Canaanites / non-Judean peoples: Jubilees on the Dinah story and intermarriage (mid-second century BCE)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'Canaanites / non-Judean peoples: Jubilees on the Dinah story and intermarriage (mid-second century BCE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 6, 2024,

Ancient author: Genesis 34; Anonymous, Book of Jubilees 30 (link; link to Ethiopic and Latin).

Comments: Writing in the mid-second century BCE, the Judean (Jewish) author of the book of Jubilees sticks quite closely to the overall progression of the narrative of Genesis in his retellings. However, this author also spins the stories and uses certain episodes in order to draw out particular issues that he felt were important in his own time and context. In this case, the author uses a disturbing story about the rape of one of Jacob’s young daughters, Dinah (in Genesis 34, also presented below), in order to strongly assert opinions about the relationship between Judeans and surrounding peoples (in this case Hebrews in relation to Shechemites, a subset of Canaanites) with respect to intermarriage.

The author of Jubilees’ strict opposition to intermarriage with “the peoples” (traditionally rendered “the gentiles”) – with the threat of death by stoning – may be here railing against some other less stark stances, such as those reflected in tales about prominent figures like Moses or Joseph marrying an Ethiopian (link) or an Egyptian (link). Instead, Jubilees aligns more closely with the hard-line of elite Judahites, like Ezra and Nehemiah (fifth century BCE), who saw intermarriage as a threat to a newly established society centred on the Jerusalem temple after the return from Babylonia.

Quite notable, however, is the degree to which Jubilees develops this point, arguing that intermarriage of any Israelite or Judean with foreign peoples undermines the purity of the line (“seed”) of Levi. See also the “holy seed” of Isaac in Jubilees 16:17-18 and the “seed of the daughters of Canaan” in 22:16-20. Also lurking in the background, of course, is the general notion found throughout the Hebrew Bible that intermarriage with foreign women often leads to worshipping the foreign gods of those women. However, in some other cases where foreigners gave up worshipping non-Israelite gods (see Aseneth at this link), a compromise could be made, in the view of some other Judeans. Once again, issues of intermarriage are a stand-in for relations between peoples overall and for encounters with alternative ancestral customs.

Further reading: C.E. Hayes, Gentile Impurities and Jewish Identities: Intermarriage and Conversion from the Bible to the Talmud. (Oxford: OUP, 2002).

This post is part of the Biblical peoples redux series:

  • Descendents of Noah’s sons Shem, Japheth and Ham in Josephos and Pseudo-Philo (link)
  • Ishmaelites (Arabians) in Jubilees, Molon and Josephos (link)
  • Edomites (Idumeans) in Josephos (link)
  • Amalekites in Josephos and Philo (link)
  • Canaanites (Phoenicians) in Jubilees (link) and in Wisdom of Solomon (link)
  • Kushites (Ethiopians) in Artapanos, Josephos and others (link)
  • Midianites and Moabites (Arabians) in Philo and Josephos (link)
  • Chutheans or Samaritans in Josephos (link) and in biographies of Jesus / gospels (link)



(34:1-35:2) Now Dinah, the daughter of Leah and Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. Shechem, the son of Hamor the Hivite, the ruler of the land, saw her. And he took her, slept with her and raped her. And his soul clung to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl and spoke tenderly to the girl. So Shechem said to Hamor his father, saying, “Get this girl for me as a wife.”

Jacob heard that Dinah his daughter had been defiled, but his sons were with his flocks in the field. And Jacob kept silent until they came. Hamor, the father of Shechem, went out to Jacob to speak with him. And the sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it. And the men were distressed and very angry because he had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by having sexual relations with the daughter of Jacob – something that should not be done. And Hamor spoke with them saying, “Shechem my son is in love with your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife. Make marriages with us. Give us your daughters and take our daughters for yourselves. You will live with us and the land will be before you. Settle and trade in the land, and acquire property in it.”

Then Shechem said to her father [i.e. Jacob] and to her brothers, “Let me find favour in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will do. Make the bride price and gift as high as you like. I will give you whatever you say to me. But give me the girl as a wife.” Then the sons of Jacob answered Shechem and his father Hamor speaking deceitfully, because he had defiled Dinah their sister. And they said to them, “We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to a man who is uncircumcised, for that is a disgrace for us. Only on this condition will we give consent to you: if you will become like us with every male among you being circumcised. Then we will give our daughters to you, and we will take for ourselves your daughters, and we will live with you and become one family. But if you will not listen to us and be circumcised, then we will take our daughters and we will go.” And their words were good in the eyes of Hamor and in the eyes of Shechem, the son of Hamor.

The young man [Shechem] did not delay to do the thing, for he wanted the daughter of Jacob. Now he was the most honoured in his father’s house. Then Hamor and his son Shechem came to the gate of their city, and they spoke to the men of their city, saying, “These men are at peace with us. Let them dwell in the land and let them trade in it. Now, behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters as wives, and let us give our daughters to them. Only on this condition will they give consent to us in order to live with us and to become one family: when every male among us is circumcised as they are circumcised. Will not their livestock and their property and all their animals be ours? Only let us give consent to them so they will live among us.”

Everyone who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor and Shechem. Every male was circumcised, all those who went out of the gate of his city. While they were in pain on the third day, two of the sons of Jacob – Simeon and Levi, the brothers of Dinah – each took his sword and came against the unsuspecting city and killed all men. They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with the edge of the sword, and they took Dinah from the house of Shechem and went out. The other sons of Jacob encountered the dead and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks, cattle and donkeys, and whatever was in the field. They captured and plundered all that was in the houses, all their wealth, their little ones, and their women.

Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me, making me stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites! I am few in number! If they gather against me and attack me, I will be destroyed, I and my household!” But they said: “Will he treat our sister like a prostitute?”

