Monday, October 23, 2017

Mistakes of Moses Expanded Universe: Genesis 33 & 34

Time to knock the rust off and restart this party.

In this installment Jacob scraps an old plan for a new one; the aging twins make nice until Jacob tricks Esau for old times' sake; a patriarch again buys some property in a land he's already been promised; filled-with-the-Holy-Spirit Stephen flubs the details once more; someone does a bit more with Dinah than strum on the ol' banjo; the men of an entire city get talked into some unnecessary genital surgery; Levi and Simeon show their father how dirty deeds are really done; and one of our sources continues to try to make the folks in the Northern Kingdom look bad.

Genesis 33:1-11
Back in the early part of chapter 32, prior to this encounter, the ninety-seven-year-old Jacob was portrayed as fearful and desperate. He put his flocks and his family out in front and placed himself all the way to the back. He was cowering and resigned to disaster when he split the camps in two, hoping that one would be able to flee if the other was attacked. Here, at least, he's out in front to meet his older brother. He still offers a buttload of livestock and divides his camp up in three groups, with his favorites to the back. It appears he was hoping that if Esau attacked, only his concubines and their kids would be slaughtered while his favorites would have a chance to get away.

At their meeting, Jacob bows before his brother seven times, Esau embraces him, and then everyone else comes forward and bows. All seems well. Esau then brings up the subject of Jacob's offering. Jacob explains it is to find favor with his ever-so-slightly older brother. Esau says he has enough stuff already. Jacob insists. Esau finally accepts. This is generally regarded as the traditional back-and-forth of Ancient Near Eastern pomp when it came to offering stuff. We've seen customs like this before like in chapter 23 when Abraham tried to buy a tomb for Sarah and had to insist on payment.

Now, I have to ask again, is this really two brothers reconciling with one another after a couple of decades have passed wherein one had previously cheated the other out of blessing and birthright and revenge had been sworn? OR are Jacob and Esau merely stand-ins reflecting the political realities of Israel and Edom at a much later date?

"Hey, pops, why do we always have to pay off those hairy, knuckle-dragging, hillbilly warriors with our livestock and stuff?"

"Well, you see, son, they're our estranged relatives that we sort of pissed off and now we do this so they won't attack us and carry our sheep and women away captive."

In verse 10 Jacob proclaims that seeing Esau's face is as though he had seen the face of Elohim. Recall that back in chapter 32 Jacob wrestled with a divine being and named the place Peniel/Penuel, meaning "face of El." Now he's proclaiming that seeing Esau's face is like seeing the face of Elohim. Is this a separate etiology for the naming of Penuel? Maybe. Or perhaps it's just a wink and nod to the reader indicating that Jacob's meeting with his brother is nothing compared to wrestling with a god. Incidentally, this is how we get one rabbinic interpretation of Jacob's wrestling match in chapter 32 as being with Esau's angel or shade. Sure. Why not? I mean, there's at least more textual evidence for that than that figure being the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ.

Genesis 33:12-17
Esau offers to lead the party back to Seir. But Jacob is not really keen on that idea and has no intention of taking his family to Esau's territory. After all, he had been told by Elohim in a dream to go back to the land of his birth. He doesn't tell Esau this, however. Instead he tries to make the excuse that his little kids can't keep up with Esau's warriors and will just slow them down. Esau offers to leave some men with him (perhaps an allusion to an occupying garrison?), and Jacob's like, "Nah, bro. It's cool. You go on ahead. We'll meet you there." Esau is such a sucker. Those redneck Edomites are so easily tricked.

Jacob then takes his family to Succoth and builds some shelters for his livestock. We are told that this is why the place is called Succoth, meaning "booths." Unfortunately, this seemingly-permanent living situation creates a problem for our redactor. Back in 31:18 when the Priestly source material was inserted into the Yahwist/Elohist narratives, it made it sound like Jacob was hightailing it back to his father Isaac. But remember, the Yahwist's Isaac is already presumed dead at this point, as he was on his deathbed when Jacob cheated Esau out of his blessing over two decades prior.

