Genesis 34 tells what happens when Jacob's only daughter, Dinah, is raped by a young man of the Hivites, Shechem.
1. In Genesis 34:1, Dinah, living in foreign territory, is shown seeking the company of other young women. This meant that she probably went into the town named for the young man who would rape her.
The irony in this is that cities in those times, about 1700 BC, were usually the safe places to be, not the countryside in which Dinah's still-nomadic family lived. Cities were bounded by walls, the narrow gates into which were locked at sundown. It was in the countryside that bandits roamed and of course, wild animals attacked. But somewhere either close to the city or within its environs, Shechem at first spoke tenderly to Dinah and then raped her.
Shechem then asks his father, Hamor, apparently unaware of what has happened, to arrange for a marriage between Dinah and Shechem.
Even in patriarchal ancient Israelite thought, by the way, rape was never justified. (See Genesis 34:1-4)
2. Jacob's reaction to learning of Dinah's rape is strange. He decides to hold his tongue until he has revealed what has happened to his sons. Given the fear and revulsion with which he later greets his son's reactions in the matter, it's hard to know why he told his sons. What does seem clear from that later response on Jacob's part is that he was not intent on exacting revenge, at least not immediately, because he was afraid of the larger numbers of men that Hamor and the Hivites could bring against Jacob and his relatively small band.
3. Hamor visits Jacob and family to seek Dinah's hand in marriage for Shechem. It's interesting that Jacob's sons interpose themselves in marriage negotiations that should have involved only Jacob and Hamor. This in itself should have aroused Jacob's suspicions about his son's plan of action.
It's interesting to note that we've run across a sibling's interposition in such negotiations before. When Abraham's servant went to Iraq, seeking a wife for Abraham's son, Isaac, Laban, the son of Rebekah's father, Bethuel, stuck his nose in to the negotiations. In each case, manipulation was involved.
4. Distinct among many peoples in ancient times, male Israelites were circumcised as a sign of their covenant relationship with God. The Hivites were apparently unaware of the theological significance of circumcision. They seem to think it's only a social custom and with the promise of marriageable women and through the use of their superior numbers, possession of all that Jacob and his family owned, they readily agree to be circumcised.
5. It was said that the third day after circumcision was the most painful in the recovery period. This was when Jacob's sons, who never intended to allow Dinah or any other woman of their party to become wives of the Hivites, attacked the handicapped Hivites. Killed were Hamor, Shechem, and every other male in the city. They also utterly plundered the place, taking all their wealth as well as their wives and children. They then brought Dinah back to their encampment.
6. Jacob was upset by his sons' rash action. Jacob tells his son, Simeon: "You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household" (Genesis 34:30). Simeon is unrepentant.
A few final points on this incident:
- The actions of Jacob's sons don't comport with an important Biblical principle labeled as lex talionis. This is summarized with the Biblical phrase of "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth," which many interpret as legitimizing vengeful action. In fact, lex talionis is a principle meant to limit punishment. It says that punishment must match, but not exeed, the gravity of the crime. Rape is clearly horrible. But the crime cannot warrant taking the life of a whole city's males, especially since there is no indication that any of them knew of Shechem's violation of Dinah.
- The utter destruction of Shechem wrought by Jacob's sons was standard operating procedure for conquering armies in those days. Conquest was meant to utterly subjugate and even humiliate the conquered and take possession of the enemies' families and property. This is what the word holocaust originally meant.
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