Was her intercourse with Shechem rape?

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Furthermore, one of the purposes of sexual intercourse in the ancient world was to create permanent bonding and obligation; but in prostitution, there is no bonding or obligation. By saying that Dinah has become like a prostitute, Simeon and Levi might be suggesting that, from their perspective, Dinah and Shechem's intercourse could never lead to bonding and obligation. They are not suggesting that she was raped.

Going to the Text

Upon hearing the news about his daughter, Jacob is at first silent; then he negotiates Dinah's marriage to Shechem. If Dinah has been raped, Jacob ignores his obligation to protect the women of his household and ignores Dinah's suffering. This seems peculiar--does it suggest that Dinah was not raped? In the Hebrew Scriptures, rape is generally indicated by a cry for help from the woman (showing lack of consent) and violence on the part of the man (indicating a forcible, hostile act).

But the intercourse of Shechem does not fit this pattern. Genesis 34:2 reports that he sees Dinah, takes her (the Hebrew word for "take" is often used for taking a wife), lies with her (a euphemism for sexual intercourse), and shames her (the NRSV combines the last two verbs, rendering "lay with her by force," a reading that should be contested).

Then the text (v. 3) provides three expressions of affection: first it says he bonds with her (the NRSV uses "was drawn" to her, but the word bonds more appropriately represents a word used for marital bonding), then that he loves her, and finally that he speaks tenderly to her. From this description Shechem appears to be a man in love, not a man committing an exploitative act of rape. Rapists feel hostility and hatred toward their victims, not closeness and tenderness.

So why does the text include the verb to shame (or to humble, put down), and why does it record that Jacob's daughter has been "defiled" (34:5; compare 34:13, 27)? Shame, or intense humility, usually relates to failure to live up to societal goals and ideals. Because sexual intercourse should be part of marital bonding, it is shameful for an unmarried woman like Dinah to have sex. The declaration of love and desire for marriage comes after she and Shechem have intercourse.

Furthermore, Dinah's intercourse with Shechem makes her "defiled," a term (Hebrew tm') indicating here an unacceptable sexual act. The unacceptability of premarital sex in this case is intertwined with the response of Dinah's brothers, who insist that Shechem's requested marriage with her would be an unacceptable union.

Ironically, if there is a rape in this story, it is Simeon and Levi who "rape" the people of Shechem's city. It is their behavior that is violent, hostile, and exploitative. Shechem's desire for marital bonding stands in tension with Simeon and Levi's determination that no such liaison take place. The tension between marriage within a group (endogamy) and marriage with outsiders (exogamy) is dramatized in this story of love and violence. The premarital sexual act is the narrative's representation of the violation of group boundaries. Also, the fact that Shechem figures prominently first as a friend and then as a victim of Jacob's group may prefigure what another biblical narrative reports--that Shechem is peacefully incorporated into Israel but then is violently destroyed (see Judges 9).

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