Added: March 13, 2006 – Last updated: October 7, 2017


Author: Frank M. Yamada

Title: Dealing with Rape (in) Narrative (Genesis 34)

Subtitle: Ethics of the Other and a Text in Conflict

In: The Meanings We Choose: Hermeneutical Ethics, Indeterminacy and the Conflict of Interpretations

Edited by: Charles H. Cosgrove

Place: London and New York

Publisher: T&T Clark International

Year: 2004

Pages: 149-165

Series: Journal for the Study of the Old Testament, Supplement Series 411; The Bible in the Twenty-First Century 5

ISBN-10: 0567082164 (hbk.) – Find a Library: Wikipedia, WorldCat

Language: English

Keywords: Cases: Offenders / Shechem; Cases: Victims / Dinah; Representations: Biblical Texts / Book of Genesis


Link: Google Books (Limited Preview)


Author: Frank Yamada, Association of Theological Schools

Abstract: »Frank Yamada ponders questions of hermeneutical ethics in how we read another violent tale, the story of rape of Dinah in Genesis 34. This chilling narrative depicts characters who are confronted with challenging moral decisions when Shechem's sexual aggression sets in motion a series of negotiations between Dinah's family and the men of Shechem's city. As readers we are also drawn into the moral tangle of the tale, not only by our natural readerly tendency to choose sides, identifying with one character or group against others, but also by our choices about how to construe characters and their actions. Yamada examines two competing interpretations of the story, one by Meir Sternberg and the other by David Gunn and Danna Nolan Fewell, to show these interpreters' differing value systems guide their interpretive decisions, leading them to stress certain elements of the text and to downplay or ignore others, to link ambiguous elements into one pattern and not another, and to interpret characters with charity or suspicion. In the end, neither interpretation has defeated the other; neither has tied up every loose end or satisfactorily answered every challenge to its construal of parts or whole. Is each interpretation to be justified or rejected, then, on the basis of a moral system or by some other method that transcends the interpretive limitations that lead here, as so often in biblical studies, to exegetical impasse?
The story of the rape of Dinah demands a response from us. Inevitably that response is at once a moral reaction to the story and a moral assessment of interpretations of the story, since the story always presents itself to us as our own or someone else's reading of it. We may prefer one reading over another on moral grounds. We may be inclined to adjust this or that reading out of moral considerations. Yamada asks whether we can do so 'without a coherent ehtical, moral or interpretive system'. Drawing on the anti-foundationalist work of Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida, Yamada returns a 'no' to this question. Indeterminacy is the condition not only of texts but of us. Interpretive decisions about the rape of Dinah, moral assessments of any resulting interpretation, and any system or theory meant to provide us with our moral orientation – all of these begin with 'undecidability'. Hence, Yamada invites us to consider a non-foundationalist approach to Genesis 34, one that the develops in conversation with Emmanuel Levinas.« (Source: Charles H. Cosgrove. »Introduction.« The Meanings We Choose: Hermeneutical Ethics, Indeterminacy and the Conflict of Interpretations. Edited by Charles H. Cosgrove. London 2004: 17-18)


– Barton, J. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 29(5) (June 2005): 98. – Full Text: SAGE Publications (Restricted Access)

– Davies, Eryl W. The Journal of Theological Studies 58(1) (April 2007): 183-186. – Full Text: Oxford University Press (Restricted Access)

– Moberly, R.W.L. Vetus Testamentum 56(4) (November 2006): 564-565. – Full Text: Brill Online Books and Journals (Restricted Access)

Wikipedia: Bible: Old Testament / Book of Genesis | Crime and punishment in the Bible: Rape in the Hebrew Bible / Dinah