It came to pass that Jacob, son of Isaac and brother of Esau, was father to twelve sons by his wives, Leah and Rachel, and their handmaidens, Bilhah and Zilpah. And he also had a daughter, Dinah, by Leah, his first wife.
Dinah was a joy to her mother and father, and they favored her. She was happy to learn about righteous womanly behavior at her mother’s knee, but she also loved to follow her brothers and learned to be fearless and confident from their many adventures.
They would not, however, let her travel with them as they worried that the accommodations would not be suitable and there was always danger from their enemies when traveling abroad. Dinah never tired of listening to her brothers’ stories of other lands and other people.
Dinah had a lovely voice, pleasant and lilting, and her father called her his little songbird. It was true that she could talk him into almost anything as he was captivated when listening to her.
By the time Dinah was of marrying age, she was overcome with a desire to to go abroad and learn what other daughters of the land were like. She wanted to see how they dressed and how they danced, and what was fashionable among them. These are not things her brothers ever thought to remember or tell her about from their travels. Though her mother, Leah, was not at all happy about Dinah’s desire, Jacob could not say no to his daughter.
And so Dinah prepared to travel. Her brothers loved her dearly and didn’t want their younger sister to travel alone, but they could not accompany her. So each of them gave her a gift to take on her travels that would help her in some way.
- Reuben, son of Leah, gave her a small knife that was light and thin and fit her hand perfectly;
- Simeon, son of Leah, gave her a leather sheath that he made to fit the knife;
- Levi, son of Leah, gave her a belt that the sheath could be added to;
- Judah, son of Leah, gave her a pouch for water that attached to the belt;
- Dan, son of Bilhah, gave her a cloth to wind around her head that she could tuck all her hair into so she might pass for a boy;
- Naphtali, son of Bilhah, gave her a smooth stone with a hole in the center which he strung on a leather thong;
- Gad, son of Zilpah, gave her a leather slingshot he made that was her size and easy to use;
- Asher, son of Zilpah, gave her four small, round stones to use with the slingshot;
- Issachar, son of Leah, gave her some strips of clean, white cloth that could be used to soak in cool water and wrap her feet after walking all day;
- Zebulun, son of Leah, gave her some dried lavender to add to the water to soak the white cloth;
- Joseph, son of Rachel, gave her a small burning glass to start fires;
- and Benjamin, son of Rachel, gave her one of his outer garments to wear so she could pass for a boy.
Leah wept to see her daughter prepare to leave home, but Jacob believed his daughter was ready. He gave her a young donkey that could carry her and all of her burdens and laid his hands on her to bless her. He told Leah, “Our daughter is traveling to the land of Canaan where some of our people have made camp. She will join them and will not be alone.”
Wrapping her hair in the cloth Dan gave her, and wearing the tunic from her brother Benjamin, Dinah appeared to be a young man and was able to travel to the camp of her people in the land of Canaan without trouble.
Once she arrived, she felt safe among her people, though they were few. She let her hair down and was fascinated with the way the daughters of the land of Canaan dressed and carried themselves. They welcomed her and dressed her like themselves and she attended a feast day celebration, leaving the tent to watch the women in the city dance and play on timbrels.
She swayed with the music and sang with her beautiful voice. This drew the attention of Shechem, who wanted her for himself. He watched Dinah and planned to lay with her by force.
Dinah was, however, quite used to sparring with men from the years of spending time with her twelve brothers. When Schechem attempted to pull her into a tent and force her to lay with him, she was able to break away. She had a smooth stone already set in the sling her brother Gad gave her and she swung it at Shechem’s head.
He was stunned but as Dinah made to escape from the tent he had dragged her into, his strength and experience was enough to overcome her. In their struggle, she slipped the knife from Reuben out of the sheath from Simeon, and plunged it deep into his neck.
Shechem dropped where he was as his blood rapidly drained from his body, and he died.
The young women in the land of Canaan rejoiced to hear that this abusive and cruel man was dead and could no longer terrorize them as he had done for many years. They lifted Dinah up and carried her down the main street to the public square where they testified to her bravery and skill, and she taught them all the lessons of self-defense that her brothers had taught her. From then on men were frightened and none were brave enough to try to force any of the daughters of Canaan again.
*Virago is the translation of the Hebrew word for “woman” in Genesis 2:23 of the Latin Vulgate Bible, a fifth century translation.
According to Genesis, Dinah was the daughter of Jacob and Leah, but she defied her parents and went out among the young women of the land and was captured and raped by Shechem, bringing dishonor to her parents. Biblical scholars turned this into the first story of slut shaming and blaming the victim. Notably, her brothers avenged her, killing her rapist, though she was already “ruined”. I wanted to tell a totally different story that had Dinah defend herself and kill her attacker, having learned from her brothers, and giving hope and determination to lots of other young women and serving notice to any other brutal, misogynistic men who believed they could just take whatever they wanted by force. So the book of Virago is her story as I wish it had happened.