Outline of Post on the Scripture Session held on 12/08/13
- Pope Francis’ Exhortation,
- Background to today’s Reading
- Reading: Gen. 33: 18 – 34:31
Pope Francis’ Exhortation
I began this week’s review not with what we had discussed the previous Sunday but a discussion of Pope Francis’ Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium [The Joy of the Gospel.] If you are interested, and I would encourage you, in reading what the media are naming Pope Francis’ Manifesto, a pdf version is available on the Vatican Website, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.pdf.
In Chapter Three, The Proclamation of the Gospel, Section III, Preparing to Preach Pope Francis shares his insights into what the priest should do as he prepares each week to preach the Gospel. In the fourth subsection, paragraphs 152 and 153, he address in detail how the priest should approach the scripture passage. I passed out these two paragraphs because they give concrete images of what anyone who wishes not just to study but to be changed by the Gospel ought to do.
The Pope reminds us of a very ancient tradition for reading the scripture, Lectio Divina, Spiritual Reading and states very clearly how to start,
“The spiritual reading of a text must start with its literal sense. Otherwise we can easily make the text say what we think is convenient, useful for confirming us in our previous decisions, suited to our own patterns of thought.”
By “literal” the Pope does not mean “literally” but rather he is referring to the actual words on the printed page that is the passage we are reading. To do this is much more difficult than we might at first think.
As we read the scriptures all kinds of thoughts emerge in our mind. What the Pope wants to make sure is that our thoughts are rooted in the actual words of Scripture. To accomplish this I would suggest we answer this simple question, what words in this passage support our thoughts, the words we would use to say whatever we are thinking? Our thoughts might be good, helpful but if they are not supported by the actual words in this particular passage we are reading, they are NOT Spiritual Reading.
I have found over the years that we tend to do just what the Holy Father says, “Otherwise we can easily make the text say what we think is convenient, useful for confirming us in our previous decisions, suited to our own patterns of thought.” Instead of the Scripture challenging us, it confirms us in our thoughts. We remain unchanged, unchallenged. In light of this fact, the Pope does something very remarkable in the next paragraph to help us break out of this pattern.
The Pope writes,
“In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example: “Lord, what does this text say to me? What is it about my life that you want to change by this text? What troubles me about this text? Why am I not interested in this? Or perhaps: What do I find pleasant in this text? What is it about this word that moves me? What attracts me? Why does it attract me?” When we make an effort to listen to the Lord, temptations usually arise. One of them is simply to feel troubled or burdened, and to turn away. Another common temptation is to think about what the text means for other people, and so avoid applying it to our own life. It can also happen that we look for excuses to water down the clear meaning of the text. Or we can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make. This leads many people to stop taking pleasure in the encounter with God’s word; but this would mean forgetting that no one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait. He always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.”
I’m never sure how well we can read the written words. So … Pope France in his example begins with a simple, single word, “LORD.” Reading the scripture is a conversation with our Lord. It is prayer. The Lord and me. The Pope then guides us by suggesting a series of questions for us to ask ourselves about the concrete, actual words, we have read. If the questions are not about those words, it is NOT Spiritual Reading. More importantly though, the answers to the questions must be our answers about us; not about others. To do this takes a considerable amount of discipline, practice. ““Otherwise we can easily make the text say what we think is convenient, useful for confirming us in our previous decisions, suited to our own patterns of thought.”
To help, I will list the questions the Pope suggests. I don’t think we can ask each and every one of these questions. Nonetheless, unless we answer at least one of them we are NOT engaged in Spiritual Reading. The Pope’s suggested list of eight questions:
- What does this text say to me?
- What is it about my life that you want to change by this text?
- What troubles me about this text?
- Why am I not interested in this? Or perhaps:
- What do I find pleasant in this text?
- What is it about this word that moves me?
- What attracts me?
- Why does it attract me?”
I would be excited to read what you think of these two paragraphs in the Holy Father’s Exhortation. He is exhorting us.
Background to today’s Reading
Let us attend first of all to the fact that the last three verses of Chapter 33 belong more to Chapter 34 than they do to Chapter 33. A lot can be learned from this simple fact. Somewhere between the 13th and 16th centuries, the bible was divided into chapters and verses. They were not a part of the original bible. In other words, the bible is a living document, actually composed of many different books written by many different persons spanning more than a thousand years. Modern scholarship, beginning in the 18th century, has contributed enormously to enriching our understanding of the bible.
