The Red Tent

The Red Tent

4.3 732
by Anita Diamant

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Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah's voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood - the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers - Leah,…  See more details below


Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis that are about her father, Jacob, and his dozen sons. Told in Dinah's voice, this novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood - the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of her mothers - Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah - the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that are to sustain her through a damaged youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate, immediate connection.

Editorial Reviews
Few stories can evoke a time and place as vividly as Anita Diamant's compelling tale sprung from the pages of the Old Testament. The Red Tent is the story of Jacob's daughter, Dinah, and Jacob's four wives, who all served as Dinah's mother at some point in time. Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah all bring their own unique gifts and influences to bear on Dinah's life. As Diamant explores the trials and triumphs of ancient women, she brings a foreign yet beautiful world to life as seen through the emotional filter of Dinah's eyes. This lush, evocative tale transcends time and brings new life to the Old Testament, lending a feminine touch to the mighty word of God.

Product Details

Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.17(h) x 0.89(d)
1010L (what's this?)
Age Range:
16 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

Their stories began with the day that my father appeared. Rachel came running into camp, knees flying, bellowing like a calf separated from its mother. But before anyone could scold her for acting like a wild boy, she launched into a breathless yarn about a stranger at the well, her words spilling out like water into sand.

Rachel stuck out her lower lip in a pout that would have been childlike only a few hours earlier. Something had happened since she opened her eyes that morning, when the most pressing matter on her mind had been to find the place where Leah hid her honey. Leah, that donkey, would never share it with her, but hoarded it for guests, giving tastes to pathetic little Bilhah and no one else.

All Rachel could think of now was the shaggy stranger whose eyes had met hers with a shock of recognition that had rattled her to the bone.

Rachel knew what Leah meant, but the fact that she had not yet begun to bleed meant nothing to her now. And her cheeks burned.

"What's this?" said Leah, suddenly amused. "She is smitten. Look at her," she said. "Have you ever seen the girl blush before?"

"What did he do to you?" asked Laban, growling like a dog who senses an intruder near his herd. He clenched his fists and beetled his brow and turned his full attention to Rachel, the daughter he had never once hit, the daughter whom he rarely looked at full in the face. She had frightened him from her birth-a tearing, violent entry that had killed her mother. When the baby finally emerged, the women were shocked to see that it was such a small one-a girl at that-who had caused so many days of trouble, costing her mother so much blood and finally her life.

Rachel's presence was powerful as the moon, and just as beautiful. Nobody could deny her beauty. Even as a child who worshiped my own mother's face, I knew that Leah's beauty paled before her younger sister's, a knowledge that always made me feel like a traitor. Still, denying it would have been like denying the sun's warmth.

Rachel's beauty was rare and arresting. Her brown hair shaded to bronze, and her skin was golden, honeyed, perfect. In that amber setting, her eyes were surprisingly dark, not merely dark brown but black as polished obsidian or the depth of a well. Although she was small-boned and, even when she was with child, small-breasted, she had muscular hands and a husky voice that seemed to belong to a much larger woman.

Leah's vision was perfect. According to one of the more ridiculous fables embroidered around my family's history, she ruined her eyes by crying a river of tears over the prospect of marrying my uncle Esau. If you believe that, you might also be interested in purchasing a magical toad that will make all who look upon you swoon with love.

My aunt Zilpah, Laban's second-born, said that she remembered everything that ever happened to her. She laid claim to memories of her own birth, and even of days in her mother's womb. She swore she could remember her mother's death in the red tent, where she sickened within days after Zilpah arrived in the world, feet first. Leah scoffed at these claims, though not to her sister's face, for Zilpah was the only one who could cause my mother to hold her tongue about anything.

From the age of her first blood, Zilpah thought of herself as a kind of priestess, the keeper of the mysteries of the red tent, the daughter of Asherah, the sister Siduri who counsels women. It was a foolish idea, as only priests served the goddesses of the great city temples, while the priestesses served gods. Besides, Zilpah had none of the oracle's gifts. She lacked the talent for herbs, and could not prophesy or conjure or read goat entrails. Leah's eight-seeded pomegranate was the only dream she ever interpreted correctly.

