As I was writing Part 27 to The Pledge, I noticed something that changes part of the story. Just after Judah’s friend Hirah (who is the ultimate example of an enabler and the worst friend ever, btw) advises him that he couldn’t find the prostitute Judah slept with, the Hebrew patriarch tells him:
“Let her keep the items for herself; otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.” Gen 38:23
I went back to the original text to get a feel for the conversation, but something jumped out that I didn’t notice before: Judah was worried about becoming a laughingstock in his adopted nation. He was afraid of becoming
I’d always read that passage to mean that he was a man who paid his debts, who, even though the items (staff, cord and seal, all representative of his identity) were important, he knew they were useless to her. But I think the implications are deeper here: here is a man, who grew up worshiping the one, nameless god of the Hebrews, but was now living in the land of the enemy, who worshipped their gods through sex. Perhaps he held himself above them and made it known. But that would be a problem if he had ‘sunk to their level’ and became an addict of the very thing he condemned. And you could argue that we don’t know that for sure, but the writer of Genesis gives us convincing evidence that he did:
He went over to [the prostitute] and said, “Come, let me sleep with you,”… She said, “What will you give me for sleeping with me?” “I will send you a young goat from my flock,” he replied. But she said, “Only if you leave something with me until you send it.” “What should I give you?” he asked. She answered, “Your signet ring, your cord, and the staff in your hand.” So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she got pregnant by him. Gen 38:15-18
Unless you’ve done it before, you don’t look at a prostitute on the side of the road and think, today is a good day to visit one. And going by the ease with which he did it, I would argue that Judah was quite adept at negotiating terms with a prostitute, making this a recurring issue he probably preferred to keep on the DL. Plus, if you go back to earlier verses, you find that the ‘prostitute’ (his widowed daughter-in-law, which brings up more issues that even Sigmund Freud would raise an eyebrow at) knew Judah would stop when he saw her. Hmm…
I think the man had done it so often, visiting prostitutes was second-nature to him. BUT he held himself above his countrymen and was vocal about it (making him a hypocrite), so that when this one ‘prostitute’ went missing with what was in essence his wallet, he was worried about a scandal ensuing.
And a scandal would follow, but it was much worse than Judah feared. Stay tuned. For the time being, I have amended the current post, and will go back and change the story to fit this new development.
And people say the Bible is boring…