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Dinah begins traveling with Rachel as she performs her
duties as a midwife. A messenger arrives at their camp from the
city of Shechem. One of the king’s concubines has gone into labor
and has called Rachel and her assistant to come aid with the birth.
Excitedly, Dinah packs. When she first arrives in Shechem, Dinah
finds the city to be crowded and dirty, but she finds the interior
of the palace to be quiet and spacious. They find the young mother-to-be
already panting. The king’s wife, Queen Re-nefer, enters and introduces
herself. She is beautiful and elegant and shows herself to be knowledgeable about
childbirth. Dinah hears a man’s voice in the adjoining room and
goes to investigate. She comes across Shalem, the prince of Shechem
and Re-nefer’s son. Dinah is immediately struck by his beauty, and
they stare at each other, intrigued. She blushes when she realizes
how attracted they are to each other. The mother’s water breaks,
and Dinah is pulled away from Shalem to deliver the baby. She stays
in the palace that night then leaves the next morning, heartbroken
that she may never see Shalem again.
A short time later, the king sends for Dinah again to
distract the young mother while she rests in confinement after the
birth. Dinah quickly grows bored minding the young mother. Some
days later, Re-nefer stops by and tells her to go to the marketplace
with her maid to pick out some fruit for her son Shalem. Dinah wanders among
the stalls, happy to be outside. Suddenly Shalem appears before
her with a hungry look in his eyes. He puts his hand on her elbow,
steering her back toward the castle where he pulls her into a shady
corner to embrace. Minutes later he leads her to a private room
with a bed, and they make love. Shalem calls Dinah “little wife.”
They hold each other and weep with joy in each other’s arms. They
fall asleep, wake up, and make love again. Food is left at their door
and for several days they stay in seclusion, making love, talking,
and sleeping together. Shalem tells Dinah that their lovemaking seals
their marriage and that he will offer a handsome bride-price to her
King Hamor departs for Jacob’s camp, where he makes a
generous offer to Jacob and praises Dinah’s beauty. Jacob holds
back, saying he will discuss the union with his sons when they return
from town. Hamor reminds him that Dinah is no longer a virgin and
that he offers a huge bride-price, but Jacob’s sons have poisoned
their father’s mind against the king. Sensitive to their diminishing
status, Simon and Levi reject the union and pull Jacob to their
side to counsel him. Jacob finally declares that if all the men
in Shechem agree to be circumcised, he will consent to the marriage.
He explains his proposal to Hamor, and Shalem immediately agrees.
Hamor further promises that every boy born within Shechem from that
day forward will be circumcised and that Jacob’s god will be worshiped
in their temples. Shalem is circumcised, and Dinah waits for him
to heal, hating her father. A few nights later, Dinah wakes to the
sound of a woman’s scream and discovers that she is covered in her
husband’s blood. Her brothers have cut Shalem’s throat. Simon and Levi
murder all of the men in Shechem that night, then carry Dinah back
to their camp, screaming.
Back at their camp Dinah’s mothers hold her to clean Shalem’s blood
off of her body. Dinah pushes them away and runs out, screaming
for Jacob. She goes before him to accuse him of murder and deceit
before cursing him for eternity. She spits in his face, then curses
each of her brothers in turn. In the middle of the night, she leaves
her home forever and walks straight to Shechem. Dinah then takes
a step back as narrator and describes the fates of each of her family
members. Her mother Leah wakes up paralyzed one day and begs her
daughters-in-law to give her poison. Rachel dies giving birth to
her second son, Benjamin, and Jacob abandons her body by the side
of the road. Zilpah dies of fever when Jacob smashes her goddesses,
while Bilhah is caught in bed with Reuben and disappears after being
beaten in punishment. Jacob changes his name to Isra’El so that
he will not be identified as the butcher of Shechem.
Diamant rewrites the biblical rape of Dinah in Chapters
Seven and Eight, which has contributedto the controversy over whether The Red
Tent might be considered a midrash. For readers unfamiliar with
the story of Dinah, the climax is at once shocking and horrifying
while still believable. Diamant builds up to the climax by illustrating
Jacob’s erratic judgment and growing irrationality, as well as the
cruel and power-hungry natures of Simon and Levi. For readers familiar
with the biblical story, this version of events might seem blasphemous.
To completely rewrite “The Rape of Dinah” as a love story contradicts
traditional midrash, in which a text fills in the holes of a story
without rewriting its key details. According to Diamant, Dinah’s
tale in the Bible is so brief that it requires more exploration
to make logical sense. In the Bible, Dinah is raped and her brothers
act out of revenge. The story also clearly states that Shalem loves
Dinah and agrees to be circumcised and pay a heavy bride-price for
his wife. The two aspects of the story seem to conflict with one
another in the original texts.
Diamant’s creation of a true love story between Dinah
and Shalem fills in the logical gaps in the biblical version of
the story. It is difficult to believe that a rapist would submit
not only himself but also his entire community to circumcision,
a painful operation considered to be emasculating at the time. Dinah’s
story in the Bible begs many questions: how could her brothers have
acted in such a way? Would a rapist behave honorably, as Shalem
does? Because of these questions, Diamant’s version offers a more
plausible sequence of events for the slaughter at Shechem. At the
same time, it makes the tragedy of Dinah even more painful, because
Dinah loses her true love. In rewriting Dinah’s story in such a
way, Diamant encourages readers to assume that the women in the
Bible have histories more complicated than the brief summaries written
down by men. The stories, which depict men as the only important
characters, are misleading. Diamant recasts the female characters,
historically depicted as passive and victimized, as active agents
who are capable of directing and transforming their own lives. Dinah
changes “The Rape of Dinah” from a true physical rape by Shalem
to a metaphorical rape of her soul by her brothers.
Jacob’s decision to permit the murder of Shalem does not
come as a surprise given the foreshadowing that has preceded the
rape of Dinah. Though the events are shocking, in the chapters preceding the
climax, Diamant has prepared readers to accept an erratic and irrational
Jacob who is capable of cruelty while establishing the intensity
of the love affair between Dinah and Shalem. Jacob’s dreams before
meeting his brother, his unabashed favoritism toward his cruelest
sons, and his sudden destruction of the teraphim make his bizarre
behavior toward his only daughter believable. Diamant also foreshadows
the intense romance between Dinah and Shalem. Dinah has recently
reached womanhood and has begun to feel some sexual frustration,
though she has not been able to identify her feelings. When she
first meets the handsome Shalem, one of the only nonrelative males
she’s ever come across, she feels an overwhelming attraction. The
pair have an instant chemical reaction that recalls the stories
of Leah’s and Rachel’s introductions to Jacob. Diamant creates an
immediate bond between the pair, and her descriptions of their coupling
are intimate and thrilling. The intensity of their love makes the
night of bloodshed all the more cruel and painful.
Dinah narrates the stories of the deaths of her mothers,
each of which conveys the four sisters’ grief at losing Dinah. After
Dinah’s departure, the sisters come unglued with no legacy to hold
them together, causing each of them to go her own way. The four
women die alone, uncertain of their only daughter’s fate and lacking
the knowledge that anyone will carry on their stories and traditions. Though
circumstances turn ugly for Dinah’s father and brothers as well,
her mothers brought Dinah up and thus must bear the sorrow of her
exile. The extent of their grief is apparent in the gruesomeness of
their deaths—by poison, death in childbirth, and attempted suicide.
Their reason for living seems to be gone. By giving us closure on
these characters at the end of the second part of the novel, Diamant
prepares us for the third part of the book, which recounts Dinah’s
solitary journey to Egypt.