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. – 3961 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

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.

  • 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

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)


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.”

  • 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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