Saturday, June 23, 2012

Onan the Barbarian

I don't want to beat this to death.

I only want to have one more go at it before I withdraw from it completely.

I have so many thoughts on this Biblical episode. They are just spilling out.

I am going to try to gather the spunk to make one final thrust at this story. I feel God would want me to go to work on it just one more time, to plant the seed of clarity, if you will.

To begin with, Onan the Barbarian came from good stock. Good, solid, circumcised Hebrew stock. Except, perhaps, for his grandpapa Jacob who screwed his own brother out of his inheritance. But Jacob (later named Israel) went on to have 12 sons (and probably 20 or so daughters that were not important enough to mention in the Bible) and one of those sons was Judah. Except for the great Onan incident, relatively little is said about Judah in the Bible. Mostly, his space is taken up with accounts of his half-brother Joseph whose coat Dolly Parton later wrote a song about.

The important thing to remember, if you are to get a firm grip, a proper grasp, on the situation, is that God gave the (rather gullible) Hebrews a lot of odd laws and practices. The Hebrews followed these practices because .... because... well, God would also smite some of them from time to time.

For example, one afternoon God and Abraham were talking, as they often did. God had promised him great wealth and land and had told Abraham that his (unspilled) seed would multiply for generations. I imagine Abraham nodded solemnly at this thought. Then, out of the blue, God told Abraham that he wanted him to go cut off his foreskin. Whoa! Just like that. With little more emotion than, "Would you pass the bread, please?" And so Abraham hacked it off and from then on out until today, they still do that. God gave them many laws to follow and they did, without actually subjecting the laws to much analysis.

The system of passing down land was apparently another of those laws they followed. Inheritance only was possible if a man had a son to pass on his land to. Obviously, one could not just give the land to his widow, she being a woman and all. If a man died without a son-heir, then there was, apparently, an ensuing land-grab event. And the widow was just told to hit the road. But there was one legal loophole to the land-grabbing, and that is where Onan "came in" so to speak. Actually, there must have been TWO legal loopholes, if you count blackmailing your father-in-law, but that one is hazy at best. This being before the days of artificial insemination, enter Onan the Barbarian.

Incidentally, if you didn't see the movies about Arnold the Barbarian, then much of this is not very funny to you. There's a good chance it isn't anyway.

There are many unanswered questions in my mind. Or, if they ARE answered in the Bible, they remain unread by me. For exampe, was Onan married with children? If so, what did his wife or wives have to say about this law-enforced adultery? After God killed Onan, did they just tell his wife to get off Onan's homestead too? And besides, weren't they all Egyptian slaves by this time? They didn't have any land to inherit in Egypt. Grandpa Jacob was old by now and they would have been in Egypt. By gosh, I want to have that cleared up! Was Onan a stone-cutter by trade? Or just working with wood? Inquiring minds would like some answers.

The thing to remember is that Onan disobeyed God's law. Once you are clear on that point, then killing Onan after the fact, even in a barbaric manner, seems a reasonable thing to do. At this point, I am going to withdraw from this saga. I will admit I didn't read far enough to find out if Onan had a younger brother who could rise up and carry on.

[Semi-obscene animation removed from this spot]


  1. Yes, Onan had a younger brother to whom Tamar could have been passed on to .....Shelah. Judah told Tamar to wait until Shelah had come of age to marry. When Shelah came of age, Judah failed to follow through on his promise to Tamar. In the meantime, Judah's own wife died. He mourned her appropriately. Then he took a trip to go shear some sheep; Tamar taking matters into her own hands, veiled herself and took to sitting on the roadside like common prostitutes did in the day; she caught Judah's eye and, well, the rest is history so we shall say.

    A few interesting notes: Tamar was married first to Er, Judah's oldest son. But God deemed Er so wicked that he smite Er. In the Hebrew text of this story, Onan did not spill his seed only once with Tamar. Apparently they enjoyed coital relations a number of times - each time resulting in Onan's ummm spillage of seed onto the ground. It was his repeated disobedience to God that led to his death.

