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

By Princess O’Nika Auguste

[Click here to read Part One]

Was Dinah Raped?

Alice Ogden Bellis, in her book Helpmates, Harlots and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible, discusses a debate between three scholars: Meir Sternburg, Danna Fewell and David Gunn. These scholars debated about whether or not Dinah was raped. Gunn and Fewell do not believe that Dinah was some helpless girl. They believe that Simeon and Levi were selfish in their actions and did not care about Dinah at all. Sternberg disagrees and believes that Levi and Simeon were right in their actions. Bellis agrees with Sternburg. She believes that Dinah was helplessbecause we do not hear her thoughts. Bellis’ argument is that someone can say lovely things to someone like Shechem did to Dinah but that does not mean it’sreciprocal.[1] According to Alexander Rofe, “It is unclear whether Dinah was actually raped or not in the narrative for the word/verb that is used and translated as violated or humble can mean subdued and the older version of Genesis 34 can be seen as a customary activity of abdication marriage which took place in many ancient cultures.”[2]

Ogden introduces another scholar, Lyn Bechtel, who does not believe that Dinah was raped. Bechtel believes it was consensual. Bechtel’s reasoning is that there is no word for rape and that the root nh which is translated for rape means shame, and according to Bechtel is supported by the last words by Jacob to Simeon and Levi at the end of the narrative.[3]  

In the culture of black girls and women, sometimes black girls are not believed because of the culture of silence in the black community and the culture of teenage girls going out and dating older black men. Hence when they do speak out, they are questioned about their narratives concerning whether or not they were raped.  In Genesis 34, we do not know if Dinah protests. In Red Tent, she does not protest because it is obvious that she loves Shechem. Jacob, as stated before, does not take action in Genesis although Red Tent interprets him wanting to take action even though Dinah willingly goes to Shechem on her own.In Genesis 34, it is not clear if Dinah does. Some scholars say there is no evidence of Dinah protesting, that Genesis 34 is not rape. This is problematic because opinions like this exist in our modern world. If there is no evidence of a woman protesting, then many people believe it was not rape. I am curious as to why Red Tent decided to take the Dinah-was-not-raped approach. Could it be that they agree withsome scholars because there is no evidence of Dinah protesting? Were they worried that Dinah’s charactercouldn’t be strong and independent as a rape victim?  I have so many questions about why this well-received miniseries did not take up the rape story. Maybe popular culture could be compared toancient Israel society in the ideology of rape. For instance, in the soap opera General Hospital, the super couple Luke and Laura are married and have children together even though he arguably raped her years before. Another instance is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The vampire Spike almost rapes Buffy, but later when he gets a soul, she feels sorry for him then shares her feelings for him. She even protects him when her Watcher and father figure Giles tries to kill him. Thus, popular culture has a habit of turning rape into a love story. I think the writers and producers did not want to touch the issue of rape in Dinah’s story in Genesis 34 because, like some readers of that text, they are not sure what rape is.

Laws of Ancient Israel, Red Tent, & Rape Culture

The interpretation of Dinah’s narrative not involving rape is problematic. To understand why this is problematic, we must understand ancient Israel’s laws. In Deuteronomy 22:23-29, it says that if a virgin who is pledged to be married sleeps with another man in the city, both she and the man will be stoned to death because she did not protest or cry out. In retrospect, it is understandable why some scholars do not see Dinah’s narrative as rape, although she was not betrothed. I even see how Red Tent could probably interpret their story this way. Yet there is still the question of why only Shechem was killed and not Dinah? Even in Red Tent, Dinah is not killed even though her brothers thought she acted out of her station. Frank Yamada states that scholars have misinterpreted Deuteronomy 22:23-29 as rape laws.[4] It seems that outside of this scripture there are no laws against rape in the Mosaic law; thus, perhaps this why Red Tent does not interrupt Shechem and Dinah’s sexual relationship as rape.

This brings rape culture into the mix. It seems that in ancient Israel, if a woman did not scream or cry out in the city, then she was not raped, since it was assumed that people in the city would see what was happening. Because women were their father’s property, women may not have been believed. It is noteworthy that in Deuteronomy 22 both the man and woman were punished, and if the woman was raped and she did not cry out, she would be victimized first for being raped and then punished as well for being raped. Susanne Scholz suggests that there is rape culture in the Bible, and she also suggests that the biblical text varies in its presentation of rape and incest.[5] In Genesis 34, rape culture seems to be present in the text because it starts with Dinah going out and visiting the women of the city. Because Dinah went out into the city, she can be blamed for what happened to her. Even in Deuteronomy, there is a sense of a rape culture. If a woman doesn’t cry out, she will be stoned along with the man. In the 21stcentury culture, society does not stone women anymore, but we question if they cried out. In the black community, there is rape culture. In her book, Wounds of the Spirt: Black Women and Resistance Ethics, Traci C. West discusses the work of many sociologists, including Robert Staples, who find rape hard to identify because women lead men on to think they want to have sexual intercourse. When women reject sexual relations when the man has reached the point of penetration, it is interpreted aswomen wanting men to have sex in violent ways.[6]

Reactions of Dinah in Genesis 34 and Red Tent 

In Genesis 34, we do not have any indication of what Dinah felt or how she reacted after being violated. The text says nothing nor does it give any indication of Dinah’s feelings. We know nothing of Dinah after Genesis 34, and we have no idea what happened or how she processed it or if she lived long after. We do know that because Shechem was killed by her brothers she would not have been able to marry him. In some ancient societies, women who were no longer virgins lived in shame and could no longer be part of their society. As far as we know, Dinah could have ended up livingwith one of her brothers in desolation just like Tamar in 2 Samuel, living in isolation, in shame, and feeling alone. 

