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Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah and the mother of his two children Perez and Zerah. She had been the wife of Er, first born son of Judah. After she had married Er, he did wickedly in the eyes of the Lord and was soon killed. Still childless, she had been asked to lay with Onan, her husband's brother, in order to continue the family line. That failed when  Onan interrupted the process to avoid insemination. For this the LORD also struck him so that he died.

After that Tamar lived as a widow, having been asked to wait until Shelah could grow up. After Judah's wife died, Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and waited for Judah at the entryway of Timnah, where Judah and Hirah had gone to shear sheep. Since Shelah, Judah's youngest son, had grown up, it had become clear that her father-in-law did not want her to marry him. Her plan was to force the issue.

Still mourning his wife's death, Judah offered to sleep with Tamar, not knowing she was his daughter-in-law, offering a young goat from his flock as the price, but Tamar requested a pledge in the meantime. He gave her his signet, his bracelets, and his staff for the pledge. When he left to get the goat, Tamar took off the disguise and returned to her home in widow's clothes. Judah realized too late that he had apparently been cheated out of his valuables. Her plan succeeded, for Tamar became pregnant with twins.

When it was reported to Judah, he was very angry, demanding that she be "burned" for her act of infidelity. Since he did not have the authority to kill her, it may have been a request to brand her as an adulteress. To this charge, she presented the pledge she had received, proving that the father of her children was the one accusing her. Judah then realized that he had been exposed in his sin. Tamar had seen the larger picture, the promise of a future for the Judahite tribe.

At the time Tamar gave birth, the nurse saw a hand stick out and, assuming that child was the firstborn, tied a red string around his hand. The hand went back inside, and the child's brother came out, who was then named Perez ("breach"). The child with the string tied to his hand followed afterward, and was named Zerah {"scarlet"}

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