Matthew 1 3rd Sunday of Advent: December 11, 2005
The Women of the Genealogy of Jesus
A few months ago I was beginning to read the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew has the genealogy of Jesus right away. Often when I hit a passage like that, I skim over it to get to the good parts – the stories. This time I read it & I was surprised by how many of the names I recognized. The list changed from being a list of semi-anonymous names to a list of makers to stories I know and love.
What intrigued me most was that in this long list of men, four women are mentioned – five if you count Mary. In this very patriarchal society, Matthew includes four women in his genealogy – it’s really interesting since it is Joseph’s genealogy, if you want Mary’s genealogy you have to read Luke
Tamar (Genesis 38)
You might know that the Jewish people often call God the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jacob’s family put the “dis” in dysfunctional. Jacob had 12 sons by 4 women, only one of whom he loved. The 11 brothers so hated Jacob’s favorite that they first tried to kill him, and then sold him into slavery.
The oldest brother in the family was Judah. He married and Had three sons: Er, Onnan and Shelah. When the oldest, Er, grew up he married Tamar. Er was an evil man and he died young with no offspring. There was a law in those days that if your brother died with no heir, you would marry his widow, but the offspring would be considered your brother’s and would carry his line. So Judah got Onan to marry Tamar. Onan didn’t want to produce offspring for his dead brother that he would have top feed and keep, (and most likely without an heir, Onan would get Er’s estate) so he slept with Tamar, but used his own style of birth control so as not to have children. Onan’s greed and lack of responsibility angered God and he died young too.
The third son, Shelah, is still a kid at this point and Judah says to Tamar, “live as a widow until Shelah grows up and he will give you children.” But he had no intention of getting the two together because he figures that she’s a man killer! Tamar thinks to herself these boys have a habit of dieing young with no kids, Shelah is still a kid and her biological clock is ticking, and besides that, his name is Shelah! So she decides not to wait for Judah to give her another husband.
Judah goes off to another town on a business trip, and Tamar goes there disguised as a prostitute. Prostitutes were veiled back then, so Judah doesn’t recognize her when he sees her. Judah sees her and promises to send her a goat for sleeping with him. She asks for a surety and he leaves his seal and staff with her to be given back when the goat arrived.
The next day, Judah sends a friend with the goat to retrieve his seal and staff. The prostitute is nowhere to be found, and the townsfolk say that they have never seen her. Judah decides that he was hoodwinked and pushes the issue no further, because it is pretty embarrassing.
Three months later, Tamar is starting to look pregnant! Word gets back to Judah that his daughter-in-law is guilty of prostitution and has become pregnant. Judah is furious that she would shame the family so and says, “Bring her out and have her burned to death!” (honour killing is not a new thing)