SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 21 Genesis 34

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Genesis** 34**. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

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  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

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Links to previous threads:
Genesis 1:1 to 2:25
Genesis 3
Genesis 4
Genesis 5-6
Genesis 7-9:17
Genesis 9:18-10:32
Genesis 11
Genesis 12-13
Genesis 14-15
Genesis 16
Genesis 17
Genesis 18-19
Genesis 20-22
Genesis 23-24
Genesis 25
Genesis 26:1-33
Genesis 26:34-Genesis 28:9
Genesis 30:25-31:55
Genesis 32
Genesis 33

Genesis 34
New International Version (NIV)
Dinah and the Shechemites

34 Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land. 2 When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. 3 His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. 4 And Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as my wife.”

5 When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled, his sons were in the fields with his livestock; so he did nothing about it until they came home.

6 Then Shechem’s father Hamor went out to talk with Jacob. 7 Meanwhile, Jacob’s sons had come in from the fields as soon as they heard what had happened. They were shocked and furious, because Shechem had done an outrageous thing in Israel by sleeping with Jacob’s daughter—a thing that should not be done.

8 But Hamor said to them, “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter. Please give her to him as his wife. 9 Intermarry with us; give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You can settle among us; the land is open to you. Live in it, trade in it, and acquire property in it.”

11 Then Shechem said to Dinah’s father and brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and I will give you whatever you ask. 12 Make the price for the bride and the gift I am to bring as great as you like, and I’ll pay whatever you ask me. Only give me the young woman as my wife.”

13 Because their sister Dinah had been defiled, Jacob’s sons replied deceitfully as they spoke to Shechem and his father Hamor. 14 They said to them, “We can’t do such a thing; we can’t give our sister to a man who is not circumcised. That would be a disgrace to us. 15 We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. 16 Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you. 17 But if you will not agree to be circumcised, we’ll take our sister and go.”

18 Their proposal seemed good to Hamor and his son Shechem. 19 The young man, who was the most honored of all his father’s family, lost no time in doing what they said, because he was delighted with Jacob’s daughter. 20 So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city to speak to the men of their city. 21 “These men are friendly toward us,” they said. “Let them live in our land and trade in it; the land has plenty of room for them. We can marry their daughters and they can marry ours. 22 But the men will agree to live with us as one people only on the condition that our males be circumcised, as they themselves are. 23 Won’t their livestock, their property and all their other animals become ours? So let us agree to their terms, and they will settle among us.”

24 All the men who went out of the city gate agreed with Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male in the city was circumcised.

25 Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. 26 They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. 27 The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. 28 They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. 29 They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me obnoxious to the Canaanites and Perizzites, the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces against me and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.”

31 But they replied, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”
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I think we see here the original purpose of circumcision. “We will enter into an agreement with you on one condition only: that you become like us by circumcising all your males. Then we will give you our daughters and take your daughters for ourselves. We’ll settle among you and become one people with you.”

At a time when the local power structure was in flux and new alliances were forming there would need to be a way for a tribe to signal their commitment to the group they were joining - something fairly extreme that was visible and irrevocable. The answer was body modification.

Why circumcision specifically? Maybe other forms of modification were in use by rivals and they needed something different. Tattoos will be declared un-kosher in the law code. A circumcised and tattooed male would be showing competing alliances.

One thing to note about the honor violence is that Dinah does not get murdered or even condemned. Considering how women get treated in such situations among some people, even today, it is a relief. If a violent end to Dinah was part of the original story and some redactor took it out then “Thank You”.

Some speculation: It is possible that there really was an incident where the tribe of Simeon took advantage of a tribe that was joining the brotherhood. The trigger might even have been a woman’s honor although I assume there would have been a history of bad blood. The killing would have been a scandal among the brother tribes.

Levi at some point took on a religious role for the new nation as a whole. That role may have already been in place during the incident. If so they would have taken a role in the converting of the Shechemites and would have been shamed when their conversions resulted in violence.

Let me break it down as far as I understand it:

  1. Jacob, a descendent of Abraham and thus circumcised by covenant with God (Genesis 17), has his daughter raped by the leader of a neighboring tribe.

  2. The rapist’s father and the rapist offer peace between the two by throwing in the ability to buy land and any amount of shekels.

