The first few times I read 2 Samuel 13:1, I assumed Tamar to be the daughter of
Meaning of the Name Tamar
Most Biblical names not only have a meaning, but the meaning is often a revelation about the character or destiny of the person who bears it. In the case of Tamar, her name means “palm tree.” Although I do not think this name was meant to prophesy over Tamar’s life the way many Biblical names do, I can say that palm trees are very strong trees. They are unlikely to topple under the harassing winds of hurricanes. Tamar also had to be very strong.
The Tragedy of Tamar
We are introduced to Tamar as being a very beautiful virgin—so beautiful that her half brother (Amnon) becomes obsessed with her. The fact she is a virgin tells us she is both young and unmarried. Until modern times, women were expected to be married at the onset of, or shortly after puberty in most societies; Israel was likely no different. Note, however, that the age in which girl start menstruation has been decreasing in recent decades. During Tamar’s era, the age of puberty was likely closer to 18. Nonetheless, this would still make Tamar very young at the time of 2 Samuel 13.
The Assault on Tamar
Through conspiracy, Amnon tricks Tamar into caring for him under the pretense of being sick. During Tamar’s visit, Amnon sends away all the people in his chambers, except for Tamar. Once alone, Amnon asks Tamar to have sex with him but she refuses. It is interesting to note that while she calls out the act as sin and shameful, she also suggests Amnon should ask their father to marry Tamar, even commenting that it was likely David would agree. This goes against Leviticus 18:9, which was clearly penned before the time of David, and prohibits sex between brother and sister. Thus, it would be sinful even if Amnon had gone about it the “proper” way. It is likely that Tamar considered familial marriage as a lesser sin as it was extremely popular in Egypt and still came with the protection and stability any other marriage would have had. It is also possible that like us today, people were prone to picking and choosing what they would obey (re: David with all his wives, adultery, and murder…)
Amnon does not take Tamar’s no for an answer. Instead he forces himself on her. After the fact, Amnon’s infatuation disappears and he hates her. Due to this new found hatred for his sister, he sends her away. Tamar expresses that this is worse than the violation he has committed against her. The reason this is worse is due to how women during that time were treated in society. Virginity was considered a crucial part of the marriage covenant up until recent years. Arguments could be made that the act of shedding blood is what sealed the covenant; blood is similarly shed through sacrifice (or circumcision) after every covenant made between man and the Father. Due to this, men would not marry women who were not virgins—this is seen in the reaction of Joseph when he learns that Mary is pregnant in the New Testament. Most women could not provide for themselves and depended on a husband or male relative to provide for their needs (think Ruth and Naomi). By sending Tamar away, Amnon doomed her to solitude and poverty.
When Amnon sends her away, Tamar does not go quietly—this would be a sign of willingness as implied in Deuteronomy 22:23-29. Instead Tamar puts ashes on her head, tears her clothes—a sign of distress and mourning—and goes out crying. It is unclear how long after the assault Absalom encounters his sister but he knows immediately what has happened. He provides shelter for her, resolving the issue of impending poverty, but not the issue of solitude. Absalom tries to comfort Tamar, but also requests that she “keep silent.” Due to his subsequent actions, I believe he thought if Tamar left it to the men and didn’t trouble herself with it, she would find peace. Actions speak louder than words, and in most cases, people do not know how to truly help the person who is traumatized.
It seems that Absalom takes the matter to David, as we are told that when David hears about the matter he is angry. However, David does not do anything to bring justice to the issue. I am not sure when in the timeline of David’s life these events occurred, but knowing David’s issues with adultery and subsequent murder to cover his tracks it is possible that he felt unworthy to pass judgment on Amnon. Some translations start 2 Samuel 13:22 with “but,,” while others use “and.” The former suggests that even though David did not issue any punishment to Amnon, he may have spoken ill of or to him. The latter simply informs us that Absalom is thoroughly disgusted with Amnon because of what has transpired.
Over the next two years, Absalom plots to avenge Tamar and eventually sets a trap for Amnon that leads to his death in front of all their brothers. After having Amnon killed, Absalom flees in fear of retribution, presumably by his other brothers since we are told David is at peace with Amnon being dead. Absalom takes refuge in Geshur with his grandfather during this time; it is unclear if Tamar also goes to Geshur or if she stays in Jerusalem.
We are not told anything about Tamar after she takes refuge in her brother’s house. Though David appears sympathetic, in that he is angered by the rape and at peace when Amnon the rapist is killed, it is unclear if he provided support for Tamar after the death of Absalom. It is also possible that despite the situation Tamar was able to find a husband and have children; however the Bible does not expound on what ultimately happened to her.
Absalom has a daughter whom he names Tamar; she is also said to be very beautiful. It is likely that he named her after this Tamar.
References & Footnotes
- Brent Nagtegaal. “Biblical Geshur: Revealing the Royal Hometown of David’s Fourth Wife”. Armstrong Institute of Biblical Archeology. August 14, 2019; visited October 2022
- W. Ewing. “Geshur”. Bible Hub; visited October 2022
- M A Bellis, J Downing, and J R Ashton. “Adults at 12? Trends in puberty and their public health consequences.” Journal of epidemiology and community health vol. 60,11 (2006): 910-1. doi:10.1136/jech.2006.049379
- “Tamar 2 (Tamar)”. Bible Hub; visited October 2022
- “Strongs H8559. תָּמָר”. Blue Letter Bible; visited October 2022