and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram (Matthew 1:3)
As this year the Sunday Gospel readings’ focus is on St Matthew’s Gospel, I thought I’d start some of my personal study and Lectio Divina with that Gospel. [NB. I am using ‘Matthew’ as a convenient term for the author of the first Gospel in the order of the Christian canon].
We have already had “Judah and his (nameless!) brothers”; we now come to “Perez and Zerah” – the first occurrence of two names together. Zerah, you may recall, put his hand out of the womb first – the midwife put a red string on it to keep track of the firstborn. But Perez was the first fully out of the womb.
And now we come to the first of five women in this dysfunctional family background list of Jesus: Tamar.
I remind you – this is no Sunday School story (images of hands coming out of wombs should have given you a clue!)…
Tamar first marries Judah’s eldest son, Er. But God kills Er (inspired and inspiring stuff this!). The rules are: Onan has to have sex with Tamar.
Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother.’ But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also. (Genesis 38:8-10)
By now, rules or no rules, Judah is not keen to share his third son, Shelah, with Tamar! He promises Shelah to Tamar – but it’s a trick: when Shelah is grown up (you figure out for yourself what that means) Tamar doesn’t get her rights with Shelah.
Then Judah’s wife dies. And Judah goes of to shear sheep. Tamar hears of the sheep-shearing expedition, disguises herself as a prostitute, and goes to Enaim en route to the sheep-shearing. Judah sees the prostitute but does not recognise she is Tamar. Why Tamar is convinced that Judah will have sex with a prostitute we are not told. Clearly, there’s some uncomfortable family history being withheld.
When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a prostitute, for she had covered her face. He went over to her at the roadside, and said, ‘Come, let me come in to you’, for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law. She said, ‘What will you give me, that you may come in to me?’ He answered, ‘I will send you a kid from the flock.’ And she said, ‘Only if you give me a pledge, until you send it.’ He said, ‘What pledge shall I give you?’ She replied, ‘Your signet and your cord, and the staff that is in your hand.’ So he gave them to her, and went in to her, and she conceived by him. (Genesis 38:15-18)
Are you keeping up here: we’ve had one trickery responded to by another trickery, and we are now up to sex with your father-in-law!
When Judah sends the kid back as agreed, the woman was nowhere to be found and no one knew of any prostitute in Enaim.
Three months later, Tamar is found to be pregnant, and father-in-law Judah condemns her to be burnt to death (boy, the inspirational message of this story is getting deeper and deeper). Tamar responds by sending the signet, cord, and staff to Judah, and explains that the owner of these objects is the father. Woops!!! Somehow (explain it to me – there’s no explanation given in the inspired text) her having unmarried sex no longer seems to be worthy of being burnt to death! We were going to kill you because you had unmarried sex, but because we’ve now discovered it was with your father-in-law while you were in disguise wearing something you saw on a Fifty Shades Darker poster and he thought you were a prostitute – so that’s all fine then; here’s your get-out-of-being-burnt-alive card. But you won’t get any more sex, sorry.
And then we are up to the twins-hand-womb-string story.
Next in our slow motion is Hezron (Gen 46:12).
And then comes Aram – sorry, what am I missing? I can’t find Aram in the Bible previously. Where does this come from?! [Update: found it!]
To be continued…