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The Pharaoh's Handmaidens by John Collier

A handmaiden, handmaid or maidservant is a personal maid or female servant.[1] Depending on culture or historical period, a handmaiden may be of slave status or may be simply an employee. However, the term handmaiden generally implies lowly status.[2]

Depictions in Abrahamic texts[edit]

The Annunciation by Murillo, 1655–1660, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg

In the King James translation of the Hebrew Bible, the term handmaid is applied to a female servant who serves her mistress, as in the case of Hagar being described as Sarai's handmaid,[3] Zilpah being Leah's handmaid[4] and Bilhah as Rachel's handmaid.[5][6] In each of these cases, the mistress "gave" their handmaid to their husbands "to wife", to bear his "seed" (children). The use in the Torah of the prefix "to", as in "gave to wife", may indicate that the wife is a concubine or inferior wife.[7] The text repeats that these people remain handmaids of their mistress though they are also the concubine of the mistress's husband. They are referred to interchangeably by the Hebrew terms אָמָה (’āmāh) and שִׁפְחָה (šip̄ḥāh). Other modern English bible translations use the word slave, slave-girl or servant.[8]


In Christianity, Mary, the mother of Jesus is referred to as the "handmaid of the Lord" or "servant of the Lord",[9] both of which are titles of honour for the mother of Jesus.[10] The Gospel of Luke describes Mary as the "handmaid of the Lord" (Greek δούλη, doulē) when she gives her consent to the message of the Angel (see Luke 1:38), and when she proclaims the greatness of the Lord because of "the great things" he has worked in her (see Luke 1:49)."[10]

In popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ It is also used metaphorically for something whose primary role is to serve or assist."Handmaiden - Definition and More from the Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary". Merriam-webster.com. 2012-08-31. Retrieved 2013-09-17.
  2. ^ biblicalcyclopedia.com Handmaid or Handmaiden
  3. ^ "Genesis 16 / Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre". www.mechon-mamre.org. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  4. ^ "Genesis 30 / Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre". www.mechon-mamre.org. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  5. ^ "Genesis 30 / Hebrew - English Bible / Mechon-Mamre". www.mechon-mamre.org. Retrieved 2020-04-16.
  6. ^ "This Biblical Story Is At The Heart Of The Handmaid's Tale". Retrieved 2018-08-30.
  7. ^ Women, similar to wives from vadimcherny.org
  8. ^ "Genesis 16:1 KJV;ESV;NIV;NRSV - Now Sarai Abram's wife bare him no - Bible Gateway". www.biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2022-02-11.
  9. ^ Closs, Michael P. (29 June 2016). The Book of Mary: A Commentary on the Protevangelium of James. FriesenPress. p. 27. ISBN 9781460284872.
  10. ^ a b Press, Liturgical (2012). Collection of Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Liturgical Press. p. 192. ISBN 9780814634868.