the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
The Hebrews had no word properly answmering to our term queen in the sense of a female sovereign, neither had they the dignity which that word denotes. Of the three Hebrew terms used as the equivalents of "queen" in the A. V. (גְּבַירָה שֵׁגָל מִלְכָּה ), the first (malkah) alone is applied to a queen reygnant; the first and second (shegal) equally to a queen consort; without, however, implying the dignity which in European nations attaches to that position; and the third (gebirah) to the queen mother, to whom that dignity is transferred in Oriental courts. The etymological force of the words accords with their application. Malkah is the feminine of mlek, "king;" it is applied in its first sense to the queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10:1), and in its second to the chief wife, as distinguished from all other females in a royal harem (Esther 1:9 sq.; Esther 7:1 sq.; Song of Solomon 6:8): the term "princesses" is similarly used in 1 Kings 11:3. Shegal simply means "wife," i.e. of the first rank, as distinguished from mere concubines; it is applied to Solomon's bride or perhaps mother (Psalms 45:9), and to the wives of the first rank in the harems of the Chaldee and Persian monarchs (Daniel 5:2-3; Nehemiah 2:6). Gebirdh, on the other hand, is expressive of authority; it means "powerful" or "mistress," being the feminine of גְּבַיר , gebir, "master," or "lord." The feminine is to be understood by its relation to the masculine, which is not applied to kingly power or to kings, but to general authority and dominion.
It is, in fact, the word which occurs twice with reference to Isaac's blessing of Jacob: "Be lord over thy brethren;" and "I have made him thy load" (Genesis 27:29; Genesis 27:37). It would therefore be applied to the female who exercised the highest authority, and this, in an Oriental household, is not the wife, but the mother, of the master. Strange as such an arrangement at first sight appears, it is one of the inevitable results of polygamy: the number of the wives, their social position previous to marriage, and the precariousness of their hold on the affections of their lord combine to annihilate their influence, which is transferred to the mother, as being the only female who occupies a fixed and dignified position. Hence the application of the term gebirah to the queen mother, the extent of whose influence is well illustrated by the narrative of the interview of Solomon and Bathsheba, as given in 1 Kings 2:19 sq. The term is applied to Maachah, Asa's mother, who was deposed from her dignity in consequence of her idolatry (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16); to Jezebel as contrasted with Joram (2 Kings 10:13, "the children of the king and the children of the queen"); and to the mother of Jehoiachin or Jeconiah (Jeremiah 13:18; comp. 2 Kings 24:12; Jeremiah 29:2). In 1 Kings 11:19, the text perhaps requires emendation, the reading followed in the Sept., הִגְּדוֹלָח "the elder," according better ith the context. The limited use which is made even of the restricted term gebiraih is somewhat remarkable. It is only employed twice with reference to the wife of a king: in one of these two cases it is applied to the wife of the king of Egypt, where the condition of the royal consort was more queenly than in Palestine (1 Kings 11:19; comp. Willkinson, Anc. Egypt. ii, 59; iii, 64; v, 28); and in the other to Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, who, as the daughter of a powerful king, appears to have enjoyed peculiar privileges in her matrimonial state (2 Kings 10:13). In two other places it is not clear whether the king's wife or mother is intended (Jeremiah 13:18; Jeremiah 29:2); and in the remaining passages it is pointedly referred to the king's mother in such terms as clearly show that the state which she held was one of positive dignity and rank (1 Kings 15:13; 2 Chronicles 15:16). (See WIFE).
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