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Tamar and Judah - The Levrite Marriage gone-a-rye?

Jan9462 Jan 11, 2015

  1. Jan9462

    Jan9462 Staff Elite Member

    Tamar: claiming her rights

    Tamar means ‘date palm’, source of food, shade, life
    Judah means ‘give praise to God’
    Er is the name of Tamar's first husband; Er spelt backwards in Hebrew is the word for 'evil'
    Perez means ‘he who pushes through’, the one who breaks through a wall; Zerah means ‘scarlet'
    Onan means ‘the virile one’ - this is ironic, since he refused to give Tamar a child

    Main themes of the story

    God’s promise to continue the Jewish people through many generations. This is one of the main themes of the Book of Genesis, and Tamar's story is a central example. None of the people in this story understood God's long-term plan for the Jewish people. They saw only their own predicament. But the mind of God had a plan of which they knew nothing.


    Date palm, heavily loaded with clusters of dates; dates were a symbol of fertility

    Bad things happen to good people, but good can come from evil, even when we cannot see God's plan or understand it.

    The quest for social justice. The story lays the foundation for the continuing Jewish preoccupation with social justice. Despite Tamar's 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. Once again, God's plan unfolded through the unorthodox actions of a woman.

    Tamar is one of the four female ancestors of Jesus, in Matthew's gospel. All four had irregularities in their marriages/sexual relationships.


    A veiled Tunisian woman, photograph by Matthias Stolt

    The story of Tamar has four episodes:

    1 Tamar married, but remained childless. Read Genesis 38:1-11. Tamar married into the family of Judah, first to Judah’s son Er and then, after his death, to Onan his brother. Because Onan practised a form of contraception, Tamar did not become pregnant. For a Jewish woman this meant disgrace, because people thought that being childless was a punishment from God.

    2 She claimed her Levirite rights. Read Genesis 38:12-19. God punished Onan and he died. By law Tamar should then have married Judah's third son so she could have a baby who would inherit her dead husband's share of the tribal wealth. But this did not happen, so she decided to get justice for herself. She dressed as a prostitute, had sex with her father-in-law Judah and conceived twin sons.


    Photograph of two newborn babies

    3 She was accused of promiscuity, Genesis 38:20-26. Because she did not name the father of her child, it was assumed she had been promiscuous, and Judah sentenced her to burn to death. But she saved herself by a clever ploy.

    4 She bore twin sons, Genesis 38:27-30. God rewarded her tenacity with the birth of sons, one of whom was the ancestor of King David, Israel's great hero.