● Gen 38:18a . . He said: What pledge should I give you? Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand; she answered.
The items that Tamar required for a pledge were akin to a photo ID or a thumb print in those days. Judah's staff wasn't just a kendo stick or a walking cane or a shepherd's crook. It was more like a king's scepter, specially made just for him, and served the express purpose of identifying him as the head of his tribe. Staffs were made of either wood or metal, and usually capped with a masthead. The quality of the staff would of course depend upon the material wherewithal of the person ordering it.
Judah's seal could have been a small, uniquely engraved cylinder, or possibly a ring (e.g. Jer 22:24) but wasn't always worn on a finger. Way back in Judah's day, seals were sometimes worn around the neck with a necklace; or attached to personal walking sticks and/or staffs with a lanyard, and forced into wax or soft clay to leave an impressed "signature". The whole shebang-- seal, cord, and staff --was often a unit; and there were no two alike.
The staff, with its cord and seal, was, of course, quite worthless for a shrine prostitute's purposes. In dollar value, it was nothing, as it couldn't be sold or traded. However, its value to Judah was why it was a good pledge item. He would certainly want it back.
● Gen 38:18b-23 . . So he gave them to her and mated with her, and she conceived by him. After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow's clothes again.
. . . Meanwhile, Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get his pledge back from the woman, but he did not find her. He asked the men who lived there: Where is the shrine prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim? There hasn't been any shrine prostitute here; they said.
. . . So he went back to Judah and said: I didn't find her. Besides, the men who lived there said there hasn't been any shrine prostitute here. Then Judah said: Let her keep what she has or we will become a disgrace. After all, I did send her this young goat, but you didn't find her.
It might seem silly that Judah was concerned for his tribe's honor in this matter, but in those days, cult prostitutes did have a measure of respect in their community, and it wasn't unusual for every woman in the community to be expected to take a turn at supporting their "church" in that manner; so cult prostitution wasn't really looked upon as a vice but rather as a sacred obligation.
Judah's failure to pay up could be construed by locals as mockery of their religion's way of doing business, thus insulting those who believed and practiced it; so he emphasized his effort to find the woman and make good on his I.O.U.
This appears to me the first instance of religious tolerance in the Bible; and the circumstances are intriguing: to say the least.
● Gen 38:24 . . And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying: Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry.
At this time, Tamar was living with her dad; so Judah wouldn't have known she was expecting unless a rumor mill brought the news around.
The word for "harlot" in Gen 38:24 is zanah (zaw-naw'), and the word for "harlotry" is zanuwn (zaw-noon') and both mean adultery. Tamar is accused of adultery because at this point, she's assumed betrothed (though not yet married) to Shelah. (cf. Matt 1:18-19)
● Gen 38:24 . . So Judah said: Bring her out and let her be burned!
Since there were no Federal, nor any State, nor any Municipal laws in existence in primitive Palestine, local sheiks like Judah were the Supreme Court of their own tribes. Though Tamar was living back at home with her dad, she remained under Judah's jurisdiction because of her past marriages to two of Judah's sons.
NOTE: I suspect Judah saw this turn of events as a golden opportunity to save his last surviving son from marrying Ms. Black Widow.
● Gen 38:25a . .When she was brought out,
It's odd to me that Judah didn't attend Tamar's execution: possibly because he couldn't look her in the eye for reneging on his promise to give her Shelah. However; Judah was in for a very big jolt to his nervous system because Tamar produced a surprise witness.
● Gen 38:26 . . she sent to her father-in-law, saying: By the man to whom these belong, I am with child. And she said: Please determine whose these are-- the signet and cord, and staff. So Judah acknowledged them and said: She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son. And he never saw her again.
Actually, neither Judah nor Tamar were "righteous" in this matter. His comment was relative. Though both had behaved rather badly; Tamar held the high moral ground. It's like movies today. The good guys and the bad guys are no longer distinctly moral and immoral and/or scrupulous and unscrupulous. Often both sides of the equation are immoral and unscrupulous; with the "good" guys just being more likable.
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