Design By Humans

Genesis 38. Intermission: Taming Tamar.


Genesis 38.

1 And it came to pass at that time, that Judah went down from his brethren, and turned in to a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah.

That's great and all, I'm sure meeting Hirah was a high point for Judah, but I want to know what's happening to Joseph.

2 And Judah saw there a daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shuah; and he took her, and went in unto her.

What? No wedding? Is Jacob/Israel the only man to have had to not only pay for his brides but also go through a ceremony? Has marriage reverted to the sex act alone? It makes you wonder if the whole seven years work per bride thing was just a plot device to further Jacob's story. Was it actually necessary for Jacob to pay for his wives with labour or could he have just taken them as everyone else seems to? Also... Is marrying Canaanite women OK now? His great grandfather would not have approved.

3 And she conceived, and bare a son; and he called his name Er.

Way to go Judah, that's a nice hit-rate. One bang, one baby! Welcome Er! At this point I have no data to accurately place your birth on a timeline.

4 And she conceived again, and bare a son; and she called his name Onan.

One letter away from Conan! We almost had a character who's life was worth chronicling. Oh well.

5 And she yet again conceived, and bare a son; and called his name Shelah: and he was at Chezib, when she bare him.

At Chizeb you say? Is this detail significant?

6 And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.

Is the verb 'to take' in this verse meant in the same euphemistic sense as it is when others in this book have 'taken' wives? If so, surely it was Er's job to do the taking. How kind of Judah to perform this 'service' for his son. How old is Er at this point anyway?

7 And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD slew him.

Oh? Looks like Er's age when his father took a wife for him is irrelevant. the LORD has arbitrarily decided to slay him. Did the LORD do the slaying in person? It seems to me that there is very little detail for what I would call an important event. What did Er do to deserve being slayed by the LORD? There have been many 'wicked' deeds performed by men in this narrative and besides the flooding and the Sodom/Gomorrah incident the LORD seems to have refrained from slaying anyone. What was so wicked about ER that he required the LORD's individual attention?

8 And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother's wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother.

I see we aren't going to find out what ER's crimes were, perhaps this is yet another lazy plot device. Anyhow, Judah instructs Onan to copulate his brother's wife and to marry her... In that order. Nothing is said of any consultation with Tamar. Did she agree to the union?

9 And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother.

Hmm. Onan, having apparently seen no problem with boinking his dead brother's wife decides that he doesn't want to fall foul of the curious custom such that his child by her (should he produce one) would actually be counted as Er's child, as such he decides to whip it out and spray his load on the ground. Couldn't the filthy bugger he have used a tissue? Some cloth maybe?

10 And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.

Uh-oh, it appears that young Onan's desire to not further his brother's line (which is a biologically dubious tradition. One could argue until one was blue in the face that if Tamar were to conceive by Onan that it would be Er's child, but one would be wrong, and if one argued that it would be Er's child in God's eyes then the God they refer to has a very shaky grasp on how the reproductive process works) was in error to the extent that not leaving a deposit in his dead brother's wife gets him executed by the LORD.

11 Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father's house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father's house.

So having had two of his sons die after boinking Tamar, Judah wants her to stick around and wait for his youngest son to grow old enough to boink her too. What does this guy want? No sons? Is anyone starting to think that something might be wrong with Tamar, some desease perhaps? Could the whole slaying LORD thing be a fabrication to explain the deaths of two healthy young men that both slept with a desease-ridden woman? What seems particularly ironic is that Judah is actually afraid his son might die but hasn't made the connection.

12 And in process of time the daughter of Shuah Judah's wife died; and Judah was comforted, and went up unto his sheepshearers to Timnath, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite.

Why have we never been told the name of Judah's wife? Oh well, she's dead now. Somehow he was comforted, presumably by taking an excursion to his sheepshearer with his good chum Hirah.

13 And it was told Tamar, saying, Behold thy father in law goeth up to Timnath to shear his sheep.

Ok. She had to know I guess.

14 And she put her widow's garments off from her, and covered her with a vail, and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place, which is by the way to Timnath; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given unto him to wife.

Having waited for Shalah to become a man, which presumably he has now become, and having not been wed to him as promised by Judah, Tamar decides that it is time to stop mourning, wrap herself up in the garb of a prostitute and sit at  the side of the road. I'm guessing she's pretty desperate for some man-meat. Surely there's a better way like perhaps going and finding another husband or maybe even flirting with Shalah?

15 When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face.

As you do.

16 And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me?

Judah, having quite a progressive attitude, decides to contract the services of a prostitute, his wife is dead after all. Alas he doesn't realise that this is Tamar he's talking to because her face is covered, presumably she's also disguising her voice and intends to keep her head covered during the whole 'transaction'.

17 And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it?

He offers some livestock, she accepts but wants a deposit.

