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I have heard a story about Mary being the "Ever Virgin" and it started out with her parents presenting her at the temple as a virgin and she stayed a virgin for the rest of her life, even after giving birth to Christ. My question is did the Herodian Temple have virgins similar to temple dedicated to some of the Greek gods and goddesses?

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    I saw something similar in I think the Infancy Gospel of James. – Matt Gutting Apr 2 '15 at 10:40
  • I'm not sure I understand. What is meant by "Did the Herodian Temple have virgins?" – kutschkem Apr 2 '15 at 12:17
  • I was wondering if the Temple durring Jesus's day, the one built by Hardod, took young girl as virgins like the temples of Venus and Aphrodite did. So could the Hebrews have had something similar to Vestal Virgins? – J. M. Myers Apr 2 '15 at 13:33
  • @J.M.Myers I doubt it, but interesting question nonetheless. – fгedsbend Apr 2 '15 at 14:21
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's primarily about history, not Christianity. – Matt Gutting Feb 5 '16 at 16:50
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Did the Herodian Temple have virgins?

The answer is almost certainly no.

The only real support for Jewish temple virgins is found in Roman Catholic writings in support of the Catholic doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary. This doctrine has no basis in the canonical scriptures, but only in non-canonical early writings, most of which were influenced or produced by the Essenes and similar mystical and ascetic quasi-Christians sects that existed in the first few centuries of the Christian era.

Jewish scholars and historians, by contrast, give a definitive "no" to the question of whether there were Jewish temple virgins.

Unlike in Catholicism, in Judaism marriage is considered the most holy state, pursuant to the first commandment of God given in the Hebrew Bible: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28). In Judaism celibacy is frowned upon and even considered sinful. To have consecrated virgins at the Temple would violate Jewish sacred law and custom. No Jewish writings, ancient or modern, provide any support for the idea that there were temple virgins at the Temple in Jerusalem.

There is mention of "women who served at the entrance to the tent of meeting" (i.e., the Tabernacle) in Exodus 38:8 and 1 Samuel 2:22. However, there is no support in these passages for the idea that they were virgins. The underlying Hebrew does not use the Hebrew words traditionally translated "virgin" in Christian translations of the Old Testament. (And those words themselves are not as cut-and-dried as many Christians think they are. See the article on "Virgin, Virginity" in the Jewish Virtual Library. Short version: These words commonly mean "young woman" rather than "virgin.") Exodus 38:8 uses a female form of a word meaning "one who serves" (at the Temple), and 1 Samuel 2:22 uses the common word for "women."

In the New Testament, there is mention of a prophetess Anna who stayed at the temple, but she was a widow, not a virgin. See Luke 2:36-38.

So although there were women associated with the Tabernacle and the Temple, who provided services there or engaged in prayer and prophecy, they were not consecrated virgins.

In short, the best scholarship on this subject says that there were no temple virgins at any of the ancient Jewish temples, including the Herodian temple.

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  • While worship in the Herodian temple probably never included sacred prostitution, the earlier temple certainly did, according to the Bible. An Asherah pole stood in Solomon’s temple for about half of its 400 years, and we’re told good kings Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah tore down the houses of ‘sacred prostitutes’ on the temple grounds during their reforms. Sacred prostitution was outlawed in the Deuteronomic law, but the Israelite/Judahite people didn’t abide by that law during most of the time Solomon’s temple stood. [See DeYoung, p.165+, tinyurl.com/h7fjuhc ] – Schuh Feb 4 '16 at 22:33
  • @Schuh It's quite true, according to the Bible narrative, that Solomon's temple was corrupted by proscribed practices during a substantial part of its existence. And it's a good point that the ancient Jews didn't always follow the commandments of their religion. However, temple prostitutes are not the same thing as temple virgins. While sexual immorality clearly existed in ancient Jewish culture, and apparently even invaded Solomon's temple during part of its existence, celibacy as a sacred practice had little traction in ancient Jewish culture as represented in the Bible. – Lee Woofenden Feb 4 '16 at 23:46
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    @Schuh Still, in response to your quite valid point, I've removed the tangential line about temple prostitutes from the answer. Thanks. – Lee Woofenden Feb 4 '16 at 23:48
  • ”Unlike in Catholicism, in Judaism marriage is considered the most holy state, pursuant to the first commandment of God.” Actually, Catholics hold marriages as a holy state! – Ken Graham Dec 25 '20 at 19:35
  • @KenGraham A holy state is not the same as the most holy state. – Lee Woofenden Jan 28 at 8:25
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The first part of The Gospel of James, an apocryphal Gospel "contains the story of the unique birth of Mary to Anna and her childhood and dedication to the temple". Similarly The Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew confirms "Mary entering service as a temple virgin".

