Genesis 34 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The story of Dinah and of the destruction of Shechem presents numerous difficulties which are hard to explain.
(1) The reader is surprised at finding that Jacob and his sons, who had fled from Laban and had been at the mercy of Esau, are now able, though dwelling in the midst of strangers, to seize and destroy one of the most important cities in central Canaan, and to carry off as captives the women and children of Shechem ( Gen 34:27-29).
(2) This bloody deed is represented, in Gen 34:25 ; Gen 34:30, as being done by Simeon and Levi. But, in the main portion of the chapter, all the sons of Jacob are described as implicated in the act of treachery and slaughter.
(3) Dinah appears in this chapter as a young woman; whereas we should be led to infer, both from the mention of her birth in Gen 30:21 (cf. Gen 31:41), and from the age assigned to Joseph in Gen 37:2 at a period evidently considerably later, that she was still of tender years at the time when Jacob left Haran. According to this narrative, a considerable interval of time must, therefore, be supposed to have occurred since the arrival of Jacob in Canaan.
The narrative, like that in ch. 14, is an exception to the series of peaceful scenes from patriarchal life and character. Probably, it contains in its main outlines the reminiscence of early tribal history. If so, the repulsive details of the story may be regarded, not so much as incidents of personal history, as the symbolical description of early tribal relations. The main outline of the tradition may have been as follows: Dinah was the name of a small Israelite tribe, which, at the time of the occupation of Canaan, became attached to, and finally amalgamated with, and absorbed in, the native Shechemite clans. The Israelite tribes, Simeon and Levi, sought to rescue and avenge their sister tribe, and, after a pretended alliance, fell upon the Shechemites and treacherously massacred them. That they themselves were in turn almost overwhelmed by a Canaanite coalition, seems probable in view of the facts that (1) the Shechemites retained their independence (cf. Judges 9); (2) the tribes of Levi and Simeon are not referred to in the song of Deborah (Judges 5), and practically drop out of Israelite history as effective for warlike purposes. The act of violence was disavowed by the nation of Israel, cf. Gen 34:30.
In the present narrative two slightly different versions of the same tradition are combined. In one version, Shechem is the prominent speaker ( Gen 34:11-12); Shechem submits to the condition of circumcision ( Gen 34:19); Simeon and Levi slaughter Shechem and his father Hamor, and carry away Dinah ( Gen 34:26). In the other version, Hamor the father of Shechem is the more prominent person ( Gen 34:4 ; Gen 34:6 ; Gen 34:8-10 ; Gen 34:13-17 ; Gen 34:20-25), while the affair is made to concern the people, as much as the family: again, the attack on the city, the massacre, and the looting, are represented as the deed of all the brothers of Dinah ( Gen 34:27-29). The second version, therefore, relates the story on a larger and more dreadful scale than the first.
It is very doubtful whether either of the two versions can be identified with J or E or P. Skinner remarks: “The first recension must have taken literary shape within the Yahwistic school, and the second may have been current in Elohistic circles; but neither found a place in the main document of the school to which it belonged, and its insertion here was an afterthought suggested by a supposed connection with Gen 33:19 (E).” The two versions are amalgamated somewhat as follows:
J* (= Jahvistic school): 2b*, 3, 5 (?), 7 (?), 11, 12, 19, (25), 26, 30, 31.
E* (= Elohistic school): 1, 2a, 4, 6, 8 10, 13 18, 20 24, (25), 27 29.
Consult other comments:
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".