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Peter T Chattaway

The Red Tent

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Link to our thread on 'genesis movies'.

 

Lifetime is producing an adaptation of Anita Diamant's book about Dinah, the daughter of Jacob and half-sister of Joseph. Interestingly, it's being directed by Roger Young, who is one of only three directors I can think of who have depicted Dinah on film *at all*, way back in his Emmy-winning 1995 TNT mini-series Joseph. Most filmmakers just ignore Dinah altogether and focus on Joseph and his eleven brothers.

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Just wondering if anyone else here has read the book on which this miniseries is based?

 

I started reading it a few days ago, and am about 1/4 of the way through it so far.

 

It's interesting how the book repeatedly makes the female characters the proactive agents in their lives, so that, e.g., it is the daughters of Laban and not Laban himself who replace Rachel with Leah on Jacob's first wedding day -- and Jacob, rather then being tricked by this switch, is okay with it because he actually desires *both* sisters (though he *pretends* to be pissed off at Laban in order to secure a wedding with Rachel, with a proper dowry, etc.).

 

Similarly, Rachel does not simply foist her servant girl on Jacob; instead, it is *Bilhah's* idea that she bear children on Rachel's behalf, and Rachel gratefully accepts this (and then Bilhah is delighted when Jacob goes down on her, the first time they have sex).

 

And while I haven't read that far yet, I gather that Dinah's encounter with the prince of Shechem will be much more consensual than standard interpretations of Genesis 34 have let on. (Interestingly, the director of this miniseries, Robert Young, previously directed the 1995 miniseries Joseph, which draws an explicit parallel between the "rape" of Dinah and the sexual molestation of Joseph at the hands of Potiphar's wife.)

 

I gather that the author of this book wanted to challenge the standard depiction of Leah as this poor woman who is not regarded very well, etc., etc., and that the author's basis for this is the fact that, well, Jacob *did* have seven or eight kids by Leah. Even so... hmmm.

 

The book also refers to various herbs and whatnot that the women consume as a contraceptive measure, and there is even a passage in which they give one of Laban's women a potion that helps her to miscarry her child.

 

Also not sure what to make of the bit about Laban, um, spending his time with the sheep. Or molesting one or two of his daughters, before his wife puts a stop to that. The Bible certainly doesn't cast Laban in a particularly positive light, but still, hmmm.

 

I'm actually semi-okay with the book's depiction of the characters honouring various different gods and goddesses. Genesis does say that Rachel took Laban's "household gods", and the relationship between God and the descendants of Abraham was still so new that it must have seemed like just another tribal variation on the existing religions of the time (heck, even his name, El, was the name of a Canaanite deity). Whether *Joseph* would have had anything to do with some of these other deities, I don't know, but it certainly wouldn't surprise me to find out that the men of that period didn't pay much attention to what the women believed or did.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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I'm about two-thirds of the way through the book now.

 

There are even more examples of increased female agency here. Dinah does not merely love the prince of Shechem, their relationship is quasi-arranged by the prince's *mother*, who arranges for Dinah and the prince to meet, and for everyone else to stay out of their way.

 

When Dinah has her first menstruation, Jacob's wives initiate her in a ritual that involves, among other things, penetrating her with one of the household gods that Rachel stole from Laban. This offends the Canaanite women who have married some of Jacob's sons, because in *their* culture, the hymen is not supposed to be broken until a woman's wedding night, at which point the woman's father can keep the bloodied bedsheet as proof of his daughter's virginity. (Dinah and her mothers/aunts, on the other hand, can't understand why a woman would want her father to look at her own blood.) The Canaanite women snitch to their husbands, who pass the news along to their father Jacob, who until now has shown zero interest in what goes on in the women's tent. When he hears that a member of his family really *did* take Laban's household gods, he destroys them and buries the pieces where the women can't find them.

 

Isaac's wife Rebekah is still alive when Jacob and his family return from Laban's part of the world. Rebekah is portrayed as an "oracle" who is served by a variety of women (all of whom she addresses as "Deborah"), and who seems not to spend any time alone with her husband any more. Isaac, for his part, has a female companion who always goes around veiled (except for her eyes).

 

The *impression* I get is that the female characters in this book are all fairly young when they meet and marry their husbands, but the actresses who have been hired for the miniseries -- including the protagonist Dinah -- all look a bit older to me. Ah well.

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BethR   

I read this novel years ago, so my memories of it are vague now. However, PTC's recap sounds familiar and reminds me why I was not tempted to return to it. It's an interesting premise to look at the Genesis stories from the women's POV, but the assumption that the women characters were secretly preserving the pagan heritage of goddess worship and that was a good thing is part of a trend that I've become impatient with. To quote Willow after meeting with the Sunnydale University pseudo-wiccan group, "Blah blah Gaia blah, blah, moon, menstrual lifeforce power thingy" ("Hush"). Bored, now.

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To quote Willow after meeting with the Sunnydale University pseudo-wiccan group, "Blah blah Gaia blah, blah, moon, menstrual lifeforce power thingy" ("Hush"). Bored, now.

This is the best thing I've read all day.

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Mark Burnett and Roma Downey are producing a special on 'The Women of the Bible' to help promote this miniseries. This is just the latest example of Burnett & Downey being brought on-board an existing project to help it connect with the "faith-based" audience (see also the upcoming Ben-Hur remake), but I can't help wondering how the "faith-based" audience will react to *this* partnership, given that the novel is as thoroughly subversive and pagan-feminist as it is.

