Saturday, April 11, 2009

GENESIS 38, or, "Masturbation is (not?) a crime"

Wherein we detour into the life of Judah and his sons.

Taking a break from the story of Joseph, Gen 38 focuses on his brother Judah, who leaves his family and gets hitched to a woman named Shua. They have three sons: Er, Onan, and Shelah.

Er is married to a girl by the name of Tamar, but shortly afterward God puts Er to death for being "wicked." Judah then tells Onan to sleep with Tamar to produce an offspring for Er. Onan has some scruples with this, and so let's just say that he "pulls out" when he is with her. Because of this, Onan is soon put to death by God (for wickedness, of course).

Tamar goes to live with her father at Enaim. Later on, Judah is passing through and Tamar decides to disguise herself as a prostitute and sleep with him (only later does Judah realize he had sex with his daughter-in-law. Oops!). She becomes preggers and gives birth to two sons: Perez and Zelah.


Okay, this chapter has special significance to me. When I was a teenager, my clique consisted of both religious and non-religious folks and there was great debate about whether it was right or wrong to masturbate. The "wrong to masturbate" side cited the fact that the Bible classified it as a sin. The "right to masturbate" side cited the fact that masturbation is "totally awesome."

One of my friends was on the fence about the issue so he went straight to the source - good ol' Genesis 38. As it turns out, a group of kill-joy Roman Catholics in the medieval era interpreted Gen 38 as illustrating that both masturbation and coitus interruptus are sinful, and that interpretation has stuck ever since. But, as my friend and I discovered when we looked it up ourselves, that reading doesn't really hold water.

Here's Gen 38:6-10

"Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. But Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the LORD's sight; so the LORD put him to death.

Then Judah said to Onan, "Lie with your brother's wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to produce offspring for your brother." But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his; so whenever he lay with his brother's wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from producing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the LORD's sight; so he put him to death also."

You can make up your own mind, but the passage seemed to us to be saying that it was Onan's disobedience, not the fact that he "spilled his semen", that got him put to death. And thus a giant weight was taken off our shoulders.

GENESIS 38 in pop culture:
In David Foster Wallace's magnum opus "Infinite Jest" the United States has been renamed "The Organization of North American Nations" or O.N.A.N.

P.S. Thanks to MumDoris for motivating to get off my butt and blog some more.

No comments: