Does the hebrew bible have a way to indicate a woman that is of higher status partner(wife) rather than a concubine?

For example, there's the word Pilegesh (concubine)

Nashim, is plural of Isha , so just means women.

The closest I can think of is Aishet(woman of) (Gen 11:29) שֵׁם אֵשֶׁת-אַבְרָם, שָׂרָי (the name of the woman of avram, sarai)

Clearly the verb 'lakach', e.g. Vayikach Isha can refer to a woman that is a concubine or above a concubine. For example Gen 24:4 when Avraham tells his servant "and you shall take a woman for my son, for isaac" "וְלָקַחְתָּ אִשָּׁה" (velakachta isha - and you shall take a woman) (And it will be Rivka/rachel, she's above a concubine). And Vayikach Isha is used in the case of Ketura, who was a concubine. So the term is not reserved for "wives" by which I mean women higher than concubines.

One could perhaps do it via context, the first woman is the high grade wife / wife(woman of higher level than concubine), and latter ones are concubines. But i'm wondering if there's any hebrew that would refer to "higher level than concubine" specifically.

I wonder if maybe Eishet is the closest thing, though that's just "the woman of".

I see here https://biblehub.com/hebrew/802.htm (strongs page for Isha), there is also aras "of one betrothed (ארשׂ) Deuteronomy 20:7; Deuteronomy 28:30; " which seems to be like 'engaged' / 'soon to be taken by the man' ('taken' being, not sex, but a wife/concubine status).

1 Answer 1


Maybe Kings I, 11, 3 can help:

וַיְהִי לוֹ נָשִׁים שָׂרוֹת שְׁבַע מֵאוֹת וּפִלַגְשִׁים שְׁלֹשׁ מֵאוֹת

KJV translates it as:

And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines

Douay-Rheims translate it as:

And he had seven hundred wives as queens, and three hundred concubines

My personal take on the word שרות (which is translated to queens/princesses) is that it is closely related to 'ladies', or important people. I would say this is exactly to emphasize the difference between a legal wife and a concubine.

I also checked with Luther's translation to German:

Und er hatte siebenhundert Hauptfrauen und dreihundert Nebenfrauen

Hauptfrauen is something like 'main wife' or 'main woman', so this gives me a little more confidence.

So in this case, where the bible specifically had to distinguish between wives and concubines, it states נשים (plural of אישה), as legal wives; and פילגשים, to state concubines.

I hope that helps.

  • Out of curiosity, just checked Google Trends on the words frau, nebenfrau and hauptfrau in Germany but the latter doesn't appear to be very common. trends.google.com/trends/… Aug 20, 2020 at 8:53
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    @TiagoMartinsPeres李大仁 My German is not that great, but I think this is a little outdated term, that might have been more common when Martin Luther translated the Bible in the 16th century.
    – noam
    Aug 20, 2020 at 9:35
  • Nashim(נָשִׁים) is just the plural of Isha(אישה).. Isha is woman. Nashim is women. If Nashim doesn't include Concubines, then Isha shouldn't. But I think Nashim and Isha, being women, would include them... Maybe a sentence that includes women and concubines, may use them in a distinct way, using nashim to exclude concubines. The counter example to yours would be Keturah, if we accept that she is a concubine, then in Gen 25:1,it says vayikach isha (and he took a woman - often translated as wife). Keturah.In 25:6 he gave gifts to the sons of the concubines which probably included keturah
    – barlop
    Aug 20, 2020 at 16:30
  • @barlop, אישה has two meaning: "woman" and "wife", and so נשים means either "women" or "wives".
    – noam
    Aug 21, 2020 at 6:18

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