Rape is devastating. As Traci C. West conveys, survivors of rape and other intimate violence “feel utterly abandoned, utterly alone, and cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life.”[7] In Red Tent, because the writers have taken a different approach to this Genesis 34 narrative, as Dinah speaks, she grieves over the murder of her husband and the lack of reaction in her father. Although she was grieving, she had a voice and disownedJacob. She leaves her family to bury her husband and create a new life for herself (this is not a good plan). Shechem‘s mother, an Egyptian Princess, takes thepregnant Dinah to Egypt and, angry over her son’s death, takes away Dinah’s baby and only lets Dinah be his nurse and maid until he is sent away to study. Dinah goes through many trials before she finds love again. She eventually reunites with her son and reunites with her brother Joseph, who is now vizier of Egypt. She is still independent and strong. She still has a voice. In Genesis, we have no idea about the relationship between Dinah and Jacob. We do know that in Red Tent, Dinah no longer has a relationship with Jacob after Shechem’s murder, and it is years before she sees him again. It is Joseph who convinces her to reconcile with their father. We know of no such thing that happened in Genesis 34. Red Tent ends with Joseph and Dinah visiting their father on his deathbed and with Joseph and Dinah returning to Egypt with hope. In Genesis, Dinah doesn’t get this treatment.  

Conclusion: Why does Rape have to be turned into Romance?

There are more questions about rape and families in both ancient Israel and in popular culture. While I applaud Red Tent for their feminist stance by giving Dinah, Rachel, and Leah’s voices, there is still the problem of the interpretation of Genesis 34 that was brought to the screen. The interpretation sends the wrong message. The writers and producers couldn’t write and produce a story about a strong rape victimwhile demonstrating that popular culture has a hard time defining rape, all while conveying that women who do not protest are not victims.

According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “1 in 5 women are raped.”[8]  These are statistics for all women of all races. The statistics for black girls are even higher. According to R.D Stone in her book No Secrets No Lies: How Black Families Can Healfrom Sexual Abuse, “1 in 4 black girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18.”[9] Many victims know their rapists and abusers. Looking at the rape stories in the biblical text, many of the victims knew their rapists. If they did not know their rapists, someone from the community knew them, which begs the question, “How often did rape occur in ancient Israel?” This is an answer we may never know because if the daughters who were raped were not married off to their abusers, they may have been killed for not crying out. In our modern world, most rapes are not reported, and the statistics are only limited to those that have been. In a sense, the more things change, the more things stay the same. Sometimes families fail to react or believe their daughters, but in both the ancient and modern world, sometimes women are silenced and do not get justice. 

In popular culture, we have rape victims marrying their rapists and victims having romantic feelings for their attackers and protecting them. Perhaps this is why Red Tent decided not to tackle the rape narrative of Genesis 34. Maybe they would treat it as the same trope, or maybe they didn’t believe the narrative was rape. Either way, as a rape victim myself, I wish Lifetime and Anita Diamant tookthe Genesis 34 story and turned Red Tent into a victorious story for Dinah the rape victim and not a love story between her and Shechem. Red Tent is not a complete disaster with all its faults in its interpretation of Dinah’s rape. It has some strong points such as the portrayal of Dinah and Joseph’s relationship, its portrayal of both Leah and Rachel, its portrayal of Joseph, its portrayal of Rachel’s idols where they had all the women worship the idols, and in portraying the women as strong and independent. Red Tent also touches briefly on slavery and domestic violence with Dinah disliking the fact that her grandma Rebecca owned slaves and that Laban ledhis wife to commit suicide with his abuse. Red Tent gets most things right except its lack of a strong rape victim. Red Tent illustrates that rape is not important even in our 21stcentury pop culture.

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]Alice Ogden Bellis, Helpmates, Harlots, and Heroes: Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible, 2nd ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007), 75.

[2]Alexander Rofé, “Defilement of Virgins in Biblical Law and the Case of Dinah (Genesis 34)”, Biblica, 86 no.2 (2005), 369–375.

[3]Ibid; 75.

[4]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), 22.

[5]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.

[6]Traci C. West, Wounds of the Spirit: Black Women, Violence, and Resistance Ethics (New York: NYU Press, 1999), 96.

[7]Ibid; 57.

[8] National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “Statistics about Sexual Violence”. https://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/publications_nsvrc_factsheet_media-packet_statistics-about-sexual-violence_0.pdf


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