God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel and live there, and make an altar to the God who appeared to you when you fled from before Esau your brother.” Then Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods that are in your midst and purify yourselves and change your garments.” . . . [omitted remainder of narrative].



[Retelling of the abduction of Dinah the Israelite by Shechem from Genesis 34]

(30) In the first year of the sixth week, Jacob went up to Salem, which is east of the city of Shechem [what a biblical author would call a Canaanite settlement], during peace in the fourth month. Dinah the daughter of Jacob was snatched away into the house of Shechem the son of Hamor, the Hivite and ruler of the land. Shechem slept with her and defiled her, and she was a little girl who was twelve years old. Shechem begged his father and her brothers so that she might be given to him as a wife. Jacob and his sons were furious because of the men of Shechem, because they had defiled Dinah, their sister, and because they spoke to them [i.e. Jacob and his sons] with evil intentions and dealt deceitfully with them and tricked them.

Simeon and Levi came unexpectedly to the city of Shechem and executed judgment on all the men of Shechem. They killed all the men whom they found in Shechem and did not leave a single man remaining in the city. They killed everyone torturously because they had dishonoured their sister Dinah.

So, from now on, do not let a daughter of Israel be defiled ever again, because judgment was commanded in heaven to destroy all of the Shechemites with the sword because they had caused shame in Israel. And the Lord delivered them into the hands of the sons of Jacob so that they could exterminate them with the sword and execute judgment upon them and so that it could not happen again in Israel that a virgin of Israel would be defiled.

[Prohibition of Israelites giving daughters or sisters in marriage to the peoples]

If there is any man in Israel who wants to give his daughter or his sister to any man who is of the seed of the peoples (gentes) [or, traditionally, peoples] he must certainly die, and they will stone him with stones because he has caused shame in Israel. They will also burn the woman with fire, because she has dishonoured the name of the house of her father, and she will be uprooted from Israel. Do not let an adulteress or any impurity be found in Israel throughout all the days of the generations of the earth, because Israel is holy to the Lord. Every man who has defiled Israel will certainly die: they will stone him with stones. For it has been commanded in this way and written in the heavenly tablets regarding all the seed of Israel: anyone who defiles will certainly die, and he will be stoned with stones. And there is no limit, remission, or atonement for this law. Rather, the man who has defiled his daughter will be uprooted from in the midst of all Israel, because he has given of his seed to Moloch, and acted impiously so as to defile Israel.

You, Moses, command the children of Israel and exhort them not to give their daughters to the peoples, and not to take for their sons any of the daughters of the peoples, for this is an abomination before the Lord. For this reason, I have written for you in the words of the Law about all the actions of the Shechemites against Dinah and about how the sons of Jacob spoke, saying: “We will not give our daughter to a man who is uncircumcised because that is a reproach to us.” It is a reproach to Israel, to those who live, and to those that take the daughters of the peoples, because this is unclean and abominable to Israel. And Israel will not be free from this uncleanness if it has as a wife of the daughters of the peoples, or has given any of its daughters to a man who is of any of the peoples.

[Curses on violators]

For there will be plague upon plague and there will be curse upon curse. Every judgment and plague and curse will come upon anyone who does this thing or turns a blind eye to those who commit uncleanness, defile the sanctuary of the Lord, or profane his holy name. In that case, the whole people together will be judged for all the uncleanness and impurity of this man. And there will be no accepting of a person or receiving from that person’s hands of fruits, offerings, burnt-offerings or fat, nor the fragrance of sweet savour, so as to accept it. This is what will happen to every man or woman in Israel who defiles the sanctuary. For this reason I have commanded you, saying: “Testify this testimony to Israel: ‘See what has happened to the Shechemites and their son. See how they were delivered into the hands of two sons of Jacob, and that they killed them torturously and it was considered righteousness, and it is written down to them for righteousness.’”

[Preserving the seed of Levi]

The seed of Levi was chosen for the priesthood, and chosen to be Levites so that they might minister before the Lord, as we may be continually blessed and that Levi and his sons may be blessed forever. For Levi was zealous to execute righteousness, judgment and vengeance on all those who arose against Israel. And so they inscribe as a testimony in his favour on the heavenly tablets blessing and righteousness before the God of all. We remember the righteousness which that man fulfilled during his life, at all periods of the year. They will record it for a thousand generations and it will come to him and to his descendants after him. He has been recorded on the heavenly tablets as a friend and a righteous man.

[Final commendation of the killing of the Shechemites despite Jacob’s hesitation in the Genesis narrative]

All this account I have written for you, and have commanded you to say to the children of Israel, so that they should not commit sin nor transgress the ordinances nor break the covenant which has been ordained for them. Instead, they should fulfill it and be recorded as friends. But if they transgress and work uncleanness in every way, they will be recorded on the heavenly tablets as adversaries, and they will be destroyed out of the book of life, and they will be recorded in the book of those who will be destroyed and with those who will be uprooted from the earth. On the day when the sons of Jacob killed Shechem, a writing was recorded in their favour in heaven that they had executed righteousness, uprightness and vengeance on the sinners, and it was written for a blessing. And they brought Dinah, their sister, out of the house of Shechem. They took captive everything that was in Shechem, all their sheep, oxen and asses, all their wealth, and all their flocks, and brought them all to Jacob their father. Jacob reproached them because they had slayed with the sword those in the city because Jacob feared those who lived in the land, the Canaanites and the Perizzites. And the dread of the Lord was upon all the cities which are around about Shechem, and they did not rise to pursue the sons of Jacob because terror had come upon them.


Source of translation: Lexham translation of Genesis, modified; R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament in English (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), public domain, adapted by Harland.

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