Judah and the RIGHTEOUS Tamar

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Judah and the RIGHTEOUS Tamar

Post  Waqar Daniel on Wed 27 Jun 2007, 2:58 pm

Greetings, peace and blessings in the name of our LORD and Savior Jesus Christ

Then Judah identified them and said, "She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah." And he did not know her again. [Genesis 38:26]

The question here is that after committing adultery with his own daughter-in-law, why did Judah call Tamar righteous? According to Bible,

If a man lies with his daughter-in-law, both of them shall surely be put to death; they have committed perversion; their blood is upon them. [Leviticus 20:12]

The question here is not what the Bible says, the question here is whether Judah was following the Biblical laws or not. The Law was given to Israelites from God through Moses and Moses lived long after Judah, therefore, Judah and his action does not come under the law of Leviticus 20:12

And Moses summoned all Israel and said to them, "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the rules that I speak in your hearing today, and you shall learn them and be careful to do them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. NOT with our FATHERS did the LORD make this covenant, but with us, who are all of us here alive today. [Deutornomy 5:1-3]

This verse clearly shows that Abraham, Isaac and Judah were not following the Law given to Israelites through Moses by God - Then what were they following? They were following Code of King Hammurabi and acted according to it.

In 1800 B.C. the Amorite king, Hammurabi, took the throne of the new Babylonian dynasty. He was the sixth king of the first dynasty of Babylon. Immediatley he began to expand his new empire to eventually include Assyria and northern Syria. Hammurabi was a great military leader and lawgiver. In the first year of his reign Hammurabi fulfilled a promise to the Babylonian god Marduk and established an extensive law system which encompassed nearly every area of ancient life. The document was over 300 paragraphs long and included sections on social, moral, religious, commercial and civil law.

Kings of the day would post large monuments listing their laws with an accompanying statue carving of themselves to identify the law with the king. Hammurabi was no different in this practice. There were many copies of this law erected throughout the kingdom. Usually in the temples dedicated to the local gods. It now resides in the Louve, in Paris.

The story of Abraham, Sarah and Ishmael is in accordance to the Family Law of King Hammurabi, The Family Law states:

Marriage was called “taking a wife”

Marriage and children were necessary to have a fulfilled life. A childless woman could call herself a mother by giving her maid-servant to her husband as a second wife (assuming, of course, the maid-servant did indeed produce a child).

If the wife was barren, the husband was allowed to take a handmaid from his wife's court and bear a child for his house. The woman would consequently become free which was not the case if the handmaid came from the husband's harem. This concubine was not held in equal status with the wife but inferior to her. If the concubine became a rival, the wife could reduce her to slavery again, sell her or dismiss her from her household.

This is the apparent rule which Abraham and Sarah followed in the discarding of Hagar from their household. They were acting in accordance with the old Sumerian law which they were brought up under in Ur. [Genesis 21:8. Genesis 21:8]

Now coming back to the question of Why Judah called Tamar RIGHTEOUS we will have to look into King Hammurabi's law and study the detailed account of the story recorded in the Bible about Judah and Tamar.

This story begins with Judah, a leader among Jacob's sons and the initiator of Joseph's betrayal (Gen. 37:26). Knowing that his father never believed the fabricated story of Joseph's demise and unable to bear his shame and remorse, Judah left Hebron and traveled west down the Shephelah to Adullam. Here he married an unnamed Canaanite woman, a daughter of Shua, and adopted Canaanite customs and laws. Judah and the daughter of Shua had three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.

Following his patriarchal prerogative, Judah selected a Canaanite wife named Tamar for Er, his firstborn. We know only that Er fathered no children with Tamar and that God took him for his wickedness (Gen. 38:7-8). Er's death shattered Tamar's marital expectations and eliminated the status, support, and protection for which she had married. In early biblical times, a woman who married a firstborn son expected to bear a son who would take his father's place in the family hierarchy as the chief heir of his father's estate. Being the wife of a firstborn son or leader in a patriarchal community meant that she would be mother of a future community leader. Such position was both socially and economically prestigious. The wife of a patriarch or leader became a matriarch or chief wife and was leader in the extended family: as her husband was chief man, she was chief woman. Her husband inherited at least a double portion of his father's estate, twice as much as any other heir. This inheritance assured him of added respect and family and community leadership and would have been appealing to some women.

Tamar had recourse to the law of levirate marriage. In Canaanite practice a son born to the levirate union bore the deceased husband's name, for such a son inherited all the deceased husband's property and continued as a link in an unbroken genealogical chain as though he were the biological son of the deceased husband.

It was also in Judah's best interest to retain Tamar in the family. If Tamar entered into a levirate marriage and bore children, she would help maintain the numerical strength and economic integrity of the family, despite Er's untimely death.

Tamar's marital obligation continued as long as the father-in-law was alive. She was not declared a widow, able to “go whither she pleases,” until both her husband and father-in-law were dead. None of the laws mentions a preference in the order of kin, nor did it matter whether the brother or father was already married. However, if the story of Tamar is typical, we may assume that older brothers were preferred over younger brothers, who were in turn preferred over the father. In order then, Onan was preferred over Shelah, who was preferred over Judah.

