by Mike Ford (1955-2021)
November 6, 2012
Recently, a man spoke in my hearing about the Rape of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he gave the impression that her violation was entirely her fault. It was his opinion that she went out seeking the world and got what she deserved. Actually, that Dinah was responsible for the whole sorry affair is a common take on this event by many Bible commentators, scholars, and preachers. Many people believe that she was a hussy, a disobedient young woman with a taste for the things of the world.
Is this an accurate portrayal? Was Dinah solely to blame? What can we learn from this account?
An entire chapter of the Bible is devoted to the Rape of Dinah, which is remarkable considering how many other important events received nothing near this much ink! Obviously, God wants us to learn some lessons from what happened to Dinah and her family.
As we begin, we need to hit the highlights of this account in Genesis 34. Verse 1 informs us that "Dinah, the daughter of Leah . . . went out to see the daughters of the land." As far as we know, Dinah was Jacob's only daughter. We can easily imagine many scenarios of life for an only girl with, at that time, eleven brothers. Would she be a tomboy? Spoiled? Over-protected? Possibly, but she could just as well have been kind, giving, respectful, and obedient. She was not only the daughter of Leah and Jacob, but the granddaughter of Isaac and Rebekah and the great granddaughter of Abraham and Sarah. She had some pretty good genes, and she certainly had been told their stories, giving her good examples to follow.
We are immediately told that she is Leah's daughter. This could be just a simple statement of fact, or under God's inspiration, Moses could be hinting that she was not one of Jacob's favorites, since her mother was Leah, not Rachel. After all, favoritism was a great sin Jacob dealt with much of his adult life. This would help to explain Jacob's subdued reaction, which we will see.
It is difficult to pin down Dinah's age at this point, but she was probably thirteen or fourteen years old. Most commentators agree on this, though some think she was as old as her late teens. By following the timeline of Jacob's journey, service to Laban, and return to Canaan, the evidence points to a young girl of around thirteen. Some thirteen-year-old girls look and act like streetwalkers, yet other girls of that age still play with dolls.
Where did Dinah fit? She was curious enough to leave the safety of the camp and to explore, so it is unlikely that she was still playing with dolls. She was certainly physically mature enough to draw attention from men, and girls of that time may have grown up early, yet no matter how one theorizes, she remains a young girl. Perhaps she was a bit full of herself, maybe a bit silly and giggly, as girls this age can be. Her trip into town was unwise, certainly.
She went out of her family's camp, left its safety, specifically to see the "daughters of the land." The Jewish historian, Josephus, says that the Hivites were having a festival of some sort. We can picture the color, the pageantry, and music of an exotic celebration and realize how that would catch the eye of a tent-dwelling young girl with no sisters.
In verse 2, we find that Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, a prince of the country, "saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her." By the time this incident occurred, Jacob and his family had lived in the area for a few years. After Jacob left Laban and met and dealt with Esau, he had journeyed on to Succoth, staying there long enough to build homes—or more properly booths—for his family and livestock. He had then moved on to the city of Shechem, where he had bought the land that his tents were pitched on from Hamor (Genesis 33:17-19). No doubt, there was additional contact between the peoples as they traded with each other.
Dinah had possibly been to town before on one of these trips, and Shechem may have seen her. Verse 3 relates, "[Shechem's] soul was strongly attracted to Dinah . . . and he loved the young woman." Most likely, the young man had begun to lust for her when he first saw her, developed a "crush" on her, and as a son of the local ruler, he just took what he wanted.
Was It Rape?
Did Shechem take Dinah against her will? Some of the more recent commentators spend a great deal of time dissecting this incident, and they conclude that Jacob and his sons were misogynistic men trying to control the women, so Dinah, a free spirit, chose to have consensual sex with Shechem and to live with him. This so outraged the men that they took vengeance.
The Revised King James Bible reads that Shechem "lay with her and violated her." The King James Version says that he "defiled" her. The Authorized Standard Version, Revised Standard Version, and several others translate the Hebrew to say that he "humbled" her. The Amplified Bible reads that he "seized her, lay with her, and humbled, defiled and disgraced her." The New American Standard Bible says he "took her and lay with her by force."
One source, in an attempt to prove that it was not rape, points out that the Hebrew verb translated as "humbled" or "violated" can also mean "to subdue." The verse would then read, "Shechem . . . took her and lay with her and subdued her." This hardly makes the act sound consensual!
Suffice it to say that the text is clear: Dinah was raped. She may have sinned by leaving the camp. She may have lusted to see a pagan festival with all its pageantry. She may have even dressed or walked in an inappropriate manner. But the fact remains that she was taken against her will and violated.
After the rape, Shechem puts Dinah in his house (verse 26), probably under guard, and asks his father, Hamor, to arrange a marriage. Verse 4 shows how "politely" this is done: "So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, 'Get me this young woman as a wife'"—which sounds like a young man accustomed to getting his own way.
Verse 5 relates that "Jacob heard that he [Shechem] had defiled Dinah his daughter. Now his sons were with his livestock in the field; so Jacob held his peace until they came." We do not know what Jacob thought at this point, for he kept silent. His only daughter had been raped and was now held "captive." A thousand things must have gone through his head, yet he said nothing. In light of this, it is interesting to consider how the dynamics of Jacob's life have changed: Now he "kept his peace" until the sons came home.
