2. The story of Onan, Tamar and Judah
Genesis chapter 38 relates the story of Onan, whose reluctance to obey the commands Judah, his father, led to activity which gave the English language the word onanism. Onan’s brother Er died (God slew him for wickedness) without first impregnating his wife Tamar, and thus had no heir. In accordance with tradition, Onan was told to “Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother”. Onan was aware that delivering an heir to his brother’s widow would have financial repercussions that would affect his own inheritance and refused to follow his father’s edict, though he created an appearance of doing so.
Onan went in to Tamar many times, according to Genesis, but rather than consummating their relationship in the manner dictated by his father (and later included in Mosaic Law) he instead ensured “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”. Later, in the same chapter, Tamar disguised herself as a harlot and went to Judah, receiving the payment of signets and the gift of pregnancy from her father-in-law. Judah eventually learned of the deception and ordered her to be burned as a harlot, before relenting when he learned that she was pregnant with his child, which turned out to be twins.