In The Red Tent, author Anita Diamant re-creates the popular Biblical story of Jacob by giving a voice to his only daughter, Dinah. Known as simply the object of her brothers’ wrath, Dinah serves only a minor role in the traditional tale. Here, she tells her own story.
Dinah begins her story with that of her mothers—the four daughters of Laban: Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah. One day, Jacob, the man who would be Dinah’s father, comes upon Rachel at a well in Haran. He is arrested by her intense beauty and kisses her. Rachel decides that she will marry him, and after Jacob has worked for Laban for many months, he asks for her hand. But Rachel is afraid of consummating her marriage, and the sisters conspire to have Leah take Rachel’s place during the marriage ceremony. Jacob then demands from Laban dowries for both women, and he is given also Zilpah and Bilhah and a small portion of Laban’s flocks. Leah soon gives birth to her first son, Reuben, and she later gives birth to six more boys; Zilpah delivers twin boys; and Bilhah has one son who survives. Rachel, however, remains barren for many years. After spending so much time with the midwife Inna, she learns the art of midwifery. Leah again becomes pregnant. To the delight of the sisters, Rachel predicts that the baby is a girl. In her happiness, Rachel conceives. Shortly after Leah gives birth to Dinah, Rachel gives birth to Joseph.
Once his sons are old enough, Jacob takes them into the hills and tells the boys stories about his father, Isaac. Joseph shares these stories with Dinah, but soon the two drift apart as Dinah becomes consumed in the lives of the women’s circle and her days become filled with chores and stories. As time goes on, Jacob harbors a growing disgust for Laban, and he decides that he will move his family to Canaan, the land of his birth. After bitter negotiations, Laban allows Jacob to take all the possessions that are used by the four sisters, two of the bondsmen and their wives, and a portion of the flocks. Jacob and his family leave Haran and do not look back.
On the way to Canaan, Jacob is wracked by nightmares concerning his inevitable meeting with his twin brother, Esau. Surprisingly, when the two brothers meet and Jacob submits himself at the feet of his brother, Esau embraces him. The families of the two brothers join camp briefly, but the men decide to not tease past grievances and part ways. Jacob settles his family in a...
(The entire section is 1394 words.)
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A woman in the Bible who is only known through a passing reference, Dinah introduces herself to the reader and thus claims a voice in the narrative of her own history. Dinah recognizes that for centuries she has remained virtually nameless—she has been a woman associated with rape and revenge. Her father and brother, the well-known Jacob and Joseph from the Book of Genesis, dominate Biblical stories surrounding their family, and Dinah has only been the object of her brothers’ war-like quest to avenge her honor. In this tale, the women’s stories have been lost, replaced by the memory and the oral tradition of men.
Dinah is now here to reclaim her voice, to give life to her story, and to give honor to her name. According to Dinah, there is much more to her story than what the Bible tells. She recalls her past as a midwife and rejoices in the stories she once sang. Dinah reminds the reader that to know a woman is to know her mother; for Dinah, this is complicated because she lived with four mothers—the four daughters of Laban and his wives. Each woman contributed to Dinah’s upbringing and character development: Leah, Dinah’s mother by birth, passed on her arrogance; Rachel passed on her gifts of midwifery; Zilpah taught Dinah to think; Bilhah listened. As one would imagine, these four distinctive personalities did not always agree. Dinah’s mother and aunts shared Jacob as their husband; as a result, they were caught in a mess of conflicts in the home.
But the women cherished Dinah, the only daughter in their sea of sons, and to Dinah they gave their stories. They were of course proud of the sons they bore for Jacob because each woman was measured by her sons, yet they cherished the daughter who would ease their troubles. Through Dinah, the women’s stories remained alive. The women gifted these stories to Dinah in the red tent, the place where women sat out their menstrual cycles and gave birth.
Now even though Dinah has left home and her mother and aunts have passed away, she carries their memory in their stories. She offers these stories here to the reader, whom Dinah knows craves the truth. She promises to offer the entire story to the satisfaction of the reader. Dinah blesses the reader and welcomes the reader into this story that has never been told.
(The entire section is 407 words.)
My Mother's Stories (Chapter 1)
Dinah begins the retelling of her four mothers’ stories on the day that her father Jacob arrives at their home. Jacob comes upon Rachel at the well; taken by her immense beauty, he kisses her. Even though she has not yet begun to menstruate and is, therefore, still considered a child, Rachel resolves that she will marry Jacob. Her eldest sister, Leah, scowls and laughs at her foolishness, and their father, Laban, demands to hear the details of the encounter. He is not surprised that Rachel has received this attention for he, like everyone else, has been taken by Rachel’s beauty and powerful nature since her birth, which was violent and caused her mother, Huna, to bleed and die. After Huna’s death, Laban’s other wives looked after Rachel as their own. Smelling of perfumed water, Rachel enchants all around her.
