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.