Home » Hebrew Yay! » פִּלֶגֶשׁ: Pîlegeš is that Concubine or not?

פִּלֶגֶשׁ: Pîlegeš is that Concubine or not?


I had meant to post this blog up a lot earlier then I am now doing…  Although, I’ve actually been a little behind a few things, (as noted by the two sermon notes and one Seminary Paper suddenly appearing the other day.  To be honest I’m still have some things that I meaning to post up, i.e. more of the Maccabean Era History notes and One more paper O.o)  Any ways, here a simple study on פִּלֶגֶשׁ, not as complete as I had originally intended.   I might make an additional blog latter on, dealing with the masculine verb, as soon as I can find some more info. In any case, please enjoy


This Hebrew word is often translated as concubine, but how accurately of a translation could this be? This word appears within two important scenarios within the Judges chronicles, namely when involved with Abimelech’s birth (Judges 8.31) and the Levite’s “concubine,” (Judges 19).  For the most part this post will be filled quotes from other writers.  I will make another comment at one point within the post, but in any case here you go.

Hebrew Books:

The TWOT writes of the word:

“A concubine was a true wife, though of secondary rank. This is indicated, for example, by the references to a concubine’s “husband” (Jud 19:3), the “father-in-law” (Jud 19:4), “son-in-law” (Jud 19:5). Thus, the concubine was not a kept mistress, and did not cohabit with a man unless married to him. The institution itself is an offshoot of polygamy[1].”

Another Dictionary writes:

“Another Hebrew dictionary writes: “a female in a formal, societally recognized, polygamous marriage relationship with a husband, usually with less rights than a wife, sometimes with a function of status or pleasure to the husband[2].”

Commentators on Pîlegeš

Soggin writes that the word

“… is in fact a legitimate wife, but of second rank.  We meet here with a figure typical of sovereigns, but rare in the private sphere[3].”

Another Commentator makes note:

“There are few references to this status in the biblical text and only two in Judges, though all share some common characteristics.  A pîlegeš is associated with a man who has sexual relations with the woman.  Often she is provided for in some way by the man, though there are cases where that is not clear….  In all of the cases except for the raped pîlegeš in Judges 19, the men with whom they are associated are married to other women who are named woman/wife.  Kings have many of them. …

There are two major issues concerning pîlegeš regularly highlighted in biblical stories: the status of their children… and what a pîlegeš of a ruler means politically (and often the two are related, especially when determining who inherits power). … Other references show them to be counted when numbering how large a king’s harem was but shows that they were not of the same status as women/wives since they are listed after women/wives ….  Beyond this there is little data[4].”

Then on Judges 8.31 she writes:

“None of the characteristics common to other biblical references to a concubine fit the definition of concubine in this text, raising the question of what the term really means[5].”

On the Levites’s Concubine (Judges 19) she writes:

“The term can also mean secondary wife in certain societies but, as will become apparent, there is no evidence here of the existence of a primary wife to whom this woman would be second.  Neither translation addresses what is implied in terms of marriage, rank, status, legal rights, or inheritance procedures.  Even if “concubine” accurately reflects the meaning of the Hebrew term pîlegeš the ramifications of a woman cohabiting with a man not her husband are different in the 1990s, the 1950s, and 1611 C.E.

Simply to apply the contemporary understanding of the term is problematic here because later the father of the pîlegeš is called a “father-in-law” (Judg 19:6).  The English definition of concubine implies that the decision for the arrangement is on the part of the woman,

One article in mentioning the Levite concubine that:

“The Levite’s concubine (Judg 19:1-30) appears to have had the status of a wife.  Her unfaithfulness (19:2) seems to have been her leaving him to return to her parents rather than any illicit sexual liaison[6].

Also Block writes:

“The etymology of pîlegeš (NIV, “concubine”) is obscure, but the word always identifies female persons, whose primary function appears to have been to gratify the sexual desires of the man/husband. In most contexts in the Old Testament the concubine was considered a legal if second-ranked wife[7].”

Bible Dictionary

“The precise nature of the relationship between a man and his pilegeš is not always clear from the biblical texts, however, and scholars have sometimes disagreed about the term’s meaning.  It is usually translated into English as “concubine” and understood to refer to a wife or sexual partner of secondary status.  Although certain men in the Hebrew Bible have both wives and concubines, no wives or additional concubines are referred to in Judges 19.  The levite is referred to as the “husband” of the woman (19:3; 20:4) and the “son-in-law” of the woman’s father (19:5), who in turn is referred to as the Levite’s “father-in-law” (19:4, 7, 9).  The uncertain nature of the differences between a wife and a concubine revales the complexities involved in understanding notions of kinship and marriage presupposed by biblical narratives[8].”


When looking at pîlegeš, it would perhaps be best to see the word with meaning not so defined as perhaps we would like it to be.  While a pîlegeš does certainly connote some of the same things which a concubine would, there seems to be another level to the word.   Most times placing a pîlegeš as a wife of second rank would seem to fit well, except for perhaps the case of the Judges 19.  Though that particular pîlegeš, honestly seems to set itself apart from the others.  Schneider in her commentary has suggested that perhaps leaving pîlegeš as a transliterated word rather than translated would perhaps be better.  Perhaps however that wouldn’t be the best of answers for how often would the normal reader really take the time to look up the word?  At the same time however should the word continue to be translated as “concubine,” or perhaps something else tried perhaps “lower wife?”


Of course when it appears in the Masculine form, “Paramour,” at least what many consider to be a masculine form of the word.  This form of the word appears in Ezekiel 23.20, (which ironically is a rather uh… interesting verse in itself).  I have not yet quite found as much of a study on this particular form word as I would have liked.  However Greenberg writes of it:

after concubinage to them. So Rashi, Kara, taking the plural noun (lit. “after their concubines”) as an abstract, but this is hardly admissible. Others stretch “concubines”—elsewhere always feminine—to be masculine, “their servants” (T; Symmachus; Menaḥem bar Shimʿon: she was so wanton she harloted with the servants of the Egyptians, to her shame). No solution is satisfactory[9].”

[1]R. Laird Harris, Robert Laird Harris, Gleason Leonard Archer and Bruce K. Waltke, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, electronic ed. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999, c1980), 724.

[2]James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor: , 1997), DBLH 7108, #1.

[3] J. Alberto Soggin, The Old Testament Library: Judges, tr. John Bowden (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1981), 159.

[4] Tammi J. Schneider, Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry: Judges, ed. David W. Cotter (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 2000), 129.

[5] Ibid.

[6] M.J. Evans, “Women,” in Dictionary of the Old Testament: Historical Books , ed. Bill T. Arnold and H.G.M. Williamson (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 2005), 991.

[7]Daniel Isaac Block, vol. 6, Judges, Ruth; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 303.

[8] s.v.  “Judges 19–20: Concubine (Secondary Wife) of a Levite, Ken Stone in Women in Scripture, ed.  (Oxford Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2001), 249.

[9]Moshe Greenberg, Ezekiel 21-37: A New Translation With Introduction and Commentary, Paging Continues That of Translator’s Ezekiel 1-20, Pub. 1983 as Anchor Bible, V. 22. (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 480.



  1. Calvin says:

    The entire chapter of Ez 23 is really fascinating actually.

  2. Rita says:

    Very good and in-depth information. I appreciated it.

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