Updated: Jan 19
Gen 32:3 – 36:43
Focus: Gen 34 – 36:43
My focus today is from Genesis 34 to the end of the Torah portion ‘vayishlach’. It’s packed with some neat stuff, some confronting stuff, and some stuff. The neat stuff is about the messiah saving the world and the confronting stuff includes the rape of Dinah and the death of Rachel. The stuff in this case includes the genealogies, some of Jacob’s movements and other minutiae.
I know you love a good genealogy but we will probably stick with the neat and confronting stuff today. The other stuff is still important and yes, my system of sorting out the ‘stuff’ of Scripture is my own genius, you are most welcome.
The Rape of Dinah
We’re right into it with the story of Dinah.
The confronting issues here are fairly obvious. Dinah takes a walk and the man, ‘Shechem’, from the city Shechem, rapes her. Shechem and his father, Hamor, attempt to make amends with Israel by offering a dowry and alliance. The dowry for marriage is ‘whatever’ Jacob would ask of Shechem and the alliance includes exchanging wives, sharing the land and trade. It means safety and prosperity.
Simeon and Levi have other things in mind. They ask the men of Shechem to be circumcised as part of the possible marriage which they do. This causes a pain only a man with his foreskin cut off can understand. In that pain, Simeon and Levi take their swords and kill every man in Shechem. The text leaves it somewhat ambiguous but the rest of the sons at least participate in looting the city. Jacob scolds them and before leaving the brothers have the final say and ask ‘should he treat our sister like a harlot?’
And that question looms. Dinah was raped. How could they leave that unpunished? Did they really have to kill everyone though?
So what does God say after the incident? ‘Arise, go up to Bethel’.
Interesting. Not exactly the answer we want though to help us with this problematic story mind you.
But was Dinah really raped? The popular opinion says yes.
Verse 2 says he ‘saw her, he took her…and violated her’. Unlike the rape of Tamor by Amnon who cast Tamor out in the street after the act, Shechem though appears to love Dinah, he wants to marry her.
The horror of rape speaks for itself but the following process is rather unsavory. Hamor is not disgusted and there appears to be legitimate talks of marriage and alliance between raper and rapee (albeit Hamor is two faced in his dealings with Jacob).
Seems fair I suppose. Dinah did, after all, in verse 1 go out ‘to see the daughters of the land’. What’s a man to do if a woman behaves in such a way? It’s very unbecoming in the time and age in which Dinah lived. She needed to be honorable in her behavior and not frolicking about the joint. We can’t possibly expect Shechem to restrain himself; he’s a man after all.
In his desire to marry her Shechem sees to have held Dinah captive. In verse 26 Levi and Simeon had to ‘take’ Dinah from Shechem’s house. She was clearly a prisoner wasn’t she?
Does this mean Levi and Simeon are really good blokes? Are they like us, watching this ridiculous behavoiur pan out where a sister has been raped, and the father’s all sit around negotiating a marriage?
Are Levi and Simeon misguided by method but just in meaning and intent? One can, after all, understand the desire to go for the sword following the rape of a family member.
Yeah nah, maybe it really is all good after what they did. Let’s crack onto Bethel, the horrendous thing happened, as it does sometimes, but Levi and Simeon have it sorted. All good.
Forgive me for been crass, but is this really a legitimized story of rape? Was Dinah expected to marry her rapist, by our father Jacob no less, and were Levi and Simeon actually justified in their actions?
The Not Rape Of Dinah
Here’s the counter opinion for your consideration which says Dinah wasn’t raped. It changes the narrative somewhat…
First, drop your horror at the idea of rape. Attend to the text with an open and fresh mind unravished by the narrative you think you’re reading.
Yes, Dinah did go to see the daughters of the land. It is actually a striking thing given the culture. Unmarried daughters lived under the care and provision of their father. It’s not prison but it’s not exactly 21st century Australia.
We’re chilled by Shechem who upon seeing Dinah ‘takes her’. It’s like little red riding wolf and Shechem’s the wolf. The word though in the Hebrew ‘and he took her’ are the standard words for a man ‘taking’ a wife. It’s the same for Isaac and Rebecca in Genesis 24:67.
Genesis 24:67 (NKJV)
67Then Isaac brought her into his mother Sarah’s tent; and he took Rebekah and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death.
He then ‘lay with her’.
The ‘lay’ part of the text in the Hebrew means to ‘lie down’ but is the euphemism for sex. It is the same language for sex used throughout the scripture.
The preposition here (‘with her’) some say indicates that Dinah was the passive object of the encounter. That it indicates a passiveness is argued as an indication of rape (it takes 2 to tango after all).
A notable case though where the preposition ‘with her’ (otah) is used for sex is when the possibly adulterous woman in the Book of Numbers has to declare, as part of her oath in the tabernacle, that she has not had another man ‘lay with her’. Our focus here is not on adultery, and the point been made from the book of numbers is that the sex been described, though possibly adulterous, is consensual. Therefore, the preposition ‘with her’ does not have to mean rape. It is used in the bible to describe consensual sex too.
Next up, the text in verse 2 says that Shechem ‘debased’ Dinah. People say this is a clear indication of rape.
Been debased in this context surely corresponds to the sexual assault view, doesn’t it?
‘Debased’ though in the Hebrew (inne) does not have to mean ‘debased’ because of rape. People who argue that the incident was about rape turn to Deuteronomy 22:29 which details how a rapist must pay the price because he ‘debased’ (humbled) his victim.
Deuteronomy 22:29 (NKJV)
29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.
I actually reject the notion that this verse means a rape victim must marry her rapist. Let’s assume for now though that it means that. The rape victim is debased, ergo, Dinah is debased. The counter view though points out that just prior to this example in Deuteronomy 22:29 that the willing participant in consensual (though adulterous) sex is also ‘debased’. Again, adultery is not our focus today and the point is that the earlier texts of Deuteronomy 22, which are not describing rape, say that the participants are ‘debased’.
Both participants in adultery are punished as per Deuteronomy 22:24. Adultery is a sin, sure, but it’s consensual sex. Deuteronomy 22:24 shows us the ‘humbled’ woman who is been punished for adultery. But, again, sorry for repeating myself, she participated in consensual sex.
Deuteronomy 22:24 (NKJV)
24 then you shall bring them both out to the gate of that city, and you shall stone them to death with stones, the young woman because she did not cry out in the city, and the man because he humbled his neighbor’s wife; so you shall put away the evil from among you.
Adulterers are debased like Dinah our alleged rape victim, but the word debased is not specific to rape.
The term is also what we are to do to ourselves on Yom Kippur (Leviticus 23:27-32). We are to humble ourselves (same word for ‘debased’ in Hebrew). The word can have nothing to do with rape.
Marry A Rapist?
I want to pause and stress something. Deuteronomy 22:29, which is when a man takes a virgin and lies with her, is not advocating for a rape victim marrying her rapist (which some suggest is the norm were seeing play out in the story of Dinah).
Take the example in Deuteronomy 22.
Deuteronomy 22:25–27 (NKJV)
25“But if a man finds a betrothed young woman in the countryside, and the man forces her and lies with her, then only the man who lay with her shall die.
26But you shall do nothing to the young woman; there is in the young woman no sin deserving of death, for just as when a man rises against his neighbor and kills him, even so is this matter.
27For he found her in the countryside, and the betrothed young woman cried out, but there was no one to save her.
It’s a little unsavory but the concept of crying out in the Bible equates to our modern concept of consent. In this case, the woman cried out and did not consent. The rapist is put to death.
In the example of Deuteronomy 22:29, where people argue for a victim marrying the perpetrator, is actually describing consensual sex. It is not rape, it is consensual sex been described.
Deuteronomy 22:28–29 (NKJV)
28“If a man finds a young woman who is a virgin, who is not betrothed, and he seizes her and lies with her, and they are found out,
29then the man who lay with her shall give to the young woman’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife because he has humbled her; he shall not be permitted to divorce her all his days.
There is no crying out and it doesn’t speak of the ‘man’ been ‘found out’ but if ‘they’ i.e. they two active participants in the act, are found out then they get in trouble. Remember, crying out in the Bible = no consent. That the woman didn’t cry out = consent. That sounds truly dreadful but it is how the Bible communicates our concept of consent.
In our Deuteronomy 22 case, like with Dinah, people point out that the man ‘seizes her’ and ‘lies with her’.
Here in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 however when the man ‘seizes’ her the word used is ‘tsafas’. It isn’t the Hebrew word for seizing something in the circumstance of sexual assault. Tsafas is to take something by manipulation (i.e. seduction) therefore, the man in Deuteronomy 22:28-29 has seduced the woman. She did not cry out, she consented, and that the Bible mentions both been found out speaks to the mutually consensual nature of the act.
When the Bible speaks of actual rape, and of a man seizing a woman to rape her, the word used is ‘chazaq’. Chazaq is to bind, be strong and conquer.
Make no mistake. Rape, requires punishment, and as per Deuteronomy 22:25-27, only the rapist is put to death.
Furthermore, Deuteronomy 22:28 – 29 corresponds to Exodus 22:16-17 which sheds a little more light on the alleged rapist marrying victim thing;
Exodus 22:16–17 (NKJV)
16 “If a man entices a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay the bride-price for her to be his wife. 17 If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the bride-price of virgins.
When two people have consensual sex outside of marriage, they are to wed. This is what is occurring in the story of Dinah. Shechem is offering to pay the price for having seduced Dinah. He is not offering the price of rape.
Within this view the rest of the text is shed in a different light.
Hamor, upon hearing of the incident, does not expect retaliation. It’s a tryst between young lovers and not a violent action. Yes, Dinah’s brother’s view it as an ‘abomination’ but this does not mean it was rape. Sex outside of marriage was abominable and there’s the taboo and restriction on associating with other tribes and inter-marriage.
Levi and Simeon are concerned that there sister will be viewed as a whore and not that she was raped. That they retrieved her from Shechem’s house doesn’t necessarily mean she was held captive. That’s a verse interpreted dependent upon how you view the Shechem/Dinah interaction. She was either there willingly or she was held there.
And after all this, did Levi and Simeon do the right thing?
YHWH might not say so straight away but the Bible certainly gives us the answer.
Genesis 49:5–7 (NKJV)
5 “Simeon and Levi are brothers;
Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place.
6 Let not my soul enter their council;
Let not my honor be united to their assembly;
For in their anger they slew a man,
And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox.
7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce;
And their wrath, for it is cruel!
I will divide them in Jacob
And scatter them in Israel.
They were cursed. And it came true. Both were scattered amongst Israel. Simeon never recovered and he never acquired land for himself. The same goes for Levi however due to his actions at the Golden Calf the impact of this curse changes. His tribe is scattered amongst Israel but as honored priests. One brother managed to focus his violent inclination in a good direction, the other did not.
For a moment let’s jump ahead to Reuben.
He does a naughty at the end of our Torah portion. Reuben lies with Bilhah, one of Jacob’s concubines.
Genesis 35:22 (NKJV)
22 And it happened, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine; and Israel heard about it.
Again, our modern senses are assaulted at such an odd thing. In this case the issue is not rape but the fact that Reuben slept with a partner to his father.
The sages attempt to save face for Reuben. They say Reuben was only guilty of moving Rachel’s bed after her death and that he didn’t actually lie with Bilhah.
In what way did Reuben violate his father’s bed? When Rachel died, Jacob took his bed, which always had stood in Rachel’s tent, and placed it in Bilhah’s tent. Reuben resented his mother’s humiliation. Said he: “If my mother’s sister was a rival to my mother, shall the handmaid of my mother’s sister be a rival to my mother?” Thereupon he arose and removed Jacob’s bed.
We don’t buy it. Reuben did the naughty.
We do however make the mistake of viewing this sin through that periscope of love and sex. What occurs here is more a political move within the tribe.
The JPS commentary summarises the incident quite nicely. It says;
By violating Bilhah, Reuben makes sure that she cannot supplant or even rival his mother’s position of chief wife now that Rachel is dead… As a result of Reuben’s cohabitation with Bilhah, she would thereby acquire the tragic status of “living widowhood,” as happened to David’s concubines whom he left behind when he fled Jerusalem and who were possessed by his son Absalom, as recounted in 2 Samuel 15:16, 16:22, and 20:3.
Why did Reuben choose to accomplish his purpose by the particular means reported? …. As the first-born son, Reuben, in effect, prematurely lays claim to an inheritance that he would have expected to be his eventually.
…It is apparent from several biblical stories and from ancient Near Eastern texts that in matters of leadership, possession of the concubine(s) of one’s father or of one’s vanquished enemy on the part of the aspirant or usurper bestowed legitimacy on the assumption of heirship and validated the succession…
All this leads to the conclusion that Reuben’s bid to promote his mother’s rights is at the same time a calculated challenge to his father’s authority. His move is more political than lustful.
- JPS (Genesis)
Now why do we care?
Well, one of the underlying facts I want to point out with Reuben, Levi and Simeon, is that it disqualifies them from been the true first born. They are the first three eldest of Israel. Because of their actions here the door is open for Judah and Joseph to take up the reins as leaders of Israel. Chronicles sums this up nicely;
1 Chronicles 5:1–2 (NKJV)
Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel—he was indeed the firstborn, but because he defiled his father’s bed, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel, so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright; 2 yet Judah prevailed over his brothers, and from him came a ruler, although the birthright was Joseph’s—
Looking at the bigger picture, we now know that Messiah must come from Judah.
But back to the narrative following the Shechem incident.
The thing that strikes me the most as we continue is not the violence of Levi and Simeon, or the treachery of Reuben, but the death of Rachel.
Genesis 35:16–21 (NKJV)
Death of Rachel
16 Then they journeyed from Bethel. And when there was but a little distance to go to Ephrath, Rachel labored in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 Now it came to pass, when she was in hard labor, that the midwife said to her, “Do not fear; you will have this son also.” 18 And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 And Jacob set a pillar on her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel’s grave to this day.
21 Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.
According to tradition, Sarah, Rebekah, Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah all rest with their husbands in the cave of Machpelah in Hebron. Rachel stands apart as the loved wife yet she is buried alone on the journey.
The sages ask why?
What was Jacob’s reason for burying Rachel at the roadside? Jacob foresaw that the exiles from Jerusalem would pass that way. Therefore he buried her there so that she might pray for mercy for them. Thus it is written (Jeremiah 31:15): “A voice is heard in Ramah . . . Rachel weeping for her children . . .”
- Midrash Rabbah
The sages aren’t making anything up here. The image of Rachel weeping for the sons of Israel in the future, as quoted, is in your Bible.
Jeremiah 31:15–16 (NKJV)
15 Thus says the Lord:
“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation and bitter weeping,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted for her children,
Because they are no more.”
16 Thus says the Lord:
“Refrain your voice from weeping,
And your eyes from tears;
For your work shall be rewarded, says the Lord,
And they shall come back from the land of the enemy.
There’s something very profound and prophetic about Rachel and the imagery of Benjamin’s birth.
The episode of Rachel’s death is in turn connected to the time of ‘Jacob’s distress’ in Jeremiah 30:5-7 due to the imagery given there of labor pains. From here the teaching comes that the end of days will be like ‘birth pangs’ and these can be traced back to the pain of Rachel giving birth to Benjamin. The two names of Benjamin then are connected to the two comings of Messiah. His first name (son of trouble) speaks of the suffering of Messiah. The second ‘son of my right hand’ speaks of the coming exalted king. As the Psalms says ‘sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet’ (Psalm 110).
The area of her death is also loaded with prophetic goodness. She is buried outside of Bethlehem. As the sages say and as is indicated by the prophets, she weeps as Israel would one day walk past her grave on the way to Babylon (and return that way as per the prophet Jeremiah’s words). Thus Rachel weeps for her children.
Genesis 35:21 (NKJV)
21Then Israel journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder.
Following Rachel’s death Jacob camps nearby at a place called ‘Midgal Eder’ (Watchtower of the Flock) which is in the vicinity of Bethlehem.
The prophet Micah tells us more about this location (and do pick up on the Rachel imagery here…);
Micah 4:8–9 (NKJV)
8And you, O tower of the flock (midgal eder), The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, Even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.”
9Now why do you cry aloud? Is there no king in your midst? Has your counselor perished? For pangs have seized you like a woman in labor.
He goes on in chapter 5 and says;
Micah 5:2 (NKJV)
2“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting.”
From here the prophet speaks of King David, the shepherd boy who would become King. But the sages and we know that the prophecy goes beyond this.
In the Targum, taught at the time of the 1st century, it translates this part of Genesis 35 like this. It says;
‘Jacob journeyed on and pitched his tent beyond Migdal Eder, the place at which King Messiah will reveal Himself at the end of days’.
Notably, this same text was quoted to Herod in the time of the New Testament.
In Matthew 2 Herod had heard of the birth of Messiah and the coming of the magi.
Matthew 2:3–6 (NKJV)
3 When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
5 So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
6 ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
Are not the least among the rulers of Judah;
For out of you shall come a Ruler
Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
The retort given to Herod is fascinating. It confirms that Messiah will be born in the place of Rachel’s death and weeping, Bethlehem.
Their quote though which is from Micah 5:1 is given in a typically rabbinic kind of way. It’s not a clear cut quote from the prophet which is typical of the day. They blend and link the scripture seamlessly quoting from multiple passages at the same time. It’s typical midrash and has a loaded beauty to it which I love.
Analysis of the text, when looked at closely, finds echoes from the targums and of King David. Most notably, the sages don’t directly quote Micah 5:1 to 3 but take from those verses the words they want (they shorten it somewhat). They also don’t directly quote from Micah the part which says ‘he will arise and shepherd his flock’. That wording is actually taken from 2 Samuel 5:2 where YHWH says to David ‘you will shepherd my people Israel.’ It’s subtle and hard to see given the various wordings in English, and also given that Micah, 2 Samuel etc. are basically saying the same thing. The sages though, with great ease, blend the verses together. When quoted seamlessly like that the connection is clear. The Messiah will come forth from Bethlehem and just like David He will shepherd the flock of Israel.
The image of Rachel weeping takes on a new dimension. It’s not just of her weeping for the exiled Israelites. In this case she weeps for the children of Bethlehem as the Romans walk past her into the town, returning with the blood of children on their garments.
Matthew 2:16–18 (NKJV)
16Then Herod, when he saw that he was deceived by the wise men, was exceedingly angry; and he sent forth and put to death all the male children who were in Bethlehem and in all its districts, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had determined from the wise men.
17Then was fulfilled what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying:
18“A voice was heard in Ramah, Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, Refusing to be comforted, Because they are no more.”
In the end Messiah has the final say. The sages also teach that one day Rachel will weep for joy at the return of Israel, and that the Messiah will pass by her and comfort her.
The full quote from Micah confirms our hope;
Micah 5:2–5 (NKJV)
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Though you are little among the thousands of Judah,
Yet out of you shall come forth to Me
The One to be Ruler in Israel,
Whose goings forth are from of old,
3 Therefore He shall give them up,
Until the time that she who is in labor has given birth;
Then the remnant of His brethren
Shall return to the children of Israel.
4 And He shall stand and feed His flock
In the strength of the Lord,
In the majesty of the name of the Lord His God;
And they shall abide,
For now He shall be great
To the ends of the earth;
5 And this One shall be peace.
Hope you learnt something.