Leah, on the other hand, is shunned by others because she was born with one green and one blue eye. When Jacob arrives at Laban’s threshold seeking familial hospitality as the son of Laban’s sister, Rebecca, Leah immediately likes him because he holds her gaze rather than looking away. He does not see in Leah the witch that others claim to have seen; instead, Jacob is drawn by Leah’s height and her shapely, strong figure. Unlike her sister, Rachel, Leah smells of bread and yeast, which draws Jacob to imagine her sex.
Aside from his legitimate daughters, Laban also bore two daughters from slaves who once lived in his home. His second daughter, Zilpah, is olive-skinned and raven-haired, and she has little time for men. Zilpah praises the moon, the Queen of Heaven, and everything feminine. The youngest daughter, Bilhah, is dark and silent and is left to herself by the others in the home. One day, Bilhah proves herself by correctly predicting the birth of kids from a she-goat thought barren.
Once Jacob comes into the home, Leah begins creating a feast to comfort him, and Jacob ends up remaining in the home of Laban for many weeks. Jacob eventually makes a proposal to take Rachel as his bride, and Jacob and Laban argue over the proper bride price. A stingy man who has been known to take a wandering hand to his daughters, Laban tries to offer Bilhah in place of a proper dowry. Jacob, however, will not stand for this, and the men settle on Jacob’s working Laban’s herds for one year. But when the year is over, Rachel has still not begun to menstruate, and Laban’s wife, Adah, will not allow the...
(The entire section is 468 words.)
My Mother's Stories (Chapter 2)
Rachel’s impatient waiting stirs the entire house. She sneaks out to meet Jacob in the fields for an innocent rendezvous, unaware that Jacob has taken a liking to seeing her sister, Leah, at least once a day to inquire about business. Zilpah senses the lust in the air; knowing that Laban’s days as the patriarch of the house will soon be over, she decides to turn the tide in her favor. Zilpah despises Rachel, and she makes her believe that her wedding night with her husband will be painful by telling her lies about the size of Jacob’s manhood. Out of fear, Rachel agrees to allow her sister, Leah, to take her place under the bridal robes and veil on the day of the wedding. As custom dictates, Leah and Jacob spend the first seven days and nights of their marriage in the bridal tent wrapped in the passion of lovemaking. But Rachel regrets her decision and insists that she be given her place as the proper wife of Jacob. So the ceremony is done again, and this time Rachel and Jacob spend their week in the tent. Jacob then demands a dowry for both Leah and Rachel, so Zilpah and Bilhah plus a large portion of Laban’s flocks now belong to Jacob.
Shortly after the weddings, Leah shows signs of pregnancy and Rachel, jealous, also begins to show the same signs. The two sisters carry together, but unfortunately Rachel miscarries. When Leah goes into labor, her mother, Adah, is too sick to be of real help and her three sisters struggle in their inexperience. After a night of hard labor, the women send for Inna the midwife, who arrives to help Leah through her delivery. Her son, Reuben, is born—to Jacob’s delight. Reuben is circumcised in the tradition of his father’s family, and mother and son remain in the red tent for one month. When the two emerge, Leah is glowing in her new motherhood and immediately resumes her role as the caretaker of the family. She births her second son, Simeon, two years later, and her line of sons continues in rapid succession.
Rachel continues to miscarry, and she seeks every possible method to try to become pregnant: lying in running water, sleeping with her belly against trees, taking potions of herbs. Rachel regularly visits Inna for help, and from the midwife she learns the art and science of midwifery. When one of the house laborer’s wives goes into labor, Rachel delivers the baby safely into the world and earns her new title as midwife.
(The entire section is 435 words.)
My Mother's Stories (Chapter 3)
Rachel eventually grows quiet in her barren state, and Jacob stops calling for her at night. Sensing her distress, Rachel’s youngest sister, Bilhah, asks Rachel to allow her to go to Jacob so that she might bear a son in Rachel’s name. Rachel agrees and Bilhah, who learns pleasure in her husband’s body, becomes pregnant. The two women enjoy the pains of pregnancy together, and with Rachel as support, Bilhah gives birth to Dan. But soon after Dan’s birth, Rachel again falls into despair, and with Leah nursing, no one is able to keep Jacob’s bed. Leah asks Zilpah to finally look upon her duty. Jacob calls for Zilpah on many nights, trying to bring her to see the sweetness in their coupling, and Zilpah is grateful when she finally becomes pregnant and is spared of further duty. Zilpah prays for a girl child to whom she can tell all her stories, but when she gives birth to male twins Gad and Asher, she still looks upon them with a mother’s love. Zilpah’s labor was most difficult, and the sisters and Inna believed that she would surely die in the wake of her babies. After several days in the red tent, Zilpah recovers and goes to Jacob to beg for her life—he never calls her to his bed again. Shortly after, Leah also bears twin boys, making Jacob the father of ten sons.
