The Red Tent
Published by: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Buy the Book: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Bookshop, IndieBound
The Red Tent is the story of Dinah, a minor character in the book of Genesis, chapter 34. The brief episode in which she appears is usually referred to as the “rape of Dinah,” a violent episiode that has posed difficulties for biblical scholars over the centuries. Dinah does not say a single word in the biblical text; what happens to her is recounted and characterized by her brothers. In The Red Tent, Dinah tells her own story, and that of the women around her.
The Red Tent is historical fiction, but because it is based on a biblical story, many readers feel a special connection to its cast of characters, whose names echo through the ages right up to 21st century babies named Jacob, Rachel, Joseph and Dinah. Published in 1997, The Red Tent became a paperback best seller thanks to word-of-mouth support. With no advertising budget and few reviews, the book found its audience through the loyalty of readers, the support of independent bookstores, and help from clergy who preached about The Red Tent from the pulpit. The Red Tent – a perennial book group favorite — has been published in 25 countries and in 2014 was adapted as a miniseries by Lifetime TV.
“An intense, vivid novel … It is tempting to say that The Red Tent is what the Bible would be like if it had been written by women, but only Diamant could have given it such sweep and grace.”
—The Boston Globe
“Diamant vividly conjures up the ancient world of caravans, farmers, midwives, slaves, and artisans . . . her Dinah is a compelling narrator that has timeless resonance.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“Cubits beyond most Woman-of-the-Bible sagas in sweep and vigor, this fictive flight based on the Genesis mention of Dinah, offspring of Jacob and Leah, disclaims her as a mere “defiled” victim and, further, celebrates the ancient continuity and unity of women. .. . With stirring scenery and a narrative of force and color, a readable tale marked by hortatory fulminations and voluptuous lamentations. For a liberal Bible audience with a possible spillover to the Bradley relationship.”
“A minor character from the book of Genesis tells her life story in this vivid evocation of the world of Old Testament women. The only surviving daughter of Jacob and Leah, Dinah occupies a far different world from the flocks and business deals of her brothers. She learns from her Aunt Sarah the mysteries of midwifery and from her other aunts the art of homemaking. Most important, Dinah learns and preserves the stories and traditions of her family, which she shares with the reader in touchingly intimate detail. Familiar passages from the Bible come alive as Dinah fills in what the Bible leaves out concerning Jacob’s courtship of Rachel and Leah, her own ill-fated sojourn in the city of Shechem and her half-brother Joseph’s rise to fame and fortune in Egypt.
. . . . Diamant succeeds admirably in depicting the lives of women in the age that engendered our civilization and our most enduring values.”
“Skillfully interweaving biblical tales with characters of her own invention, Diamant’s sweeping first novel re-creates the life of Dinah, daughter of Leah and Jacob, from her birth and happy childhood in Mesopotamia through her years in Canaan and death in Egypt. When Dinah reaches puberty and enters the Red Tent (the place women visit to give birth or have their monthly periods), her mother and Jacob’s three other wives initiate her into the religious and sexual practices of the tribe. Diamant sympathetically describes Dinah’s doomed relationship with Shalem, son of a ruler of Schechem, and his brutal death at the hands of her brothers. . . . Diamant has written a thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating portrait of a fascinating woman and the life she might have lived.”
—Library Journal starred review
“This earthy, passionate tale, told also with great delicacy, is, quite simply a great read.”
—The Catholic Reporter
Reading Group Guide & FAQ
A READING GROUP GUIDE is published at the back of all paperback editions of The Red Tent.
Frequently Asked Questions
How did you do your research?
My research focused on the everyday life of women in the ancient Near East. I consulted rabbinic sources very little and concentrated instead on the food, clothing, social organization, architecture, and medicine of the era –ca. 1500 BCE.
I was the recipient of a library fellowship at Radcliffe College at the Schlesinger Library on the History of American Women, which permitted me access to the entire Harvard Library system. As a visiting scholar of the Brandeis Hadassah Institute, I also had access to the Brandeis library system.
Q&A about The Red Tent
• The Red Tent takes place very much between the lines of the Bible. Could you describe the creative challenges of essentially inserting your own chapter into the Bible, and of giving flesh and voice to biblical characters? Did it intimidate you?
If you take the time to focus on the words on the page of the Bible, you discover that the language is very sparse. The information that contemporary readers expect of a story – or a myth – are missing: What is the weather like? What time of day it? What do the characters look like and what are their motives, what are they thinking?
I wrote The Red Tent as a novel – not as an extra chapter in the Bible. And writing fiction required me to come up with answers to questions like these. I wasn’t intimidated by the process because I did not think of my work as scholarly or theological. I probably would have been far more tentative and worried had I tried to remain in a “faithful” dialog with the words on the page and the story as given and understood within my religious tradition. But from the start, I intended to depart from the text to make the story my own.
We have been lost to each other for so long.
My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust.
This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother to daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men, who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote, my story a brief detour between the well-known history of my father, Jacob, and the celebrated chronicle of Joseph, my brother. On those rare occasions when I was remembered, it was as a victim. Near the beginning of your holy book, there is a passage that seems to say I was raped and continues with the bloody tale of how my honor was avenged.