Levirate marriage (of a man to his dead brother’s widow) is required in the Bible. As the Jewish Encyclopedia states, “This custom is found among a large number of primitive peoples”. It can be useful for a woman in a society in which women have no rights or freedom. It is useful for men in patriarchal societies to give family continuity and inheritances to the children of a dead brother. It has no place in a society in which women have equal rights with men.
A levirate marriage is required in the Bible in certain circumstances: when a man dies childless, his brother is to marry the widow and her firstborn child will be treated as being that of the dead brother, which gives the dead man an heir. (Deuteronomy 25: 5-6) When Onan refused to follow this obligation, God killed him: “Then Judah said to Onan, ‘Go in to your brother’s wife and perform the duty of a brother-in-law to her; raise up offspring for your brother.’ But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to see his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.” (Genesis 38: 8-10)
So ‘onanism’ as a sin isn’t masturbation as such, it is refusing to have a child by your brother’s widow. If a man refuses to fulfill this duty, “Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled.”(Deuteronomy 25: 9-10)
Oh, the fun we will all have, when our Presidents and Prime Ministers all start enforcing the old tribal laws about marriage!
This post comes to you courtesy of Nikolai Usack of Astral/Subastral. He normally provides music in the Milwaukee area. Here he provided the impetus for the post and the initial text.
Hey Robin! I haven’t stopped by the blog in awhile. Enjoying catching up on your thoughts. Was curious in regards to this post. Are you saying or inferring that Christians should still be practicing ‘onanism’ today because it is an instruction from God in The Bible?
Or am I missing another point you’re trying to make or comment on?
Hey Mac! I always enjoy your lighthearted and witty reviews of the Bible. About onanism, no, there are a couple of issues here.
1. People use the word to refer to masturbation. Masturbation (at least in this story) isn’t a sin, the sin was masturbating in order to prevent yourself getting your brother’s widow pregnant as required by God.
2. So anyone trying to follow Mosaic Law should NOT be practising onanism, or God will kill them. Any man whose brother dies is obligated to make sure the brother’s widow bears at least one child, the first child being treated as the dead brother’s, in order to keep the family going properly.
3. Whether Christians should be following Mosaic Law (which includes stoning gays to death, stoning women to death if they weren’t virgins until marriage, not wearing clothing of mixed materials, not eating pork, not doing ANYTHING that might be called work on Saturdays, etc etc) is a whole other matter. I would argue that Jesus only cared about Jews, and wanted all Jews to follow the Law very strictly, the only question being whether that included Samaritans or not (he said yes, sort of). But Christians are followers of Paul, who built a (very Mithraist) syncretist religion for the gentiles of the world, and in effect denies the need to adhere to Mosaic Law at all. Christians (followers of Paul, that is) are therefore free to be gay, work 24/7, eat pork… and are NOT required to impregnate their childless brothers’ widows!
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I just joined a random sermon that talked about Onan and Tamar. Onan was killed bc he was in it for the inheritance (the larger portion which would’ve been his older brother’s)
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Some people can certainly get too serious about money!
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