Zilpah was Laban's daughter by a slave named Mer-Nefat, who had been purchased from an Egyptian trader in the days when Laban still had means. According to Adah, Zilpah's mother was slender, raven-haired, and so quiet it was easy to forget she had the power of speech, a trait her daughter did not inherit.

Zilpah was only a few months younger than Leah, and after Zilpah's mother died, Adah gave them suck together. They were playmates as babies, close and loving friends as children, tending the flocks together, gathering berries, making up songs, laughing. Apart from Adah, they needed no one else in the world.

Zilpah was almost as tall as Leah, but thinner and less robust in the chest and legs. Dark-haired and olive-skinned, Leah and Zilpah resembled their father and shared the family nose, not unlike Jacob's-a regal hawk's beak that seemed to grow longer when they smiled. Leah and Zilpah both talked with their hands, thumb and forefinger pressed together in emphatic ovals. When the sun made them squint, identical lines appeared around the corners of their eyes.

But where Leah's hair was curly, Zilpah's black mane was straight, and she wore it to her waist. It was her best feature, and my aunt hated to cover it. Headdresses caused her head to pound, she said, putting a hand to her cheek with silly drama. Even as a child I was permitted to laugh at her. These headaches were the reason she gave for keeping so much inside the women's tents. She did not join the rest of us to bask in the springtime sun or find the breeze on a hot night. But when the moon was young-slender and shy, barely making herself known in the sky-Zilpah walked around the camp, swinging her long hair, clapping her hands, offering songs to encourage the moon's return.

When Jacob arrived, Bilhah was a child of eight, and she remembered nothing of the day. "She was probably up in a tree somewhere, sucking on her fingers and counting the clouds," said Leah, repeating the only thing that was remembered of Bilhah's early years.

Bilhah was the family orphan. The last daughter born of Laban's seed, she was the child of a slave named Tefnut-a tiny black woman who ran off one night when Bilhah was old enough to know she had been abandoned. "She never got over that hurt," said Zilpah with great gentleness, for Zilpah respected pain.

Bilhah was alone among them. It's not just that she was the youngest and that there were three other sisters to share the work. Bilhah was a sad child and it was easier to leave her alone. She rarely smiled and hardly spoke. Not even my grandmother Adah, who adored little girls and gathered motherless Zilpah to her inner circle and doted upon Rachel, could warm to this strange, lonely bird, who never grew taller than a boy of ten years, and whose skin was the color of dark amber.

Bilhah was not beautiful like Rachel, or capable like Leah, or quick like Zilpah. She was tiny, dark, and silent. Adah was exasperated by her hair, which was springy as moss and refused to obey her hands. Compared to the two other motherless girls, Bilhah was neglected dreadfully.

Left to herself, she climbed trees and seemed to dream. From her perch, she studied the world, the patterns in the sky, the habits of animals and birds. She came to know the flocks as individuals, giving each animal a secret name to match its personality. One evening, she came in from the fields and whispered to Adah that a black dwarf she-goat was ready to give birth to twins. It was nowhere near the season for goats to bear, and that particular animal had been barren for four seasons. Adah shook her head at Bilhah's nonsense and shooed her away.

Jacob arrived late in the afternoon in the week of a full moon, ate a simple meal of barley bread and olives, and fell into an exhausted sleep that lasted through most of the next day. Leah was mortified by the simplicity of the food they had offered him at first, so the next day she set out to produce a feast seen only at the great festivals.

"Like a post," I said.

"Like a cooking stone," said my mother.

"Like a goat turd," I said.

Jacob made a quick recovery and stayed on, week after week, until it seemed he had always been there. He took charge of the scrawny herds so Rachel no longer had to follow the animals, a job that had fallen to her in the absence of brothers.

My grandfather laid the blame for the state of his herds and his dwindling wealth upon the fact that all his sons had died at birth or in infancy, leaving him nothing but daughters. He gave no thought to his own sloth, believing that only a son would turn his luck around. He consulted the local priests, who told him to sacrifice his best rams and a bull so that the gods might give him a boy-child. He had lain with his wives and concubines in the fields, as an old midwife suggested, and all he had gotten for that effort was an itchy backside and bruises on his knees. By the time Jacob arrived, Laban had given up his hope of a son-or of any improvement in his life.

