The Da Vinci Code of Ancient Sumer: Is Sex Sacred?

Is sex sacred? Or at least, can it be? The Da Vinci Code revolves a secret sex ritual, but was there ever a time and place when such rituals were common? Welcome to Ancient Sumer.

Don’t forget to subscribe, rate, and review. Support the show on Patreon at Research, writing, editing, and production by B. T. Newberg. Logo Design by Rachel Westhoff. Animation by Maxeem Konrardy. Additional credits, references, and more at


Assante, Julia. “Men Looking at Men: The Homoerotics of Power in the State Arts of Assyria.” In: Zsolnay, Ilona. Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Construct of Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 2017.

Bachvarova, Mary R. “Sumerian Gala Priests and Eastern Mediterranean Returning Gods.” In: Lament: Studies in the Ancient Mediterranean and Beyond, ed. by Ann Suter, Oxford University Press, 2008.

Bottéro, Jean. Everyday Life in Ancient Mesopotamia. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2001.

Bullough, Vern, and Bullough, Bonnie. Women and Prostitution: A Social History. New York: Prometheus Books, 1987.

Gabbay, Uri. “The Kalu Priest and Kalutu Literature in Assyria.” Orient, Vol. 49, 2014.

Guinan, Ann. “Auguries of Hegemony: The Sex Omens of Mesopotamia.” Gender & History, Vol. 9, No. 3, 1997, November: pp. 462-479.

Guinan, Ann. “Erotomancy: Scripting the Erotic.” In: Parpola, Simo and Whiting, R. M., Eds. Sex and Gender in the Ancient Near East: Proceedings of the 47th Recontre Assyriologique Interntionale, 2002.

Jacobsen, Thorkild. The Harps That Once…: Sumerian Poetry in Translation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1987.

Kramer, Samuel Noah. The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963.

Lahtinen, Sarah. “The Naditum as Businesswoman: The Economic Role of the Naditum in Old Babylonian Sippur.” Thesis. Uppsala University. (n.d.)

Oshima, Takayoshi. Babylonian Poems of Pious Sufferers: Ludlul Bel Nemeqi and the Babylonian Theodicy. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2014.

Stuckey, Johanna. “Inanna and the ‘Sacred Marriage.'” MatriFocus: Cross-quarterly for the Goddess Woman, Imbolc, Vol. 4-2, 2005.

Taylor, Patrick. “The Gala and the Gallos.” In: Collins, Bachvarova, and Rutherford (Eds.), Anatolian Interfaces, 2008, pp. 173-180.

Zsolnay, Ilona. Being a Man: Negotiating Ancient Construct of Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 2017.


Audio Credits

Podcast theme music mixed from “Gregorian Chant”, “Mystery Sax”, and “There It Is” by Kevin MacLeod. Short Shorts theme music mixed from “Gregorian Chant” by Kevin MacLeod and “Short Shorts” by the Royal Teens.

Heavenly Music Contact With Los Angels” from Transcending Sounds

“Ibn Al-Noor” by Kevin MacLeod. Youtube.

Image Credits

Inanna and Dumuzi on Sacred Marriage Bed, from Alumni Club of Chicago

Da Vinci Code book cover, from Wikipedia

One thought on “The Da Vinci Code of Ancient Sumer: Is Sex Sacred?

  1. When you were researching this show did you come across any references to this practice in the Bible, specifically Deuteronomy 23:17–18? This is how the NIV translates this passage:

    “No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute into the house of the Lord your God to pay any vow, because the Lord your God detests them both.”

    What’s interesting is that the original Hebrew uses two different words for a “prostitute.” The first is “זונה,” zonah. This is the word that biblical and modern Hebrew uses to describe a regular sex worker. However, the text also uses “קדשה” or qedesha and that’s what is translated as “shrine prostitute.” This word is much more rare but it’s also more interesting.

    Like all semitic languages Hebrew words are based on three letter consonantal roots. These provide a base meaning but change around things like vowels or add additional consonants, prefixes, suffixes, infixes, etc., and you get a series of words with related meanings. Our first example the root is “ז-נ-ה” (from right to left zayin nun he Z-N-H) which has a sense of sinning or going astray. The other, however is ק-ד-ש (qoph daled shin Q-D-Sh). This root describe holy or sacred things. For example, the Jewish prayer before consuming wine is the kiddush (קידוש‎), an important Jewish prayer said during services is called the Kedusha (קדשה) and the word for holy(קדש kadosh) is repeated three times. So given that etymology the position of a qedesha would imply some degree of sacredness in the profession.

    There’s been a lot of debate as to what exactly this job was but we can infer from their placement in the text that the qudesha and the masculine version the qadesh seems to have home sexual element to the occupation. But did this mean that sexual rituals were occurring in the temple in Jerusalem as well as in Mesopotamia or was this an activity that the authors of Deuteronomy saw going on in Mesopotamia and their semitic cousins but wanted to prohibit it? We do know that Deuteronomy was written later than the first four books of the Torah at a time when monotheism was becoming much stricter within the Israelite religion but it was not quite Judaism as we know it today.


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