Genesis 34-36; massacres, cheating and the slow delineation of the People of Israel

Chapter 34 starts very interestingly with the brief story of Dinah. I had wanted to combine writing about this with the novel The Red Tent, but Genesis has bowled along a lot quicker than I expected, so I’ll have to blog about the latter in a while.
So, Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, is ‘taken and defiled’ by Shechem son of Hamor, a prince of a land also Shechem.
As with Rebekah, but with more drastic consequences, it is never really made clear whether Biblical ‘taking’ in a sexual sense is an act of rape or simply any form of copulation. Is Dinah ‘defiled’ because she is raped, or simply because the act of sex has not been sanctioned by her fathers and brothers? Dinah, of course, has no voice in this, so we can never really know.
Shechem, however, seems very keen to marry her:

“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” (chapter 34 verse 11). 

And, in accordance with that promise, Shechem and his father agree to have their entire male population, including themselves, circumcised, and appear to be regarding Jacob and his descendants as future neighbours and residents.
Some of Dinah’s brothers, however, have other views on the subject and butcher the entire population of the city:

“v25 And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore [from being circumcised], 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 they slew all the males.
v26 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.
v27 The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled their sister.
v28 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, of course, they take all the women and children captive.
Obviously with my usual tendency towards bias on the issue, one of my reactions is to think that this seems like a pretty standard reaction of Israelis towards Shechem, which is modern Nablus, one of the worst battered cities of the West Bank, where military incursions and checkpoints seem to replicate this indiscriminate violence and economic despoilation.
But in chapter 35, we move briskly on, with no apparent judgment or comment from God as to whether this wholesale slaughter was an OK thing to do. Unsurprisingly, though, there is a note that Jacob and his sons start to be feared from this point. No shit, since they seem to be behaving like a great big gang of bandits, wandering round Canaan doing pretty much as they fancy (any more parallels with what Israel gets away with in the modern era, anyone?)
Interestingly, though, it is at this point that Jacob seems to start consolidating his extended family’s religious identity within the worship of the God he has allied himself to:

“v2 Then Jacob said unto his household, and to all that were with him, Put away the strange gods that are among you, and be clean, and change your garments:
v3 And let us arise, and go up to Beth-el; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went.
v4 And they gave unto Jacob all the strange gods which were in their hands, and all their earrings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem.” 

And, in a statement which is going to cause all kind of trouble over the next few millennia, God tells Jacob and his sons that the land is theirs:

“v10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but Israel shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel.
“v11 And God said to him, I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall be of thee, and kings shall come out of thy loins;
“v12 And the land which I gave Abraham and Isaac, to thee I will give it, and to thy seed after thee will I give the land.” 

Rachel also dies giving birth to her final son and is buried near Bethlehem, at a place still called Ramat Rahel. There is now a nice little settlement and some archaeological sites there, with a huge and very scary-looking concrete wall (predating the even huger and scarier wall round the whole of the West Bank) and military watchtowers. On my second stay in Bethlehem with ISM I managed to get a bit lost looking for the long road with the cashpoints on it which skirts the bottom of the hill where Manger Square is situated, and nearly walked myself and two friends into the Ramat Rahel checkpoint, which given that the soldiers were very jumpy due to an imminent invasion would not have been a fab idea. Scared the hell out of me, anyway.
Chapter 36, given how far behind I am on this project, is fortunately mainly a list of the sons of Esau and their descendants, the kings of Edom. Edom is one of those myriad Old Testament kingdoms which warrant brief mentions in the act Bible because they aren’t in the bloodline which will form the people of Israel, but which were actually very interesting and in some cases powerful regional polities in their own right. Edom itself was situated in what is now Southern Jordan and part of Southern Israel and the Negev, mainly desert areas which contains such natural and architectural wonders as Wadi Rum and Petra and the historically significant Via Nova Traiana, or King’s Highway, built by the Romans to maintain control over this part of their empire. Although archaeological evidence for the start date of the Edomite empire is hazy, it certainly lasted a thousand years, often warring with Israel and allying with Babylon to sack Jerusalem.


About dwighttowers

Below the surface...
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