The initiative in arranging a levirate marriage for Tamar belonged to Judah. If he did not provide a son or himself as a husband, then Tamar had the right to demand that one of them perform his duty. This prerogative was based on custom, not civil or criminal statutes enforceable in a court of law. Therefore a brother-in-law could accept or reject the request of his sister-in-law without fear of legal retribution, although he probably had less choice about his father's request.

Judah arranged for Onan, his second son, to marry Tamar. Though it was considered honorable for the brother to impregnate his brother's widow and thereby preserve his brother's name, the death of Er had naturally increased Onan's share of the family inheritance. Furthermore, Onan would now inherit the firstborn's share, which was double that of the other sons. If Tamar bore a legal son for Er, then Onan, the biological though not the legal father (for purposes of the inheritance), would lose this doubled estate. Perhaps for this reason, Assyrian law cited above left the choice of levirate marriage to the father-in-law rather than to the brother.

When Judah, Tamar, and Onan reached an agreement, the levirate marriage became effective upon consummation. There was no need for a new dowry or a new marriage contract: all the arrangements of the first marriage between Er and Tamar remained in effect. Since she was Er's chief wife, she retained chief wife status with Onan. If Onan was already married—his marital status is not clear—Tamar's chief wife status would pertain only to Er's estate.

Knowing that he was next in line for the blessings of the firstborn, Onan did not openly defy his father, an act for which he could have been disinherited. Instead, he conspired to deceive Judah and defraud Tamar. During the connubial act, through coitus interruptus, he “spilled {his semen} on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing . . . displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also” (Gen. 38:9-10).

Judah's only remaining son, Shelah, was not “grown” (Gen. 38:11), indicating that he had not reached puberty. The minimum marriageable age under Middle Assyrian law was ten. Judah asked Tamar to live in her father's house as a widow. Tamar's father had the legal obligation of support “till Shelah my son be grown” (v. 11). This condition constituted an oral contract that Judah would have Shelah perform the levirate duty when he was of age. Tamar kept her part of the agreement by returning to her father's house.

An unspecified amount of time passed, but it must have exceeded puberty for Shelah, for Tamar became aware that Judah was keeping Shelah from her. She devised a stratagem, and on a day when Judah was going to shear his sheep at a certain location, she disguised herself as a lay sacral prostitute.

Cultic prostitutes were women who offered their services to the public and donated the proceeds to the temple. In early times, according to Herodotus, sacral prostitution was expected of all Babylonian women at least once in their lifetime. The practice came from the myth of a male deity such as the Canaanite god Baal, the god of rain, fertilizing his lover or wife/sister Anat, the earth goddess, which brought forth food. A scholar notes: “It is known that feasts of the preexilic period were accompanied by ritual fornication with the magic intention of securing rich crops and increase of herds. Judah's visit to a hierodule at that time of year was a predictable ritually pre-scribed act.” Judah had apparently adopted this custom at some point during his stay in Adullam. He was, moreover, recently widowed (Gen. 38:12).

Judah saw her “covered with a vail,” which evidently was a part of her costume that signalled her status as a cult prostitute, and asked permission to visit her. They agreed upon a kid as the fee. Since Judah had no animals with him, Tamar required as a pledge or guarantee his signet ring, bracelets, and staff. Judah willingly entrusted these valuable objects to her, an indication of the esteem given these prostitutes. Later Judah sent his friend Hiram to deliver the kid, another indication that he was not ashamed of his activity. But the “prostitute” had disappeared.

Three months later Tamar's pregnancy became publicly known. Recall that she was the childless widow of Er. She and her father-in-law Judah had agreed that Shelah would perform the levirate duty when he became of age. So Tamar was under the levirate obligation to Shelah, a legal status similar to a betrothal. Her pregnancy was prima facie evidence of adultery since Shelah had had no relations with her.

Even though Judah had asked Tamar to return to her father's house while she waited for Shelah, Tamar still came under Judah's patriarchal authority. Legal systems of the time left capital punishment for certain crimes against the family in the hands of the patriarch

Hearing of the pregnancy and even before confronting Tamar, Judah ordered, “Let her be burnt” (Gen. 38:24). It is not known what the Abrahamic/patriarchal traditional punishments for adultery were. Reuben lost his birthright (49:4), and Bilhah's punishment if any is not recorded. However, burning is a penalty found in Babylonian law though not for adultery.

Tamar appeared at a “judicial hearing” and presented Judah's signet, bracelets, and staff, all personal items conspicuously known to be Judah's, and identified their owner as the father of her child. Judah understood the legal ramifications of Tamar's evidence and dropped the charge and punishment of death, admitting, “She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah my son” (Gen. 38:26).

Judah was NOT guilty of adultery because he was a legal consort. The child born of Judah and Tamar was legitimate. Judah “knew her again no more” (Gen. 38:26) indicating that although she had acted correctly, he had no intention of pursuing a relationship beyond the levirate duty.

Judah called Tamar RIGHTEOUS because he forgot the duty he had to perform according to the Law od Levirate marriage but Tamar reminded him of his duty. Therefore Judah called Tamar righteous because he was ashamed of not performing his duties whereas Tamar remianed sincere to her duty and to the house of Judah.

God bless

Waqar Daniel



Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the LORD Jesus Christ. (Philemon 1:3)

Waqar Daniel

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