According to 1 Kings 3:16-28, two prostitutes came to Solomon for a judgment over their dispute.

Then two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him... Then the king answered and said, “Give the living child to the first woman, and by no means put him to death; she is his mother.” And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice.

If sex outside of marriage was illegal, why did those criminals openly come to King Solomon? Was Solomon aware of their job?

  • 1
    This question would be improved if you provided a source in the Torah for prostitution being illegal in the first place.
    – Shimon bM
    Dec 16, 2013 at 3:59
  • 4
    There is no death penalty for "all sex outside marriage"
    – Yirmeyahu
    Dec 16, 2013 at 4:17
  • Part of the motive behind this question is to figure out whether prostitution is illegal or not in the first place, among other things.
    – user4951
    Dec 16, 2013 at 8:18
  • zona does not mean a prostitute. see judaism.stackexchange.com/a/32010/1857
    – ray
    Dec 16, 2013 at 19:28
  • 1
    @JimThio if i had to guess, the assumption about extramarital sex carrying a death penalty comes from Devarim 22:14f, which is interpretable in many ways, but which according to Jewish tradition refers to a girl who was betrothed, though not fully wedded, at the time of the intercourse. chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9986 Dec 17, 2013 at 1:39

1 Answer 1


First, as @Yirmeyahu commented above, there is no death penalty for "all sex outside marriage". There is a verse which states לֹא תִהְיֶה קְדֵשָׁה מִבְּנוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְלֹא יִהְיֶה קָדֵשׁ מִבְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, but that does not specify a death penalty of stoning.

The prostitutes profession was irrelevant to the case. And it would not be a good society if sinners, when they are the vulnerable members of society, could not turn to the king or the courts for personal justice. So whether he knew or not, it could be said to be irrelevant to the case.

The Targum on the verse renders zonot as pundekan, which can either be innkeepers or harlots. (See Jastrow page 1143-1144.) Ralbag there says (parenthetical inserts by me):

"I think that they were pundekaot (by which he means innkeepers) who sold mazon (provisions, thus zonot), in the same sense as Rachav the zonah (innkeeper). And it is possible that they made themselves hefker (thus were prostitutes)."

  • hefker does not necessarily mean prostitutes. literally means "free for the taking", i.e. promiscuous, willing to have sex with men outside of marriage
    – ray
    Dec 16, 2013 at 10:49
  • I never understood how they could fight over who the mother was until I learned they were prostitutes.
    – avi
    Dec 16, 2013 at 13:19
  • @Avi what do you mean?
    – Seth J
    Dec 16, 2013 at 13:44
  • 1
    @SethJ Well ignoring my childhood vision of the hospital switching babies in the giant nursery...
    – avi
    Dec 16, 2013 at 14:34
  • It's still worth asking whether prostitution was punished, and if so why they would admit to being prostitutes.
    – user3318
    Dec 16, 2013 at 23:35

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