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.
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.
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.
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?