At the end of Anita Diamant’s novel, THE RED TENT, Dinah—the same young woman who is only briefly mentioned in the biblical account (Genesis 34)—dies after a long and full life. The biblical text tells us that Dinah “went out to visit the women of the region” and that “Schechem son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the region, saw her…seized her and lay with her by force” (vss. 1-2). The passage is often titled “The Rape of Dinah.”
In Diamant’s version of the story, Dinah and King Hamor’s son engage in consensual sex. In keeping with the biblical account, the king then attempts to negotiate a bride price with Jacob (Dinah’s father), but Jacob and his sons are reluctant to agree to the marriage. They demand soon thereafter that all the men in Hamor’s kingdom undergo circumcision as a bride price. On the third day after surgery, the sons steal into the city and kill the men.
After just a mere mention of Dinah’s “rape” in Genesis 34, she disappears from the story. In THE RED TENT, Diamant not only gives Dinah a powerful voice, she also weaves a wonderful tale of mothers, daughters, heartache, betrayal, loss, love, and joy. Dinah gives birth to her lover’s son in Egypt, develops a strong bond and working relationship with the midwife, Meryt, and eventually falls in love with Benia, a master carpenter.
As Dinah lies on her death bed, she notes: “Benia held me even tighter and sobbed. He thought that I suffered, but I felt nothing but excitement at the lessons that death held out to me. In the moment before I crossed over, I knew that the priests and magicians of Egypt were fools and charlatans for promising to prolong the beauties of life beyond the world we are given. Death is no enemy, but the foundation of gratitude, sympathy, and art” (p. 320).
In the spirit of Dinah’s last thoughts before her death, I’ve taken some photos from around the outside of my Virginia home that reflect the theme of dying. I’ve written a haiku to go with each photo. It seems particularly appropriate to consider the “passing away” of things at this time of the year when the natural world transforms itself through the process of death and decay.
Faded, wilted bloom
Sparsely clothed, yet regal still
In purple splendor
Hanging by a thread
The praying mantis dangles
Losing piece by piece
A black slate marker
Planted on top my cat’s grave
The mound now flattened
Huddled and cornered
Dry and brittle fallen leaves
There is no escape
Gauzy web—death trap
Patient insects awaiting
One season follows another. After the dark, bare days of winter, spring and summer return. The dying time of year gives way to new life. And so it goes….
Tree’s gnarled trunk—green leaves
Provides canopy of shade
Earth catches its breath
Esther Nelson is an adjunct professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, Va. She has taught courses on Human Spirituality, Global Ethics, Christian-Muslim Relations, and Religions of the World, but focuses on her favorite course, Women in Islam. She is the co-author (with Nasr Abu Zaid) of Voice of an Exile: Reflections on Islam and the co-author (with Kristen Swenson) of What is Religious Studies? : A Journey of Inquiry.