#61. Is Shechem purchased by Jacob OR taken by the guile and violence of Simeon and Levi? (Gen 33:19 vs Gen 34:25-29)


There are two accounts in the book of Genesis detailing how the Israelites came to possess Shechem, which became the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel. Butchered or Bought? might have made for a more dramatic title to today’s contradiction.

The southern Yahwist account is telling. It reveals how the southern storytellers viewed their northern brethren. For according to this version, the founding of Shechem was achieved through a deceptive, brutal, and bloody affair (Gen 34). It recounts how Dinah gets raped by one of the Shechemites and how her brothers persuaded all the male Shechemites that they had to circumcise themselves in order to marry Dinah. After they had agreed to this gruesome cutting of their flesh, Simeon and Levi decide to butcher them all where they stand, win their sister back, and gain a city!

Of course the northerners told the story differently. It was after all a story about them. The Elohist professes, in opposition to J, that Jacob (i.e., Israel) bought the land from its inhabitants for a hundred qesita (Gen 33:19).

4 thoughts on “#61. Is Shechem purchased by Jacob OR taken by the guile and violence of Simeon and Levi? (Gen 33:19 vs Gen 34:25-29)

  1. I am going to disagree with your assertion that ” 1 Kings 12:25 informs us that it was Jeroboam who founded Shechem and Penuel…”. As I read 1 Kings I understand that Jeroboam “built up” or “fortified” the existing settlements. Of course, like most of us, I am at the mercy of our translations.

    But I do agree that it is noteworthy that the J source and the E source mention Shechem in different ways, reflecting different sympathies and interests. In this case I think it is overstating the case to call it a contradiction. I think that for me to cling to the traditional idea that Moses wrote the first 5 books of the Bible is to not really read the Bible.

  2. Thank you for attempting to clarify your claim. This is interesting to me even though I am not educated enough to argue your propositions. Please have patience with me; all I have to go by is my simple understanding of the translated text.

    I understand what you are trying to suggest, that there is a contradiction – a coup in the text as it were. I don’t see it (in no small part because of my obvious cultural disconnect). The way I read the text, the purchased land and the massacre don’t contradict each other, they compliment. Either way, if I am understanding you right, the Yawhist influence in the text is the dominate contributor?

    The massacre account of Shechem by Simeon and Levi is of particular interest to me because of the pivotal role it plays in the story of Joseph. I’ve been looking into the ties between Joseph and Senusret II/Senusret III (and also Moses with Hatshepsut/Thutmosis III). Perhaps you might know of a direction in which I could look further?

    Thank you again for your time. I appreciate your knowledge and apologize for my initial haste in condemnation.

  3. The verses questioned are:

    Gen 33:19 NIV – For a hundred pieces of silver, he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent.


    Gen 34:25-29 NIV – Three days later, while all of them were still in pain, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brothers, took their swords and attacked the unsuspecting city, killing every male. They put Hamor and his son Shechem to the sword and took Dinah from Shechem’s house and left. The sons of Jacob came upon the dead bodies and looted the city where their sister had been defiled. They seized their flocks and herds and donkeys and everything else of theirs in the city and out in the fields. They carried off all their wealth and all their women and children, taking as plunder everything in the houses.

    You suggest that these are two different accounts of the same event, told from two different perspectives. This is nonsense. In the first passage, Jacob did not acquire the city of Schechem. Gen 33:19 clearly states that he bought “the plot of ground where he pitched his tent”. If you read back just one verse you can see that this plot was outside of the city.

    Gen 33:18 NIV – After Jacob came from Paddan Aram, he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city.

    Either this was a careless reading on your part, or, you are doing your best to manufacture a contradiction were one doesn’t exist. If this is any indication as to the quality of the rest of this site, it is a complete waste of time.

    1. surething, thanks, and I appreciate your critique. This “contradiction” is almost unanimously cited by many of my colleagues’ work (e.g. Friedman, Who Wrote the Bible, 63). Indeed, this does not make it a contradiction, and I have already eliminated others that are regularly listed in the work of my colleagues that I thought were tenuous or not that strong. Sometimes it happens that the Documentary Hypothesis is so convincingly demonstrated that we start to see how these textual traditions interacted with one another, and this becomes the framework within which such contradictions as this one is mentioned. I certainly see your point; however, let me try to explain my colleagues’ position on this one and why I included it. But admittedly this is not a contradiction like say for example #63 which I posted today, where we can see 2 verses that say/claim the exact opposite.

      Many of these patriarchal stories were composed to legitimate and explain the possession of territory throughout the land of Canaan (see Stories and #44). So digging wells, erecting altars to Yahweh, and direct purchases were ways of authenticating ownership of a town or plot of land to later generations—the author’s generation. The textual tradition which came to be labeled the Elohist derives from the north and displays a marked interest in important cultic centers of the north and more so those very cities associated with Jeroboam I, who was the northern kingdom’s first king, and under whose patronage much of the Elohist text was written (it is surmised). 1 Kings 12:25 informs us that it was Jeroboam who founded Shechem and Penuel, which were both capitals of his during the later half of the 10th c. BC. Bethel was also established by him as the cultic center in the north (12:28-30. In fact the golden calf story in Ex 32 is a parody and polemic against Jeroboam’s bull altars in Bethel and Dan—I will talk more about this when we get to Exodus).

      Thus these E stories legitimate Jeroboam’s possession of these towns by showing his ancestor, Jacob, establishing claims upon the land (altars to Yahweh/El, naming, purchasing). In the context of the Jacob stories, we are informed in the Elohist tradition that Jacob establishes altars at Penuel (Gen 32:31, well actually encounters the god there, which also functions as a claim to the land, and Jacob names the town Penuel), at Shechem to El (Gen 33:20—the land that he bought), and at Bethel (Gen 35:7, and Gen 28:22 even gives the origin of tithing there which is specifically stated for the purpose of the authors’ own time period). So in reference to Jeroboam’s founding of the city of Shechem our Elohist source claims that there was nothing suspicious about this. The Jacob story asserts that this land properly belongs to Israel because Jacob purchased it (or some of it) and established an altar there to El, i.e., the archaic northern appellation for Yahweh (see #27).

      The Yawhist narrative of Genesis 34 is making a radically different claim vis-à-vis explaining how the northern kingdom came to possess its capital, Shechem—through butchery and deception. And we ought to read it with a smirk—that is its polemic against the north is strikingly visible. For it was Jeroboam himself who led the coup against Solomon and splintered off the northern kingdom, at least as presented by the later 7th c. southern Deuteronomic author. So this southern Yahwist story about how Shechem came to be possessed by Jeroboam is a counter-coup so to speak. And its original historical audience would have certainly recognized it as such!

      So granted this is not a contradiction in the sense that verse 1 says ‘A’ and verse 2 says ‘not-A’ but rather it is a contradiction in that both stories function to provide an origin story about how the north came to possess Shechem. And in this respect, they are shockingly different. I hope this clarifies the rationale here. I should have just put this in the post.

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