    As for being in Egypt ... the story becomes more complicated because Judah married a pagan Canaanite. Canaanites were considered to be a very idolatrous and immoral people. Doctrinal theorists suppose that God led the Hebrews into Egypt and eventual enslavement to protect the 'Hebrew' purity of their bloodlines. Egyptians detested the Hebrews, consequently very few intermarriages occurred. And, being enslaved in Egypt kept the Hebrews from 'polluting' their bloodlines with more Hebrew / Canaanite intermarriages that might have occurred if they had stayed in the land of Canaan.....

    Well, hopefully, I have fleshed out your story and provided your readers with an appropriate climax to the tale of Onan the Barbarian.


    1. I don't understand. Where does the mackerel come from in this story?

  2. @Soubriquet - She's googling the Bible on me. What shall I do to combat this unfairness?

    1. hahahahaaaa! Soub and I debated THIS VERY TOPIC for over 2 hours Friday night. Of course I googled it. But for you, Max, I'll pretend to be a degreed Biblical scholar.... :)


    2. I'm not going to google right now, but I will tell you what I recall from my reading the Bible a long time ago and from listening to a lot of sermons as a youth.

      The older brothers were jealous of Joseph because of the obvious favoritism he received from their father Jacob (later Israel). This was due to the fact that Joseph and Benjamin were from Jacob's favorite wife. So the older brothers, Reuben and Judah and Levi and all the rest, took Joseph and stole his famous coat (which had been the final straw of paternal favoritism) and dropped him down a hole for safekeeping until they could sell him into slavery to a passing caravan headed to Egypt. Joseph worked as a slave in Egypt (not the time of the general Hebrew slavery yet) and became known for his power to interpret dreams. The Pharaoh was having weird dreams and one of Joseph's guards or overseers sent him to Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. I forget what Pharaoh's actual dream was, but the interpretation Joseph gave him was there was a coming famine. There were to be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. So Joseph was in charge of building storehouses to hold grain or whatever to tide Egypt over through the 7 lean years.

      So, after seven years, here comes the famine throughout not just Egypt but also wherever Jacob and his 11 remaining sons and their families lived. They had no food but they had money. So the older sons, or some of them, set off to Egypt to buy food. Joseph was in charge of the food. He recognized them but they didn't recognize him.

      Here is the important part: Joseph told them they would have to go back and bring their aged father and their brother Benjamin back to Egypt or they weren't going to get any more grain. Eventually they caved in and brought everybody and then Joseph revealed himself as their long lost brother. They stayed in Egypt and lived there and after many years when all the original ones were long dead, all the Hebrews in Egypt were rounded up and made slaves because they were getting too numerous and powerful for the new Pharaoh's taste.

      Anyway, this first journey to Egypt for food MUST have been when Jacob was pretty old. That means the famine must have been starting about the time Jacob's grandson Onan was worried about who got the land. If there was a famine and if they all left for Egypt, then it makes no sense that Onan was caring too much about land where they were living.

      If you followed the life of Jacob and how he worked for his wives, you know he would have been pretty old during Onan's time. Assuming the famine and subsequent move to Egypt took place after the Onan fiasco, well, the joke was on them all because their land didn't mean squat to them. They didn't know this, of course, but it still seems poetic justice.

      God is not doing anything to clear this up for me, and I thought since you had sacrificed a rock and roll record, you might have more favor and he would answer you and you could tell me.

  3. The story of Joseph is told in Genesis 37 and 39. Judah's story is in Genesis chapter 38. According to 'sources' chapter 38 was written by a different author and spliced / inserted into the existing story of Joseph. So, no, the story of Judah does not fit into Joseph's story chronologically. Judah's story represents the time that the tribe was settled in Canaan. There is quite a bit of debate as to exactly WHY Judah's story was spliced in at this particular juncture in the Joseph narrative. I won't list them.

    There exists much more history of Judah in classical rabbinical literature. It is this literature that suggests Judah, as the oldest son of Jacob, was the leader of his brothers, was deemed 'king' of their tribe (there were 12 tribes), and was a person of extraordinary strength (able to crush iron into dust by his mouth). He took full responsibility for his culpability in Joseph's story. It is 'suggested' that the deaths of Judah's two oldest sons and his wife are part of his punishment from God for his sinful treatment of Joseph.

    Finally, one must note that Jesus was a direct descendant of the sons beget by Judah and Tamar.


    1. Classical rabbinical literature? Can I make some up too? I won't. I'll just stick to the Bible (which says Judah was the 4th son of Jacob, hardly the oldest.) Anyway, if there were 12 tribes, one for each of Jacob's 12 sons, then how come Joseph didn't have a tribe? Never mind. I know the answer. This is getting too deeply into Jewlaw and you know more of that than I. Besides, I suspect you are being coached. :)

    2. Ummm ... exactly what source do you believe the 'Bible' as you know it came from ?? or should I be more specific and ask from whence did the Old Testament come? (if not classical rabbinical literature ......)

      I stand corrected on who was the eldest of Jacob's sons. On Jacob's deathbed he pronounced benedictions, maledictions and predictions on the future to each of his sons. Judah was assigned the role of leader. Actually Joseph, Jacob's favorite son, received two portions of territory: one for each of his sons - Ephraim and Manasseh. The son who did not receive a portion of territory was Levi.

      Okay. Stick a fork in me because I'm way past done with this topic. The only coaching I'm receiving is the endless debate about the Bible and its interpretations with Soubriquet. I truthfully do not care to debate this subject, but he likes to draw me into the argument. And I am not one to pass up a good argument much like my sweetheart :)


  4. Hah!
    See what you started?
    Red Dirt Grrrl!

    Now, as she reveals, we debated the subject of Onan and his extensive for several hours.
    I see that, following the debate, she's been poring over dusty tomes in the very bowels of the internet, in order to refute any further argument I might make.

    Now let me ask you, how likely, just how likely is it, that if a man's widowed daughter-in-law should lurk by the roadside, in fishnet stockings and skimpy top, much disguised with extra lipstick and eye-shadow, that that woman then snares the man, who we assume to be of previous good character, takes him back to her boudoir, and makes whoopee several times over, with no spillage of seed, of course, and at no point does he think, "Hold on a minute, this is no street-side-slapper, this is my beloved daughter-by-marriage, Tamar!"

    Yeah. Really.
    In truth, the old feller's a stinking old goat who's been lusting long and hard all this time after the forbidden fruit. Probably lurking in hallways and groping his other daughters-in-law every time they pass.

    Jesus' lineage is quite interesting. As Red Dirt Investigatrix revealed, there are all manners of skeletons in the closet, cats in the bag, pigs in the poke. But hey. all that "And he took unto him a wife, and she did bear him umpty-six sons, and they did call them Zephoboth, Hepsibiah, Moriarty, and Sherbert Holmes", all of that begatting's pretty irrelevant in the end, because all this triumphal touting of the begatments relates to Joseph's pedigree, not Jesus'.
    Joseph. And did not Jesus say unto Joseph, "You can't tell me when to go to bed, you're not my real dad !"?

    So the relevance of all that begatting goes only toward the fitness of Joseph, as a step, or foster-parent, and I must caution the members of the jury not to consider any of this as any sort of pedigree for Jesus, who, we are told, was begotten by the god whose name we are not allowed to utter, in an act with a young girl, a virgin of good character, an impregnation which we can hardly call consensual.

    1. "Hardly call consensual." ???????

      Jumping Jehoshaphat!

  5. Onan and his extensive.... Ooops. I meant that to refer to his 'extensive FAMILY'
    In no way was I intending to refer to any part of his extensible anatomy.

  6. I do find it amazing at how they go to such great lengths to prove the genealogy of Jesus, even printing two differing versions of it, and then don't include him in either one. They only give the genealogy of this Joseph guy instead. As if Jesus were his son. And if he were Joseph's son, why bother with any of this at all?

    Genealogy of Jesus:




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