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In the Biblical Book of Genesis, Onan (Hebrew: אוֹנָן, Modern Onan Tiberian ʾװnān ; Strong) was the second son of Judah.[1] Certain interpretations of the narrative concerning him have led to the term onanism, which means masturbation or coitus interruptus.

According to the text, after God had killed Onan's older brother Er, Judah asked Onan to raise his children so that the child or children could be declared to be Er's heir(s).[2] "But Onan knew that the seed would not be his" (NIV) and therefore "spoiled earth" (spilled upon the earth?). The passage states that this displeased God, who killed Onan as his punishment.[3]

According to some biblical scholars who contextually read this passage, the description of Onan is an eponymous aetiological story concerning fluctuations in the constituency of the tribe of Judah, with the death of Onan reflecting the dying out of a clan;[4][5] Er and Onan are hence viewed as each being representative of a clan, with Onan possibly representing an Edomite clan named Onam,[6] mentioned by an Edomite genealogy in Genesis.[7] The Jewish attorney Alan Dershowitz has suggested that Onan and Tamar engaged in frottage (non-penetrative sex) or in anal sex. Also, he suggests that the anger of Yawah was directed not at the sexual act, but at Onan's disobedience by refusing to impregnate his brother's widow.[8]

The text emphasizes the social and legal situation, with Judah explaining what Onan must do and why. A plain reading of the text is that Onan was killed because he refused to follow instructions. Scholars have argued that the secondary purpose of the narrative about Onan and Tamar, of which the description of Onan is a part, was to either assert the institution of levirate marriage (in which a man marries his deceased brother's widow), or present an aetiological myth for its origin;[4] Onan's role in the narrative is, thus, as the brother abusing his obligations by agreeing to sexual intercourse with his dead brother's wife, but refusing to allow her to become pregnant as a result. Emerton regards the evidence for this to be inconclusive, although classical rabbinical writers argued that this narrative describes the origin of levirate marriage.[9]

However, other early writers focused on the spilling seed, and the sexual act being used for non-procreational purposes. One opinion expressed in the Talmud argues that this was where the death penalty's imposition originated.[10] This interpretation was held by several early Christian apologists. Jerome, for example, argued:

But I wonder why he the heretic Jovinianus set Judah and Tamar before us for an example, unless perchance even harlots give him pleasure; or Onan, who was slain because he grudged his brother his seed. Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?[11]

Clement of Alexandria, while not making explicit reference to Onan, similarly reflects an early Christian view of the abhorrence of '"spilling seed'":

Because of its divine institution for the propagation of man, the seed is not to be vainly ejaculated, nor is it to be damaged, nor is it to be wasted[12]

To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature'[13]

Many Christian groups, especially Roman Catholicism, have subsequently cited the Onan narrative as justification for bans on both masturbation and coitus interruptus, and, since medieval times, have also used it to justify a prohibition against contraception. This view – that wasted seed refers to masturbation – was upheld by many early rabbis. However, the Levitical regulations concerning ejaculation, whether as a result of heterosexual intercourse[14] or not,[15] merely prescribe a ritual washing, and remaining ritually impure until the next day began on the following evening.

External links

Genesis 38 Biblos Interlinear Bible

Notes and citations

  1. Genesis 38:8
  2. Genesis 38:8
  3. Genesis 38:10
  4. 4.0 4.1 J. A. Emerton, Judah And Tamar
  5. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  6. Cheyne and Black, Encyclopedia Biblica
  7. Genesis 36:23
  8. Alan Dershowitz, The Genesis of Justice
  9. Genesis Rabbah 85:6
  10. Niddah 13a.
  11. Jerome, Against Jovinian 1:19, (AD 393)
  12. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 2:10:91:2 (AD 191)
  13. Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor of Children 2:10:95:3
  14. Leviticus 15:18
  15. Leviticus 15:16-17
This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Onan. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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