Genesis 34: Jacob’s Response to Dinah’s Rape

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Eventually, Jacob arrives at the city of Shechem and camps within sight of the city. It states, “For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent.” This is the first parcel of the Promised Land owned by a descendant, since Abraham buys the cave for Sarah’s resting place. It is not known how much time has passed. We do know that Jacob has spent 20 years in Paddan-Aram. Leah has four sons in quick succession, but then stops conceiving, so she gives her maidservant to Jacob who bears him two sons. After that she has two more sons, then Dinah. Dinah is born just before Joseph. It is the birth of Joseph that provides the catalyst for their leaving. Dinah might have only been three or four when they begin their journey. Presumably, many years have passed. During these years, the children are all getting older.

So it is that at the beginning of chapter 34, after Jacob and his family have been settled for some time at Shechem, that the Bible says, “Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land.” This is one of the few times a child is identified through the lineage of its mother. Whether or not this is significant is not certain because in every instance after this, she will be known either as the daughter of Jacob or as a sister. But this one time, she is the daughter of Leah, and she “went out.” Scholars do not agree on how to translate the wording of this verse. What exactly does Dinah do? Does she go out visiting? Or does she go out to be “seen?”

She is certainly “seen.” Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite who sold the land to Jacob, “saw her and lay with her.” Then he falls in love with her and woos her. He immediately goes to his father and demands that he do whatever is needed to “get me this girl for my wife.”

Shechem and his father, Hamor, are willing to pay “whatever brideprice” Jacob determines to set. Shechem wants nothing more than to make things right with Dinah’s family. Regardless of what happened earlier, he is now smitten with her; so no price will be too high. He is, after all, the son of the ruler of that area—presumably his family has plenty of resources. We might think that he is used to getting his way with his father, but there is nothing in the text to suggest he is a spoiled child, other than the fact that he sees Dinah and “takes” her. We do know, however, that Hamor has sold Jacob the land upon which the Israelites have pitched their tents. That should have placed Hamor in a favorable bargaining position, but there is no suggestion that he used intimidation in his approach to Jacob.

However, before Hamor gets to Jacob, somehow or another Jacob finds out “that his daughter Dinah has been defiled.” The author uses a different word for defiled at this point. In most contexts it involves a sense of impurity—possibly the violation of chastity. It is often translated as unclean, but it doesn’t have the connotation of sinful. Nevertheless, the use of the word at this point suggests that in Jacob’s eyes, Dinah is now unclean. She is defiled; she is no longer pure. She has been involved with an outsider; that makes her an outcast. She is now an outsider from the camp.

Surprisingly, however, Jacob says and does nothing. The Bible says, “he kept quiet about it.” He waits for his sons to come back from the fields where they have been tending the livestock. Scholars have given many opinions in an effort to account for his silence. Options range from the fact that he didn’t care much for Dinah, to weak leadership, and to demonstrating amazing restraint. We can speculate upon his silence, but definitive answers will not be forthcoming. We do know that Jacob is capable of strong emotional responses. He will tear his clothing when he is told of the death of Joseph and will refuse to be comforted. Nothing like that happens here. In fact, we have no indication of his feelings regarding Dinah at all, other than to note that she is not included in the count of his children when he is anticipating problems with Esau. His wives and eleven sons cross the river to safety. There is no mention of his one daughter though she probably would have been included in the mention of “possessions” in the verse that followed. Some scholars see this as evidence that he is indifferent towards her, that he makes no effort to find her a husband, which is why she needs to take matters into her own hands. That works only for those who think there was more to her “going out” than meets the eye. How Jacob really feels about Dinah remains speculative.

Regardless of his feelings toward her, some scholars feel his silence is an indictment on his lack of decisiveness. It’s hard to assess his leadership abilities at this point in his life. This incident happens after his night of wrestling with the angel—an event that renders him somewhat lame. One commentator describes him as being crippled, suggesting he is no longer a commanding figure. We know that his sons are grown; they are headstrong.

Shortly after this, his firstborn, Reuben, will lie with Bilhad, Jacob’s concubine (35:22). Only later, in chapter 49 – long after the fact – do we read that Jacob is angry and that he lashes out at Reuben. But when the transgression takes place, he has no response, even though there is a note that “he had heard about it.” Then, like now, he holds his peace. Perhaps he is simply stunned and rendered speechless. Maybe here, he feels some guilt in not taking measures to prevent such a thing or in not being a better father to his daughter. We already know that Laban used his daughters to get what he wanted, that he had no compunction about substituting one for the other, that he had little regard for them, and never provided either of them with a dowry.

This is the only daughter tradition that Jacob can draw upon. So it is, that in this story involving Dinah and Shechem, we read that Jacob keeps quiet until his sons come home from the fields. Another option is more flattering to Jacob. It is simply this: he uses amazing restraint. In truth, there probably isn’t much he can do as one man. Perhaps he waits for his sons because he wants to consult with them. Perhaps he intends to discuss a rescue attempt or some other plan. There is no opportunity for him to do that, however, because Hamor shows up just as his sons are returning home.

Regardless of Jacob’s restraint, when the sons hear the news, they are outraged, filled with grief and fury. The sons add that Shechem has done a “thing that should not be done.” In their eyes, Shechem has violated an accepted ethic relating to a sexual matter. The brothers’ terms are uncompromising. They do not reject Hamor’s offer of trade or land. One might get the impression that they find no fault with the offer to trade together and intermarry. They do, however, insist that the males be circumcised, so that they all will “become like us.” The men of the Hivites can become like the sons of Jacob through the rite of circumcision.

Shechem and his father are only too happy to oblige, and all the men of the city agree to the plan. On the third day, Simeon and Levi put their plan into action. The men of the city are still in pain and unable to defend themselves when the two sons go out and massacre them all. Later, the other brothers loot the city where their sister has been defiled. They seize the flocks, herds, and donkeys and everything else in the city and out in the fields. They carry off all the wealth and all the women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.

But what about Jacob? Apparently he is not involved. Is it possible that he does not know what is happening? Yes, it is. In a time when sons go off for days at a time to pasture and water sheep, he might not have known. After the fact, we read that he is upset with them – but a quick look at the reason for his temper is telling. He’s upset because they are a small tribe, and the actions of Simeon and Levi have put the whole family at risk of attack from other tribes. He uses the phrase, “You have brought trouble on me by making me a stench to the Canaanites and Perizzites—the people living in this land. We are few in number, and if they join forces and attack me, I and my household will be destroyed.” Where is his protest against breaking a contract with the Hivites—how about abusing the rite of circumcision, how about expressing concern for the safety and wellbeing of his daughter? Nothing is mentioned other than his concern that the actions of Simeon and Levi will make him “stink” among the neighbors, putting the family at risk for retaliation. While we might appreciate the fact that Jacob is concerned about the safety of his family, he does it at Dinah’s expense.

The final verse in this story is Simeon and Levi’s retort to Jacob. He has just admonished them, and they reply, “Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?” It is highly doubtful that Shechem thought of her as a prostitute. He loved her dearly and would have done anything to have her legitimately. It is the brothers who label her as a prostitute. Once that has been voiced, the damage has been done. They act on their principles regardless of the consequences.