David Hughes gives a fascinating historical background on this subject where he says:

Mary "the Virgin", the only child and daughter of Heli (Luke 3:23) (Irenaeus’ “Against Heresies", 3:21) (Palestinian “Talmud”, Haggigah, Book 77, # 4) [possibly identified with Alexander "Helios", son of the Maccabee Queen Alexandra II by the first of her three husbands], who was a Davidic Dynasty prince, and his Levite wife, Anne, was born around 20/17BC.

In one of the apocryphal gospels Mary’s parents appear as an elderly couple, childless, whose prayers for a child are granted by God and made known by an angel who visits them. Heli and Anne, when Mary was age three, dedicated her to God’s service at the Temple in Jerusalem and at age nine or ten gave her into an order of temple virgins. . . .

Mary, according to apocryphal literature, was early orphaned at age ten and placed into an order of temple-virgins. There are different stories of this event: one, that, Mary, age ten, following the execution of her father, Heli, is taken from her mother, Anne, and, as a possible heiress, to prevent her from marrying or having any children to later rival King Herod or his heirs on the throne, was put by King Herod into an order of temple-virgins, whose members were made to take a vow of chastity, hence, the theory developed that Mary, under a vow, was “ever-virgin”. Her mother, Anne, came to visit her daughter on occasions, but appears to have died while Mary was still a young girl, around age twelve. Here, enters the story of her aunt Elizabeth and uncle Zacharias, Elizabeth‘s husband, a priest, who periodically served in the Temple at Jerusalem according to the schedule of his particular religious order [Abijah].

There is a story that says Mary remained in the temple until she was age 13 when the High-Priest, during a change of political climate, gave Mary into the custody of her aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Zacharias, who took Mary into their home [either at Hebron or Juttah], and for a while were her guardians. She returned to Jerusalem with them on the occasions of her uncle's periodical temple-service. (bolding is added; bracketed material is in the original)

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Outside of apocryphal/pseudo-apocryphal writings, No

If at all the temple virgins or prostitutes would have come from the Greek/Macedonian influence and defilement of the temple. It was common for Israel to adopt foreign worship practices, for example;

Of King Ahaz - "but he walked in the way of the kings of Israel. He even burned his son as an offering, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. 2 Kings 16:3

After Judas Maccabee took over Jerusalem during the Maccabean revolt the temple was cleansed (ritually) and returned to Levitical worship:

"10: 1 But Machabeus, and they that were with him, by the protection of the Lord, recovered the temple and the city again. 2 But he threw down the altars which the heathens had set up in the streets, as also the temples of the idols. 3 And having purified the temple, they made another altar: and taking fire out of the fiery stones, they offered sacrifices after two years, and set forth incense, and lamps, and the loaves of proposition." - 2 Maccabees 10:1-3

After the Maccabees, Queen Alexandra established Levitical worship as practiced by the Pharisees and

“She also restored again those practices which the Pharisees had introduced, according to the traditions of their forefathers”

13.16.2 Antiquities of the Jews.

With the Pharisees established as a liturgical authority they remained an influence into Herod's rule.

Also, according to Josephus (14.3.2), the Pharisees relied on the Romans to help restore the old priesthood and

"At this point, the majority of the city's inhabitants, pro-Pharisee and pro-Hyrcanus, decided to open the city's gates to the Romans. Only a small minority of Sadducees took refuge in the Temple and decided to hold out until the very end. This was Autumn 63 BCE. On this occasion Pompey broke into the Temple." - The History of the Second Temple Period, Paolo Sacchi, ch. 8 p. 269

With Herod a puppet King of the Romans it is unlikely he would have reverted back to pagan worship or practices in the temple thus going against the Pharisees to that extent.

