Stories from the Bible: Tamar

One of my favorite people to think about in the Old Testament is Tamar. Many people haven't actually heard of her and I suspect that's for a few reasons. With very few exceptions we do not hear much about women in the scriptures anyway and those exceptions tend to be women who are being held up as bad examples. A wonderful LDS feminist named Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote a book whose title has become quite a popular catch phrase that pretty succinctly makes that point: “Well -Behaved Women Seldom Make History.” Another reason is that in many ways, Tamar's story is very peripheral to even the group of stories that she is in. One of the things that I find interesting is that her story was even included at all... and I think of the thousands of women whose stories weren't included at all. I wonder what makes her story so special in the fact that it was considered important enough to include it or if her story was only included because of the men in it.

Tamar's story is short and actually begins when she is old enough to marry. In Genesis, Tamar is first mentioned when she married Judah's oldest son named Er. That marriage was short lived as her husband dies due to his wickedness and Tamar was left widowed and childless. According to tradition, Tamar would then be married to the next oldest son to create children/heirs for her deceased husband. So she was married to Onan, who had no interest in creating any children as they wouldn't be 'his' to claim and so he would pull out before of Tamar while having sex with her so that she couldn't get pregnant. Onan also died prematurely and soon Tamar was widowed and still childless... again. Tradition would have her married to the next brother (whose name is Shelah), however, Judah is portrayed as being pretty wary at this point. Wondering if Tamar is cursed, he feels reluctant to promise his youngest son and so he tells Tamar that she must wait until Shelah reaches manhood. Tamar, having little choice in the matter, waits and even after Shalah is grown and Judah himself becomes a widower, she is still waiting. It becomes clear that Judah wasn't willing to risk his last heir but marrying him to her.

The writer doesn't mention how long it takes Tamar to realize that Judah never intends to follow through on his word and that she is trapped in a perpetual circle. She is back with her family waiting to return to her new family... yet she has little to no status in her new family heirarchy as she is widowed, alone and childless. Unable to marry anyone else to change her situation and yet betrothed but alone, she makes a really interesting and brave gamble. When her father in law, Judah, is headed to a different town for business, she dresses up and sits by the city gates, suggesting by this positioning and environment that she is a prostitute. It is thought that she had knowledge that he had sometimes used prostitutes at that area and as the women would wear veils to disguise their identity, that could help her do so as well. Things apparently went according to her plan and her offer was accepted. Judah didn't have any money so after the services were rendered he offered to send her a goat from his flock. As a pledge, she accepted his staff and his personal seal which were items that were of great worth to him. Later, when a friend of Judah's comes with the goat to make payment and exchange, no one could find the prostitute. Tamar had gone home to her family and had no told anyone around the area who she was and didn't tell her family what she had done. So Judah kept the goat and didn't say anything about it so that he could hide his embarrassment as well as the sin.
Some months later it became apparent that Tamar was pregnant... an unacceptable condition for an unmarried woman during that time. When the news of her pregnancy makes its way to Judah, in his anger and his position as the tribal leader, accuses her of 'playing the whore' and sentences her to death for her adultery (Even though she is currently unmarried, she is still betrothed to Shelah so her actions would be considered adultery... as well as the actions of her partner.) When Tamar learns of her sentence, she appeals to Judah giving him his staff and seal and letting him know that the 'owner' of them is her 'partner'. In his words, “She hath been more righteous than I; because that I gave her not to Shelah, my son” - Genesis 38:24 Realizing his culpability as well as his potential difficulties, Judah admits his guilt and he acknowledges the appropriateness of Tamar's behavior. She later gives birth to twin boy who are named Perez and Zerah.

I find many things about this story interesting to think about. One thing is something I mentioned before. Why is this particular story including in the book and was considered important enough to write down in the first place. The only characters that are consistent in the story (or at least survive through it) are Tamar, Judah and Shelah. Judah is one of Joseph's brothers (the Joseph who was sold by his brothers and send to Egypt) and the leader of his own tribe. He was married and he had children with her. Judah chose Tamar to be the wife of his oldest son Er so he, in theory, knew a bit about her and her family. What we know about her family is that she was probably not Jewish as she in not listed or named as a descendant of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. Tamar can be seen as a women of integrity doing all she can to follow the cultural rules of her tribe and and Levirite law. She could have either married into a different family or simply stayed a widow. However, she could also have been seen as a co-conspirator with both of her dead husbands and therefore, immoral. Her choice to follow the 'higher' law as set by God and to try and create an heir for Er was risky and dangerous to her reputation as well as her life, but did end up working out for her. In fact, her son Perez gives her not only blessings (and is mentioned in the story of Ruth later in the book), but Perez makes her a direct descendant of King David and part of the Messianic line to Jesus Christ himself. Some people have suggested that the story of Judah and Tamar is put in the scriptures to emphasize how good Joseph was in comparison to his siblings. This story even seems to suggest that Tamar herself was more loyal to the tribe of Judah than he was himself.

