Let Her Speak for Herself: Nineteenth-Century Women Writing on the Women of Genesis

By Marion Ann Taylor; Heather E. Weir | Go to book overview

§88 Sarah Hale
(1788–1879)

Sarah Hale's45 brief biographical entry on Tamar suggests that she, like Cornwallis, is uncomfortable writing about this story. She emphasized the differences between cultures: "this history displays the gross manners of those old times, and how false are all representations of the purity of pastoral life." She showed little sympathy for Tamar.

From Sarah Hale, Woman's Record; or, Sketches of all Distinguished Women,
from the Creation to A.D. 1854
(New York: Harper & Brothers, 1855).


–Tamar–

Was daughter-in-law to the patriarch Judah, wife of Er and Onan. After Onan's death, Tamar lived with her father-in-law, expecting to marry his son Shelah, as had been promised her, and was the custom of the time. But the marriage not having taken place, some years after, when Judah went to a sheep-shearing feast, Tamar disguised herself as a harlot and sat in a place where Judah would pass—and this old man yielded at once to the temptation. When it was told Judah that his daughter-in-law had been guilty, he immediately condemned her to be brought forth and burned alive; never remembering his own sin. But when he found that he was the father of the child she would soon bear, his conscience was awakened, and he made that remarkable admission that "she was more just than he had been."

44 Cornwallis writes, "If there are expressions which may offend persons of fastidious nicety,
they ought to recollect that, at the time the translation was published, they were used in the
most polite circles, and were consequently deemed decorous. Custom determines opinion on
this score; but there is a purity, a chastity, and a sobriety of thought, dependent on no custom;
and this the Bible, under the present translation, possesses" (Observations, xv).

45 For a biography of Sarah Hale, see part 5, "Leah and Rachel—Founders of the House
of Israel."

This history displays the gross manners of those old times, and how false are all representations of the purity of pastoral life. Tamar had twins, sons— and from one of these, Pharez, the line of Judah is descended. These events occurred B.C. 1727.


–Potiphar's Wife–

Potiphar, an official of the Egyptian pharaoh, purchased Joseph (Rachel and Jacob's son) from the Ishmaelites,46 who had bought Joseph from his brothers (Genesis 37:28, 36). With God's help, Joseph prospered in Potiphar's house and Potiphar placed Joseph in charge of his household. Potiphar's wife tried to seduce the well-built and handsome Joseph; but Joseph refused her advances. Potiphar's wife did not give up; one day when they were alone in the house, she caught him by his cloak and said, "Come to bed with me!" Joseph ran out of the house and Potiphar's wife falsely charged him with rape. Joseph was imprisoned (Gen. 39).

-435-

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