Your Friday Firestorm #44

And Oman knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother’s wife, that he spilled it on the ground, lest that he should give seed to his brother. And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also.

(Genesis 38:9-10)



  1. Latter-day Guy says:

    I have heard some arguments that this verse does not pertain so much to sins against chastity as to sins like abandoning the ministry and causing others to stumble. It seems an interesting viewpoint, but I doubt that it could get much traction, given that in LDS speech, when someone refers to “the sin next to murder” (or something along those lines) they mean sexual immorality, almost exclusively. Right or wrong, it seems pretty settled to me.

  2. I have no idea what the actual sin the scriptures are talking about, but that video is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. My kids came running to see why mama was laughing so much!

  3. Hillarious!

  4. Peter LLC says:


  5. sister blah 2 says:

    Wow…….Best YFF Video EVER (including the wild party teen, so that’s saying something)

  6. Steve Evans says:

    “Is that it?!”

    I know what you mean. You mean, “oh yeah baby, that’s it.”

  7. Randy B. says:

    Awesome! (How do you find this stuff?!?)

  8. Steve Evans says:

    I actually thought all of you would have seen that one already. It’s Flight of the Conchords, people. Don’t any Mormons get HBO?!

  9. Firestorm #29?

  10. Steve Evans says:

    PS I think Latter-day Guy is probably right, although I have serious problems with the a hierarchy of sins. A bit too Dante for my liking.

  11. This is a good one….

    I have always been of the opinion that the sin that Alma is talking about is 2 fold.

    1. The sexual sin
    2. Combined with the abandonment of the ministry and the way in which his sons public action caused so much trouble.

    I have never bought the idea that teenagers should be taught that sexual sin is like unto murder and thankfully was never taught it as a teen. As a culture we seem to have moved past this idea.

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Justin found me out, at comment #9. I honestly didn’t think it would happen that fast! OK, I’ve swapped the scripture around.

  13. Dude, if you’re going to try crap like that, best wait ’till Justin’s on vacation. ;)

  14. Oman?

  15. I thought the firestorms were inspired! My faith is shaken.

  16. Poor Nate.

    Funny how onanism is equated with The Big M, when ol’ Onie seems to be er, withdrawing prematurely rather than administering some self love here.

    Just don’t call me (R)onan.

  17. The NRSV translates better:

    9But since Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, he spilled his semen on the ground whenever he went in to his brother’s wife, so that he would not give offspring to his brother. 10What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.

    Heh, he didn’t finish the job because the kid would have been his brother’s and not his own. It’s interesting that Moses would get so graphic.

  18. Omanism = intellectual masturbation
    Ronanism = British accent fantasies

  19. Julie M. Smith says:
  20. Hey! Wait a minute! Wasn’t there another scripture earlier??

  21. Hmm. . . I had always thought onanism was the archaic (and more fun) term for coitus interruptus, not for masturbation. Am I wrong?

    Which reminds me. If any of you have a friend named Curtis, and need to give him a nickname, just start speaking in a Brooklyn accent. The nickname will stick forever.

  22. Mephibosheth says:

    Two words: OBEY AARON.

  23. Julie, you know that we only have these Firestorms to route traffic back to your terrific posts!

    Tracy, see #9.

    #21 and 22 — hee!

  24. John Taylor on levirate law:

    JD 26:71

  25. #21 & #22 are amazing.

    Nice switch, Steve.

    Fwiw, he got killed for disobeying his father, not for the act itself.

  26. Steve Evans says:

    A friendly, award-winning reader also suggested this video for today’s firestorm. WARNING: contains pixellated blurred plastic dog caninonanism.

  27. I won’t be showing that one to my mother.

  28. StillConfused says:

    I think he was killed for not satisfying the woman. I’m just sayin’…………

  29. sister blah 2's evil twin says:

    Two words: Hair gel.

  30. Steve: There ain’t no “m” in Onan. Further evidence (which you have ignored, apparently) that his sin has nothing to do with the big M.

    I agree with Ray that Onan’s sin was not sexual, but had more to do with disobedience and malfeasance of duty. The suggestion StillConfused makes does have a certain compelling aspect to it, but it could be true only if God were female.

    Also, if Onanism was the sin of failing to satisfy, there would, by necessity, be a corresponding sin in the hierarchy called “failure to respond.” This would, of course, be grounds for denial of a temple recommend, at least.

  31. That video killed me.

    So I guess it’s worse to spill your seed upon the ground than to impregnate your sister-in-law.

