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David Frankel





The Rape of Dinah, Added as a Motive for the Sack of Shechem





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David Frankel





The Rape of Dinah, Added as a Motive for the Sack of Shechem








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The Rape of Dinah, Added as a Motive for the Sack of Shechem

Originally the sons of Jacob saw the interest Shechem took in marrying their sister as an opportunity to plunder Shechem. A later editor, uncomfortable with this story, blamed the carnage on Simeon and Levi, and added the rape of Dinah as a motivation for their actions.


The Rape of Dinah, Added as a Motive for the Sack of Shechem

The attack on Shechem, Giuliano Bugiardini, ca. 1475 (adapted). Wikimedia

Sexual Offense and Abduction: Genesis 34

Jacob’s daughter, Dinah, is taken and “sullied” by Shechem, son of Hamor, the prince of the city. Shechem subsequently grows to love her and asks his powerful father to help him obtain Dinah for a wife, which he proceeds to do. The two men offer Jacob and his sons access to land holdings and handsome gifts in return for Dinah. Jacob’s sons respond with deceit and insist that the male population must undergo circumcision if marriages are to be arranged between the two groups. Shechem eagerly complies with this demand and, together with his father, convinces all the people of the city to do the same.

Then, on the third day of the circumcision, when the men of the city were in pain and largely defenseless, Simeon and Levi came upon the city and put all the adult males to the sword, including Hamor and Shechem. They entered the house of Shechem and extracted Dinah, who, we now learn, was living in Shechem’s house. This was then followed by the plunder of the city, apparently, by the other sons of Jacob. The women and children were taken captive and the livestock and wealth were taken for booty.

Much later, when Jacob is on his deathbed, he denounces Simeon and Levi, condemning them for their destructive wrath and cruelty (Genesis 49:5—7). In the narrative at hand, however, Jacob’s displeasure with Simeon and Levi focuses mostly on the vulnerable position vis-à-vis the local inhabitants that their odious attack on the city has put both him and his household (v. 30). Simeon and Levi reject these pragmatic concerns with the strong censure of Jacob (v. 31): “Shall our sister be treated like a common whore”?

A closer examination of the details of this story raises various difficulties that point, it appears, to an earlier form of the narrative.

Where Is Hamor’s Remorse?

A strange feature of the story is that the sexual offense is never so much as hinted at by either side during the rather wordy wedding negotiations (verses 8-17). Shechem tells Jacob and his sons that he is very eager to “win the favor” of the family (verse 11). We would expect Shechem to express remorse for his sordid deed and offer some form of compensation for it, as was accepted practice in a number of ancient Near Eastern societies.[1] Instead, he offers as high a bride-price as they might demand, but completely fails to acknowledge the crime he committed. The same is true of Jacob and his sons, none of whom mention any rancor with Shechem for taking Dinah without permission from her father.

A Proto-Story Without an Abduction

Noting this and other anomalies, Yair Zakovitch argues that the present form of the text is heavily redacted, and that an earlier narrative once stood behind the text in its present form that did not include the rape of Dinah, or other details (like the extraction of Dinah from Shechem’s home) that derive from it.[2]

Indeed, most of the references in the text to the “defiling” of Dinah can be readily recognized as removable appendages. For example (additions indented):

בראשית לד:יג וַיַּעֲנוּ בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב אֶת שְׁכֶם וְאֶת חֲמוֹר אָבִיו בְּמִרְמָה
Gen 34:13 Jacob’s sons answered Shechem and his father Hamor with deceit,
וַיְדַבֵּרוּ אֲשֶׁר טִמֵּא אֵת דִּינָה אֲחֹתָם.
and they spoke[3] that he defiled Dinah their sister,
לד:יד וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵיהֶם לֹא נוּכַל לַעֲשׂוֹת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה לָתֵת אֶת אֲחֹתֵנוּ לְאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לוֹ עָרְלָה כִּי חֶרְפָּה הִוא לָנוּ.
34:14 saying to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to a man who is uncircumcised, for that is a disgrace among us.”

The phrase “that he defiled their sister” appears secondary. Not only does it interrupt the natural continuity between “they answered Shechem and Hamor with deceit” and “saying to them,” it also awkwardly and unclearly uses the singular “he defiled” when both Shechem and Hamor were mentioned in the sentence.

Is Dinah in Shechem’s or Jacobs’ House?