 

Speaking of which, I finished reading the novel on the plane home yesterday. Here's what else I found in its pages:

 

Just as the earlier chapters made women rather than men the key agents at various points in the story, the later chapters have *Dinah*, rather than Jacob, chastise and curse everyone (including Jacob) for the murder of the Shechemites at the hands of Simeon and Levi. Later, we are told that both Potiphar and his wife took sexual advantage of Joseph, and that Joseph and Potiphar's wife were outright "lovers"; later on, when Joseph is Egypt's grand vizier, there is a sequence in which he leaves his wife behind while taking his sons to see their grandfather Jacob, and the book says Joseph looks "wistfully" at the handsome young men in his entourage. Jacob himself is utterly delirious and incoherent when he "blesses" Joseph's sons. Meanwhile, there is a passing reference to how kind and helpful a woman named Tamar was (the same Tamar who, according to the Bible, tricked Judah into impregnating her, perhaps? in the book, that Tamar is later on referred to as Judah's "wife").

 

There is also a sense that Jacob overreacted when he discovered that his firstborn Reuben was sleeping with Jacob's concubine Bilhah, and that it was *because* Jacob overreacted that Reuben was sent to work in a field far removed from the other sons of Jacob, which is why Reuben wasn't there to save Joseph when the brothers sold Joseph into slavery. (It's worth noting, though, that in this book, Jacob's concubines are *also* the daughters of Laban, just as Jacob's wives are -- but they are "lesser" daughters because their mothers were merely Laban's concubines, or something like that. So Reuben, a grandson of Laban through his mother Leah, is actually sleeping with his biological *aunt* by sleeping with Bilhah.)

 

Also, the fact that Jacob changes his name to "Israel" is here attributed to Jacob's desire to distance himself from the slaughter of the Shechemites, which did irreparable damage to the reputation of his name.

 

The third section of the book is the least "biblical" of the three, because it takes place after Dinah leaves her family following the slaughter of the Shechemites. The first two sections tell the story of Jacob marrying his wives, having his children, and then taking his family to Canaan, just as he does in the Bible (all told from the POV of the women, natch). But the third section sees Dinah and her mother-in-law -- an Egyptian noblewoman who was queen of Shechem -- go to her mother-in-law's home in Egypt, where Dinah gives birth to her dead husband's son, becomes a successful midwife, and is eventually summoned to help the wife of Egypt's grand vizier with one of her own births... and, of course, the grand vizier in question turns out to be Dinah's half-brother Joseph.

 

Meanwhile, the trailer:

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gh_auE4Skig

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My interview with director Roger Young.

 

I would have posted this a day or two ago, but I've been having computer problems, sigh. I had expected to have my actual *review* done by now -- the show premieres on Sunday -- but we'll see.

 

I snipped a few bits out of the interview because they were tangential or whatever, but just between you A&Fers and myself, I *did* tell Mr Young that I visited one of the sets he built for his Jesus miniseries when I visited Morocco a couple months ago. He said, perhaps partly in jest, that that was probably the only set he *didn't* use when shooting The Red Tent, precisely because it reflects the architecture of an entirely different culture/period than what we see here -- but apparently he did take a *look* at it while scouting locations, and he said it felt "very weird" to be back there again after all these years (about 15 years, I think).

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BethR   

Good interview, Peter.

I'm watching part one now and so far, it is living up to my expectations (posted above). I blame the novel, though, not the director.

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Thanks, BethR.

 

FWIW, I actually kind of like the miniseries. It helps that it tones down some of the more out-there elements in the book. Alas, this also means the film has less of an anthropological this-is-how-women-lived-back-then feel, and it focuses more on the plot.

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BethR   

For some reason, most of the middle of part two recorded with such heavy digital distortion as to make it just about unwatchable, so I don't really know what happened between

Dinah's son being sent away to be trained and her (now grown) son's surprise return to summon her to help deliver the child of his master the Egyptian vizier (AKA Joseph).

Was it a bit odd that

Joseph was apparently able to forgive his brothers for selling him into slavery that included imprisonment and torment, and attributed his "faith" to his survival, and then needed a lecture about grace from Dinah to prevent him from carrying out an order of execution on his nephew for merely threatening him?

The picture started breaking up again and I more or less gave up. I hope Dinah survived.

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I don't remember the *order* of events very well, but basically the Egyptian woman who took Dinah with her to Egypt dies at some point and Dinah moves to a new city/community where her midwifing skills become well-known, and there she falls in love with a widower who she had met while living in the other Egyptian city.

 

Dinah's son didn't merely threaten Joseph, he openly humiliated Joseph, ripping off Joseph's tunic in a way that exposed the scars on his back from when he was a slave. Honour and shame are extremely powerful things, and much more so in that era, and when you're supposed to be second in honour only to the Pharaoh, being shamed like that would be a big, big deal. *Not* punishing Dinah's son in some way could have had powerful repercussions.

 

Honestly, one of the things I *like* about this miniseries is the way it made me really *feel* the shame of Joseph's being sold into slavery, in a way that few other films have done. The 1995 version of Joseph -- by the same director! -- has a deeply discomforting scene of Joseph being sexually assaulted by Potiphar's wife that really underscores his powerlessness there. But *this* film has Joseph being put in a cage, naked, when his brothers sell him into slavery, which is basically more unnerving or upsetting than any other depiction of his enslavement that I've ever seen.

 

In the context of Dinah's story, what happens to Joseph is something of a tangent, a subplot. But wow, is it handled memorably here.

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