He expected nothing from Adah, who was past childbearing and sick. His other three women had died or run off, and he couldn't afford the few coins for a homely slave girl, much less the price of a new bride. So he slept alone, except for the nights he found his way up the hills to bother the flocks, like some horny little boy. Rachel said that among the shepherds, my grandfather's lust was legendary. "The ewes run like gazelles when Laban walks up the hill," they hooted.

His daughters despised him for a hundred reasons, and I knew them all. Zilpah told me that when she was a few months away from her first blood and the task fell to her of taking my grandfather his midday meal, he reached up and put his thumb and forefinger around her nipple, squeezing it as though she were a she-goat.

Leah, too, said Laban had put his hand under her robes, but when she told Adah, my grandmother had beaten Laban with a pestle until he bled. She broke the horns off his favorite household god, and when she threatened to curse him with boils and impotence, he swore never to touch his daughters again and made restitution. He bought gold bangles for Adah and all of his daughters-even Zilpah and Bilhah, which was the only time he acknowledged them as kin. And he brought home a beautiful asherah—a tall pillar, nearly as big as Bilhah—made by the finest potter he could find. The women placed her up on the bamah, the high place, where sacrifices were offered. The goddess's face was especially lovely, with almond eyes and an open smile. When we poured wine over her in the dark of each new moon, it seemed to us her mouth broadened even farther in pleasure.

It was a year of change for my family. The flocks multiplied, and the grain flourished, and there was a marriage in the offing. For within a month of his arrival, Jacob asked Laban about Rachel's bride price, as she had said he would that very first day. Since it was clear that his nephew had no means or property, Laban thought he could get the man cheap, and made a magnanimous show of offering his daughter for a mere seven years' service.

Rachel yelled at Adah, who cuffed her and told her to take her temper elsewhere. Rachel, in turn, slapped Bilhah, cursed at Zilpah, and snarled at Leah. She even kicked dust at Jacob's feet, calling him a liar and a coward before bursting into pretty tears on his neck.

They sang:

"Whose fairness is like Anath's fairness

Whose beauty like Astarte's beauty?

"Astarte is now in your womb, You bear the power of Elath."

The women sang all the welcoming songs to her while Rachel ate date honey and fine wheat-flour cake, made in the three-cornered shape of woman's sex. She drank as much sweet wine as she could hold. Adah rubbed Rachel's arms and legs, back and abdomen with aromatic oils until she was nearly asleep. By the time they carried her out into the field where she married the earth, Rachel was stupid with pleasure and wine. She did not remember how her legs came to be caked with earth and crusted with blood and smiled in her sleep.

She was full of joy and anticipation, lazing in the tent for the three days, collecting the precious fluid in a bronze bowl-for the first-moon blood of a virgin was a powerful libation for the garden. During those hours, she was more relaxed and generous than anyone could remember her.

As soon as the women rose from their monthly rites, Rachel demanded that the wedding date be set. None of her foot-stamping could move Adah to change the custom of waiting seven months from first blood. So it was arranged, and although Jacob had already worked a year for Laban, the contract was sealed and the next seven months were Laban's too.

