The NCT titles this section “the incident with Shechem.” The NRSV more bluntly calls it “the rape of Dinah.”
Jacob may have had more daughters, but the only one that’s mentioned by name is Dinah, presumably because of this story. It’s a sad but fascinating one that I’m going to have to go through bit by bit.
This story must take place about ten to fifteen years after Jacob’s reunion with Esau, since Dinah was only about 2 or 3 at the time, and her brothers not much older. She goes out to meet some of the other young women in the neighborhood, and the son of the local “prince” (“chief” in Japanese) sees her, seizes her, and “lays with her by force.” (v 2) The Japanese uses an equally obtuse term for “rape,” opting for netehazukashimeta or “slept with and disgraced/raped her.” The ambiguity of that last part of the verb plays a part in what comes next, but I’ll get to that in a bit.
First I want to focus on what happens immediately after the rape: Shechem falls in love with her. Which is odd if your image of rape is of random marauders going around picking up strangers. But if you through “date rape” into the mix, then Shechem’s a guy who met Dinah, liked her, and didn’t take no for an answer. Heck, maybe as he was son of the local leader, Dinah was too afraid to say no. The point is, though, that Shechem doesn’t particularly see anything wrong in what he did. He “loves” her and wants to marry her – so what if he started their relationship off non-consensually?
From then on in the story, however, they don’t use the word raped. Dinah is “defiled,” and that’s the big problem. See, non-virgins (and all that meant was an intact hymen) had an awfully difficult time finding a husband, and Dinah was now ruined for marriage. Jacob, however, is alone at the time he learns of the rape, and waits until his sons are back to try to do anything (v 5). This establishes right off the bat that there’s an element of fear involved in Jacob’s decision making. Which makes sense: Shechem is the son of the local leader, and Jacob and his family are newcomers and outsiders.
His sons are furious when they find out, because “he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done.” (v 7) It’s not exactly clear in the NRSV why it’s an outrage or why it ought not to have been done, besides the modern assumption of the obvious (i.e. rape is awful). But the Japanese renders it that he “committed a shameful thing against the house of Israel” – which hints at the idea that a lot of a family’s “honor” was tied up in keeping daughters virgins until marriage, both by protecting them from rape and controlling who they slept with.
Intriguingly, the two words in Japanese for “rape” and “shameful” are actually related. The first means “to be disgraced or humiliated” or to otherwise have your honor and dignity violated, as rape does. The second means “something you should find disgraceful or humiliating.” What’s not clear is if it’s Jacob’s family that should be feeling a disgrace of Shechem for having done the rape.
Shechem wants to marry Dinah, and his father Hamor considers this a great solution, proposing a swap of children to integrate Jacob’s family into their community. Jacob says nothing, letting Dinah’s brothers do the negotiating. They’re furious, and so they lie (v 13). They claim that what they’re really upset about is that Dinah’s going to marry someone uncircumcised. They’ll go along with the marriage plans if all the men in Hamor’s little city will agree to be circumcised.
Hamor agrees, and Shechem is thrilled, because he really wants Dinah. Hamor talks everyone into it by pointing out that Jacob’s family is wealthy and “Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours?” (v 23) So while Shechem wants Dinah out of lust, Hamor wants her out of greed.
But what’s crazy is that while this story is setting up Dinah’s marriage as this awful thing, in Leviticus this is actually what the Bible says should happen for women who have been raped!! (Deut. 22:28-29) It’s basically a “you broke it, you bought it” argument. Shechem is technically “doing right” by Dinah – rather than letting her be in a position where she may never find a husband, he’s going to make her an honest woman.
Then Simeon and Levi go and ruin the arrangement. They wait until all the men are incapacitated by their circumcision, kill Hamor and Shechem, and take Dinah back home. That’s more than understandable. But Jacob’s other sons then also sack the city, take all their wealth, and sell everyone into slavery. That’s a little uncalled for. (sarcasm detected)
And Jacob is upset by this turn of events, pointing out that while they may be wealthy, they are a small group in the midst of a much larger people who now hate their guts for having destroyed an entire town. Dinah, in other words, was a sacrifice to keep the peace with the neighbors. Jacob didn’t want her to marry Shechem either.
The final word of the chapter goes to Simeon and Levi, though, who ask “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” (v 31) Or in the Japanese, “So it doesn’t matter that she was treated like a whore?” Jacob doesn’t have a response right then, though there is one in his final blessing (Remember, I’ve read Genesis before. When I was 8. This passage was particularly enlightening).
So everyone in this gets criticized: Shechem for raping Dinah, Hamor for being greedy, Simeon, Levi, and their brothers for their violent revenge, and Jacob for silently sacrificing his daughter.
But you know who isn’t criticized? Who isn’t accused of doing anything wrong? Dinah. No argument that she brought it on herself, that she lured Shechem into it. That’s pretty enlightened for the time.
On the other hand, we never hear from Dinah’s perspective in this story. She never speaks. We don’t know whether she was pleased to see Shechem die, or whether she mourned over the ruins of the city and the lines of slaves taken for her “honor.”
It is, as I said, a sad story. But it also demonstrates the Bible’s ability to look at an incident from a position of moral ambiguity, as well as to be multi-vocal on ethical issues. Is it right for a woman to marry her rapist? Deuteronomy says yes, but Genesis says no.
The Japanese: hazukashimeru “to disgrace, to rape” (v 2), iiyoru “to woo” (v 3), ikidooru “to be angry, indignant” (v 7), shitau “to yearn for, to love dearly,” insekikankei “related by marriage” (v 8), utsurisumu “to change place of residence” (v 10), yuinoukin “betrothal money” (v 12), tamerau “to hesitate” (v 19), teian suru “to propose a plan” (v 20), meimei “each, individual,” nannaku “easily” (v 25), ryakudatsu suru “to plunder” (v 27), kougeki suru “to attack” (v 31), shoufu “prostitute,” atsukau “to be treated” (v 31).