The Red Tent

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
The Red Tent
Cover of the first-edition hardcover
Author Anita Diamant
Country United States
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher A Wyatt Book for St. Martin's Press
Publication date
October, 1997
Media type Print (hardcover, paperback)
Pages 321 p. (hardcover edition)
ISBN 0-312-35376-6
OCLC 62322613
LC Class PS3554.I227 R43 2005

The Red Tent is a novel by Anita Diamant, published in 1997 by Wyatt Books for St. Martin's Press. It is a first-person narrative that tells the story of Dinah, daughter of Jacob and sister of Joseph. She is a minor character in the Bible, but the author has broadened her story.[1] The book's title refers to the tent in which women of Jacob's tribe must, according to the ancient law, take refuge while menstruating or giving birth, and in which they find mutual support and encouragement from their mothers, sisters and aunts.

Plot summary[edit]

Dinah opens the story by recounting for readers the union of her mother Leah and father Jacob, as well as the expansion of the family to include Leah's sister Rachel, and the handmaids Zilpah and Bilhah. Leah is depicted as capable but testy, Rachel as something of a belle but kind and creative, Zilpah as mature and serious, and Bilhah as the gentle and quiet one of the quartet.

Dinah remembers sitting in the red tent with her mother and aunts, gossiping about local events and taking care of domestic duties between visits to Jacob, the family's patriarch. A number of other characters not seen in the Biblical account appear here, including Laban's second wife Ruti and her feckless sons.

According to the Bible's account in Genesis 34, Dinah was "defiled" by a prince of Shechem, although he is described as being genuinely in love with Dinah. He also offers a bride-price fit for royalty. Displeased at how the prince treated their sister, her brothers Shimeon (spelled "Simon" in the book) and Levi treacherously tell the Shechemites that all will be forgiven if the prince and his men undergo the Jewish rite of brit milah so as to unite the people of Hamor, king of Shechem, with the tribe of Jacob. The Shechemites agree, and shortly after they go under the knife, while incapacitated by pain, they are murdered by Dinah's brothers and their male servants, who then rescue Dinah.

In The Red Tent, Dinah genuinely loves the prince and willingly becomes his bride. She is horrified and grief-stricken by her brothers' murderous rampage. After cursing her brothers and father she escapes to Egypt, where she gives birth to a son. In time she finds another love and reconciles with her brother Joseph, who is now prime minister of Egypt. At the death of Jacob, she visits her estranged family. She learns she has been all but forgotten by her other living brothers and father but that her story lives on with the women of Jacob's tribe.


The book was a New York Times bestseller[citation needed] and is a perennial book club favorite.[citation needed] According to the Los Angeles Times review, "By giving a voice to Dinah, one of the silent female characters in Genesis, the novel has struck a chord with women who may have felt left out of biblical history. It celebrates mothers and daughters and the mysteries of the life cycle."[citation needed] The Christian Science Monitor wrote that the novel "vividly conjures up the ancient world of caravans, shepherds, farmers, midwives, slaves, and artisans...Diamant is a compelling narrator of a tale that has timeless resonance."[citation needed]


Monthly menstruation for decades on end is not the historical norm. Women in prehistoric times, as estimated by research among contemporary hunter-gathered populations, probably had far fewer periods (about 160 ovulations over their lifetime) than modern women. Women of pre-industrial societies most likely experienced later menarche (around 16 years of age), earlier first births (19.5 years), frequent pregnancies (on average six live births), and long periods of breastfeeding between pregnancies, with births at intervals of 3 years. By contrast, the modern woman living in an industrialised country begins menstruating earlier (on average 12.5 years of age for American girls), first gives birth later (24 years), has fewer pregnancies (two or three), scarcely breastfeeds (3 months per birth, with half of American infants never breastfed at all), and undergoes menopause later. She can expect about 450 periods in her life.[citation needed]

Also, the book either implies that all women always menstruate at the new moon, or that a group of women living together naturally synchronize with each other's cycles. Neither idea is well-supported by evidence, and both rely on anecdotes and mythology.[citation needed] A few studies support menstrual synchronicity, but they have been heavily critiqued in their methodology.[citation needed]

Diamant acknowledges that there is no evidence that in ancient Israel used a menstrual tent, although she describes it as a common feature in other pre-modern cultures.[2]