Dinah

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This article is about the Biblical character. For other uses, see Dinah (disambiguation).

In the Hebrew Bible, Dinah (/ˈdnə/; Hebrew: דִּינָה, Modern Dina Tiberian Dînā ; "judged; vindicated") was the daughter of Jacob, one of the patriarchs of the Israelites, and Leah, his first wife. The episode of her violation by Shechem, son of a Canaanite or Hivite prince, and the subsequent vengeance of her brothers Simeon and Levi, commonly referred to as the rape of Dinah, is told in Genesis 34.

The story of Dinah[edit]

17th century depiction of the rape of Dinah.

Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, went out to visit the women of Shechem, where her people had made camp and where her father Jacob had purchased the land where he had pitched his tent. Shechem (the son of Hamor, the prince of the land) "took her and lay with her and humbled her. And his soul was drawn to Dinah ... he loved the maiden and spoke tenderly to her", and Shechem asked his father to obtain Dinah for him, to be his wife.

Hamor came to Jacob and asked for Dinah for his son: "Make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. You shall dwell with us; and the land shall be open to you". Shechem offered Jacob and his sons any bride-price they named. But "the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor deceitfully, because he had defiled their sister Dinah"; they said they would accept the offer if the men of the city agreed to be circumcised.

So the men of Shechem were deceived, and were circumcised; and "on the third day, when they were sore, two of the sons of Jacob and Leah, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, took their swords and came upon the city unawares, and killed all the males. They slew Hamor and his son Shechem with the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went away." And the sons of Jacob plundered whatever was in the city and in the field, "all their wealth, all their little ones and their wives, all that was in the houses."

"Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, 'You have brought trouble on me by making me odious to the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites; my numbers are few, and if they gather themselves against me and attack me, I shall be destroyed, both I and my household.' But they said, 'Should he treat our sister as a harlot?'" (Genesis 34:31).

Origin[edit]

This portion of the Book of Genesis deals primarily with the family of Abraham and his descendants, including Dinah, her father Jacob, and her brothers. The traditional view is that Moses wrote Genesis as well as almost all the rest of the Torah, doubtlessly using varied sources but synthesizing all of them together to give the Hebrews a written history of their ancestors. This view—which has been held for the past several thousand years, although it is not explicitly mentioned in either the Hebrew or the Christian Bible—holds that Moses included this story primarily because it happened and he viewed it as significant. It foreshadows later happenings and prophecies further along in Genesis and the Torah dealing with the two violent brothers.

Modern-day scholars often view Genesis as a combination of originally separate strands that does not pre-date the 1st millennium BC as a unified whole.[1] Modern scholars have suggested two layers of narrative within Genesis 34 itself: an older account ascribing the slaughter of Shechem to Simeon and Levi alone, and a later addition (verses 27 to 29) involving all the sons of Jacob.[2]

Jonathan Kirsch suggests that the narrative reflects a combining of two separate traditions: a Yahwist narrator describing a rape, and an Elohist speaker describing a seduction.[3]

One contemporary biblical scholar, Alexander Rofé, has assumed that the writer of Genesis could not possibly have considered rape to be defilement in and of itself, and therefore suggested that the verb describing Dinah as "defiled" was added later (elsewhere in the Bible only married or betrothed women are "defiled" by rape). He instead proposed that such a description reflected a "late, post-exilic notion that the idolatrous gentiles are impure [and supports] the prohibition of intermarriage and intercourse with them." Such a supposed preoccupation with ethnic purity would indicate a date in the 5th or 4th centuries BC, when the restored Jewish community in Jerusalem was similarly preoccupied with anti-Samaritan polemics.[4] In the extant (currently existing) version, it is clear that rape took place; the verb translated as "humbled" or "violated" in chapter 34 can also mean "subdued".[4]

Dinah in rabbinic literature[edit]

The abduction of Dinah, depicted by James Tissot.

The Midrash contains a series of proposed explanations of the Bible by rabbis which are generally rejected or ignored by Christians but often accepted, at least in part, by believers in Judaism. It provides many further hypotheses of the story of Dinah, suggesting answers to questions such as her offspring from Shechem and possible links to later incidents and characters. One implicates Jacob in Dinah's misfortune: when he went to meet Esau, he locked Dinah in a box, for fear that Esau would wish to marry her,[5] but God rebuked him in these words: "If thou hadst married off thy daughter in time she would not have been tempted to sin, and might, moreover, have exerted a beneficial influence upon her husband" (Gen. R. lxxx.). Her brother Simeon promised to find a husband for her, but she did not wish to leave Shechem, fearing that, after her disgrace, no one would take her to wife (Gen. R. l.c.).[5] However, she was later married to Job (Bava Batra 16b; Gen. R. l.c.).[5] When she died, Simeon buried her in the land of Canaan. She is therefore referred to as "the Canaanitish woman" (Gen. 46:10).[5] Shaul (ib.) was her son by Shechem (Gen. R. l.c.).[5]

Early Christian commentators such as Jerome assign some of the responsibility to Dinah, in venturing out to visit the women of Shechem. This story was used to demonstrate the danger to women in the public sphere as contrasted with the relative security of remaining in private.[6]

Simeon and Levi[edit]

Gerard Hoet: "Simeon and Levi slay the people of Shechem"
Further information: Simeon in rabbinic literature

