Vol 3, No 2 (2007) Location, Location, Location: Tamar in the Joseph Cycle


Judy Fentress-Williams


The interruption of one story by another, abrupt endings without explanations, and disregard for narrative continuity are the unfortunate characteristics of biblical narrative. Gen. 38 is treated as an interpolation because it interrupts the ‘continuous’ narrative of the Joseph story. This paper examines the placement of the Tamar story in the Joseph cycle and argues that the expectation of a continuous, straight-forward text that represents a coherent perspective is ill-suited to the Bible. On the one hand, if the message of the text is to be conveyed via a single voice or perspective, then chapter 38 is a diversion. Or if resolution to Joseph’s situation at the end of chapter 37 is the goal of the reader, then chapter 38 is a deterrent. On the other hand, a reading that resists such a linear approach comes with a different set of expectations. Using Bakhtin’s notions of dialogue and the motifs of meeting and recognition/non-recognition in chronotope, this paper will argue that Gen. 38 is not an interruption in the narrative, but an interpretive lens that provides keys for understanding the larger narrative. Because of the thematic links between the Tamar story and the surrounding material, chapter 38 functions as a ‘play within a play’ that is in dialogue with the other story. Moreover, terminology, and wordplay in the dialogue of the narrative form a rubric that functions as a reader’s guide for Joseph’s story.


Genesis 38; Tamar; Bakhtin


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