“So she took off her widow’s clothes, completely covered her face with her veil, and sat at the entrance to ‘Einayim, which is on the way to Timnah. For she saw that Shelah had grown up, but she still was not being given to him as his wife.”-Genesis 38:14
What’s Judah to do?
He now has two dead sons on his hands.
And considering how things have gone so far, in his mind giving his third son Shelah to Tamar would be equivalent to sending him to the gallows.
So for understandable reasons, Judah keeps putting off what he knows he has to do.
Tamar, realizing this, just can’t take it anymore and decides to take matters into her own hands.
She disguises herself as a prostitute and strategically sets up shop in an area known as Einayim.
Her plan works like a charm.
When Judah sees her, he pays to sleep with her, and Tamar becomes pregnant.
So through her shrewdness, Tamar was able to fulfill the all-important task of carrying on the blood line of her dead husband’s family.
Now this story raises all kinds of questions about the practice of prostitution as it existed in those times.
The first thing you need to know is that the Bible makes a distinction between “cultic prostitution” and “common prostitution“.
“Cultic Prostitution” is performing a sexual act at a pagan shrine or temple in the worship of another god.
While both types of prostitution are frowned on in the Bible, it is “cultic prostitution” that is condemned as a high-handed idolatrous act against the living God.
This isn’t so clear in our English translations as the totally misleading words “sexual immorality” or “fornication” are usually used instead.
The Hebrew term for a “cultic prostitute” wold be “KEDESHAH“-קְּדֵשָׁה
The Hebrew term for a “common prostitute” would be “ZONAH“-זוֹנָה
For example, the two prostitutes who presented themselves to King Solomon regarding who rightfully owned the baby in question were “ZONAH”.
However, I need to let you know that in Genesis chapter 38, Tamar is called BOTH a “KEDESHAH” and a “ZONAH“.
“When Judah saw her, he thought she was a ZONAH, because she had covered her face.”
“Adulami asked the people near where she had been, ‘Where is the KEDESHAH who was on the road at ‘Einayim?” But they answered, “There hasn’t been any KEDESHAH here.'”
In addition, I also need to let you know that when God accuses the Israelites of “whoring” after other gods, a verb form of the word ZONAH is used.
Now you may be thinking, since the two Hebrew words used for prostitute in the Bible are being used interchangeably in the same situation, where the heck is this distinction between “common” and “cultic” you’re talking about?
My answer: Context will let us know whether we are dealing with cultic harlotry or not.
In Tamar’s case, I would say it was neither because she was just pretending to be a prostitute.
Actually, common (non-cultic) prostitution was quite rampant within the borders of ancient Israel and even Yeshua spoke about it.
Now just in case some of you may think I’m implying that common prostitution is all fine and dandy via the emphasis on this distinction, rest assured I’m not.
Here is what King Solomon in all his godly wisdom had to say about keeping intimate company with common prostitutes.
“For a whore is a deep ditch; and a strange woman is a narrow pit.”
“Whoso loveth wisdom rejoiceth his father:
but he that keepeth company with harlots spendeth his substance.”
So God definitely frowns on common prostitution.
It’s NOT a good thing and to be avoided.
But, and this is a very big but and I’m so afraid I’m that what I’m about to say is going to infuriate and/or alienate anybody who is reading this.
In answer to the question of whether or not common prostitution is technically a “sin”, I believe the answer is NO.
Keep in mind, when I say “sin” I am referring to the precise Torah definition of SIN, which is an act requiring a blood sacrifice or blood to be shed, not some general subjective notion of what is good and bad or right and wrong.
We really have a tendency to play fast and loose with our definition of sin, flippantly labeling or condemning any action we personally find unappealing or disgusting to be a “sin”, which God has neither called a sin nor condemned.
Note that King Solomon never did sentence the two common prostitutes to death for being prostitutes.
Now for those of you who are about to stone me to death with verses like Deuteronomy 23:17-18, 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 or Proverbs 6:23-29 etcetera, consider that most misunderstanding in this area is due to the following five factors.
1) Confusing “adultery” with “common prostitution“.
2) Not realizing that the word “fornication” in most cases (like 99.9% of the time) in the Bible refers to “cultic harlotry“.
3) Not making the proper distinction between “cultic prostitution” and “common prostitution“. (For instance, in 1 Corinthians 6:15-20, Paul is specifically referring to cultic prostitution. We know this because he is using the phrase ‘the temple of the living God’.)
4) Playing fast and loose with the definition of the term “sexual immorality“. “Sexual immorality” ONLY refers to the laws God has outlined in Leviticus 18:7-23.
5) Applying what should only be applied to priest’s daughters to the general population. Leviticus 21:9 would not be a valid argument against common prostitution.
One final point: the reason Judah demanded that Tamar be burned was NOT because of prostitution but adultery (Deuteronomy 22:23-24), since she was still in a state of betrothal to Judah’s family.
CONNECTING THIS TEACHING TO THE NEW TESTAMENT
“I tell you that the tax-collectors and prostitutes are going into
the Kingdom of God ahead of you!
For John the Baptist came to you showing the path to righteousness,
and you wouldn’t trust him.
The tax-collectors and prostitutes trusted him;
but you, even after you saw this, didn’t change your minds later and trust him.”
I am aware that it is generally assumed (especially in fundamentalist organizations) that the “prostitutes” mentioned above have quit being harlots. I’d like to believe so but I’m not so sure. Things back then were different and I don’t think it was so easy for a prostitute to change professions.