Commentary on Genesis 34

Last updated: October 24, 2009

English Translation (ESV)

1Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land. 2And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. 3And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her. 4So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.”

5Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came. 6And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him. 7The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.

8But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. 9Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. 10You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.” 11Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. 12Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife.”

13The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah. 14They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. 15Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. 16Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. 17But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.”

18Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem. 19And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father’s house. 20So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, 21“These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. 23Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.” 24And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

25On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males. 26They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away. 27The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. 29All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.

30Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.” 31But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

Notes

1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the women of the land.

Dinah was introduced in 30:21, but her parentage is repeated here to emphasize that Simeon and Levi were her full brothers (29:33-34; 34:25; 35:23) so as to explain their particularly violent reaction (vv 25-26, 31) to her rape. That she is the daughter of the unloved Leah may explain Jacob’s apparent lack of concern in verse 5.

2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her.

Shechem’s princely status allowed him to later successfully encourage the Hivites to undergo circumcision in order to make a treaty with Jacob’s clan.

This description of the offense committed by Shechem has been traditionally interpreted as the rape of Dinah. The absence of a technical term meaning “rape” (forced sexual relations) in biblical Hebrew has left open the question as to whether the description in Shechem’s case is rape or simply “sexual relations.” If in this latter case Shechem’s crime was not rape but his transgression of customary sexual behavior, his specific violation could be one of two possible breaches. First, his crime was the mere fact that as a foreigner (uncircumcised, v. 14) he engaged in sexual relations with an Israelite. Or second, he did not go through the proper procedure of betrothal, but having done so, he further offended Jacob’s household by failure to admit his crime and to provide proper compensation for the offense. The result was a shaming of the woman and the household of Jacob.

L. Bechtel interprets ‘nh in the broad sense of “humiliation,” that is, to shame a woman. The remedy was the treaty offered by Hamor (v. 9) that would restore honor by creating the possibility of family bonding through marriage. She relies on the usage of ‘nh in four passages (Deut 22:23-24, 25-27, 28-29 and 2 Sam 13:11-14), arguing that the verb pattern (‘nh follows skb) in Deut 22:23-24 and 22:28-29 compares most favorably with 34:2. In these two legal cases, there is no rape but a shaming of the woman because of improper sexual intercourse. When rape occurs in the remaining two passages, the description of the act includes the verb hazaq, “seized” (Deut 22:25-27; 2 Sam 13:11-14). In the case of Deut 22:25-27, where a virgin is raped in the countryside, there is no shame for her action, thus the absence of ‘nh in the description. In the Samuel passage, however, Tamar’s rape carries shame (‘nh, v. 14; here ‘nh precedes skb) because she had sexual relations with a family member, thus a “disgrace” (herpa) that Tamar must bear (v. 13). We agree that the examination of ‘nh clarifies that the term cannot be automatically equated with rape. Each passage’s context must give additional clues to determine the nature of the sex act. We know the term ‘nh can mean rape in the sense of abuse, as in the case of the old man’s virgin daughter and the Levite’s concubine (cf. “use,” Judg 19:24; “raped,” 20:5). Also we question that Deut 22:28-29 does not describe molestation, since the man “seizes” (tapas) the victim. The description in 34:2 has the equivalent idea of taking by force in the description “[Shechem] took [laqah] her” (cp. “sezied her,” NRSV, NAB, NJB).

A related issue is the significance of the construction wayyiskab otah, lit., “he lay [with] her” (v. 2), in which the verb skb takes the direct object marker ‘eth. This contrasts with skb followed by the prepositional phrase, skb ‘immah, “he lay with her” (e.g., Deut 22:23, 25, 28-29; cf. 19:32; 30:15). Neither construction can be said to function as a technical expression for permissible or unlawful sexual relations. The former construction may describe rape (e.g., 2 Sam 13:14), but not always, though it can be said that skb with the direct object ‘eth often bears an illicit connotation (e.g., 26:10; Lev 15:24; Num 5:13, 19). Moreover, the alternative expression skb ‘immah (“lay with her”) may describe a case of rape (Deut 22:25), and instances of skb followed by the preposition “with” (‘im) describe typical and atypical sexual relations (e.g., 19:32; 30:15). We conclude that Dinah was raped.

The two verbs ‘nh and skb describing Shechem’s action in 34:2 also depict (inverted order) Amnon’s rape of his half-sister, Tamar (2 Sam 13:14). The succinct report of Shechem’s assault, lit., “he saw . . . took . . . lay . . . humbled her,” contrasts to the prolonged dialogue between the parties prior to the rape in the Amnon-Tamar narrative. The rape of Dinah, though the act is powerfully portrayed in v. 2 by the preponderance of verbs, is prelude to the narrative’s main interest. What the narrative delves into is the outcome of the rape, detailing the discourse of the men, especially their negotiations and the deception fostered by Jacob’s sons. Nevertheless, the description of the attack effectively shows that Dinah was not a willing partner in the incident.1

3 And his soul was drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. He loved the young woman and spoke tenderly to her.