Lastly, later during Paul's visit to the temple he was arrested and accused of 'defiling' the temple by merely bringing in a gentile. If there were pagan practices or traditions (virgins) it is not likely this would have even raised an eyebrow.

Acts 21:27-28 "When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, crying out, “Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against the people and the law and this place. Moreover, he even brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.”

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  • Welcome to Christianity.SE. For a quick overview, please take the Site Tour. Thanks for offering an answer providing some historical background. Can you provide references for the statements about Judas Maccabee? Beyond that, the question is about Mary, who was Jewish, being presented as a virgin at the temple by her parents. So it's not about non-Jews becoming temple virgins or prostitutes there, but rather about whether the Jews themselves had an active tradition and practice among their own people of temple virgins at Herod's temple. – Lee Woofenden Feb 5 '16 at 8:11
  • @LeeWoofenden references added. The answer addresses whether there would have been temple virgins, a pagan practice, of which the answer is no therefore Mary could not have been one. – Tonyg Feb 5 '16 at 11:30
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Did the Herodian Temple have virgins?

Catholic tradition holds this to be true.

The Presentation of the Virgin Mary, also called Entry of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple is a feast celebrated in the Catholic and Eastern churches on November 21. It was held in the Eastern church in the 6th century but did not become widely accepted in the West until the 15th century. The pope St. Pius V (1566–72) suppressed it, but in 1585 Pope Sixtus V reestablished the feast. Generally considered a feast of popular piety, it signifies Mary’s total and lifelong devotion to God, as anticipated by her Immaculate Conception, and heralds her future vocation as the sacred vessel for the Incarnation.

 The Presentation of the Virgin Mary by Titian (1534-38, Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice)

The Presentation of the Virgin Mary by Titian (1534-38)

This Catholic and Orthodox feast is not associated with an event recounted in the New Testament, but from the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James. According to that text, Mary's parents, Joachim and Anne, who had been childless, received a heavenly message that they would have a child. In thanksgiving for the gift of their daughter, they brought her, when still a child, to the Temple in Jerusalem to consecrate her to God. Later versions of the story (such as the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary) indicate that Mary was taken to the Temple at around the age of three in fulfillment of a vow.

The account of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Temple is principally based on the Protoevangelium of James, which has been dated by historians prior to the year 200 AD. The story relates that in thanksgiving for the birth of their daughter Mary, Joachim and Anne decide to consecrate her to God, and bring her, at the age of three years, to the temple in Jerusalem. Mary’s presentation in the temple draws parallels to that of the prophet Samuel, whose mother Hannah, like Anne was also thought to be barren, and who offered her child as a gift to God at Shiloh.

Previously we examined the tradition and biblical foundation for the Catholic teaching that Mary was consecrated as a Temple virgin at the age of three and lived in the temple precincts till the age of fourteen when she was married to Saint Joseph and there after virginally conceived the Son of God.

This school of Temple virgins in Jerusalem formed an altar guild that fulfilled the necessary tasks at the Temple. This included sewing and creating vestments, washing the vestments of the priests which would be stained regularly by animal blood, preparing liturgical linen, weaving the veil of the Temple, and most importantly, liturgical prayer. The Jewish and Catholic tradition holds that this school for Israelite virgins was completed by marrying age of about 14 and that they were dismissed at this time. There were also older women, perhaps widows such as the prophetess Anna, who served as teachers and governesses for the virgins under their care.

There has been some doubt as to whether their were really consecrated Jewish virgins at the Temple. In my previous post I referenced the first-century Jewish historian Josephus in support of “Temple virgins” in Jerusalem, but I fear that this cannot be substantiated. Jimmy Akin asked me for the citation and I cannot find it. One would assume that it would be in Book 5 of the Jewish Wars of Josephus. There Josephus mentions cloisters, but he does not tell us who lived in them. That’s as close as Josephus gets.

