Deciding Dinah: The Narrative Ethics of Genesis 34 and Its Re-Presentation in Jubilees, Josephus's Judean Antiquities, and Joseph and Aseneth

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Cifers, Carrie, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Halvorson-Taylor, Martien, Religious Studies, University of Virginia

From ancient times, interpreters have failed to agree upon the ethical message of Genesis 34 with regard to Simeon and Levi’s violent retaliation. In an attempt to finalize this message, modern scholars have applied various methodologies, either to ascertain what the message of the text would have been in its original context, or to determine what its ethical message should be for today. None of these approaches have satisfactorily addressed why Genesis 34 has perennially proved so resistant to finalization, or why it has been returned to again and again as a story that audiences have felt the need to grapple with and retell.
To better address these questions, this dissertation approaches Genesis 34 and four of its literary re-presentations through the lens of Adam Zachary Newton’s tripartite theorization of narrative ethics (i.e. narrational ethics, representational ethics, and hermeneutic ethics) in conversation with insights from socio-narratology. By attending to narrational ethics, chapter 2 illuminates the formal features that have made Genesis 34 resistant to finalization for millennia while demanding audience engagement. Chapter 3 compares the re-presentations of the events and agents of Genesis 34 found in two ancient Jewish histories, Jubilees and Judean Antiquities. Attention is paid to the ways in which Israelites and their cultural Other(s) are represented in the narratives and the shaping power that narrative representation has in authoritative historical narratives. Chapter 4 looks at how the plot and characters of Genesis 34 are re-presented in manuscripts A and F of Aseneth in ways that promote unique ethoi regarding violence and retaliation to their audiences. Each of the later re-presentations of Genesis 34 witness to diverse ways in which readers have engaged with the reticent features of the biblical narrative, and sought to make the story ethically informative for their own generation.
Overall, this dissertation offers sustained reflections upon the forces that narratives exert upon readers, and the power that readers bring to narrative encounters. With hope, by reflecting upon the power that both stories and readers hold and by making narrative encounter and re-presentation a more conscious exercise, this generation may engage with biblical narratives in ways that mitigate interpretive violence and maximize ethical potential.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Genesis 34, Narrative Ethics, Jubilees, Josephus, Judean Antiquities, Aseneth, New Philology, Retributive Violence, Dinah
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