The Audacious Tamar

The story of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 forms something of an interlude in the Joseph cycle of the book. Coming immediately after Joseph’s sale into slavery, it precedes his arrival in Egypt. By diverting attention away from Joseph, it gives the reader a sense of the lapse of time required by the rest of the narrative.

Although Judah himself forms the author’s chief point of interest in this chapter, one suspects that many readers find the young widow Tamar more interesting. Just what is to be said of this lady who seduces her father-in-law?

We observe, first, that the Bible is not harsh or judgmental about Tamar’s behavior here; she is simply trying to get what she has coming to her—namely, children. Wily Judah, thinking he has managed to avoid Tamar all those years, now discovers an easy way to get rid of her for good. But she turns the tables on him. There is nothing Judah can do but acknowledge his paternity and get on with life. This story is one of the Bible’s great accounts of a smarter underdog getting back at an oppressor.

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Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor emeritus of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and the author of numerous books, including, most recently, Out of Step with God: Orthodox Christian Reflections on the Book of Numbers (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2019).

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