  3. However, Jacob’s raped daughter’s brothers seek revenge. And the revenge is to convince the men in this neighboring tribe to convert to their religion vis a vis circumcision in order for her hand in marriage.

  4. The rapist, the rapist father, and all of the other men (not male children however) are then circumcised. This is so painful that even three days later, they are unable to defend themselves properly and are thusly defeated and killed by Jacob’s sons

  5. Jacob’s sons then loot everything and everyone. Women, children, animals, and money they collect.

  6. Jacob is rightly annoyed that his son’s acted in a way that is going to upset his neighbors to the point where retaliation will kill them all.

  7. Jacob’s sons reply to his father “if we didn’t, it would mean that our sister is effectively a prostitute”.

Then it ends. It’s a strange place for this tale to end (skipping ahead to 35 and nothing happens to Jacob as he uproots and moves-unless this was the reason, but it’s not since he was ordered by God to move).

Maybe I’m looking for a “lesson” where there isn’t one. But what is the point of this story?

Well, I’d say the main point is to give context to the harsh treatment of Simeon and Levi by Jacob in his deathbed blessing session in Genesis 49. It also (coupled with Reuben’s transgression in Genesis 35:21) explains why the rulership of Israel, something that would normally be the entitlement of the eldest son, fell past the eldest three to Judah.

Another thing to note is that at the end of this whole incident, Jacob rebukes Simeon and Levi, but they defend their actions rather than accept his rebuke with proper contrition. Judah, by contrast, when rebuked by Tamar in Genesis 38:25, does not attempt to excuse his behavior. This is a quality of leadership that is valued by G-d, and the same contrast is later demonstrated between Saul (I Samuel 15:15-21) and David, scion of Judah (II Samuel 12:13).

My question, on reading this story, is which did the writers of it think was worse: (a) raping the daughter of a neighbour; or (b) deceiving one’s neighbours (albeit one of them was guilty of rape) and betraying them to their deaths.

Also, it is notable that Jacob’s rebuke to his sons was a practical one, not a moral one - namely, that acting in this way will make them powerful enemies.

There is really no clues in the story itself as to what moral judgment one is supposed to draw from it.

My own opinion: that the writers were of the opinion that the betrayal was the worse crime. In most ancient societies, the obligations of an hnourable agreement are near absolute. Things like rape and abduction of women between tribes either lead to war, or to some sort of reconciliation - followed by gift-giving and even marriage to patch up the inter-communial relations. Pretending to reconcile and then attacking is pretty unforgivably bad behavior - no-one could trust them again.

I’m curious about the use of the word rape in 34:2. It is my understanding that the RSV translation, especially for the OT, is a more accurate translation.

(RSV) 2 and when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humbled her.

Most translations I’ve seen have three actions, as the RSV edition does, and not the single word “rape”. However, they all describe it slightly differently. Though of course it really amounts to much the same thing.

The New English Translation:

Orthodox Jewish Bible:

New Revised Standard Version:

Complete Jewish Bible:

The basic account is all the same: he forcibly raped her - and afterwards, decided he was in love with her (her feelings on the matter were not recorded!).

The RSV isn’t disagreeing, though, as far as I can tell. Why would sex “humble” someone unless they had initially protested? And why would he have had to seize her if she were willing? I think the NIV is just stating explicitly what was left as a figure of speech in the original. It does that often, like changing the “biblical ‘know’” or “lie with” to “have sex with.”

I also note that the traditional KJV word is “defiled.” Now that does leave it open to interpretation a bit, but only if you assume that sex out of wedlock was considered a defilement in that era, and I don’t believe it was.

The only argument I’ve seen against rape is available here. It is not persuasive because it posits that the word could also refer to adultery, but Dinah is not married, and taking multiple wives was common in that era.

I find it hard to believe she wasn’t rapte. The story is even traditionally called “The Rape of Dinah.”

There was a very popular novel in the '90s called Red Tent, a first person narrative of Dinah’s life story. It was pretty good.

Glad to see so much discussion! I apologize for length here, but it’s a complicated story, and a difficult story for us moderns, since the attitudes reflected here are … um… awkward compared to modern views. The best we can do, I think, is to understand the story in the context of its own time. Remember that this is a story set in the era of nomadic tribes; there is no king, no government, no law courts, there are only individual tribes/sects/families to try to establish justice.

