Rape and Consent in Genesis 34 and RED TENT: Part One

By Princess O’Nika Auguste

We have been told the story of Dinah and how she was defiled by a Canaanite prince. However, in the popular culture hit miniseries, Red Tent, it was portrayed as a love story.  A brutal rape has been turned into a romantic fairytale. It was highly unlikely for Dinah to have been in love with the prince since she hadno agency in the ancient world, as women were mostly property of their husbands and fathers.

The family life of daughters in ancient Israel is different from the equal life women in Israel live today. Although women weren’t treated equally by men, their stories were still given importance in the Hebrew Bible. Even though there were different customs in ancient Israel compared to today, the biological and psychological structure of people were the same. People still bled the same, cried the same, laughed the same and were traumatised by the same things. Just like in 21st century culture, rape destroyed lives in ancient Israel, not just the lives of victims, but of their families. In the highly patriarchal culture of ancient Israel, women were encouraged to suffer in silence.

In this work, I will compare and contrast Genesis 34 and Red Tent and their portrayal of the rape of Dinah. I will discuss how scholars interpret Dinah’s sexual assault. I want to pay particular attention to the fact that there is no evidence of Dinah saying no in the text. Perhaps this is why Red Tent does not interpret it as a rape story. Secondly, I am going to discuss the difference in reactions to the sexual assault of Dinah between her father Jacob and her brothers in Genesis 34 compared tothe miniseries.  Thirdly, I will also discuss the Hebrew Bible’s laws on rape.  Next, I will discuss the idea of rape culture and whether or not it was present in the Hebrew Bible and/or in the laws of ancient Israel that are recorded in the Bible. Lastly, I will discuss why we are so willing to turn rape into romance.

The Family Structure in Ancient Israel

The family structures between ancient and modern societies are very different. In ancient Israel, the idea of childhood was different from the modern Western construct. According to Naomi Steinburg in her book The World of the Child, young adulthood in the United States begins at the age of eighteen.[1] Children in ancient Israel were valued for economic purposes, as opposed to beingvalued as joyous gifts. Hence children and to a larger extent the family structure was maintained for economic reasons. [2]  In ancient Israel, the value of daughters and virginity was closely tied together.  A daughter who was a virgin was economically advantageous. This kind of value placed on children and specifically daughters happened because of the pre-agrarian lifestyle of the ancient Israelites.[3] Steinburg conveys that most ancient Israelites lived “in a kinship based village existence in a premodern agrarian lifestyle.”[4] In other words, families in ancient Israel lived a rural, farming life. Steinburg expresses that some scholars “construct this kinship based family on three levels:  1: The bet’ab: house of the father, 2. The mispaha: clan, the neighborhood group and the sebet: the tribal level.”  Steinburg goes on to say that children are part of the bet’ab (house of the father).[5]  Perhaps because daughters are children, too, they would be part of the bet’ab also, since they would be part of their father’s economic leverage. In the miniseries, Red Tent, Jacob and his family live in some kind of kinship but not a kinship that does any farming since Jacob is a shepherd. In the beginning of Red Tent, Jacob and his family live with his father-in-law Laban and Jacob works for him.

Background of Dinah

Genesis 34 starts by explaining who Dinah is. Dinah is the daughter of Leah, who was married to Jacob. Leah is Jacob’s first wife but Jacob didn’t love her. Jacob, according to Genesis 29:31,33 loved Rachel, Leah’s younger sister. Dinah might be the only daughter of Jacob (Genesis 30:21). Jacob had twelve sons, and six of them were Dinah’s full brothers. Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s full brothers, carried her away after her violation, and she was never heard from again in the narrative.  Red Tent stays true to the biblical narrative that Jacob loves Rachel more than Leah and that Dinah is Jacob’s only daughter.

