Anita Diamant’s “The Red Tent” Provides Female Perspective on the Bible

On Tuesday night, Kemper Auditorium was filled with students, faculty and residents of the town of Andover all seeking to hear renowned author and journalist Anita Diamant speak of her experience as a prominent writer of Jewish literature. Diamant, author of Jewish fiction and non-fiction novels, was brought to campus by the Jewish Student Union (JSU) to speak about the writing process of one of her bestselling novels, “The Red Tent.” Diamant’s novel is based off of Chapter 34 in the Book of Genesis, one of the more controversial stories of the Old Testament. Diamant presents a broadened and narrativized version of this story through the perspective of Dinah, offering a female point of view that is unique to the male-centric Bible. “[Author Thomas Mann said that] ‘[Dinah] was an insignificant thing, very yielding, without judgment or power or resistance.’ And that actually reflects her treatment in the Bible, pretty much. But that’s not a story that I wanted to tell. I wanted to tell the kind of story that keeps you turning the page, and that kind of a character would certainly not keep you turning the page,” said Diamant. “As I began writing I stopped looking actually at the biblical text, so I wouldn’t feel obliged to follow the story as it was written, to stay within the lines, and I concentrated instead on historical research, which was exhilarating and seductive and overwhelming and disappointing at the same time,” she continued. “To me there was a big silence there. Writing this novel was an opportunity to give voice to a silence overlooked by many; she was a minor character but a character with a story,” she added. The purpose of Diamant’s book was not to make a feminist statement, but rather to “[expose] possibilities of power and the affirmation of femaleness in a story that seems to deny them.” “There are around 2,800 people mentioned in the Hebrew Bible and fewer than ten percent are to women. And of that ten percent, a lot of them don’t even have names, and some of them that have names don’t say anything,” said Diamant. To Diamant, the various mixed reactions readers had after reading her book was one of most enjoyable aspects of the writing process. “I’ve talked [to] women in multigenerational families where there’s a great grandmother, grandmother and mother and they find the multigenerational part of the book really resonate to them. There are some people for whom the Bible is a scripture and view the book in the context of looking at their sacred text in a different way. I get emails from people telling me how and why they respond to the work which is incredibly gratifying,” she said. After receiving a Master’s degree in English from Binghamton University in 1973, Diamant went on to write for the “Boston Globe” and several other publications. She has written numerous books about Jewish life including “The New Jewish Life,” and “How to Raise a Jewish Child,” with “The Red Tent” being the most famous.