This is the story of what happens to Jacob and family during their stay in Shechem, which is both a city in the land of Canaan and the name of a prince of that area.
Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob’s only female child, goes out to visit with some Canaanite women. While she’s out, Shechem sees her and “he seized her, and lay with her and humbled her” (Gen. 34:2). But, we’re told, he totally loves her and “spoke tenderly to her” (Gen. 34:3), which is just ridiculously creepy.
But not unheard of. Matthews writes that “a schoolboy’s exercise tablet, written inexpertly in Sumerian and dating to the period of the eighteenth century B.C., provides a parallel to this case. According to this set of legal statements, an unbetrothed virgin could be obtained as a wife through forcible sexual relations” (Manners & Customs, p.31).
So he and his father, Hamor the Hivite, go to Jacob and beg to be able to keep Dinah as a wife. Now, I didn’t realize this when I first read the chapter, but she’s still a prisoner. In other words, Shechem is trying to do this legitly, while at the same time keeping her chained up in the basement, so to speak. Sooo creepy…
Now, I will say this for Genesis 34, it does come down on the right side of a moral question for once. We’re told, plainly, that “lying with Jacob’s daughter” is a thing that “ought not to be done” (Gen. 34:7). Now, if we want to get picky, we might say that lying with anyone’s daughter against her will ought not to be done, and kidnapping isn’t so great either, but I’ll take what I can get.
Not content with just one daughter, Hamor & Sons want a full exchange of daughters, a sort of “I’ll marry yours if you’ll marry mine” kind of deal. This, according to my study bible, would make them “a kindred-group in which the Shechemites would have the leadership.”
To sweeten the deal, Hamor & Sons offer to give Jacob anything he asks for as a “marriage present” (which the King James perhaps more accurately calls a “dowry”) (Gen. 34:12).
Jacob’s sons answer “deceitfully” (Gen. 34:13) that they agree to the marriage and, for a bride price, that all the Shechemites must circumcise themselves – because they cannot “give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us” (Gen. 34:14). Shechem is overjoyed because he gets to marry Dinah (a woman he loves enough to rape…), and he circumcises himself right away.
All goes according to plan when Shechem and his father go back to the city and convince all the other men to get themselves circumcised. It’s a small price to pay, they say, to form a kindred-group which will allow the Shechemites to own “their cattle, their property and all their beasts” (Gen. 34:23).
Now that all the Shechemite men’s crotches are sore, Levi and Simeon (Jacob’s sons by Leah) pull a surprise attack on the helpless men and slaughter all the males. I’m assuming that either Levi and Simeon had some help or the Shechemite were really penis-sore, because it’s hard to imagine two men being able to kill a whole city fully of men, “unawares” (Gen. 34:25) as they may be. Heck, even with a sore penis, you’d think that after the first couple are killed, the rest would tough it out long enough to fight back…
With all the Shechemites dead, Levi and Simeon rescue Dinah and, just to make the whole adventure worthwhile, plunder the city. They do this “because their sister had been defiled” (Gen. 34:27), and not because, say, they want the stuff.
In addition to Levi’s daisies, they also took all the Shechemite women and children, who I am sure were most happy that their fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons had all just been slaughtered and that they were now going to be forced to live with the killers.
Jacob is angry with his sons. In typical Biblical fashion, he isn’t angry because slaughtering an entire city of men after causing them to mutilate their own penises is a bad thing to do, but because now the Canaanites (and the Perizzites, whoever they are) might not be too happy with them.
A different reading?
Before moving on, I just want to bring up a possibility brought to my attention by the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible. We never actually hear from Dinah. All we’re told is that she left home, there was some kind of sexual act between her and Shechem, and that Shechem loved her so much that he was willing to cut off a piece of his penis, without hesitation, so that he could marry her.
Is it possible that he and Dinah were actually in love? Is it possible that they eloped, but that Shechem decided to do the “honourable thing” and petition her family?
There doesn’t seem to be anything in the story that contradicts this reading. And since the authors didn’t feel that giving Dinah’s perspective was a worthy use of time, we may never know. But re-reading the story as a sort of Romeo & Juliet tale of star-crossed lovers makes Levi and Simeon’s actions so very sad. Especially since now, Dinah can never get her life back together. She can never marry, and has been condemned to be a dependant in her father’s household for the rest of her life.