Concubine (פִּילֶגֶשׁ, pile'gesh, deriv. uncertain, but apparently connected with the Gr. πάλλαξ [fully in the plur. נָשִׁים פִּילִגשִׁים, 2Sa 15:16; 2Sa 20:3]; Chald. להֵנָה lechenah', Da 5:2-3,23), denotes in the Bible not a
paramour (Gr. παλλακή), but only a female conjugally united to a man in a relation inferior to that of the regular wife (אִשָּׁה). SEE WIFE. The positions of these two among the early Jews cannot be referred to the standard of our own age and country; that of concubine being less degraded, as that of wife was, especially owing to the sanction of polygamy, less honorable than among ourselves. The natural desire of offspring was, in the Jew, consecrated into a religious hope, which tended to redeem concubinage from the debasement into which the grosser motives for its adoption might have brought it. The whole question must be viewed from the point which touches the interest of propagation, in virtue of which even a slave concubine who had many children would become a most important person in a family, especially where a wife was barren. Such was the true source of the concubinage of Nahor, Abraham, and Jacob, which indeed, in the two latter cases, lost the nature which it has in our eyes, through the process, analogous to adoption, by which the offspring was regarded as that of the wife herself. From all this it follows that, save in so far as the latter was generally a slave, the difference between wife and concubine was less marked, owing to the absence of moral stigma, than among us. We must therefore beware of regarding as essential to the relation of concubinage what really pertained to that of bondage.
The concubine's condition was a definite one, and quite independent of the fact of there being another woman having the rights of wife towards the same man. 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, i.e. a slave, which alone the rabbins regard as a lawful connection (Maimonides, Halach-Melakinm, 4), at least for a private person; (2), a gentile captive taken in war; (3), a foreign slave bought, or (4), a Canaanitish woman, bond or free.
The rights of (1) and (2) were protected by law (Ex 21:7; De 21:10), but (3) was unrecognized, and (4) prohibited. Free Hebrew women also might become concubines. So Gideon's concubine seems to have been of a family of rank and influence in Shechem, and such was probably the state of the Levite's concubine (Judges 20). The ravages of war among the male sex, or the impoverishment of families, might often induce this condition. The case (1) was not a hard lot. The passage in Exodus 21 is somewhat obscure, and seems to mean, in brief, as follows: A man who bought a Hebrew girl as concubine for himself might not treat her as a mere Hebrew slave, to be sent "out" (i.e. in the seventh year, v. 2), but might, if she displeased him, dismiss her to her father on redemption, i.e. repayment probably of a part of what he paid for her. If he had taken her for a concubine for his son, and the son then married another woman, the concubine's position and rights were secured, or, if she were refused these, she became free without redemption. Further, from the provision in the case of such. a concubine given by a man to his son, that she should be dealt with "after the manner of daughters," we see that the servile merged in the connubial relation, and that her children must have been free. Yet some degree of contempt attached to the "handmaid's son" (בֶּן אּ אָמָה), used reproachfully to the son of a concubine merely in Jg 9:18; see also Ps 116:16. The provisions relating to (2) are merciful and considerate to a rare degree, but overlaid by the rabbis with distorting comments.
Concubinage therefore, in a scriptural sense, means the state of cohabiting lawfully with a wife of second rank, who enjoyed no other conjugal right but that of cohabitation (q.v.), and whom the husband could repudiate, and send away with a small present (Ge 21:14). In like manner, he could, by means of presents, exclude his children by her from the heritage (Ge 25:6). Such concubines had Nahor (Ge 22:24), Abraham (Ge 25:6), Jacob (Ge 35:22), Eliphaz (Ge 36:12), Gideon (Jg 8:3), Saul (2Sa 3:7), David (1Sa 5:12; 1Sa 15:16; 1Sa 16:21), Solomon (1Ki 11:3), Caleb (1Ch 2:46), Manasseh (ib. 12:14), Rehoboam (2Ch 11:21), Abijah (2Ch 13:21), and Belshazzar (Da 5:2). Their issue was reputed legitimate (though the children of the first wife were preferred in the distribution of the inheritance), but in all other respects these concubines were inferior to the primary wife, for they had no authority in the family, nor any share in household government. If they had been servants in the family before they came to be concubines they continued to be so afterwards, and in the same subjection to the mistress as before. If a woman were made captive in war she was allowed a month in which she was at liberty to mourn the loss of her parents and friends; and neither father nor son was permitted to take her as a concubine until the expiration of that time (De 20:10,14). To judge from the conjugal histories of Abraham and Jacob (Ge 16; Ge 30), the immediate cause of concubinage in patriarchal times was the barrenness of the lawful wife, who in that case introduced her maid-servant of her own accord to her husband for the sake of having children. Accordingly, we do not read that Isaac, son of Abraham, had any concubine, Rebecca, his