  32. SingleSpeed says:

    We don’t know that Onan was killed because he shot his rocket sauce on the ground. Maybe the lord was going to kill him anyway for adultry.

  33. Fwiw, he got killed for disobeying his father, not for the act itself.

    How do you know? How is it knowable? I’ve heard several theories on why God struck Onan down, and each seems as plausible as the next: Levriate covenant, masturbation, general disobedience, attempts at birth control, etc.

    It also strikes me as odd that God would strike Onan down for this, but not strike Judah down for sleeping with the exact same woman two chapters later when he thought she was a hooker. Seems a little inequitable to me.

  34. SingleSpeed says:

    also, the author just assumes that the Lord had something to do with Onan’s death. The author doesn’t offer any evidence to back this assumption up.

  35. It wasn’t adultery in that culture at that time. It was expected of him and actually part of the Law of Moses. (Deut. 25:5) He refused to follow the law and blatantly disobeyed his father’s directive. He was killed for that, not for making his little guys try to swim in a desert.

  36. sister blah 2 says:

    It is not knowable. But I think, just looking purely at the statistics, it would be safe to say that neither masturbation nor general disobedience nor attempts at birth control are likely to result in fatal divine retribution.

    Or maybe not…100% of people have done one or more of these things, and 100% of people will die. So there ya go. (h/t Onion article: “World Mortality Rate Holding Steady at 100%”

  37. Btw, “the Lord killed him” and “he was killed according to the Law commanded by God” are, for that day and age, synonymous. I disagree that the Lord literally killed him, but he was killed for violating what was believed to be the law of the Lord. It wasn’t for intentionally bad aim.

  38. ““the Lord killed him” and “he was killed according to the Law commanded by God” are, for that day and age, synonymous.”

    Not really, Ray. You’re right that it CAN mean the same, but it’s not clear here that it does.

  39. Concerning most of the comments and the links in this discussion:

    Have I stumbled into the boys locker room at some junior high somewhere?

  40. SB2, more evidence of your awesomeness. Thanks.

    Steph: if so, this is the nerdiest locker room ever.

  41. sister blah 2 says:

    #36 — Ray, are you saying that the local elders had a trial and he was stoned outside the gate (according to the Law), or ? I’ve never heard this before, but it’s an interesting idea. Who would initiate an action like that–the sister in law?

  42. SB2 — the seed sued.

  43. I’ve heard several theories on why God struck Onan down, and each seems as plausible as the next: Levriate covenant, masturbation, general disobedience, attempts at birth control, etc.

    You must be joking. Finding all those reasons equally plausible is impossible for a rational mind.

  44. MCQ, true — unless you somehow combined them all together into a whoppingly amazing super-sin.

  45. Okaaaaay, but at least two of those are mutually exclusive, Steve. At least according to my undersanding of human sexuality which, admittedly, is far from doctorate level.

  46. BTW, there’s no way masturbation is the sin here. The scripture says he did this “when he went in unto his brother’s wife” That’s a biblical euphemism for intercourse. He was definitely not alone in the room.

    I like the suggestion made by StillConfused in #28, but “failure to satisfy” would only be a sin if God were female. Also, there would have to be a corresponding sin called “failure to respond” or “feigning sleep” which would, of course, be a sin requiring excommunication, at least.

  47. MCQ: “I have a headache” would qualify as well.

  48. Perhaps I shouldn’t make the claim with such certainty, but the context of Deut 25:5-10 is very clear as to the duty of the brother. It was extremely important that a man’s “name be not put out of Israel” (v. 6), and there was a proper process of objection for the brother – including being shunned by the application of a pejorative name / classification. (vs. 7-10)

    Simply refusing to mate with his sister-in-law was not punishable by death; there was a way out for anyone who was adamant in his refusal. This man, however, didn’t take that route. He pretended to fulfill his duty, but actually faked it. (for those outside who couldn’t see the puddle on the ground and would assume he had fulfilled his duty)

    It was the responsibility of the man to go to the elders if he didn’t want to “perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her.” (v. 5) In this case, the brother had pretended to obey but actually deceived his father and the elders of Israel, and it would have taken the sister-in-law to witness against him, since the law and custom did NOT require any other witness to the actual consummation of the duty.

    Given the law and the system, I believe the only interpretation is that the brother was acting in direct opposition to a very important law (thereby “killing” his brother’s line and making his “name be put out of Israel”), subverting his available recourse and attempting to deceive his father and the elders of Israel.

