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Genesis 34

20So Hamor and his son Shechem went to the gate of their city and addressed the men of their city: 21“These men are at peace with us. Let them live and trade in our land; indeed, it is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters in marriage and give our daughters to them. 22But only on this condition will the men agree to dwell with us and be one people: if all our men are circumcised as they are. 23Will not their livestock, their possessions, and all their animals become ours? Only let us consent to them, and they will dwell among us.”

24All the men who went out of the city gate listened to Hamor and his son Shechem, and every male of the city was circumcised.

25Three days later, while they were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons (Dinah’s brothers Simeon and Levi) took their swords, went into the unsuspecting city, and slaughtered every male. 26They killed Hamor and his son Shechem with their swords, took Dinah out of Shechem’s house, and went away.

Does this seem a bit farfetched?

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  • A possible issue may be your/our understanding of a ‘city’ - dragging in our western ‘view’. Some settlements that are called ‘cities’ in ancient manuscripts were quite small, in fact, very small. Down to a grouping of extended families.
    – Dave
    Aug 27, 2021 at 1:02
  • A related (and equally illogical) question.
    – Lucian
    Aug 27, 2021 at 16:18

2 Answers 2

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There are several matters here that can help explain the vile act of treachery by two of Jacob's sons:

  • The men of Shechem were unsuspecting - the attackers had the advantage of surprise.
  • The men of Shechem were in pain and still recovering and thus were not at the peak of their strength
  • The two sons of Jacob who attacked did not necessarily do so alone by very likely had the assistance of a number of their servants in their large household.

Note the comments which help elucidate this. Ellicott says this:

In executing their cruel deed, they would command the services of the more active and fierce portion of Jacob’s servants; but they must have been not boys, but men of ripe manhood, before they could have had influence or power enough for so terrible an exploit.

The Pulpit commentary says this:

Verse 25. - And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore,

  • literally, in their being in pain; δτε η΅σαν ἐν τῷ πόνῳ (LXX.). Inflammation and fever commonly set in on the third day, which was for that reason regarded as the critical day - that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brethren (i.e. sons of the same mother, Leah), took each man his sword, and came upon the city - accompanied by their servants (Keil), or their father's men (Murphy), but this is doubtful (Lange).

Matthew Poole offers this:

On the third day, when the pain and grief of wounds is the greatest, as physicians note,

when they were sore, and therefore not well able to defend themselves; for circumcision caused great pain in children, which was the ground of that exclamation, Exodus 4:25, much more in grown men. See Joshua 5:8.

Simeon and Levi: these two only are mentioned, because they were authors of the counsel, and conductors of the rest in the execution; but it is probable, from Genesis 34:27, that most of their brethren were confederate with them, and that they had a considerable number of their servants with them, who would be ready enough to revenge their masters’ quarrel, and to punish so great a villany; but all that was done is justly ascribed to them two, as it is common for all writers to say this or that was done by such a captain or general, when in truth it was done by his soldiers.

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We must bear in mind that any rather small fortified place could be called by the word that the KJV translates “city”: עִיר or ir/ar/ayar, glossed by Strong's as “city, town.” Some readers might not realize that the English word “city” has an older sense meaning any walled or fortified population center, as in “City of London” (the small, old inner London district, now the financial center) and “Île de la Cité” in Paris. This could be true even if, by today’s standards, its population would merit the epithet “village.”

Therefore, it is possible that Hamor ruled a hamlet of fewer than 100 souls, mostly members of the clan and perhaps some slaves—perhaps it was mostly or only “the house of his father” (34:19)—but that the place was fortified. Archaeologists have uncovered fortified places called "cities" which, today, we would describe as little more than forts.

Another consideration makes the mass slaughter by just two men more plausible. While only Simeon and Levi are said to dispatch the hated Hivites, we should not suppose they had no material help from Jacob’s sons and menservants. Indeed, we can assert confidently that the latter did help since we are told so: “The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city” (Gen 34:27). It is not even inconsistent with the text to say that the other men actually participating in the killing—so long as it was initiated by Simeon and Levi.

We are not told that the two surprised each Hivite individually and dispatched him without a general alarm being raised. In fact, for all we can tell, the Hivite men were rounded up more or less en masse by the Hebrew men, and it fell to Simeon and Levi to act as executioners. We cannot say for sure what precisely happened; that too is consistent with the text.

Then of course we must also bear in mind that, as according to the plan, the Hivites are sore. They also have been recuperating for three days, and are expecting their prince to be able to marry Dinah, suggesting that they would be entirely unsuspecting of a surprise attack.

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