Genesis 38 (NIV)
Judah and Tamar
1 At that time, Judah left his brothers and went down to stay with a man of Adullam named Hirah. 2 There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; 3 she became pregnant and gave birth to a son, who was named Er. 4 She conceived again and gave birth to a son and named him Onan. 5She gave birth to still another son and named him Shelah. It was at Kezib that she gave birth to him. 6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was
wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death.
8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill
your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 10What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so the LORD put him to death also.
11Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s household until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s household.
12After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had recovered from his grief, he went up to Timnah, to the men who were shearing his sheep, and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went with him.
13 When Tamar was told, “Your
- Judah wants Tamar burned to death!
father-in-law is on his way to Timnah to shear his sheep,” 14she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had now grown up, she had not been given to him as his wife.
15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face. 16Not realizing that she was his daughter-in-law, he went over to her by the roadside and said, “Come now, let me sleep with you.”
“And what will you give me to sleep with you?” she asked.
17“I’ll send you a young goat from my flock,” he said.
“Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?” she asked.
18He said, “What pledge should I give you?”
“Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand,” she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow’s clothes again.
20 Meanwhile Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. 21He asked the men who lived there, “Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”
“There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here,” they said.
22So he went back to Judah and said, “I didn’t find her. Besides, the men who lived there said, ‘There hasn’t been any shrine prostitute here.’”
23Then Judah said, “Let her keep what she has, or we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn’t find her.”
24About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar is guilty of prostitution, and as a result she is now pregnant.”
Judah said, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!”
25As she was being brought out, she sent a message to her father-in-law. “I am pregnant by the man who owns these,” she said. And she added, “See if you recognize whose seal and cord and staff these are.”
Judah says Tamar is more righteous than he is.
26Judah recognized them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I wouldn’t give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not sleep with her again.
27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand; so the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his wrist and said, “This one came out first.” 29 But when he drew back his hand, his brother came out, and she said, “So this is how you have broken out!” And he was named Perez.30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread on his wrist, came out. And he was named Zerah.
There are so many moral problems with this story that I do not know where to start. I guess we should recap last week’s bible story from Genesis 38:1-10. God kills Er, son of Judah, because Er is evil. Judah orders Er’s brother Onan to impregnate Er’s wife, Tamar. Onan refuses to impregnate her, so God kills Onan.
Judah has one more son named Shelah who is not yet grown, so Tamar can not marry him yet and goes to live with her father. Notice that Judah says Shelah may die like his brothers, which means God may kill Shelah like he killed Er and Onan.
Then the story gets even stranger. A long time passes. Judah’s wife dies. Tamar is not married to Shelah so she disguises herself and waits by a temple. Judah thinks she is a temple prostitute, asks her to have sex with him, and she does in exchange for a goat, keeping his seal, cord, and staff as promise of payment.
Tamar gets pregnant. Judah learns his daughter-in-law is pregnant from prostitution and demands she be burned to death. Then he learns she is pregnant by him and declares her more righteous.
Let’s start with temple prostitution. In Hebrew there are two different words used for prostitute, kedeshah and zonah. In Genesis 38:21 and 22, the word kedeshah is used. A kedeshah is a “holy prostitute”, most often associated with the worship of Asherah or Astarte (aka Ishtar), the Syrian Venus. Asherah is known to have been a wife or consort of Yahweh based upon multiple inscriptions found on ancient relics (see Dever, William G. (2005), Did God Have a Wife?: Archaeology and Folk Religion in Ancient Israell; also Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of Its Sacred Texts).
irregardless of the nature of the shrine prostitute, Judah wants to have sex with her and does. When he finds out Tamar is guilty of prostitution, he wants to burn her to death! Talk about a double standard!
Judah and Tamar do not seem very moral in this story. However, according to Matthew 1, they are the ancestors of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac,
Isaac the father of Jacob,
Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
3 Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,
Perez the father of Hezron,
As previously noted, the genealogies of Joseph in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 are so contradictory that some Christians claim Luke’s genealogy is actually that of Mary rather than Joseph (even though the bible says Joseph and shows no evidence of Mary). Either way, the bible shows in Genesis 38 and Matthew 1 that Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, is the progeny of an incestuous relationship between Tamar and the whore mongering father of one of the 12 tribes of Israel, Judah. What a wonderful example of Christian morality!