Another thought is I really wonder how Tamar was able to pull off the trick. Judah helped pick her for his first son as a wife, married her to his second son who then dies, and was concerned enough about her potential to cause harm to his last son that he risked the wrath of God, etc to not keep his word on the betrothal. His quick temper and enthusiasm to accuse her of adultery and sentence her to death without really talking or doing any research on it suggests to me fear of her as well as anger. So it begs the question: how did he not recognize her... even dressed as a prostitute and not a widow? Can any of you when thinking of the people in your family contemplate the mistake he made? How could he possible not recognize something- voice, movement... anything? I guess I find that stunning and semi- unbelievable.

I also wonder how Tamar felt through all of this. Did she love Er...? Since her marriage was arranged, were they friends, tentatively polite...? How did she feel about marrying her brother in law... and his treatment of her? Heck, what if she loved her first husband and afterward had to deal with her grief and changed circumstances while marrying a man she did have feelings for.... or worse, didn't like at all. Certainly his treatment of her if she did want a child must have been hurtful and frustrating. Then Onan died and here she was alone again... back with her family and childless.
Then the waiting, watching Shelah grow up and imaging her potential life with him... and then realizing it wasn't going to happen. I wonder how long it took her to come to that conclusion and the mixed emotions that came with that.... When she made her plan to prostitute herself to Judah, was it a happy plan.? She didn't really have any way of knowing for sure that it would be successful and end in pregnancy? Would she have been willing to do that more than once...? Did she do that more than once? If nothing else, she must have had some decent acting skills. :) What a painful and challenging set of circumstances for anyone. Some versions of the story suggest she was celibate for the rest of her life while other versions suggest she lived with Judah as his wife and together they raised the twins... how did that work for her in either situation? Were her children worth it for her? Does she have regret for any of this?

So, why do you think this story is in the scriptures? What do you feel or like about this story? Do you feel like you learn anything when reading it? What do you think of Tamar? What might you have done in her place?


What Does Your Scripture Case Say About You?

For those of you who are highly religious, the idea of a scripture case may not be a new thing for you. Especially for members of the Mormon church who tend to carry and utilize often a set of four books; The Holy Bible- King James version, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants and the smallest... the Pearl of Great Price. When you have a few books to carry around, it doesn't take too long before you look for or buy something to carry them in and many people – myself included- carry them in a case specifically made for this purpose. These cases come in a variety of sizes, colors, and sometimes come with pockets, other accessories, etc... As every individual is unique, cases come with a variety of looks as they are decorated, sewn, or even embroidered as designed by the specific individual. And as I was sitting in church last Sunday, I was looking at the contents of my scripture case and marveling at the amount of stuff in it besides my scriptures. After taking some time to carefully go through the case, I thought and tried to discover what someone might think about me if they didn't know me... and only had my scripture case to look at for clues to my life and history.

The largest item in my scripture case is – not surprisingly my scriptures! :) I have all four books combined into one book which many members called a 'quad'. It is black and has my name embossed on the front. It is however, my maiden name, and so it gives no clue of my marriage at first blush. My scriptures have been marked in places with pencil as well as many different colors of waxed crayon and so that will probably confuse some poor soul in the future who tries to figure out what the different colors mean. Funny thing, but with very few exceptions... I used the color I picked up first when I was thinking about the scripture or the color that the verse caused me to think of at that moment. Certainly a lot of time can be wasted on attempting to classify and figure out what method there was to my color choices when there was very little structured method at all. My scriptures have a few different book marks in them and I took them out for this exercise as each means a great deal to me. This particular set of scriptures itself means a great deal to me because I purchased it only a few weeks before my husband proposed and he came into the distribution center with me while I picked them out. I found out later that he knew he was going to propose but wasn't sure how to tell me not to put my name on them as I might change it. :)

The next item is my hymn book. The same day I purchased my scriptures there was a small blue hymn book in the clearance section and I purchased it and had my name embossed on it as well. So it also has my maiden name, but pretty much no markings at all. In some ways it almost looks like I haven't used it at all, but it is my preferred hymn book for use at home and church if possible. Even though it is small and the lettering is small enough that it can be difficult to read, I feel more open to hearing the words when I hold it and sing from it. Nothing that I can really explain- just the way that I feel which may not be apparent without seeing me and watching me with the book
itself. Inside the hymnal, I have a small bookmark and two pictures. I use the book mark to hold the place of the next hymn during church or to mark the one that I am studying in my spare time and it was made for me as a present by my friend Toni. I haven't seen her in years, but I think of her every time I hold the bookmark and feel the caring and love that she has for me. The two pictures are very meaningful to me and I use them as a reminder of situations or people. The first picture is of a friend of mine when she graduated
from college. Katey looks beautiful, elegant and self assured. Her life has been a little different from mine and I aspire to look so calm, confident and beautiful when I finally graduate... well, if I finally graduate! ; ) The second picture is of Bug when he was about eighteen months old. The picture caught caught him in a rare moment of quizzical amusement and giggles.... and it was wonderful!