Daughters as Economic Value

As stated before, daughters were mostly of economic worth for both the father’s and husband’s households. When daughters married they were no longer their father’s economic property but their husband’s. According to Douglas Knight in his book, Law, Power and Justice in Ancient Israel, marriage was to ensure the family’s survival.[6] Fathers controlled the lives of their daughters, and marriages were business transactions. The daughters were under the father’s authority and the survival of the family and the household rested upon the shoulders of the daughters and the authority of their fathers. This transaction happened between the father and the husband and/or the husband’s family.[7]  According to Knight, this was a custom that was widespread across the villages, but it differed between the rich and the poor.[8]

Red Tent

Red Tent is a miniseries that aired on the television channel Lifetime that is based on a novel of the same name, Red Tent, by Anita Diamant. The novel was published in October of 1997 and the miniseries was aired on Lifetime in December 2014. It has Dinah narrate her story, and it is a play on the menstrual tent that women of the ancient world used to stay in when they were menstruatingalthough Diamant has acknowledged that there is no evidence of the red tent being used by the women of ancient Israel. Red Tent is a particularly distinguishable miniseries because of the way in which it gives women a voice. Rachel and Leah are given voices. This let writers explore the story and really make it their own, since the women were notgiven a voice in Genesis 34. Overall, the miniseries has many theological themes to discuss. However, my focus would be on Dinah’s rape, or according to some scholars and Red Tent, her love affair with Shechem. While Red Tent gives her voice, I believe it dismisses the biblical text’s version of rape and turns rape into a love affair.

Definition of Rape

According to Susanne Scholz in her book, Rape: A Feminist Cultural Study of Genesis 34, “Rape can be defined as the uninvited physical attack on a woman, a child, or a man by one or several men. Rape lacks consent.”[9] According to the Department of Justice, rape is “The penetration, no matter how slight of the vagina or anus with anybody part or object or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person without the consent of the person.”[10] However, according to Frank Yamada in his book Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary Analysis of Three Rape Narratives, in ancient Israel it was more of a social economic violation against males, hence why there was a bride price.[11]

One is more inclined to say that in both our modern concept and in ancient Israel, rape is a social economic violation against males because of the ways men have dealt with the rape of women in both societies. In both ancient Israel and in our modern world, the men and the families make it about them. In Dinah’s life, the males around her seemed not only to think about her dishonor but of her shame. In researching and discussing the rape of Dinah and the responses of her family, some of the reactions are very similar to that of reactions in our 21st century world. Men make it all about themselves.

Responses and Reactions of the Family: Genesis 34 and Red Tent.

Genesis 34: Jacob – After Dinah was violated, her father Jacob remained silent.  Yamada explains that Sternburg feels that Jacob’s silence should be condemned.[12] In Black culture, there is a custom of protection and not exposure. Families and victims are reluctant to report rape and sexual assault for various reasons including the fact that they are Black, to protect their own, and for economic reasons. There are many reasons why women of African descent stay quiet about their assaults. One of them is because historically and presently, they have been victims of rape by both Black men and white men.[13] Another reason is because in Black families, daughters and women in general are taught that they have no agency and are regarded as property.[14] Black women being regarded as property in the Black community is very similar to how women and girls were regarded as property in the ancient world.

We do not know what Jacob was thinking, but based on how daughters are part of their father’s economic wealth, he might have been thinking of the best possible way to react. Nevertheless, his silence speaks volumes. He says nothing in the text until the end where he questions Simeon and Levi about the murder of the Canaanites. Even then, it seems he thinks of himself and not of Dinah or his sons. Thus, I am inclined to agree with Sternburg, that Jacob should be condemned. Gunn and Fewell believe that Jacob was silent because he was contemplating the best action.[15] This theory is not convincing because of how he broke his silence atthe end of the text. He does nothing at all. It is his sons, Dinah’s brothers, who take action.

