Genesis 34:1-34:31 Family Disgrace

nubile… disgrace… conflict-avoidant… credibility… ticked… peace than honor… tradition and love… money and power… unkindest cut… consequences… radical evil… for family and honor… legitimate authority… fool.

Genesis 34:1-34:31

And Dinah the daughter of Leah, which she bare unto Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land.

Dinah (Diynah, judgment) was presumably a teenager, being unmarried but nubile. With eleven brothers, I can imagine her desire for girl (bath) friends. Alas, growing up the shelter of her grandfather Laban, she was clearly unaware of the customs and dangers of this place:

And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her.

It is unclear, at least to me, whether disgracing (‘anah) her means he raped or merely seduced her. I suspect the men of that time rarely differentiated between the two (I have a theory that the evolution of language and culture is primarily driven by the ability to develop and recognize finer distinctions, but that’s another story). Heck, I doubt Hamor (Chamowr, he-ass) recognize the difference between rape and courtship. Like the rulers (nasiy’) Abraham and Isaac feared, and his namesake donkey, Hamor was used to simply taking (laqach) what he wanted. However, that doesn’t mean he was incapable of finer feelings (‘ahab):

And his soul clave unto Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the damsel, and spake kindly unto the damsel. And Shechem spake unto his father Hamor, saying, Get me this damsel to wife.

I must admit, the whole thing is difficult to understand as a 20th Century American. However, I believe the situation isn’t much different in Swaziland, where my family has done mission work: Sexual virtue is generally defined as not sleeping with a married woman; everything else is fair game, and the word of a prince is law. But, that doesn’t mean they have no concept of love and marriage — merely that it isn’t protected by very many boundaries. That’s probably how Hamor expected to find a wife (‘ishshah) — keep bedding (shakab) girls until he found one he loved. And most cultures even today have residue of the times when wives were carried off by force (and for some it is more than residue).

It still irks me that we have no clue how Dinah feels about this; any more than we do about how Sarah and Rebekah felt about their own charades. Then again, it probably didn’t matter to the men of her family, in terms of shaping their response to her disgrace (tame’):

And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter: now his sons were with his cattle in the field: and Jacob held his peace until they were come.

A fateful decision. Note that they were probably in the fields (sadeh) some distance away for days or weeks at a time, so it wasn’t just a matter of waiting for them to come home for supper. It was deliberate concealment.

Jacob appears to be conflict-avoidant by nature; he didn’t tell Esau he wanted to move, and he doesn’t proactively tell his sons about their sister’s disgrace (tame’). He probably feared their reaction — ignoring the fact that they’d find out eventually, and his silence (charash) merely denied him the opportunity to nurture a healthy reaction. Clearly, fleeing from Esau was costly, at least for Dinah; it rarely helps to run away from problems. Jacob will also pay a price for losing credibility with his sons, who apparently heard the story anyway from other sources:

And the sons of Jacob came out of the field when they heard [it]: and the men were grieved, and they were very wroth, because he had wrought folly in Israel in lying with Jacob’s daughter; which thing ought not to be done.

Intriguingly, we hear that Dinah’s brothers (and perhaps half-brothers) were exceedingly ticked (m@`od charah) at Hamor’s disgraceful (n@balah) act — but we hear of no such reaction from Jacob. He appears more concerned with keeping the peace than his daughter’s honor — much like Abraham and Isaac with their wives. I can understand that — these were violent times, and the cultural demands are strict — but I would still want a better balance of tradition and love.

And Hamor communed with them, saying, The soul of my son Shechem longeth for your daughter: I pray you give her him to wife.

Hamor seems the indulgent father, but he also has an eye on the big picture:

And make ye marriages with us, [and] give your daughters unto us, and take our daughters unto you. And ye shall dwell with us: and the land shall be before you; dwell and trade ye therein, and get you possessions therein.

Shechem, on the other hand, only has eyes for Dinah:

And Shechem said unto her father and unto her brethren, Let me find grace in your eyes, and what ye shall say unto me I will give. Ask me never so much dowry and gift, and I will give according as ye shall say unto me: but give me the damsel to wife.

He comes seeking grace (chen), heedless of his disgraceful (tame’) behavior, and that is his undoing:

And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister:

Fascinating. Hamor and Schechem address both father and sons, but apparently the sons confer amongst themselves and respond — leaving their father out of it. Was this a multi-day negotiation, and Jacob not present at the moment? Did they have a family council and he was overruled? Or did they deceive (mirmah) their own father too, so that he allowed their request without understanding its implication:

And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that is uncircumcised; for that [were] a reproach unto us:

Fascinating. They expect the Hivites to appreciate the disgrace (cherpah) of marrying against custom, but not of taking a woman against her will. They play off of Hamor’s big picture:

But in this will we consent unto you: If ye will be as we [be], that every male of you be circumcised; Then will we give our daughters unto you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people.

