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Dinah was the only named daughter of Jacob and Leah and was raped or seduced by Shechem.

Dinah, the only (mentioned) daughter of the patriarch Jacob, emerges in Gen 34, only to disappear from the text. Dinah goes out to visit the women of the land. We are not told her reasons, although Genesis Rabbah (ca. fifth century CE) and other interpretations suggest that she goes out, as did Leah her mother (see Gen 30:16), to have sexual relations. She is seen by Shechem, the prince of the local village, also named Shechem, who takes her and has sex with her (Gen 34:2). Together with his father, Shechem seeks Jacob’s permission to marry Dinah. Offering a generous bride-price, they suggest that their peoples intermarry. Jacob’s sons, never intending to give their sister to Shechem, agree upon one condition, that the Shechemites be circumcised. The Shechemite men consent, and while they are recovering from their circumcision, Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levi, massacre them while other brothers plunder the town. The narrative concludes with the brothers removing Dinah from Shechem’s house, Jacob accusing them of having made him “odious” to the neighboring clans (Gen 34:30), and the brothers responding with the rhetorical question, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”

Did you know…?

  • Dinah is the only (mentioned) daughter of Jacob, the youngest child of Leah.
  • Dinah only appears three times in the entire Hebrew Bible; in Gen 34, her birth announcement in Gen 30:21, and Jacob’s genealogy in Gen 46:15.
  • Dinah is only the subject of an action once in the entire narrative, and she never speaks.
  • Dinah never appears again after this episode.
  • Many scholars and translations read this story as one of rape.
  • The narrative reserves judgment on the characters in the story.
  • The Dinah story shares similarities with the story of Tamar and Amnon (2Sam 13).
  • In ancient Israel, and its surrounding areas, an unattached woman who has sex with a man, under any circumstances (consensual or otherwise), would protect her social status by marrying the man, as in Deut 22:27-28, Exod 22:15; also, Middle Assyrian Laws 55–56 (eleventh century BCE).

Was Dinah raped?

Recent scholarship asks, “Was Dinah raped?” Speculation focuses on the meaning of Shechem’s action in Gen 34:2: wayĕ‘annehā. This verb, frequently translated as “rape,” more precisely means “debased.” It does not imply forced sex but has a sense of downward social movement (see Gen 16:6, where Sarah “debases” Hagar). An alternative reading suggests that Shechem seduces Dinah. The biblical text is disinterested in the circumstances of the sex act beyond the fact that they are not married and he is a foreigner. In historical context, one might expect that Dinah’s family would prefer she marry Shechem. It might relieve the shame brought on by the “debasing” act. According to Deut 22:28-29 and Exod 22:15, a man who has sexual intercourse with an unbethrothed virgin is required to marry her; this was done for the woman’s and her family’s benefit: the woman, no longer a virgin, might not be able to find a husband and her father could not claim a high bride-price. But the law could also condemn a woman to marry her rapist. Alternatively, this law could be a means for a man and woman whose parents disagreed with a match to marry. Yet, the Bible never depicts these laws as carried out.

Who is in the wrong?

The text indicates that Shechem’s actions in Gen 34:2 (having sex with Dinah) caused a wrong (nĕbālâ, Gen 34:7) and disgrace (ḥerpâ, Gen 34:14) to Jacob and sons, precipitating the act of revenge. However, aside from possible interpretations of Gen 34:2 as rape, there is no indication that the characters are concerned with Dinah and her well-being. The shame is to her family, not (explicitly) to her. It is also possible that Shechem is in the wrong because he flouts convention by treating Dinah as a wife before marriage. Perhaps the brothers are anxious that others will do the same.

The text also demonstrates strong opposition to exogamy. This concern is common in postexilic literature such as Ezra-Nehemiah, although the book of Ruth presents an opposite view. The brothers regard the marriage of an Israelite woman to a Shechemite man and the erasure of clan identity as a “defilement” (Gen 34:5, Gen 34:13, and Gen 34:27). Anticipating Deut 7 and Josh 23:12 (see also Ezra 9:14), which similarly caution against intermarrying with the people of the land, the brothers massacre the Shechemites “by the sword” (Gen 34:26). It is unclear whether we are to understand Shechem’s murder as just, because the narrative offers no comment on the brothers’ action. Jacob disapproves of the massacre and plunder, but his rebuke is self-serving: “You have brought trouble on me, making me odious among the inhabitants of the land” (Gen 34:30). Jacob’s deathbed prayer in Gen 49, in which he curses Simeon and Levi as men of the sword (Gen 49:5-7), might be understood as judgment of their actions, but not explicitly. Despite the violent revenge taken, the language used leaves us wondering who is guilty, and of what. The ambiguity of the narrative continues into the interpretative tradition where Dinah is sometimes vilified for “promiscuity” (Gen. Rabb. 80:1), serves as the mother of Aseneth, Joseph’s Egyptian wife (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 37), is married to her brother Simeon to alleviate her shame (Gen. Rabb. 80:11), or marries Job (Gen. Rabb. 76:9, 80:4), contextualizing him to the time of Jacob (b. B. Batra 15b).

  • joseph-alison

    Alison L. Joseph is the assistant managing editor of The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization and an adjunct assistant professor of Bible and its Interpretation at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Her first book Portrait of the Kings: The Davidic Prototype in Deuteronomistic Poetics received the 2016 Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise. She is currently working on a book on the Dinah story in Gen 34, dealing with the role of gender in the prohibitions against intermarriage and the women’s sexual consent (or lack thereof).