Gen. 38-40 (onanism)

We have a mix of weirdness and dangerousness in today’s readings.  First, the weirdness.  Judah goes off and marries a woman from Canaan.  Boo!  Then his wicked oldest son dies.  Then he tells his next oldest son to sleep with her–as is his duty–so his oldest can effectively have a lineage.  That boy, Onan, repeatedly “pulls out” and the wife of his oldest Tamar doesn’t get pregnant.  God kills Onan.  Then Judah sends Tamar back home while he waits for the third boy to get old enough to impregnate her.  (Ick.)  However, Judah is out with his buddy one day and he picks up a prostitute, but turns out it is Tamar in disguise.  She finally get the Hebrew boy(s) she has always wanted.  They are twins, with a somewhat unusual birth story.

Okay.  So, from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, Gen. 19, people claim to find support for the alleged wickedness of being gay.  That’s stupid.  Sodom and Gomorrah no more stands for gayness being bad than it stands for “looking back” being bad, or sleeping with your father being good.  Similarly, the story of Onan has been used to say that masturbation is wicked.  Again, stupid.  The story no more stands for masturbation being stupid than it stands for the virtue of compelling your son to sleep with the widow of your oldest son.

The bulk of today’s reading also concerns me.  In Gen. 39-40 we get the story of Joseph constantly rising to the top.  God is with him.  He is smart.  Everywhere he goes he ends up in charge, whether as a slave in Potiphar’s house or in the jail where Potiphar throws him when Potiphar’s wife unfairly accuses Joseph of attempted rape.  This sort of Prosperity Theology  is rebutted by Job, for sure, but it remains in our zeitgeist.  

6 replies on “Gen. 38-40 (onanism)”

This kind of story reminds me soooooo much of Greek plays that I think there has to be some cultural connection here. I mean, impregnating a semi-family member through a misunderstanding almost has to be the plot of an existing Greek tragedy, doesn't it?

Definitely. Unavoidable comparison. However, do you think that is because both cultures are so distant from our own? It's an impossible question probably. But I image a 5th century BCE Hebrew who read Lolita and Harry Potter would find them to be very similar.

And, I would be zero surprised to read a play by Sophocles.

No reason they could not have, but if you are suggesting that the story's origin is Greek–and not just that it reminds of a Greek play–I don't think I'm on board.

Is there a Hellenistic tradition of taking your brother's widow as your wife? Were they particularly worried about racial purity? Remember, Judah's all into that intermarrying–"There Judah met the daughter of a Canaanite man named Shua. He married her and made love to her; she became pregnant and gave birth to a son"–almost as bad as Lot wanting to live in a city. I don't think they were super worried about the Greek promulgating the Greek race. I mean, the intrigue and sexual deviance are there, but the thrust of the story seems different to me.

The Hebrew stories are heavily influenced by Babylonian and Persian culture. And the ceremonies even more so. So, I'm not afraid to recognize cultural appropriation generally. However, wouldn't the exile period (c. 500 BCE) greatly predate the rise of Hellenistic culture? Not that it is dispositive, but I haven't read any biblical scholarship that identified any direct Greek influence over Hebrew scripture.

Of course, you can probably call Christianity Hellenized Judaism. But I don't think there was much overlap for the Hebrews.

I'm sure you're right, I didn't write any of that after a detailed study of Hellenic cultural spread through that region at that time. So that you have any knowledge means you trump me.

The other influences are clearer of course… isn't the Babylonian ziggurat's shape some call out to the global flood? Some memory is triggering that.

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