Note that in the encounter with Esau, Jacob never says, "Hey, is our father still alive?" and Esau never says anything like, "Oh, yeah, you remember how you and me and mom and dad all thought the old man was about to kick the bucket when you tricked me out of the blessing? Well, turns out the he's still alive." That would be an important piece of information, you know? But for the Yahwist and Elohist narratives, Isaac not ever being mentioned again and Jacob tarrying at this place or that place is not a problem. It actually fits with their goal of having the Patriarch travel around, name stuff, buy land, set up shrines, etc. to legitimate the founding of those places.

So what's a slightly-concerned redactor to do? How about a nice clarifying parenthetical remark.
"And Jacob came, safe, to the city of Shechem, which was in the land of Canaan, when he was coming from Paddan Aram, and camped in front of the city." (Genesis 33:18 from Richard Elliot Friedman's The Bible with Sources Revealed).
See, folks. He's not really settling down in these places. This is all part of his journey "coming from Paddan Aram." He's going to get back to his father Isaac. Never mind the fact that he's building structures for his livestock and then heading over to Shechem for awhile. He's just not in a rush, you see?

Note the term used here for the land of the Arameans, typically called "Haran" by the Yahwist, is instead called "Paddan Aram." We've already seen how Paddan Aram is the preferred place-name of Aramea for the Priestly source who is concerned with names and ages and who regarded Esau's intermarriage with Canaanites as the reason why he did not inherit the blessing and why Jacob was sent to his uncle. Here the redactor borrows that name and inserts this remark to reassure his readers that Jacob is eventually going to get back to Isaac. No rush, though. He can build all the stuff he wants and tarry in the this place or that place. He'll get back to dad eventually, dear reader. Of course, that doesn't solve nearly enough of the other problems we've seen pop up throughout this series, but at least it retcons this one a bit for the inattentive.

Genesis 33:18-20
Jacob travels to the city of Shechem. The city of Shechem was a big deal for the Northern Kingdom of Israel, as it was the site of the early capital and home to some kind of place of worship. Recall that it was where Yahweh appeared to Abram in chapter 12 at the oak of Moreh (literally "wise teacher" or "oracle") and where Abram built an altar. Now, what we're about to see in the text is two different ways the nascent people of Israel supposedly came to acquire a claim on a piece of land.

Based on what we've learned in previous installments, when we're faced with two competing narratives involving a Northern Kingdom site or a Northern Kingdom hero, we've noted that the Elohist is likely going to make it look totally legit, while the Yahwist is going to try to poo-poo all over it. Let's see what happens.

So how does the Patriarch in this passage set up a legitimate claim on this territory? Well, he buys it, of course. Fair and square. Then he sets up an altar and calls it “El Elohe Israel.” Translators are at odds over how to properly translate that phrase. Many of them just transliterate it and put a footnote. It likely means "El, the god of Israel." El was the head of the pantheon of the Canaanites, but the word eventually came to be used as a generic term for any god. Now, I'm not a trained scholar, but why would Jacob be using the generic name for just any god and proclaiming "El, the god of Israel" rather than using "El" as a proper name? Furthermore, why wouldn't he say that Yahweh was the god of Israel? It's not like he didn't know his name, right? Well, which source are we looking at here? One that prefers the name "Yahweh" for the deity, or one that's been avoiding it and instead using other Semitic names for gods, but mostly preferring "Elohim"? I'll let you think about it. Take all the time you need.

Moving on, in Acts 7:15-16, Stephen reportedly tells his audience of angry Jews about to stone him: "Jacob went down to Egypt and died there, along with our ancestors, and their bones were later moved to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a certain sum of money from the sons of Hamor in Shechem." [emphasis mine]

Wait. Abraham bought the tomb? Uh, we just read in this passage that it was Jacob. Similar to the problem we faced back in chapter 12, someone here in God's inerrant, infallible word has made a mistake...again. As noted there, a popular solution for this is to admit that Stephen is relaying inaccurate information and that the inerrant and inspired writer of Luke/Acts simply recorded the errors "to be faithful to what Stephen actually said in his portrayal" (Longenecker, The Acts of The Apostles p.341). Basically, Stephen was in error, not Luke. Maybe he was nervous or just misremembered the details. It happens to public speakers. Humans make mistakes.