The narrator stresses that Shechem did not merely lust after Dinah, but actually loved her. By speaking tenderly too her, he may have been trying to comfort her (Genesis 50:21; Ruth 2:13; Isaiah 40:2) or woo her (Hosea 2:14[16]).

4 So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, “Get me this girl for my wife.”

Parents commonly negotiated a marriage arrangement for their sons (Judges 14:2). That Dinah is called a “girl” (yalda) suggests she is young.

5 Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah. But his sons were with his livestock in the field, so Jacob held his peace until they came.

Jacob’s passivity throughout this passage is remarkable, especially considering his attachment to Joseph and Benjamin (37:34-35; 43:1-14).

6 And Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to speak with him.

Note that Dinah is apparently still being held within Hamor’s house in the city (vv 17, 26).

7 The sons of Jacob had come in from the field as soon as they heard of it, and the men were indignant and very angry, because he had done an outrageous thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter, for such a thing must not be done.

Hebrew nevalah [an outrageous thing] is a powerful term describing offenses of such profound abhorrence that they threaten to tear apart the fabric of Israelite society. For society’s own self-protection, such atrocities can never be tolerated or left unpunished.”2 The mention of “Israel” is an example of the brothers’ sense of ethnic distinction from the Hivites.

8-10 But Hamor spoke with them, saying, “The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him to be his wife. Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall dwell with us, and the land shall be open to you. Dwell and trade in it, and get property in it.”

Hamor hopes to convince Jacob’s family that his son truly desires Dinah to be his wife, presumably to mitigate the severity of the crime.

11-12 Shechem also said to her father and to her brothers, “Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. Ask me for as great a bride price and gift as you will, and I will give whatever you say to me. Only give me the young woman to be my wife.”

Shechem’s readiness to pay beyond the normal bride price and gift is a tacit admission that he needs to make reparations for the rape of Dinah.

13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah.

The sons of Jacob, being few in number, have to use guile to liberate their sister (v 26). “An ironic twist in history is that the Hivite population at Gibeon employed deception against the Israelites to secure a peace arrangement (Josh 9:7-13; 11:19) but became subject to the Israelites (Josh 9:21-23; 24:11; 1 Kgs 9:20-21).”3

By characterizing their speech as deceptive, the author’s stand toward the sons of Jacob is certain. He condemns their tactics and their reaction. The repeated reference by the author to the assault explains their reaction but does not attempt to justify it. The author does not build sympathy for the brothers; rather for him their conduct exhibits the consequences of illicit contact with the Canaanites. If the author intends us to measure their action against the moral code of the law, it was a vile transgression of murder through deceit (cf. v. 5 above; see, e.g., Deut 22:28-29; Exod 22:16-17[15-16]).4

14-17 They said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a disgrace to us. Only on this condition will we agree with you—that you will become as we are by every male among you being circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to ourselves, and we will dwell with you and become one people. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughter, and we will be gone.”

Genesis 17:9-14 makes circumcision a condition for being admitted to the Israelite community. Obviously, in this passage, the brothers have no intention of intermarrying with the inhabitants of the city. There is irony in that the “part of the body used by Shechem in his violent passion will itself become the source of his own punishment!”5 “It is not clear whether Jacob’s sons expected Hamor and Shechem to accept their terms; they may well have expected them to balk at such uncomfortable conditions (cf. 1 Sam 18:25), which would have given them grounds for using force.”6

18 Their words pleased Hamor and Hamor’s son Shechem.

Hamor was pleased to gain a business interest and Shechem was pleased to gain a wife.

19 And the young man did not delay to do the thing, because he delighted in Jacob’s daughter. Now he was the most honored of all his father’s house.

The phrase “did not delay to do the thing” may refer to the circumcision or to going to the city gate, but it seems unlikely that he would speak to the men of the city immediately after a circumcision. The men of the city were likely to respond to “the most honored” member of Hamor’s house.

20-23 So Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city and spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These men are at peace with us; let them dwell in the land and trade in it, for behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give them our daughters. Only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us to become one people—when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock, their property and all their beasts be ours? Only let us agree with them, and they will dwell with us.”

