Genesis 34: On the use of circumcision as an instrument of war


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.

Strange Love

Dinah avenged by Gérard Jollain 1670

Dinah avenged by Gérard Jollain 1670

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 any case, they make off with the flocks, the herds, the asses, and “whatever was in the city and in the field” (Gen. 34:28).

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.

Genesis 30: Jacob Rapes Some Slaves

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The first half of this chapter is devoted to the continued rivalry between Leah and Rachel. In the second part, we get Jacob using science to pay Laban back for his trickery.

Sons galore (and one daughter)

Rachel, like Sarah before her, is barren. Apparently, she values herself entirely by her ability to produce children, and says to Jacob: “Give me children, or I shall die!” (Gen. 30:1). This gets Jacob angry at her, and he asks her why she’s raging against him and not God, since it’s God who’s closed her womb. (Good point!)

Again like Sarah, Rachel comes up with the solution of giving Jacob her slave, Bilhah, and then adopting the resulting children. I have to make the point once again that this is rape. Even if it isn’t back-alley, knife-to-throat rape, it’s certainly coerced sex. There’s no way that Bilhah has the option of saying ‘no’ in this context, not once her mistress has “given” her to Jacob.

And once again, there isn’t a peep from God about women (or slaves) being treated this way.

Moving on, things get a bit absurd, and I think that numbered bullet points are in order.

  1. Leah: Has four sons from Chapter 29. (4)
  2. Rachel: Bilhah is “given” to Jacob and produces two sons, Dan and Naphtali. (2)
  3. Leah: Seeing that Rachel is catching up in the son-production department and that her own womb has closed up, Leah “gives” her slave, Zilpah, to Jacob. Zilpah has two sons, Gad and Asher. (2)
  4. Leah: Leah’s son Reuben is out picking mandrake, which Rachel wants. Leah and Rachel make a deal that Rachel gets the mandrakes and Leah gets to have Jacob “go into” her that night. As a result, Leah has a fifth son, Issachar. (1)
  5. Leah: Leah conceives a couple more times. She has a son, Zebulun, and a daughter, Dinah. (2)
  6. Rachel: God finally takes pity on Rachel and “opens her womb.” She has a son, Joseph. (1)

Final count: Rachel: 3, Leah: 9. Leah wins!

Just a note on point four, it says that Leah “bore Jacob a sixth son” (Gen. 30:19). Someone’s miscounted as Issachar is actually Jacob’s ninth son (or fifth by Leah, or seventh by Leah if we count Zilpah’s children).In other words, six is right out.

By the way, just as Rachel thought she might as well die because a woman’s value is in her uterus, Leah (poor Leah) keeps holding out hope that if she puts herself through the dangers and pain of childbirth enough times, her husband will finally start to love her. When she bears Zebulun, she says: “now my husband will honor me, because I have borne him six sons” (Gen. 30:20).

Jacob’s payment

Jacob and Laban start arguing about Jacob’s payment for his many years of service. Apparently, Jacob is a pro shepherd and has drastically increased Laban’s wealth.

Jacob puts peeled rods in the animals' drinking troughs by the illustrator of Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale 1372

Jacob puts peeled rods in the animals’ drinking troughs by the illustrator of Petrus Comestor’s Bible Historiale 1372

Just as an interesting side note, in Genesis 30:27, Laban tells Jacob that God has blessed him because of Jacob. In the King James version, he says that he has learned this through “experience.” But in most other translations, he’s learned this through “divination.” Quite a big difference! Hat tip to Skeptic’s Annotated Bible for pointing that out.

In any case, they work out a deal by which Jacob will go through the herd and pick out all the spotted and speckled sheep and goats to take with him as payment (and get his own flock started). Laban agrees to this because, apparently, spotted and speckled sheep and goats are fairly rare, so he doesn’t stand to lose much.

But ah ha! Jacob uses his superior understanding of biology to fool Laban! He gets striped sticks and puts them up in the areas where the healthiest and strongest of the flock are breeding. As everyone knows, if you see a striped stick when you’re conceiving, your baby will be striped! So Jacob ends up “exceedingly rich” (Gen. 30:43) with his superior stock of strong striped sheep and goats.

