Tamar And Judah
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Basic Information

Judah, one of the sons of Jacob, had three sons: Er, Onan and Shelah. He married his oldest son to a girl named Tamar. Er was wicked and God killed him. These things happen.

This left Tamar without a son. Since in the culture of the time, a woman without a husband or a son had no rights to speak of, the custom was for the brother of the dead man to take the wife so that she might have a son. (This became known as the Levirite Law and pops up on occasion in the Bible) So under this custom, Judah told his second son, Onan to take Tamar as a wife.

Now, Onan was reluctant to do this, because he knew any son he sired by Tamar would be counted as Er's son and not his own. So when he had sex with Tamar, he "spilled his seed", that is, he withdrew before ejaculation so that he wouldn't impregnate her. (Possibly the oldest form of birth control).

This cheesed off God, so he killed Onan too.

So here is Tamar with two dead husbands and no son to call her own. Judah has one more son left, Shelah, but he's not old enough to marry. Besides, Judah's starting to think this chick's bad luck or something. So he tells her to go back to her own people and wait a while.

She does wait; and Shelah grows up, but Judah doesn't show any signs of letting her marry him. So she takes matters into her own hands.

One day when Judah goes into town to sell some livestock, she takes off her widow's clothing, puts on a veil and goes by the road outside of town. Judah sees her and mistakes her for a prostitute. His own wife has died by this time and he's been feeling kind of lonely, so he figures what the hey. He offers to giver her a young goat from his flock if she'll sleep with him, and gives her his staff and his seal as collateral. When he goes to find her the next day to pay her, she's gone.

Not too long afterwards, Tamar is found to be pregnant and, as his daughter-in-law, she is brought before Judah for judgement. Even though she is a widow, she had technically committed adultery and is subject to death. But when she comes before Judah, she tells him, "I am pregnant by the man who owns these," and she produces Judah's staff and seal.

Judah has to admit that she was more righteous than he was.

Despite the sordidness of the tale, Tamar comes out vindicated. Not only did Judah admit his own fault, but the child in her womb turned out to be twins, which people regarded as a sign of God's favor. Later on in the Book of Ruth, the story of Tamar is cited as an example of the Levirite Law producing a happy result: heirs where there otherwise would be none. And later still, in the first chapter of Matthew, when the author is listing the genealogy of Christ, he only mentions four women in the lineage and one of those is Tamar.

Usually when the story is referenced at all, it is in connection with the "Sin of Onan" which is supposed to be masturbation; but reading the text you can see that his crime wasn't masturbation at all, but rather failing to live up to his responsibilities to his brother and his brother's wife. He was literally screwing her out of her rights.



Game and Story Use

  • The Levirite Law and its cultural background could be useful material in constructing the culture of a setting.
  • More humorously, maybe a known womanizer (possibly a PC, otherwise an NPC they have befriended) from a society with similar customs regarding inheritance is legally obligated to sire an heir with her - but he doesn't want to (perhaps he just dislikes her, perhaps this would mean that he would be considered married to her and forced to give up his womanizing ways). So now she stalks him and tried to seduce him to get him to impregnate her - and she is able to disguise herself effectively so that he has a hard time recognizing her (perhaps even magically). When he learns about this, he faces a quandary - any women he wants to sleep with might be her in disguise unless he is very careful. Does he become celibate? Or does he try to engage in a battle of wits with his would-be temptress in the hopes that he can somehow detect her among his other "conquests"?
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