    Imo, this passage says essentially NOTHING about birth control, per se, but plenty about disobedience and deceit.

  49. Btw, Deut. 25:11 is hilarious. The punishment in v. 12 is not, but it illustrates how seriously they took their sexual activities and the ability to propagate their name.

  50. sister blah 2 says:

    #49 — Odd that it is listed in such a blaze way, like that kind of thing happened all the time. Really, how common an occurrence could that possibly be? Why bother taking up column-inches in the scroll with a law that will rarely/never apply?

  51. Abby, of course, that is a lesser included offense to the sin of failure to respond. Once that sin has been committed, the sinner must obtain a doctor’s note (or CAT scan) whenever a headache is claimed in the future.

    Ray, Amen. But why do you have to use the “p” word? This is a family website, there is no need to use such graphic language.

  52. You must be joking. Finding all those reasons equally plausible is impossible for a rational mind.

    If I didn’t know better, MCQ, I’d assume that you were trying to offend me by obliquely calling me an idiot. Luckily, I don’t have the capacity for sufficient rational thought to allow me to understand that you’re calling me stupid. (It’s a special gift to be so dumb that you don’t understand that you’re being insulted.)

    My point relies on three assumptions supplied by Genesis 38: Onan went into his brother’s wife; he did something wrong by “spilling it”; and God struck him down. Given that framework, my point is that any of the things I mentioned earlier, plus several others, could be the reason.

    Now, if you want to argue that this is one of those stories in the Bible that should ignored because it lacks legitimate historical proof and seems to rely on a lot of conjecture by the author, even textually, I’m not going to disagree. But that’s a different inquiry than what I was responding to.

  53. Thanks for pointing that out, MCQ. From now on, I will use the “e” word.

  54. Per Ray, then, this story is miraculous as the sole recorded instance of a male faking orgasm.

  55. No, Steve, not orgasm – intercourse.

    MCQ, is there a different word I should have used?

  56. #54 – Although the comment itself made me laugh.

  57. Ray, he was faking orgasm. That’s the Word. Deal with it.

  58. MCQ (46): I think the Violent Femmes would disagree.

  59. Ray, sure, it’s hilarious right up until your wife “taketh [you] by the secrets.” Afterward, it seems a perfectly reasonable prohibition.

    Jimbob, If you read carefully, I was accusing you of being funny, not stupid. And I’m not suggesting we ignore the story, just that we not ignore the context. If we take all of that into account, it’s not reasonable to suppose Onan was killed for masturbation.

    This is confirmed by the parable wherein God told the Children of Israel “Let he who has a free hand cast the first stone.” In other words, if God was in the business of striking people down for masturbation, Canaan would have been a very lonely place indeed.

  60. MCQ (46): I think the Violent Femmes would disagree:

    Body and heat I stain my sheets
    I don’t even know why
    My girlfriend she’s at the end and she is starting to cry

    Let me go on like I blister in the sun
    Let me go on big hands I know you’re the one

    Someone appeared to be in the room here too.

  61. OK, now even I think it’s too much like a locker room.

  62. Interestingly, that song (Blister in the Sun, Violent Femmes) was played at every single stake dance while I was growing up.

  63. JT, I don’t know what kind of revelation you claim to have about that song, but it seems to me your interpretation is “adventurous” to put it kindly.

  64. Steve, faking? I don’t know. How about misdirecting?

  65. What makes you think I had an adventurous interpretation? We’re talking about spilling grape juice, right?

  66. #61 –

    Of course it was. For some reason the bishop didn’t want to spend any time at home and was just trying to fill his Sunday and Tuesday night calendar chock-full (or is it chalk-full?) of YSA’s with too much, ahem, time on their hands.

  67. MCQ (62) Just out of curiosity, how do you interpret the lyrics? My friend kept telling me about the adventurous interpretation and how he was shocked whenever they would play it at the stake dances, but I never believed it. After reading this post, I realized he was right.

  68. Actually, my personal interpretation is that Onan went in, had an aneurysm while in flagrante derelicto, and that someone concocted a post hoc cautionary tale. I just don’t know what I’m being cautioned against.

    Now it’s officially locker room.

  69. Don’t forget: Junior High locker room

  70. Where’s the locker room patrol?

  71. BTD Greg says:

    I’ve never understood why this story has to be about sexual immorality, rather than disobedience. Seems to me that it’s pretty clear that Onan done got himself smited because he didn’t do what he was commanded to do.

