(I’m going to preface this post by saying that I’m not really going to talk at all about Jacob’s journey to Bethel or Esau’s descendents, because I really don’t have anything to say on it. It mostly seems like things to get us from point A to point B. As a writer, I’m kind of relieved to see even the Bible has that issue…)
Dinah. Now this gets interesting.
Dinah is raped by Shechem, and he apparently takes a shine to her and decides that he wishes to marry her and goes to Jacob. Now, I know that in this historical period and this culture, marrying Dinah off to her rapist would have been a perfectly legal thing to do; indeed it would be one of the ways that he could ‘pay’ for his crime. He has stolen her virtue and thus compensates her father with a high bride-price and a marriage to the now-unsuitable woman.
But that doesn’t happen here.
Jacob waits for his sons to return from the fields, and they are not happy with what haw been done to their sister. First, they convince the locals to circumcise themselves, on the grounds that they cannot marry their sister off to one who is not.
Then, they go slaughter the lot of them.
Now, the modern part of my mind recoils at mass murder — not just of the man who raped Dinah, but all the men of that tribe. They take possessions and people as treasure and slaves and they rescue their sister. It’s ruthless and horrible.
Yet there’s part of me that’s satisfied.
We have, in our culture, begun to view rape or sexual assault as almost a trivial crime. For all of our lip service to the trauma of victims, we let offenders go with a slap on the wrist — if they are punished at all. A great many rapes aren’t prosecuted. Most rapes aren’t even reported. Things that walk very close to the line, or at times cross right over it, are shrugged off as boys being boys. Victims are dragged through the mud, their pasts called into question, every tiny aspect of their behavior critiqued and called into question.
This has no such ambiguity, and there’s a level of satisfaction in that. Dinah’s brothers do not ask her why she was visiting the local women. They don’t ask if her robes were perhaps too enticing. They don’t question if she might have seduced Shechem. They simply say, do not disgrace our sister. Do not treat her as a whore.* And they seek vengance.
When we talk about morality in the context of the Bible, we most often here narratives that cast women in a light that is less than favorable. We talk of Eve the temptress. We talk of the woman as one who should submit and safeguard herself. A woman who must be so impossibly pure that she is above reproach.
But none of that is here. Dinah is, it would seem, a normal human woman. She is visiting with friends. She is living her life, visiting her friends. She is hurt, she is attacked and disgraced. And it is punished.
This story is not without problems. The behavior of Jacob and his sons is, let’s face it, way out of proportion to the original crime. (Kill Shechem, perhaps, but every man? And lay waste to the village?) It’s bloody and violent and makes the modern sensibilities recoil.
But at the same time, if we’re going to talk about women and the Bible, instead of focusing always Eve the temptress or Mary the pure virgin, I wish we talked a little bit more about women like Dinah.
*I understand that the term whore is a loaded one, particularly in the context of victimization. I’m using it here as a direct quote, and am cognizant of the potential issues, both in terms of negativity towards women who are sexual beings and in terms of ascribing negative connotations on a woman who has been victim of assault. These are not intended here, and I trust that the reader will recognize the use of this word in context and the lack of negative intent in using the quote.