I don't think this works, however, as Acts states Stephen was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:55). Is this the same Holy Spirit that filled the writers of Holy Writ to ensure their inerrancy? How far do we want to take this? Does this now mean that any recorded speech in the Bible could have errors? What about when we have a narrative and someone like a prophet or apostle speaks, but someone else is actually writing it down? Can the prophet or apostle be errant, but the writer inerrantly preserve his mistake? If it doesn't apply to Stephen because he's not technically an apostle, does this mean that non-apostolic authors like...oh...say...Luke or Mark could contain errors in their writings? It seems using this line of thinking to escape this problem only creates more problems.

What if this detail simply wasn't that important to the point the writer of Luke/Acts was making by putting those words in his character's mouth? And, uh, what if the Bible simply isn't inerrant? If you've read the prior thirty or so installments in this series and you're still holding to inerrancy at this point, well, I don't suppose this little problem is going to be the lynch pin, so carry on.

Genesis 34:1-4
The abduction of Dinah by James Tissot
Jacob and Leah's only daughter Dinah goes to check out the "daughters of the land." Shechem, a son of the Hivite ruler of the area named Hamor, sees her, grabs her, and lays with her. His soul is joined with her, he falls in love with her, and he speaks to her heart. He tells his father to do whatever it takes to get her for him, i.e. buy her.

Dinah was first introduced back in chapter 30 amid the gestational sibling rivalry between Leah and Rachel. She's the only female in the brood, and despite the fact that all of her brothers received names with meanings that were supposedly somehow tied to the events of that narrative, Dinah is a footnote. It's like the writer went, "Oh, yeah, and Leah had a daughter too."

Well, it just so happens that "Dinah" means "judged/vindicated" or possibly "cause of strife." As we will see, like so many other characters in these narratives, we have a name that will miraculously fit with a story that person is associated with. The girl with a name that means "vindicated" and/or "cause of strife" will, in fact, be the cause of strife and will be vindicated. Amazing! Or possibly, you know, fictional!

Speaking of fun with names, did you know Shechem's father is a total jackass? Yeah. Turns out chamor is the Hebrew word for "jackass." I mean, you can't make this stuff up. Wait. Actually, you can make this stuff up. That's the point. And as a storyteller that didn't particularly like Canaanites, one might be so inclined to grant a character such a name.

Now Shechem means "shoulder" or "saddle". The name probably isn't a narrative joke, though. The city of Shechem near modern day Nablus was situated between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, likely on the sloping back end of Mount Gerizim. It probably looked kind of like it was placed in a saddle or on the sloping part of a person's neck, hence the name. Here and at the end of the prior chapter we are led to believe Shechem was so-named after a son of the Hivite named Jackass. Maybe Jackass named his favorite son after the city they lived in? Sure. Let's go with that.

Note that throughout the Dinah narrative in this chapter, the city is never referred to by name. Shechem is a person's name only. Note also that in the last part of chapter 33, Hamor is not introduced as "Hamor the Hivite" one of the cursed Canaanites, but rather simply "Hamor the father of Shechem." So while the Elohist calls the city "Shechem" and a person "Shechem," the Yahwist only refers to Shechem as a person, leaving it to the reader to figure out that's where the city supposedly got its name. To the Yahwist and his audience, Shechem is not only a city that was acquired because of Jacob's cowardice leading to Levi and Simeon's treachery and slaughter, it was named after a cursed Canaanite rapist and son of a guy named Jackass. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is how you throw shade at folks in an ancient document. But it may even go further. More on that in a bit.

Some English translations will attempt to harden the way the text portrays Shechem's deed here in verse 2 with strong language like "he seized her, forced himself on her/raped her, and defiled her." More literal translations will avoid that and use phrases like "he took her, lay with her, and humbled her." Indeed, the verses that immediately follow verse 2 do not really appear to be the kinds of things that would follow what modern readers would think of as the standard reactions to a brutal sexual assault. Granted, when we get to verse 5 that context will change as a different Hebrew word is employed.