And this story is about justice. The very name Dinah means justice or judgment.

The chapter begins by identifying Dinah as the daughter of Leah. This is remarkable, it’s the only reference in the bible where the mother is named (usually, it’s just the father.) The story opens with (and hinges on) Dinah as the daughter of Jacob’s hated wife Leah, and Jacob’s treatment of Leah (and Dinah) will be judged very harshly.

Back to the text. In verse 2, Shechem rapes and kidnaps Dinah. There is no specific word in ancient Hebrew for “rape.” Instead, we have here a sequence of four action verbs: he saw her, took her, lay with her, and forced her. Most translations (those cited by Malthas) combine “lay with her” and “forced her” to mean “raped her,” which is correct in meaning but misses the poetry and increasing brutality of the actions. The final verb, “forced her,” is the same Hebrew word used to describe slavery. It certainly WAS a rape, there’s just no specific vocabulary.

In verse 5, we have Jacob’s reaction to the kidnapping: he is silent. I believe the text strongly condemns this, at least by implication. We need to contrast his silence with his later reaction (in Gen 39:33-35) to news of Joseph’s death, when he cries and tears his clothes. His reaction to the kidnapping of a child of Leah is very different from his reaction to the kidnapping of a child of Rachel. (Some read that Joseph’s kidnapping is cruel justice on Jacob because he did not react well when Dinah was kidnapped.)

However, his sons (Dinah’s brothers and half-brothers) are rightly outraged and demand action. We are left to contemplate again: Why wasn’t Jacob outraged? The noun “outrage” is a very powerful term, implying profound abhorrence. The brothers are “shocked” (better: distressed) and the prior use of this verb was Gen 6:6 when God was shocked/distressed about humanity before the Flood. There is a clear implication that this is a crime that threatens the entire community. And the brothers are furious.

The perpetrator of the assault says he loves Dinah, but he has not admitted to his crime(s) nor expressed regret, and he still has Dinah imprisoned. Jacob’s sons are outnumbered, so the only way to rescue her is an act of cunning, of trickery (as Jacob has used trickery earlier). In verse 13, we are told that Jacob’s sons are speaking “deceitfully,” so it is clear to us as readers that their seeming acceptance is just a ruse. They tell Hamor and his son Shechem that if the entire population is circumcised, they’ll allow mixing of the clans. Hamor and Shechem fall for this.

The ruse works, and the able-bodied males are incapacitated (circumcision of an adult is painful and debilitating for some time after.) Simeon and Levi are Dinah’s full brothers, who would logically be most angry at her abduction, and they take advantage of the situation of slay all the males and rescue Dinah. In verse 25, the verb “took his sword” echos the violence of Shechem who “took” Dinah back in verse 2.

It’s very important to understand that slaying of the townspeople is not for revenge (I disagree with stpauler), but to rescue Dinah (verse 26) who is still being held against her will. I find the text here deliciously tricky; there’s been a lot of bother and to-do about circumcision, cattle, etc. so that perhaps the reader forgot about Dinah and her plight. If so, for shame! This is rescue, not revenge.

Dinah’s story ends that her brothers “took Dinah” and “left,” as it began with the same verbs in reverse order, she “went out” and then “he took her.” A nice literary book-end.

Jacob now intervenes, scolding Simeon and Levi for jeopardizing the peace and bringing potential trouble to the clan. He still does not react to Dinah being molested and abducted, nor to the larger moral issue of punishing the innocent for the crimes of the few. Later, on his deathbed, as noted by cmkeller, Jacob will scold them again for their cruelty and violence.

The story ends with Simeon and Levi’s closing argument, the rhetorical question: What would you have us do? Let our sister be raped and kidnapped and not rescue her? I disagree again with stpauler, I think it’s a perfect end to the story. For all the ambiguity of their actions, the text is clear: women are not to be abused. They thought the means (killing and enslaving the innocent) justified the ends (of rescuing their sister.) Means justifying ends is often not a simple question, even today.

