“Many Harlots”

George Reynolds, Janne M. Sjodahl

In the Scriptures this word generally denotes a woman who is unfaithful to her husband. But it also means a nation, pledged to serve Jehovah, that turns away from him to worship other gods. (Hos. 1 and 2; Ez. 16 and 23) It also means an apostate church. (Heb. 11:31) But it is possible that this is a misunderstanding of a word in the original which may mean a "hostess," an "inn-keeper." Some scholars favor this interpretation of it. It is highly improbable that the two spies of Joshua would have resorted to a house of ill-fame in order to obtain the information desired by the commanding general. It is also improbable that a common woman would have had the religious faith in God which Rahab had, who said: 'For the Lord your God, he is God in heaven above, and in earth beneath." Those are hardly the words of an outcast.

What does the word stand for in the vision of Nephi? Is it a literal or a figurative expression? If we interpret it at all, we must understand it literally. During the days of the apostate church, "harlots" were a merchandise, as were gold, silver, purple, scarlet, linen and precious clothing. That is according to the text.

Let us remember that the moral condition in the pagan world during the early centuries of our era was anything but one of purity. St. Paul describes it as it was in his day. (Rom. 1:21-32) Not only did immorality in its various revolting forms flourish privately, but it was legalized in some countries. Christianity tried to extirpate it, but, it stands to reason that when entire nations were incorporated in the church, individual immorality went in with the crowd. The efforts of the church were, therefore, not successful. And during the Middle ages deplorable conditions prevailed. It is claimed that during the crusades thousands of women accompanied the armies who went to fight for the holy places in Palestine. Prostitution came to be regarded as an indispensable social institution, and even high clergymen are said to have derived incomes from it. When all the facts are considered, it is clear that the vision of Nephi is literally true. "Harlots" were actually considered a desirable merchandise.

Commentary on the Book of Mormon, Vol. 1