Once his sons are old enough, Jacob takes them into the hills and tells the boys stories about his father, Isaac. The boys shudder at the power of the god El and are frightened by the thought of their grandfather being prepared for sacrifice by his father, Abram. The boys adore their father, and they do not notice Jacob’s growing dislike for Laban, their maternal grandfather, who still owns much of the family’s wealth. Leah, Zilpah, Rachel, and Bilhah also hate their father and are disgusted by Laban’s treatment of his slave woman Ruti. She has already bore Laban two sons, but Laban beats and rapes her routinely. The sisters, however, scorn Ruti, seeing her as the mother of the sons who are in competition with their own sons. But one night, Ruti seeks Rachel’s help to abort a new child growing inside her. Keeping the men ignorant, the women take Ruti into the red tent and perform the abortion, which is never talked about again in the camp. When Leah realizes that she is once again pregnant, she is sullen because her body has been ravaged by having had so many babies, and she asks her sister to perform an abortion for her too. Rachel refuses and predicts...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
My Story (Chapter 1)
Dinah does not remember if her earliest memories belong to her or if they are constructions of her mothers’ continual stories. Dinah’s closest companion is her brother Joseph, and although he takes his first steps before Dinah, she is the one who is first to speak. The two children are spoiled by their mothers because they are thought to be the last children the women would bear. But the great age difference among the twelve children causes a rift between the siblings: the elder children form one gang and the younger form another. The elder boys often taunt and tease the younger children, and as time goes on, the younger boys seek entry into the older group of siblings. In time, even Dinah and Joseph’s immediate brothers Zebulun and Dan are allowed to go into the hills with the elder brothers, and Dinah and Joseph are left alone in the camp. As the two begin to drift apart, Dinah spends more time with her mothers and begins to consider herself a part of her mothers’ circle.
As part of the clan of women, Dinah becomes responsible for women’s chores around the camp, namely spinning wool. When Dinah’s string comes out lumpy and uneven, Leah scolds her for having clumsy hands. Dinah throws her spinning on the ground and receives a fierce slap from her mother. Dinah seeks comfort from Bilhah, who tells Dinah a story about goddesses while teaching her to spin. Dinah shares this story with Joseph, and he counters with the story that Jacob has told him about Isaac. And so, Dinah’s world is filled with the stories and trials of her mothers and brothers.
During Dinah’s childhood, Jacob decides to move his family away from Laban’s camp. Laban resents the prosperity that Jacob has secured, and Jacob despises Laban for his sloth, greed, and arrogance. Jacob decides that he has had enough of Laban’s foolishness when the old man gambles away two of Jacob’s best herding dogs and Laban’s wife, Ruti. When the trader comes to take Ruti away, she begs the mercy of Leah, who in turn begs the mercy of Jacob. As her mother and father negotiate a plan, Dinah sees the love between her parents and is jealous of the importance that her father holds in her mother’s life. The women in the camp band together and collect a large enough bribe to pay the trader, and Ruti’s life is spared.
(The entire section is 419 words.)
My Story (Chapter 2)
Caught in sleepless nights, Jacob frequents the comfort of the terebinth tree near the altar. There, Jacob confides in Zilpah that he has had dreams calling him back to his homeland, Canaan. While the women are in the red tent, they speak of Jacob’s dreams and his plans to move them south to his homeland. Rachel, who has travelled to many lands to birth children and aid the sick and dying, is eager to see the mountains and be near a bustling marketplace. Leah, on the other hand, is content living in the valley of her birth. Bilhah is reluctant to leave behind Adah’s bones and the memory of the only mother she ever knew. But Zilpah staunchly resists the move, claiming that the family will upset the gods to their own detriment if the family leaves them behind. Rachel assures her sister that they will be able to take the gods with them and concocts a clever plan to leave with Laban’s teraphim, the stone idols of the gods that he keeps in his tent.
Leah and Rachel to go Jacob in the field to tell him of their consent to leave the camp of Laban, and afterward the men begin negotiations. Laban refuses to let Jacob leave a rich man, but Jacob ultimately gains the upper hand by preying on Laban’s ignorance of the flocks and his fear of the gods. Laban submits to Jacob’s request for the brindled flocks (which are not as pretty but have a hardier constitution), a few bondsmen and their wives, and the belongings of his wives and children. Secretly, the women weave herbs and other treasures into the hems of their clothing to prepare for the trip.
