REVENGE MOVIES AND REVENGE BOOKS are so endemic to popular culture that we rarely think about the ambiguous, corrosive nature of sin. There are only good guys and bad guys. But in the real world, it is far from uncommon for sin to corrupt not only those who do evil but also those who respond to it with self-righteous indignation. The only persons not blamed in this horrible account of rape and pillage (Gen. 34) are the victims – Dinah herself, of course, and the Shechemites who, though unconnected with the guilt of Hamor’s son or the corruption of Hamor, are either slaughtered or enslaved.
Certainly Shechem son of Hamor is guilty. In the light of his rape of Dinah, his efforts to pay the bridal price and to secure the agreement of the other males to be circumcised appear less like noble atonement than determined, willful selfishness, a kind of ongoing rape by other means. The reasoning of Hamor and his son, both in approaching Jacob’s family and in approaching their own people, is motivated by self-interest and characterized by half-truths. They neither acknowledge wrongdoing nor speak candidly, and they try to sway their own people by stirring up greed.
The “grief and fury” of Dinah’s brothers (34:7) may be understandable, but their subsequent actions are indefensible. With extraordinary duplicity, they use the central religious rite of their faith as a means to incapacitate the men of the village (the word city refers to a community of any size), then slaughter them and take their wives, children, and wealth as plunder. Does any of this honor Dinah? Does any of it please God?
Even Jacob’s role is at best ambiguous. His initial silence (34:5) may have been nothing more than political expedience, but it sounds neither noble nor principled. His final conclusion (34:30) is doubtless an accurate assessment of the political dangers, but offers neither justice nor an alternative.
What does this chapter contribute to the book of Genesis, or, for that matter, to the canon?
Many things. For a start, the chapter reminds us of a recurrent pattern. Just because God has once again graciously intervened and helped his people in a crisis (as he does in Gen. 32-33) does not mean there is no longer any moral danger of drift toward corruption. Further, once again it is clear that the promised line is not chosen because of its intrinsic superiority; implicitly, this chapter argues for the primacy of grace. Apparently the crisis at Shechem is what brings the family back to Bethel (Gen 35:1, 5), which brings closure to Jacob’s movements and, more importantly, reminds the reader that “the house of God” is more important than all merely human habitation.