It would seem that for the nomadic Jewish savages who lived prior to the common era, stories of rape and murder were popular around the camp fire (or menorah as the case may be). When their goat herder mythology was codified into the compilation we now call TaNaKh, or "Old Testament," numerous stories of women being raped appeared in the text. The story of female degradation and violent honor killings litter the good book
While some of these stories reflect on the honor of the victim, all still have a tone that depicts her as somewhat of a second class citizen. The issue mainly has to do with property, as that's what women are in patriarchal societies. Even in the ten commandments, there is an order to not commit adultery, and then a seemingly repetitive commandment to not covet your neighbor's wife. The reason is obvious: the woman (who is categorized along side the man's donkey and his house) is considered to be a piece of property like other possessions of her father or husband.
With the case of Dinah, she was raped by a Hivite named Shechem. This was a major event as Dinah was the daughter of Jacob, the great Israelite patriarch. The story of the rape in Genesis 34 is very short, and is immediately followed by Hamor (Shechem's father) attempting to negotiate a deal with David.
The tone of the deal helps to illustrate the status of women in patriarchal Hebrew society. Hamor tries to reconcile the crime committed against Dinah by getting Shechem to marry her, and also offering many Hivite daughters in return. There is an attempt to trade the women as one would trade sheep. As far as the story goes, Jacob and his sons give this offer some consideration, though objecting only because the Hivites are not circumcised.
Now, the thirteenth verse (i.e. Gen 34:13) speaks of the Israelite patriarchs giving a "crafty" answer. This would lead some to argue that this shows they were not interested in the deal. However, when Dinah's brothers finally take revenge, Jacob remarks "You have done me an ill turn by bringing me into bad odour with people of the region," and this shows that Jacob was relatively content with the deal; he was not at in all in favor of vengeance.
The way in which vengeance was served also pointed to a sense of property. After killing the men, they looted the town, and the booty included human beings. As Genesis 34:28-29 puts it, "They seized their flocks, cattle, donkeys, everything else in the town and in the countryside, and all their possessions. They took all their children and wives captive and took everything to be found in the houses." Israelite property was desecrated, and the reaction was to replace it with some of the Hivite's property.
In the case of the rape of Tamar in the second book of Samuel, the stress on property is not as strong, but it is still there. Many other parallels can be found between this story and the one of Shechem's rape of Dinah as well.
When Shechem raped Dinah, it was a reaction to a taboo that prohibited him from engaging in sexual relations with a woman he had strong feelings for. Shechem was an uncircumcised, which is somewhat synonymous with unclean, Hivite, and such people are not be with Israelite women as per Hebrew law. Just the same, Amnon was the half brother of Tamar, and such close relations result in the two parties being forbidden to engage in sexual intercourse. Amnon, however, was so infatuated with this woman, this piece of property that he sought to have, that he took it by force.
Once again the victim is a piece of meat to be given or taken. Amnon, once done with his half sister, orders his servant to throw Tamar out as one might throw out their trash. Tamar, on the other hand, does want to be released, and begs her attacker, the very same man who raped her, to let her stay. This shows that even the woman pays homage to this patriarchal line of thought where the woman belongs to the man who has sex with her. Either that, or in the mind of the writer of this story, this is how a good woman should react.
Another theme that is constant between the two stories is that of the unconcerned father-figure, one that is found in all such stories it seems. While Jacob was mad at what had happened to Dinah, it was already shown that he preferred no form of vengeance be carried out. With the case of Tamar, her father David, the second, and greatest King of Israel had a similar reaction. As 1 Samuel 13:21 puts it, "When King David heard the whole story, he was very angry; but he had no wish to harm his son Amnon, whom he loved because he was his first-born." In both stories, a son is a son, something to be worried about. A daughter, though important, is not of the same status.
Yet another parallel is the way in which those seeking vengeance lull their victims into a false sense of security before killing them. In the case of the Israelites' revenge against the Hivites, the victims assumed they would become one nation with the Hebrews, and even circumcised themselves as part of a deal that was a condition of such an alliance. The Israelites struck the Hivites post-circumcision, at a time when they assumed everything was okay. Just the same, Absalom, the full brother of Tamar, threw a banquet for all his brothers, but gave his servants an order strike Amnon down when his heart was most "merry with wine."
Absalom, whose name means "father of peace," obviously didn't bring any peace to his father's household. Then again, this was the father who was only mildly miffed upon hearing the news that his daughter had been raped. This is the same David who himself snatched up Uriah's wife simply because he lusted for her [2 Samuel 11:2-4]. The same David who had Uriah killed after the woman became pregnant with David's child [2 Samuel 11:5-17]. The same David who went on about his merry business after that child died [2 Samuel 12:19-23]. This is the unconcerned father who thinks little of the women under his care or the care of others.
