Monday, August 7, 2017

The Story About Dinah Is Not About Dinah

The story of Dinah is told in chapter 34 of Genesis. You can read it in just a few minutes. Except for the first verse of the chapter, everything happens to Dinah or around Dinah, but not by Dinah, her only action in the story is to go out to see the daughters of the land. She is raped by Shechem, the prince's son, who offers to marry her. Dinah's father Jacob lets his sons handle the matter. They deceive Shechem and his father. Two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, kill all the inhabitants of the village and plunder it. At this, Jacob is angry.

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No words of Dinah are recorded. No thoughts or feelings of Dinah are recorded. Indeed, she is silent throughout. This maelstrom of deceit and violence and plunder and anger swirls around Dinah, but it appears no one ever thought to ask her how she felt, or what she thought.

So I submit that the story about Dinah is not about Dinah.

The story of  Dinah has many facets however. As Grant Luton of Beth Tikkun [1] says, if a Bible verse can be taken two ways, do it. Dinah's name means Judged or Vindicated - Abarim Publications [2]. One facet of the story then involves justice for Dinah.


Many articles I've read focus on blame. Who is responsible for Dinah being raped? Some suggest that it was Dinah's own fault being where she shouldn't be. "That Dinah was responsible for the whole sorry affair is a common take on this event by many Bible commentators, scholars, and preachers. Many people believe that she was a hussy, a disobedient young woman with a taste for the things of the world" - Rape of Dinah [3]. This is called blaming the victim. It still happens. After multiple rapes and assaults New Years Eve 2015 in Cologne Germany, "Mayor Henriette Reker enraged people by focusing on women’s actions instead of the men who carried out the assault" - Women Need Code of Conduct To Prevent Assault [4]. As for Dinah, some blame everyone, Jacob, his sons, Leah, Dinah, Shechem, etc.

Some say it was consensual, and not rape, it is even the plot line of a book called The Red Tent - [5]. Many excuse Shechem because he wanted to marry Dinah, believing it is not the behavior of a rapist, like King David's son Amnon who raped his half sister then hated her after the fact - 2 Samuel 13. The translators of the Bible may have played into this notion by the language they used in Genesis 34:3.
New International Version - His heart was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.
New Living Translation - But then he fell in love with her, and he tried to win her affection with tender words.
New American Standard - He was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to her.
King James - And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel.
But Susanne Scholz [6] makes an argument that verse 3 means something quite different than these translators would have us believe. Here is how she might translate it.

He kept Dinah the daughter of Jacob close (captive), he desired (lusted after) the girl, and he tried to soothe her (hurt feelings).
I didn't find any English translation that spoke ill of Shechem, and I don't know Hebrew well enough to know the intent here. My point is that as far as the text goes, no one asked Dinah what she wanted (she was at Shechem's house till Simeon and Levi killed the men, but we don't know if it was her choice), but they all acted on her behalf. Apparently, no one asked God what He thought either. And lest anyone wishes to blame Dinah, remember her name means Vindicated.

Neither would I argue that murdering the village of Shechem is justice. It goes way beyond "life for life, eye for eye" -  Deut 19:21. They decided themselves what was justice for Dinah. In fact, they did the very same thing, after the men of the village were killed, they plundered the village and took their wives for themselves.
Gen 34:27 Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; 29 and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses.

Promises, Promises

In some ways, Dinah's story seems out of place in the Bible. The chapters before and after chapter 34 detail a history of Jacob. In the middle of Jacob's history is Dinah's story. Why is it there? Why is it important enough to be in the Bible? Another facet is revealed through Dinah's story by linking it to Genesis 17 and Genesis 49. Genesis 17 shows promises made to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants (See all the promises made to Abraham at Abraham's Legacy [7]). Genesis 49 shows the promises being split between Judah and Joseph, specifically the blessings known as the birthright (national blessings) and the scepter (royalty). Note the term birthright in 1 Chronicles, and the term scepter in Gen 49.

1 Chr 5:1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (for he was the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph the son of Israel; so that he is not enrolled in the genealogy according to the birthright. 2 Though Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came the leader, yet the birthright belonged to Joseph)
Gen 49:10 The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, 
In plainer English.
God made these two promises, the birthright and the scepter, unconditionally to Abraham and re-promised to Isaac and Jacob. After Jacob, these two promises became separated. The scepter promise of the kingly line culminating in Christ and of grace through Him was handed on to Jacob's son, Judah, father of the Jews. ... The birthright was handed down through the tribes of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh, while the scepter promise descended through Judah. - Sceptre Of The Kingdom [8].