There are, however, three Scriptural accounts that are used by Catholics to demonstrate that there were special women who ministered at the Temple complex.

Exodus 38:8 mentions women who “watch (צָבָא) at the door of the tabernacle.”

The second is in 1 Samuel:

“Now Heli was very old, and he heard all that his sons did to all Israel: and how they lay with the women that waited (צָבָא) at the door of the tabernacle:” (1 Samuel 2:22, D-R)

In both of the verses above, Hebrew verb for “watch” and “waited” is the same. It is the Hebrew word צָבָא, which is the same verb used to described the liturgical activity of the Levites (see Num 4:23; 8:24). This corresponds to the Latin translation in the Clementine Vulgate, which relates that these women “observabant” at the temple doors – another liturgical reading.

So these women are not simply hanging out around the Temple, looking for men, gossiping, or chatting about the weather. These are pious women devoted to a liturgical function. In fact, the Court of Women might exist formally for these special “liturgical women.”

The third and final reference to these liturgical females is in 2 Maccabees:

And the virgins also that were shut up, came forth, some to {High Priest} Onias, and some to the walls, and others looked out of the windows. And all holding up their hands towards heaven, made supplication. (2 Macc 3:19-20)

Here are virgins that are shut up. In the Greek it is “αἱ δὲ κατάκλειστοι τῶν παρθένων” or “the shut up ones of the virgins.” In this passage the Holy Spirit refers not to all the virgins of Jerusalem, but to a special set of virgins, that is, those virgins who had the privilege and right to be in the presence of the High Priest and address him. It’s rather ridiculous to think that young girls would have general access to the High Priest of Israel. However, if these virgins had a special liturgical role at the Temple, it becomes clear that they would both address the High Priest Onias and would also be featured as an essential part of the intense supplication in the Temple at this moment of crisis.

There is further testimony of temple virgins in the traditions of the Jews. In the Mishnah, it is recorded that there were 82 consecrated virgins who wove the veil of the Temple:

“The veil of the Temple was a palm-length in width. It was woven with seventy-two smooth stitches each made of twenty-four threads. The length was of forty cubits and the width of twenty cubits. Eighty-two virgins wove it. Two veils were made each year and three hundred priests were needed to carry it to the pool” (Mishna Shekalim 8, 5-6).

We find another reference to the “women who made the veils for the Temple…baked the showbread…prepared the incense” (Babylonian Talmud Kethuboth 106a).

Rabbinic Jewish sources also record how when the Romans sacked Jerusalem in AD 70, the Temple virgins leapt into the flames so as not to be abducted by the heathen soldiers: “the virgins who were weaving threw themselves in the flames” (Pesikta Rabbati 26, 6). Here we also learn that these virgins lived in the three-storey building inside the Temple area. However, it is difficult to find any other details about this structure. The visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich placed the cloisters of the Temple Virgins on the north side of the Temple (Emmerich’s Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary 3, 5).

Even more, the first century document by the name of the Apocalypse of Baruch (sometimes called “2 Baruch”) describes the Temple virgins living in the Temple as weavers of the holy veil:

“And you virgins who weave byssus and silk, and gold from Ophir, in haste pick it all up and throw it in the fire that it will return it to its Author, and that the flame will take it back to its Creator, from fear that the enemy might seize it” (2 Baruch 10:19).

So then, there is ample evidence for the role of consecrated women, especially virgins at the Temple. If one were to accept the passages above, we have plenty of testimony for cultic women in the time of Moses’ tabernacle, in the time of David, in the Second Temple era, and in the first century of Our Lord.

This substantiates the claims of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church who claim that the Blessed Virgin Mary was presented to the Temple and served there from the age of three until the age of fourteen. To claim that Temple virgins are a myth of celibacy-crazed Catholic bishops does not hold up. Scripture and Jewish tradition records that there were specially commissioned virgins associated with the Temple. We may not know much about them, but we know that they existed. - Did Jewish Temple Virgins Exist and was Mary a Temple Virgin?

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