As the family makes plans to leave, Bilhah fears that their departure will bring Ruti’s death either from Laban’s extreme abuse or from Ruti’s inner sorrow. But even before they depart, Dinah finds Ruti in a shallow well, her wrist slit and carrion birds hovering overhead. A few days after the men bury Ruti, Jacob’s family is nearly ready to leave, but Laban has departed for the city and has left his elder son, Kemuel, in charge. Rachel takes this to her advantage and uses herbs to drug her brother while she slips into Laban’s tent to pack the teraphim. When all is packed, Jacob does not want to leave in Laban’s absence and risk being called a thief. However, Rachel persuades Jacob to leave before twilight. On the way from the camp, the family members each make an offering upon the altar at the bamah. The mothers do not look back.
(The entire section is 448 words.)
My Story (Chapter 3)
Once on the road, Jacob’s family members are arranged around the caravan to protect the women, children, and herds of animals. Soon a figure appears on the road; she is the midwife Inna. Having angered the husband of a client, Inna has fled her home in fear and appeals to Jacob through Rachel to be allowed into his family. Jacob consents. Inna’s presence lifts the women’s spirits, and even Zilpah is moved to sing.
Soon the family reaches a great river, and Dinah fears that she and her family and the animals will be swept away—none of them, except Jacob and Inna, have seen such a great body of water before. But all pass safely, and once in the water, Dinah feels caressed by the river. Zilpah says that Dinah is bewitched by the river god. It is the new moon, so the family sets up a temporary camp so the women can sit out their menstrual cycle in the red tent. Dinah thus takes on the responsibility of feeding the men in the family and in the evening returns to the red tent exhausted. Dinah’s grandfather, Laban, arrives with several bondsmen and his two sons demanding that the thief return his teraphim. Jacob curses the old man and says that he took nothing that did not belong to him. He allows Laban to search the camp. Rachel reveals that she has taken the teraphim and laid them under her straw mat; they are now smeared in her menstrual blood. Fearing the gods, Laban leaves, and the family never sees him again.
As Jacob’s family gets closer to Canaan, Jacob begins having frightful dreams about the revenge he thinks his brother, Esau, will take on him. Jacob was the favored son, but he ran from his home long ago and does not know how he will be received upon his return to Canaan. The family reaches another river even greater than the last, and all struggle to make it through the current. By the time Jacob is to cross, night has fallen, so he decides to spend the night alone and rejoin the family in the morning. Morning comes, and Jacob cannot be found. His sons eventually find him on the riverbank beaten and broken, and Jacob claims that he was ravaged by spirits. (Dinah and Joseph later cross the river and are chased by the wild boar that likely attacked Jacob). Jacob falls into a feverish spell, and the family fears for his life. They remain at camp for two months while Jacob recovers.
(The entire section is 431 words.)
My Story (Chapter 4)
The family’s fear of Jacob’s brother, Esau, increases when Esau’s eldest son, Eliphaz, arrives at their camp and announces the upcoming arrival of his father. But Jacob insists on meeting Esau on the way, and the family walks to meet his brother. Surprisingly, the two brothers embrace upon their greeting. Jacob leads his brother back to his family and introduces his many sons and wives; Esau does the same.
Dinah quickly favors her cousin Tabea, the only daughter of Esau’s wife Basemath. Back at Jacob’s camp, Dinah and Tabea are sent to fetch wild onions for the evening meal. Once away from everyone else, the girls talk about their mothers and their Grandmother Rebecca. Dinah reveals the close nature of the women in her family who share the red tent at the new moon and times of birth, but Tabea says that the women in her family are consumed by jealousies that keep them apart. When the girls rejoin their families at supper, Jacob and Esau entertain all with stories from their youth. Esau then gives a signal to his first wife, Adath, who leads the women in a most beautiful song that enchants all.
The next morning, Dinah awakes to the sounds of Esau’s family packing to leave—Jacob and Esau decide that although their reunion has been sweet, they must part ways to remain on good terms. Esau will go back to his home, while Jacob will settle his family in a separate area where he and his sons can stake their claim. Before Esau’s family leaves, Tabea kisses Dinah and promises that they will one day meet again at a festival of their Grandmother. Jacob’s family then moves to a village named Succoth. Here, Dinah’s elder brothers Simon and Levi wed two sisters, and Judah marries Shua, who quickly becomes the favorite daughter-in-law among Dinah’s mothers. The bondswomen birth many children and the flocks multiply. Bilhah conceives another child and miscarries; Leah carries another child that she delivers prematurely. The little girl dies in Dinah’s arms, and the family buries her beneath a strong, old tree.
One morning, a visitor with flaming red hair visits Jacob’s camp carrying a message from Rebecca inviting the family to a festival. The women in the camp are startled by the boldness of this visitor but are happy when Jacob consents to honor his mother’s invitation. Dinah looks forward to at last meeting her Grandmother.
(The entire section is 417 words.)