In Gen. 33: 18 – 20 Jacob and the Israelites have settled in Canaan, the land that God promised them. Like Abraham before him, Jacob purchased a plot of land. The purchase was made “from the descendants of Hamor.” Yet in the next chapter it is Hamor [not his descendants] who negotiates with Jacob for the marriage of his daughter, Dinah, with his son, Shechem. We learn as well that Dinah “went out to visit some of the women of the land.” It is this type of connections between verses 18 – 20 that suggested to scholars, along with other factors, that it more properly belongs to the setting of chapter 34. It is also helpful to appreciate that in the Jacob story up to this point, we only know of one daughter, Dinah, born to him. The time in the two segments are not the same time; it is not a continuous story.
If there is to be a progeny from Jacob, then the issue of intermarriage has to occur. This issue should not be all that foreign to us. It wasn’t all that long ago, that the Catholic Church did what it could to have Catholics marrying Catholics. If we look back into our heritage, Italian, German, Irish, etc. we will discover that marrying one’s own was a rather common value. The same communal value was operating with the Israelites. Beneath the story we are reading lies this issue. It is told in the person of Dinah and Shechem but it deals with a much larger issue that is symbolized by the story of Dinah and Shechem.
Most probably the editors of your version of the Bible have titled this episode as The Rape of Dinah. What has proven helpful is to walk through the passage verse by verse which we did; doing that however limits what can be covered in the allotted time.
V. 02: The passage states clearly in this verse that Shechem “seized her and lay with her by force.”
The remainder of the passage, however, tells a conflicting and probably different story about the relationship between Shechem and Dinah, directly from the words and deeds of Shechem and what might be assumed from what is implied by the account of Dinah in the passage. Jacob’s sons interpret what happened to Dinah in different terms as well and the sons themselves carry out not only a violent but deceitful revenge that includes raping.
V. 03: Immediately after the “rape” we read that “He [Shechem] was strongly attracted to Dinah, daughter of Jacob, and was in love with the young woman. So he spoke affectionately to her.” Later in the passage similar terms are used. Thus in v. 08 we read “My son Shechem has his heart set on your daughter” and in v. 19 “ .. he wanted Jacob’s daughter.” These are not the words of a rapist as we understand that term. In our world rape is understood in terms of an act of domination. It is a crime that psychologically is inimical to love, tenderness, etc.
As we move forward it might be helpful to read two passages, one from Exodus and the other from Deuteronomy that reflect the legal tradition the Israelites developed to protect and preserve as much as possible women who were violated in this way.
Ex. 22: 16 – 17: – “When a man seduces a virgin who is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall make her his wife by paying the bride price. If her father refuses to give her to him, he must still pay him the bride price for virgins.
Dt. 22: 28 – 29: – If a man comes upon a young woman, a virgin who is not betrothed, seizes her and lies with her, and they are discovered, the man who lay with her shall give the young woman’s father fifty silver shekels and she will be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her as long as he lives.
In light of these two passages we will read in verse 08 – 12 that Hamor, the father of Shechem, and Shechem himself not only comply with these laws, they exceed them.
V. 04: As we read this verse, we need to place it in the context of a patriarchal society in which marriage was a prearrange event that occurred between the two families of the bride and groom. The word translated “get” really has the connotation of negotiating with the bride’s family to arrange the marriage. Up to this point, we know next to nothing about Dinah’s feelings, thoughts, desires; a point brought out later in our discussion by Heber.
V. 05: We are not told by whom but Jacob finds out what has happened. The term that is used to name what has happened is a “defilement.” Almost at every turn the biblical world leaps out of the words used. What does “defilement” in this context mean? A clue can be uncovered in the words and deeds of Jacob’s sons. When they hear of what has happened, their response is described in
V. 07: We learn that this act of Shechem is “an outrage in [against] Israel.” We move from what has happened to Dinah to what it means in Israel. There is a bit of a time lapse in that one word “Israel.” Now it means not Jacob renamed but the Israelite community at a different time in human history. In their world, and we need to expand our consciousness to hear them speaking, what has happened to an individual, Dinah, has impacted all of them, Israel. Thus they “… were indignant and extremely angry.”
Vv. 08 – 12: Hamor and Shechem are willing to far exceed the demands of the Israelites in order to win their daughter, Dinah.
Again we had a lively discussion, but this post is long enough.
You are invited to respond to these or other questions that might arise within you as you read this passage. Your comments, observations, questions are welcomed. See “comment” link below