Religion & Beliefs

Sometimes It Pays To Dress Like A Slut

This week we read the story of my namesake, the Biblical Tamar.  I encourage you to read the story for yourself, it’s chapter 38 of Genesis, but the gist of it is that Tamar is cheated out of a marriage … Read More

By / November 30, 2007
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This week we read the story of my namesake, the Biblical Tamar.  I encourage you to read the story for yourself, it’s chapter 38 of Genesis, but the gist of it is that Tamar is cheated out of a marriage by her father-in-law, Judah, after she has been widowed by two of his sons. When she figures out that she’s persona non grata in Judah’s family, she takes matters into her own hands, dresses up like a hooker and waits around in a place where she knows her newly single father-in-law will be passing by. He picks her up without recognizing her, and hires her, but doesn’t have any sheep to pay her with, so he gives her some identifying materials as an IOU, and promises to send someone to pay her later. Months later, when he hears that his long widowed daughter-in-law is pregnant he condemns Tamar to death by burning. Just before she is to be burnt she sends Judah the identifying materials he had given her as payment and explains that they belong to the man that impregnated her. Duly chastened, Judah cancels her execution, and she gives birth to twins, who we later learn are ancestors of King David. It’s a bizarre and illicit story, and I love it both because of its oddities and because I think Tamar is awesome—strong and feisty, but also committed to the standards of her community, and to the family she has joined. The sexual aspects of the story are fascinating because they’re presented so matter-of-factly. Tamar’s second husband practices coitus interruptus in order not to impregnate her. Tamar dresses like a harlot in order to seduce her father-in-law. Judah solicits a prostitute. These are all things that one would imagine should be kept private, not immortalized in a Divine work, right? I mean, what’s the good moral lesson here? Why should all this bad behavior be canonized when it could just as easily have been left out or glossed over in the narrative? The wikipedia page on Tamar does a nice job of presenting a lot of the various theories that critics and commentators have come up with, and I think many of them are very convincing, and likely quite accurate. But I have my own interpretation. Sexual impropriety can certainly cause all kinds of problems. Making poor relationship choices is the kind of thing that’s very likely to kick you in the ass somewhere down the road. Making bad choices about who you sleep with, and why, could have serious ramifications on the rest of your life. But these poor choices can also teach you important lessons that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. And perhaps most importantly, a person who sleeps around, or is otherwise promiscuous, may be completely competent in other areas. Judah, though obviously not the king of healthy and trusting relationships, is a good leader and an example for his brothers. King David, another guy with questionable sexual habits, is generally considered to one of the wisest men in Jewish history. His son, King Solomon, also considered a pretty smart cookie, is known for having hundreds of wives, and hundreds of concubines, and though the rabbis aren’t happy about that choice, they are pretty happy about the Temple he built, which he was able to do despite what one imagines was a fairly significant sexual distraction. Today, especially in America, we have this sadly puritanical view of sex and sex scandals. We are appalled that our political leaders are at all sexually deviant, and we demand to know the details, to have them splashed on the front page of newspapers, and discussed ad nauseum on talk shows and blogs of every kind. I’ll be the first to say that I think much of the behavior we hear about is reprehensible, but it simply doesn’t concern me if Larry Craig wants to have sex in a bathroom stall with another man, or if Bill Clinton wants a blowjob. What I care about is health care, and human rights, and education. And if Craig can get it on in a public bathroom and then come out and balance the budget, then I support him (sadly, balancing a budget seems to be far beyond Sen. Craig’s capabilities, but go with me, just for the sake of argument). And if Clinton can get a blowjob and then negotiate the end to terrorism in Northern Ireland, then I say get the man a few more girls like Monica and send him off to Jerusalem. At the end of the day, I don’t care what happens in anyone else’s bedroom as long as it’s consensual, and no one ends up hurt. And what’s more, I think that learning from the mistakes we make with our lovers is an important part of figuring out how to be good people. I love that the Bible includes stories of people fucking up, and then fixing whatever it is that they’ve done wrong. I wish American politics could take a page from that book.