In thinking about these dispersed texts that all have to do with Judah, the progenitor of the Messiah, the most promising material for thinking and talking is probably the story told in Genesis 38. Although we might want to do some reflecting on what makes Judah the privileged son among all the sons – can we tell this, or is it some hidden quality, do we suppose?
But a central question for us might be this: what does it mean for us that “the people of God” look back to stories like this? What does it mean that sacred text preserves these stories – that don’t always show “the forefathers and foremothers” as paragons of virtue? What does it tell us about what is important, to God, in life, for us?
Here are a couple of additional questions for reflecting on and maybe discussing:
How do we feel about the character of Judah? Or about the character of Tamar? E.g., do we identify in any way with these characters? Appreciate them? Admire them? Other … ? What are our thoughts and feelings about the story in Genesis 38? Why is that, do we think?
In the old days of the Hollywood movie “code,” filmmakers were not supposed to suggest that immoral behavior paid off. Could a movie of Genesis 38 have been made under that code, do we think? Why, or why not?
This is one way of asking: what do we think of the moral judgment encoded in the story told in Genesis 38? What IS the moral judgment encoded in that story?
What does it mean that Tamar is identified in the story, by Judah, as righteous – or, at a minimum, more righteous than Judah?
[I’ll just reiterate, the NRSV suppresses the force of the Hebrew text on this one; Judah uses the word tzaddik to describe Tamar; in any other context, we wouldn’t translate that as “in the right,” we’d translate “righteous.” And why this context makes us do something different … well, that might be a good question, too.]
[More personal] How comfortable are we with that judgment? Why do we suppose that is?
What does it mean for us? [That is – if we wanted to be as righteous as Tamar, what value or values would we need to champion?]
One thing we could do, that might help us see some of what’s at stake in this story, would be to go through the story and look at which of the human characters promotes life, and which of the human characters do not. If we do that, what do we notice? Any thoughts?
On a personal or perhaps procedural note: there have been some changes afoot for the class that has been the reason for making all these notes in the first place. Because of that, the schedule for posting things may shift a bit in future weeks, more towards the first part of the week.
But this week, we’ve got the benefit of having met and talked (some) about these texts … and it seems to me that people don’t quite know what to do with this story in Genesis 38. People understand why it wouldn’t be in the lectionary, or a children’s Bible, for instance. But … then … what are we ourselves supposed to do with the fact that it’s in the Bible?
Aside from the fact that I love this story, for how it’s written and for its interesting characters, and for its plot twists, and for the way Tamar wins out by being smart, and for the little story about the twins, and the idea that you would name one of your children “Bright,” and for the reminder that God is on the side of the widows and orphans, there are a couple of big lessons for us about its inclusion in the canon.
Tell the truth. Choose life.
Images: “The Conversation,” Edgar Degas, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons; “Cappella di sant’aquilino, atrio, mosaici delle tribù di israele e apostoli,” (cropped), showing Judah and Tamar, Sailko, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons