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There’s an old saying that prostitution is the world’s oldest profession. Where this comes from, and whether it is true, is highly debatable. The fact remains that from Ishtar’s temple prostitutes to Nevada’s famed Moonlite Bunny Ranch, prostitution, in one form or another, has been around for pretty much all of recorded history. But is it the oldest profession?

Phillip Knightley in his book asserted that spying is the second oldest profession because it is mentioned in a passage in the bible.

”And Joshua the son of Nun sent out of Shittim two men to spy secretly, saying, Go view the land, even Jericho. And they went, and came into an harlot's house, named Rahab, and lodged there.”
~Joshua 2:1~

That story itself references prostitution, but since the bible is an unreliable witness that argument falls flat. There were already farmers and other craftsmen who got by plying their trades which were integral to the development and sustainability of civilization.

However, Terry Pratchett claimed in one of The Science of Discworld books that the flint-knapper must actually be the oldest profession. Flint-knappers where the first people to create useable tools, rather than just flinging around whatever rocks and sticks one found. This allowed for better hunting and gathering. Within a group, there must have been one individual who was better at flint knapping than others, so that person’s tools were more sought after, possibly leading to doing it full-time, while the rest of the group traded food and clothing for better quality tools. And, hey, smacking one rock with another is a lot simpler than basket weaving.

But I’m pretty sure it goes further than that. The first profession must have been the storyteller…or more specifically the liar. These cunning people were the ones to create the concept of equivalent exchange.

“Shiny rock for rabbit skin.”
“Tell you where really good berries. You get for both of us.”
“I am Fire Master! You want fire. I get best food.”
“Great Spirit in me. Gor dead because not give Great Spirit backrub. Do not end up like Gor.”
It’s for your own good.”

Storytellers create memes which are the DNA of culture. By forming the abstract concept of “value”, and recognizing that goods and services had inherent value that could be bargained for, these people managed avoid much of the hard labor by profiting off their wit. Through curating a tribe’s history and folklore, crafting or inspiring spiritual beliefs, and forming the underlying principles of economics, storytellers often were given preferential treatment. Maybe they told a lie or two, maybe made things up as they went along, but they were still able to breed when their competitors died in hunting accidents. Later this allowed for people to haggle over the going rate for a good tumble in the hay making prostitution maybe not the second but definitely not the oldest profession.

And that is why you should all give me money.


IWhoSawTheFace: As far as I know, the Bible is the only ancient holy text that mentions prostitutes. Maybe the Koran does too - I haven't read the whole thing. Of ancient literature, Gilgamesh, Homer, the Norse/Icelandic saga whose name I keep forgetting... none mention prostitution.

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