Dinah And The Shechemites
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Basic Information

(Genesis chapter 34: v.1-31)

Jacob had twelve sons, whose descendants became the Twelve Tribes of Israel. He undoubtably had several daughters too, but only one is mentioned in the Bible, Dinah. One day when Dinah went out to visit the women of the land, she was abducted and raped by a local prince named Shechem. The prince fell in love with her and spoke tenderly to her, (whether this was before or after he carried her off is not made clear), and asked his father to arrange for him to marry her. Because rape is one thing, but if you want to actually marry the girl, that means the family has to get involved.

The father, Hamor, went with Shechem to negotiate with Jacob, and offered to let Jacob settle his people in their territory and intermarry with their people. In addition, Shechem offered to pay any bride-price Jacob might demand.

Jacob's sons were in on the discussion, and they were incensed at their sister's violation; but they pretended otherwise and offered a condition: before they would consent to their sister's marriage, Hathor, Shechem and all the men of their city would have to be circumcised. Circumcision, cutting off the foreskin covering the tip of the male's penis, was commanded by God as part of his covenant with Abraham (Genesis 17:9-14). Surprisingly, Hamor agreed to this, because he saw that having Jacob's people settle on his lands would enrich his own people; and Shechem loved Dinah so much he was willing to chop off anything for her.

So, all the male Shechemites underwent circumcision. And after three days, when all the men-folk were still incapacitated from the operation, Simeon and Levi, two of Dinah's brothers, attacked the city, slaying the men and carrying off the women, livestock and generally anything that wasn't nailed down.

This infuriated Jacob because it pretty much destroyed any hope of friendly relations with any of the Canaanites, as well as possibly provoking retaliation from other local princes. The boys didn't care. "Should he have treated our sister like a prostitute?"

Jacob was still mad years later on his deathbed. When he was passing out final blessings upon his sons, he had this to say about Simeon and Levi:

"Cursed be their anger, so fierce,
and their fury, so cruel!
I will scatter them in Jacob
and disperse them in Israel."

(Genesis 49:7 NIV)


Game and Story Use

  • A beautiful girl abducted by a desert chieftain is a classic plot and it never gets old. Heck, look at how much mileage Homer got out of it. The PCs can be part of the group that goes to rescue/avenge the girl. Or, contrawise, they could be trying to defend the city from the avengers.
  • What if the girl doesn't really want to be rescued? The story in the Bible doesn't say how Dinah felt about the situation, but it does emphasize that Shechem's love for her was genuine; and her position in Shechem's house as a beloved wife might have been preferable to her position in Jacob's clan as a discraced, defiled, and therefore unmarriable daughter.
    • It might not even have been rape. The word used in the Hebrew is open to multiple interpretations, because even if the relationship was consensual, Jacob's family would have considered sex with an unclean heathen to be a defilement.
      • Even in translation it's unclear - the Latin rapare means to seize by force (hence otherwise weird sounding things like "the rape of the lock" or "the rape of the fleece" - also the avian order of raptors. And the word "rapacious".), with any sexual violation being dependant on circumstance. Note also that "bride stealing" - with or without the consent of the bride - was a normal part of marriage customs in many cultures.
  • Simeon and Levi felt justified in their actions out of family honor. Dinah's story provides a good example of how pride and honor can lead a person to commit atrocities.
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