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Tamar (Bible)

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This article is about the daughter-in-law of Judah, for the rape victim, see Tamar (David's daughter), for the wife of Rehoboam, daughter of Absalom, mother of Abijah, see Maachah, for the place, see Hatzeva Fortress, for other uses, see Tamar (disambiguation)
Gelder, Aert de - Tamar and Judah - 1667

Tamar and Judah (painting by Arent de Gelder, 1667).

In the Bible, Tamar (Hebrew: תָּמָר, Modern Tamar Tiberian Tāmār ; Date Palm, Armenian: Թամար) was twice the daughter-in-law of Judah, as well as the mother of two of his children, the twins Zerah and Pharez[1].


Rembrandt's school Tamar

Judah and Tamar, school of Rembrandt

In Genesis chapter 38, Tamar is first described as marrying Er, the eldest son of Judah;[2] according to the text, God killed Er because he was wicked (although it doesn't give any further details),[3] and so Judah asked his second son, Onan, to have sex with Tamar, so that the offspring could be declared Er's heir.[4] The narrative implies that Onan didn't object to the sex itself, but performed coitus interruptus so that there wouldn't be any offspring he couldn't claim as his own, so God killed him.[5] Judah is portrayed as viewing Tamar to be cursed, and is therefore reluctant to give her to his remaining son, Shelah;[6] he first tells Tamar to act like a widow, until Shelah, the youngest son, has grown up,[6] and then when he finally does, he still won't give Tamar to Shelah in marriage.[7]

According to the text, after Judah's own wife had later died,[8] he decided to use a prostitute at Enaim; the prostitute in question was Tamar, who wore a veil, making herself unrecognisable.[9] The passage goes on to state that Judah offered to pay her a goat in arrears, but she asked for Judah's staff and seal as security towards this payment;[10] having given her this security, he made her pregnant,[11] but when he later sends the goat, she has gone and taken the seal and staff with her.[12] The text states that three months later, Judah is told that Tamar had been acting as a prostitute, and had become pregnant as a result, so he orders that she should be burnt to death;[13] Tamar sent a message to Judah with his signet ring and cords and staff; and announced that the owner of the items is the father of the children. Judah recognises them, stating that she is more righteous than he is. Judah, afterwards, takes her in to his house, but does not have any more sexual relations with her. Tamar later gives birth to twins (Perez and Zarah). Perez is in King David lineage.[14]


The main motive of the Tamar narrative, is, according to biblical scholars, an eponymous aetiological story concerning the fluctuations in the constituency of the tribe of Judah; textual scholars attribute the narrative to the Yahwist, though Biblical scholars regard it as concerning the state of the clans not much earlier than this.[15][16] A number of scholars have proposed that the deaths of Er and Onan reflect the dying out of two clans;[15][17] Onan may represent an Edomite clan named Onam,[17] who are mentioned in an Edomite genealogy in Genesis,[18] while Er appears from a genealogy in the Book of Chronicles[19] to have been a clan that was later been subsumed by the Shelah clan.[15][17]

Some scholars have argued that the narrative secondarily aims to either assert the institution of levirate marriage, or present an aetiological understanding for its origin, since it highlights cases of marriage for pleasure rather than having children (Onan), of refusal to perform the marriage (Judah, on behalf of Shelah), and of levirate activities with men related to the dead husband other than fraternally;[15] Emerton regards the evidence for this as inconclusive, though classical rabbinical writers argued that this narrative concerns the origin of levirate marriage.[20] A number of scholars, particularly in recent decades (as of 1980), have proposed that the narrative reflects an anachronistic interest in the biblical account of king David, with the character of Tamar being the same;[15][16] the proposals partly being due to the scenes of the narrative - Adullam, Chezib, and Timnah – overlapping.[15][16] Respected theological commentaries accept the details as the historical record. In such commentaries, Judah's avoidance of marrying Tamar to Shelah is taken to be due to an abdication of responsibility, rather than concern for his son.[21] After reading Deut 25:5-10, we see despite her somewhat unorthodox methods, she was a woman of integrity who risked her life to fulfill her duty to herself and her family. She knew she had the right to a child, and she knew that her first husband Er had the right to an heir. Judah's initial condemnation of Tamar's prostitution is seen as being an attempt to rid himself of her burden, rather than an act of moral indignation. Tamar, on the other hand, is interpreted as being forgiving and discreet rather than wily, bending over backwards to prevent Judah from losing his reputation, by obtaining children in secret rather than in public, and using the seal and staff as subtle hints of Judah's part in her pregnancy, rather than publicly accusing him; the Talmud similarly argues that Tamar's actions were for the purpose of avoiding Judah being humiliated,[22][23] although the Genesis Rabbah portrays her as boastful and unashamed in regard to the pregnancy itself.[24]

The Protestant commentaries argue that when confronted with the truth, Judah finally stopped running away from his duties, and slowly began repairing the relationships he had damaged; Tamar is hence seen by these commentaries as a device employed by God for this purpose. According to the Talmud, Judah's confession of guilt itself atoned for some of his prior faults, and resulted in him being divinely rewarded by a share in the future world.[25] While the Protestant commentaries argue that Tamar was a way for Judah to have non-Israelite children, and that Judah did not have further sexual relations with her after he discovered he had fathered her children,<Gen 38:26> the Genesis Rabbah and Talmud state that Tamar was an Israelite,[26][27] and that Judah ended up marrying her and had further sexual liaisons with her as a result.[28]

Chronological issues

Together with the brief preceding narrative of the birth of Er, Onan, and Shelah, and the subsequent narrative of the birth of Pharez's children, the passage is often regarded as presenting a significant chronological issue, since it is surrounded by a narrative concerning Joseph; before the passage occurs, Joseph is described as being 17 years old,[29] and after the passage, Joseph is described as meeting up with Judah some 9 years[30][31] after Joseph had reached 30 years in age.[32] The gap, a maximum of 22 years, is somewhat small to contain within it Judah's first marriage, the birth of Er and Onan, Er's marriage to Tamar, Tamar's subsequent pregnancy by Judah, and the birth of Tamar's grandchildren; the passage is also widely regarded as an abrupt change to the surrounding narrative Joseph story. According to some textual scholars, the reason for these features is that the passage derives from the Jahwist source, while the immediately surrounding narrative is from the Elohist, the two being spliced together at a later date.[17][33][34]

See also

Notes and citations

This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Tamar (Bible). The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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