According to the Midrash, Simeon and Levi were only 14 and 13 years old, respectively, at the time of the rape of Dinah. They possessed great moral zealousness (later, in the episode of the Golden Calf, the Tribe of Levi would demonstrate their absolute commitment to Moses' leadership by killing all the people involved in idol worship), but their anger was misdirected here. On his deathbed, their father Jacob cursed their anger and divided their tribal portions in the land of Israel so that they would not be able to regroup and fight arbitrarily. One midrash told how Jacob later tried to restrain their hot tempers by dividing their portions in the land of Israel, and neither had lands of their own. Therefore, Dinah's son by Shechem was counted among Simeon's progeny and received a portion of land in Israel, Dinah herself being "the Canaanite woman" mentioned among those who went down into Egypt with Jacob and his sons (Gen. 46:10).[5] When she died, Simeon buried her in the land of Canaan. (According to another tradition, her child from her rape by Shechem was Asenath, the wife of Joseph, and she herself later married the prophet Job (Bava Batra 16b; Gen. R. l.c.).[5]) The Tribe of Simeon received land within the territory of Judah and served as itinerant teachers in Israel, traveling from place to place to earn a living. The Tribe of Levi received a few Cities of Refuge spread out over Israel, and relied for their sustenance on the priestly gifts that the Children of Israel gave them.

Travel to Egypt[edit]

When Jacob's family prepares to descend to Egypt Genesis 46:8-27, the Torah lists the 70 family members who went down together. Simeon's children include "Saul, the son of the Canaanite woman."[7] The medieval French rabbi Rashi hypothesized that this Saul was Dinah's son by Shechem.[7] He suggests that after the brothers killed all the men in the city, including Shechem and his father, Dinah refused to leave the palace unless Simeon agreed to marry her[7] and remove her shame (according to Nachmanides, she only lived in his house and did not have sex with him). Therefore, Dinah's son is counted among Simeon's progeny, and he received a portion of land in Israel in the time of Joshua. The list of the names of the families of Israel in Egypt is repeated in Exodus 6:14-25.

In culture[edit]

Symbol of black womanhood[edit]

Dinah, Portrait of a Negress by Eastman Johnson.

In 19th century America, "Dinah" became a generic name for an enslaved African woman.[8] At the 1850 Woman's Rights Convention in New York, a speech by Sojourner Truth was reported on in the New York Herald, which used the name "Dinah" to symbolize black womanhood as represented by Truth:

In a convention where sex and color are mingled together in the common rights of humanity, Dinah, and Burleigh, and Lucretia, and Frederick Douglas, are all spiritually of one color and one sex, and all on a perfect footing of reciprocity. Most assuredly, Dinah was well posted up on the rights of woman, and with something of the ardor and the odor of her native Africa, she contended for her right to vote, to hold office, to practice medicine and the law, and to wear the breeches with the best white man that walks upon God's earth.[8]

Lizzie McCloud, a slave on a Tennessee plantation during the American Civil War, recalled that Union soldiers called all enslaved women "Dinah". Describing her fear when the Union army arrived, she said: "We was so scared we run under the house and the Yankees called 'Come out Dinah' (didn't call none of us anything but Dinah). They said 'Dinah, we're fightin' to free you and get you out from under bondage'."[9] After the end of the war in 1865 the New York Times exhorted the newly-liberated slaves to demonstrate that they had the moral values to use their freedom effectively, using the names "Sambo" and "Dinah" to represent male and female former slaves: "You are free Sambo, but you must work. Be virtuous too, oh Dinah!"[10]

The name Dinah was subsequently used for dolls and other images of black women.[11]

In literature[edit]

The novel The Red Tent by Anita Diamant is a fictional autobiography of the biblical Dinah. In Diamant's version, Dinah falls in love with Shalem, the Canaanite prince, and goes to bed with him in preparation for marriage. Simon and Levi, Jacob's sons, instigate the discord between Jacob and the men of the King of Shechem out of fear for their own prosperity, even though Dinah tells them the truth.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Table D Source Analysis: Revisions and Alternatives". Reading the Old Testament. Archived from the original on 17 February 2001. 
  2. ^ Van Seters, John (2001). "The Silence of Dinah (Genesis 34)". In Jean-Daniel Macchi and Thomas Römer. Jacob: Commentaire à Plusieurs Voix de Gen. 25–36. Mélanges Offerts à Albert de Pury. Geneva: Labor et Fides. pp. 239–247. ISBN 2-8309-0987-9. OCLC 248784525. 
  3. ^ Kirsch, Jonathan. Harlot by the Side of the Road, Random House, 2009
  4. ^ a b Rofé, Alexander (2005). "Defilement of Virgins in Biblical Law and the Case of Dinah (Genesis 34)". Biblica 86 (3): 369–375. [dead link]
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "Dinah", JewishEncyclopedia
  6. ^ Shemesh, Yael. review of Joy A. Schroeder's Dinah’s Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation" in "RBL", July 2008, Society of Biblical Literature
  7. ^ a b c Bereishit - Chapter 46 - Genesis
  8. ^ a b Footnote 3 to "Women's Rights Convention", The New York Herald, October 26, 1850; U.S. Women's History Workshop.
  9. ^ Slave Narratives: A Folk History of Slavery in the United States From Interviews with Former Slaves, The Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1938.
  10. ^ Gutmann, Herbert, "Persistent Myths about the Afro-Amercian Family" in The Slavery Reader, Psychology Press, 2003, p.263.
  11. ^ Kyle Husfloen, Black Americana, Krause Publications, 2005, p.64.

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainJewish Encyclopedia. 1901–1906. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Schroeder, Joy A. Dinah's Lament: The Biblical Legacy of Sexual Violence in Christian Interpretation. Minneapolis: Fortress, 2007. ISBN 978-0800638436
  • Yael Shemesh, "Rape is Rape is Rape: The story of Dinah and Shechem (Genesis 34)", ZAW 119 (2007), pp. 2–21

External links[edit]