The Pledge (29)

Happy Saturday. Below is the next installment of The Pledge. If you’re just joining us, you can click here to read from the beginning. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

2.

Tamar doesn’t even pretend to listen. After hearing Judah say Shelah was still too young, she knows what will follow: she would go back to her father’s house. She would wear her widow’s garments yet again. Part of her is relieved, not to have to wed again so soon, but this means she will have to endure the looks and snide remarks of the women at the well and the town square until Shelah is old enough to take her.

Punishment for killing her husbands.

But perhaps it would be worth it this time. Shelah was still young, still soft. Everything she imagined Er once was. The union might be forced, but it could still be a happy one. Naively perhaps, but she still wanted that happy life she once envisioned as a younger woman. A husband to serve. Children to fill her bosom. That’s it.

A husband to serve and children to fill her bosom, Tamar reminds herself as her brother pulls up in a wagon. He has an annoyed expression on his face and she knows her father had sent him to get her – probably to avoid the shame of picking up his cursed daughter.

He stops in front of her.

“Killed another one, did you?” His tone is heavy with sarcasm. But he doesn’t look at her. No one does any more.

Tamar doesn’t respond. What could she say if even her brother, her family didn’t side with her?

“Well, come on with you,” he tells her as he steps down to load up her belongings. They weren’t much, but she still needed his help. “Let’s get this done before the hens come out to peck.”

Instinctively, Tamar looked about. The mourners were gone and none of Alit’s gossipping friends were about. But they would be soon, she supposed. Who could pass this moment up, to be the one to say the saw the witch go home?

Tamar rises, before her brother has to speak to her again and throws her bundle in the wagon. She accepts his hand as he helps her up and sits stoically waiting for him to join her.

Well, not really stoically. She looks into the doorway of the house she shared with Er and Onan. Five, six years and not even one member of the family was there to bid her goodbye. Tamar can’t stop the tear as it escapes. Ashamed of herself for showing that kind of weakness, that kind of emotion, though, she quickly wipes it away and reminds herself it will be just a few years before she gets a husband to serve and children to fill her bosom.

The Pledge (28)

Greetings. We’re over halfway through the tale and nearing completion of it. To read the story from the beginning, you can click here. And as always, thanks for stopping by my blog. 

* * *

Part IV

 1.

As with Er, Judah and his family are called to Onan’s house. The thought that they were bereft of another son was an incredible one, but true nonetheless. He is first to arrive, first to view his dead son, sprawled out awkwardly on the floor. Already upset, Alit follows, screaming and crying for her son, accusing Judah of bringing ‘that’ witch Tamar into their home. From there, the situation seemed to escalate, with servants, friends and mourners joining them for an early bereavement. And Judah, numb and uncertain of the emotions in him, is reminded then of the vow he made when he promised to marry Alit – he would take care of her and their child.

“This is all your fault,” Alit exclaims, beating her fists on his chest. Even in her submission to him, Alit retained the independence she knew as Shua’s daughter. Usually this was not a problem, but today was not the day for her to show out.

“Lower your voice,” Judah admonishes her, as he takes hold of her wrists. She only pulls away from him in anger.

“I will not lower my voice as long as that witch is in the house,” Alit yells.

With a sigh, Judah responds, “Alit, listen to yourself. You’re being unreasonable.”

“I am not. She couldn’t keep Er home, so she went after Onan and now he is dead too. Are we supposed to give her Shelah to kill as well? No. I will not have her taking my baby from me. He is my gift from the gods, all I have left. I will not allow her to take him too.”

Exhaustion suddenly fills Judah and he yearns for the peace and distance of the fields.

“You know it’s more than tradition…law dictates Tamar go to Shelah. Would you have Er’s  and Onan’s names struck from the record? We have no choice.”

“No!” Alit pulls the grieving boy to her and throws her arms over him. “No!” Alit repeats. “Will you rob me of him too? You weren’t there when he was born, you didn’t care. I raised him, I raised his brothers and my reward is this witch who kills them. What of your promise now, Judah ben Jacob? What of your pledge? They are dead and you don’t care. After everything I did for them, for you. Where is your promise?”

Judah looks down to the boy. His eyes are red with tears and his face beset with worry. He had been close to Er and affected deeply by his death; but to lose a second brother, was beyond devastation and the boy, only thirteen years of age, had not said a word to anyone in the time since he had arrived at the house.

