Genesis 34:1-31 – The Rape of Dinah
The rape of Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, and its violent aftermath.
This text continues the concerns of many Genesis narratives, including the chosen family’s relationship with outsiders, issues of deception, and the key role that women play in these families.
Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, is the first of his children to be given major narrative attention. While on a journey, she is raped by Shechem, a member of the ruling Canaanite family. But then, in a move not typical of rapists, he seeks to have her become his wife (34:1-4). Jacob responds to these overtures with prudence and care and begins negotiations with Shechem’s family. But his sons resist this direction for action and issue deceitful (34:13) demands, including the circumcision of all males in Shechem’s family (34:5-24). Somehow the brothers’ honor, rather than Dinah’s, has become the issue to be addressed (see also 34:31).
Brothers Simeon and Levi take the initiative in following through on their deceit (34:25-29), breaking faith their new blood brothers. They murder Shechem and his father, and every male in town; they rape all the women and pillage the city. Their violence begets further violence. They use religious practice (circumcision, which had weakened all those whom they killed) as a vehicle for deception and violence.
In the concluding exchange (34:30-31) Jacob stands in opposition to what the brothers have done. In turn, their question is narrow and self-serving, raising a new issue, namely, harlotry (34:31); once again, their shame seems to be the focus of their attention rather than Dinah. Later, Jacob will sharply condemn the violent actions of Simeon and Levi (Gen 49:5-7).
Why is Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, made the victim of rape and then silenced? This story gives Bible readers permission to talk openly about rape and the sorry history of society’s response (including the silencing of victims). Has this text contributed to this silence?