The story of Tamar takes place in the book of Genesis. Tamar is a young Canaanite woman who is chosen by Judah to marry his son. She obeys and marries Er, and The Lord was not happy with Judah’s son, so he dies at the hand of the Lord. Then, Judah had Tamar marry his next eldest son whom the Lord also killed.
Throughout both of these marriages Tamar did not conceive, leaving Judah with no heir. After all of this, Tamar was told to wait for the youngest son to grow older as to marry him, so she could give Judah and is family an heir. She was in a different part of the land, dressed as a harlot, conceived out of wedlock, and became pregnant with Judah’s child. Judah, upon finding out she was pregnant, not knowing with his child, sentenced Tamar to death. When he found out it was his child, she was pardoned.
How is Tamar portrayed in this story? Upon first reading the story it is easy to conclude that she is a villain, a woman who disobeyed her father-in-law, and showed herself to be a prostitute. She can also be seen as a strong woman who rebelled against her father-in-law’s wishes, and took a stand for what she believed in, proving that she could not be controlled. This raises the question; was Tamar a heroin or a villain?
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Tamar silently takes a stand, because she refuses to give Judah an heir through his third child, therefore she goes right to the source. Woman are not viewed as evil for taking a stand, they are representing Christ by being independent, and they look to stories such as the story of Tamar, and they know that women are capable of making their own decisions, and being bold, as well as speaking their minds. Women like Tamar demonstrate that they cannot be controlled and still glorify the Lord.
According to Don Benjamin, there are several factors that play into the story of Tamar that can portray her as a heroin. The clothing that she wore, as well as the circumstances she was facing played a part in the way she is viewed. The way she handled the situation was mature, but also vengeful.
The basis of her heroism lies in the fact that she rebelled. She never was given a choice when it came to who she was to wed, or if she would conceive. Her first husband was taken from her by the Lord, and she was unable to conceive. Instead of letting her be a widow, not realizing that maybe she didn’t want marriage, Judah quickly passes her off to his next son, who is also killed, not providing Judah with an heir. Judah in his greed demands that she wait. Tamar does not want marriage, but she does want to honor her husband by bearing a child.
Tamar realizes the wrong Judah has done to her, and decides on revenge. She will provide him with an heir. She dresses as a harlot, or prostitute. Judah, who has just learned of his wife’s death, is desperate for a woman’s companionship. He approaches Tamar with a selfish attitude, commanding intercourse, and proceeds to have his way.
With this action Judah shows himself to be a demanding immoral person. He has not abided by the grieving process, and in turn degraded the death of his wife by not mourning. Many say he got what he deserved.
Tamar is the heroin because she abides by the “eye for an eye” principle. Judah has wronged her, now she will shame him. She successfully accomplishes this task because Judah, when learning she has conceived out of wedlock orders her to be killed. Tamar then tells him that the child is indeed his, whereas he pardons her death. Tamar has achieved her goal, which is justice. She now no longer has to marry the youngest son, and Judah has his heir. It is said that the punishment should fit the crime, and indeed it did. Judah did not take Tamar’s feelings into consideration at all, and therefore felt a portion of the humiliation he had projected to his daughter-in-law.
Once you begin analyzing all of the aspects surrounding this story, you almost begin to feel sympathy for Tamar, who is forced into these two unsuccessful marriages only to face yet another potentially unsuccessful marriage. She then stepped up, and accomplished all of her goals, and is a strong example of independence.
The other debate surrounds the clothing she was wearing. It all generates around the belief of the culture she was representing. She could definitely have been wearing a harlot’s outfit, which could have been inviting, keeping her identity unknown, or she could have been wearing the clothes of a priest, in which case Judah was in the wrong.
It is most likely that she was wearing the garments of a harlot. There are several indications of this. First, it was common to see prostitutes outside of town, drawing their income from foreigners, and secondly she was alone sitting idly which suggests she is waiting for a male. In any case, she was dressed to tempt Judah, and he fell for it, after losing his wife it appears he is looking for “comfort.”
Men engaging in prostitution acts are generally looked down upon, and it is an event that is usually kept silent. Judah committed his daughter-in-law over and over again to his sons selfishly, against her will. In return she humiliated him by not only conceiving his child, but also making it known he had engaged in sexual intercourse with his daughter-in-law, thinking it was a prostitute. He had been ashamed of her enough to put her to death, but then, was his punishment even enough to constitute the act? Many believe Tamar could have caused a lot more harm than she actually did.
There are several theories, including that in actuality Tamar is a harlot, lured by the annual sheep shearing, but this is most likely not the case. Judah used poor judgment in terms of committing an unwilling woman to his sons repeatedly, then impregnating her out of lust. Tamar simply acted out against him.
Tamar demonstrates negative as well as positive images within this story. She shows a conniving side, which is slightly manipulative, but in the end serves justice. She follows through with her actions, and takes full responsibility for her part in the story. She shows confidence as well as determination. She is an example to all women showing them to stand up for themselves if they have received an injustice. It is okay to fight back even when the stakes are high. She took an extreme chance knowing that she could be put to death, and chose to do what she believed to be the right thing anyway. She is the perfect example of hope and courage. Many women today see her as an example and leader. This high standing citizen, Judah, gives in to his weakness and is brought down by a woman, and at the time that was very humiliating. An eye for an eye and in a time when women were looked down upon, Tamar accomplished this giving hope to all. She truly was a heroin.
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