As a father, Judah had failed. Not just because this was his last son, his only heir, but because he was never there – for Er, Onan or Shelah. And now, the law dictated Shelah take Tamar as his wife, just as Er and Onan did.

He turns to Tamar, sitting quietly on the bench. She hadn’t moved in all the time they had been there and if it wasn’t for the batting of her eyelids, he would have thought her catatonic.

She’s changed, he considers. She was young, vibrant, filled with spirit and energy when she came into the household. There was a twinkle in her eye when she looked at Er and spoke of him. Now, it was all gone – her spark, her youth, her spirit – all because of his sons. Still that didn’t change the fact that she was twice a widow in the same family. Maybe she wasn’t a witch, but she was cursed. And if he gave Shelah to her now, the boy would end up dead and then he would be next.

Judah turns back to his wife and son and gently pushes his son away, back to the chair Alit had pulled him out of.

“I will send her back to her father’s house,” Judah whispers. “I will tell Chiyrah that Shelah is too young.”

Alit opens her mouth to object, but Judah cuts her off.

“She will not marry him,” he tells her firmly.

Satisfied, Alit says no more.

The Pledge (25)

It’s easy to say…

Genesis 38:9’But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. 

…but when you start looking at the reality Tamar faced, it’s a grim one – to read, to write and to accept. My depiction below is a fictionalized one of the above verse, containing in it a rape scene, but how much truth does it contain? Can you look at the character the same again when you read her story in the Bible?

Click here to read the story from the beginning. 

4.

Tamar kneads the dough, happy for a quiet moment. With Ofra at the market and Onan working, Tamar can concentrate on her responsibilities without worry for anyone else. It was the humor of the gods that the husband who did not want her was the one who remained faithful to her, spending his nights in bed with her – but not for her. Certainly, every time he bedded her, he spilled his seed on the floor, refusing to fill her with it. And his attitude remained the same; he ordered her about and spoke down to her, treating her no better than Ofra.

Ofra doesn’t have to sleep with him though, she considers as she punches the dough down, imagining for a moment that it’s Onan. The thought gives her momentary pleasure and she lets her thoughts wander in the silence of the moment.

The door opens behind her. Expecting Ofra to be back with the food she sent her for, Tamar asks, “Did you find what I asked for?” She doesn’t look up, but continues working. Ofra had been with her now for over three years and though she was still young, she was dependable.

“Hardly,” comes the response, but not from Ofra. It’s Onan.

Tamar’s heart stops. She drops the dough and turns around.

“Onan!” she says with surprise in her voice. “Why are you home?”

“Is that anyway to greet your husband?” he asks, walking over to her. She takes a couple steps back as he approaches her. She bumps into the worktable and stops.

“Onan, I… I thought you were with your father working.”

He stops a step shy of the table and looks down at her.

“I came home to see you,” he says, raising a hand to touch her face.

“But…I have work to do,” she argues, pushing back away from him. The thought of him touching her has her reeling and ready to lose her composure.

“You would deny me?”

“No, I…,” she begins, her thoughts in disarray. This was supposed to be her time: when she wasn’t being used by him, when she could pray to her gods and when she could convince herself that her life wasn’t a complete loss.  “Ofra…Ofra will return shortly. What will she say if she sees us?”

Onan offers her a smirk.

“That the master of the house is fulfilling his responsibility?”

A tear escapes and Tamar can’t help but respond.

“Then why do you waste your seed every time?”

Her voice is barely audible; and truthfully, she meant to say nothing. But like her tears, she was tired of being captive to her situation.

“What did you say?” Onan’s tone is threatening now, his demeanor changed from the playfulness he exhibited earlier.

Tamar looks back at him. His face is growing red and he is angry.

“Onan, I didn’t mean…”

But she doesn’t get a chance to finish. In the next moment she is on the floor, never having seen the punch that felled her. The pain in her face, her jaw is terrible and her vision so blurred she doesn’t see Onan grab her around the waist. She screams as he turns her over and takes hold of her neck, pinning her down.

“I’ll teach you to disrespect your husband,” he says, pulling her dress up to her waist with his free hand. Tamar cries and tries to fight him, but it’s useless; she is powerless against him.

 * * *

How long she had been on the floor, Tamar doesn’t know. Onan had had his way with her, hitting her once more before leaving her dazed and confused where he had taken her. It was only when Ofra returned home that Tamar dared to move. Her whimper is joined in by Ofra’s cry.

“Oh, Mistress,” she whispers, dropping her basket and rushing over to her. “What happened?”