I have a few typical things- the package of scripture markers, two copies of the “New Testament” Chronology card (not sure why I have two...?), a large postcard with a picture of the scene of Lehi's dream, the Relief Society proclamation bookmark, and a pressed daisy that I have had for several years. The daisy is my favorite flower and it came from a bouquet that Rob bought me a long time ago. I also have two 4” x 7” pictures tucked into the pages. The first picture is of a portrait painted by David Lynn called “The Ascent.” The first time I say the artwork was in a museum in Utah. It took my breath away and off and on for weeks, I dreamed about the image. I saw the people in the portrait struggling forward, reaching out, pulling people up.... I felt their hands help me forward and I felt the hope in the struggle. We are not alone in our trials, we can always find help and support. Later on I found a copy of the picture on line and downloaded it to my computer. Then, after a trip with a thumb drive to the local drug store, I had my own small copy. I look at it at least once a week and I see different things, but I always feel a sense of peace and comfort while gazing. The last picture ironically enough gives me the same feelings, but its an entirely different subject matter. It a postcard photo that I made from a picture on the internet.
I am a serious Harry Potter fan and I was a very silly fan of Hermione and her group “S.P.E.W.” I loved to read about it and I spent a lot of free time in my life thinking about the questions that her group posed as well as the opposition she accidentally created in her zeal and struggle against the social norm. The lessons that I learned and ruminated on from some of the elf characters themselves; Winky, Dobby, and Creature. So I carry a picture of all three of them and the emblem of the group. I look at the picture and laugh at some of the images the characters create in my mind... Dobby wearing too many hats, Creature cooking or huddled over his picture of Bellatrix Lastrange, Winky crying and looking through her fingers.... so many images that create laughter or concern or other thoughts. For some reason that only my subconscious seems to understand, my scriptures and scripture study feels enriches with my picture of the elves. I actually don't feel terribly comfortable with the idea of taking it out of the case... that's something I might need to think about.

So what do you keep with your scriptures...? And what do the things you keep say about you? I'm curious... :)


The New Friend

It has been approximately two months since I gained a new housemate...namely a new cat! How she joined my quirky entourage is a funny and frankly lucky story, but it feels sufficient for me to say that I came home from church on a blissful and restful Sabbath afternoon and in less than an hour, my day had changed. An impulsive move and a lot of luck... brought a filthy, scrawny ball of energy that was soon hiding under my bed. And like my other three 'strays', she would hiss lightly when I lifted up the end of the futon. It was a funny image to see four cats in a line- three hissing and then Morianna sitting quietly and realizing that at least in this instance, the same mutual concerns of fear and and the unknown were able to allow a new, unknown cat to merge into my small herd with no fuss or territorial squabbling. In fact, you would think they had never known a time without each other. It was pretty amazing to witness and so I could begin to focus on the immediate needs- a bath was really essential as well as potential worming and flea removal and all that sort of thing.

So the next day, I began. After a trip to the pet store after my shift I began the semi arduous and struggling task of corralling the new member and bathing her. I named her Bellatrix – she reminded me of a character in the Harry Potter series, Bellatrix Lestrange, due to the amount of dirt, frizzy hair and the snarl marring her otherwise beautiful face. With a good friend, I managed to clean her without drowning us both and without a large loss of blood on my end. The amount of hair that came tumbling and shedding off into the tub was an amount significantly large enough that when pressed together, it resembled a small guinea pig. However, within a few days, Ms. Bella was eating, purring and quickly became an irreplaceable part of my household. Taking her cue from Morianna, I would find her waiting near the door when I arrived home or running cheerfully towards it to greet me. Treats given from my hand soon encouraged some good closeness and as her weight became more acceptable her fur began to shine and she began to use her new found energy more productively. (She is still too skinny, but she feels more 'solid' now; when I first picked her up she felt like skin wrapped around bird bones... totally light and easily breakable.) A trip to my favorite vet with shots and wormer and she is as good as 'new'... and she has been rechristened Bella as she no longer reminds me of that dark character in the least. Her clear relief at easy food and safety has really come out as she follows me everywhere and guides even my two most stubborn strays to do the same. Her physical beauty and her deep inner joy began to trickle out and now flood into the home environment and I feel her contentment when I come home. It's just a great experience everyday. Today she is at the veterinarian getting spayed and ready to hopefully have a good long life with me. I will truly miss her tonight.

So, I think its official. I am now a 'crazy old cat lady'. The fact that I also own a hamster only puts an even more interesting spin on the funny stereotype, doesn't it? But I feel content and happy. I love coming home to be greeted by two, maybe three friends and I find a little exasperation, but mostly joy in getting covered in cat hair with beautiful, purring sweeties rubbing on my legs and sitting on my lap and bed when I settle. Reading the scriptures next to a purring cat is wonderful for a few reasons. The soft comforting sound helps clear my mind for reading and real study. While doing this I have found that I focus longer as I am pulled in and I find that I don't want to end the moment. That time of peace and comfort has been getting longer as it has become not just something I have been told to do, but something I look forward to throughout my day. When I get home, I see an exciting and happy time about to open... and not the dark lonely nights that I used to feel. (I won't pretend that those nights are all gone, but they feel fewer and far between.) What a beautiful and wonderful gift! I am very grateful. :)