Wives and concubines

George Athas gathas at mail.usyd.edu.au
Thu Sep 30 18:30:51 EDT 1999


John Ronning wrote:

> Are you sure about that?  Ruth is called the wife of the deceased (she had no children), Abigail is called
> the wife of Nabal even after David married her (she had no children then as far as we know).

True - but I said that "usually" the title "wife of X" indicates that the woman already had children by her
deceased husband. It's certainly not universal as you've picked up. In the case of Ruth and Abigail, I think
the formula "wife of X" is used to further elucidate that these woman had been previously married. We know
that Ruth had no children by her first husband, but I don't think we know about Abigail's situation. Whatever
the case, the expression points to their previous marital status, not their current marital status in the
timeframe of the narrator.

> > <snip>
> > (me)
> > > Na`arah may usually be used of a single girl, but it doesn't
> > > "mean" single girl, as is clear from the fact that it is
> > > used of the Levite's concubine (Judges 19),
> > (you)
> > A concubine, though, is not a "wife". A concubine is not "married" to her master, so technically, she is
> > still "single". Nevertheless, you're right in suggesting that the word may be used in Jdg 19 simply to
> > denote "girl".
>
> A concubine is most definitely married, and sometimes is called "wife" though she had less rights than a
> full wife.  E.g the prediction that someone would lie with David's wives in broad daylight was fulfilled
> when Absalom lay with his concubines, and Keturah is called both wife and concubine of Abraham in Genesis
> 25.  Also note that in Judges 19 the Levite is called "her husband" ('ish) and the girl's father "his
> father-in-law."

Interesting! However, you've hit the nail on the head about the legal status of a concubine. Legally, she was
not a "wife", though she might be called one and the various relationships around her reflect that label. I
can understand a concubine calling her master "husband" since she could have no other 'husband' while she was
a concubine. However, a man could have more than one "wife" or more than one "woman". The essential difference
is that a concubine is not joined to her 'master/husband' by a marriage covenant. It was marriage de facto but
not a marriage de jure.

In the case of Qeturah, Abraham marries her in Gen 25:1. However, in 25:6, there is a reference to
'concubines' (plural). Although this reference may well encompass Qeturah, it obviously has other women in
mind, too (Hagar?). This probably indicates that Qeturah was originally a concubine whom Abraham elevated to
the status of a wife after the death of Sarah. The point of 25:6, however, is that Qeturah's children and the
children of Abraham's other concubines were not considered his heirs. Perhaps this indicates that Qeturah's
children were born while she was yet a concubine??? That's speculative, but the point of the narrative is that
these children were not co-heirs with Isaac.

With regard to David's concubines, I think that it's also possible to nuance _našeyka_ as "your women." It was
common for a usurper to take his predecessor's concubines and make them his 'wives' or simply keep them on as
concubines. A usurper did not take his predecessor's "wives".
2Sam 12:8 says that David took his master's [Saul's] 'women' and that the same would happen to David. Absalom
then sleeps with David's concubines, not his actual wives. Adonijah also asks to take Abishag, David's
concubine, as his wife. The point, though, is that Abishag was not a wife - only a concubine. Compare also
Abner sleeping with Saul's concubine, Rizpah. Concubines were considered part of the king's "women", but they
were not legally the king's wives.

Best regards!
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GEORGE ATHAS
 Dept of Semitic Studies,
 University of Sydney
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Tel Dan Inscription Website is at
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