The strongest indication that the extraction of Dinah from the house of Shechem in verse 26b (ויקחו את דינה מבית שכם ויצאו) is secondary can be found in Shechem’s appeal to his father in verse 4, “get for me this girl as a wife,” and the similar appeals to the Jacobites that they “give” Dinah to Shechem (vv. 8, 12). How can Jacob give Dinah to Shechem if Shechem had already “taken” her (v. 2b)?!

The same problem inheres in the statement in verse 19, that Shechem complied swiftly with the requirement to undergo circumcision, “for he coveted the daughter of Jacob” (cf. also verse 8). How can Shechem covet that which he already has?!

One might also have expected that the brothers stipulate their consent to the proposed marriage with the prior return of their sister to their hands. Finally, if Dinah was indeed living in the house of Shechem, why are we not told of this from the outset? How come we learn about this important detail only after the fact, when the extraction takes place?

It seems clear, then, that in the original narrative, Dinah was at home all along. And in light of the fact that the references to Dinah’s “defilement” seem to be secondary, it seems that Shechem never laid his hands on her, only his eyes.

Shechem Saw Her and Asked His Father for Her

If we remove all the pieces relevant to the abduction and rape from the opening of the story, we are left with a simple account that reads well (additions indented or italicized):

בראשית לד:א וַתֵּצֵ֤א דִינָה֙ בַּת־לֵאָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָלְדָ֖ה לְיַעֲקֹ֑ב לִרְא֖וֹת בִּבְנ֥וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ. לד:ב וַיַּ֨רְא אֹתָ֜הּ שְׁכֶ֧ם בֶּן־חֲמ֛וֹר הַֽחִוִּ֖י נְשִׂ֣יא הָאָ֑רֶץ
Gen 34:1 Dinah, the daughter of Leah whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. 34:2 Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, chieftain of the land, saw her;
וַיִּקַּ֥ח אֹתָ֛הּ וַיִּשְׁכַּ֥ב אֹתָ֖הּ וַיְעַנֶּֽהָ. לד:ג וַתִּדְבַּ֣ק נַפְשׁ֔וֹ בְּדִינָ֖ה בַּֽת יַעֲקֹ֑ב וַיֶּֽאֱהַב֙ אֶת הַֽנַּעֲרָ֔ וַיְדַבֵּ֖ר עַל־לֵ֥ב הַֽנַּעֲרָֽ.
He took her and laid with her and disgraced her. 34:3 His soul clung to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke to the girl’s heart.[4]
לד:ד וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שְׁכֶ֔ם אֶל־חֲמ֥וֹראָבִ֖יו לֵאמֹ֑ר קַֽח־לִ֛י אֶת־הַיַּלְדָּ֥ה הַזֹּ֖את לְאִשָּֽׁה.
34:4 And [he] Shechem said to his father Hamor, get me this girl for a wife.

The story of Samson and the woman from Timnah (Judges 14:1-2) provides us, I suggest, with a clear parallel for this kind of narrative opening.

שופטים יד:א וַיֵּ֥רֶד שִׁמְשׁ֖וֹן תִּמְנָ֑תָה וַיַּ֥רְא אִשָּׁ֛ה בְּתִמְנָ֖תָה מִבְּנ֥וֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּֽים. יד:ב וַיַּ֗עַל וַיַּגֵּד֙ לְאָבִ֣יו וּלְאִמּ֔וֹ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אִשָּׁ֛ה רָאִ֥יתִי בְתִמְנָ֖תָה מִבְּנ֣וֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים וְעַתָּ֕ה קְחוּ־אוֹתָ֥הּ לִ֖י לְאִשָּֽׁה.
Judg 14:1 Once Samson went down to Timnah; and while in Timnah, he noticed a girl among the Philistine women. 14:2 On his return, he told his father and mother, “I noticed one of the Philistine women in Timnah; please get her for me as a wife.”

According to this text, when Samson goes down to Timnah, he sees the Philistine woman (וירא אשה), and asked his parents to take her for him as a wife (קחו אותה לי לאשה). This is almost exactly the language used in our story, Shechem sees Dinah and asks his father to take her for him as a wife.[5] This was then followed in verse 6 with Hamor’s compliance with his son’s request.

In short, in the original form of the story, Shechem did not abduct and rape Dinah, he did not fall in love with Dinah, and his soul did not cleave to her. Like Samson with the woman from Timnah, Shechem simply saw her in the crowd and wanted to marry her.