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Red Tent (10th Anniversary Edition) 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 732 reviews.
Awesomeness1 More than 1 year ago
This novel follows the tale of Dinah, the daughter of Jacob barely mentioned in the Old Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, she is seen as a young girl who a handsome prince took advantage of, and that the following slaughter was the result of her family defending her honor. I went into this book solely expecting a rich, entertaining story and that's what I got. I never read the story in the Bible, so I didn't have any expectations in regard to being accurate. I learned much from this book and I could picture the vivid scenery. The way it was written was just so beautiful. Scenes that I would have otherwise found awkward were handled tenderly with grace. This family saga is a tribute to women and mothers everywhere, even those we have forgotten. I saw some reviews saying how this book treated men poorly and two-dimensionally, but I disagree. Dinah treated her male relatives with respect, and her later hatred of them was for personal reasons only- not just because they were men. The reason the men weren't as fleshed out as the women is simply because Dinah did not know them as well. She was surrounded by women, so that's what would have stuck with her. It seems the more impressed I am with a book, the less I have to say about it. Overall a beautiful, sad story about womanhood and family that I whole-heartedly recommend.
nicjojen More than 1 year ago
As a counter-point to the reviewer who pointed out that this story does not follow the Bible version, might I remind the readers out there that the Bible was written by men. This is an historical fiction story imagined from the perspective of a woman who would not have had much of a voice in that time period. If you are looking for the word-for-word version of Dinah's story from the the Bible. If you are looking for a gorgeously written saga from a female perspective that will hold your attention from beginning to end (and leave you wishing for a sequel) you must read this lovely book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Although Diamant's depiction of the life of Dinah may differ from the version given in the Bible, this does not make her tale invalid. The many details in the book make it clear that the time period and status of women has been researched to the very utmost...whereas during the time of the Bible, women were not given a voice...these things were ignored. It was a highly moving tale... and who is to say that Joseph did not become selfish, or that Dinah was not in love with Shalem? Would Dinah have been asked before her history was recorded so briefly? A moving, captivating read, that I would recommend not only to women but to anyone willing to keep an open mind.
ParkerEE More than 1 year ago
The Red Tent is about Dinah, daughter of Jacob, who is one of the characters in the Bible. It tells the story of life growing up during Biblical times and the struggles for women. It starts of with Dinah living with her mothers and their responsibilities in the community. Their connection with each other helps them through the struggles they endure because they have to live with someone with different beliefs and on his own mission of shaping Christianity. We then follow Dinah to Shechem where she learns to become a midwife and falls in love with a prince, Shalem. After they are married, her brothers, Levi and Simon, slaughter her husband because they felt he had taken their sister without permission. Dinah is then left with Shalem's mother, Re-Nefer, and they run away together to Egypt to live with her brother. In Egypt, Dinah raises her son and remarries. Eventually, she is confronted with her past when she runs into Joseph, Jacob's son. But is able to go back to her life in Egypt, leaving her past behind her. Dinah's story is one of empowerment and overcoming of obstacles. What I really liked about this was that it didn't feel like a Biblical tale but an almost non-fiction documentary on the women's life in ancient times. I recommend this book because it provides insight on a more difficult time and how women have always been fighting for their freedom and a place in history.
Chrissy_W More than 1 year ago
Interesting and brought great discussion and laughter to my book group! Did I enjoy this book: I really did enjoy this book. I read it every free chance I had. Much to my surprise, I couldn't put this book down. I found The Red Tent to be an interesting perspective of a well-known Bible story. I was fascinated by the story of Dinah and her mother/mother-aunts. I felt for the women and I found their history enthralling. Something you may never have imagined or thought of happening. Can you imagine your period being a time of rest and celebration? I cannot...but that's what it was to these women. They found that time to be empowering and a chance to share their histories and traditions with the next generation. This book brought a lot of great discussion, laughter, and thoughts at our book group! Would I recommend it: I would recommend this book...with one caveat - read it for what it is, FICTION! It may be based on a Bible story and a specific historical time period, but it is fiction...and good fiction at that! Will I read it again: I doubt it. But I wouldn't rule it out completely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is NOT for younger readers.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a beautifully told story of the many aspects of womanhood.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have had this book for years and finally read it. All I can say is WOW. I missed out on a book that has been on my shelf since its first publication. Dinah is the daughter of Jacob and his first wife Leah. Joseph is her half brother , they shared the same breast though. A story straight out of the Old Testament told in a modern fictionalized but biblically correct way. This story is also from the Torah. Known to christians as the five books of Moses. The story is incredible. And I wish more was out there that was so well written. Young and old alike will like this one. Even if you are not religious you would like this book. Five stars from me.
Jennifer Raikes More than 1 year ago
Anita wrote this as if she herself walked in the shoes of Dinah. Has a wonderfully Pagan feel to it and I, as well as my friends feel as if Anita and Dinah are our sisters
ArmeWfe More than 1 year ago
I can't say enough about Anita Diamant's Red Tent. I have read it twice in 8 years and after both reads I took away something different. The story through the eyes of Dinah is amazing, and you can really identify with the characters as Diamant develops them throughout the course of the book. Some may view it as sexist and chauvanistic, but the reality of a woman's role in ancient society is well thought out and researched. The fictional idea of a women's tent is a testament to the strength and solidarity the author sees in women. I loved how Diamant weaved Old Testament elements with fiction, and did so in such a way that it leaves you really wanting to know more of these ancient people and their ways of life. The book does not purport to be an analysis of the story of Dinah, which in the Old Testament is brief and told through the eyes of the men in her family. Nor does Diamant sell herself an expert in religion, it is merely the fictional autobiography of a small blip on the biblical radar that was Dinah. Be prepared to cry and laugh and truly experience the emotions of the all the characters, even those who are only part of the periphery of the main story. Finally the development of the story keeps you interested and emotionally invested in Dinah and her story- from start to finish. I can't recommend this book enough! It is a must own for everyone who loves to read! (I have it in paperback and in ebook!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the most incredible books out there. Men and women should be required to read this it is so great. I laughed, cried and was awestruck by the story. It is a great summer read. I could not put it down.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
No book has ever disgusted me as much as this one has.  It grieves me that there are so many positive reviews.  It is offensive, pornographic, and is a completely untrue and twisted version of biblical events.  I pray for the hearts and minds of the people who have read this and enjoyed it...  
carnold More than 1 year ago
One of the best books I've ever read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great read! Made the bible come alive! I actually want to go read part of genesis because of it
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read! Loved it!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I stayed up way too late every night until I finished this book. Great story-telling and fantastic imagery made me feel like I was there. (I also think this red tent idea sounds fantastic!)
Binxy_Books More than 1 year ago
As soon as i read the first page of this book i just wanted more and more. This is a touching book with such realism you'll think you're with dinah the whole time through her adventure. Its a heart-wrenching/warming story that you will want to read again and again.(which i have done!) will not regret getting this book. 10000000% recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I truly loved this book!! Im not a very religious person and have not read the Bible, but this story is amazing! Its about time you hear something of the women of that time..and what a story Dinah has to tell!! I rarely cry reading a book,but at the end of this book when all is said and done I felt so overwhelmed, I cried and cried!! Do yourself a favor and read this book!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be enchanting. Her story telling was superb and kept me hooked. The book was rich and full of passion, intelligence and history. Regardless of your religious background, a worthy book for your time. Anita Diamant takes the cake in my book! A well documented tale of the women and journeys of this time, told in the eyes of Dinah, daughter of Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Zilpah and Bilhah. Take your time and put your feet up- you're in for a great tale.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This was a book recommended to me by my Manager at a B-Dalton store. She said it was a Good Book but she didn't say it was a GREAT BOOK!!! I began reading it just after purchasing it and could not leave off. The story grabs you by the throat and won't let go. The characters in the book are vivid and there is genuine pathos. I finished it 11 1/2 hours later. The history of 'The Red Tent' or a place for women to go while on their Moon (Menstrual) Cycle was well told and Ms. Diamant did her research well. I think ALL Women should read this. No matter what their beliefs are.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What a moving story. For those of you who have not been able to accept the fact that his-tory has been written exclusively by and for men, you will adore this tale. What a beautiful tale of biblical times. Took only 3 days to read. Afterwards, I sat in perfect peace thinking about the characters and how touching each woman was in her own unique way. Highly recommend for any woman looking for a story of mother/daughter relationships. Makes me think fondly of my late mother and how special she was (and still is) in my life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading the sample it look good. So I bought it. now I wish there is a way to return it.I feel my heavenly father would not want any of his children reading this book.and I had to put at least 1star to post . I give it no stars
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great story.
levi111 More than 1 year ago
This book is one of the best books I've red in a long while. Not many pages, yet full of wisdom and insight of your beginnings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Want to read and reread