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Tamar

February 11, 2014

Prostitution and incest

Widowed twice, and with her father-in-law refusing to give her to his third son, Tamar wanted a baby. So she gambled everything, and bore twins, both in the lineage of Jesus. It’s all in Genesis 38.

Judah, son of Jacob and half brother to Joseph of the coat of many colours, who he had just sold into slavery in Egypt, had moved away and married a Canaanite woman named Shua. They had three sons Er, Onan and Shelah. Er had a youthful arranged marriage with Tamar, but died without issue leaving Onan in line of inheritance. Judah instructed Onan to wed Tamar. The first-born of such a levirate marriage, would inherit as Er’s son, so Onan, reluctant to lose his inheritance, spilled his seed on the ground, both giving his name to masturbation and displeasing the Lord, who killed him too.

Judah feared losing his third son, so stalled for time; Tamar should live as a widow in her father’s house until Shelah came of age. She waited and waited, and the boy grew up, but he was not given to her.

Eventually Judah’s wife Shua died, and Tamar saw her chance.  Choosing a day when Judah was on a trip to Timnah with his friend Hirah the Adullamite, she dressed and covered her face like a prostitute and waited by the roadside. Judah took the bait, failed to recognise her, and offered a young goat for her services. Tamar demanded his seal, cord and staff as pledges to ensure he kept the bargain and, carried away by passion, Judah handed them over. They fornicated and Tamar conceived. Judah later sent Hirah with the goat to get the pledges back, but no prostitute could be found.

Three months later, when Judah learned of Tamar’s pregnancy he ordered that she be burned to death; an easy way to spare Shelah the fate of his brothers. As she was brought out Tamar sent Judah his pledges saying, I am pregnant by the owner of these. Realising he was the father, and that he had unfairly withheld Shelah, Judah forgave her.

Tamar turned out to have twins. The first born, Perez, was in the line that led to David and thence to Jesus. The second twin, Zerah, had put his hand out of the vagina and then retracted it before Perez was born.  The midwife had proven this by tying a scarlet thread to his wrist.

Some scholars claim that Perez’s line ended with the Babylonian invasion when King Jeconiah’s sons were all killed in his sight, his eyes were put out and he was led into captivity in Babylon. They suggest that a descendant of Zerah, one of the lost tribes of Israel, reconstituted the lineage and fulfilled the prophesy that Judah’s line would lead unbroken to the Messiah.  Others claim that Jeconiah had male offspring after his captivity in Babylon. Whatever, Tamar was the mother of both lines (Matthew 1: 3).

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