bible blog 1686

This blog has been following the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark in tandem. The whole series from 01/01/2015 can be accessed from my archive. The headlines are reminders of the world we live in.


Pope Francis with Armenian church leader

Pope Francis with Armenian church leader

GENESIS 34: 13

(Shekhem the Hivvite has raped Dina daughter of Yaakov and then asked to marry her)

But Yaakov’s sons answered Shekhem and Hamor his father with deceit,

speaking thus because he had defiled Dina their sister,

they said to them:

We cannot do this thing,

give our sister to a man who has a foreskin,

that would be a reproach to us!

Only on this condition will we comply with you;

if you become like is by having every male among you circumcised,

then we will give you our daughters and your daughters we will take for ourselves,

and we will settle among you so that we become a single people.

But if you do no hearken to us, to be circumcised,

we will take our daughter and go.

Their words seemed good in the eyes of Hamor,

and the young man did not hesitate to do the thing,

for he desired Yaakov’s daughter.

Now he carried more weight than anyone in his father’s house.

When Hamor and Shekhem his son came back to the the gate of their city

they spoke to the men of the city saying:

These men are peaceable disposed to us;

let them settle in the land and travel about in it,

for the land is certainly wide-reaching enough for them!

Let us take their daughters as wives for ourselves and le us give them our daughters.

But only on this condition will the men comply with us, to settle among us, to become a single people:

that every male among us be circumcised, as they are circumcised.

Their  acquired livestock, their acquired property and all their beasts- will they not become ours?

Let us only comply with them, that they may settle among us!

So they hearkened to Hamor and to Shekhem his son, all who go out to war from the gate of his city,

all the males were circumcised, all who go out to war.

But on the third day, it was, when they were still hurting,

that two of Yaakov’s sons, Shim’on and Levi, Dina’s full brothers, took each man his sword,

and the came upon the city, feeling secure, and killed all the males.

And Hamor and Shekhem his son they killed by the sword.

Then they took Dina from Shekhem’s house and went off.

Yaakov’s other sons came up on the corpses and plundered the city

because they had defiled their sister.

Their sheep, their oxen, their donkeys, whatever was inside the city and out in the field, they took,

all their riches, all their little ones and their wives they captured and plundered,

and all that was in the houses.

But Yaakov said to Shim’on and Levi:

You have stirred up trouble for me,

making me reek among the settled folk of the land, the Canaanites and Perizzites!

For I have menfolk few in number;

they will band together and strike me,

And I will be destroyed, I and my household!

But they said:

Like a whore our sister should be treated?

dinahThis savage story shows a brutal response to a brutal rape. The rapist of course thinks that offering marriage should be accepted as reasonable penance and is even prepared to have his wayward organ trimmed as a bride-price.. The audience is warned that the brothers’ offer is deceitful. That is the cue to the subtext of the story, namely, that the possibility of a merger with the Hivvites to become one people, is against the blessing of God, which is for his chosen family only. In the future, to be sure, they will settle the land and share God’s blessing with other families, but not now, and not for these  reasons. The audience may suspect that Yaakov has been tempted by the thought of peaceful merger, and that God is complicit with his sons’ violence, which is truly horrific, punishing the innocent with the guilty, after using the sign of their covenant with God as a means of distracting and weakening their enemy.

By the end of the episode who has come out on top? Certainly not the Hivvites or poor Dina whom no-one has treated with respect! And Yaakov’s sons have incurred the guilt of a massacre and the anger of their father, who in turn has lost his reputation as a man of honour and peace. Only God, who wants his chosen family to stay separate from others, has benefited, although he has done nothing.

Many commentators have seen this story as a distraction from the main theme of God’s blessing on Avraham and his descendants, but it seems to me both subtle and disturbing. Why is Yaakov so inept? Why are his sons so brutal? The treatment of the city of Shekhem is paralleled by the treatment of Canaanite cities in the Conquest, while the sexual behaviour of Cananites is often the justification for the prophets’ diatribes against those who “dwell in the land”. I suspect that the Genesis storyteller has placed the story here to ask a troublesome question: if God’s blessing can lead to ethnic cleansing, is it worth having? I think he/she regards the violence as a misuse of the blessing, but includes the story as a warning. Jacob does not denounce his sons’ violence as cruel and unjust, but he rightly reckons it will put his family at risk of aggression. A modest and somewhat self-interested peacefulness is seen by the storyteller as an ideal quality in his heroes.


And immediately, while he was yet speaking, Judas comes up, being one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd, with swords and sticks, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders.

44 Now he that delivered him up had given them a sign between them, saying, Whoever I shall kiss, that is him; seize him, and lead him away safely.

45 And  straightaway coming up to him, he says, Rabbi, Rabbi; and he covered him with kisses.

46 And they laid their hands upon him and seized him.

47 But a certain one of those who stood by, having drawn his sword, struck the bondman of the high priest, and took off his ear.

48 And Jesus answering said to them, Are you come out as against a robber, with swords and sticks to take me?

49 I was daily with you teaching in the temple, and you did not seize me; but it is happening that the scriptures may be fulfilled.

50 And all left him and fled.arrest

Mark’s skilful narration has led his readers to this moment when Jesus’ prophecies of his own arrest and death come true. The pace of the narration picks up, giving the bare details of a managed arrest under cover of darkness. Again Mark uses the Greek verb paradidomai meaning to deliver, hand over, hand on, betray. You could simply translate it here (v44) as betrayer, but that would lose the sense of Jesus being rendered helpless in the hands of evil people. I gave a note on this word some days back (Blog 1680).

Mark was the first writer to depict the actions and character of Judas. Here he dramatises Judas’ treachery with a word that Darby rightly translates as “covered with kisses”, that is, he does more than he has promised, he goes over the top in his betrayal. Jesus’ calm amid the confused violence is evident. He accepts what is happening as a fulfilment of scripture. For a long time many bible scholars believed that the first Christians lived by scripture, and so found suitable texts, which they then attributed to Jesus. It seems a bit odd to imagine that the early Christians could live by Scripture but that Jesus did not. In this case the scripture which may be in mind is Isaiah 53:8 “he was arrested and sentenced and taken away.” I think it’s quite reasonable to imagine that Jesus had studied this chapter which outlines the suffering of God’s servant, and taken it as a pointer to his own destiny, Of course the first Christians also read and used this chapter, perhaps more than any other in Scripture, so that Mark didn’t need to quote from it, but could assume that his readers would remember it. Modern readers who are less familiar with Scripture should read Mark’s account of Jesus’ suffering with Isaiah 53 open beside them.

Jesus, using words from Zechariah 13, had already prophesied that his disciples would desert him. Mark simply confirms this in one laconic sentence (verse 50). Mark means that terrible things were happening but none of them outside the will of God and the willingness of his servant.

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