My Story (Chapter 5)
A month before the barley harvest, the mothers prepare for the journey to meet Rebecca, the Grandmother. Dinah is given copper bracelets, and the family receives new and mended clothing. The journey to Mamre takes only a few days, and they soon see Rebecca’s tent shimmering in the distance. Jacob formally introduces his wives and sons to his mother. Dinah cannot stop staring at the Grandmother, who is tall, elegantly painted, and swathed in purple robes. Rebecca is attended by a group of women wearing white robes, and each is named Deborah. Soon, Jacob’s father, Isaac, arrives; he is attended by another Deborah. As Jacob greets him, the men embrace and weep. The family sits to the meal that Dinah’s mothers have prepared, and Rebecca eats in silence, creating a somber mood at the dinner feast.
Over the next few days, the Grandmother calls for each of Jacob’s wives and interviews all four women with heavy questions. Leah is not cowed by Rebecca and maintains the gaze of her mother-in-law. Rachel is loved by Rebecca, who greets her with kisses. Rebecca tells Zilpah the time and place of her death, which Zilpah receives with a wide smile. Bilhah dreads her interview and keeps her eyes on her hands the entire time.
Dinah has been awaiting the arrival of Tabea; when she arrives, her mother takes her to see Grandmother. Rebecca sees the belt signifying womanhood around Tabea’s waist, and she curses the girl and her mother for not obeying the ritual of Innana during Tabea’s first menstrual cycle. Rebecca banishes them from her tent and curses the ways of Esau’s wives. When it is time for Jacob and his wives to return home, Rebecca requires Dinah to stay with her for three months.
During her indenture, Dinah learns the ways of the Grandmother and understands why people from afar seek her as the Oracle. Dinah begins to think more kindly of the Grandmother when a woman brings a dying baby to see her. Rebecca grasps the child’s feet and takes in the pain and suffering of both the child and his mother. All know that Rebecca can do nothing to physically help the child, but she eases the pain of the mother. Shortly after, Rebecca receives word that her messenger, the red-haired woman named Werenro who called upon Jacob’s family before the barley harvest, has been found murdered. She orders that Werenro’s bones be returned to Mamre, and a ceremony is held in her honor. Rebecca tells Dinah that she must...
(The entire section is 472 words.)
My Story (Chapter 6)
When Dinah returns to her home, she is overwhelmed by everyday occurrences that now seem foreign to her: noisy animals, crying babies, screaming women, and smelly men. Dinah feels that her every move displeases her mother, Leah, so she seeks the comfort of her aunts. As Dinah becomes reacquainted with her home, she is troubled by her imminent womanhood and becomes fascinated by the sounds of lovemaking coming from her brothers’ tents.
While Dinah is consumed by her curiosity, her father is again seized by dreams of new lands. Jacob’s family continues to grow and their land can no longer contain the size of the flocks, so Jacob and his sons discuss moving to new land. Simon and Levi visit Hamor, the king of Shechem, who agrees to give Jacob a large parcel of land with a well. The family moves, and the women feel comforted in the valley. But their comfort soon becomes unease as new women marry into the family and bring with them the ways of Canaan. Although they sit in the red tent, they do not engage in the rituals and traditions of Dinah’s mother and aunts.
One evening while squatting to relieve herself, Dinah sees a brown smear of blood on her thigh and knows that her time as a child is over. She enters the red tent and announces this news to her mother and aunts, who all immediately begin her ceremony to Innana. The women rub Dinah with henna, fill her with wine, and sing songs in her honor. Rachel uncovers the teraphim taken so long ago from Laban’s tent, and the women take Dinah into the field to open her womb and spill her first blood into the earth. But Inbu, one of Dinah’s sisters-in-law, is troubled by this ritual and reports to Levi who in turn reports to Jacob. Not versed in the ways of women, Jacob begins to look with scorn upon the red tent.
The women continue to engage in their rituals, and Dinah is now a full member of their circle. Rachel and Inna allow Dinah to attend them during births, and Dinah begins to learn the craft of midwifery. The three learn new skills from the women they meet, and Inna is most grateful for a song she learns that asks women to “fear not” during their delivery. Dinah is proud when her aunt Rachel praises her skill and voice in comforting weary mothers.
(The entire section is 411 words.)
My Story (Chapter 7)
After hearing tales about Hamor’s palace in Shechem from her brother Joseph, Dinah longs to visit the city and is thrilled when a messenger arrives from the queen, Re-nefer, requesting the help of the midwives. Upon arrival, Rachel speaks frankly with Re-nefer, and Dinah aids Ashnan through her delivery. Hearing a male voice in the hallway, Dinah goes to the door and there is caught in the gaze of the prince, Shalem. For many nights, Dinah dreams of the prince; she stifles her tears when he does not come after her when she and Rachel depart the palace. But Dinah’s dreams soon come true when another messenger is sent from Hamor’s palace requesting that the daughter of Jacob return. Levi takes Dinah back to Shechem, charging her to behave.
