Bible Commentaries
Genesis 38

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary

Verses 1-30

Genesis 38. Judah and Tamar.— The source is J, but not the same stratum as that to which the Joseph story belongs. There is not room for the events either before or after the events of Genesis 37, nor does the Joseph narrative suggest that Judah left his brothers and lived the independent life here described. The chronology is quite inconsistent with the view that Genesis is a unity. Judah was roughly about twenty when Joseph, at the age at least of seventeen ( Genesis 37:2), went into Egypt. The interval between that event and the journey of Jacob into Egypt was not more than twenty-two years. Within that period the whole of the events of this chapter have been crowded; moreover, Perez has two sons by its close ( Genesis 46:12). To a certain extent the chapter contains tribal history. Judah at first consisted of the clans of Er, Onan, and Shelah, half-Hebrew, half-Canaanite. The two former largely died out; later, by a further fusion with Canaanites, the clans of Perez and Zerah arose. It is probably true that Judah had a large Canaanite element, and certainly till the time of David its ties with Israel were very loose. Tamar, however, is hardly the name of a clan. She is the clan-mother, whose desperate device for securing posterity for her first husband would be celebrated by her descendants whose existence it made possible, as the even more drastic measures of Lot’ s daughters were celebrated by Moab and Ammon ( Genesis 19:30-38 *). To us the whole story is extremely repulsive, but it is a mistake to impute our standards to the early Hebrews. It is surprising that Tamar lays the trap for Judah rather than Shelah, to whom she had a right. Partly it would be to bring home to Judah his fault in withholding Shelah from her ( Genesis 38:26), partly to secure sons from the tribal fountain head. Judah was naturally chary of risking his last son with a woman who, as he would think, had proved fatal to his two brothers ( cf. Sarah and her seven husbands in Tobit iii. 8). On the levirate marriage, see p. 109. The offspring of such a marriage was reckoned to the dead man, hence Onan’ s evasion of his duty.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Genesis 38". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.