Academic journal article Essays in Literature

Don Juan in Shechem: Rape, Romance, and Reading in Genesis 34

Academic journal article Essays in Literature

Don Juan in Shechem: Rape, Romance, and Reading in Genesis 34

Article excerpt

Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the women of the region. When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her, he seized her and lay with her by force. And his soul was drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob; he loved the girl, and spoke tenderly to her. So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this girl to be my wife."

For a woman with no voice, the biblical figure of Dinah has elicited an extraordinary amount of disclosure. The tragedy and violence of her story, combined with its strategic placement within the unfolding saga of Israel's development as a nation-state, have attracted the skills of many biblical hermeneuts--especially feminists. Perhaps more than any other narrative, however, the rape of Dinah foregrounds the necessity for a more sophisticated understanding of the interaction of textuality and social semiotics in biblical interpretation. Indeed, Alice Laffey's An Introduction to the Old Testament: A Feminist Perspective vividly dramatizes the limitations and dangers of biblical readings which lack his understanding. In her exegesis of Genesis 34, Laffey objects to historicist interpretations that reduce the text to an aetiological narrative of Shechem and of ancient Israel's hostility to ethnically mixed marriages. Such as "historical-critical" perspective, she argues, "is just another insult against women.... [Dinah] is victim, first of Shechem who rapes her, then of her brothers who both deceive her would-be spouse and then use her as an excuse for murder and pillage" (43).

However, while her framework claims to rely upon "a close literary analysis of the text" (43), it limits this analysis to a largely thematic consideration of how the narrator emphasizes Dinah's changing kinship status--from the daughter of Leah, to that of Jacob, and finally to the sister of Jacob's sons--in order to justify the brothers' massacre of the Shechemites. Laffey's approach in fact circumscribes interpretation because it attempts "to interpret textual elements and different texts according to a unified theme" (Bal, Murder 97) and, like most quests for unity, it is plagued by the same horror of contradiction that so profoundly characterizes western culture (Bal, Murder 10). This resistance to contradiction irrupts in Laffey's reading through her failure to account for the egregious contradition of Dinah's rape: Shechem "cleaves" to the woman he has just "tortured."(1)

I do not wish to suggest that Laffey performs this gesture alone, however, since virtually the entire tradition of commentary on Genesis 34 choreographs a similar movement. Such eminent interpreters as Gerhard von Rad and Robert Davidson fail to recognize or completely ignore its textual dissonance. In either case, the effect of their exegetical silence is to negate and diffuse the challenges which verses 2 and 3 pose to any reading of this narrative. David Noel Freedman finds Shechem's relationship to Dinah presented by the redactor in terms of a metamorphosis of Shechem's lust into genuine love. One 1990 feminist study of Genesis 34--Ita Sheres's Dinah's Rebellion: A Biblical Parable of Our Time--extends Freedman's observation even further by constructing a parallel between Shechem/Romeo and Dinah/Juliet.

Although Sheres uses such adverbs as "curiously" (3) and "paradoxically" to describe verses 2 and 3 (4), she nevertheless neutralizes the contradiction by subsuming these verses under an external editorial unity. For Sheres, the post-exilic redactors of Genesis 34 rewrite on original "source" story in which Dinah heroically seizes the opportunity for socializing in a new environment (47) and witnesses to the "innocent love between two young people who were ready to merge culturally, politically and religiously. . . . Dinah and Shechem must be seen as a man and a woman who accidently met and, in a rather romantic vein (not too different from Romeo and Juliet), committed themselves to each other" (89-90). …

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