“It happened at that time that Judah went down from his brothers, and settled near a certain Adullamite, whose name was Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a certain Canaanite, whose name was Shua. He married her and went in to her. She conceived and bore a son. He named him Er. Again she conceived and bore a son whom she named Onan. Yet again she bore a son, and she named him Shelah. She was in Chezib when she bore him.”
This episode is a break in the story about Joseph, but it is about his brother, Judah, who separated from his other brothers when he went to Adullam, a city southwest of Jerusalem. He had a friend there named Hirah, who was an Adullamite that is a resident of that town. There he met and married a Canaanite woman whose father was named Shua. They had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.
“Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn. Her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was wicked in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh put him to death. 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 Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went into his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. What he did was displeasing in the sight of Yahweh, and he put him to death also. Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, ‘Remain a widow in your father’s house, until my son Shelah grows up.’ He feared that he too would die, like his brothers. Thus Tamar went to live in her father’s house.”
Then Judah found Tamar as a wife for his first born son Er. For some unclear and unwritten reason, Er was wicked in the sight of Yahweh, and Yahweh put him to death. ‘Wicked’ may refer to some unspecified sexual activities. Then Judah sent Onan to produce children for his brother. However, Onan spilled his semen on the ground so that he would not have any children. This was displeasing to Yahweh, so he put him to death also. Judah then told Tamar to live as a widow in her father’s house until his youngest son Shelah was older and able to marry her. This sequence is about the ancient levirate marriage laws that the male brothers should maintain their family name by marrying their sister-in-law. What is strange is the Judah may have feared Tamar’s powers since two of his sons married to her died. Finally, it was common practice for a widow to live in her father’s house.
“In the course of time the wife of Judah, Bathshuah died. When Judah’s time of mourning was over, he went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite. When Tamar was told, ‘Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep,’ she put off her widow’s garments, put on a veil, wrapping herself up, and sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah. She saw that Shelah was grown up, yet she had not been given to him in marriage. 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.’ Then 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. Then she got up and went away, and taking off her veil she put on the garments of her widowhood.”
After the mourning time for the death of Judah’s wife Bathshuah had passed, he went out to the shear sheep in Timnah with his friend Hirah. Tamar, in the meantime, saw that Shelah had grown up but was not offered in marriage. She decided to throw off her widow garments, put a veil on, and sit at the entrance to Enaim, on the road from Adullam to Timnah. Now Judah was on this same road and thought that she was a prostitute, because her face was covered. He inquired as to what it would cost to have sex. They settled on a kid from the flock. However, she wanted something right away, his signature ring and the cord with it as a pledge to pay. They had sex and she conceived by him. Afterwards, she left, went home, and put her widow clothes back on.
“When Judah sent the kid with his friend the Adullamite, to receive the pledge from the woman, he could not find her. He asked the townspeople, ‘Where is the temple prostitute who was at Enaim by the wayside?’ But they said, ‘No prostitute has been here.’ So he returned to Judah, and said, ‘I have not found her. Moreover the townspeople said, `No prostitute has been here.’ Judah replied, “Let her keep the things as her own, otherwise we will be laughed at. You see, I sent this kid, and you could not find her.’”
Now Judah wanted to give the prostitute the animal so that he could get his ring back. He sent his friend Hirah with the kid, but he could not find the prostitute. Judah had thought that she was a temple prostitute. When he could not find her, he decided to let her keep his ring.
“About three months later Judah was told, ‘Your daughter-in-law Tamar has played the whore. Moreover she is pregnant as a result of whoredom.’ Judah said, ‘Bring her out, and let her be burned.’ As she was being brought out, she sent word to her father-in-law, ‘It was owner of these who made me pregnant.’ She said, ‘Take note, please, whose these are, the signet and the cord and the staff.’ Then Judah acknowledged them and said, ‘She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.’ He did not lie with her again.”
Three months later, Judah found out that his daughter-in-law Tamar was pregnant as a result of prostitution. He wanted her immediately burned. Then she said to Judah that the owner of this ring, cord, and staff made me pregnant. Judah admitted that she was right and he should have given her his son Shelah as a husband. Interesting enough, she would have been put to death, if the pregnancy was not caused by Judah. However, the male is always right so she did not die. In fact, Judah admits that he wrong, not for using her as a prostitute but for not letting her marry his youngest son.
“When the time of her delivery came, there were twins in her womb. While she was in labor, one put out a hand. The midwife took and bound on his hand a crimson thread, saying, ‘This one came out first.’ But just then he drew back his hand, and out came his brother. She said, ‘What a breach you have made for yourself! Therefore his name was called Perez. Afterward his brother came out with the crimson thread on his hand. He was named Zerah.”
Tamar then had twins, just like Rebekah, Perez and Zerah. They too, like Esau and Jacob, disputed about who was first out of the womb. Interesting enough, the line of Judah would have died out without this Tamar prostitute episode. Thus the sacred lineage of Judah goes through a father-in-law having sex with his daughter-in-law, who was a Canaanite. Both of these boys will be important later on, especially Perez. Also both names Tamar and Zerah will appear later.