Re-nefer has sensed the love brewing between her son and Dinah and has already gathered details of Dinah’s upbringing from subtle conversations with Rachel and others who know the family of Jacob. Re-nefer devises a plot to send the two to the local market, where they meet; they return happily in each other’s arms. Shalem takes Dinah to a room in the palace, and they consecrate their love. Re-nefer sends delicacies to their door and instructs all to leave the lovers alone.
While Dinah falls madly in love, her brother Levi storms from the palace because he has not been invited to stay the night. He returns home cursing the name of Hamor. As a result, Hamor is not well received by Jacob and his sons when he comes bearing an extravagant bride price for Dinah. Jacob is enraged by the thoughts of his daughter as a woman, and he scolds first Leah and then Rachel for allowing Dinah to go to the palace to be defiled. Jacob refuses to negotiate with the king. Hamor is sent back to his palace, and Shalem fears that he will lose his bride. Hamor assures him that Dinah is already his wife, yet he wishes to make the marriage honorable for the joining of the two families. Hamor and Shalem return to Jacob’s tents with an even larger bride price. When Jacob makes the men promise to be circumcised in honor of his father’s god El, they are shocked, but Shalem submits himself to the wishes of his father-in-law. Dinah is appalled by the request that her father has made, and she is upset that her husband has consented. Re-nefer, however, assures her that circumcision is a small hurdle, and Dinah’s fears are somewhat comforted. Yet although the men keep their promise upon return to Shechem,...
(The entire section is 482 words.)
My Story (Chapter 8)
Leah falls to the ground upon seeing Dinah’s bloodied body and fears that she has been murdered. Relieved when she sees her daughter walk, Leah reaches out to her, but Dinah tries to run back to Shechem. Her aunts take Dinah into their care. From the tent, Dinah hears her brothers return and boast of the booty they have taken from the city. Dinah leaves the tent to confront her brothers and screams for her father. When Jacob emerges from his tent, she curses her father for the murders that her brothers have committed in his name. In a voice that she does not recognize as her own, Dinah tells her father that he will never again know peace in his house. She curses each of her brothers, naming them one by one in honor of her murdered husband, Shalem. All stand in silence.
Wearing nothing but a small shift, Dinah walks away from her father’s camp and does not look back. She leaves behind all that she hates and also all that she loves. She does not stop walking until she reaches the gates of Shechem. Dinah is guided by a vision of returning to the palace and slitting her own wrist with the knife that killed her husband; she wishes that the two would be buried together. Jacob has dispatched Dinah’s eldest brother, Reuben, to find her, but he is too late.
Dinah thinks of all the things that might have happened if her eldest brother had found her on the way back to Shechem: Simon and Levi would have killed her baby, Dinah would have seen her father take the name Isra’El, she would have been happy to see Jacob’s gift with animals leave him. Dinah would have been present to witness the deaths of her mothers. Rachel dies giving birth to her second son, Benjamin, and is buried hastily on the roadside. Inna erects a stone pillar in her honor and asks women from far and wide to tie red ribbons around the pillar in return for happy births. Bilhah disappears after Jacob strikes her upon learning of the love she and his eldest son, Reuben, have shared for years. Zilpah dies of fever after Jacob destroys the last of Rachel’s teraphim. Leah, old and worn, loses the use of her hands and arms and wakes up one morning in her own excrement. Her daughters-in-law refuse to cook her a deadly drink, and she wastes away in her own body.
Dinah knows that the gods have other plans for her, and Reuben never finds her on the way back to Shechem. From the gate of the city, other arms carry Dinah away.
(The entire section is 452 words.)
Egypt (Chapter 1)
Dinah is rescued from the gate of the city Shechem by Re-nefer’s manservant, Nehesi (the only man who survived Simon and Levi’s deadly attack), and he brings the girl to his mistress. Dinah is surprised that her mother-in-law does not hate her for the destruction and death caused to her house; Re-nefer only blames herself for arranging the love between Shalem and Dinah. The three flee Canaan and return to Egypt, the land of Re-nefer’s birth. On the way, Dinah is wracked by fitful nightmares of the death of her husband, and Nehesi warns Dinah to rid herself of her dreams. Re-nefer forces Dinah to agree to her version of the events that have transpired, and the three reach Thebes to beg the hospitality of Re-nefer’s brother, Nakht-re, and his wife, Herya. Nakht-re takes pity on his sister and opens his home to them. Re-nefer realizes that Dinah no longer bleeds with the new moon, and Dinah’s pregnancy sparks delight in the household, which has not seen a baby for some time. Herya gives Dinah a statue in the form of Taweret, a water goddess that ensures an easy labor, and Dinah smiles at a memory of Inna, who told her once that this goddess would be her guide.
