Genesis 34-36

Good morning! Today’s scripture (Genesis 34-36) begins with a dreadful story in chapter 34, the rape of Dinah. To its original Hebrew audiences, this story was perhaps a warning about the misbehavior of non-Jews (“see what trouble is caused when Shechem has his way with one of our daughters?”), or a valorization of righteous violence (“look at the lengths to which our heroes go to defend the honor of our people!”). But to my ears now, the existence of this story itself is the cause for alarm (“see what barbarity is authorized when humans divide people into the righteous ‘Us’ and the unholy ‘Them’?”). Other passages of the Bible sound like this (the end of Esther, for example), and in order to see any of this as “Good News” I have to understand it as God’s cautionary tale—right here in the Bible—of how violence begets violence, and none is righteous in the end. I prefer the softer novelization of this incident in The Red Tent, but this is the gritty Bible we have (which more closely resembles the world we have). Another chance to be thankful this is not history but religious ideology, yet also to lament that something such as this might even be practiced at all in the name of God.

Genesis 35 opens with a caution against foreign gods among the people (a major fascination in later books), a repeat of God’s appearance to Jacob at Bethel, and another declaration of the name change to “Israel”. Note that Jacob raises up a stone pillar and anoints it here too, calling it again “Bethel” or “house of God”—all resonances of the earlier appearance to Jacob in a dream by night (Genesis 28). Jacob’s last child (Benjamin) survives the death of the beloved Rachel, which makes him extra-special in Jacob’s eye. (More on that in the Joseph story we begin soon.) We have the first full listing of Jacob’s sons, and see the reunion with his father Isaac before Isaac’s death.

The descendants of Esau described in chapter 36 become the people of Edom, which is denounced in later Hebrew books like Obadiah. The only other thing to note in this chapter is the suggestion of resource scarcity, which required wealthy Esau to live apart from wealthy Jacob. The ecological consequences of abundance have already played a role in biblical conflicts. They foreshadow the resource wars of today, including in the same part of the world.

Read Genesis 34-36.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. Tomorrow’s passage is Genesis 37-39. Thanks for reading!

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