There is a very severe sense of justice here, that the kidnappers and their associates (even those not directly involved) are massacred. The family is the custodian of justice and avenger of the “lost voice.” In this nomadic setting, there is no society or court system to administer justice, it’s up to the family.

For our modern sensitivities, we dislike punishing the innocent along with the guilty. But for the ancients, the entire clan was responsible for the action of their leaders. Hamor could have returned Dinah and punished Shechem. The townspeople could have demanded the return of Dinah. They didn’t, and so justice (as I say, a very harsh justice) condemns that entire community.

We’ll see this later in Egypt, when the entire country is punished for the arrogance of pharaoh and the top-ranking officials. The view of the biblical author(s) is that the community is responsible for policing itself.

I agree that the story is about justice, but I disagree that the sons of Jacob are to be interpreted as administering justice.

I disagree that what the sons were doing here was a rescue operation. The text argues against this. The deceit of the sons was that they offered the people of the town a choice: make peace with us (which involves getting circumcised - in adults, a serious procedure!), or no marriage deal. The words they used, according to the translation, are these:

In short, according to the text, the brothers were already in a position to “take our sister and go” - that was the threat that they used to force the townspeople to go along with their trick!

If the townspeople were holding Dinah as a prisoner, this “threat” would have no force … the natural answer would be ‘so you say, but our prince is marrying the woman no matter what you think’. Why would they literally cut bits off themselves to appease these guys?

The more natural interpretation is that the townsfolk and the king fear the reactions of Dinah’s tribe and want to make nice with them - offering a hefty bribe and circumcision as propriating gifts. The King is shown basically saying ‘ask whatever you like, we will pay’. The implication being, if they didn’t want to pay, the brothers had enough clout to simply “take our sister and go”.

The notion of paying compensation for a misdeed - indeed, that of a rapist paying the family of the victim, and marrying her - is hardly unknown in ancient societies (and, sadly, in some modern ones). Again, such a procedure does not comport with our notions of “justice”. However, in a society that lacks police, cops and jails, it makes a certain brutal sense - as the alternative is a blood-feud that can destroy whole clans and tribes, multiplying the original injustice a hundred-fold.

That is exactly what happens here. Jacob, in the role of wise elder, accepts the deal. His sons appear to, but it is a deception. In return for a rape of one woman, they widow a whole town - presumably, these women taken as booty and shared among them, are going to be raped in turn.

In short, their crime is against the primitive notions of justice - the ones that prevent blood-feuds and wars, by making alternative accomodations to crimes (such as payment, or marriage). The risk, of course, is that they in turn, having unleashed the blood-feud, risk their own tribe being destroyed in retaliation - as Jacob bitterly notes.

Interesting. I took the “take our sister and go” as an empty comment, because Shechem was not about to hand over Dinah.

And I’m sorry if I came down too heavily on the side of the brothers rescuing Dinah, I meant to say that the story is very ambiguous: the brothers clearly over-reacted, but the rhetorical question at the end is critical. They shouldn’t risk blood feud, but neither can they leave Dinah prisoner. Jacob comes down on one side, but he’s at an extreme position: he does nothing. He is silent when the daughter of Leah is raped and kidnapped. Simeon and Levi come down on the other side, they’re out to rescue their sister no matter the cost. The situation is one in which there is no “perfect” outcome… but it’s not one-sided, neither supporting Jacob nor supporting Simeon/Levi. I came down too heavily on the Simeon/Levi side because it’s so easy to come down on Jacob’s side.

Note that, for all of Jacob’s nasty comments about Simeon and Levi, the tribe of Levi becomes extremely important in priestly functions (much later) and the administration of justice.

No apologies are necessary! :slight_smile: I love discussing this stuff, and a discussion isn’t nearly as interesting if everyonbe agrees. :wink:

Way I see it, there are basically three kinds of justice possible:

  1. Justice through self-help - do wrong unto me or mine, and face the consequences, which are so terrible that no-one in their right minds would dare do wrong to me again. This is the sort of justice chosen by the sons.

  2. Justice through negotiation, compromise, and payment. This keeps the peace, but at the price - that evil-doers who are wealthy enough can basically do as they please, as long as they are willing to keep paying. The prince Shechem can rape a woman, pay her family off, and it’s all good - that’s what the sons complain of. This is the sort of Justice chosen by Jacob.

