The only surviving daughter of Jacob, and the protagonist of the novel. As the only daughter among twelve sons born to four mothers, Dinah grows up pampered and adored by her mothers. She spends her childhood in the women’s tents, learning their private stories and rituals. Dinah is a thoughtful and intelligent girl, fascinated by the workings of her polygamous family. She vigilantly observes the relationships between each of her mothers and her father, as well as between the women themselves. She is largely uninterested in the ways of men in the fields and prefers the day-to-day activities of women in the family’s camp. She also prefers the women’s stories and songs to those of the men. She embraces the skill of midwifery, which she learns from her aunt Rachel, and uses it to continue to forge relationships with women throughout her life.
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Son of Isaac and Rebecca. Though Jacob is the younger of two twins (his brother is Esau), he and his mother trick Isaac into giving him the blessing that is Esau’s birthright. Jacob is a tall, charismatic, good-looking man. Because of his charm and kindness, all the sisters fall in love with him, except for Zilpah. He is a skilled herdsman and, under his care, Laban’s flock grows and brings wealth to his family. He spreads the practice of circumcision, one of the tenets of Judaism, from Haran to Canaan to Shechem, converting followers to his father’s religion. His obsession with growing his flock and his family’s power indirectly leads to the slaughter of men at Shechem and the death of Dinah’s husband.
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Eldest of the four daughters of Laban, and the first wife of Jacob. Leah is a strong, capable woman, extremely skilled in brewing and baking, as well as with the herds. She is the head of the women of her family, minding the children and the family’s camp at the same time. She is often consulted by Jacob in regard to family affairs and is ultimately the one who saves Ruti, Laban’s ill-treated wife, from being sold as a slave. Leah is the most fertile of the sisters, bearing seven sons and the only daughter, Dinah. While Leah’s mismatched eyes—one blue and one green—are off-putting to some, Dinah finds them beautiful.
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The most beautiful of Laban’s daughters, and the second wife of Jacob. Rachel is the second youngest of the four sisters and the most beautiful woman in the region. Early in the novel, Rachel is petty and petulant, sniping at her sisters and keeping mostly to herself. As Leah steadily bears healthy sons and Rachel suffers miscarriage after miscarriage, her jealousy pushes them even further apart. She begins to apprentice as a midwife with Inna, proving that she too can bring life into the world. She finally gives birth to Joseph. Rachel’s tent is often a retreat for Dinah as she grows up, and Rachel eventually teaches her the skill of midwifery. Rachel dies giving birth to her second son, Benjamin.
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The youngest of Laban’s daughters, and the third wife of Jacob. The illegitimate daughter of Laban and a field hand, Bilhah grows up in the shadows of her more outgoing sisters. Dark, quiet, and introspective, Bilhah sees everything that happens but takes part in very little. She is considered the kindest and most nurturing of the sisters, and she teaches Dinah the art of spinning and tells her stories of the goddess Uttu. Although she is a dutiful and loving wife to Jacob, her true love is his son Reuben, and their union results in their disgrace. She bears one son, Dan.
Second daughter of Laban, and the fourth and least important wife of Jacob. Zilpah is the most spiritual of the sisters and is happiest among the company of her goddesses. She dislikes and distrusts men, preferring to keep to herself. Leah is her favorite sister, and Zilpah arranges for Leah to marry Jacob first, out of spite for Rachel. She instills a love of storytelling in Dinah and bears twin sons, Gad and Asher.
Messenger and slave of Rebecca. Werenro invites Jacob’s family to Rebecca’s for the barley festival, and during their meeting, Dinah becomes entranced with her red hair and strange costume. Werenro is brutally attacked and raped while traveling one day and is nearly killed. She manages to live and ekes out a pitiful existence as a traveling singer. She and Dinah are reunited later in the novel when Dinah recognizes her song in Egypt. Werenro is the first person to whom Dinah relates her tragedy.
The Egyptian midwife who delivers Dinah’s son. Meryt is a kind woman, twenty years older than Dinah, who becomes Dinah’s closest friend and confidante in Egypt. Meryt is barren but has two adopted sons. As lonely years pass for Dinah after her son has gone off to school, it is Meryt who convinces her to renew her practice as a midwife. Their partnership results in Dinah’s introduction to Benia and her reunion with her brother Joseph.
Dinah’s second husband. Benia is a master craftsman and carpenter in Egypt and a good and honest man. Dinah and Benia meet by chance in a market and feel an immediate connection to each other. Benia eventually seeks Dinah out when they’ve both moved to another town and asks her to marry him. His love gives Dinah the strength to count her blessings, forgive her family, and move on.
