14 June 2012

The Shechem Foreskin Massacre

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant, 1997, Excerpts

Dinah: Daughter of Jacob/Leah
Simon, Levi, and Joseph: Sons of Jacob/Leah

[Background: Leah assists a midwife to the land of Shechem, meets Shalem, son of King Hamor, they fall in love, and become lovers at the palace grounds. Shalem asks for Leah’s hand in marriage, and King Hamor makes an offer to Jacob. The following account is from Leah’s perspective].

When Simon and Levi heard that Hamor had offered my father a king’s bride-price for me, they raised their voices against the marriage, sensing that their own positions would be diminished by such an alliance. Simon raised his fist and cried, “Revenge! My sister has been ravaged by an Egyptian dog! The uncircumcised dog rapes my sister every day. Am I to permit this desecration of our only sister, my own mother’s daughter?”

At this, Joseph pulled a skeptical face and half-whispered to Reuben,”If my brother is so concerned about the shape of our brother-in-law’s penis, let our father demand the foreskin for a bride-price. Indeed, let all the men of Shechem become like us. Let them pile up their membranes as high as my father’s tent pole, so that their sons and ours will piss the same, and rut the same, and none will be able to tell us apart. And thus will the tribe of Jacob grow not merely in generations to come, but even tomorrow.

When Hamor journeyed to Jacob’s tent, Shalem accompanied him with gifts. When Jacob named the price for his daughter, Hamor paled. “What form of barbarity is this” he asked. “Who do you think you are, shepherd, to demand the blood of my son’s manhood, and mine, and that of my kinsmen and subjects? You are mad from too much son, too many years in the wilderness. Do you want the girl back, such as she is?”

But Shalem stepped forward and put his hand on his father’s arm. “I agree to the demands,” he said to Jacob’s face. “Here and now, if you like. I will honor the custom of my wife’s family.” The terms were agreed to that evening. Shalem and Hamor would go under the knife in three days, as would the men of Shechem, noble and slave alike. All of the healthy men found within the walls of the city on that same morning would also accept the mark of Jacob upon them, and Hamor promised that every son born within the city from that time forth would be circumcised on the eighth day, as was the custom among the sons of Abram.

It was done in the king’s antechamber. Shalem was first, and then his father, Hamor. Neither king nor prince cried out. The men of the household and the few poor souls who had not disappeared to the countryside outside the walls were not so lucky. They felt the knife keenly, and many screamed as though they were murdered. Their cries pieced the air throughout the morning.

The recovering men sweated through their clothing and soaked the beds where they slept. Hamor, who uttered no sound when he was cut, fainted in pain, and when he woke put a knife between his teeth to keep from screaming. My Shalem suffered too, though not as badly. The only complete remedy was sleep.

In the night, I woke to the sound of a woman screaming. Something terrible must have happened to that poor soul, I thought, trying to turn away for the keening, shrieking, shrilling cry, too dreadful for the real world, the noise of a nightmare. The wild, terrified scream came from a great distance, but its distress was so insistent and disturbing that I could not push aside, and sought to awaken from my heavy sleep and escape the cries. They grew more and more frightening until I realized that my eyes were open and the tormented soul I pitied was not dreamed or even distant. The screams were my own, the unearthly sound was coming from my twisted mouth.

I was covered in blood. My arms were coated with the thick, warm blood that ran from Shalem’s throat and coursed like a river down the bed and onto the floor. His blood coated my cheeks and stung my eyes and salted my lips. His blood soaked through the blankets. I was drowning in my lover’s blood. I was screaming loud enough to summon the dead, and yet no one seemed to hear. No guards burst through the door. No servants rushed in. It seemed that I was the last person alive in the world.

I heard no footsteps and had no warning before strong arms seized me, prying me loose from my beloved. They carried me off the bed trailing blood, screaming into the blackness of the night. It was Simon who lifted me and Levi who stopped up my mouth, and the two of them trussed me hand and foot, loaded me on the back of donkey, and packed me off to my father’s tent before I could alarm any poor soul still alive in the doomed city. My brothers’ knives worked until dawn revealed the abomination wrought by the sons of Jacob. They murdered every man they found alive.

Nothing but death could give me peace from the vision of Shalem slashed, bleeding, dead in his startled sleep. When night fell again, I listened to my brothers’ return and heard the sound of their booty: weeping women, wailing children, bleating animals, carts creaking under the weight of stolen goods. The sound of my brothers’ voices lifted me off my bed and I walked out to face them.

“Jacob,” I howled, summoning him by name, as though I were the father and he the wayward child. Jacob emerged from his tent, trembling. “Jacob, your sons have done murder,” I said, in a voice I did not recognize as my own. “You have lied and connived, and your sons have murdered righteous men, striking them down in weakness of your own invention. You have despoiled the bodies of the dead and plundered their burying places, so their shadows will haunt you forever. You and your sons have raised up a generation of widows and orphans who will never forgive you.”

“Jacob shall never know peace again. He will lose what he reassures and repudiate those he should embrace. He will never again find rest, and his prayers will not find the favor of his father’s god. You are unclean and you are cursed,” I said, spitting into the face of the man who had been my father. Then I turned my back upon him, and he was dead to me.

“The sons of Jacob are vipers,” I said to my cowering brothers. “They are putrid as the worms that feed on carrion. The sons of Jacob will each suffer in his turn.”

Another version….
Against Our Will by Susan Brownmiller, 1975, Excerpts
As told in Genesis, Dinah was a virgin daughter of Jacob by Leah. She was raped by a gentile when she left the house one day to go visit some female friends. Dinah’s attacker, who was not without his own tribal code, then applied to Jacob’s family for permission to marry the woman he had violated. Pretending agreement, Jacob’s sons suggested to the eager young man that he and all the male members of his uncivilized tribe undergo the ritual of circumcision. Three days later when the gentile tribe was still sore from the painful operation. Jacob’s sons descended on their encampment, slaughtered the weakened men and made captives of their women and oxen. Thus was the house of Jacob vindicated, but what benefit accrued to Dinah is questionable. 

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