As we will see quite clearly when we get to the Mosaic Law, women in the Bible are the property of their fathers, husbands, or slave owners. To "rape" a woman was to violate another man’s property, not to violate the woman herself (see passages like but not limited to Deut. 21 & 22, Ex.21:7 & Lev. 19:20) and it has nothing to do with her consent, unless she is to be punished because she's married and didn't resist well enough. But is this a "rape" of Dinah like any other? Well, maybe not.

There were different forms of rape with varying degrees of punishment under the Law of Moses. For violating a man's wife or betrothed, and thereby bringing the legitimacy of any offspring into question, a man would face death. For devaluing his virgin daughter, the punishment was also quite severe...for the victim:
"If a man meets a virgin who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are caught in the act, the man who lay with her shall give fifty shekels of silver to the young woman’s father, and she shall become his wife. Because he violated her he shall not be permitted to divorce her as long as he lives." -Deuteronomy 22:28-29 (NRSV)
Well, that seems fair. I mean, the depreciation on a deflowered daughter is quite the financial set-back for poor ol' dad. He needs compensation for his devalued property. The rapist has to pay the going bride price and can't divorce her and send her back. The sentiment appears to be you break it, you bought it, dude.

I know what you're thinking. "But wait, Mr Apostate. What happens in the off chance the victim doesn't want to marry her rapist?" Ah, but you misunderstand who the victim is here. It's the property owner, not the property. Of course, apologists will try to suppose the girl wasn't actually forced to marry her rapist and that dad could let her out of this one. Really? That's your solution? They didn't have to go through with it if dad didn't approve?

First, there's nothing about that anywhere in the text. Second, uh, why was this even proposed as a solution at all? Different times, maybe? Progressive revelation, perhaps? God was stooping down to make rules like this because his chosen people at this particular time just weren't ready for that level of decency and compassion yet, right? Yeah, sure. Let's go with that. Try not to imagine this scene playing out in real life, though. You might begin to empathize with a rape victim who is forced to marry her rapist. These days there are still religious fundamentalists that to want to force rape victims to be incubators for their rapists' babies. They just don't have to marry them anymore. So they've got that going for them, which is nice. Oh, wait. Never mind. I spoke too soon.

Meanwhile, back in the Biblical Patriarchal Age, even though this divine law supposedly isn't officially codified until later under the Law of Moses, Shechem seems to be familiar with the cultural concept. Which is why once he's completely smitten, he asks his father to buy Dinah and spend whatever amount of money he needs to in order to acquire her. So why do Dinah's brothers take such offense later? Good question. Let's look at the next part of the passage.

Genesis 34:5-7
Jacob is informed of what happened but keeps silent. His sons in the field find out and return around the time that Hamor and Shechem come to speak with Jacob about the matter. Jacob's sons are really, really pissed, though. Why? Well, their sister was raped, right? Eh, it's probably a bit more than that. Consider a couple of things before we move forward.

First, there's a new Hebrew verb used here to describe the sexual encounter that's different from the one used in verse 2. The word is often translated "defiled". The other thing to note is that verse 7 indicates they were offended because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing "against Israel" i.e. Jacob. So, who exactly is the victim again?

Genesis 34:8-12
Hamor tries to smooth things over. He says his son is in love with Dinah. Literally: "his soul is attached to your daughter." And then we get to the real heart of what this story is driving at. He proposes intermarriage. Not just in this case, but for both of their tribes. He's proposing ethnic co-mingling.

Shechem speaks up and says he'll give whatever it takes to make Dinah his wife. This seems like odd behavior for a rapist, but perhaps he's just obsessed. Maybe he's used to getting whatever he wants and Dinah represents the thing he can't rightly obtain. Maybe he actually loves her as the narrative indicated back in verse 3. It's too bad the narrative never indicates what Dinah felt or wanted at any point. That appears to be irrelevant. What is relevant to the storyteller is that Shechem wanted Dinah real bad. How bad? Oh, we're about to see.

