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In the Book of Genesis, Onan (Hebrew: אוֹנָן, Modern Onan Tiberian ʼÔnān ; "Strong") was the second son of Judah.[1]

According to the text, after God had killed Onan's older brother Er, Judah told Onan to have sexual intercourse with and impregnate Tamar, the widow of Er, so that the child or children could be declared to be Er's heir(s).[1] Onan had sex with Tamar, but performed coitus interruptus each time, spilling his "seed" (semen) on the ground, so that there would not be any offspring which he could not claim as his own.[2] The passage states that this displeased God, who killed Onan as punishment for disobedience.[3]

According to some biblical scholars who contextually read this passage, the description of Onan is an eponymous aetiological story concerning fluctuations in the constituency of the tribe of Judah, with the death of Onan reflecting the dying out of a clan;[4][5] Er and Onan are hence viewed as each being representative of a clan, with Onan possibly representing an Edomite clan named Onam,[5] mentioned by an Edomite genealogy in Genesis.[6] Some speculate that Onan and Tamar engaged in frottage or in anal sex. Also, he suggests that God's anger was directed not at the sexual act, but at Onan's disobedience by refusing to impregnate his brother's widow.[7]

The text emphasizes the social and legal situation, with Judah explaining what Onan must do and why. A plain reading of the text is that Onan was killed because he refused to follow instructions. Scholars have argued that the secondary purpose of the narrative about Onan and Tamar, of which the description of Onan is a part, was to either assert the institution of levirate marriage (in which a man marries his deceased brother's widow), or present an aetiological myth for its origin;[4] Onan's role in the narrative is, thus, as the brother abusing his obligations by agreeing to sexual intercourse with his dead brother's wife, but refusing to allow her to become pregnant as a result. Emerton regards the evidence for this to be inconclusive, although classical rabbinical writers argued that this narrative describes the origin of levirate marriage.[8]

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