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In Gen. 38:18 it is recorded how Judah gave Tamar a 'cord' (Hebrew: פתיל), among other possessions, as a pledge,

He said, "What pledge should I give you?" "Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand," she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him.

What was the nature of this cord, what was its purpose, and why did Judah carry it around with him? Was this cord similar to the cord mentioned in Num. 15:38 (which is also called פתיל) that the Israelites wore on their garments? Is there any extra-biblical evidence which would shed light on the nature of this cord?


Update: I found a interesting suggestion: the cord was not a separate item, it was actually attached to the seal, which Judah gave Tamar, and was used to strap the seal unto him (around his neck). Thus the unbroken cord would eventually prove that the seal was freely given to her and was not forcibly stolen from Judah. However, nowhere does the text indicate that the cord was attached to the seal, on the contrary, from the text it would seem like Judah handed her three unrelated item: cord, seal, staff. For these reasons I am reluctant to accept this interpretation, until further evidence can be provided.

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  • Your update is interesting. I have often pondered on Judah wearing 'bracelets' as the KJV puts it and your explanation is more understandable, despite, as you say, being speculative. Is it indeed in the plural ? But then threads would be plural, if twined into a cord to attach the seal.
    – Nigel J
    Jun 12, 2018 at 15:31
  • True or not, this is just an idea: At birth all babies were given a coloured cord to ware as a bracelet. The oldest baby got a scarlet cord. The next baby a green cord, etc. This was to easier distinguish them from eachother. At the age of 12/13 after they had had their special ceremony, a seal was attached to the cord. This seal/cord was an identity sign of who and what they were. When worn or becoming too small, the cord could easily be replaced with another similar new one. Older men/people usually wore it around their neck instead. Nov 4, 2020 at 0:10

5 Answers 5

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Can't go wrong with Keil and Delitzsch.

Genesis 38:15-18

When Judah saw her here and took her for a harlot, he made her an offer, and gave her his signet-ring, with the band ( פּתיל ) by which it was hung round his neck, and his staff, as a pledge of the young buck-goat which he offered her. They were both objects of value, and were regarded as ornaments in the East, as Herodotus (i. 195) has shown with regard to the Babylonians (see my Bibl. Arch . 2, 48). He then lay with her, and she became pregnant by him.

https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/kdo/genesis-38.html

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    Hi Jon, welcome to BH.SE - this is a good first contribution! Please do take the Site Tour when you get a chance, to learn more about the SE format and how everything works here.
    – Steve Taylor
    Nov 4, 2020 at 8:56
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Regarding "cord": In the Soncino Series, the Jewish commentary of ancient Rabbis, Rashi renders "robe"; Sforno renders "girdle"; and Nachmanides renders "Turban". These are clearly identification articles used to distinguish the tribe, clan possicly, and authority of the wearer. That is what Tamar wanted- absolute identity of Judah.

There is nothing wrong with "bracelets" in the KJV. They are clearly an identity item also, as with Arabs and other Semitic peoples. The sequence of the bracelets would be an ID statement also. The use of "seal" is suspect. The signet (sign) is the ring and is embedded in the hot wax seal to seal a document before it is passed on to the receiver. The "cord" does not identify anyone.

A cord is wrapped two ways around the object being sealed, and the wax is dripped onto the knot, while the signet is pressed into the hot wax to identify the sealing person. This prevents anyone from opening the object without cutting the cord or shattering the wax seal. So, "cord" is meaningless as an ID object of a great man. The signet, bracelets, and the staff are loaded with ID heritage, and there is no reason to run down a rabbit trail looking for meaning other than that Tamar demanded his principle ID items. These were irrefutable proof later that Judah had slept with Tamar. The staff and signet are obvious to me since I saw these in Ethiopia and Kenya while living there. The bracelets are the least obvious but are well known as ID items in the whole Middle East and much of Africa.

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There is no need to seek information outside of the bible - everything is clearly interwoven throughout the Hebrew and Greek scriptures regarding pathil/pathal which, together, are used a total of sixteen times in the Hebrew - a significant number in spiritual terms for it denotes the four compass points of this world multiplied by the four compass points of the world yet to come.

Twice is pathil (Strong 6616) used of Judah and Tamar's interaction wherein Tamar sought that which was rightly hers - that which had been denied her by being sent back to her people and away from God's people, away from the prospect of fruitfulness and inheritance among them.

For this cause she took her life in her hand and by a bold faith, without rising up against proper authority, without rebellion, she nevertheless prevailed such that Judah, in the end, admitted of her righteousness, that it was greater than his own, for he had been unwilling to risk his third son after God's judgments had slain the first two.

The Eleven Mentions of Pathil

Pathil is evidently a very thin wire or thread, the word denoting not the substance of it but the slender nature of it. Samson's withs were parted by his strength, Judges 16:9, as though they were pathil of tow - they just melted away when Samson awoke and exerted himself.

