Genesis Overview: Judah and Tamar

It is not possible to say why this story is inserted here. 46.12, where Judah arrives with grandchildren, disagrees with 37.2, 41.46, 45.11; but 46.8-27 is a later addition.

38.1-11: These verses prepare the ground for the incident of Judah and his daughter-in-law. The narrator eschews, explanation or vividness and simply cites the dry facts: Judah separates from his brethren, geographically aetiological of a later age; Judah's inter-marriage with a Canaanite; Judah gave his oldest son a Canaanite woman, Tamar but he dies without children, a punishment of Yahweh; following the custom of Levirate marriage, (Deuteronomy 25.5 ff.), pre-supposed in Ruth but never explained in the OT, the second son marries Tamar, refuses his duty and dies; Judah should give Tamar to his youngest son but fears that she is implicated (cf. Tobit 3.7 ff., 8.9 f.); Judah presents his solution as interim when he thought it final.

38.12-23: Judah, now a widower, goes to the shearing; Tamar, who knows that Judah wants to get rid of her permanently, can assert Judah's levirate obligation. "At the borders between Israel and Canaan, where our whole story takes place, the appearance on the road of a 'devoted one' was obviously nothing surprising. Tamar thus does not pretend to be a harlot as we think of it, but rather a married woman who indulges in this practice, and Judah too thought of her in this way." (P359-360). 38.21-22 uses the term "devoted one" which "... recalls the sacred meaning of this practice" (p360). ((VR's explanation of the relationship between Israel and pagan 'sacred harlot' practice is tortuous and contradictory - KC)). Tamar exacts a pledge which will bind her to Judah who is anxious to redeem the valuable and risky pledge but Tamar has disappeared. He resorts to an intermediary.

38.24: It is assumed that Tamar's role is that of an engaged girl not a widow prostitute; Judah assumes competence to judge a member of his family although he had acted contrary. The determined punishment is the most severe ((which rather weakens the argument above about "a devoted one" - KC)).

38.25-30: Judah never touched her again, apparently continuing to consider her as a daughter-in-law; we do not know whom she married, Shelah or somebody else. A profoundly unsatisfactory conclusion.

The major point of the conclusion concerns the aetiology of tribal lines; but there is a deep human story where the narrator exonerates Tamar. It is impossible to measure her conduct in terms of the moral ideas of her time ((or ours -- KC)): "... this path of hers through profound shame and guilt has something splendid about it." (p362).

KC VI/14

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