Tuesday, March 28Exploring The Black Presence In The Bible

Tamar: The Canaanite Mother of Judah’s Son Pharez


"My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge..." - Hosea 4:6

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The story of Tamar the Canaanite is brief, but important in the grand scheme of scripture. She first appears in the Bible after Judah moves to Canaan and takes the Canaanite Shuah to wife for himself (Genesis 38:2). Shuah bears Judah three half Canaanite sons:

  • Er
  • Onan
  • Shelah

After the birth of his third son Shelah, Judah chooses Tamar, a Canaanite woman, as the wife for his oldest son Er.

“And Judah took a wife for Er his firstborn, whose name was Tamar.” – Genesis 38:6

The Canaanites were descendants of Ham’s son Canaan. In Genesis 9 there are a series of events that lead to Noah placing a curse on Canaan. Because of the curse, Canaan heads East out of Africa, and settles in modern day Israel.

Tamar The Canaanite - Israel In The Bible

Because there were not yet any Israelite women, other than Dinah their sister, the sons of Jacob had to get wives elsewhere. They already lived in Canaan, so it makes sense that they would take Canaanite wives for themselves. From very early on in scripture, we see Shemites and Hamites beginning to mix.

The Death of Er

We aren’t told exactly what Er did to anger the Lord, but we are told that he was evil, and therefore the Lord slew him (Genesis 38:7).  After the death of Er, Onan is expected to have children with Tamar, according to tradition, but he pulls out and spills his seed, after having sex with her.

“And Judah said unto Onan, Go in unto thy brother’s wife, and marry her, and raise up seed to thy brother. And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the LORD: wherefore he slew him also.” – Genesis 38:8-10

The Brother’s Duty

In order to understand what was happening, you have to understand that it was customary for the widow to be impregnated by the brother of the deceased, in order to raise an heir.

“If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.” – Deuteronomy 25:5-6



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Broken Promises To Tamar

After the death of his second son, Judah tells Tamar to wait until his third son grows up, but he doesn’t keep his word.

“Then said Judah to Tamar his daughter in law, Remain a widow at thy father’s house, till Shelah my son be grown: for he said, Lest peradventure he die also, as his brethren did. And Tamar went and dwelt in her father’s house.” – Genesis 38:11

Judah reneged on his promise and left Tamar waiting for Shelah to get her pregnant.

Tamar Plays The Harlot

Because he hadn’t kept his word, Tamar dressed up like a prostitute in order to trick Judah into getting her pregnant.

“When Judah saw her, he thought her to be an harlot; because she had covered her face. And he turned unto her by the way, and said, Go to, I pray thee, let me come in unto thee; (for he knew not that she was his daughter in law.) And she said, What wilt thou give me, that thou mayest come in unto me? And he said, I will send thee a kid from the flock. And she said, Wilt thou give me a pledge, till thou send it? And he said, What pledge shall I give thee? And she said, Thy signet, and thy bracelets, and thy staff that is in thine hand. And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him.” – Genesis 38:15-18

In order to gain some context here, Tamar was told in advance that Judah was headed in that direction (Genesis 38:13). If we are honest about what was going on, she purposely put herself in his path in order to trick him into giving her the child she was owed according to the law. This tactic also seems to indicate that Judah was known to spend a goat for sex. This wasn’t coincidence or luck.

The Lineage of Christ

After this encounter, Tamar becomes pregnant with twins that she names Pharez and Zarah.

“And it came to pass, as he drew back his hand, that, behold, his brother came out: and she said, How hast thou broken forth? this breach be upon thee: therefore his name was called Pharez. And afterward came out his brother, that had the scarlet thread upon his hand: and his name was called Zarah.” – Genesis 38:29-30

The thread was tied around the arm to identify the oldest twin, but somehow Pharez managed to be born first, even though his brother’s arm came out first. It’s just one of many examples in the Bible, where the younger brother ends up being first and the older brother is last.

What Happened To Tamar?

After the birth of Pharez and Zerah, the Bible just forgets about Tamar, and we don’t see her mentioned again until the book of Ruth. We aren’t told whether or not her and Judah part way or if they remained in contact. What we can assume is that there was some kind of contact because the children had to be nursed, and we have the complete genealogy of Judah, traced through Pharez.

The Breakdown

It is in Ruth 4:18 that we find out it is Pharez through whom the Messiah would come. Tamar, being a Canaanite, means she was related to Ham by blood, and Ham was the father of the African nations. Because Tamar shared the same blood as Africans, it means that Pharez had African blood as well… and so did King David and King Solomon.




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2 Comments

  • Hi there,
    According to the Book of Jasher 45:23, Tamar was the daughter of Elam, the son of Shem. So, I think Tamar was not a Canaanite women. She is a Shemite.

    • Black History In The Bible

      Possible, but there are several versions of Jasher, and we can’t be 100% sure if it’s Biblically accurate. Given the area, she was very likely a Canaanite because of the area and the point at which she enters the story. Judah chooses Canaanite women for himself and his son.

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