The Story of Dinah: Her Rape and Her Silence
Dinah, the daughter of Jacob was the child of Leah, his first wife. Leah was forced on Jacob because she was still unmarried when he asked to marry Rachel, her younger, more attractive sister.
Dinah might have witnessed her mother’s loveless marriage and decided to avoid a similar fate. The text reports that she ventured out to seek female friendship, but what healthy young woman does not also wish to meet her friends’ brothers?
One day Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and Leah, went to visit some of the young women who lived in the area. But when the local prince, Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, saw Dinah, he seized her and raped her.— Genesis 34:1, 2
It is either a brave, courageous act on her part to venture out in search of friendship; or an act of senseless rebellion to leave her father’s house without protection, to hang out with strangers.
Either way, Shechem had no right to violate her. He interrupted her social development and destroyed her dreams of becoming the woman she wanted to be.
In the account of Dinah’s rape and revenge (Genesis 34), we do not hear one word from her. We wonder:
Did Shechem try to get her consent?
Did she aggravate him by her refusal?
Did she tell him to stop, or does it not matter?
After all, in the subsequent conversations between the men—her father, the rapist’s father and her brothers—violence against women is not the topic. They discuss the economic and political impact of the incident, whether or not it will impede mutual trade between the families. The brothers plan their revenge to redeem their family honor. Their unconcern about Dinah’s thoughts and feelings underscores the tragedy of her voicelessness.
Ita Sheres, Professor of Judaic Studies, writes in Dinah’s Rebellion: A Biblical Parable forOur Time, “Silence is a powerful tool within the Hebraic tradition because it stands out as one of the most dreadful things that can happen to an individual within the chosen community. Silence is the opposite of discourse and communication, and losing one’s voice is indeed losing one’s identity and sense of belonging. It is quite significant that Shechem has a clear voice in the episode.”
Shechem spoke, not to apologize, but to confess love for Dinah. “He tried to win her affection with tender words. He said to his father, Hamor, “Get me this young girl. I want to marry her.” . . . Then Shechem himself spoke to Dinah’s father and brothers. . . .“No matter what dowry or gift you demand, I will gladly pay it—just give me the girl as my wife.” (3, 4; 11,12)
Shechem’s request was acceptable by Hebrew law. “If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to anyone and has sex with her, he must pay the customary bride price and marry her.” (Exodus 22:16).
Sheres states: “It can be easily argued that Shechem’s attitude is not only the most humane (among the men) but also the most credible: how else could he have expected to live with Dinah, whom he raped, as his wife? Not only did he have to place her on some pedestal for his own recognition, but he had to treat her as a person of worth if she was to carry on his family.”
His hope soon vanished, as did he. Dinah’s brothers tricked the men of the city to be circumcised as a prerequisite for trading with the Hebrews; when the men were all sore, two of her brothers beat them and killed them including Shechem, and took Dinah home.
The entire city paid for Shechem’s crime. Still, we do not know whether Dinah consented or she was too embarrassed to speak.
Her Father Breaks His Silence
According to the account, Jacob, her father had not spoken either. He had not expressed his displeasure or his sympathy for his daughter. However, aghast at the destruction of the Hivites, he said to his sons, “You have ruined me! You’ve made me stink among all the people of this land—among all the Canaanites and Perizzites. . . I will be ruined, and my entire household will be wiped out!” (30)
Then the brothers finally brought the focus back to where it belonged, “But why should we let him treat our sister like a prostitute?” they retorted angrily. (31)
Finally, Dinah the daughter of Jacob found sympathy from the sons of Jacob, but Jacob still had not expressed his outrage at the rape.
Women's Voices Needed
We are not really surprised that we do not hear from Dinah’s mother. Her feelings and opinions, like Dinah’s are not a major part of the story. She did not even have a voice when she was forced to marry Jacob. That was the way men dehumanized women.
However in New Testament times, Jesus befriended and defended an adulterous woman. He was not about victimization of women.
According to the South Asia Daily (June 15, 2011), a recent survey reveals that India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are the most dangerous countries for women. The violence against women includes human trafficking, female faticide, and genital mutilation. The United States has its share of more than 100,000 rapes per year. We may not be able to speak out for each Dinah, but we can sign a petition, or show support for those who are devoted to righting these female wrongs.
Dinah’s name means justice. Her story reminds us that no matter the culture or the times, justice is a God-given right for every woman. Women who read their Bibles owe it to Dinah to say something on her behalf, and on behalf of the honor of women everywhere.
Voicing Women's Causes
- International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women
The United Nations' (UN) International Day (November 25) for the Elimination of Violence against Women is an occasion for governments, international organizations and non-governmental organizations to raise public awareness of violence against women.
- Get Involved for Human Rights | Amnesty International USA
Since 1961, Amnesty International members have made a difference. Here are ten ways you can help stop human rights abuses.
- Women Thrive Worldwide | Because When Women Thrive, the Whole World Thrives
We are the leading nonprofit organization bringing the voice of women around the world directly to decision-makers in Washington, D.C.
- Human Rights Videos | witness.org
WITNESS uses video to open the eyes of the world to human rights violations. WITNESS empowers people to transform personal stories of abuse into powerful tools for justice, promoting public engagement and policy change.
Questions & Answers
© 2012 Dora Weithers