    Also, Flight of the Conchords is awesome. I almost bought my wife a t-shirt that said “team building exercise ’99” for valentines day.

  72. I’m curious about how the Law of Moses would have applied to events that took place at least four generations before Moses was born.

  73. The intricate laws listed in Deut. didn’t appear out of nowhere without any historical context. My understanding is that the Law of Moses codified for the escaped Israelites *many* practices that had existed for centuries at the very least, particularly those relative to the survival of Israel.

    I don’t have sources for that. Is Justin the Great around?

  74. Steve Evans says:

    Ray: tablets — stone — written by God’s finger. That’s where they came from, man. Didn’t you see Raiders?

  75. Onan’s basically taking advantage of this tradition to, um, know his brother’s wife, but he’s not carrying it out fully. all the benefits while shirking responsibility, so to speak. For the Israelites, that puts his actions with his SIL into the category of incest, a crime punishable by death.

  76. Also, FWIW, Religious Educator at some point in the future will be publishing an article I wrote explaining all the cultural and legal background of Genesis 38. It’s only semi-academic, given the audience, but still a good overview.

  77. I’ve heard that Onan is a good name for a pet bird, because birds keep spilling their seed on the ground.

  78. John Hamer says:

    I also don’t think that this story implies that birth control or masturbation are sins.

    Er and Onan are just set-ups for the Tamar narrative — she’s the lead character here (the woman who is not getting access to Onan’s seed). The important narrative for the Lord here is to pass the Abrahamic blessing down to David and the Davidic dynasty of the house of Judah.

    Throughout Genesis the birthright continues to get past generation by generation through vigor and obedience to the Lord’s command, rather than through primogeniture. From Abraham it goes to the younger son Isaac (son by Abraham’s sister, Sarah) instead of the older Ishmael (son of Hagar).

    Isaac’s younger twin son Jacob grasped at Esau’s heel coming out of the womb and seized the birthright. Judah is given the blessing to rule over the tribes of Jacob (Israel), over the heads of his elder brothers. Judah’s first set of sons here are equally unvigorous and disobedient to the Lord. Failing to produce sons (or to even try) definitely tharts the Lord’s plan of giving the sceptre to David. The result is that the generation is passed by and Tamar goes back to the source, seducing her father-in-law Judah.

    Tamar, in turn, has twins (literarily mirroring the Jacob/Esau story) and the one who breeches out (Peretz) is the ancestor of David and the Kings of Judah. It’s not about the seed, it’s about the birthright.

  79. #73 – I need to know these things BEFORE I watch the movie! All this time I thought it was just escapist fantasy.

    #75 – Nice!

  80. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 8

    Probably very few, and let’s not even think about Showtime. Flight of the Conchords performed at Amoeba Music a few days ago, and I suspect there weren’t a lot of TR-holders queuing up around the block on Sunset Boulevard. You’re a statistical outlier, Steve.

  81. And to think that I was still conceived by the pull out method of my parents. And they survived it.
    I think that anytime the Bible talks about God killing someone is somehow bogus. I would hate to think that God’s love for me would include potential Heaven inflicted death for a sin

  82. Latter-day Guy says:

    Arizona, your parents TOLD you that??! Apparently your family doesn’t have the strict “No Conception Stories” policy that my family had.

  83. I’m not sure if Steve is a statistical outlier or just honest. I love Flight of the Conchords, have HBO (how else am I gonna watch Big Love?) as well as Showtime (love Dexter). I know of lot of LDS friends in my stake who love these shows too – they just won’t admit to watching them. I fully admit it.

  84. MikeInWeHo says:

    You fully admit it in the Bloggernacle, or at church? I hope you’re right about Steve not being a statistical outlier, but where’s the proof?

  85. I love HBO and Showtime and watch them a lot more than network TV. That’s right. I said it.

  86. I fully admit it anywhere. My current Bishop and I have discussed Big Love at dinner before (he doesn’t watch it but his wife does) – so I’m not keeping it a secret.

    We may be statistical outiers in admitting we watch HBO and Showtime. I’m pretty sure my Bishops wife would not have admitted it if I had not brought it up first. I’m a former Bishops wife so she may have felt it was okay to spill the beans to my husband and me.

  87. I had always regarded HBO as taboo. Now that you have introduced “Flight of the Conchords” I will forever be wishing I was tuned in.

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