Tamar & Judah - people in their story

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Tamar's story

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Bible text

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The Levirate Law
what was it?

Judah and Tamar, Emile Vernet, 1840

Famous Paintings
of Judah and Tamar

Red cord twisted into a bracelet

Tamar's story
in more detail

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Bible study ideas

Large Middle Eastern family

Families in ancient Israel

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Choosing a husband, marrying him

Tamar had twin sons

Childbirth in ancient Israel






People in the story of Tamar & Judah

Tamar was a young Hebrew woman who had married into the family of Judah. Her first husband died, punished by God for an unnamed crime. Under the Levirate Law which protected widows from poverty, Tamar, stained glass installation by Diane-Blair Goodpastureshe should have had sexual intercourse with her husband's younger brother. When a male child was born, she and her son would be entitled to a share in the tribal wealth, just as if he were the son of her first husband.

Worth noting about Tamar:

  • she marries twice but remained childless because  her first husband was punished for an unnamed crime and her second husband masturbated 

  • she waits and waits for justice, but finally accepts that it will not be done unless she takes matters into her own hands; her own father seems unable to help her

  • she is ready to take a terrible risk to get what she is entitled to; she has great courage

  • she also has great anger locked inside her; it is probably this anger at the injustice of her situation that propels her into action

  • she wants a son to inherit her first husband's share of the inheritance; God gives her not one son but two, emphasising her right to act as she has

Judah...son of Jacob and Leah, Tamar's father-in-law; he could have helped her, and had a duty to do so, but did not. He was prepared to burn her alive for a transgression against family honor. Adultery was punished by death.

Worth noting about Judah

  • keep in mind that Judah is the son of Jacob, who had some good qualitites (he saved his brother Joseph from death, persuading his other brothers to sell Joseph to slave traders rather than kill him) but was also deceitful

  • Judah was suffering from profound grief: he has recently lost his wife Shua, and his two sons Er and Onan

  • people suffering profound grief often act out of character, doing things they would not normally do

  • there is no way of knowing if he knew what his son Onan was doing, but as tribal leader he was responsible for his son's actions

  • it seems as if he never planned to use a prostitute, since he had no money to pay Tamar for her services

Er...husband of Tamar and eldest son of Judah, and his heir

Worth noting about Er 

  • little is known about him, but he apparently committed some crime that offended God so much that He put Er to death.

Onan... second son of Judah, with a duty to have sexual intercourse with Tamar until she conceived and had a son. If she had a son, Onan's own inheritance would be greatly lessened. He 'spilled his seed', using coitus interruptus as a form on contraception, so that she could not conceive.

Worth noting about Onan

  • son of Jacob who refused to give Tamar a child

  • he flouted ancient tribal laws that protected widows from poverty; this was a serious crime against the woman Tamar and against his own tribe

  • he chose property rather and law-abiding justice, and was punished by God

  • he was probably already married at the time

Shua was the wife of Judah and the mother of his three sons

Worth noting about Shua

  • having born three sons to the tribal leader Judah, Shua was an honored woman in the tribe

  • we do not know what sort of relationship existed between Shua and Tamar - good or bad; it was only after Shua's death that Tamar decided to act; perhaps Tamar hoped that Shua would eventually send Shelah to fulfil the Levirate Law


Hirah the Adullamite - friend of Judah, who would be called a 'side-kick' or 'go-for' in the movies 


Perez and Zerah - the long awaited twin sons of Tamar and Judah. They play very little part in the story, but are integral to the 'happy ending', and to subsequent stories in the Bible.



Extra Websites

Bible Clothes and Houses     

What were families like in ancient Israel?     

Famous Paintings of Judah and Tamar       

Bible Women: Major Events:      choosing a husband, marrying him

The Levirate Law:      what was it? how did it change Tamar's life?

Famous Bible Women: Tamar

Childbirth in ancient Israel

King David: his story

Joseph, brother of Judah

Young pregnant woman looking happily at her lower stomach

  The people in the Bible story of Tamar and Judah: Bible study resource

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