Genesis 34:13-19
The apples don't fall far from the scheming, conniving tree, it seems. Since dad isn't talking, Jacob's sons take the initiative and hatch a plot. They tell Hamor and Shechem that they'll agree to sell their sister on the condition that all the males in their city slice off the skin around the heads of their penises, otherwise, the deal is off and they'll take their sister and leave.
Seen above: a reasonable person's reaction to their proposal.
Of course, we are dealing with characters whose actions will suit the needs of the storyteller, so Hamor and Shechem find the deal pleasing and are totes excited about some unnecessary ancient cosmetic surgery being performed on their junk. I know. I know. Different times.

Just so we don't start asking questions about motive here, the narrative interjects that Shechem was really important and wanted Dinah badly. So naturally all the other men in the city will be swayed by him, and sure enough...

Jackass and Shechem go to the city gate and convince the men of the city to go along with the deal on the notion that Jacob and his sons had lots of livestock that would all be theirs. They just have to put some skin the game...literally. This seems like a great deal, and in no time at all the men of the city are whipping out their knives and slicing through their nether regions. Because who doesn't enjoy that, right? One wonders if Jacob's sons sent over their trained mohel, or if these guys just had to wing it. It's probably best not to think through all the particulars of how exactly this all went down if one is squeamish, especially if one happens to have a penis with the foreskin still attached and has grown fond of it over the years.

After three days time when all the men are still sore from, you know, cutting off parts of their sensitive areas, Simeon and Levi slaughter all the males in the city. They kill Hamor and his son and take Dinah back. Then the rest of Jacob's sons loot and pillage, carrying off livestock, grain, everything in the houses, women, and children. Well, that escalated quickly.

I remember reading this story as a young teenager in a Bible class at the fundamentalist Baptist school I went to. As I recall, we all thought it was a funny trick. These guys were all so sore from cutting off their foreskins that they couldn't fight back. Ha, ha, ha. Hilarious. Yeah, not so much. I can sort of laugh at it now because I'm fairly certain it's a made up story that never happened. I know, it seems so plausible, right? A couple of guys could totally take out an entire city of men just because their wangs were sore.

Now, let's take the story on its face. Let's even assume Shechem raped Dinah. I mean, straight up, unmistakable, non-consensual, violent penetration against her will. Horrible stuff, right? But is justice served by killing every man in the city where the perpetrator lived and taking all their stuff? Is it further served by presumably doing the very same thing by carrying away their wives as captive property? Are we to suppose these women consented to having their husbands and sons slaughtered before them? Of course not. Does any of that matter? Does Elohim intervene and offer condemnation or punishment? Does an angel of Yahweh show up and say, "Hey guys, not cool"? Do later writers of scripture wholly condemn this barbaric act and call Jacob's sons evil criminals? Are they cast off from the covenant for their wicked treachery and murder? Hardly.

Remember, this is completely different from the later conquest of Canaan. In that instance, Yahweh issues a divine command and the Israelites carry out the order. That presents a different moral problem, but it can be argued that the perpetrators of those genocidal acts had divine approval and were therefore not committing murder. They were simply executing a divine directive. Here, no divine command is issued. One can argue that Hamor and his clan were wicked idolaters who did terrible things that we are just not informed of. Even if that's the case, Jacob's sons never had warrant to slaughter them and take their stuff. One can't simply chalk this up to, "boys will be boys" or "these guys had it coming."

Jacob's sons committed mass murder, theft, and ostensibly rape. These are atrocities on a grand scale. Great, great uncle Righteous Lot who offered up his daughters to be raped seems like a swell dude by comparison. All the while, the deity remains silent. Indeed, all of holy writ remains silent save for Genesis 49:5-7 where it's left to Jacob to curse the anger of Simeon and Levi and pronounce the tribes that come from them will be "scattered." Nevertheless, the Levites will be honored as the priestly class and a Levite will eventually lead them out of Egypt. No fault or condemnation is laid at the feet of the other sons. Jacob will voice displeasure with his sons later in this passage, but it's from a completely pragmatic standpoint. Is this how the Bible regards mass murderers and thieves just because they are God's chosen people? It seems the point is that you can get away with just about anything as long as you worship the right god.

