The Rape of Dinah: Genesis 34

Isaac Sachs


Although the word rape is never actually, mentioned in the story, it becomes the basis for the recounting of the story in Sunday schools culture.  To make things worst, the girl’s words or thoughts are not reported in the story, testifying to the low level of relevance biblical- era Middle Eastern (and today’s Islamic) societies accord to their women.

In the story, Shechem, the son of a local king falls in love with Dinah, daughter of Jacob, sleeps with her and asks his father to request her hand for him. His father, King Hamor, paid a ceremonial visit to Jacob’s house, where he offered peaceful coexistent with the new immigrants: “Please let my son marry your daughter, and let us marry each other; give us from your daughters and take from ours. And the land shall for you to settle, to trade and to posses.” (Genesis 34:8). Shechem also made the customary and lawful offer: “Please let me pay the required Mohar (dowry) and marry your daughter” (Genesis 34:12).  Whether the Law of Moses is divine or just a codification of local customs, it specifies that one must offer a Mohar after sleeping with an available woman, and then he must marry her. This is all described in Exodus 22:15, and is subject to acceptance by her father. (If he refuses, he will just take the money). Indeed, the only other mention of Mohar in the whole Bible is in the story of Shechem and Dinah! It is as if the story was made to illustrate the concept of peaceful resolution to pre-marital sex. But before Jacob could accept or reject the Mohar, his sons jumped in, saying “we would like to take-up your offer, but you see, we have this custom called circumcision, and we could not possibly intermarry with people who are not circumcised. Now, if you and your entire male population were to circumcise, we would be glad to grant your wish”. Incredibly, Shechem promptly takes the request to his people and convinces them to circumcise. On the third day, as the newly circumcised people of Shechem are hurting, two of Dinah’s brothers, Simeon and Levy (yes, the archetype of organized-professional priesthood), swords in hands, massacred every male in the city of Shechem. Not only do they reduce the circumcision ritual to an act of macho-challenge, but they also call attention to the fact that the case of rape is really a case of prohibited seduction between two lovers who dare cross imaginary boundaries set by narrow-minded self-appointed spiritual leaders. To the chagrin of later date clergy, the Bible goes out of its way to tell us that Jacob’s son put forth the circumcision challenge with deception in mind! (Genesis 34:13) And the fact that they threatened to have Dinah removed from Shechem’s house during the negotiations (Genesis 34:17), implies that she was there as guest, not as a hostage! Jacob, who saw through the brother’s pretentious performance as defenders of the family honor, reproached his two sons: “you made me look ugly in front of the inhabitants. They are many and they could retaliate and finish me off!” (Genesis 34:30) Not one word about moral issues!  

And what is God’s position? Having nothing to do with moral behavior, He is smart enough to stay out of the story altogether.

The impartiality of the storyteller proves once again that the integrity of the Bible is far greater than that of its characters, even if they are claimed to be our ancestors.


Montreal, Canada

All of Women in Judaism: Contemporary Writings' articles are designed to be printed directly from your browser window. Click on the article to make sure it is the active frame. Then select print from your browser's menu.

2003 Women in Judaism Inc.
this page last updated on: 6/11/03

Link to top