So, basically, God thinks that this is how markings are determined? Interesting. One would think that the creator of the universe would have a slightly better understanding of genetics.

Marital Problems Explained

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Days of Praise is a daily sermon put out by the Institute for Creation Research (ICR). The format is pretty fairly standard – it starts with a Biblical quote, and follows with a brief discussion that often bears no relevance whatsoever to that quote.

Today’s edition is no exception, drawing the conclusion that marital problems are caused by The Fall from: “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Colossians 3:17)

There are all sorts of things wrong with the sermon. We jump right in with the first sentence: “Marriage has always had a high place–a high calling.” Yes, a very high calling. Marriage is that thing you do if you are too weak to resist sexual temptation. That’s right, marriage is the same kind of “high calling” as chopping off your limbs.

So that’s the first sentence down. On to the second…

It’s absolutely true that God intended woman for man to help ease solitude. However, the idea that woman would be a suitable companion came only after Adam rejected God’s initial idea: Bestiality.

To recap, marriage is a high calling, just like self-mutilation and the sexual abuse of animals.

Skip ahead a little bit, we get the statement that: “It is safe to say that the many excesses on both sides of a marriage that we see today are the legacy of sin.” Before you think that the ICR may have something of a point here, they aren’t defining “sin” as bad behaviour and/or thought patterns. No, in this context, “sin” refers to Adam’s rebellion. In other words, if you fight with your wife, it’s because someone ate some no-no fruit six thousand years ago. Logic!

Marital problems, caused by fruit consumption and… Satan!

Oh yes, they went there. “Satan himself delights in destroying marriage.” Cheat on your husband? Satan made you do it. Don’t respect your wife as a human being and partner? Satan’s corrupting your brain (or the opposite, Christians are a bit weird on this point…).

But more specifically, Satan (or Satin, for the fashionistas) “introduced numerous practices which are detrimental to a proper marriage.” This is how the ICR explains away the craziness of polygamy not being “Biblical marriage” – I’d always wondered about that. Of course, they’re still playing fairly fast and loose with scripture, saying that it was the “ungodly lineage of Cain [that] began to practice polygamy” and neglecting to mention that most of the patriarchs also did so.

They also claim that “Noah’s son, Ham, indulged in sexual thoughts and innuendoes,” citing Genesis 9:22. Now, the Bible is clear that Ham is a baddie and Noah is a goodie, so I’m not entirely surprised that they would try to spin it this way. But read the passage! Even without the context, Ham’s crime is seeing Noah naked and telling his brothers, which is a far cry from indulging in “sexual thoughts and innuendoes.” Take it with the context, and it only gets worse. The reason Noah was naked in the first place is that he drank way too much wine and passed out – naked – in his tent. And yet the spin here is that Ham is the baddie with “sexual thoughts” for accidentally walking in on him. That, folks, is why we don’t get our morality from the Bible.

And, of course, they bring up Abraham’s “extramarital affair” (which is a really nice way of saying that he raped one of his slaves). That’s what he did wrong. Abandoning the slave he raped and their son in the desert with nothing but a skin of water and a bit of bread, however, isn’t worthy of mentioning. We also won’t mention the two times that Abraham prostituted his wife for material gain…

And then ICR lists among the crimes in the story of Dinah “marriage to unbelievers.” Just to be clear, Dinah is the girl who was kidnapped and raped. Since she was the believer, we can see just how compassionate ICR is with rape survivors…

So after all this TL;DR, we finally get to the conclusion, which is what I really wanted to draw attention to today. ICR writes: “What is the solution for this age-long attack on the family? We must heed the guidelines given in Scripture for a godly marriage. Passages such as those surrounding our text are well worth our study.”

Vyckie Garrison, former Quiverfull and Christian Patriarchy adherent, has frequently remarked that, while only a small minority of Christians practice the Quiverfull lifestyle, its ideals are very mainstream. Many Christians will look at families like the Duggars as an example of what great faith in God looks like. This conclusion, with words like “godly marriage,” is a subtle promotion of the Christian Patriarchy ideal. Keep that in mind whenever you hear the Christian Right talk about “family.”


Also posted on the CFI-Ottawa blog.