Allyson A. McKinney is pursuing a master’s of divinity degree at Yale Divinity School. She has over a decade of experience addressing gender-based injustice through her work as an international human rights lawyer, advocate, consultant, and educator. She is committed to inspiring, educating, and mobilizing communities of faith to advocate for human rights.

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When There Is No Justice in Scripture: The Rape of Tamar

by Allyson McKinney 10-12-2015
Francis Wong Chee Yen /

Photo via Francis Wong Chee Yen /

When I first read about the rape of Tamar, I was astonished. This tragic story of a beautiful princess — sexually violated by her half-brother and then betrayed by her powerful father — left me aghast. What could I do with this troubling tale, tucked among pages of scripture where I sought spiritual guidance?

Throughout my life in the church, I had never heard the name “Tamar.” No reference to this daughter of King David. No remembrance of her profound suffering and grief.

It’s not an easy story to hear, especially within the biblical narrative of God’s love and providential care for God’s people. It’s like a well-guarded family secret no one dares mention, as if it might swell into a crushing typhoon, leaving devastation in its wake. Following tradition, I hoped not to encounter Tamar’s story again.

If shunning the ancient biblical story of Tamar is all too easy, avoiding news of unrelenting violence against women is becoming harder.