When the time comes for Dinah’s delivery, she does not expect to have any trouble—after all, she has seen so many births during her time assisting Rachel and Inna. However, her womb is too tight to pass the baby, so she demands that the Egyptian midwife Meryt cut her open. Meryt frees the baby, whose neck is caught by the umbilical cord; upon his first breath, the women rejoice. Dinah wants to name the baby Bar-Shalem after her husband, but Re-nefer informs Dinah that the baby’s name will be Re-mose in honor of her god Re and that the boy will be raised by her to become an Egyptian prince. Dinah will be allowed to be the boy’s nurse and he will also call her “Ma”; Dinah must accept this.
Re-mose and Dinah spend their days in the garden, and all in the household grow to love Re-mose and he to love them. Nakht-re and Re-nefer raise Re-mose to be a scribe and make plans to send him to the best school in Memphis. Upon his departure, Dinah weeps at the loss of her son, but Re-mose promises her that he will become a great man and provide her with a house and the biggest garden in the area. He leaves, and once again Dinah feels alone.
(The entire section is 435 words.)
Egypt (Chapter 2)
Dinah’s life has revolved around her son, and in his absence she feels lost and alone. With Re-mose gone, Dinah must earn her place in the house of Nakht-re. She speaks less often to Re-nefer and eventually moves out of the house and into the garden shed. Dinah hears of the life of her son only through letters sent by Re-mose’s teacher, Kar, who has taken a liking to his gifted student. In her loneliness, Dinah is comforted only by Meryt, the midwife who attended her delivery. Meryt shares the secrets of her life with Dinah, but Dinah does not reciprocate, fearing that the knowledge of her past would haunt Re-mose and impede his success. Meryt eventually accepts Dinah’s silence but will not ignore that Dinah is an accomplished midwife. Meryt begs her secrets, and when the day comes that Meryt’s caregiver, Ruddedit, calls for help for her daughter Hatnuf, Meryt gives Dinah no choice and drags her to the delivery. After much hardship, Hatnuf passes a stillborn baby, but a healthy twin follows. Hatnuf dies of blood loss but the family rejoices in the survival of the twin who would have died without Dinah’s help. Soon messengers call for Dinah and Meryt to attend the births from royal and low-born women alike.
Dinah receives many fine gifts for her services, and she and Meryt go to the market to trade. Dinah finds a lovely carved box for her treasures and is wooed by the woodcarver, Benia. He promises to deliver the box to her home, but Dinah forgets the woodcarver once she returns home and finds that Re-mose has returned.
The family throws a party for Re-mose, and the guests are greatly moved by a veiled singer who performs. After all the guests have left, Dinah realizes that the singer is Werenro, her Grandmother’s red-haired messenger who was presumed dead. Werenro reveals that on the way back to Mamre from the market, she was attacked by three men who ravaged her body. She refused to scream, and the men destroyed her face in anger. They left Werenro to die on the road, but she was found by a young boy and his mother who took her into their home and nursed her to health. Werenro was tired of her life serving Rebecca and wished to be dead to Mamre, so the mother cut strands of Werenro’s hair and left them with some sheep bones on the road for the messengers to find. Werenro devoted the rest of her life to song. She tells Dinah that she has much life left, and Dinah sleeps on her shoulder. When Dinah wakes,...
(The entire section is 450 words.)
Egypt (Chapter 3)
Benia delivers Dinah’s carved box as promised, but Dinah looks at it only in shame, feeling that her lowly status does not deserve such a treasure. Meryt scolds Dinah for not returning Benia’s affection, but Dinah will not be moved.
The women continue their work and are summoned to the home of a priest to attend his young concubine. Both mother and child can not be saved, and the priest blames Dinah for their deaths and claims she is a foreign witch. In her native tongue, Dinah curses the man as a pervert.
Dinah returns to the house of Nakht-re; shortly after, Re-nefer dies in her sleep. Dinah does not feel that it is her place to attend the rites in Memphis, so she stays behind. Soon Nakht-re passes on as well, and Dinah laments the death of the family that cared for her when she had no one else. But Dinah realizes that her time in the house is over—Herya goes to live with her brother and does not invite Dinah to come with her.
Since the death of the priest’s concubine, rumors have been flying about Dinah and Meryt, so Meryt thinks they should relocate. Meryt has received a request from her son, Menna, to join him and his family in the Valley of the Kings. When Menna’s wife, Shif-re, pays honor to both her mother-in-law and Dinah, they leave on the ferry to greet a new life.
