I don't know if this question has already been asked here, I searched and couldn't find it.

Does the story of Judah and Tamar develop during Joseph's age to Egypt? If so, in that case the children of Judah had to be 9 years old to give Judah time ahead with his brothers to go to Egypt to look for food because the 7 years were of abundance according to the prophecy and the 7 years of famine and I mention 9 because it took two years with Joseph in Egypt for Pharaoh to have the dream in which the prophecy would begin. What I see is that chapter 38, which is where this story of Judah and Tamar is found, seems to break the line of reasoning that chapter 37 of Genesis was giving, the sale of Joseph, in chapter 39 it will deal with Joseph's stay in the Egypt proper. The end of chapter 37 seems to be consistent with the beginning of chapter 39.

Is it inconceivable that the stories in Genesis are not necessarily in chronological order? Or do we have to maintain that Judah's children were 9 years old or a little older and committed that whole event of wasting seed if at that age that would be biologically possible, apart from the fact that Judah deceived Tamar by making her wait for the third son to grow up to If he marries her, that is, it seems like a story displaced from the chapters that surround it, couldn't this story be located well before they sold Joseph? What does tradition, sages and Judaism have to say about, or has not even addressed this apparent problem?

  • 2
    Apologies if anyone else has addressed this part of the question, but the Torah definitely isn't purely written in chronological order. I can't remember any sources for this, but it is mentioned fairly often in commentary, I think especially by Rashi. It isn't supposed to be a history book, so there is no problem with that as a potential answer. Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 16:43
  • Even textual critics also claim this, especially in relation to the prophets, Jeremiah for example, claim that various texts are arranged in different chronological order. So it wouldn't be a problem if Genesis 38 happened at a time before Joseph's trip to Egypt, or that or the implications of the contrary, we have to accept children being able to marry and have children when the pattern is for people to have their children much older.
    – Thales
    Commented Dec 29, 2022 at 17:20
  • Related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/20415/…
    – Lo ani
    Commented Jan 22 at 11:35

2 Answers 2


One potential answer is that given by Chizkuni, that men and women were able to have children earlier in those days.

You could well ask that seeing that it took only 22 years until the brothers under the leadership of Yehudah went down to Egypt in order to buy grain, how was it possible that during these few years not only did Bat Shua, Yehudah’s wife bear him three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah, but that two of them had already become married? And a few years after the death of Onan, Yehudah sired twins from his daughterinlaw Tamar, all before the descent of the brothers to Egypt for the first time? The answer to such questions is that in those times girls and boys were able to both sire and conceive and give birth already at the age of seven. According to a historical text accepted by our sages as accurate and reliable, called seder olam, Er, Yehudah’s oldest was born approximately a year after the sale of Joseph. Bat Shua bore Yehudah two more sons in short order, before she died (verse 12). When Er was seven years old he married Tamar. When he died and married Onan, and Onan died, Shelah was still too young to marry. Tamar remained a widow in the house of Yehudah for a year before returning to her mother’s home. When two or three more years had passed and she was not allowed to marry Shelah, she took matters into her own hands and contrived to become pregnant from a member of Yaakov’s family, her dearest desire, i.e. she became pregnant by her fatherinlaw, Yehudah. All of this had only taken about 19 years after Yehudah had been deposed and moved away from his brothers. In the meantime, Peretz, one of the twins Tamar had born to Yehudah had married at the age of seven and had himself become a father of Chetzron and Chamul, (Genesis 46,12) all before Yaakov and his family moved down to Egypt after the brothers’ second trip there. By the time Chetzron and Chamul came to Egypt, only twenty two years had elapsed since the sale of Joseph.

  • But there is a complication in this explanation of Chizkuni. Where does he base it that the first descent of Joseph's brothers into Egypt was 22 years after the sale of Joseph? Didn't Jacob send them out during the 7 years of famine that followed the 7 years of plenty? Logically, this trip would have started between the first or second year of famine, that is, 10 or 11 years after Joseph's trip to Egypt, as it took two more years for Pharaoh to have his dreams and begin the prophecy.
    – Thales
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 23:53
  • 1
    @Thales Joseph was 17 when he was sold (Genesis 37:2) and 30 when he became viceroy (Genesis 41:46). Add 7 years and you have 20. Add 2 years like you suggest and that is 22?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 27, 2022 at 23:58
  • This does more is complicate than solve. If Joseph at the age of 17 leaves for Egypt and two years later Pharaoh has the dreams and he interprets them, at that moment he is 19 years old, so the 7 years of abundance and famine started immediately or there was a time interval after interpreting the dreams ? If Joseph became viceroy at 30 then did the years of plenty begin 11 years after he interpreted Pharaoh's dreams?
    – Thales
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 0:08
  • 1
    @Thales the same people who accept that we used to live to 1000 I suppose, or who accept that 70 people can turn into several million in the course of 210 years, or that there were once giants, or that there was once no rainbow phenomena. Nature has changed, according to pshat Torah, so this would be in agreement. There are approaches on how to deal with these details in a rational way, some acceptable by tradition, some unacceptable. Also, Chizkuni might not be the only answer. I also forgot to mention that it is sometimes possible the Torah is not in chronological order (would need a source)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 0:37
  • 1
    @Thales you should convert and go to a yeshiva, you ask a lot of good questions! I can't answer any further, let's see what other answers this question receives. Thanks for asking
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Dec 28, 2022 at 0:53

In addition to the chizkuni that Rabbi Kaii brought in his answer, the bechor Shor on B'reishis (38:1), the Da'as Z'keinim (written by the Tosafos) there, as well as Seder Hadoros and others also say that Er, Onan, and Shelah were 7 or 8 years old when they got married, and also claim that at that point in history, this was possible from a biology standpoint (quoting a gemara in the 8th perek of Sanhedrin, 69b).

The reason they explain in this way and don't say that the stories in the Torah are out of chronological order (and all of this happened much before the sale of Yosef) is a Midrash in B'reishis Rabba (quoted by Rashi on 38:1) which says:

ויהיה בעת ההיא. למה נסמכה פרשה זו לכאן והפסיק בפרשתו של יוסף? ללמד שהורידוהו אחיו מגדולתו כשראו בצרת אביהם אמרו אתה אמרת למכרו אילו אמרת להשיבו היינו שומעים לך

And it came to pass at that time: why is this section here, interrupting the section dealing with Yosef? To teach that his brothers removed him [based on the next words of the Passuk] from his high position when they saw their father's grief, saying "you said to sell him. If you had said to return him, we would've listened"

(There is a similar gemara in sotah). This indicates that the entire story starting from Yehuda being forced to leave originated in Yosef's sale, forcing us to say that his kids were married and supposed to have kids by around age 8.

However, the Ibn Ezra on that passuk (38:1) points out this problem, and comes to the conclusion that the story of Yehuda happened before the sale of Yosef (and is only mentioned now to contrast between Yehuda's actions with Tamar and Yosef's actions with Potifar's wife). The Tur brings this explanation as well.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .