The whole chapter 34 is about Dinah, but she does not speak. The whole story is talking about her, but she does not pronounce a single word. She is named as the daughter her mother Leah had borne to Jacob. Her voice is silenced. Her words are lost in a history of men and their way of solving conflicts and disputes.
Dinah was raped. There is no other name, other lighter euphemism to talk about what happen to her. There are attempts, in the history of interpretation of this biblical story, to minimize or to evade the sexual violence. White European academic men have highlighted the main issue in that story being the conflict among tribes/clans due to territorial disputes. This is a pathway of how patriarchy is hiding and neglecting women’s experiences. It is challenging to deal with a biblical story that does not seem to offer hope or any way to overcome the violence suffered. Dinah’s rape is solved with more violence: her brothers organize a revenge which will shed more blood among the groups.
Personally, I am also struggling with feminist interpretations or reconstructions of the story, such as the historical romance written by Anita Diamant, “The Red Tent”. She offers one of the most brilliant and detailed pictures of private life traditions, cultural practices and rituals around birth giving, menstruation and bodily realities of women in the ancient Middle East culture. But, in her argument, Dinah’s story is not about rape, but how her autonomous decision of loving a stranger, a man from another clan and culture was transformed into rape to hide exactly the fact of a woman take decisions and be independent in her choice with whom to engage in relationship. It might be a possibility. It might be one way of reconstructing the silence imposed to women victims of sexual and gender-based violence.
What in my view is important in dealing with this story, is to listen to Dinah’s silence and to listen to her story in between the lines of the written text. This must involve acknowledging and naming all the violence that she suffered. Only by recognizing this reality is it possible to find ways of dealing with and overcoming it. It is a hermeneutical posture that does not hide or dissimulate violence, but learns how to deal with these “texts of terror”, as Phyllis Trible named them, as testimonies of women’s lives and struggles.
It is only after a careful and pastoral listening attitude, letting the survivors of violence express in their words and in their ways their pain and suffering, that any possible reconstruction is allowed. Feminist hermeneutics and interpretation of biblical texts are guided by ethical responsibilities with survivors. Biblical feminist interpretations must provide accompaniment and support to women in their decisions and in their process of being agents of their own life. The Bible cannot be used as a tool for judgement and guilt, but it is a resource in promoting life, dignity and justice.
May God Wisdom Sophia guide us and help us in our journey!
Rev. Dr Elaine Neuenfeldt, ACT Alliance gender programme manager
The impressions, hopes and ideas expressed in this reflection are the contributions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or policies of the World Council of Churches.