Who was Tamar in the Bible?

In Genesis chapter 38, Tamar is first mentioned as being the wife of Judah's oldest son, Er. However, because of his sinfulness, Er was then killed by God. In the tradition of a “Levirate union,” Judah asked his second son, Onan, to produce children with Tamar so that the family line would advance.

Onan avoided impregnating Tamar during intercourse otherwise known as coitus interruptus. This move was regarded as immoral by God and so, just as his older brother, he died prematurely. Consequently, Judah is depicted as seeing Tamar as cursed and therefore reluctant to give her his only remaining and youngest son Shelah. Rather, he tells Tamar to wait for Shelah. However, even after Shelah has grown up, Judah still does not give Tamar to him in marriage. (Genesis 38:6–14)

Following Shelah growing up, Judah’s wife passed away and he became a widower. After learning that Judah planned to go to Timnath to tend his flock, Tamar plotted to disguise herself as a prostitute and lay with Judah. Assuming she was a prostitute, he traded for her services. Tamar's intention was to become pregnant by this ploy so that she might carry a child in Judah's line since she had been denied to be with Shelah. So she acted the part of a prostitute and negotiated a deal with Judah for a goat, assured by his staff, seal, and cord. When Judah was later able to have a goat sent to Timnath, in order to collect his staff and seal, the woman was nowhere to be found. (Genesis 38:12–23)

Three months later, Tamar was accused of prostitution from the fact of her pregnancy. Upon hearing this news, Judah ordered that she be burned to death. Tamar sent the staff, seal, and cord to Judah with a message stating that the owner of these items was the man who had made her pregnant. Upon recognizing these items as his own, Judah freed Tamar from her sentence. Tamar, having thus achieved her place in the family as well as Judah's descendants, gave birth to twins, Perez and Zerah.

Discover the many Bible verses about Tamar in this collection of scripture quotes!