Trigger Warning: This post contains biblical references to sexual violence
Dinah was the seventh child and the only daughter of matriarch Leah and patriarch Jacob, who were forced by Leah’s father into marriage. Reuben, Shimon (Simeon), Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun are Leah’s boys.
Jacob (Yaakov) had two sister wives, Leah and Rachel, but he only wanted Rachel. The Twelve Tribes of Israel were born out of these unions. It’s fair to say that Dinah and her brothers started life at a disadvantage, as the children of the unwanted wife.
In Genesis 34, Dinah is identified as a young woman that was “defiled” or “debased” by the Prince of a neighboring culture and avenged by her brothers in an exceedingly brutal attack. It all begins in Shechem, a prosperous city known for its diverse populace.
Dinah sets out alone to “visit the women of Shechem” with no objections from her family, letting us know the people of Shechem are on trustworthy and friendly terms with Dinah’s tribe.
It was on this visit that she was said to have been “defiled” by Prince Shechem, the city’s namesake and Hivite priest.
In interpreting the text it’s important to keep a few facts in mind: In Dinah’s world a woman was considered “debased” or “defiled,” and her male family members dishonored, by engaging in consensual sex outside of wedlock. A rendezvous with a lover was strictly taboo for Dinah and any man romantically involved with her. Even more so with a man outside her tribal culture.
Dinah was said to have been “taken” by Prince Shechem, but “taken” is also used to describe “taking” a wife or “taking” a lover.
After her biblical “defilement,” Prince Shechem declared his great love for her and sends his father Hamor, to her father Jacob, to plead for her hand in marriage.
His soul clung to Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, he loved the maiden and he spoke to the maiden’s heart.Genesis 34:3
Hamor offers to share all the Hivite land, crops and livestock with Jacob’s tribe, as well as intermarriage with Hivite women, to create a powerful alliance.
Dinah’s brothers, Shimon (Simeon) and Levi, put forth an additional criterion: All the men of Shechem must be circumcised in keeping with their ethno-religious culture, otherwise they will “take” (there’s that word again) their sister and go, like a cancelled takeout order. Prince Shechem begs for their favor as a brother-in-law and promises to abide by every condition they choose to impose. (Genesis 34:11).
As far as Prince Shechem and his father know, the marriage is sealed and a vow was made in the words of Shimon and Levi, to “dwell together as one people.” (Genesis 34:16)
Behind their father’s back, Shimon and Levi strategically attack the city, while the Shechemite men are weakened by the pain of adult male circumcisions.
They organize a raid of the home where Dinah is living with Prince Shechem and slaughter him and his family with swords. Afterwards they pillage the city, slaughter every man they encounter, plunder all the wealth and livestock, and take all the women and children as captives. Dinah was an eye-witness to the bloodshed, screaming, mayhem and massacre.
When Jacob finds out, he admonishes them for discrediting him among the inhabitants of the land and putting their small tribe and household in danger of attack when their neighbors hear of their actions.
In response to their father’s fears, Dinah’s brothers ask, “Should we allow our sister to be treated like a harlot?” Neither her father or brothers ask about Dinah or what Dinah wanted. They sent her off to Shechem as a bride and a pawn in their plot to slaughter, plunder and pillage in her presence. It seems they are punishing her (for an illicit affair?) in the guise of ‘avenging her honor.’
We later discover Jacob held a grudge against them, for on his deathbed, he fiercely rebukes Shimon and Levi.
When they come to their father’s deathbed for their “blessing,” he shuns them, denounces their violence and curses their raging anger.
Jacob held it against them to his dying day.
We never hear from Dinah in this story. Dinah’s voice is silenced. The Torah only makes one genealogical mention of Dinah’s name after her tragic story is relayed to us in a patriarchal voice, then she vanishes from the narrative.
We don’t hear her side or what she had to say, but her absence may speak volumes. When all of his children are grown adults, Dinah was the only child of Jacob’s that was not present at his home when he was on his deathbed. Neither her brothers or her father mention her absence or inquire about it.
Perhaps Dinah was voluntarily estranged from her family, after the trauma of the massacre committed in her name. Perhaps she could never forgive her brothers for what they did or her father for his failures. Perhaps she fears them more than she ever feared anyone in the city of Shechem.
Whatever transpired between Dinah and Prince Shechem, it’s highly unlikely that she wanted women, children, innocent parties and farm animals to be brutalized and victimized by her brothers. It does seem that they went to extremes to punish Dinah and ‘teach her a lesson.’
Perhaps Jacob knew a hidden and unspoken truth and that is why he unleashed on Shimon and Levi in his final hours.