Set in Shalem, a city of Shechem in Canaan, the Gn 34:1-31 pericope describes in third person the defilement of Jacob’s daughter Dinah and subsequent events. A Hivite named Shechem, defiled Dinah when she visited area women (34:2). Upon Shechem’s request to marry her, his father Hamor approached Jacob with a proposition of land, wives, and trade (vv. 3-4, 6, 9-10). However, Jacob’s sons requested all the city’s men first undergo circumcision (vv. 14-15), which Hamor and his son found favorable (v. 18). The sons did so deceitfully, though, since Shechem defiled Dinah (v. 13). Ultimately, two of Jacob’s sons slew all the city males weakened from circumcision, took Dinah, spoiled the town, and seized the city’s wealth along with the murdered men’s wives and children (vv. 25-29). As the passage unfolds, it weaves in themes of gender, unspoken voice, and honor to the story events and actors.
(Jan Paron, 2021)
As if to underscore gender distinctions, the passage opens describing Dinah as the “daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob” (v.1 King James Version), as opposed to the defiler Shechem “the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country” (v. 2). This comparison contrasts kinship naming systems. Being birthed to the unfavored wife Leah, possibly influenced the narrative’s author to describe Dinah’s descent in matrilineage fashion (Gn 29:25-26), as opposed to Shechem in a patrilineage. In yet another instance of differentiating genders, Jacob reacted to the news of Dinah’s defilement silently, holding his peace until his sons arrived (34:5). However, when Jacob heard of a beast devouring Joseph, it led him to mourn several days (37:34). Further, Jacob did not respond to Hamor’s bride price; instead, Dinah’s brothers took the lead in deciding her future (34:13). This action again highlighted gender inequalities.
In addition to gender differences, the pericope omits the female voice. The passage overlooks any mention of Dinah in the decision-making process upon her dishonoring. She remains in its background as an inactive participant, albeit the receiver of Shechem’s sexual actions. Likewise, it also leaves out her mother, Leah. Without the inclusion of female viewpoints, especially Dinah, how can the reader perceive Shechem’s conduct in verse two? Rape or consensual sex? Consequently, the reader must look to textual evidence when Shechem “saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her” (v. 2). All verbs conjugate with a waw construction in Hebrew (e.g., “and defiled,” transliterated as way‘annehā). Although not apparent fully in English, the word ‘and’ in this verse separates each action, possibly serving multiple functions. Genesis uses the ‘verb-plus-and’ to highlight event sequences throughout the creation story. That might hold true in this account, too. However, the construction also may indicate cause and effect between each event. Further, the waw structure might accentuate the domination and power of Shechem’s moral code toward women (v. 2). Moreover, when listening to verse two in Hebrew read slowly, the force of his actions stands out to the listener. It leads the reader to ponder what ‘defile’ means. Bible versions vary in defining it. The New American Standard Version translates it as “rape,” the English Revised Version uses “humbled her” (afflicted), the New Revised Standard states “lay with her by force,” while the Aramaic Bible Version says “disgraced her” (v. 2). Based on the translations, it appears defile’s meaning could reflect all translations. Yet, if Moses wrote Genesis as traditionally believed, although an inspired author, his gender and Ancient Near East orientations may influence how he conveys the narrative from his cultural and social locations.
Honor and Shame
Despite Dinah playing no overt role in the narrative, it reveals the defilement led her brothers to perceive family disgrace because Shechem did a “thing ought not to be done” (v. 7d KJV). The defilement in their eyes dealt with their sister as a harlot (v. 31). Ultimately, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers through Leah, took matters into their own hands with blood atonement. They slaughtered the Hivite men at their weakest after circumcision, spoiled the city, and took all its wealth, women, and children (vv. 25-29). Did they remedy Dinah’s honor or have a broader intent for justification? Quite possibly, they disapproved of marriage with the outsider Hivite and his extended offer of intermarriage, leading the Hivites and Hebrews to “become one people” (v.16b). By killing the defiler Shechem, it prevented any Canaanite heirs from entering the Abrahamic lineage through Dinah. By extension, murdering all the Hivite men ethnically and religiously cleansed the region for any future social intercourse between the tribes. Their redress may have had economic implications in sharing their wealth and land with the Hivites apart from their ancestral family. Hamor referred to the financial benefits from marriage to include their cattle, substance, and beasts (v. 23).
This narrative demonstrates how gender, voice, and honor influenced Jacobian family decisions. As a by-product of establishing family honor, the sons may have shamed Jacob in his relationship with neighboring Canaanites and Perizzites. The KJV notes Jacob as saying their actions made him stink among the land inhabitants, or as the NASB states, making him repulsive (v. 30). They also shamed the God of Israel by abusing circumcision. God’s intent did not include them bartering for tribal inclusion; instead, He used it as a sign for an everlasting covenant with Abraham and His descendants, confirming it with Jacob (17:13; 28:13-15). Finally, the brothers’ purpose of bringing honor to their family, in turn, shamed the Hivite wives and children of the slain men. What worth did they have after capture? The story never mentions what happened to them after the brothers seized them.
If Shechem raped Dinah, did it justify Simeon and Levi raping, so to speak, the Hivites and their city? While God did not make known His voice in the narrative, nor Jacob or his sons seek it; His silence cannot equate to approval. How can the reader perceive God not revealing Himself amid humanity’s poor decisions? While the text gives no indication of time between chapters 34 and 35, conceivably, God may have used the tragedy in this narrative as a launch to move Jacob to Bethel, renaming him Israel and reaffirming His covenant with Abraham and Isaac (35:10-12). Despite the affairs at Shechem, God blessed Jacob (35:9). Nonetheless, how can believers in Christ avoid the same moral iniquities when reacting in the absence of God’s voice? In what ways can the faith community extend restorative practices to the powerless?
Jan Paron, PhD
June 9, 2021