Add parallel Print Page Options

Judah and Tamar

38 At that time Judah left[a] his brothers and stayed[b] with an Adullamite man[c] named Hirah. There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua.[d] Judah acquired her as a wife[e] and slept with her.[f] She became pregnant[g] and had a son. Judah named[h] him Er. She became pregnant again and had another son, whom she named Onan. Then she had[i] yet another son, whom she named Shelah. She gave birth to him in Kezib.[j]

Judah acquired[k] a wife for Er his firstborn; her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord killed him.

Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with[l] your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise up[m] a descendant for your brother.”[n] But Onan knew that the child[o] would not be considered his.[p] So whenever[q] he slept with[r] his brother’s wife, he wasted his emission on the ground[s] so as not to give his brother a descendant. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord[t] killed him too.

11 Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s house until Shelah my son grows up.” For he thought,[u] “I don’t want him to die like his brothers.”[v] So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.

12 After some time[w] Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. After Judah was consoled, he left for Timnah to visit his sheepshearers, along with[x] his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 13 Tamar was told,[y] “Look, your father-in-law is going up[z] to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 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[aa] she saw that she had not been given to Shelah as a wife, even though he had now grown up.)[ab]

15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute[ac] because she had covered her face. 16 He turned aside to her along the road and said, “Come, please, I want to sleep with you.”[ad] (He did not realize it was his daughter-in-law.) She asked, “What will you give me so that you may sleep with me?” 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?”[ae] 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, then slept with her,[af] and she became pregnant by him. 19 She left immediately,[ag] removed her veil, and put on her widow’s clothes.

20 Then Judah had his friend Hirah[ah] the Adullamite take a young goat to get back from the woman the items he had given in pledge,[ai] but Hirah[aj] could not find her. 21 He asked the men who were there,[ak] “Where is the cult prostitute[al] who was at Enaim by the road?” But they replied, “There has been no cult prostitute here.” 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.’” 23 Judah said, “Let her keep the things[am] for herself. Otherwise we will appear to be dishonest.[an] I did indeed send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.”

24 After three months Judah was told,[ao] “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has turned to prostitution,[ap] and as a result she has become pregnant.”[aq] Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” 25 While they were bringing her out, she sent word[ar] to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.”[as] Then she said, “Identify[at] the one to whom the seal, cord, and staff belong.” 26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more upright[au] than I am, because I wouldn’t give her to Shelah my son.” He was not physically intimate with her again.[av]

