© Erich Lessing

The fateful encounter between Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar is depicted in this 17th-century painting by Dutch artist Gerbrand van den Eeckhout. According to Genesis 38, the unsuspecting Judah mistook Tamar for a veiled “prostitute” (Hebrew zonah) sitting beside the road. For her services, Judah promised Tamar a sheep from his flock and gave her his seal and staff as assurance the debt would be honored (both items are shown being exchanged in the painting). Later, when Judah’s friend returned to redeem the pledge, he asked in a nearby village where he could find the qedeshah (a Hebrew word most Bibles translate as “cult prostitute”), to which the townspeople replied, “There has been no qedeshah here.”

While Judah ultimately learns the identity of the woman he slept with in a dramatic reveal (verses 24–26), there is nothing in the story to suggest Judah thought he was sleeping with a cult prostitute.