Red Tent: Jacob – Dinah and Shechem fall in love at first sight, just as Rachel and Jacob had years earlier. Jacob is angry that Dinah would do something without asking him. Leah blames Rachel for encouraging notions of love to Dinah. Jacob, furious, seemed to reject their love at first. It is Rachel who calms Jacob down and reminds him of their love although Jacob said he worked for her father to get her. After his conversation with Rachel, Jacob tells Dinah he would accept the marriage if Shechem and his people get circumcised. Here in this version, Jacob takes action.

Genesis 34: The Brothers – Dinah’s brothers, mainly Simeon and Levi, reacted violently. They deceived Shechem and killed him and his people. The brothers then carried Dinah out of the city. Towards the end of Genesis 34, Jacob asks them,“What evil have you brought to me?” We can interpret Jacob as being more concerned about what they did to him than what happened to Dinah. Some may say he was concerned for Dinah because she was his property, but his reaction could be interpreted as concern for Dinah; however, by Jacob’s sons’ response, the theory that Jacob may have cared for Dinah’s well-being could be thrown out. Simeon and Levi respond to their father’s question, asking him if their sister should have been made a whore. In the end, it was not the father who showed concern but the maternal brothers.

Red Tent: The Brothers – Simeon and Levi were just as violent and cruel as they are in Genesis 34. They go against their father’s wishes and get the other brothers except Joseph, who tried to stop them, and Benjamin who was not born yet. Jacob was angry when he found out Dinah blamed him. Her brothers accuse her of bringing shame on them by acting like a whore. Jacob does not punish his two sons, and Dinah curses him and then leaves realizing she is just a daughter, just a piece of property in her society. After this, Jacob never goes after her. Leah does go to say goodbye, and Dinah tells her she will carry her with her everywhere she goes. Dinah heads back to the city of Shechem and collapses, only to find herself pregnant and taken to Egypt by Shechem’s mother. Thus, the story of Dinah’s rape by Shechem or her love affair comes to an end. Now, the question is, in ancient Israel, was a daughter’s honor and shame more important than her wellbeing? Both Genesis 34 and Red Tent seem to answer a definite ‘yes.’

To Be Continued in Part Two!

Princess O’Nika Auguste is from the beautiful island of St.Lucia. She has a BA in English Literature from Grambling State University, a Masters of Divinity with concentrations in New Testament and Church History from the Interdenominational Theological Center and a Masters of Theological Studies in Biblical Studies from Claremont School of Theology. She has contributed articles to Christian Feminist Today. She is an avid blogger contributing blog articles to Perspectives and Opinions. She has self-published her first collection of poetry called From A Dark Place. She is a huge fan of sci-fi and fantasy and historical and period pieces.


[1]Naomi A. Steinburg, The World of the Child in the Hebrew Bible, Hebrew Bible Monographs51 (Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2013), 44.


[3]Ibid; 58.


[5]Ibid 52.

[6]Douglas A. Knight, Law, Power and Justice in Ancient Israel,1sted, Library of Ancient Israel (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press),131.


[8]Ibid 132.

[9]Susanne Scholz, Rape Plots: A Feminist Cultural Study of Genesis 34 (Studies in Biblical Literature), 2 ed. (New York:Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers, 2002),4.

[10] The United States Department of Justice, Updated Definition of Rape, 2012. https://www.justice.gov/archives/opa/blog/updated-definition-rape.

[11]Frank M. Yamada, Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary Analysis of Three Rape Narratives (New York: Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers, 2008),47.


[13]Shaquita Tillman, “Shattering Violence : Exploring Barriers to disclosure for African American sexual assault survivors.,” Trauma, Violence and Abuse 11, no. 2 (2010): 60. http://ocadvsa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Shattering-Silence-Exploring-Barriers-to-Disclosure-for-African-American-SA-Survivors.pdf (accessed December 27, 2017).


[15]Frank M. Yamada, Configurations of Rape in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary Analysis of Three Rape Narratives (New York: Peter Lang Inc., International Academic Publishers, 2008),48.


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