But why Judah? The birthright is meant to pass to the firstborn, which was Reuben. But Reuben disqualified himself by sleeping with his father's concubine Bilhah - Gen 35:22, some describe it as rape of Bilhah. The second and third born sons were Simeon and Levi, disqualifying themselves by killing the men of Shechem and taking their wives. Without the story of Dinah, we would not understand why Simeon and Levi were skipped over. The birthright (scepter) then falls to Judah, the next son in line. Judah showed some flaws in his early life, but redeemed himself in the matter of Joseph - Genesis 44. After Jacob took the birthright and blessing that Isaac had intended for his brother Esau, he seemed to take care that he pass them to worthwhile sons. Here is what Jacob said about his first four sons in Genesis 49.
2 Gather together and hear, O sons of Jacob; And listen to Israel your father.
3 “Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
4 “Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, Because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch.
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers; Their swords are implements of violence.
6 “Let my soul not enter into their council; Let not my glory be united with their assembly; Because in their anger they slew men, And in their self-will they lamed oxen.
7 “Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel.  I will disperse them in Jacob, And scatter them in Israel.
8 “Judah, your brothers shall praise you; Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies; Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.
9 “Judah is a lion’s whelp; From the prey, my son, you have gone up.  He couches, he lies down as a lion, And as a lion, who dares rouse him up?
10 “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh comes, And to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.
Here is Joseph's blessing, also Gen 49.
22 “Joseph is a fruitful bough, A fruitful bough by a spring; Its branches run over a wall.
23 “The archers bitterly attacked him, And shot at him and harassed him;
24 But his bow remained firm, And his arms were agile, From the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob (From there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
25 From the God of your father who helps you, And by the Almighty who blesses you With blessings of heaven above, Blessings of the deep that lies beneath, Blessings of the breasts and of the womb.
26 “The blessings of your father Have surpassed the blessings of my ancestors Up to the utmost bound of the everlasting hills; May they be on the head of Joseph, And on the crown of the head of the one distinguished among his brothers.
Judah's scepter and Joseph's birthright is a huge subject, involving the lost ten tribes of Israel. For more information see 

Family Feuds

Mom Always Liked You Best
Another facet is revealed when we look at Jacob's family history. Jacob's reaction when he learns of Dinah's rape is silence, no thoughts or feelings recorded. Instead, he waits till his sons come in from the field. Dinah's brothers are clearly angry, but no reading on Jacob. The brothers deal deceitfully with Shechem and Hamor. Sadly, they learned this behavior from their father Jacob, who deceived Isaac for the blessing. Jacob and his mother Rebecca took matters into their own hands because Esau was Isaac's favorite, and Jacob was Rebecca's favorite. Jacob may have learned his lesson about deceit during the 20 years he worked for his uncle Laban, but he never got over playing favorites. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, which shows up several times in their history, with every son Leah named in Genesis 29:31-35, she hoped it would make Jacob love her. Some suggest that since Jacob didn't love Leah, he didn't love Dinah, and was indifferent to her plight. "Moses could be hinting that she was not one of Jacob's favorites, since her mother was Leah, not Rachel. After all, favoritism was a great sin Jacob dealt with much of his adult life." - Rape of Dinah [3]. The sons of Leah however felt the unfairness of favoritism, and they overcompensated. Contrast Jacob's reaction a few years later when his sons deceive him into thinking Joseph, his favorite son, was killed by a wild animal. Jacob is utterly inconsolable - Gen 37.

See how often the "wrong" son got the birthright.
  • Abraham - the promises went to Isaac, not Ishmael the firstborn.
  • Isaac - the blessings went to Jacob, not Esau the firstborn.
  • Jacob - the birthright went to Joseph the eleventh born, and the scepter went to Judah the fourth born.
  • Joseph - Jacob blesses Ephraim and Manasseh, crossing his hands so the younger gets the larger blessing, also adopting them as his own sons, making them full fledged tribes of Israel.

These missed birthrights have led to family feuds between nations. Many Arabs are descended from Ishmael, their hatred of Jews is obvious. Muslims claim that Ishmael was the rightful heir of Abraham - Wikipedia(Ishmael) [13]. Some scholars believe Esau's descendants are the nation of Turkey - Studies In the Word [14], nation-level feuding with Israel. Again, see the material on Judah's scepter and Joseph's birthright.

Dinah was born to the unloved wife. All Leah's offspring would have felt the unfairness of favoritism. Unfairness is universally understood, even by animals. In experiments, researchers gave chimps a cucumber or a grape as a reward for a task. A chimp who received the cuke, after seeing his fellow chimp get a grape, became upset and flung the cuke at the researcher - Monkey Fairness [15], see footage of the experiment at Frans de Waal, TED talk [16] starting around 12:30. This and similar experiments have shown other animals have a sense of fairness as well - Animals Can Tell Right From Wrong [17], even crows - No Fair Crows Say [18] . It doesn't take a sophisticated system of right and wrong to recognize unfairness. If animals can feel the sting of unfairness, Leah and her sons would have been acutely sensitive to it.

Lessons From the Story of Dinah

The Bible doesn't tell us what happened later to Dinah, there is speculation she had a daughter, and it seems she went to Egypt with the family - Gen 46:15, but nothing about Dinah herself. We see many lessons, big themes, in the story of Dinah, like deceit,  justice, birthright, favoritism, and fairness. In one sense it is a part of Jacob's history, in another sense it is a microcosm of that history. We see these many facets to the story, but we know very little about Dinah herself. The story of Dinah is not about Dinah.

Discussion Questions

Shechem means ‘shoulder’ or ‘saddle’, the shape of mountains encircling ancient Shechem. How does the meaning of his name affect Dinah's story?

What would have been justice for Dinah?
How should justice have been done?
Could Jacob have prevented the bloodshed? How?

How have you handled unfairness in your life?



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