Why Were Simeon and Levi Silent?

Another element of the story that seems suspiciously secondary is the place of Simeon and Levi. It is striking that these two brothers are never mentioned in the story before the verse that describes their violent revenge (v. 25). Hamor and Shechem address all the sons of Jacob in verses 8-12, and they all reply in deceit in verses 13-17. Why then did they not all participate in the attack upon the city together? Stated differently, if Simeon and Levi were the main assailants, why do we not hear of their particular stance from the outset?

Adding Simeon and Levi

In its original form, the story seems to have related that all the “sons of Jacob” acting as a group killed the male inhabitants and plundered the city. This coincides perfectly with the fact that the “sons of Jacob” throughout the narrative until this point refers to all the sons.

Zakovitch, thus, reconstructs the original form of verse 25, which first mentions Simeon and Levi, as follows:

בראשית לד:כה וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיוֹתָם כֹּאֲבִים וַיִּקְחוּ שְׁנֵי בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אֲחֵי דִינָה אִישׁ חַרְבּוֹ וַיָּבֹאוּ עַל הָעִיר בֶּטַח וַיַּהַרְגוּ כָּל זָכָר.
Gen 34:25 On the third day, when they were in pain, the two sons of Jacob Simeon and Levi, brothers of Dinah, took each his sword and came upon the city unawares and killed every male.

The LXX’s Solution

The ancient translators of the Torah into Greek (or the editors of the particular Hebrew text that they translated) were sensitive to this problem. They rendered verse 13—14 as follows:

ויענו בני יעקב את שכם ואת חמור אביו במרמה… ויאמרו אליהם שמעון ולוי אחי דינה בת לאה ,לא נוכל לעשות את הדבר הזה…
The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father with deceit… and Simeon and Levi the brothers of Dinah daughter of Leah said to them, “We cannot do this thing…”

Following this rendition, Simeon and Levi were the ones who spoke in deceit. Presumably, at least at this juncture in the story, the other brothers were as unaware of the scheme that Simeon and Levi were plotting as was Jacob.

The Greek rendition of the passage is likely a conscious attempt to resolve the tension in the text. Or, to put it somewhat differently, the Greek version represents a further stage in the secondary process of introducing Simeon and Levi into the text, since, as argued above, in the original story all the sons of Jacob attacked the city, killing and plundering in unison.

Following this, the final exchange between Jacob and Simeon and Levi in verses 30—31 should be deemed editorial. The original story ends well with the report of the destruction and plunder of the city in the previous verses. Further, the final retort to Jacob, “Shall our sister be treated like a prostitute” clearly presupposes the rape.

The Reason for the Supplement: Jacob’s Inexplicable Curse

The editor introduced Simeon and Levi into the story and presented them as the main assailants under the influence of Jacob’s otherwise inexplicable condemnation of Simeon and Levi:

בראשית מט:ה שִׁמְע֥וֹן וְלֵוִ֖י אַחִ֑ים
כְּלֵ֥י חָמָ֖ס מְכֵרֹתֵיהֶֽם:
מט:ו בְּסֹדָם֙ אַל־תָּבֹ֣א נַפְשִׁ֔י
בִּקְהָלָ֖ם אַל־תֵּחַ֣ד כְּבֹדִ֑י
כִּ֤י בְאַפָּם֙ הָ֣רְגוּ אִ֔ישׁ
וּבִרְצֹנָ֖ם עִקְּרוּ־שֽׁוֹר:
מט:ז אָר֤וּר אַפָּם֙ כִּ֣י עָ֔ז
וְעֶבְרָתָ֖ם כִּ֣י קָשָׁ֑תָה
אֲחַלְּקֵ֣ם בְּיַעֲקֹ֔ב
וַאֲפִיצֵ֖ם בְּיִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
Gen 49:5 Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Their weapons are tools of lawlessness.
49:6 Let not my person be included in their council, Let not my being be counted in their assembly. For when angry they slay(ed) men,
And when pleased they maim(ed) oxen.
49:7 Cursed be their anger so fierce,
And their wrath so relentless.
I will divide them in Jacob,
And I will scatter them in Israel.

This text originally was not referring to this episode in Schechem, but to a story that has been lost. But the editor of the Shechem story wondered: Where do we find the kind of violent killing and enraged destruction to which Jacob refers? To what event was Jacob referring? The editor’s answer was that Jacob was referring to the destruction of Shechem. When that story tells of the attack of the “sons of Jacob” it must be referring specifically to Simeon and Levi![6] And in order to clarify this to the readers of the story, this editor added references to Simeon and Levi into the text.[7]

This also helps account for the addition of the rape and abduction of Dinah. The curse of Jacob refers to fierce anger in connection with the destruction wrought by Simeon and Levi. There must, then, have been some terrible provocation that ignited the wrath of Simeon and Levi. The addition of the rape explained the wrath.

The Original Meaning of Jacob’s Curse

Despite the attempt to make the Dinah story conform to the curse, originally, this curse had nothing to do with our story and contains elements that do not overlap. For instance, Genesis 49:6 refers to the cruel and senseless torturing to death of oxen; Genesis 34 never so much as hints at this, although it does mention plunder. Moreover, as James Kugel astutely points out, the “blessings” of Jacob Genesis 49:5-7 originally related to Simeon and Levi as tribal units, not as individuals,[8] as is indeed the case in nearly all of Jacob’s blessings.[9]

It indeed seems to make more sense that the tribes of Simeon and Levi are punished with dispersal throughout the land for crimes they perpetrated as tribes. After all, tribes are subject to dispersion whereas two individuals are not. In fact, verse 6 probably does not even refer to a single tribal event but rather a repetitive tribal form of behavior. This is consistent with NJPS, which translates the Hebrew perfects as presents, “For when angry they slay men and when pleased they maim oxen.”

The Influence of the Curse of Reuben

The “blessing” to Reuben in verse 4 does actually refer to an event in the life of Reuben the individual. It is likely that this facilitated the expectation that the following “blessing” to Simeon and Levi likewise refers to their individual life histories.[10] Thus, it would have been natural for a biblical editor to “midrashically” understand Jacob’s words concerning Simeon and Levi as relating to their deeds as individuals (rather than tribes) and then seek out the story to which this refers.

Dinah, Originally “the Daughter of Jacob”

A third element of the current story also seems to be a supplement, the name Dinah. I suggest that the original story spoke simply of the “sons of Jacob” and “the daughter of Jacob.” The name “Dinah” is conspicuously missing in verses 4, 8, 12, 14, 17 and 19, all of which appear to derive from the original story. On the other hand, “Dinah” is mentioned in verses 3, 5, 13b and 26b, all of which refer to or presuppose the rape and are therefore secondary.

In light of this evidence, I suggest that the two remaining references to Dinah in verses 1 and 25, are also supplements.

The Reference to Dinah in Verse 25

We already saw that the inclusion of Simeon and Levi in this verse is a supplement. In all likelihood, the same editor glossed his addition “Simeon and Levi” with the following phrase, “the brothers of Dinah.” (This supplement aims to point out that these three were full siblings, with same father and mother.) The distinction between the verse in its original form and in its final form may thus be as follows:

בראשית לד:כה וַיְהִי בַיּוֹם הַשְּׁלִישִׁי בִּהְיוֹתָם כֹּאֲבִים וַיִּקְחוּ שְׁנֵי בְנֵי יַעֲקֹב שִׁמְעוֹן וְלֵוִי אֲחֵי דִינָה אִישׁ חַרְבּוֹ וַיָּבֹאוּ עַל הָעִיר בֶּטַח וַיַּהַרְגוּ כָּל זָכָר.
Gen 34:25 On the third day, when they were in pain, the two sons of Jacob Simeon and Levi, brothers of Dinah, took each his sword and came upon the city unawares and killed every male.

The fact that we do not find the phrase “the brothers of Dinah” following the other references in the text to “the sons of Jacob” suggests that it is an addition here.[11]

A Nameless Daughter: The Story’s Opening (verse 1)

The account opens with an awkward and lengthy naming of Jacob’s daughter. I believe if we remove the name and the name of her mother, we obtain a much smoother text, in which the daughter of Jacob goes out to visit the daughters of the land.[12]

לג:א וַתֵּצֵ֤א דִינָה֙ בַּת־לֵאָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יָלְדָ֖ה לְיַעֲקֹ֑ב לִרְא֖וֹת בִּבְנ֥וֹת הָאָֽרֶץ.
34:1 Dinah, the daughter of Leah whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land.

This suggestion accords well with what we find in many biblical narratives, where the female characters are left nameless (cf. Mrs. Noah; Mrs. Lot, Mrs. Potiphar, etc.) It also accords with the fact that we are never told of Dinah’s thoughts or feelings in the matter of her fate throughout the narrative. Originally, she was a completely minor character who was not raped and then loved by her assailant. She was simply a girl in her father’s house. Her name hardly mattered since she was not the subject of the narrative.

The specification of her name, “Dinah daughter of Leah” (verse 1), goes hand in hand with the conversion of the unnamed “sons of Jacob” of the original story into “Simeon and Levi.” The latter are characterized as “brothers of Dinah” since, as opposed to most of the other sons of Jacob (save Reuben and Judah), who are only half brothers of Dinah, Simeon and Levi are sons of Leah and therefore full brothers. The editor thus sought to emphasize that specifically Simeon and Levi responded as they did to the rape since it was their sister that was involved.

I suspect that the final editor also supplied Jacob’s daughter with a name in order to give the reader a more concrete sense of her identity as a human character and thereby highlight the sense of outrage felt by her brothers Simeon and Levi over her “defilement.”

Justifying the Deceit

Many have suggested that the purpose of the story in its final editorial form was to justify the deceit and destruction of the city.[13] Two elements in the final form of the story would seem to indicate that this is so. First, the repeated editorial references to the “defilement” of Dinah seem to imply that the revenge was understandable and justified. Second, the final retort of Simeon and Levi to Jacob with the words “Shall our sister be treated like a prostitute” (verse 31) closes the story. The editor gives Simeon and Levi the final word, indicating that his sympathies are with them.

While this seems to make sense, it is important to distinguish clearly between the concern to justify a crime and the concern to point to extenuating circumstances that help mitigate its severity at least to some extent.[14] The latter may be the intention of the final editor of Genesis 34.

In the original form of the story of the sack of Shechem, the Israelite offense was cold, calculated and completely unprovoked. The deceitful ploy and massacre were motivated by one concern: to amass great wealth and appropriate women and children as slaves and concubines. In this form, the story served as a biting critique of the cruel and undignified act of betrayal of the children of Jacob.

The sons of Jacob duped not only the people of Shechem but their own father as well, for they knew that Jacob would never have countenanced such an act of deceit and murder in the interests of plunder. By adding Dinah and presenting her as a victim of abduction and defilement, the editor rendered the massacre a response to a provocation. It was not cold and calculated and it was not about greed. It was a crime of passion and vengeance. As Jacob would later characterize it, it was a product of the brothers’ cursed wrath.

This explains why the editor continually refers to the “defilement” of Dinah. This is not meant as a justification of the massacre. Rather, it seeks to highlight the motivation behind the destruction. It provides the circumstances that allow us to appreciate the assailants’ distraught mental condition during their attack without justifying it.

Justifying Jacob’s Curse

It is in this context that we must understand the editor’s depiction of Simeon and Levi harshly censuring their father to his face with the words, “Shall our sister be treated like a common whore”? This, again, does not serve as a justification, even if it comes at the end of the narrative. Rather, it contributes to the characterization of Simeon and Levi as insolent hotheads who have no respect for the pragmatic reason of their elders (whom they dupe) and fully deserve their final condemnation. We must recall that the final editor worked with Genesis 34 in conjunction with Jacob’s final words in Genesis 49. Thus, he presented the rebuke of Simeon and Levi to their father as a prelude to Jacob’s final condemnation of Simeon and Levi. He obviously was interested in justifying Jacob’s final curse.

This may also explain why he added the elements of Shechem’s love for Dinah subsequent to the defilement and abduction, and his active attempt to formalize the union with marriage.[15] For if Shechem was trying to do the right thing, then Jacob’s condemnation of the exaggerated reaction of Simeon and Levi in Gen 49:5-7 seems that much more justified. The editor’s choice to end with Simeon and Levi getting the last word adds punch to Jacob’s final curse, since it implies that he has been holding this in his entire life, and only now on his deathbed do these sons hear what he really thought.


November 25, 2015


Last Updated

June 1, 2024


View Footnotes

Prof. Rabbi David Frankel is Associate Professor of Bible at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, where he teaches M.A. and rabbinical students. He did his Ph.D. at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem under the direction of Prof. Moshe Weinfeld, and is the author or The Murmuring Stories of the Priestly School (VTSupp 89) and The Land of Canaan and the Destiny of Israel (Eisenbrauns).