
One matter to consider when examining Enkidus role in the story is the
purpose of the temple harlot. Many of us find her sexual initiation of Enkidu into
civilization somewhat offensive. Two things to note:
- Even her culture had a conflicted view of her role.
Specifically, the term that describes her is hierodule, a temple
prostitute, a sacred "other" considered to have the power to maintain fertility.
Yet a typical proverb of the day remarked, "Never marry a prostitute who gives
herself to everybody. In your misery she will not support you; in your law-suit she will
bring calamity on you; surely she destroys a house. The one who marries her will not
prosper." This suggests that Sumerian culture was willing to perpetuate a fundamental
hypocrisy in its treatment of women.
- We can critique this aspect of the story without losing the benefit it may
have to offer in other areas.
Even if we acknowledge that the harlots role may reinforce a dangerous
deception (cf. Hosea 4:10-14 for one voice that decried this trend),
this need not negate anything of value the text has to offer us in other areas. Consider
this: What might Enkidu teach us about the nature of human culture? Enkidu has to learn to
dress himself, eat meals, and otherwise enter the life of the community. Enkidus
learning of the rituals of eating suggests that being part of the human community entails
embracing its customs, especially ones that build community between people. Yet it
may also suggest a disturbing view of what constitutes civilized.