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


  1. Genesis 38:1 tn Heb “went down from.”
  2. Genesis 38:1 tn Heb “and he turned aside unto.”
  3. Genesis 38:1 tn Heb “a man, an Adullamite.”
  4. Genesis 38:2 tn Heb “a man, a Canaanite, and his name was Shua.”
  5. Genesis 38:2 tn Heb “and he took her.” The verb לָקַח (laqakh) “to take” is used idiomatically for getting a wife.
  6. Genesis 38:2 tn Heb “went to her.” The expression בּוֹא אֶל (boʾ ʾel) means “come to” or “approach,” but is also used as a euphemism for sexual relations.
  7. Genesis 38:3 tn Or “she conceived” (also in the following verse).
  8. Genesis 38:3 tc Some mss read this verb as feminine, “she called,” to match the pattern of the next two verses. But the MT, “he called,” should probably be retained as the more difficult Heb “and he called his name.” The referent (Judah) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  9. Genesis 38:5 tn Heb “and she added again and she gave birth.” The first verb and the adverb emphasize that she gave birth once more.
  10. Genesis 38:5 tn Or “and he [i.e., Judah] was in Kezib when she gave birth to him.”
  11. Genesis 38:6 tn Heb “and Judah took.”
  12. Genesis 38:8 tn Heb “go to” or “approach.” Here the expression is a euphemism for sexual relations.
  13. Genesis 38:8 tn The imperative with the prefixed conjunction here indicates purpose.
  14. Genesis 38:8 sn Raise up a descendant for your brother. The purpose of this custom, called the levirate system, was to ensure that no line of the family would become extinct. The name of the deceased was to be maintained through this custom of having a child by the nearest relative. See M. Burrows, “Levirate Marriage in Israel,” JBL 59 (1940): 23-33.
  15. Genesis 38:9 tn Heb “offspring.”
  16. Genesis 38:9 tn Heb “would not be his,” that is, legally speaking. Under the levirate system the child would be legally considered the child of his deceased brother.
  17. Genesis 38:9 tn The construction, with a vav plus perfect consecutive (veqatal) of הָיָה (hayah) shows that this was a repeated practice and not merely one The purpose of the custom was to produce an heir for the deceased brother. Onan had no intention of doing that. A possible motivation is that if there was an heir for his older brother, it would have decreased his share of inheritance significantly. But he would have sex with the girl as much as he wished. He was willing to use the law to gratify his desires, but was not willing to fulfill his responsibilities.
  18. Genesis 38:9 tn Heb “he went to” or “approached.” This expression is a euphemism for sexual relations.
  19. Genesis 38:9 tn Heb “he ruined [it] to the ground.” The direct object is implied. Onan deliberately got rid of his semen on the ground so that his brother’s widow would not become pregnant.
  20. Genesis 38:10 tn Heb “he”; the referent (the Lord) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  21. Genesis 38:11 tn Heb “said.”
  22. Genesis 38:11 tn Heb “Otherwise he will die, also he, like his brothers.”sn I don’t want him to die like his brothers. This clause explains that Judah had no intention of giving Shelah to Tamar for the purpose of the levirate marriage. Judah apparently knew the nature of his sons, and feared that God would be angry with the third son and kill him as well.
  23. Genesis 38:12 sn After some time. There is not enough information in the narrative to know how long this was. The text says “the days increased.” It was long enough for Shelah to mature and for Tamar to realize she would not have him.
  24. Genesis 38:12 tn Heb “and he went up to the shearers of his sheep, he and.”
  25. Genesis 38:13 tn Heb “And it was told to Tamar, saying.”
  26. Genesis 38:13 tn The active participle indicates the action was in progress or about to begin.
  27. Genesis 38:14 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.
  28. Genesis 38:14 tn Heb “she saw that Shelah had grown up, but she was not given to him as a wife.”
  29. Genesis 38:15 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.
  30. Genesis 38:16 tn Heb “I want to approach.” The verb בּוֹא (boʾ) with the preposition אֶל (ʾel) means “come to” or “approach,” but is also used as a euphemism for sexual relations. The imperfect verbal form is probably modal and indicates his desire.
  31. Genesis 38:17 tn Heb “until you send.”
  32. Genesis 38:18 tn Heb “approached.” See note at v. 16.
  33. Genesis 38:19 tn Heb “and she arose and left,” the first verb in the pair emphasizing that she wasted no time.
  34. Genesis 38:20 tn Heb “sent by the hand of his friend.” Here the name of the friend (“Hirah”) has been included in the translation for clarity.
  35. Genesis 38:20 tn Heb “to receive the pledge from the woman’s hand.”
  36. Genesis 38:20 tn Heb “he”; the referent (Judah’s friend Hirah the Adullamite) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
  37. Genesis 38:21 tn Heb “the men of her place,” that is, who lived at the place where she had been.
  38. Genesis 38:21 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.
  39. Genesis 38:23 tn The words “the things” have been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  40. Genesis 38:23 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.
  41. Genesis 38:24 tn Heb “it was told to Judah, saying.”
  42. Genesis 38:24 tn Or “has been sexually promiscuous.” The verb may refer here to loose or promiscuous activity, not necessarily prostitution.
  43. Genesis 38:24 tn Heb “and also look, she is with child by prostitution.”
  44. Genesis 38:25 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.
  45. Genesis 38:25 tn Heb “who these to him.”
  46. Genesis 38:25 tn Or “ recognize; note.” This same Hebrew verb (נָכַר, nakhar) is used at the beginning of v. 26, where it is translated “recognized.”
  47. Genesis 38:26 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.
  48. Genesis 38:26 tn Heb “and he did not repeat to know her” or “he did not know her again.” Here “know” is a euphemism for sexual relations.
  49. Genesis 38:28 tn The word “child” has been supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
  50. Genesis 38:29 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.
  51. Genesis 38:29 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.”
  52. Genesis 38:29 sn The name Perez means “he who breaks through.” Perez’ birth was surprising because he came out of the womb before his brother Zerah, though Zerah had first reached his hand outside the womb thus being marked as the firstborn. 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 illustrated 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.
  53. Genesis 38:30 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).