June 20, 2011: Romeo and Juliet

Posted on : Jun 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Still Speaking

In Genesis 34 we find the story of Dinah. Dinah was the daughter of Jacob and Leah. I don’t think I have ever heard a sermon on Dinah. Neither is her story ever taught in Sunday School. The reason is that Genesis 34 is traditionally interpreted as a story of rape. The story goes that Dinah went out to meet the women of the region where her clan had decided to set up camp for a while: Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force.  And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her heart. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl to be my wife.” Now Jacob heard that Shechem had defiled his daughter Dinah; but his sons were with his cattle in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him, just as the sons of Jacob came in from the field. When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The heart of my son Shechem longs for your daughter; please give her to him in marriage. Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall live with us; and the land shall be open to you; live and trade in it, and get property in it.” Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor with you, and whatever you say to me I will give. Put the marriage present and gift as high as you like, and I will give whatever you ask me; only give me the girl to be my wife.” (Genesis 34: 1-12)

Jacob and his sons agree to allow Dinah marry Shechem on one condition: every male in the Hivite tribe had to be circumcised. Jacob could not allow his daughter to marry outside her own people – that was taboo. Thus to identify with Jacob’s clan the Hivites had to be circumcised. (Genesis 34:13-16)  The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we consent to you: that you will become as we are and every male among you be circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters for ourselves, and we will live among you and become one people.) After pleading his case, all the males in the Hivite tribe agree to let themselves be circumcised, which opens the way for Shechem to marry Dinah. But all is not kosher:   And all who went out of the city gate heeded Hamor and his son Shechem; and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. On the third day, when they were still in pain, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city unawares, and killed all the males. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away. And the other sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and made their prey. (Genesis 34:24-29)

When Jacob finds out what happened he is livid: “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.” But they said, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” (Genesis 34:30-31).

Personally, I don’t think this is a story of rape, but a love tragedy, something along the lines of Romeo and Juliet or Westside story – a story of forbidden love. First of all, the revenge seems to be totally out of proportion to the alleged crime. Let’s see: your sister gets raped, so in turn you kill the guy and his dad, and all the males in his village, then you plunder their village, steal all their belongings, and on top of that you abduct their wives and children!?  What???

Secondly there is no word for rape in ancient Hebrew.  Some scholars have pointed out that the Hebrew root word ‘nh that is used here to be translated as rape or “lay with her by forcealso has the meaning of shame. In the ancient world a sexual relationship between Schehem and Dinah would be considered a shameful act because they were not of the same ethnicity. The rest of the story affirm this understanding, because the text clearly states that Jacob and her brothers were upset for this very reason: When they heard of it, the men were indignant and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done. Because he had defiled their sister Dinah. They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Just think of this story in a more contemporary context, what would have been the reaction a hundred years ago in the Deep South regarding a sexual relationship between a black boy and white girl?  You get the idea.

Thirdly, a rapist doesn’t fall in love with the girl he rapes. Rape is an act of violence. Schehem obviously fell head over heels in love with Dinah, and although we don’t hear from Dinah in the text there is an indication that this was mutual: And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her heart. He spoke tenderly to her heart, hmm…….

Fourthly, Jacob and the brothers are indignant that their sister was defiled. This word is found nowhere else in Genesis, rather it is a word used in other Bible books where there is a reference to someone who is ritually impure in a religious sense. Having a sexual experience with a non-Israelite would made Dinah ritually impure. This was somewhat of a big deal in the Hebrew Scripture (Old Testament). Also, when the brothers justify their act of genocide, plunder, and abduction, they say it was because they could not allow their sister to be “treated like a whore.” Someone is not considered a whore because they are raped. A whore, or harlot, or prostitute refers to someone who engages in sexual relations for business reasons, in other words there is mutual consent.

Lastly, the text informs us that Schehem seized her and lay with her. In ancient times there was a practice called “marriage by abduction.”  Although this sounds like rape, and sometimes it did involve force, in other cases it was consensual and was actually arranged by friends or family members when the more usual marriage arrangements by fathers could or would not be made. Today we would say the couple eloped. Usually after the fact the more formal negotiations occurred, although sometimes violence was the aftermath. (Alice Ogden Bellis)

You see, this is what I think happened. Dinah went out to the nearest village where her family had decided to set up camp for awhile. Maybe she was curious or bored and wanted to meet new people. Whatever the reason, she went out to “visit the women in the region.” She and Schehem met and fell in love, but it was taboo. They knew they had no future – her father would never allow her to marry outside her people. So an “abduction marriage” was arranged. Once the deed was done, her father would have no choice but to allow her to marry Schehem. She would no longer be a virgin and thus no man from her own tribe would be willing to pay the dowry and marry her. And it almost worked – this love story almost had a happy ending, if it wasn’t for her brothers. They had no real concern for Dinah; their honor was tarnished – their sister slept with the other; that could not be allowed.  And their wounded pride led to a blood bath. And Dinah’s matrimonial prospects are destroyed and her own tribe is in danger:  the surrounding clans may decide to take revenge for the injustice. In the words of Alice Ogden Bellis: Dinah was a victim, not of rape, but of brothers who were overzealous in their concern for what they mistakenly believed was good for their group.

This story makes one think: How many times have we caused hurt and pain by sticking to our principles, believing our perspective on an issue to be right, justifying our actions even if it is to the detriment of someone else?

Kobie