So far all the women we have looked at have been at the centre of a nuclear or thereabout family, Sarah, who waited a long time for Isaac, Rebekah who left her home to marry Isaac and bore him twins, the workings out of the lives of those children, with Leah and Rachel, Rebekah’s nieces both marrying Jacob. The original family tree and revelation of God’s promise to the people of Israel.
Dinah is the only recorded daughter of Jacob and Leah. Genesis 34v1-31 is where she is recorded “The rape of Dinah and its consequences. Her voice is not heard – this is all “done to her”. A novel written in 1997 by Anita Diamant – The Red Tent is an imagining of her story, told in her voice.
The perspective of Genesis is different. Jacob and his wives and his concubines and their assorted offspring have finally left Laban and fled (secretly) – pursued by Laban who catches up with them, makes his peace with them (probably) and departs, kissing his daughters and grandchildren goodbye. Jacob is then reconciled to Esau (the brother whose birthright he acquired many years earlier).
“And Jacob came to Salem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan when he came from Syrian Mesopotamia and he pitched his tent before the city.”
Dinah “went out to observe the daughters of the locals”. There is of course much debate about this statement – somewhat odd in the context of a society where women did not tend to go out on their own. Perhaps in that male-dominated world of her brothers she longed for some “refined” society or some company of her own age? We hear of her as the only daughter of Jacob.
She was seen by Shechem, the son of the ruler of the land, who took her, slept with her and humiliated her. So far, so bad followed by “he was attracted to her” and “spoke to her according to the heart of a maiden” He asked his father to let him have this “slave-girl” as a wife. We do not hear Dinah’s opinions or reactions. I am reminded of those episodes where Sarah and Rebekah are told by their husbands to pretend to be sisters of their respective spouses when forced by famine into a foreign country to avoid the attentions of the locals. In this case perhaps she went willingly into the neighbouring land – curiosity has been suggested as a reason. He calls her a “slave-girl” which suggests that she is a captive and that this is no meeting of equals.
The proposal is put to Jacob, who has heard how his daughter has been treated, but he does not act whilst his own family are away from him. The father of Shechem, Hamor speaks to Jacob: “My son has chosen your daughter in his heart. So give her to him as a wife. Intermarry with us; give us your daughters, and take our daughters for your son and live among us.” Shechem said “Increase the bridal price as high as you like, and I’ll give you just what you tell me and give me this child as my wife.”
Jacob’s sons Simeon and Levi are not impressed with how their sister has been treated. They don’t, however, give a flat refusal. Instead they demand that to show good faith Shechem and all the others who wish to marry Dinah’s compatriots should be circumcised. They agreed – the “young man wasted no time, for he was very keen on Jacob’s daughter.” He put it to the other men of the city and they two were circumcised. It was not however the plan of the sons’ of to intermarry and live with the people of Shechem peace and harmony. They were not impressed that their sister had been humiliated. Three days after the circumcision, when “they were in pain; the two sons of Jacob; Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, each took their sword, entered the city unopposed; and they slew every male.” They killed Shechem and his father and “liberated” their sister Dinah from his house. The brothers’ plundered the city. Jacob was not impressed and worried that this would provoke a fight with their neighbours. His sons replied “Are they going to treat our sister like a prostitute?”
Suffice to say that the tribe of Jacob does not settle there, but goes on to Bethel where Jacob (now renamed Israel) builds an altar to God. “And Israel departed from Shechem and the fear of God was on the cities around them and they did not chase after the children of Israel.”
Not an edifying episode – we don’t hear anything of Dinah’s reaction or indeed any of her female relatives. Even her father is fairly quiet in his response relying on his sons to take their devastating action. This story can be read in different ways – Dinah was attracted to a powerful man outside her own tribe (who still lived in tents) where he lived in a city, the son of a king. Alternatively, she was led astray to the bright lights of the city, captured, enslaved and then a bargaining chip to be argued over. Perhaps the only difference from what she might have expected is that she was not found a husband from amongst her own tribe. The difficulty of this separate tribe of Israel settling and intermarrying with their neighbours who do not worship the same one true God is evident in this story. The actions of her brothers are however less than admirable. Who knows what Dinah thought – gratitude to be rescued from slavery and humiliation – tinged with resentment at being called a “prostitute”? She had broken the rules, stepped outside her community and many had suffered as a result? Was that all her brothers remembered about her for evermore? We don’t really know what happened to her. There are no lists of her descendants, when the family are enumerated and go to Egypt to visit the long-lost Joseph, so we presume that there was no “happy” ending.
Image © Sweet Publishing / FreeBibleimages.org