🔼The name Tamar: Summary
- Palm Tree, Free Market
- From the noun תמר (tamar), palm tree.
🔼The name Tamar in the Bible
There are three women and two towns named Tamar in the Bible. The women are:
- The wife of Er, the son of Judah (Genesis 38:6). After Er's death she becomes the mother of Judah's twin sons Perez and Zerah. Perez went on to become the ancestor of king David, and thus Jesus Christ. Tamar is one of four women mentioned by name in the Matthean genealogy of Christ (spelled in Greek Θαμαρ, Thamar; Matthew 1:3).
- The sister of Absalom, the third son of king David. This Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:14). Two years later Absalom has Amnon assassinated (13:28). Absalom flees and stays gone for three years (13:38). All this time David longs for him, but when Absalom returns to the court, five years after Tamar's revenge (13:28), he has become the insurrectionist for which he is most known (15:6).
- By then, Absalom is the father of three sons and one daughter, which he named Tamar (14:27), most likely after her violated aunt.
The towns named Tamar are:
- A town in the wilderness, probably of Judah (the text says: "in the land"), built by Solomon (1 Kings 9:18). Note that in the Middle Ages the Masoretes figured that this town was Tadmor (תדמר), which still is a town in Syria, possibly to make 1 Kings 9:18 coincide with 2 Chronicles 8:4. Still, the statement in Chronicles appears to place Tadmor close to Hamath, in Syria, whereas Kings places Tamar among the towns of Judah.
- A town probably somewhere south-east of the Salt Sea (Ezekiel 47:19).
🔼Etymology of the name Tamar
The name Tamar comes from the noun תמר (tamar), meaning palm tree:
The noun תמר (tamar) means palm tree but it's not immediately clear from what verb it comes, and thus how the ancients saw the palm tree — in the Bible all trees (oaks, figs, olives, and so on) relate to certain aspects of the wisdom tradition. Female judge Deborah had her seat under a palm tree, which seems to suggest that the palm tree related to a kind of popular court.
Noun תמר (tomer) also means palm tree but secondarily refers to a kind of sign post or pillar. Nouns תמרה (timora) and תימרה (timara) refer to palm-like artistic expressions; the first word describes an image of a palm tree and the second a palm-like pillar. Since the word "palm-like" does not necessarily mean to look like a palm, but merely to imitate some kind of signature quality of the palm, it's debated what a palm-like item might actually be.
It appears that the palm tree reminded the ancients of a social focal point that was spontaneously and organically established (rather than by some decree or violence or trickery). A palm is like paths that form in an open field with a well at the center, or it's like the effects of a free market, which drives society to unknown heights that no single trader could have imagined.
NOBSE Study Bible Name List and Jones' Dictionary of Old Testament Proper Names agree: The name Tamar means Palm, or Palm Tree. But that probably reminded the original audience far less of the familiar Arecaceae, and much more of a freely moving exchange of goods, services and ideas. The name Tamar means Free Market.