Hamor and Shechem soon visit Jacob to speak to him. That the princes of the land humbled themselves to go to the tents of the nomadic visitors implies that at least Hamor knew that a wrong had been committed. Bible commentator Adam Clarke feels that Hamor did not have enough people to overwhelm Jacob's entourage, and thus he had to negotiate.
Enter Dinah's Brothers
News of this rape spread quickly. "The sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it; and the men were grieved and very angry, because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, a thing which ought not to be done" (verse 7). Jacob was not known as Israel ("Prince with God") at this point, nor his people, so though the text says that Shechem "had done a disgraceful thing in Israel," a more literal translation would be "against Israel." Thus, this crime against Dinah was also against Jacob; it was an offense to the Prince of God. No small thing!
"Hamor spoke with them, saying, 'The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter, please give her to him as a wife'" (verse 8), and he urges them to intermarry with his people. In verse 11, Shechem speaks to Jacob and her brothers, saying, "Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give." Shechem, it seems, knows that he did wrong and feels a sense of responsibility. While he does not apologize, he does ask for favor and offers to make restitution.
What happens next is well known. As verse 13 relates, "The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father, and spoke deceitfully because he had defiled Dinah their sister." In verse 15, they lie to Hamor and Shechem, telling them that if they and the men of the town are circumcised, then Shechem can have Dinah.
The coming atrocities are justified with the words "because he had defiled Dinah." We do not know how many of the brothers were in on the plot to coerce the men of Shechem to be circumcised, but it appears that Simeon and Levi took the lead. Three days after the men were circumcised, Simeon and Levi "each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males" (verse 25).
Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah's full brothers, break from the pack here. Whereas previously the phrase "the sons of Jacob" had appeared, these two are now singled out for what they did. All of the brothers participated in plundering the town (verse 27), but it was Simeon and Levi, along with their servants most likely, who carried out the murders of all the town's males. God says, however, in Deuteronomy 32:35, "Vengeance is Mine." As God had been working with Abraham and his descendants for several hundred years by this point, Simeon and Levi should have known better.
Who Is to Blame?
We will begin with Jacob. In Genesis 28:20-22, he made a vow that, if God would be with him, he would return to Bethel. Instead, however, after leaving Laban, he stops first at Succoth for a time, then settles in Shechem, fifteen miles short of Bethel. Perhaps he does not feel ready to go to Bethel, which means "House of God," because some of his family still hold to their pagan gods. Perhaps he feels that he knows best, and Shechem is a better spot (Bethel is about a thousand feet higher in elevation than Shechem).
God allows him this latitude, but in the Rape of Dinah and the subsequent murders, it is obvious that God wants him to honor his promise to return to Bethel. Notice Genesis 35:1: "God said to Jacob, 'Arise, go up to Bethel and dwell there.'" The first thing that Jacob says to his family after being told this is to "put away the foreign gods that are among you" (verse 2).
In Genesis 34:30, we see something else about Jacob:
Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, . . . and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I." (Emphasis ours)
This verse does not put Jacob in the best light! He appears to have been just a bit self-centered. At this point in the story, he was not thinking in terms of Dinah's best interests, only of his own.
It seems that Jacob failed Dinah in several ways. He put her outside Shechem where she should have never been. He allowed continuing worship of pagan gods in his home. He was concerned more with his personal honor and image than that of his daughter. Moreover, he left it to his sons to deal with this tragedy rather than taking a leadership role.
What about Leah? Where was she in all this? The Bible is silent about her. Should she have known where her thirteen-year-old daughter was? Maybe she did know; perhaps she allowed her to go to Shechem unattended. The pagan festival held there may have been familiar to Leah, and she felt no threat from it or its attendees. An ancient Jewish commentator on the Torah, Rashi, alleged that "the daughter is like the mother," managing to condemn both of them in his short comment. Notice that Leah—the mother of six of the tribes of Israel, part of Christ's genealogy, a woman blessed in so many ways by God—is blamed rather than any of the men.
Are Hamor and Shechem to blame? Certainly, Shechem must take blame, as he raped a child, one in mind if not in body. In some respects, despite being the perpetrator of a dreadful crime, he comes off as somewhat honorable. He is said to have loved her, he appears to be sorry, and he offers to marry her and give the family a dowry.
Hamor's role in this seems to be two-fold. He wants to give his boy his desire, and he wants to accumulate more wealth and power for himself. When he pitches the idea of circumcision to the townsmen in Genesis 34:23, he says "Will not their livestock, their property, and every animal of theirs be ours?" Hamor means "ass" or "donkey," so make of it what you will.
Then there are the sons of Jacob, led by Simeon and Levi, full brothers to Dinah. There is no excusing the crimes that they committed, and they are subsequently punished (see Genesis 49:5-7), a part of the saga that is a story unto itself. They certainly share great blame.
What about Dinah? Was she a hussy? A shameless and promiscuous girl? It is interesting that in this entire chapter we never hear from her. Was the rest of her life ruined? Did she have a child from this rape? Many interesting theories have been suggested about the remainder of her life, one of which is that she later married Job, and that the child born from this rape was a girl, Asenath, who married Joseph.
My personal opinion is that she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, she put herself in that situation, so she does carry some blame for what happened. She does not deserve all of it, as the older commentaries have it, nor was she some sort of feminist out to break the hold of her male-dominated world, as more modern commentators try to make her.
We cannot know all that went on in this matter, but God has given us a great deal of information about the various players. As with most things in life, there is more to it than what appears at first blush. There are layers to be peeled back and meditated on. When examined from all angles, we can see that none were truly innocent in the Rape of Dinah, which is a lesson for us all.