After the treachery, slaughter, pillaging, and woman-stealing, Jacob confronts Simeon and Levi. Does he call them out for being mass murderers and thieves? Does he have them arrested and set up a tribunal for a trial? Does he call together his sons and talk about how completely psychotic and extreme it was to lay waste to an entire city because their sister was raped? Does he pray and ask Yahweh to tell him what to do about his two genocidal maniac sons? Nope. He complains that when word gets out the other inhabitants in the land are going to regard him as a stench and possibly join forces and wipe the clan out. Could anyone blame them?

What's their response? "Should he treat our sister like a common prostitute?" Wow. So lots of things loaded in that rhetorical question. First, are they implying that it's OK to rape a "common prostitute"? Second, I'm pretty sure Shechem was ready to offer a considerable amount of wealth to marry Dinah. Arguably that's prostitution, but hardly common. Finally, and this is important, what in holy hell does that have to do with committing mass murder? They didn't kill Shechem for revenge or justice. They killed ALL. THE. MEN. and took their stuff along with women and children. They used the defilement of their sister as an excuse to murder and steal. That's not exactly an eye for an eye. It's like whataboutism on steroids.

So what are we to make of all of this? Well, one thing we've seen repeatedly is that in the Elohist narrative, Jacob is Mr. Righteous. At the end of chapter 33 the patriarch was seen laying a legitimate claim to the area of Shechem by legally purchasing a field. In the narrative of chapter 34, it's, uh, not quite so clean. So does chapter 34 come from the hand of the Yahwist? Perhaps one version of the story does. Perhaps some of it came from an even later time.

The narrative as it exists in current form may have been from a very late source. Alexander Rofé points out in "Defilement of Virgins in Biblical Law and the Case of Dinah (Genesis 34)" (2005. Biblica):
The Hebrew verb [to defile] applied to married or betrothed women only. The case of Dinah is an exception. In Genesis 34, it is stated three times that Jacob’s daughter was defiled by Shechem (vv. 5.13.27). A plausible explanation of this state of affairs is that Genesis 34 reflects the late, postexilic notion that the idolatrous gentiles are impure which implies the prohibition of intermarriage and intercourse with them (Ezra 9, 11-12). The concept of the impurity of idolaters persisted in post-biblical literature. Thus, the assertion that Dinah was defiled by Shechem betrays a late date of composition in respect of this story. This confirms Kuenen’s hypothesis that Genesis 34 in its present form is a late chapter, containing an anti-Samaritan polemic which originated in the Restoration Community of the Fifth-Fourth centuries BCE.
If Rofé is correct, this means that the story as eventually preserved was intended to link the uncircumcised, idolatrous Canaanites with those dirty, rotten Samaritans. The person of Shechem is a stand-in for the city of Shechem which was in the shadow of Mount Gerizim where the Samaritans had erected a rival temple and proclaimed it was the rightful place for the worship of God. Judges 9 may present a similar veiled polemic against those dastardly Samaritans up North. Kuenen's hypothesis need not even be entirely correct. It could be that the majority of the chapter came from the Yahwist source with an earlier date, but a later redactor made the necessary amendments that changed his seduction narrative to a defilement narrative.

The takeaway seems to be that while Levi and Simeon did act a bit rash in their behavior, it was totally OK that all those dudes got murdered. After all, they were worshiping false gods. That's the important thing.

[go to the next segment in this series]


  1. Whoah, working my way through the archives and you can imagine my surprise when I saw an entry from 2017! Glad you're back at it.

  2. I randomly decided to check your blog even though I wasn't expecting to see anything here, and I haven't even read it yet but I am SO happy to see you posting! I love this series and it has helped me immensely with being about to see the Bible from a different point of view. Thanks for coming back and looking very forward to whatever else you have to share!

  3. Say what? Hooray! (Haven't even read it yet, just glad to see you back :)