Dinah is well received Meryt’s sons and their families; Shif-re in particular treats her like her own aunt. Dinah begins attending the births of women in the city, and soon her name is well known among women as one of great skill. Meryt finds out that Benia the woodcarver has also moved to the valley, and she bids him come to her son’s home to find Dinah. When the two meet again, they are once again smitten, and Benia takes Dinah to his home. She is not afraid and does not resist. Benia shows her all the fine furniture that he has made for the home, and they make love. Dinah moves into the house as Benia’s wife, and Meryt and her family and friends throw a celebration for the new couple. Dinah and Benia are visited regularly by Kiya, one of Meryt’s granddaughters. Dinah is ever grateful for her new life.
(The entire section is 401 words.)
Egypt (Chapter 4)
More than a year after Dinah received the last message from her son, Re-mose, he appears at her door and implores her to return to Thebes to serve as midwife to As-naat, the wife of his master, the vizier Zafenat Paneh-ah. Wishing to honor her son, Dinah goes with him, and As-naat safely delivers a little boy whom they name Menashe. The next morning, Dinah falls dreadfully ill with fever, and a large woman named Shery cares for her. When Dinah becomes conscious, she inquires about the baby. Shery assures her that he is healthy and ravenous. Shery then tells Dinah stories about her master the vizier, for whom she has obvious scorn. The vizier is from Canaan, and it is rumored that he was sold into slavery and used by his master for his own pleasure. Upon finding the slave in bed with his wife, the master sent him to prison. Being clever, the slave earned himself the favor of the warden and eventually climbed the ranks until he worked in service of the king. When Shery tells Dinah that the vizier demanded that the baby be circumcised, Dinah realizes that the vizier is her brother Joseph.
Shery reports this conversation to Re-mose, who has been keeping an eye on his mother, and Re-mose confronts Zafenat Paneh-ah with the information. Re-mose demands that the vizier tell him all that he knows about the supposed death of his sister, Dinah, and the vizier submits. Joseph says that he used to blame his sister for all his misfortunes but that he has since learned forgiveness and wishes to pay homage at her grave. Re-mose then reveals that Dinah is alive and in the palace and that she is his own mother. Re-mose is devastated by the truth of his birth and ancestry, so he threatens Joseph’s life to avenge his father’s death.
Dinah demands counsel with the vizier. When she confronts her brother, all they feel are the ghosts of the past. Joseph promises that no harm will come to Dinah’s son if she convinces him to travel north to the sea and take a new master. Dinah knows that any threat made on Joseph’s life by her son will end fatally, so she agrees to send him away even though she will never see him again. Dinah goes to her son with her orders and asks forgiveness for the troubles that his parentage have brought him. She also asks that he always remember his mother’s blessing. She leaves him feeling brokenhearted yet free.
(The entire section is 428 words.)
Egypt (Chapter 5)
Dinah is welcomed home to the loving arms of Kiya, Meryt, and Benia. Meryt makes Dinah a meal, and Dinah tells Meryt every detail of her trip to Thebes, and then she finally tells her life story. Her friend massages her feet and listens with a sympathetic ear. Later a message arrives from Joseph proclaiming the birth of his second son, and he sends Dinah bolts of fine linen. When Benia questions the gift, Dinah tells him every detail of her life while he holds her in his arms.
Being a generation older than Dinah, Meryt has had her time in the world and dies peacefully in bed surrounded by her family. They bury her in a hillside cave, and Meryt’s family gives Dinah the honor of the eldest aunt. That night Dinah dreams of Meryt in heaven, and this prompts dreams of each of Dinah’s mothers.
Years pass. One evening, Joseph shows up at Dinah and Benia’s door, begging his sister to accompany him on a visit to see their father, Jacob. Joseph does not want to make the trip, but Jacob wants to bless Joseph’s two sons. Reluctantly, Dinah submits and they travel to Jacob’s camp. Along the way, Dinah’s nephews Menashe and Efraem jump from the boat into a river, and their uncle Benia goes along with them. Benia teaches Dinah to swim, and she recalls her youth, crossing the rivers on the way to Canaan.
These sweet childhood memories turn dark when Dinah reaches Jacob’s camp and learns that although her father has blessed her nephews and has asked forgiveness from all her brothers, he has made no mention of her and has not repented for murdering her husband and his family. Dinah is only comforted when talking to her niece Gera, the daughter of Rachel’s youngest son, Benjamin. Gera believes that Dinah is simply one of Joseph’s servants, so she tells Dinah her family history. Dinah learns that the girl knows of the horrors caused by Simon and Levi and that the name “Dinah” is still known among the family. Before departing the camp, Judah approaches Dinah and reveals that he has not forgotten his sister. He gives her Rachel’s lapis ring, which Leah asked that Dinah receive.
Dinah and Benia return home, and Benia tells his wife that the ring symbolizes the forgiveness between two mothers who had to find peace in their home and hearts. Dinah lives the rest of her life peacefully, surrounded by Meryt’s family, until she grows old and passes on to the mothers who welcome her into the afterlife....
(The entire section is 451 words.)