Genesis: Jacob’s Return to Bethel, The Birth of Benjamin, and the Death of Rachel and Isaac

Genesis 35:5-29

As Jacob fled from Shechem and the massacre committed by his kin, god rained terror down upon all who pursued Jacob. He returned to Bethel, in the land of Canaan, where he claimed god came to him before to warn him that Esau planned to murder him. When Jacob arrived in Bethel, El came to him. El told Jacob (again) that his name is no longer Jacob but Israel. He then promised that his descendants would be numerous, and he would acquire the land of Abraham and Isaac. Afterwards, Jacob constructed a pillar to worship El, and poured a drink offering and oil on the pillar.

Israel journeyed from Bethel with his family. Rachel gave birth while on this journey, and died from the ordeal. She named the son Ben-oni, but Israel decided to name the child Benjamin instead. Rachel was buried in Bethlehem and a pillar was constructed at her tomb. They then proceeded with their journey. Israel’s son, Reuben, then sleeps with his sex slave, Bilhah, which upsets Israel.

Israel returned to his father, Isaac, in Hebron just before his death. Esau and Israel buried their father in Hebron.

These stories were quite brief with not much of interest to comment on besides offerings at a pillar, and the encroachment of a son on his father’s sex slave.

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Genesis: The Stay in Shechem and the Rape of Dinah

Genesis 33:18-35:5

Jacob settles in the land of Canaan, outside the city of Shechem. He traveled to the city and purchased the land which he settled for one hundred pieces of money. On his land he erected an altar to El, the god of the early Israeli religion.

This story offer an opportunity to raise an important point. The identity of the biblical god changes throughout the story. The god of genesis is replaced as the tribe of Israel changes. The stories of Jacob regard the god El, who is eventually supplanted in later stories. Even that god is eventually replaced by a deified man, but that is getting too far ahead of ourselves.

Dinah, Jacob’s daughter, went to visit the women of the city. While in the city, the son of Hamor and prince of the Hivites, Shechem, rapes her. (The annotation states that some scholars believe the Hebrew verbs used imply that the intercourse was consensual but illicit, which would still be a defilement of Dinah.) Shechem falls in love with Dinah and asked his father, Hamor, to persuade Jacob to allow him to marry her. Hamor meets Jacob, who knows of Shechem’s actions. Hamor discusses his son’s intention to marry Dinah with Jacob while his sons are out in the fields. When they return and hear what has happened to their sister, they are outraged. Hamor protests his sons affection for their sister and hopes to create a covenant with their family. Hamor hoped to marry all the sons of his region to Israel’s daughters, and for Israel’s sons to marry the his daughters. He pledged to pay any price named by the Israelis. Their demand: foreskin. They required that all Hivite men cut off the skin covering the glands of their penis before they marry any woman of Israel. By disfiguring their genitals, they would then become Israelites.

Hamor and his son agreed to this demand. With haste, Shechem cut off his foreskin to betroth Dinah. Hamor and Shechem then spoke with the men of their city and told them that the Israelis are friends. They wished to intermarry, but on one condition: all men of the city must be circumcised. They told their men, “Will not their livestock, their property, and all their animals be ours?” (Genesis 34:23) Clearly illustrating that the intent of the Hivites was to assimilate the Israelites and acquire their property. With such a tempting offer before them, the men all agreed to the demand.

Three days after disfiguring their genitals, while the men were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, entered the city of Shechem. As the direct brothers of Dinah, they felt compelled to avenge the violation of the family’s honor, so they drew their sword and began to massacre the men of Shechem. They entered the house of Shechem, murdered him and Hamor, and retrieved Dinah. Jacob’s other sons came to the city and saw the men slain. They then proceeded to plunder the city as their sister had been defiled.

Upon returning home, Jacob scolded Simeon and Levi for what they did. He feared the ramifications of their actions because the news of their actions would surely turn the Canannites and the Perizzites hostile toward them. They responded to their father saying, “Should our sister be treated like a whore?” Touché. God then tells Jacob to return and settle in Bethel, and to make an altar to the god that spoke with him there. (Is that not the same god that is speaking to him now?) Jacob then gathers his family, and tells them to give him all their idols of foreign gods. He then buries them under an oak tree, and they leave Shechem.

The actions of Jacob’s sons begin the fulfillment of Noah’s curse on Ham, the father of the Canaanites. Jacob is the descendant of Shem, who Noah said would make the Canaanites his slaves. Jacob’s sons perpetuate the feud between these two families by massacring the men of the city. While Shechem’s actions toward Dinah are deplorable, if he raped her, it does not justify the massacre of all the men of the city. And according to biblical law, Shechem did as he must. In the Bible, the punishment of a rapist is to marry the woman he raped and to pay the father for damages done to his property, that is his daughter. All of which Shechem did. Today, no one would force the victim of rape to marry their rapist because that is vile, yet those who believe the Bible provides us the laws to govern our lives would have to subscribe to such a detestable law.

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