  3. Justice of the modern sort, with a (supposedly) impartial arbiter handing out punishments for crimes based on weighing of evidence. This sort of justice was, of course, unavailable in the situation facing Jacob & sons.

At first glance, the story seems pretty straightforward - a choice between the first sort of justice and the second. However, looking at the details, it isn’t so simple. The sons do not choose straightforward self-help - that is, marching with swords drawn to avenge the wrong. Instead, and critically, they resort to deception. They pretend to go along with the second sort of justice.

I understand your point is that the pretence was necessary because Dinah was being held captive. As you know, I disagree with this point (and in any event, a trick merely to rescue Dinah did not require a massacre).

In my opinion, the offence of the sons lies in the deception. This is what risks making them odious.

If I recall, (without looking up if THIS is post-Moses) there was a lot of city-looting, and even whole-sale slaughter of women and children by the tribes of Israel. And that was definitely post 10 Commandments.

Dale Sams: That’s only true of the seven Canaanite nations that G-d condemned for their wickedness, and of Amalek. Aside from those exceptions, the Torah commands that before warring on another nation, that it must be given the option of a peaceful resolution.

The problem with that interpretation is that Jacob has been shown to be rather deceptive throughout the narrative, and the text doesn’t seem to condemn him. And Jacob seems more concerned with their actions than the deception–he leaves no place for them to have somehow have gotten Dinah back without it.

Still, I find Dex’s interpretation hard, too, because, as was stated upthread, this story seems to be included in order to explain why Judah becomes the head tribe. So history, and, by implication, God himself, seems to side with Jacob on this.

The deception combined with the massacre is their actions.

My theory is that the sons had two “honourable” choices - either make a deal (as they purported to), or openly threaten or declare war. They chose another path - deception and massacre - which other tribes would find dishonourable, hence odious.

A possible third choice would be to rescue Dinah by means of a trick - but the text stongly hits taht this wasn’t in fact necessary. In any event, it would leave the wrong un-paid-for.

Jacob had no intention of getting Dinah back. He was willing to go along with the deal - that is, the townsfolk get circumcised, presumably pay a hefty bride-price to Jacob’s clan, the two tribes effectively merge, and Dinah marries the rapist prince. This was a perfectly acceptable path according to some versions of Bronge Age ethics, but obviously not according to Jacob’s sons ("Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?”).

It’s not a simple story, there are lots of different perspectives. Neither Jacob NOR his sons come out of this as a model of ethical behavior; everyone is flawed, morally. There’s arguments for and against each position. It’s really easy for us (as moderns) to simply condemn the sons, but I wanted to point out that it’s not so easy. I agree, having incapacitated the males, could the brothers have just rescued Dinah, without the slaughter? Seems reasonable, but not directly addressed. And, as I noted above, the Torah definitely takes the perspective that a community (Shechem’s clan) is responsible for the actions of their leaders.

The only clear position is that the rape and kidnapping are not justified, not even by the “I really love her now” argument.

Perhaps one of the points (I hadn’t thought of this before) is EXACTLY that this situation is morally flawed all around, because there is no law yet. The law given later at Sinai provides moral compass in such ambiguous situations. I dunno, does that seem reasonable as an overview?

We do agree on this point. But, again, in about three chapters, we will have Jacob’s reaction to Joseph being kidnapped: he tears his clothes, he mourns, he wails. I think it is fair to say the text condemns him for being silent when Dinah is abducted.

I think this may well be the answer - the story, if it has meaning, is “about” the fact that without a system of law, the only choices available for “justice” are all bad - either payments or feuds.

This makes sense of the fact that the raped woman is named “Dinah” or ‘justice’.

In that respect, it is interesting that the last of the “Noahide laws” binding on all humanity is the requirement to have in place recourse to courts for providing justice.

I’m not so sure - the two situations are different, in that Jacob could see some advantages accruing to his clam from Dinah’s abduction. So it makes some sense that he’d react differently.

While that is a cold-blooded way of looking at it, in the ethics of the time, women being used to cement alliances (whether they liked it or not) wasn’t unknown, and the insult to her clan imposed by her forcable rape could, in fact, be compensated for with a cash payment - although obviously her brothers feel otherwise!