This story also draws a slight parallel with an earlier story of a different Tamar who was disgraced to some degree. This Tamar, in the thirty eighth chapter of Genesis, was married to Er, the first son of Judah. Er was killed by Yahweh for some unexplained reason, and then Judah's second son, Onan, married Tamar. Unfortunately, Onan engaged in coitus interuptus, spilling his "seed" on the ground, and for this Yahweh struck him down as well, making Tamar a widow twice over. Since she was married to two sons of Judah, it was Judah who owned this piece of property, and he orders her to await the day when she could marry a third son of his.
Some time later, when Judah, after the death of his own wife, went out to shear some sheep, he met Tamar (note, that in 1 Samuel 13:24, it was during the shearing of sheep that the plot to kill Amnon was hatched). Tamar, at the time, was wearing a veil, and thus Judah assumed she was a prostitute. Apparently in those days prostitutes wore more clothes rather than less, as is the case in our own society (so the next time you see a Muslimah dressed like a ninja, try and make a little "eye contact").
Judah has sexual intercourse with the ad hoc prostitute who is Tamar, though he does not know whom it is that he is on top of. As part of a pledge until he was able to render payment, Judah leaves his seal with the prostitute. The encounter leaves Tamar pregnant (which may mean that having elicit relations with a prostitute is permissible, but coitus interuptus strictly forbidden), and when word gets around that she has been impregnated out of wedlock, Judah orders that she be killed. Once again, the unconcerned father-figure has a very cold reaction towards women. It was only when Tamar presented the seal that she saved herself from being dealt with in the fashion one might do with a loathsome piece of used property.
The idea of the unconcerned father-figure being perfectly content with women under his care being raped, or even killed, is also popular in another story found in multiple places in the Bible. It is the ever popular Jewish tale of a pious servant of God trying to appease a mob of homosexual rapists by offering his own daughter instead. This pious man's line is always something along the lines of "please brothers, do not do this wicked act of raping my male guests; rather take my innocent virgin daughter and ravage her instead!"
This first appears in the nineteenth chapter of Genesis, where Lot has some male guests over to his house in Sodom (which was somewhere near the West Village in Manhattan according to fundamentalist Christians living here in New York). The people of the town surround the house, and demand that the men come out so that they can have sexual relations with them. Lot, in Genesis 19:8, goes out to the crowd, begging them not to rape his male guests, and says "look, I have two daughters who are virgins. I am ready to send them out to you for you to treat as you please." Once again, the father is not the least bit concerned about his daughters being raped. Like Jacob and David he is okay with rape as long as there is peace among males. Like all the aforementioned patriarchs, Lot treats the women under his care as property that can be traded off or given away.
The exact parallel to this story appears in the nineteenth chapter of the book of Judges (even the number of the chapter of the two books parallel each other). Some men of a certain town go to the house of man hosting some foreign guests, and in another case of the exact same sort of bizarre combination of xenophobia and homosexual lust, the men demand the guests be brought out for sex. In Judges 19:24, the host, as did Lot, offers two women under his care, two pieces of property to the crowd. First he offers his virgin daughter, and then his concubine. Once again, the man's reply is "do what you please with her." In this version of the legend, the men rape the concubine repeatedly over the course of the night, and she dies as a result of the attack. While the murderous rapists will eventually meet a bloody end, it is only because they took their deed to far by killing the woman. The next morning the owner of the concubine.
Taking the story of Judah and Tamar out of the equation, the other
other four stories all conclude with the same ending: one of brutal revenge
and mass slaughter. In the case of Lot's home in Sodom, his male guests
turned out to be angels, and they struck their attackers with blindness,
and then laid siege to the city much in the same fashion that the Israelites
sacked the Hivite town. In the story from the nineteenth chapter of Judges,
the host cuts his murdered concubine into pieces, sending them to different
Israelite tribes. The people react with rage, and thousands of people are
killed in the town of Gibeah (as part of bruising battle that briefly took
place at an area called "Baal-Tamar").
The story is obviously very common. It is a story of women being treated as possessions to be given or taken. The patriarchs who own these women are pitilessly indifferent when it comes to their welfare. However, when female cargo is used or abused without permission, the acceptable response is bloodshed, sometimes set up through deception.
It is wholly obvious from the similarities that these stories are not accurate historical accounts of real events. Instead it seems these are all different strains of a type of gossip among the Hebrews; variant traditions of a popular Jewish legend. When the Old Testament and its respective books were compiled, these multiple variants were included in the text and cannon. This is not the word of some magnificent and omniscient being; rather this is ancient goat-herder mythology; an Israelite soap opera, and nothing more.