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).
- Pardes, Ilana. Countertraditions in the Bible: A Feminist Approach. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.
- Frymer-Kensky, Tikva. Reading the Women of the Bible: A New Interpretation of Their Stories. New York: Schocken, 2002.
- Meyers, Carol, ed. Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.