“The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet..” – Harry S. Truman, 33rd President of the United States of America, 6 August 1945.
This morning, our CTP class read Genesis 34 (along with Judges 19 and 2 Samuel 13). This is the story of Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, who was raped (or abducted) and forced into marriage by Shechem, a local ruler. Jacob thought of doing nothing, but the sons of Jacob (specifically, Simeon and Levi) thought otherwise.
After concocting a covenant with the Hivites that in exchange of Dinah and some asses and booty, the men of the area would get circumcised. After 3 days, when the pain was the most intense, Simeon and Levi went into the town and murdered the men. The other brothers followed afterwards, killing more and plundering the rest.
The question is this, is this an appropriate response?
In some of the commentaries presented, the fault is laid at the feet of Dinah, based on Genesis 34.1.
In this chapter, God is not mentioned. Indeed, in chapter 35 Jacob makes the conscious decision to go back and worship YHWH. This silence about the Almighty has left some to wonder if God is somehow approving of the actions.
In my view, God’s silence is the biggest question here, as well as the answer. God, normally the Almighty Judge, the Smiter of Sinners, has nothing to say on the rape, the massacre, or the fact that the brothers’ plan hinged on twisting one of Judaism’s most sacred mitzvot, the brit milah, to serve their own diabolical ends. In that silence I read tacit approval….I would like to posit another theory: by wreaking havoc on the Canaanites, Jacob’s sons were condemning rape culture that allowed their own sister’s assault. And, God is fine with this.
Another voice concurs that this is a condemnation against rape culture.
Yet, also the brothers stand in a rape-prone tradition. Although they sympathize deeply with their sister, they take women and children as their booty (verses 27-29). The story does not indicate whether the brothers rape the women in turn. However, they treat the women as objects like the captured animals and gold. Limited to the women of their own family, their sympathy does not extend to women and children of other men. Like the rapist and his town, the brothers perpetuate rape-prone behavior.
This is a troubling passage for those who take the time to consider it. Maybe the above commentators are correct, that is quiet and thus supports the sons over Jacob. Perhaps God just wanted to see what we’d do.
What would you do? Let’s first agree that it was rape. Was it Dinah’s “fault?” I am not of the persuasion that rape is ever the woman’s fault. So I’m going to say no.
Then justice had to be meted out. If Shechem, the only guilty party in all of this, was the only one killed, that would have brought hell down upon Jacob and his household. We know from the story that Jacob was a rather weak tribe at the time. He could not have withstood an attack by the Hivites.
So, if you attack the king, you first need to make sure you kill him and then second, make sure his army doesn’t make it out either.
And that is what they did. The brothers of Dinah followed their only course of action, both to seek justice (or revenge) for Dinah and to preserve human life.
Many suggest that the atomic bomb was dropped to prevent the needless loss of American life that surely would be extracted in a D-Day type invasion of Japan. This is possible. I am not of the opinion any one reason for dropping the bomb is the only reason. Rather, I see the preservation of American lives as a reason, revenge (or justice) as another, and still yet, there were fears the Soviet Union would in fact enter into the war in order to establish a Communist beachhead in that part of Asia. Image a divided Japan like we have in Korea or we had in Germany.
Regardless of the reasons, we dropped the bomb — the most devastating weapon in human history until that time. But, the reason Truman ascribes first is revenge.
Is Hiroshima, like the destruction of Shechem, an appropriate response? Was it the only course of action? If something, even something evil, saves more lives in the end, is it justified?
We are still asking this question decades later and must always ask ourselves the question.