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The Angel of Judgment
The 8th Archetype of the Accused
"Your daughter in law has been playing the whore and got herself pregnant" they said.
"Well," he said. "Bring her out and let her be burned."
And out she was brought. She carried in one hand a ring and a cord, and a staff in the other, and she said: "it was, by the way, the owner of these items that got me pregnant." He took a look at the items and very suddenly changed colour.
The backstory to this riveting situation is rather complicated.
Judah was married to Hirah, and they had three sons together. The eldest was called Er, and Judah arranged a marriage for him to Tamar. It is said that Er was not a good sort, and in any case he died young. So Tamar was passed on to Judah and Hirah's second son, Onan - as was the custom - so that she might still have children. But the children would not be understood to be Onan's, but Er's, because this was the way of things. Onan was not pleased and found ways of making sure that Tamar didn't conceive. Soon after, Onan died too.
At this point it would be customary for Judah to pass his daughter-in-law, Tamar, on to his third son. But Judah begins thinking Tamar is cursed, and he only has one son left. He tells Tamar his third son is too young yet for marriage, to buy some time. Time passes and passes, and Tamar realises there'll be no third husband from Judah's lot. This leaves her socially and economically high and dry. She must wear the widow's garb the rest of her days.
She finally comes to an extremely dangerous plan. She puts off her widow's garb and dresses in the veil of a temple prostitute. She Ignores all offers until she draws the attention of none other than her father in law, Judah. He cannot see her face behind her veil, and it must be said that Judah is now a widower himself. He wants to pay for sex. He will pay one goat, he just doesn't have it with him. So he agrees to leave with her his ring, his staff and a piece of cord as a pledge.
And here she is on the edge of a knife. Will her father in law, who had just given his blessing to have her burned, deny having been her client? Will those who recognised the staff and the ring look the other way? Will she still be killed even if he owns his part; even if they're killed together?
Tamar, the accused, comes as the angel of judgment. She holds all the aces. She judges the whole thing perfectly. She knows how retributive "justice" works: the systemic guilt of all is loaded onto a marginal scapegoat, so that all may feel absolved and justified. When the male client of the female sex worker is found also to be present, he is not burned. No one is burned. Everyone just slinks away. "Let him who is without sin cast the first stone," she says.
But she comes in judgment of much more than this. When Judah returns to the right temperature he says, "she is more in the right than I." Why? "Because I withheld my third son from her." He sees that beneath this frothy scandal of sexual taboo and hypocrisy is a deep patriarchal situation in which the social, economic and reproductive lives of women are managed by men. He accepts the judgment upon the gendered power he'd inherited, and what he'd done with it.
There's a caution to be taken with the archetype of the veiled angel of judgment, who stands accused, but suddenly tears the whole edifice down. Does it ever really happen? Is it ever so clean? Does the risk ever pay off in real life? Does power ever really admit that it was in the wrong? Maybe. Maybe not. But there's a spark in the story that must be kept and shielded from the wind. It's messianic. It reveals things. It lays bare a certain dynamic of judgment and accusation, which leaves the accused utterly alone and powerless, and loads upon them the common wrongs of all, so that all besides are absolved. The dim hope of a glorious reversal, that reveals the truth of systemic iniquity and common brokenness, is something necessary. It keeps the battered soul alive, when change feels like a myth.
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