Judah and Tamar

A lot of people look at the Bible as preachy and pedantic. Having now read a decent chunk of it, I’ve decided this just isn’t so. There are a ton of funny, wonderful stories in the Bible that no one seems to know about. Stories about sex, deception, gossip, and everything else that goes into a modern sitcom. This is a poem based on one of my favourite Bible stories, that of Judah and Tamar, from Genesis 38. It’s part of my continuing quest to bring Judeo-Christian mythology to the SCA. Enjoy! (Incidentally, for those who are interested in my take on the Bible, please check out Daily Breadcrumbs, my Bible blog.)

Judah and Tamar
by Katherine Ashewode, “The Pocket Bard”
(original verse based on Gen. 38)
May 2008

Before the days of Christ our lord,
‘Ere he had sent his holy word
to man, was Judah, Joseph’s kin.
And since he was removed from sin
The Lord bestowed upon him Er,
His firstborn son, and Onan fair,
And Shelah, youngest of the pride.
And Judah chose for Er a bride,
Tamar, doomed to mournful tears.
For Er did deeds against the ears
Of God, and quickly met his end.
And Onan, married next, would spend
His seed upon the ground: a crime!
Though he was still within his prime,
The Lord ensured he would not live,
And Judah now was bound to give
His third-born son to Tamar’s hand,
And yet he balked at this demand.
He thought he might have no sons left,
And soon would find himself bereft
Of heirs, if three should follow two.
He bade Tamar to wait anew
Till Shelah grew to man’s estate,
And then she’d have another mate.
The years sped by and Shelah grew,
But still Tamar did not renew
Her wedding vows, a widow mocked.
Till Judah went to sheer his flock
In Timnah’s fields. Tamar was wise:
She took a veil to hide her eyes
And face, and camped along his route.
When Judah passed, a prostitute
He thought she was. “I’ll give a kid,”
He said to her. “And I would bid
You sleep with me.” “And what for now?”
She answered back. “I see not sow,
Nor goat, nor sheep before my tent.
To do the deed, you must present
A pledge to me, to prove your trust.”
He gave his staff and ring in lust
For flesh, and then he took his leave.
And she, as well, returned to weave
Her widow’s cloth, removed her veil.
When Judah sent a man to hail
The harlot, bring the promised price,
He found her not. He asked advice
At Timnah, but found the men confused.
“We’ve never known a harlot used
Along the road,” they said. The man returned,
And told his master what he learned
Upon his quest. Judah thought,
And then decreed that there was ought
To do; since he had truly searched
His honour would not be besmirched.
The moon had waxed and waned times three,
When it was clear for all to see,
Tamar was gravid in her womb,
And Judah quick began to fume
Against the girl who played the whore,
While still a widow’s gown she wore
Upon her back. He raised a stake,
And called upon the lord to take
Her life in flame. But she was sly,
She took the pledge and raised it high.
And Judah knew the staff and ring,
And told his men they must not fling
The girl upon the burning flame,
For she revealed his proper shame
In holding back her wedding day.
And he atoned without delay.
The moral clear behind my tale
Is truth and honour must prevail
When giving vows to widowed wives,
So they can fain enjoy their lives.

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