18 And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.

Were people (with the notable exception of those Abraham's wife Sarah) really that fertile such that every sexual encounter ends in pregnancy? It's an amazing hit-rate, I can only imagine the population growth rate if people conceived every time they had unprotected sex in the manner described in this book.

19 And she arose, and went away, and laid by her vail from her, and put on the garments of her widowhood.

Pregnancy achieved; prostitution over. I'm impressed by the goal-oriented approach of this woman, she wasn't lured into a continued life of prostitution by the glamour and wealth that the livestock-wages could provide her. 

20 And Judah sent the kid by the hand of his friend the Adullamite, to receive his pledge from the woman's hand: but he found her not.

Oh no. How does Judah get his deposit back now?

21 Then he asked the men of that place, saying, Where is the harlot, that was openly by the way side? And they said, There was no harlot in this place.

This must have been a very specific and tactical whoring operation, she was only by the way side just long enough to ensnare her mark and completely avoided being noticed by anyone else.

22 And he returned to Judah, and said, I cannot find her; and also the men of the place said, that there was no harlot in this place.

Not what Judah wanted to hear.

23 And Judah said, Let her take it to her, lest we be shamed: behold, I sent this kid, and thou hast not found her.

Is there societal shame at not paying a prostitute during this period? Is prostitution an accepted profession? It is, after all, spoken about quite candidly here.

24 And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

Oh wait. perhaps it is not acceptable, I'm having some difficulty though. It was ok for Judah to hire a whore, it is even considered shameful to stiff her for the fare, but upon hearing that Tamar has been impregnated in whoredom, he demands her burned? What specifically was the problem here? It doesn't seem to be prostitution as a concept as Judah was a willing participant in that, so maybe it's the act of getting pregnant while whoring, but since there are no good ways to prevent pregnancy during this period, as almost every bang begets a baby and spilling the sperm on the ground gets you offed by the LORD, I don't see how a prostitute could be blamed for this outcome and even if she could, why would the responsibility lay solely with the woman. Should Judah not be burned for impregnating a whore? Perhaps the crime was pretending to be a whore. Maybe there is some licensing issue we are unaware of and she should be burned for the practice of unlicensed hooking. Perhaps she neglected to pay her whore tax? It is at best unclear however I suspect some hypocrisy is involved.

25 When she was brought forth, she sent to her father in law, saying, By the man, whose these are, am I with child: and she said, Discern, I pray thee, whose are these, the signet, and bracelets, and staff.

Does she not know who she sold her services to? Surely it was only Tamar that was disguised.

26 And Judah acknowledged them, and said, She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son. And he knew her again no more.

So... Judah realizes he's been caught. His family now know that he solicits whores, so in his embarrassment, he changes from anger to proclaiming the  righteousness of Tamar's actions hoping to deflect attention from his own. Oh, and for some reason it needs to be said that he doesn't screw her again after that. Was he planning to? is this suggesting he knew it was Tamar he had solicited for sex? It never says that Er 'knew' his wife and it was Judah that did the taking. Has Judah been banging Tamar all along?

27 And it came to pass in the time of her travail, that, behold, twins were in her womb.

Good, good.

28 And it came to pass, when she travailed, that the one put out his hand: and the midwife took and bound upon his hand a scarlet thread, saying, This came out first.

Did the author of this abomination ever witness a birth? Babies do not come out hand first! If they were to, midwives are more concerned with completing the birthing process than interrupting the whole thing to tie strings to as yet unborn babies. Why are we expected to swallow this?

29 And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez.

Wait, so the baby pulled his arm back inside his mother while she was pushing? This is utter biological nonsense  The narrative goes on to say that the first twin out was supposed to be second which will probably lead to claims of birthrights being stolen or some such nonsense.

30 And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.

Congratulations Tamar. You finally have some children.

So what was this chapter all about?

I can honestly say that I was expecting to learn more about Joseph and his time in Egypt from this chapter but instead we have this bizarre intermission where the only mention of God is as a killer, firstly of a chap he didn't like for some reason and secondly to punish that chap's brother for failing to impregnate his dead brother's widow (although it might actually have been that God was offended by the mess made when Onan sprayed his baby-batter all over the floor).

So I'm not sure what the implications of this chapter are. Judah, the patriarch in this little vignette was the ring-leader in the scheme to sell Joseph his brother into slavery, yet God does nothing to punish him. On the other hand God kill's Er and Onan for practically nothing. Is God's judgement arbitrary?

There is no statement of the morality of prostitution. Judah says that Tamar tricking him into paying to fuck her is a righteous act, but then he also sold his brother into slavery and God surprisingly has nothing to say on the subject.

The gross misunderstanding of the birthing procedure leads me, along with similar problems in other chapters, to believe that the author has no experience of anything he is writing about.

Anyway...

Lets find out what happened to Joseph, Onward to Genesis 39.

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