Judah and Tamara – Held on Sunday, February 02, 2014

Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 02/02/14

  1. Previous Week’s [01/19/14] Review
  2. Background to today’s Reading
  3. Reading Gen. 38: 01 – 36
  4. Discussion

Previous Week’s [01/19/14/ Review

Our meeting began with Tina sharing that a debate on science and religion will take place between Bill Nye vs. Ken Ham: Are evolution and religion at odds? If you are interested in reading an analysis of how Americans view this ‘hot button’ issue, here are the results of the PEW Research Center survey: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/bill-nye-vs-ken-ham-are-evolution-and-religion-at-odds/.  After the debate I came across an article entitled, “I’m a Christian and Ken Ham doesn’t speak for me,” http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/02/05/i-m-a-christian-and-ken-ham-doesn-t-speak-for-me.html which is critical  of both Ken Ham and Bill Nye.  Although I might not agree with every point in this article, it does serve as an example of what Christians need to do, recognize that the Bible is not a Science Book and Modern Science is not above criticism.

The topic that Tina mentioned was a natural lead into another “hot button” topic, the Bible and History.  In a fundamental sense breakthroughs in Science and History, more than any other factors, have shaped the world in which we live.

There is a continuous struggle among our study group with understanding that the Bible is not written to record history even though there are historical records in it.  It seemed like most of the group who shared their thoughts felt that we needed to continue to push at this notion and at the same time not be consumed by it so that we end up not being uplifted by our study of scripture.  We ended by my emphasizing three points that we can always rely on.

  1. The Bible was written by people who believed
  2. The Bile was written to people who believed
  3. The Bible was written for the sake of the people’s believing.

The important thing is that God’s message is enriched not diminished by realizing these three statements.  As an example, let me point to a tension that was raised in the very beginning of the Genesis story.  The story of creation is meant to affirm a radical truth; creation – the entire universe or universes – is good; not perfect but good.  Secondly, there is something concerning good and evil that we human beings have failed at and that failure had an origin.  To argue over the cosmological account of the universe, the Big Bang or whatever later understanding Cosmologists will achieve, or over Evolution or whatever later understanding Biologists will achieve is to miss the point of the story, create a somewhat false conflict but, much more to the point, diminish the revelation God in his love shares with us.

Background to today’s Reading: Gen. 38: 01 – 30.

Chapter 37 ends in v. 36, “The Midianites, meanwhile, sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh and his chief steward.”  Chapter 39 begins in v. 1 “When Joseph was taken down to Egypt, an Egyptian, Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh and his chief steward, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there.”  Chapter 38 has been inserted into the Joseph story.  It is a story of Judah, the fourth of Jacob’s sons, and his family.  It introduces us to Tamar.  Jesus’ genealogy in Mt. 01:03 we read, “Judah became the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar.”  If for no other reason [even though there are plenty of other reasons] understanding this story is important.

The story presumes the marriage customs and laws of Judaism which required the brother of a deceased brother to marry his brother’s widow.  Moreover, the first child born of this marriage would be considered the heir of the deceased brother.  Judah, in fact, fails to fulfill this custom while Tamar, using all of her wit and resources, succeeds in fulfilling it.  Judah, to his credit, acknowledges in the end the superior moral character of Tamar.  “She is more right than I am . . .”

Reading: Gen. 38: 01 – 30 http://usccb.org/bible/genesis/38


We broke up the story into five episodes, as it were, and discussed each somewhat separately

In the first episode, vv. 01 – 05, Judah has left his brothers and took up residence in Bethlehem, marries a Canaanite woman who gives birth to three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.  His marriage to a Canaanite woman brings up again the issue of intermarriages.  Keep in mind though that the narrator’s audience lived long after this issue had been settled.  However, the narrator makes clear that the promise continues through these marriages.  I’m not sure how much of a clash this was to the narrator’s audience but it is more evidence that God’s ways and our ways are not the same.

In the second episode, vv. 06 – 11, the plot of this story is introduced.  Judah selects Tamar to be the wife for Er, his eldest son who is killed by God.  Following the Levirate marriage laws, Judah has Onan, his second son,  marry Tamar to continue the progeny for Er.   Onan has intercourse with Tamar but spills his seed to avoid a child being born who would be Er’s and not his. God then kills Onan.  It is at this point in the story that Judah fails to live up to the demands of his community and Tamar finds a way, in the next two episodes, to fulfill that demand.  In so doing, she continues the line of the promise.

Jodie asked if the Levirate law requires the next brother to carry on the line.  Ken wondered why the child was identified with the lineage of Er and not just Judah’s clan  in general.  So much of the culture of the Israelite community is a work.  Being without children is also a dominant theme from Sarah to Tamar and beyond.  We will see as well the theme of the line being passed on through the younger son.  The story has meaning and the meaning is in the totality of the story.

Judah sends Tamar to her father’s house as a widow out of fear of losing his third son.  Like so often in these stories and in our lives as well, failure is followed by cover up, lies.  Tamar though obeys Judah, puts on her widow’s clothes and returns to her father’s house.

Probably 20 years pass in the setting of vv. 12 – 23.  Judah’s wife dies.  Shelah has grown up.  Tamar makes her move.  Her change of clothing is symbolic.  Judah is vulnerable.  Throughout Tamar’s identity is an issue.  On face value, how could Judah have sex with Tamar and not recognize who she is.  Yet the issue of her identity allows us to enter into the story teller’s world.  Tamar calls on all of her resources.  She reveals her shrewdness, cunny in obtaining the person identify symbols from Judah.

In two short verses, 24 – 26, the story turns.  Judah learns of Tamar’s pregnancy, judges that has acted the whore [zona] and moves to have her burnt.  Tamar in a masterful way sends off Judah’s identifications with the questions, please whose are these.  Judah realizes that it was he who had sex with his daughter-in-law [zana].  To his credit he affirms Tamar’s character.

Needless to say this story caused considerable discussion and before I knew it our time had run out without getting to the closing episode in vv. 27 – 30.  God directly kills two of the characters.  Onan spells his seed, an episode that has identified his name with that act.  Judah fails, and deceives.  Tamar presents herself as temple prostitute.  Sex abounds and the story moves forward.

You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage.  Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed.  See “comment” link below

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