Dinah is the daughter of Jacob, the father of twelve sons (and thus the twelve tribes) in the ancestor narratives of Genesis. She is born to Leah after Leah has given birth to six sons.
Leah names her (Gen 34:21), as biblical women often did as part of the maternal role.
Now Dinah, the daughter Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the land.
Of Jacob’s daughters (others are noted in Gen 46:15), only Dinah is mentioned by name.
The story of Dinah deals with the Israelites’ attempt to establish social boundaries for marriage. It seems to advocate an inclusive perspective (represented by Dinah and Jacob) in which, when mutual respect and honor characterize the relationship, cooperation and bonding (“give and take”) with outsiders (represented by Shechem, Hamor, and the Shechemites) can take place.
The story is set during the ancestral period in the city of Shechem, the geographical center of a movement in which people of diverse backgrounds, customs, and religious beliefs merged to become the community of Israel. Dinah goes out “to visit the women of the region” (the indigenous people, 34:1). The phrase implies an openness to and acceptance of outsiders. Dinah’s subsequent sexual intercourse with Shechem, the Hivite prince of the region, is the ultimate symbol of acceptance. And Hamor speaks to Jacob about “giving” his daughter in marriage to Shechem, in the same way that the Jacobites and Shechemites will “give and take” wives, live and trade in the same region, and hold property together peacefully.
But separatist tendencies within Jacob’s community (represented by Simeon, Levi, and the other sons of Jacob) are threatened by this possibility and by Shechem’s intercourse with Dinah. They want to resist intermarriage. Their idea of “give and take” is “taking” the sword, killing all the Shechemite males, plundering the city, and taking their wives and children. The story passes “judgment” (the meaning of Dinah’s name) on their friendly attitude.
The traditional understanding is that Dinah has been raped by Shechem. Her brothers Simeon and Levi retaliate by violently slaying and plundering Shechem, Hamor, and the Shechemite community. But the retaliation puts Jacob’s group in jeopardy by making subsequent social intercourse and peaceful coexistence impossible. Jacob thus reprimands his sons for their behavior. But concerning the question of whether Dinah has been raped, the final clue comes in the last sentence of the story.
Simeon and Levi say, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?”
Prostitutes engage in sexual intercourse for financial gain, and their sexual actions involve mutual consent. Rape therefore does not characterize either prostitution or what has happened to Dinah. One of the purposes of sexual intercourse in the ancient world was to create permanent bonding and obligation; but in prostitution, there is no bonding or obligation. By saying that Dinah has become like a prostitute, Simeon and Levi might be suggesting that, from their perspective, Dinah and Shechem’s intercourse could never lead to bonding and obligation. They are not suggesting that she was raped.
Upon hearing the news about his daughter, Jacob is at first silent; then he negotiates Dinah’s marriage to Shechem. If Dinah has been raped, Jacob ignores his obligation to protect the women of his household and ignores Dinah’s suffering. This seems peculiar—does it suggest that Dinah was not raped?
In the Hebrew Scriptures, rape is generally indicated by a cry for help from the woman (showing lack of consent) and violence on the part of the man (indicating a forcible, hostile act).
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