38:2 There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite man 4 named Shua. 5 Judah acquired her as a wife 6 and had marital relations with her. 7 38:3 She became pregnant 8 and had a son. Judah named 9 him Er. 38:4 She became pregnant again and had another son, whom she named Onan. 38:5 Then she had 10 yet another son, whom she named Shelah. She gave birth to him in Kezib. 11
38:8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Have sexual relations with 13 your brother’s wife and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her so that you may raise 14 up a descendant for your brother.” 15 38:9 But Onan knew that the child 16 would not be considered his. 17 So whenever 18 he had sexual relations with 19 his brother’s wife, he withdrew prematurely 20 so as not to give his brother a descendant. 38:10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so the Lord 21 killed him too.
38:11 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, 22 “I don’t want him to die like his brothers.” 23 So Tamar went and lived in her father’s house.
38:12 After some time 24 Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. After Judah was consoled, he left for Timnah to visit his sheepshearers, along with 25 his friend Hirah the Adullamite. 38:13 Tamar was told, 26 “Look, your father-in-law is going up 27 to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 38:14 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 28 she saw that she had not been given to Shelah as a wife, even though he had now grown up.) 29
38:15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute 30 because she had covered her face. 38:16 He turned aside to her along the road and said, “Come on! I want to have sex with you.” 31 (He did not realize 32 it was his daughter-in-law.) She asked, “What will you give me in exchange for having sex with you?” 33 38:17 He replied, “I’ll send you a young goat from the flock.” She asked, “Will you give me a pledge until you send it?” 34 38:18 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 and had sex with her. 35 She became pregnant by him. 38:19 She left immediately, 36 removed her veil, and put on her widow’s clothes.
38:20 Then Judah had his friend Hirah 37 the Adullamite take a young goat to get back from the woman the items he had given in pledge, 38 but Hirah 39 could not find her. 38:21 He asked the men who were there, 40 “Where is the cult prostitute 41 who was at Enaim by the road?” But they replied, “There has been no cult prostitute here.” 38:22 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.’” 38:23 Judah said, “Let her keep the things 42 for herself. Otherwise we will appear to be dishonest. 43 I did indeed send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.”
38:24 After three months Judah was told, 44 “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has turned to prostitution, 45 and as a result she has become pregnant.” 46 Judah said, “Bring her out and let her be burned!” 38:25 While they were bringing her out, she sent word 47 to her father-in-law: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these belong.” 48 Then she said, “Identify 49 the one to whom the seal, cord, and staff belong.” 38:26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more upright 50 than I am, because I wouldn’t give her to Shelah my son.” He did not have sexual relations with her 51 again.
38:27 When it was time for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 38:28 While she was giving birth, one child 52 put out his hand, and the midwife took a scarlet thread and tied it on his hand, saying, “This one came out first.” 38:29 But then he drew back his hand, and his brother came out before him. 53 She said, “How you have broken out of the womb!” 54 So he was named Perez. 55 38:30 Afterward his brother came out – the one who had the scarlet thread on his hand – and he was named Zerah. 56
[38:3] tn Heb “and he called his name.” The referent (Judah) has been specified in the translation for clarity.
[38:8] 15 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.
[38:9] sn The text makes it clear that the purpose of the custom was to produce an heir for the deceased brother. Onan had no intention of doing that. 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 do the responsible thing.
[38:11] 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.
[38:12] 24 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.
[38:21] 41 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.
[38:26] 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.
[38:29] 53 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.
[38:29] 54 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.”
[38:29] 55 sn The name Perez means “he who breaks through,” referring to Perez reaching out his hand at birth before his brother was born. 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 demonstrated 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.
[38:30] 56 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).