Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home
Orville Jenkins Book Reviews Menu


Cultural Dynamics and Moral Responsibility in Ancient Canaan
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
A review of the book by Francine Rivers
Unveiled (Wheaton, Illinois:  Tyndale House, 2000.  173p.)

See my book reviews on Amazon.com
See menu of all book reviews on this site

This is a fictionalized story of Tamar, a daughter-in-law of Judah, and their sordid situation.  This Hebrew patriarch comes off looking very bad in the Biblical story.  Tamar is a victim who wins the day and gains restitution through questionable means, at least to our society.  While this is not presented as history, it is a good representation of the very different cultural setting of the times the original Hebrew story represents.

Biblically, in fact, the whole point is not "history" in the modern sense of that technical word, but morality, deeply defined within the Semitic cultures of the day.  The cultural contours and moral interaction are paramount in the Hebrew story.

Additionally, the moral focus and concern are totally different from what immediately and superficially strikes a modern western reader.  It was a different time, a different culture, with strikingly different values and concerns.  The rich cultural context comes through faithfully, as we would expect, in this beautifully-crafted story from Francine Rivers.

Judah is portrayed as either indulging himself with a common prostitute or engaging in ritual prostitution worship of the traditional god of the land.  The Bible uses two different words to leave the intention and culpability unclear!  Either way, he is not the shining father of the Judan tribe of the Hebrews we like to remember him as.  Here Rivers is faithful to the scriptural portrayal.

This story is one of the many in the biblical collection that indicates how carefully and faithfully the old stories were preserved and transmitted, even if they made the "good guys" look bad!  The point of this story is apparently the matter of honour and integrity.  Rivers masterfully brings out the interpersonal and communal dynamics of this vibrant story.

Judah failed to fulfill his legal obligations, exploiting Tamar.  She is the heroine here because she brings his failure to light and the community calls him to account.  He is not directly faulted for having sex with a ritual prostitute, even though this is associated with the Baal agricultural cult of Canaan where they lived.  This is usually all a modern reader sees there.

In the biblical story he is faulted because he deprived his daughter-in-law of her legal and traditional rights and because he failed to fulfill the expectations of a patriarch in Semitic culture.  He had to be shamed into his proper patriarchal duty.  He draws further guilt upon himself by his hypocrisy in blaming Tamar for becoming pregnant outside of wedlock, which occurred only because he would not provide another son, as required by custom (and later Levitical law).

In traditional Semitic culture, she had no other options.  But when the matter becomes public, the spotlight falls clearly upon Judah, who relents and confesses his fault.  The character and dynamics of this interaction in its cultural context are brought out in Rivers' readable story.

See related reviews and articles on this site:
[review] A Unique Cultural Approach to Sin (The Last Sin Eater)

See this book on Amazon.com.
See my book reviews on Amazon.com
See menu of all book reviews on this site
See my reading lists
Many other books have review notes with the reading list entry


First reading notes written 19 August 2006
Further developed and posted on OJTR 19 February 2009
Posted on Amazon 2 May 2009

Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2009 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use.  Other rights reserved.

Email:  orville@jenkins.nu
Orville Jenkins Articles Menu
Orville Jenkins Home
Orville Jenkins Book Reviews Menu

filename:  riverstamar.html