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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Handmaid or Handmaiden

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(שַׁפְחָה, shiphchah', or אָמָה,amah', Genesis 16:1, etc.; Ruth 3:9, etc.; δούλη , Luke 1:48), a maid-servant (as both Heb. terms are often translated; the latter being rendered "handmaid" only in a metaphorical or self-deprecatory sense). We find on the paintings in the tombs of Egypt various representations of female domestics employed in waiting on their mistresses, sometimes at the bath, at others at the toilette, and likewise in bringing in refreshments and handing them round to visitors. An upper servant or slave had the office of handing the wine, and a black woman sometimes followed, in an inferior capacity, to receive an empty cup when the wine had been poured into the goblet. The same black slave also carried the fruits and other refreshments; and the peculiar mode of holding a plate with the hand reversed, so generally adopted by women from Africa, is characteristically shown in the Theban paintings (Wilkinson, Anc. Eg. 1, 142 sq., abridgm). (See BANQUET). It appears most probable that Hagar was given to Sarai as her personal attendant while she was in the house of Pharaoh, and that she was permitted to retain her when she departed. Jewish tradition reports that Hagar was a daughter (by a concubine, as some say) of Pharaoh, who, seeing the wonders wrought on account of Sarai, said, "It is better that my daughter should be a handmaid in this household than a mistress in another," and therefore gave her to Sarai. She was, no doubt, a female slave, and one of those maidservants whom Abram had brought from Egypt. These females among the Jews, as they still are in the East, are entirely under the control of the mistress of the family. (See SLAVE); (See HAGAR).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Handmaid or Handmaiden'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/h/handmaid-or-handmaiden.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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