Wife of Hamor and Shalem’s mother. Re-nefer is a doting mother and connives to bring Dinah and Shalem together. After Shalem is murdered, she smuggles Dinah out of Shechem to her brother’s house in Egypt, where she then raises Dinah’s son, Re-mose, as her own, and employs Dinah as his wet nurse.
Rachel’s first son and the recipient of Jacob’s blessing. Joseph and Dinah are nursed together, and, as the closest to each other in age, they spend much of their childhoods at each other’s side. Joseph eventually outgrows Dinah’s company and spends his time with his brothers in the field. He is good-looking and charismatic like his father. After he is sold into slavery by Simon and Levi, his cleverness and dream-interpreting abilities help him rise to the position of vizier in Egypt.
Accomplished midwife and healer. Inna is present to deliver many of Jacob’s children, and it is she who trains Rachel to be a midwife. They become lifelong friends, and Inna leaves Haran with Jacob’s family. When Rachel dies, Inna stays at her grave and mourns her.
Dinah’s cousin by Esau’s wife Basemath. Tabea is Dinah’s first girl friend of her own age. Tabea is callously banished by their grandmother Rebecca for not being initiated into womanhood properly and serves as an example of both Rebecca’s cruelty and the importance within Dinah’s family of respecting the rituals of women.
Dinah’s first love and first husband, the prince of Shechem. Shalem’s beauty and kindness instantly endear him to Dinah, and they quickly consummate their love. His passion for Dinah leads him to agree to Jacob’s absurd bride-price, as well as the agreement to have himself and every man in Shechem circumcised.
Dinah’s only child. Re-mose is born of Shalem and Dinah but raised in Egypt with Re-nefer and Nakht-re as his Egyptian parents and Dinah as his nurse. Re-mose is a strong and determined young man, and he unknowingly becomes the scribe for his uncle Joseph, the vizier.
Cruel and selfish father of Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, Bilhah, Kemuel, and Beor. Laban is a worthless cheat who mistreats his wife and daughters and tries to bamboozle Jacob of his due as overseer of his lands. He eventually backs down in fear of Jacob’s god.
Jacob’s twin brother and the other son of Isaac. Esau is a good son to Rebecca and Isaac and a kind and forgiving brother to Jacob. Their reconciliation brings Jacob’s family to Canaan.
Jacob’s mother. Rebecca is the Oracle of Mamre: she can see the future and has healing powers. She is the matriarch of the family and schemes to give Isaac’s blessing to Jacob, her favorite son. She appears cruel and heartless to Dinah, who spends three months waiting on her after Tabea is banished. She predicts unhappiness in Dinah’s life.
Son of Abraham, father of Jacob and Esau. Abraham was told by God to sacrifice Isaac, his only son. Just before Abraham does so, God stops him and lets Isaac live because of Abraham’s show of faith.
Eldest of Jacob’s sons by Leah. Reuben is known for his kindness and good counsel and is among Dinah’s favorite brothers. He eventually develops a deep love for his aunt Bilhah, and their affair results in his banishment.
Sons of Jacob by Leah. The cruelest of all of Jacob’s children, Simon and Levi become his closest counselors in Canaan and Succoth. Concerned that their own legacies and power might diminish, they reject Dinah’s marriage to Shalem and slaughter all of the men of Shechem in their sleep.
Handsomest of Jacob’s sons by Leah. Judah is beloved by Dinah and marries Shua. He eventually becomes the head of the clan when Reuben, Simon, and Levi die. He is the one who gives Dinah her mother’s ring—and some closure—at the end of the novel.
Fifth son of Jacob by Leah.
Twin sons of Jacob. Diamant describes them as twins born to Leah, even though Naphtali was born to Bilhah in the Bible.
Twin sons of Jacob by Zilpah.
The youngest of all of Jacob’s sons. Benjamin’s birth kills his mother, Rachel. At the end of the novel, Benjamin’s daughter tells Dinah that her name and her story are remembered.
Only son of Jacob and Bilhah. Dan is kind and true like his mother, and he is one of Dinah’s favorite brothers.
Brother of Re-nefer and esteemed scribe in Egypt. Nakht-re acts as Re-mose’s father and provides Dinah with a home for many years.
Laban’s mistreated young wife, who produces his two male heirs. Ruti is treated pitifully, as little more than a slave, and her sons do not respect her any more than Laban does. Ruti’s character is not found in the Bible—she is purely Diamant’s invention.
One of Meryt’s granddaughters. Dinah becomes close to Kiya when she moves to the Valley of the Kings and marries Benia. Her own son is far away and Kiya takes on the role of surrogate daughter. Kiya eventually learns the skill of midwifery from Dinah and remains close to her the rest of her life.