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Part 3: Injustice of Tamar Daughter-In-Law of Judah (Genesis 38)

Observation of Tamar's Daughter-In-Law of Judah Narrative:

In my doctorate, research the problem I encounter is that the dismissal of women's voices denies the church the complete revelation of God and God's work among human beings. This Story of Tamar when examined also brings more questions than it does answers. Tamar decides to take action and seduce her own father-in-law so that she might be restored to society. Once the whole plot has been revealed Judah even exclaims that Tamar is more righteous than himself. She is no longer a widow without hope or family.

In Genesis chapter 38, we break away from the narrative of Joseph and come across an unconventional story of a woman named Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah. Tamar is given in marriage to Judah's son Er (38:6). Er, was "wicked," and God killed him (38:7). According to Levirate marriage laws (Duet. 25: 5-10), Judah is to give his second son Onan to Tamar as a husband. However, Onan has no intention of fulfilling the Levirate obligation. Therefore, God also kills him (38:10). It is important to note that this story is told as an unfolding drama. The reader knows what is going on, but Judah does not.

Judah has now lost two sons. Framer-Kensky suggests, "Judah is afraid to give Tamar his youngest son, Shelah,"[1] so she is given no proper place in the social power structure. When Tamar realizes that Judah will not give her to his youngest son Shelah, she decides to take matters into her own hands. Tamar uses the death of Judah's wife to her advantage (38:12). Tamar veils herself to disguise her face[2] and places herself as a "public woman, who might be found along the roadway...she could engage in sex."[3] Judah negotiates a sexual encounter and unwittingly performs the Levirate himself, leaving Tamar with the evidence she would need to restore her name (38:16-18). Once Judah admits what has happened, Tamar is brought into his household. Justice is done for Tamar and Judah's Household.

Although Tamar used the laws and traditions of her time, there is still deception in this story and an unconventional sexual encounter. Onan was put to death by God for his blatant unwillingness to have a sexual relationship with Tamar to get her pregnant. The biblical story is very clear God kills Er and Onan, because of their behavior. On the other hand, Tamar is not condemned or killed by God for her sexual behavior. What would it mean to acknowledge that a woman used deception and sex to gain back her place in society? What do we do with the fact that God did not condemn her behavior and even blesses her with twins, and a restored place in the family and social structure?

[1] Tikva Frymer-Kensky, “Tamar: Bible,” Jewish Women’s Archive, accessed January 18, 2023, [2] Frymer-Kensky, “Tamar: Bible”. [3] Frymer-Kensky, “Tamar.”

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