When Tamar is suspected of having played the harlot Judah her father-in-law charges that she should be burnt.

KJV Genesis 38:24

And it came to pass about three months after, that it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter-in-law hath played the harlot; and also, behold, she is with child by whoredom. And Judah said, Bring her forth, and let her be burnt.

But according to the law, it was the daughters of priests who were burnt with fire after having played the harlot

KJV Leviticus 21:9

And the daughter of any priest, if she profane herself by playing the whore, she profaneth her father: she shall be burnt with fire.

Why did Judah charge that she should be burnt with fire?

  • This incident was well before (about 200 years before) the law was given at Sinai. There is no contradiction.
    – Dottard
    Commented Jan 1, 2022 at 11:50
  • @Dottard Shouldn't it be at least twice that long?
    – EvilSnack
    Commented Jan 2, 2022 at 2:45

2 Answers 2


There was no law during Judah's lifetime. The law was given to Moses hundreds of years later.

Back then, Canaan was dominated and controlled by Egypt. And one can safely assume that Canaanites were emulating Egyptian customs and culture. Burning was one of the punishments of adulterous women in Ancient Egypt.


Why did Judah charge that Tamar should be burnt in Genesis 38:24?

This should not be seen as a contradiction. We must look at the course of events to understand it clearly.

The events of Genesis chapter 38 happen either at the same time or before Joseph is taken to Egypt. (Genesis chapter 39) This is about two hundred years before Moses is born or the enslaved Israelites leave Egypt. (Exodus chapters 1-15)

The event with Judah and Tamar helps us see that harlotry was view as detestable very early on in the Bible. Note the topic "Harlot" in the Insight on the Scriptures:

The early view of harlotry among God’s servants is illustrated in the case of Judah the great-grandson of Abraham. While living as an alien resident in Canaan, where harlotry was tolerated, the family head Judah had relations with his son Er’s widow Tamar, who was disguised as a harlot. When it was discovered that Tamar was pregnant from the act, it was reported to Judah: “Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot, and here she is also pregnant by her harlotry.” Judah then ordered her to be burned (that is, first put to death, then burned as detestable) because she was considered to be espoused to Judah’s son Shelah. On discovering the full facts, Judah did not excuse himself for his act with a supposed harlot, but he said regarding Tamar: “She is more righteous than I am, for the reason that I did not give her to Shelah my son.” He excused Tamar for thus acting to have offspring from Judah after Judah had failed to give her to his son Shelah in order that brother-in-law marriage might be performed toward her.​—Ge 38:6-26.

Notice also that "it was told Judah, saying, Tamar thy daughter in law hath played the harlot". She was not an actual harlot but used the common profession of the time as a disguise to bear children because Shelah would not perform his duties. We can see Judah's change of attitude as the above-cited paragraph brings out in Genesis 28:26.

[All scripture quotations from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures (Study Edition)]

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