Monday, January 7, 2008

The Red Tent Reviewed

I just finished The Red Tent by Anita Diamant. First, let me say, that I really enjoyed the book. In fact, I was so captivated by the author's weaving of this ancient story that I dreamed about it at night! What the book does is take an actual person and fill in the details of the story that surrounded her, in this case, Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah.

The book starts when Jacob comes to Laban seeking refuge after fleeing Esau. Jacob, in return for working and building Laban's wealth, is allowed to marry the daughters, Leah and Rachel and also the maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah. I enjoyed the author's take on these marriages especially since it showed Leah as having held some attraction from Jacob, and not just Rachel. I guess Jacob must have loved Leah in some way since he fathered about 7 kids from her. But indeed, Rachel was the most beloved, as it says in the Bible. But have you ever felt sorry for Leah? She took her sisters place, which must have been awkward the next morning for them, and her husband's heart still desired the love of his life. But the author told a story of where Jacob loved his wives for their strengths and the family prospered.

With the birth of Dinah, the mothers (as the wives were referred to) had someone to pour out the womanly stories and traditions to. And we follow Dinah throughout the rest of her life.

The Red Tent is the tent in which the women retreated to for their monthly periods and for births. This is the place where the women could break from their work for a few days and tell stories and braid each other's hair. (Wouldn't that be nice if we still got to break for a few days?)

The Red Tent is also symbolic as the place where women's power lies. Women have this amazing ability to have life grow inside them and then the capability to bring it forth into life.

What I found interesting about the book is that the women, when they married Jacob, did not make God (or El as she referred to Him) their God. Instead they continued to worship the pagan gods of the land. Jacob, at first, did not insist that their gods be removed, even after they left Laban. He worshiped God, with the circumcision and other sacrifices. But the women, even to the last, worshiped the gods of the land, including those of fertility.

I want to draw attention to the idea that wives are incredibly influential in the spiritual realm of the family. I think the Bible makes this point as well. If a woman does not worship God, she will worship something or someone and probably bring the children with them. It is important that a Christian woman seeks God in front of her children! The children of Jacob were still used by God (amen!) but several of them did not act righteously and I wonder how much of that was the result of a multi-god upbringing.


chandy said...

I'm glad you read this book. I really enjoyed it as well and found myself thinking about it for days afterward. There were quite a few interesting elements to ponder...the solidarity of womanhood, the customs of ancient midwifery, the dynamic between competing wives, the wickedness of some of Jacob's sons... Interesting how Jacob never really "shared" God in the way we think of sharing. I guess you were either born into it or you weren't. I really liked the idea of dramatizing the juicy details behind the stories of prominent (and not so prominent) Bible characters. Know of any other novels that do that?

Jessie said...

I really loved when the author would mention significant people in passing! I enjoyed reading about the interactions with Tamar and how she had a good heart was used poorly by Judah and his sons.

I especially thought the "sharing" of God, or lack of it, was interesting. However, the Jewish faith is not typically evangelized, more like you are or you're not. Without the great commission from Jesus, Christianity might be the same.

I checked under Biblical Fiction and came up with a bunch of authors. I am not sure about the quality of work, but here are some suggestions. Wisdom's Daughter : A Novel of Solomon and Sheba by India Edghill; And then Marek Halter wrote a trilogy called The Canaan Trilogy: Sarah, Zipporah, and Lilah (shortened). And then there is another author who seems to have written quite extensively about this period whose name is Ann Burton. Her series is Women of the Bible and goes through Rahab, Deborah, Ruth, Jael and Abigail.