Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Contra-coitus 2/3

For the sake of argument it is possible that the Lord was mad at Onan for spilling his seed. God had instead wanted Onan to impregnate the widow of his recently dead brother Er whom God had just killed because Er was wicked (somehow, it isn’t explained why). And Onan, under the (accurate) impression that if Tamar (Er’s widow) were to become pregnant immediately after then the children would be interpreted as Er’s offspring. In fact, this is the reason Judah orders Onan to “go on into” Tamar in the first place. Judah, God, and Onan would all know that the offspring were rightfully Onan’s but would all have to lie (break another of the ten) to everyone else about the father.

At the center of this conspiracy is the act of consensual (or very possibly non-consensual) intercourse. Tamar is not Onan’s wife. Onan, through the act of spilling his seed, seems to indicate that in his grief-stricken state, he does not covet his neighbor (in this case his brother’s) wife. Onan is obviously morally torn by the act of forcing himself to disrespect an explicit commandment to uphold another--parental obedience versus filial respect. For her part, Tamar’s intentions are not ever indicated and the lack of explicit consent can be construed to mean that Tamar may have been raped, but only if the logic of implicit lack of conclusive evidence about motive were to be used. If that were the case then God’s motives can also similarly be up for grabs regarding the murder of Onan. In short, God may not have cared at all if Onan spilled his seed in another context.

If there is to be dogma surrounding this passage then it must be looked at in its full context. Tamar, after becoming a widow and witness to the deaths of two of Judah’s sons, goes and lives in Judah’s home until Shelah (another one of Judah’s sons) is grown. Tamar hangs out for a while supposedly trying to avoid Shelah for fear of God smiting him, then one day Judah goes out to the fields to shear his sheep. Tamar hears about this and for reasons that are unclear--but probably have a lot to do with being an uneducated and confined woman in an ancient sheep herding civilization with literally no system of government, laws, or morals--dresses up like a prostitute and goes out to the fields where Judah is.

Judah comes across Tamar, doesn’t recognize her, and propositions her. Keep in mind that Judah is married to Shuah (also probably a couple others but I’m not looking at other parts of Judah’s life) at this point. That slight detail is unimportant to Judah when he pays Tamar to have sex with him. His payment? His signet, bracelets, and staff.

Judah, in having anonymous intercourse with a prostitute, either does not believe she will become pregnant or that he will have to suffer the consequences of his actions (having an awkward conversation with Shuah about his extramarital forays). Judah must be having sex for pure pleasure with complete disregard of the consequences. He obviously does not intend to procreate and he does not intend for it to be a unitive experience. To be fair, he sends a kid (slave child laborer) out to go find the whore so he can marry her.

The kid goes to the brothel (great place for kids to go) and no one knows who the woman is. Judah calls that due diligence and goes home to his old and used up wife Shuah. Judah prudently leaves out these details when recounting his day to her.

But Tamar becomes pregnant. Judah finds out about this, and knowing that she is unmarried realizes that she must have been whoring. Judah, being the divinely ordained king that he is said, “Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.” Burning whores is one of many ways to kill a whore in the Old Testament by the way. Whores are commonly stoned, burnt, exiled, maimed, or many other horrible things throughout the Bible. All of the whore’s clients are like Judah, patrons until they stone her.

Jesus saw the hypocrisy in this statement and famously said, “he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her (John 8:7).” Incidentally, Jesus traces his lineage back to Tamar.

Anyway, Tamar knew that whores had a tendency to be particularly flammable and produced the three items that Judah had used to pay her for sex. In what was possibly a very uncomfortable moment for Judah, he made lemonade out of the situation and took Tamar (his son’s widow) as his wife--she bare twin boys. And Shuah...she had to have died very suddenly. Otherwise Judah becomes not only a philanderer, but a polygamist or divorcee as well--two things the Catholic Church is not so fond of.