A comparison of this speech with those in vv 9-12, 14-17 is revealing. In addressing their fellow townsmen, Hamor and Shechem adopt a quite different line from that taken in earlier negotiations. They say nothing about their own personal involvement in the matter, that Shechem wants to marry Dinah; rather they begin by insisting on the advantages of intermarriage for the whole town (v 21). Then they mention the need for circumcision (v 22), and finally they return to the economic advantages of intermarriage. Whereas they had promised to the Israelites that “they could acquire possessions in it” (v 10), they say nothing about that to their own people; instead they say “their flocks, their possessions, and all their herds, will they not be ours?” Hamor and Shechem also fail to mention the threat to seize Dinah with which Jacob’s sons ended their negotiations.

Now some of these changes could be construed as merely diplomatic, for Hamor had to emphasize the economic advantages for the Shechemites if they were ever to be persuaded of the value of circumcision. Nevertheless, failing to mention the land concession and claiming that the Israelite animals would theirs verges on deceit. They are either tricking their townsmen, or if they are being frank with them, they must have been dishonest in their negotiations with Jacob and his sons. Calvin comments with typical trenchancy, “[Hamor and Shechem] then enumerate other advantages; meanwhile, they cunningly conceal the private and real cause of their request. Whence it follows that all these pretexts are fallacious. But it is a very common disease, that men of rank who have great authority, while making all things subservient to their own private ends, feign themselves to be considerate for the common good, and pretend a desire for the public advantage” (2:224).

Certainly this disclosure of Hamor and Shechem’s double-dealing and the avarice of their fellow citizens tends to reduce our shock at the fate that is about to overtake them. Indeed, there is an element of dramatic irony in their words. They describe the Israelites as “peaceably disposed toward us” (v 21), little suspecting what they were planning. They ask, “Their flocks, their possessions . . . will they not be ours?” (v 23). But in a few days the situation will be reversed, with the Israelites plundering all their possessions (vv 28-29).7

24 And all who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city.

The phrase “all who went out of the gate of his city” probably refers to all the men of military age (Job 29:7; cf. 23:18). The fact that “every male” was circumcised explains how Simeon and Levi were able to kill all the males in the city.

25 On the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and came against the city while it felt secure and killed all the males.

The third day after the circumcision is the day on which the pain from the operation would be the most intense. The fever that would develop as a result of the operation would only make the condition of the recently circumcised more intolerable. The men of Shechem would be least able to retaliate. In fact, retaliation would be ruled out. Accordingly, the sons of Jacob bide their time, and strike with a passion when counter-resistance is expected to be minimal.8

That the city “felt secure,” or was unsuspecting, further explains the success of the brothers. It is possible that Simeon and Levi had additional help that the narrator does not mention.

26 They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house and went away.

Only now does the reader learn that Dinah had been in the house of Shechem the whole time.

27-29 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds, their donkeys, and whatever was in the city and in the field. All their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses, they captured and plundered.

The city is plundered but not destroyed. “This passage balances verse 23. Instead of the Hivites appropriating the possessions of the sons of Jacob, their possessions pass into the hands of their intended victims.”9

30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. My numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.”

Jacob’s outburst focuses on the fact that he may now be vulnerable to attack and not on the immorality of his sons’ behavior. However, in 49:5-7 he curses the violence and anger that characterized Simeon and Levi.

31 But they said, “Should he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

The brothers respond by asking how Jacob, who is concerned with the reaction of the Canaanites, cannot be concerned about the public disgrace that the rape caused among their neighbors. In their eyes, Jacob has failed to protect the honor of their family.

Note how Simeon and Levi refer to Dinah as “our sister,” once again reminding us of the tensions within the family. They do not speak of her as “your daughter,” as would be appropriate in addressing Jacob. “They in effect wrest her out of the father’s guardianship: she may not be your daughter, but she certainly is ‘our sister’ and no one will treat her like a whore” (Sternberg, Poetics, 474-75). Indeed, their remark “Should he treat her like a prostitute?” could be referring not just to Shechem’s treatment of Dinah, but also to Jacob’s. It may have been said in private afterwards. To do nothing about the rape and then to be willing to accept gifts after the event like a pimp. These two readings of the brother’s reply are not mutually exclusive; it may well be that this last word is intended to be read as a condemnation of both Shechem and Jacob.10

Bibliography

Hamilton, Victor P. The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament 1B. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995.

Mathews, Kenneth A. Genesis 11:27-50:26. The New American Commentary Volume 1B. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2005.

Sarna, Nahum M. JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis. 1st ed. Jewish Publication Society of America, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Genesis 16-50. Word Biblical Commentary 2. Thomas Nelson, 1994.

1Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 591-592.

2Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 234.

3Mathews, Genesis 11:27-50:26, 593.

4Ibid., 601.

5Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 236.

6Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 313.

7Ibid., 314-315.

8Hamilton, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 18-50, 368-369.

9Sarna, JPS Torah Commentary: Genesis, 238.

10Wenham, Genesis 16-50, 317.

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