Our website use cookies to improve and personalize your experience and to display advertisements(if any). Our website may also include cookies from third parties like Google Adsense, Google Analytics, Youtube. By using the website, you consent to the use of cookies. We have updated our Privacy Policy. Please click on the button to check our Privacy Policy.

Dinah, Bathsheba, & Tamar (Part 2): Why do people disagree over Genesis 34?


What happened to Dinah with Shechem (Gen. 34), Bathsheba with David (2 Sam. 11), and Tamar with Amnon (2 Sam. 13)? I think two (for sure) describe rape, maybe all three, but I’ve heard a lot of explanations. Some people say Bathsheba was a seductress. Some blame the victims. Also, book authors have written fiction novels about these people and I can’t tell who has the right view. What happened in each case? Why are these things in the Bible?


In Part 1, we looked at how a lack of wisdom and godly dependence in Jacob’s life led to trouble. Family trouble does not always cascade through generations, but in this case God’s Word shows how Jacob’s self-reliance led his entire family into an unwise position. From there, some of his adult children made further unwise choices, and many awful tragedies resulted.

I also noted that this study is probably not helpful for someone who is working through sexual trauma. These biblical accounts are not written to explain the details of abuse, or the long and difficult healing process. That requires situation-specific wisdom.

Finally, there’s a complicating factor with Dinah and Shechem: not all translations agree on how to describe this event. There is reasonable disagreement on this passage, so today I want to look at why that occurs, and show that the Bible is still reliable.

Dinah’s ‘defilement:’ lost in translation

If you, like me, cannot read old Hebrew or Greek texts, then you must read Bible translations made from those texts. But different translations may use different words. For difficult passages, one approach is to read multiple good translations and compare the word choices. If we compare v.2 and v.5 of Genesis 34 in five well-regarded translations[1] we find significant differences. I have underlined two words in each passage for discussion:

KJV: (v.2) And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and defiled her. (v.5) And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter…

DBY (Darby): (v.2) And when Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay with her, and humbled her. (v.5) And Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah his daughter…

ESV: (v.2) And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he seized her and lay with her and humiliated her. (v.5) Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah…

NASB: (v.2) When Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her, he took her and lay with her and raped her. (v.5) Now Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah…

NIV: (v.2) When Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of that area, saw her, he took her and raped her. (v.5) When Jacob heard that his daughter Dinah had been defiled

Note the three translation differences in v.2: “defiled;” “humbled” or “humiliated;” and “raped.” Yet all five translations use “defiled” in v.5. That suggests we have different Hebrew words between v.2 and v.5. A quick lexicon search using Mickelson’s Enhanced Strongs[2] confirms it. The word translated “defiled” in v.5 describes a state of being polluted or ceremonially unclean. Five translation teams reached the same conclusion: “defiled.” Meanwhile, the key word in v.2 is claimed by Strongs to have multiple meanings, and it appears to have produced multiple renderings.

A relatively unfriendly source – Wikipedia – notes there is a long-running scholarly controversy on how this passage should be translated.[3] While I never fully trust Wikipedia, especially for Bible commentary, I can read several Bible translations and see differences. For v.2, the KJV uses “defiled” which doesn’t tell me whether Shechem actively harmed Dinah, or simply took away her virginity outside of marriage. Seduction or rape are equally possible in that rendering. Both Darby (an older, highly literal translation) and the ESV (a modern, fairly literal translation) use similar words: “humbled” and “humiliated.” Is this a soft way of saying “rape,” or does it mean the activity was degrading but the circumstances were unclear? Finally, the NASB and NIV use the word “rape.” That’s very clear, but raises another question: why did three other reliable translations, including the ESV which is newer than the NIV, use a different word?

At this point, one popular approach is to adopt the translation that supports one’s own point of view, and impugn the motives of the other translators. But a more helpful approach is to search for uncertain words in a lexicon or Bible dictionary. What are the typical meanings? Where else is the word used in Scripture? Turning again to Strongs, the word used in Genesis 34:2 is used many times in the Old Testament, including five times here in Genesis (Gen. 15:13, 16:6, 16:9, 31:50, 34:2). If we examine just those other four in context, the majority suggest an enslavement or abuse of power. So “rape” is a reasonable (but not exclusive) conclusion for v.2.

But what does it mean?

With the benefit of modern translations, it seems clear enough to me that Shechem raped Dinah. But the details are sparse, and we cannot assume the Spirit of God was presenting a treatise on sexual assault. What we can see in this narrative is how Satan was attacking the integrity of the Lord Jesus Christ through His then-future human lineage. (God, in His sovereign power, prevented any corruption.)

As for application: since we don’t have a detailed account on what Dinah did or didn’t do, we must instead look at the general circumstances, note the lack of wisdom present in the family circle at the time, and recognize an important application: if we draw close to the world, we will learn by painful experience that the world is a selfish, hurtful place. Worse, we can begin thinking and acting the same way. All of this works against our team relationship with God (Jas. 4:4).

Finally, at a very practical level, we can learn humility and grace from this passage. If five reliable translations cannot all provide the same answer for how to translate Genesis 34:2, then any one of us is not likely to have the final word, either.

Okay, so where to next?

We have now reviewed Shechem and Dinah, and examined a difficult translation issue that can lead to disagreements. We have one more part to answer in this question: what happened with David and Bathsheba, and how did this contribute to the spiritual condition of David’s family when Amnon attacked Tamar? What do we learn from these accounts? I will take up those examples in a final “Part 3” next week.

What questions and concerns are on your mind as a result of this Q&A session? Please post them below, in the comments field. The Patterns of Truth team would be glad to hear from you.

Return to Part 1 or continue to Part 3


[1] Why did I compare these five translations? All five generally attempt to translate literally when practical, although the NIV somewhat favors dynamic equivalence. Each translation was prepared by a qualified team with strong scholarly oversight and respect for the Bible as being God’s Word. Each has its own unique style and difficulties, but can be read and understood accurately. All but Darby are multi-year top sellers and commonly used as personal Bibles. Darby is neither a top seller nor an easy translation for daily reading, but it is an excellent reference resource.

[2] Mickelson’s Enhanced Strongs is freely available and provided with Bible software packages such as The Word, which makes it convenient. It covers both Hebrew and Greek and can be considered a good start, but it is also very old and surpassed by newer research (for Greek in particular). For those who want to spend money and go deeper, “A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature” by F.W. Danker et al, widely called the “BDAG” (bee-dayg) lexicon after its principal contributors’ initials, is considered to be one of the best English-language scholarly resources available for New Testament Greek.

[3] See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinah, with the caution that the same article spends much time on human theories about Genesis which neither acknowledge the role of divine inspiration, nor the fact that Moses is credited by both Scripture and Jewish tradition as the writer of the Pentateuch. In short, it is summarizing disagreements between people who are not always concerned with spiritual matters.

Leave a Reply