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In ancient times, a concubine was a woman living in a lawful marriage arrangement with a man, but whose status was regarded as being less than a wife. Concubines were respected, had legal rights, and their children were regarded as legitimate, although the children of the wife (or wives) were most often given preference in matters of inheritance. While the inability of a wife to have children was a practical reason for the presence of a concubine in the family (e.g. Sarah suggested that her husband Abraham take Hagar as a concubine i.e. Genesis 16:1-3), the situation also sometimes reached absurd proportions, such as with Solomon who had 300 concubines along with his 700 wives (1 Kings 11:3).

Hagar Examples of concubines in Bible History:

  • "Abraham gave all he had to Isaac. But to the sons of his concubines Abraham gave gifts, and while he was still living he sent them away from his son Isaac, eastward to the east country." (Genesis 25:5-6 RSV)

  • "Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelech." (Judges 8:30-31 RSV)

  • Four of the tribes of Israel (Dan and Naphtali, and Gad and Asher) originated from Jacob's concubines Bilhah and Zilpah. See Children of Jacob

  • "Now Saul had a concubine, whose name was Rizpah, the daughter of Aiah." (2 Samuel 3:7 RSV)

  • "And David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron; and more sons and daughters were born to David." (2 Samuel 5:13 RSV)

  • "Ahithophel said to Absalom, "Go in to your father's concubines, whom he has left to keep the house; and all Israel will hear that you have made yourself odious to your father, and the hands of all who are with you will be strengthened." So they pitched a tent for Absalom upon the roof; and Absalom went in to his father's concubines in the sight of all Israel." (2 Samuel 16:21-22 RSV)

  • "King Belshazzar made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in front of the thousand. Belshazzar, when he tasted the wine, commanded that the vessels of gold and of silver which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple in Jerusalem [see Temple Mount Treasures and Temples] be brought, that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them." (Daniel 5:1-2 RSV) (see The Writing On The Wall)

Fact Finder: Who performed the first marriage ceremony?
Genesis 2:22-24

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