TG 2: Tamar, the Righteous
'She is more righteous than I' צָדְקָה מִמֶּנִּי Genesis 38:26.
Tamar was not known as a prostitute, in spite of Driscoll's slip.
Of course, there is a prostitute in the genealogy, but it is Rahab and not Tamar. However, Rahab herself was remembered, not for being a prostitute, but for being חסד, kind or loyal, and this is the identical defining trait that we associate with Ruth.
Ruth was called חסד for her act of choosing to bear a child to Naomi by one of Naomi's kinsmen, when she could have married someone else younger. She was loyal or faithful, she fulfilled her obligation to Naomi to bear her an heir. She was חסד because she chose to offer herself to Boaz, a relative of Naomi's, instead of to a younger man. Ruth loyally served Naomi's reproductive rights and gave Naomi her first born child, whom Naomi named Obed. This is a story of friendship and loyalty between two women.
חסד can be translated as obligation to the community in relation to relatives, friends, etc. also unity, solidarity, loyalty. We can, of course, always hope that the story also contains a romance, but it is first and foremost about the baby which Ruth presented to Naomi.
Tamar was righteous because she actively pursued her own reproductive right to bear a child for her deceased husband, Er, by sleeping with her father-in-law, Judah. She was a widow and her father-in-law was a widower. Although this seems irregular to us, Judah realized the justice in the situation and called Tamar righteous.
If Ruth was courageous and admirable, Tamar was even more so. Without the evident support of a friend or advisor, Tamar was able to produce an heir for her deceased husband by gaining access to her father-in-law as progenitor. She did this by pretending to be a prostitute. But she was acquitted of being considered a prostitute. Let us not forget that.
Some have suggested that Ruth and Tamar were included in the genealogy because they acted with resolution and initiative outside of the patriarchal structure. (For Ruth this is seen in her act of giving the first child to Naomi to be named.)
However, there are two other women in the genealogy. Rahab, as a prostitute, did act outside of the patriarchal structure, but we must assume that her child was born within her marriage to Salmon. And Bathsheba was not in a position to act with either initiative or resolution.
Overall, Tamar and Ruth demonstrate the flip side of ancient patriarchy. Unlike patriarchy which is occasionally recommended today, women didn't have a duty to bear children, nor was it a privilege, it was a right. Additional phrases in the Hebrew scriptures, like Gen. 31:48 and 2 Sam. 13:32, indicate that patriarchy today is missing other offsetting elements.
Of course, an alternate way to read the Hebrew scriptures is simply to gain insight into what life was like back then without actually trying to reenact the patriarchy it reflects, as Kostenberger recommends here,
- For example, marriage and the roles of both husbands and wives is grounded in Genesis and then traced through the entire Old Testament. Husbands are to love and cherish their wives, to bear primary responsibility for the marriage union and to exercise authority over the family, and to provide the family with necessities for life.
The wife, on the other hand, is to present her husband with children, manage her household with integrity, and provide her husband with companionship. Contemporary readers may be shocked by the candor of Kostenberger's presentation, but he grounds his arguments directly in the biblical text.