My name means nothing to you. My memory is dust. This is not your fault, or mine. The chain connecting mother and daughter was broken and the word passed to the keeping of men who had no way of knowing. That is why I became a footnote ... (Diamant)."
In and through her eyes, the reader encounters the sights and sounds in the tent and in the camp with 12 brothers of different temperaments, the confusion and rivalry among her four mothers, as well as their periodic distresses, and a mild yet distant patriarchy in Jacob. Dinah witnesses and collects these observations, perceptions and stories within her as the only and last daughter to carry the information along. The book is her report or narration of her four mothers' personality traits, menstruation cycles, childbirth, their slaves, artisans, household gods and feminine secrets that perpetuate the matriarchal lineage. The author writes through Dinah: "Like sisters who live together and share a husband, my mother and aunties spun a sticky web of loyalties and grudges. They traded secrets like bracelets and these were handed down to me the only surviving girl. They told me things I was too young to hear. They held my face between their hands and made me swear to remember (Diamant 1997)."
Dina's recording these memories, impressions and experiences inside the red tent must now be stunted, stunned or colored by Shechem's dishonoring her. The disgrace now forms part of the total world viewpoint she holds as the last surviving member of the matriarchal link. Along with this shock, she must assimilate her father's lack of responsiveness and her brothers' rage and impulsiveness. She must wade through the splintering experience of rape according to the behavior of those around her. What happens to her determines the survival of feminine power as source of being.
Genesis interpreters, without admitting it, underplay the seriousness of the crime of rape and give more credit to Shechem's willingness or desire to make it up to Dinah by marrying her and agreeing to all her or her family's terms for the marriage (Scholz 2001).
These interpreters do not view Shechem as a rapist but as Dinah's lover and potential husband, who deserves pity rather than condemnation.
Other readers and researchers make the same interpretation that marginalizes rape and Dinah. This dates back to the time when the Israelite tribes were still searching for a place to settle in Palestine. Jacob's family faced a territorial difficulty involving dispossession of their place of settlement (Scholz 2001). It is in this scenario that Shechem expresses great love towards Dinah and is in sharp contrast to the suspicious motivations of her brothers who attempt to purify the dishonor or avenge it through a hidden agenda.
Other interpretations are anthropological in approach and reflect on ancient Israel's struggle between integration and exclusion. According to these interpretations, Israel was a group-oriented society that disagreed whether to interact with non-Israelites or cross tribal boundaries (Scholz 2001). But Jacob links up with outsiders by establishing commercial ties with them, and Dinah wants to socialize with women friends in the outside world. They are opposed by Jacob's militant sons who want to retain their racial purity by pointing to the disastrous consequences of interacting with outsiders. These early Israelites live and work to serve the interests of the larger group, the outsiders, but Jacob's sons emphasize the importance of preserving the distinction between who the Israelites are and who the outsiders are (Bechtel as qtd in Scholz 2001). They insist that marriage can be honorable and acceptable only within their pure race and shameful when one party is not bonded with their God. These anthropology-interpreters believe that Shechem, in fact, the honorable character in the story in that he is willing to correct his mistake and at the price dictated by Dinah's brothers and that her brothers are the villains for misrepresenting their true motives to Shechem (Betchel as qtd in Scholz) to destroy the larger community of the Amorites to which they are subject. When Shechem accepts their terms, Dinah's brothers resort to murder, revealing their inferiority rather than superiority or purity. The rape of Dinah becomes an acceptable intercourse because Shechem is willing to correct it, while the "rape" of the Amorites by Jacob's sons becomes the real crime (Betchel as qtd in Scholz).
Still another scholar-interpreter reconstructs the earliest version of Genesis 34 wherein Shechem ravishes Dinah but later falls for her and asks to marry her (Zakovitch as qtd in Scholz). The assumption is that the rape was added to provide Jacob's sons a motive to kill and plunder the Amorites after taking Dinah.
Anita Diamant's novel details the traditions, rituals, habits, behaviors, secrets and activities of Israelite women inside the red tent, recorded in the mind and interpreted by Dinah as the last in the matriarchal line to continue the goddess culture. With her rape and eventual marriage and incorporation into the Amorites, the matriarchal lineage and its traditions are replaced by a patriarchal lineage.
It can be safely deduced that there are very strong and independent female figures behind Jewish patriarchy. Most prominent among them is Sara the queen and wife of Abraham, the very first patriarch. The rest are Rebecca, Isaac's wife, and Rachel and Leah, two of Jacob's wives. Jewish rabbis themselves acknowledge the greater prominence and important positions taken by these four matriarchs than those of the first three patriarchs, their husbands Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Genesis of Eden Diversity Encyclopedia). The tribe of Levi was said to have been matrilineal and that Sarah the queen performed different roles as concubine for a pharaoh and a Philistine king, and as sister and secret wife to Abraham. Rachel and Leah, on the other hand, are the founding matriarchs of the tribes of Joseph and Judah, their respective sons, Joseph and Judah's separate tribes developed distinct histories and became the dominant tribes in the north and the south, respectively (Genesis of Eden Diversity Encyclopedia).
Dinah's father, Jacob, was her mother Rebecca's favorite. He dwelt in the tent where she dwelt and the tent is a feminine symbol of mating and nurturing power. The bridegroom also enters that tent to mate with the bride. We know that Isaac and Rebecca's twins Esau and Jacob grow up differently. Esau becomes a rough hunter whom Isaac favors, but Jacob grows up as a plain man in the tent and before the eyes of his mother who favors him more. We also know about the deceit employed by Rebecca and Jacob to steal Esau's rights to Isaac's blessings and her search for a wife for Jacob. It can be said that the foundation of the 12 tribes of Israel was "under Rebecca's skirts (Genesis of Eden Diversity Encyclopedia)." This illustrates much woman power in the Bible. Rachel's stealing of Laban's Teraphim and her hiding it under her menstrual skirts likewise demonstrate the significance of matriarchy.
It must be noted that Isaac and Jacob married into a family of powerful women, the family of Laban, whose name means "pale white moon" and moon is a feminine symbol. Furthermore, these women associate with a well and well water reflects the moon. Interpreters find that these goddess worshippers were also moon worshipping women (Genesis of Eden Diversity Encyclopedia).
One more observation that is implied by the novel is the tradition of providing sexual hospitality inside the tent by the women. Historians say that this practice was common since the Middle Ages and in the 19th and 20th centuries wherein travelers in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia were treated to a form of tribal hospitality, which included sexual services, in the houses and inns (Gur-Klein 2003). The social world at that time was said to be divided between brothers and foes, but a stranger who accepts the terms of one group will share its privileges. The stranger may even leave a blessing behind and further the tribe's fertility. Sexual hospitality was a consistent custom and not a series of isolated misfortunes. In societies such as those, it is to the honor and pride of the host to assure the satisfaction of his male guests and it is to his dishonor if they are dissatisfied (Gur-Klein). Evidence of sexual hospitality does not appear to undermine the proper rules of patriarchy about exclusive marital unions, but rather complement and compensate for unfavorable conditions of continuity of the bloodline, both communally and individually (Gur-Klein). Deviations from the rules are not only condoned but also encouraged by the community under adverse conditions or to insure and serve the best interests of both genders (Gur-Klein).
In presenting the details of the day-to-day occupations and idleness of her character in the novel, Diamant incorporates the mother myth as a feminine ideology and reveals some of her female characters as pagan and idol-and-body worshippers. This is…