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Genesis 38:13-30

Context
38:13 Tamar was told, 1  “Look, your father-in-law is going up 2  to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 38:14 So she removed her widow’s clothes and covered herself with a veil. She wrapped herself and sat at the entrance to Enaim which is on the way to Timnah. (She did this because 3  she saw that she had not been given to Shelah as a wife, even though he had now grown up.) 4 

38:15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute 5  because she had covered her face. 38:16 He turned aside to her along the road and said, “Come on! I want to have sex with you.” 6  (He did not realize 7  it was his daughter-in-law.) She asked, “What will you give me in exchange for having sex with you?” 8  38:17 He replied, “I’ll send you a young goat from the flock.” She asked, “Will you give me a pledge until you send it?” 9  38:18 He said, “What pledge should I give you?” She replied, “Your seal, your cord, and the staff that’s in your hand.” So he gave them to her and had sex with her. 10  She became pregnant by him. 38:19 She left immediately, 11  removed her veil, and put on her widow’s clothes.

38:20 Then Judah had his friend Hirah 12  the Adullamite take a young goat to get back from the woman the items he had given in pledge, 13  but Hirah 14  could not find her. 38:21 He asked the men who were there, 15  “Where is the cult prostitute 16  who was at Enaim by the road?” But they replied, “There has been no cult prostitute here.” 38:22 So he returned to Judah and said, “I couldn’t find her. Moreover, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no cult prostitute here.’” 38:23 Judah said, “Let her keep the things 17  for herself. Otherwise we will appear to be dishonest. 18  I did indeed send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.”

38:24 After three months Judah was told, 19  “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has turned to prostitution, 20  and as a result she has become pregnant.” 21  Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” 38:25 While they were bringing her out, she sent word 22  to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.” 23  Then she said, “Identify 24  the one to whom the seal, cord, and staff belong.” 38:26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more upright 25  than I am, because I wouldn’t give her to Shelah my son.” He did not have sexual relations with her 26  again.

38:27 When it was time for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 38:28 While she was giving birth, one child 27  put out his hand, and the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 38:29 But then he drew back his hand, and his brother came out before him. 28  She said, “How you have broken out of the womb!” 29  So he was named Perez. 30  38:30 Afterward his brother came out – the one who had the scarlet thread on his hand – and he was named Zerah. 31 

1 tn Heb “And it was told to Tamar, saying.”

2 tn The active participle indicates the action was in progress or about to begin.

3 tn The Hebrew text simply has “because,” connecting this sentence to what precedes. For stylistic reasons the words “she did this” are supplied in the translation and a new sentence begun.

4 tn Heb “she saw that Shelah had grown up, but she was not given to him as a wife.”

5 tn Heb “he reckoned her for a prostitute,” which was what Tamar had intended for him to do. She obviously had some idea of his inclinations, or she would not have tried this risky plan.

6 tn Heb “I will go to you.” The imperfect verbal form probably indicates his desire here. The expression “go to” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

7 tn Heb “for he did not know that.”

8 tn Heb “when you come to me.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

9 tn Heb “until you send.”

10 tn Heb “and he went to her.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

11 tn Heb “and she arose and left,” the first verb in the pair emphasizing that she wasted no time.

12 tn Heb “sent by the hand of his friend.” Here the name of the friend (“Hirah”) has been included in the translation for clarity.

13 tn Heb “to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand.”

14 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Judah’s friend Hirah the Adullamite) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

15 tn Heb “the men of her place,” that is, who lived at the place where she had been.

16 sn The Hebrew noun translated “cult prostitute” is derived from a verb meaning “to be set apart; to be distinct.” Thus the term refers to a woman who did not marry, but was dedicated to temple service as a cult prostitute. The masculine form of this noun is used for male cult prostitutes. Judah thought he had gone to an ordinary prostitute (v. 15); but Hirah went looking for a cult prostitute, perhaps because it had been a sheep-shearing festival. For further discussion see E. M. Yamauchi, “Cultic Prostitution,” Orient and Occident (AOAT), 213-23.

17 tn The words “the things” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

18 tn Heb “we will become contemptible.” The Hebrew word בּוּז (buz) describes the contempt that a respectable person would have for someone who is worthless, foolish, or disreputable.

19 tn Heb “it was told to Judah, saying.”

20 tn Or “has been sexually promiscuous.” The verb may refer here to loose or promiscuous activity, not necessarily prostitution.

21 tn Heb “and also look, she is with child by prostitution.”

22 tn Heb “she was being brought out and she sent.” The juxtaposition of two clauses, both of which place the subject before the predicate, indicates synchronic action.

23 tn Heb “who these to him.”

24 tn Or “ recognize; note.” This same Hebrew verb (נָכַר, nakhar) is used at the beginning of v. 26, where it is translated “recognized.”

25 tn Traditionally “more righteous”; cf. NCV, NRSV, NLT “more in the right.”

sn She is more upright than I. Judah had been irresponsible and unfaithful to his duty to see that the family line continued through the levirate marriage of his son Shelah. Tamar fought for her right to be the mother of Judah’s line. When she was not given Shelah and Judah’s wife died, she took action on her own to ensure that the line did not die out. Though deceptive, it was a desperate and courageous act. For Tamar it was within her rights; she did nothing that the law did not entitle her to do. But for Judah it was wrong because he thought he was going to a prostitute. See also Susan Niditch, “The Wronged Woman Righted: An Analysis of Genesis 38,” HTR 72 (1979): 143-48.

26 tn Heb “and he did not add again to know her.” Here “know” is a euphemism for sexual intercourse.

27 tn The word “child” has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

28 tn Heb “Look, his brother came out.” By the use of the particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “look”), the narrator invites the reader to view the scene through the midwife’s eyes. The words “before him” are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.

29 tn Heb “How you have made a breach for yourself!” The Hebrew verb translated “make a breach” frequently occurs, as here, with a cognate accusative. The event provided the meaningful name Perez, “he who breaks through.”

30 sn The name Perez means “he who breaks through,” referring to Perez reaching out his hand at birth before his brother was born. The naming signified the completion of Tamar’s struggle and also depicted the destiny of the tribe of Perez who later became dominant (Gen 46:12 and Num 26:20). Judah and his brothers had sold Joseph into slavery, thinking they could thwart God’s plan that the elder brothers should serve the younger. God demonstrated that principle through these births in Judah’s own family, affirming that the elder will serve the younger, and that Joseph’s leadership could not so easily be set aside. See J. Goldin, “The Youngest Son; or, Where Does Genesis 38 Belong?” JBL 96 (1977): 27-44.

31 sn Perhaps the child was named Zerah because of the scarlet thread. Though the Hebrew word used for “scarlet thread” in v. 28 is not related to the name Zerah, there is a related root in Babylonian and western Aramaic that means “scarlet” or “scarlet thread.” In Hebrew the name appears to be derived from a root meaning “to shine.” The name could have originally meant something like “shining one” or “God has shined.” Zerah became the head of a tribe (Num 26:20) from whom Achan descended (Josh 7:1).



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