One of the reasons I loved reading The Red Tent was to imagine the woman behind what is a brusque biblical narrative. The women of the Bible are intriguing, so often mentioned as footnotes in a broader narrative.
Some might say that’s because the story is patriarchal, that we’re missing the matriarchal or even gender-balanced story. But it’s not only women’s stories that are missing. What was Jacob’s reaction to the birth of his children, for example? He doesn’t get much of a look-in between his marriage and when he leaves Laban. It appears not to matter to whatever the point of this story is. And for all the casting of these stories as patriarchal, yet, Dinah’s story is included. So why? What does this story teach us?
I’d like to think it teaches us something about Dinah or adds a feminine streak to an otherwise patriarchal narrative. Yet, I suspect that Dinah’s story, like Jacob’s, is not her own but subsumed into a larger narrative, a theological story. Her story tells us something of God’s relationship with his people.
While I want this story to be about Dinah, we’re given few details of her. But it does tell us a great deal about Simeon and Levi. They’re portrayed as deceivers and hotheads. They think they’re avenging their sister, and yes, as the Bible tells it, the Shechemites’ behavior was intolerable, but the reaction of Simeon and Levi is rash and dishonorable. They are no better.
And yet, these are the sons of Jacob, sons of promise, the family to whom God has made his covenant, whom God will multiply and make great. They seem so undeserving, these rats, no better than Shechemites who worship gods who cannot speak. And they are undeserving, just like their lying, tricking, violent, cowardly fathers. Jacob doesn’t come off that well in this story either. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree: no improvement has been made in this generation. But this is the family of God’s promise. These men are failed men, like their fathers, and it is God’s grace that he chooses them.
This may be a patriarchal story, telling us about Simeon and Levi rather than about Dinah, but the point is theological. This is no extolling of patriarchy. It is a solemn exposé of the grace of God.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.