The Red Tent (1997)

by Anita Diamant

For those who lament that women are nearly voiceless in the Bible, Anita Diamant gives us The Red Tent. It is a first-person story told by Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, whose 12 sons were the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

In Genesis 34's account of Dinah, she is a silent victim, raped by a prince of Shechem. Yet Prince Shalem falls in love with her, weds her, and is even circumcised for her, only to be murdered (along with the men of his community) by Dinah's vengeful brothers Simeon and Levi.

In Diamant's vividly imagined account, however, Dinah is strong and self-determined. She loves Shalem and willingly goes to him. Grief-stricken by his murder, she curses and rejects her father and brothers. She raises her son in Egypt, home of his paternal grandmother. Dinah becomes an esteemed midwife, practicing skills she had learned from her mother, Leah, and aunts in "the red tent," where women gathered during their menstrual periods and childbirth.

More than a fictionalized account of an obscure biblical character, The Red Tent is a celebration of women's lives and bodies and the power of female bonding and support. Rather than going to biblical scholarship, Diamant concentrated her research on women's everyday life in the ancient Near East. Although there is no historical evidence that women living around 1500 BCE, the time period of the story, actually used menstrual tents, they were a feature of premodern cultures. 

This is a book made popular by word of mouth. It was printed in 1997 with no advertising support and few reviews in major newspapers or magazines. Smitten readers passed it on to their friends, and clergy even preached about it. Just over a decade later, The Red Tent had been translated into 20 languages and published in 25 countries.


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