Slowly, Tamar rises to a sitting position, pulling her dress down to her ankles, her body hurting everywhere. Her mouth is dry and she tastes blood.

“Onan…,” she manages to say.

Ofra says nothing, but grabs a wet rag and tries to wipe her face. Tamar cringes and backs up from her. Ofra is persistent, though, her touch gentle. She wipes up the blood with tender strokes, handling her mistress with more care than she had been shown.

“I should have been here,” Ofra laments with tears in her eyes.

Tamar shakes her head.

“No, there was nothing you could’ve done. He would’ve hurt you too.”

Ofra stops helping her for a moment.

“You will have a bruise,” she says solemnly.

Tamar nods her head, understandingly. It wasn’t appearances Ofra was alluding to, but the fact that she would have to eventually go see her in-laws. Would they understand? Would they chastise their eldest son and heir? She knew the answer to that; and worse yet, she knew Onan would find his way home that day, sober or drunk, to abuse her yet again. And neither she nor Ofra could do anything about it.

The Pledge (24)

Tonight’s post is more risque than the others, but that is the essence of Judah and Tamar’s story. No, not the essence, but the details, for the true substance of the tale is accountability and redemption. If you want to read the story from the beginning, you can click here. Otherwise, enjoy and thanks for stopping by my blog. 

* * *

Unlike Onan, Tamar argues not when Judah tells her she was being given to her brother-in-law. It was her duty, after all, and a tradition amongst her peoples. And because Er had died without children, it was especially important now that she make certain his name not be forgotten. She was well-aware Onan didn’t want to take her as his wife – he had mentioned that several times in her hearing – but neither of them had a choice. And so, before the time of grieving is complete, Tamar prepares to become Onan’s wife.

The celebration will not be as big and as lavish as it was when she married Er, but given the circumstances, this was hardly expected. In fact, it should have been a quiet affair, responsibility of her welfare passing from one brother to another, but again, this was the son of Judah, his heir now, and Onan would have nothing less than that.

On the day of her wedding, Tamar avoids the family, choosing only the company of Ofra. Like before, Alit’s words are few to her, but now they are accompanied with a look of scorn, leading Tamar to believe the woman blamed her for Er’s death. This was more than Tamar could handle. Unfortunately, she can’t hide from them forever, and as Ofra helps her adjust her beaded headdress, Tamar is reminded once again how different her life had turned out. The gods had taken Er, but they were giving her Onan. Maybe this time, she would get a child and find purpose for her life.

The ceremony begins, but Tamar hears not a word, nervously considering what would follow: she would join Onan in their bedchamber and they would have sex. She was by no means a virgin, but she was hesitant at the thought of being with Onan. And as the blessings of Ba’al Mot are read, Tamar can’t even look at Onan. He takes her hand, as his friends and guests begin celebrating, and leads her out of the courtyard to the bed they will share as husband and wife. Ofra has decorated the room with flowers, giving it a fresh feel; still, Tamar is reminded of Er. The marriage was wrong, but it was required, and more than that, it was too late.

Onan doesn’t kiss her, but looks down at her. She turns away, disgusted with what she sees in his eyes, scared by how he looks at her, like a predator his prey. Tamar reminds herself that she shouldn’t feel like so, that this man was her brother-in-law for the time she was married to Er. And it wasn’t as if Er had treated her as special. But as he begins to remove her gown she notes there is something in the way he touches her. His touch is cold, mechanical, lecherous. She understands Onan is only there because of his father, but she never expected it to feel like this. Even for the few times she was with Er, it never felt like this.

He directs her to the bed and climbs on top of her. Tamar shuts her eyes and cringes as he claims her as his. She is hardly a participant, wanting only for the moment to finish. But to her surprise, when the time comes for Onan to spill his seed inside her, he pulls out and lets the seed fall to the ground. With a smirk on his face, Onan gets up off of her and off their marriage bed. Tamar watches him in horror as he puts his robe back on and exits the room, his business with her apparently done.

Still shocked, Tamar sits up and looks down to the ground where his seed fell; it is no more than a spoonful, but enough to make the whole ordeal worthwhile – had he given it to her. Now it was wasted and she was left with nothing.

Tamar crawls back onto the blankets, feeling dirty, exposed. She lets one tear fall, then another, then another.