wife, not being barren. In process of time, however, concubinage appears to have degenerated into a regular custom among the Jews, and the institutions of Moses were directed to prevent excess and abuse in that respect by wholesome laws and regulations (Ex 21:7-9; De 21:10-14). The unfaithfulness of a concubine was regarded as criminal (Jg 19:2; 2Sa 3:7-8), but it was not punished as was that of a wife (Le 19:20). SEE ADULTERY. Such a case, however, as that mentioned (Judges 19), where not only is the possessor of the concubine called her "husband" (ver. 3), but her father is called his father-in-law and he his son-in-law (4, 5), shows how nearly the concubine approached to the wife. Hired women, such as "uxores mercenariae conductae ad tempus ex pacto," whom Ammianus Marcellinus attributes to the Saracens (14:4), were unknown among the Hebrews. To guard adult male offspring from debauchery before marriage, their parents, it appears, used to give them one of their female slaves as a concubine. She was then considered as one of the children of the house, and she retained her rights as a concubine even after the marriage of the son (Ex 21:9,19). When a son had intercourse with the concubine of his father, a sort of family punishment, we are informed, was inflicted on him (Ge 35:22; 1Ch 5:1). Where polygamy was tolerated — as it was among the Hebrews — the permission of concubinage would not seem so much at war with the interests and preservation of society as we know it to be. Christianity restores the sacred institution of marriage to its original character, and concubinage is ranked with fornication and adultery (Mt 19:5; 1Co 7:2). SEE POLYGAMY.
In the Talmud (tit. Cetuboth), the Rabbins differ as to what constitutes concubinage, some regarding as its distinguishing feature the absence of the betrothing ceremonies (sponsalia) and of the dowry (libellus dotis), or portion of property allotted to a woman by special engagement, and to which she was entitled on the marriage day, after the decease of the husband, or in case of repudiation; others, again, the absence of the latter alone. In the books of Samuel and Kings the concubines mentioned belong to the king, and their condition and number cease to be a guide to the general practice. A new king stepped into the rights of his predecessor, and by Solomon's time the custom had approximated to that of a Persian harem (2Sa 12:8; 2Sa 16:21; 1Ki 2:22). To seize on royal concubines for his use was thus a usurper's first act. Such was probably the intent of Abner's act (2Sa 3:7), and similarly the request on behalf of Adonijah was construed (1Ki 2:21-24). For fuller information, Selden's treatises De Uxore Hebraea and De Jure Vatur. et Gent. v. 7, 8, and especially that De Successionibus, cap. 3, may, with some caution (since he leans somewhat easily to rabbinical tradition), be consulted; also the treatises Sotah, Kidushim, and Chetuborh in the Gemara Hierosol., and that entitled Sanhedrin in the Gemara Babyl. The essential portions of all these are collected in Ugolini, vol. 30, De Uxore Hebroeae. See also Otho, Lex. Rabbin. p. 151; Selden, De Successionibus, 3; Michaelis, Laws of Moses, 1:455-466.
The Roman law calls concubinage an allowed custom (licita consuetudo). When this expression occurs in the constitutions of the Christian emperors, it signifies what we now sometimes call a marriage of conscience. The concubinage tolerated among the Romans, in the time of the Republic and of the heathen emperors, was that between persons not capable of contracting legal marriage. Inheritances might descend to children that sprung from such a tolerated cohabitance. Concubinage between such persons they looked on as a kind of marriage, and even allowed it several privileges; but then it was confined to a single person, and was of perpetual obligation, as much as marriage itself (Gaii, Institut. lib. 1, § 109 sq.; Justin. Institut. lib. 1, tit. 10). Hottoman observes that the Romans had allowed concubinage long before Julius Caesar enacted the law by which every one was at liberty to marry as many wives as he pleased. The emperor Valentinian, Socrates tells us, allowed every man two. Concubinage is also used to signify a marriage with a woman of inferior condition, to whom the husband does not convey his rank. Dajos (Paratilla) observes that the ancient laws allowed a man to espouse, under the title of concubine, certain persons who were esteemed unequal to him on account of the want of some qualities requisite to sustain the full honor of marriage; and he adds that, though such concubinage was beneath marriage both as to dignity and civil rights, yet was concubine a reputable title, and very different from that of "mistress" among us. The connection was considered so lawful that the concubine might be accused of adultery in the same manner as a wife (see Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Concubina).
This kind of concubinage is still in use in some countries, particularly in Germany, under the title of halb-ehe (half-marriage), left-hand or morganatic marriage, in allusion to the manner of its being contracted, namely, by the man giving the woman his left hand instead of the right. This is a real marriage, though without the usual solemnity, and the parties are both bound to each other forever, though the female cannot bear the husband's name and title. SEE MARRIAGE; SEE CONCUBINAGE.