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In the Book of Genesis, Bilhah (בִּלְהָה "faltering; bashful", Standard Hebrew Bilha, Tiberian Hebrew Bilhâ) is Rachel's handmaid who becomes a wife of Jacob and bears him two sons, Dan and Naphtali.[1]

The Testament of Naftali, part of the Dead Sea Scrolls, says that Bilhah and Zilpah's father was named Ahotay. He was taken into captivity but redeemed by Laban, Rachel and Leah's father, and he gave Ahotay a wife named Hannah, who was their mother. Rabbinic sources (Midrash Raba, and elsewhere), on the other hand, state that Bilhah and Zilpah were also Laban's daughters, through his concubines, making them half-sisters to Rachel and Leah {see also, Pirke De-Rabbi Eliezer, xxxvi.}.

Genesis 35:22 says "And it was during the stay of Israel in that land, and Reuben went and lay with Bilha, his father's concubine, and Israel heard..."[2] As a result of this adultery, he lost the respect of his father, as Genesis 49:4 says: "Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it."

However, Rashi, an 11th-century commentator, interprets the story differently. He suggests that, as long as Rachel was alive, Jacob kept his bed in her tent and visited the other wives in theirs. When Rachel died, Jacob moved his bed into the tent of Bilhah, who had been mentored by Rachel, to retain a closeness to his favourite wife. However, Reuben, eldest son of Leah, felt that this move slighted his mother, who was also a primary wife, and so he moved Jacob's bed into his mother's tent. This invasion of Jacob's privacy was viewed so gravely that the Bible equates it with adultery, and lost Reuben his first-born right to a double inheritance.[3]

Bilhah is said to be buried in the Tomb of the Matriarchs in Tiberias.

In the Book of Chronicles, Shimei's brothers were said to have lived in Bilhah and surrounding territories prior to the reign of David.[4]

Family tree[edit]

Sarah Abraham Hagar Haran
Ishmael Milcah Lot Iscah
Ishmaelites 7 sons[5] Bethuel 1st daughter 2nd daughter
Isaac Rebecca Laban Moabites Ammonites
Esau Jacob Rachel
Edomites Zilpah
1. Reuben
2. Simeon
3. Levi
4. Judah
9. Issachar
10. Zebulun
11. Dinah
7. Gad
8. Asher
5. Dan
6. Naphtali
12. Joseph
13. Benjamin

In popular culture[edit]

The idea of handmaidens is used on in The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. In the novels The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, and Rachel and Leah by Orson Scott Card, Bilhah and Zilpah are half-sisters of Leah and Rachel by different mothers, following the Talmudic tradition.


  1. ^ Gen. 30:3-5, 35:25
  2. ^ Genesis 35:22, this is from Wikisource translation, but King James and all other translations are essentially identical.
  3. ^ Gen. 35:22, 49:3,4; Deuteronomy. 21:17
  4. ^ 1 Chronicles 4:27-29
  5. ^ Genesis 22:21-22: Uz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, and Jidlaph