The Pledge (13)

Greetings and Happy Easter. I’ve had the last few days off and have been enjoying them a little too much and not getting any writing done [frown]. Still the story continues, little by little, but with the release of the book coming in a few months, the posts will become more consistent. You can click here to read the story from the beginning. Thanks for stopping by my blog.

* * *

With uneasiness in her stomach, Tamar follows her husband, Er, into their wedding chamber. They are about to consummate their marriage, while their families continue feasting. She is no stranger to the act, having given herself in the name of Ba’al Mot, but this time, it’s out of love – for her at least. Tamar knew Er had agreed to the union because of his father, but there was an attraction there they couldn’t deny and eventually he would love her. Of this she was certain.

Er pulls her into their room and without waiting to shut the door, takes Tamar in his arms and kisses her. All thoughts are lost to one – being with Er. She lets him lead her to the bed, his lips still on hers, his whiskers rubbing against her face. Once there, Er carefully eases her down onto the bed. She is ready to object, until Er starts disrobing; then she just watches with fascination. He is handsome, more so than any other man she had seen; and as he stares down at her, a hungry look in his eyes, she wonders if she will be enough for him.

 

The festivities continue for a week. There is an abundance of food, of dancing and of revelry. Beer and strong drink flow freely as the people celebrate. Er is drunk for most of the week but he manages to dote on Tamar, making her feel special. She gushes at the attention, proud to be one of them now, proud to belong to the house of Judah.

The week ends too soon, though, and Er must return to work. While he is managing his father’s trading, Tamar sets her mind to serving Er as any good wife would. Her house is one of two on Judah’s estate; a modest abode, with a second floor, a courtyard and a servant. Yes, a servant. This was a new experience for Tamar and as she takes everything in that first day, Tamar realizes how much her life has changed with her marriage to Er. It was going to be a good life, a life of ease and she liked that.

Full of Grace (33)

As promised, I was able to complete the next part of Full of Grace. Despite my schedule, I hope to get a couple more posts this weekend. Look for those and thanks again for stopping by. 

* * *

21 Elul

“Are you going to eat?”

Joseph snaps out of his thoughts and looks at the bowl in front of him – barley soup. It was his favorite, yet tonight, he had no stomach for it.

“I’m not very hungry,” he admits to his mother.

“How can you not be hungry? You worked all day at the shop,” Miriam exclaims. She stands over him, her tone biting. Joseph feels like a boy again, instead of like the man of the house. “It’s that girl, isn’t it? I told you courting her was a mistake. She…”

“No, Imma,” he interrupts, mostly out of habit, though he isn’t ready to confess his lack of appetite is about ‘that girl’. “It was a long day. I appreciate the meal, but I think I will just turn in.”

He rises, hoping she will let the subject drop, but she doesn’t.

“I worry about you,” Miriam says, the edge gone from her voice. “You work too hard. And with Mary leaving and returning and the rumors I hear – is she really a wise choice for a wife?”

He had argued this point with her many times before, always defending Mary. And it wasn’t that Miriam had anything against Mary specifically – no one was good enough for Joseph – but now with eveything that happened, it seemed her concerns had been valid all along. Mary had betrayed him, then lied about it. He was under no obligation to marry her, much less defend her.

“Joseph?”

He leans down and kisses his mother on the cheek.

“You don’t have to worry about that anymore. There won’t be a wedding,” he says and leaves Miriam at the table. She calls him back, demanding clarification, but he simply heads up the stairs and closes the door to his room so he cannot hear her. With a long, hard sigh, he lies down on the bed and stares up at the ceiling.

There would be no wedding – he finally understands that. But there was still Mary: what was he to do about her? Bring her before the priest on charges of adultery? Certainly it was in his right, but it would be a death sentence for her. As soon as the verdict was read, she would be taken out to a field and he would be given the first stone…the first stone, as the offended party. But as offended as he was, there was no way he could lobby a rock at her to strike her, hurt her, kill her. He had grown to love her, desire her, want to protect her. Regardless of what she had done, he could not and would not do that to her. He would just have to give her a writ of divorce, annul the engagement and let her go away quietly somewhere to have her bastard child.

The words pain him, even as he thinks them. But it could be no other way. If he couldn’t trust Mary now, how was he to do so if they wed? No, he would speak to a priest in the morning and let Mary go her way.

Joseph is glad for the decision. The matter had been weighing heavy on him for days, but now that it was settled, he could rest. He closes his eyes and waits for sleep to take him, all the while, ignoring the nagging voice calling his name in the darkness of the room.