Pathil were interwoven - as thin wires of gold - within the ephod, Exodus 39:3 and also as thin blue threads joining the breastplate to the ephod, and the plate to the mitre, Exodus 28: 28,37 and Exodus 39: 21,31.

Divinity (gold) and heavenliness (blue) are woven into, and connective of, the artefacts which adorn the High Priest. His ministry is a matter of heavenly connection, not earthly interaction.

And, of Samson, it may be seen that his strength lies in the flowings from the head, down to the shoulders of the body. The body receives its strength by the flowings from the head, just as the oil flowed down the head and beard of Aaron the High Priest, even to the skirts of the garments - that which clothed the body, Psalm 133:2.

  • So, thin strands of connection - yet by them is mighty strength received.

Then there is the matter of containment from uncleanness. The vessel is only clean if there is pathil binding a cover to its mouth, Numbers 19:15. The slender binding is needed, slender though it be, to maintain a closure from that which is without - otherwise it becomes contaminated.

The vessel of the body must needs be kept for the Master of the household's use.

Next is the matter of measuring. It is a slender pathil that is used to measure the house of God, Ezekiel 40:3. That which professes to be the house of God, and the professed worshippers within, is subject to assessment - measuring. This is seen again in the Apocalypse, Revelation 11:1 - the man with the measure.

  • Heavenly strength by connection to the Head. Clean separation by a binding. Measured worship in the House of God.

And then the ribband of blue.

The fringe of the border of the garment, Numbers 15:38, is tipped with a thread of blue which pathil runs through the linen fringe. Again, a matter of heavenly separation as one walks through the dust of this earth.

They came to Jesus, Mark 6:56, and begged just to touch the hem of his garment, and as many as touched - were made whole. A heavenly connection. Just a touch to a slender thread, is all it takes.

Such was the woman who came behind in the pressing crowds and, in fear and trembling, hoping he wouldn't notice, hoping none would thrust her away - just . . . touched, Luke 8:44.

Twelve years of her life just draining out of her, under an old covenant which could neither make her clean nor restore her drained life. And in that instant . . . clean.

But some, Matthew 23:5, enlarge the borders of their garment. Oh, very remote from the populace. Oh, very distant and unobtainable. But, says Jesus, Whosoever exalteth himself, shall be abased.


Then there are the five mentions of pathal, as in Rachel's pathal - wrestling with her sister, whereby she called her child Naphtali, Genesis 30:8. But that is wandering into another word and trespassing into what should be another question.


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    I have learned much from this insightful answer - a good question, too.
    – Lesley
    Jun 11, 2018 at 7:37
  • @Lesley this post may be insightful but is hardly an answer.
    – Bach
    Jun 11, 2018 at 13:47
  • This is a great response.
    – user26078
    Jul 28, 2018 at 5:17
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So his staff, was just an object of identification too? I think there is far far more to this story. We always want to minimize what we don't like or want to see and maximize what we want to see. The heart of the human. But what is the truth? Well, the truth is simply written. Judah, mixed with a Caananite and his children were all mixed. He refused to give Tamar to his last son, because he believed she was killing his seed, his generations, the inheritance of Israel. Actually he did when he mingled himself and married the Caananite (Ham's daughter). He refused to give his last and now only son. So he caused her to play the harlot. When she did, he gave her everything of his "identification", everything that identified Him as Who he was. His staff, his signet ring, and his bracelet, which represents all of who he is. He willing gave it to her for a night of pleasure. When he couldn't find her he further lightly esteemed it, leaving it to the whore, or what he thought was a whore. Interestingly, the same thing happened to the sons of God with the daughters of men, the daughters of Cain. The Lord tells us everything if we don't try to twist it to our own liking. By the way, Jesus who was from the tribe of Judah after he was cleansed in the Jordan River, went into the Judea desert to face Lucifer; the devil to redeem the sins of Judah.

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First all all it's important to note that Yehuda didn't carry with him any "prostitute's fee" so he truely not sinner. Actually that objects (חותם, פתיל,מטה) were like his ID.

How can we know? Acording to Herodotus (5th BC) every important man carry with him stamp חותם. This used in order to send or recieve packeges. The פתיל used to tie the packeges/notes that important men send and with the stamp together it used to verify the sender.

So this פתיל is basically a kind of strings bundle together (that why translated as "cord") and it was usually in colors. The last object is the מטה - stick. Not just regular one, but as every honored person cary with him.

Basically Tamar ask for this objects because they were personal and unique, so she knew that he will contact again.

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  • Didn't see your update (i'm with mobile and it's taking me hours to answer) and basically i meant to that with my answer...
    – A. Meshu
    Jun 10, 2018 at 16:45

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