With an implied threat of leaving the area (with Dinah):

But if ye will not hearken unto us, to be circumcised; then will we take our daughter, and we will be gone.

Unlike Israel, both father and son on that side are happy with the arrangement:

And their words pleased Hamor, and Shechem Hamor’s son.

if perhaps for different reasons. Shechem did it for love (chaphets):

And the young man deferred not to do the thing, because he had delight in Jacob’s daughter: and he [was] more honourable than all the house of his father.

Whereas Hamor did it for money and power; at least that’s the argument they used to convince the town to go along:

[Shall] not their cattle and their substance and every beast of theirs [be] ours? only let us consent unto them, and they will dwell with us.

I’m inferring from all this that Jacob’s wealth (qinyan) would make a huge impact in the economy of the region — like getting a new factory built in a small town. Certainly the lure of gain and Hamor’s own status suffice to do the trick:

And unto Hamor and unto Shechem his son hearkened all that went out of the gate of his city; and every male was circumcised, all that went out of the gate of his city

Its unclear what position Hamor held with respect to the city. My hypothesis is that he was head of his clan, but just an elder (or perhaps chief elder) with respect to the entire city (`iyr) — which is why he used persuasion and Shechem’s popularity, rather than merely issuing a decree.

Alas, what they thought was a simple ceremony turns out to be the unkindest cut of all:

And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.

I wonder whether they had to go through the city to reach Hamor, or were afraid the men of the town would avenge Hamor’s death (the way Dinah was being avenged), or simply wanted vengeance on everyone associated with Hamor, in addition to their primary goal of rescuing Dinah:

And they slew Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went out.

While Simeon and Levi do the dirty work, everyone is in on the payoff:

The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister.

A fascinating bit of rationalization. Hamor thinks nothing of disgracing (tame’) Dinah, but the sons of Jacob think it worth the plunder (bazaz) of a city. There’s a certain irony: Hamor’s city thought circumcision would make Jacob’s wealth theirs, but it actually had the opposite effect:

They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which [was] in the city, and that which [was] in the field, And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive, and spoiled even all that [was] in the house.

I suspect the irony of stealing other men’s wives was lost on the sons of Jacob. Jacob himself, perhaps characteristically, is less appalled about the violence they had done than the possible consequences:

And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I [being] few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.

There’s something pathetic about Jacob’s focus (assuming the translators are accurate) on what happens to him, rather than them. He comes across as not caring what happens to his family, much less his daughter. Simeon and Levi at least put the family honor first:

And they said, Should he deal with our sister as with an harlot?

Interesting how what Hivites considers normal treatment of single women is reserved for prostitutes (zanah) among the family of Terah. I’m tempted to count that as a point in favor of the Abrahamic line, except that it might just mean they had formal prostitutes before others in the region.

Two things leap out at me from all this. One, Jacob has failed in what I consider the primary role of government: to legitimize authority and socialize justice. By de-legitimizing himself, and refusing to enforce appropriate justice, he opened the way for slaughter of an entire town. I’m not sure what exactly Jacob could have done — clearly it was a touchy situation — but by doing nothing he ended up being a stench (ba’ash) rather than a blessing to his neighbors.

Second, it reinforces my belief that radical evil is a consequence of polarized communities. Simeon and Levi’s love for their sister was manifested in hatred for the Hivites — not to mention scorn for prostitutes. They clearly saw a wrong done to them, but could not extrapolate their sense of honor to other communities. Jacob, by contrast, recognized the importance of balanced relationships with the outside world, but did so at the price of overlooking the need to honor his family.

One can interpret this as reflecting the absence of a larger Law to establish right and wrong, but that almost misses the point. Written law — or even cultural customs — are merely cloaks on the deeper moral absolutes written on the very fabric of human nature. Evil is always wrong, even if its lawful; still, law can be useful in establishing a shared community of value for resolving conflicts optimally, without either ignoring sin or responding with greater sin.

Alas, despite millennia of commandments, laws, and constitutions we sometimes seem to be no wiser than the sons of Jacob were back then.


God, I am reminded of my own folly, and I don’t know whether I identify more with reckless Shechem, indulgent Hamor, cowardly Jacob, or vengeful Simeon. Teach me to love your Law, and to treat all people’s justly. To stand up for my family and for honor, without demonizing my opponents. Teach me to love my neighbor as myself, and to hate my own evil as much as that used against me. Grant me the grace to be a legitimate authority in my family and my community, that I may not lead people astray by either commission or omission. Be merciful to me, a fool! Amen.


There’s several different words here for defilement and folly, which I’ve chosen to uniformly translate as disgrace — as I think that is the common implication in this context:
* ‘anah: affliction, humiliation
* tame’: unclean, impure
* n@balah: senselessness, folly, disgrace, immorality
* cherpah: reproach, scorn

Note that all of these appear unrelated to the Hebrew word for grace (chen), unlike the English word disgrace.