Female slave who functioned as a secondary wife and surrogate mother. The Hebrew word for concubine (pileges [v,g,lyiP]) is a non-Semitic loanword borrowed to refer to a phenomenon not indigenous to Israel. Babylonian and Assyrian law codes regulate primary and secondary marriages more specifically than do the Old Testament laws. Exodus 21:7-10 has been appealed to as regulative of some aspects of concubinage, but that only implicitly.
Concubines are mentioned primarily in early Israelite historyduring patriarchal times, the period of the judges, and the early monarchyalthough some later kings also had concubines. While concubines did not have the same status as wives, they were not to be mistreated ( Exod 21:7-10 ) nor could they be violated by other males ( Gen 35:22 ) with impunity ( Gen 49:3-4 ). They seem to have received higher status if they bore sons, or at least they are remembered by name ( Gen 21:10 ; 22:24 ; 30:3 ; 36:12 ).
The sons of some concubines were treated as co-heirs with the sons of wives. Was this facilitated by the wife accepting and naming the child as her own, or was the father's act of "adopting" the son required? Paucity of information prevents us from answering this definitively. In at least one case the inheritance potential of the concubine's son seems to present a threat to the primary wife and her son ( Gen 21:10 ). Abraham eventually gives the full inheritance to Isaac, and only gives gifts to his concubines' sons ( Gen 25:6 ).
The story of Judges 19-20 suggests that the terminology used of relationships in a regular marriage are also used in a concubinage relationship. The man is called the concubine's "husband" ( 19:3 ; 20:4 ) and the woman's father is referred to as the man's "father-in-law" ( 19:9 ). Some evidence suggests that royal wives (concubines?) were inherited by succeeding kings ( 1 Sam 12:8 ). Thus approaching the royal concubines ( 1 Sam 16:21-22 ) or even requesting the king's female attendant for a wife ( 1 Kings 2:13-22 ) can be understood as the act of one attempting to take the throne away from its designated occupant ( 1 Kings 2:22 ).
The practice of taking concubines as "wife" was used to provide a male heir for a barren wife (cf. Gen. 16, 35, 36). In addition, the practice provided a social safety net for poor families who could sell their daughters in dire times ( Exod 21:7-10 ; Judges 19:1 ). It seems plausible to suggest that the practice of taking concubines was perpetuated to meet the sexual desires of the males and/or to cement political alliances between nations. Nevertheless, the paucity of sufficient internal data requires dependence on comparative ancient Near Eastern evidence for these conclusions. Multiplying children through concubines would not normally complicate the inheritance lines, but would increase the available family workforce and the family wealth.
David H. Engelhart
See also Marriage
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in the Bible denotes a female conjugally united to a man, but in a relation inferior to that of a wife. Among the early Jews, from various causes, the difference between a wife and a concubine was less marked than it would be amongst us. The concubine was a wife of secondary rank. There are various laws recorded providing for their protection ( Exodus 21:7 ; Deuteronomy 21:10-14 ), and setting limits to the relation they sustained to the household to which they belonged ( Genesis 21:14 ; 25:6 ). They had no authority in the family, nor could they share in the household government.
The immediate cause of concubinage might be gathered from the conjugal histories of Abraham and Jacob ( Genesis 1630 ;30). But in process of time the custom of concubinage degenerated, and laws were made to restrain and regulate it ( Exodus 21:7-9 ).
A secondary or inferior wife.
The difference between wife and concubine was less marked among the Hebrews than among us, owing to the absence of moral stigma. The difference probably lay in the absence of the right of the bill of divorce, without which the wife could not be repudiated. With regard to the children of wife and of concubine, there was no such difference as our illegitimacy implies. The latter were a supplementary family to the former; their names occur in the patriarchal genealogies, ( Genesis 22:24 ; 1 Chronicles 1:22 ) and their position and provision would depend on the fathers will. ( Genesis 25:6 ) The state of concubinage is assumed and provided for by the law of Moses. A concubine would generally be either (1) a Hebrew girl bought of her father; (2) a Gentile captive taken in war; (3) a foreign slave bought; or (4) a Canaanitish woman, bond or free. The rights of the first two were protected by the law, ( Exodus 21:7 ; 21:10-14 ) but the third was unrecognized and the fourth prohibited. Free Hebrew women also might become concubines. To seize on royal concubines for his use was probably the intent of Abners act, ( 2 Samuel 3:7 ) and similarly the request on behalf of Adonijah was construed. ( 1 Kings 2:21-24 )