Below are the maps and “blueprints” I drew to accompany Dinah’s stories and help me visualize the world she travelled through in 2,000 BCE.
As you scroll through, you too may be struck, as I was, by how intensely the great religious and political struggles that gripped Dinah’s world still reverberate today in the very places where she lived and travelled 4,000 years ago: from Syria, where Dinah was born and grew up; from Egypt, where she tells her story; and most poignantly, for me, from the Palestinian city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, the site of ancient Shechem where the heart of Dinah’s story takes place.
Though these drawings are obviously the work of an amateur, I made sure to render them true to the geographical templates I credit.
1. At the Center of the Earth
For, you see, when I was young I truly believed—when the spring rains came and filled the pools and tumbled down the hills—that here where I was born must truly be the womb of mortals and the place on earth the Gods loved the most, here at the center of the earth.
— Speak, Wood; Stone, Whisper, pg. 8
This map of the ancient Near East bears out Dinah’s childhood belief that her homeland is at the “center of the earth”—at least so far as the people of the Near East would have known it. You can find Haran, the city where she grew up, in Paddan-Aram located at the heart of Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers along the River Balikh, a tributary of the Euphrates. In Biblical lore, Dinah’s great great grandfather, Terah, travelled up the Euphrates from Ur (in contemporary Iraq) to Haran (in contemporary Turkey), when Ur was overrun by invaders. Ur was the first great temple city of the moon god Sin and the birthplace of Abraham. You can find Ur near where the Euphrates joins the Tigris.
(I drew this map using as template “Map 1: The Near East in Ancient Times”; Wansbrough, Henry, ed.; The New Jerusalem Bible; Doubleday: 1990.)
2. Fleeing Paddan-Aram
And all that morning we fled along the southeast highway across the plains, a great cattle storm spilling past the towns and trampling over the rubble of the ancients’ abandoned homes. And from the towns, the people came out of their gates and climbed the walls to watch us flooding past.
— Speak, Wood; Stone, Whisper, pg. 63
When Jacob has amassed a large herd of cattle in Paddan-Aram by tricking his father-in-law Laban, he takes his herd, wives and children including Dinah, and flees down through the wilderness (in contemporary Syria) past Tadmor (contemporary Palmyra) and Dar Meshq (contemporary Damascus) towards Canaan (in contemporary Israel/Palestine) where he was born. This map follows the first part of that exodus.
(I drew this map using as template the map of Jordan, Syria, Iraq, and Kuwait, plate 34, from The Times Atlas of the World: Seventh Comprehensive Edition; John Bartholomew & Sons Limited and Times Books Limited: Great Britain; 1988.)
3. At the River Jabbok
And as we marched into the night, we calmed ourselves with Father’s words, “If we can just get past this lawless land unharmed, and cross the Jabbok before tomorrow night, we can find refuge in the highlands.
— Speak, Wood; Stone, Whisper, pg. 74
When Jacob and his family arrive at the River Jabbok, an estuary of the River Jordan that meanders eastward through Gilead (in contemporary Jordan), they wander while Jacob seeks out El, the father god of the Canaanites, to assure himself of El’s blessing and to win his family over to the exclusive worship of El before entering Canaan. This map chronicles those restless wanderings, from when they cross the Jabbock and meet Laban, who has pursued them, at Gilead; as they wander out into the wilderness to the east; as they head back to Mahanaim where El’s angels visit Jacob; as they stop at Penuel where Jacob claims to have wrestled with a god and won just as his brother Esau arrives from Seir leading an army to meet them; and then as they retreat to Succoth, where Jacob sets up camp and they endure the dry winds blowing off the desert, before finally crossing the Jordan into Canaan.
(I drew this map using as template Map 69, “Gilead and Ammon,” from Geography of the Bible: New and Revised Edition; Baly, Denis; Harper and Row; 1974.)
4. The Valley of Shechem
And at evening, we entered a wide valley where we could see across the plain two peaks rising up, a tall one to the north and a smaller towards the south, the tall one bare and the other green. And there before the smaller one rose the colossal walls of the red city of Shechem.
— Speak, Wood; Stone, Whisper, pg. 166
This map depicts the environs of the city of Shechem. Here Dinah will go out into the land and meet the “daughters of Shechem,” then the prince of Shechem who asks Jacob for her in marriage. Shechem is located on the west bank of the Jordan (at the site of the contemporary Palestinian city of Nablus). Built below the spring-covered slopes of Mt. Gerizim, from which it drew its water, and across from Mt. Ebal, Shechem was the great city of Northern Canaan where Abraham first settled in Canaan, and where Jacob is said to have dug the well that bears his name.
(I drew this map using as template Figure 2, Wright, G. Ernest; Shechem: The Biography of a Biblical City; McGraw-Hill, 1965.)
5. Shechem’s Western Gate
And as we came close under the cover of Gerizim, we passed beneath the guards who stood along the walls on either side, as the road rose funneling up to a great stone gateway guarded between two massive towers.
— Speak, Wood; Stone, Whisper, pg. 176
This modern drawing depicts what the western wall and gate of ancient Shechem (close by the site of the contemporary Palestinian city of Nablus) might have looked like at the time that Jacob and his family arrived there on their flight from Paddan-Aram.
(I found this image in G. Ernest Wright’s Shechem: The Biography of a Biblical City; McGraw-Hill, 1965: Figure 21. Wright’s caption: “A reconstruction of Wall A on the west of the Northwest Gate, drawn under the author’s guidance by Daniel S. Wright.”)
6. Shechem’s Sacred Quarters
So now we’ll spin—while Shamash heats the earth beyond—as we fall always deeper down into the core of that great city veined with water. As we would go each afternoon, Pashed and I, to Shechem’s library and wash our feet before I’d stand to tell my stories a second time—the ones I’d sung that morning in Queen Ita’s harem.
— Speak, Wood; Stone, Whisper, pg.286
When Dinah is invited into Shechem‘s sacred quarters (at the site of the contemporary Palestinian city of Nablus) to visit the royal harem, she does so behind the back of her father, and it is here that her love affair with the prince begins.
(I drew this diagram of Shechem’s sacred quarters using Figure 13 from Wright, G. Ernest’s The Biography of a Biblical City; McGraw-Hill, 1965. I created this imagined blueprint to help visualize the scenes of the stories that Dinah tells.)
7. Flight to Mamre
And so we went, we made our way along
the spine of highlands which first brought
Abraham down and into Mamre. Yes, so we
marched and ended underground in that
great windless tomb of Father’s fathers…
— Speak, Wood; Stone, Whisper, pg.521
This map depicts Jacob’s escape from Shechem following the massacre instigated by Dinah’s brothers Levi and Simeon. Fleeing the wrath of the Northern Canaanites, Jacob drives his livestock, family and prisoners down the spine of mountains through central Canaan (contemporary Israel/Palestine), stopping first at Luz (which Jacob has renamed “Bethel” in honor of the blessing from El he received here).
Despite El’s second blessing, as Jacob’s family races south, they are repeatedly met with afflictions—including the death of Deborah, Jacob’s devoted nursemaid, at the “Oak of Weeping” near Bethel, and the death and entombment of Rachel near Ephrath (contemporary Bethlehem) after she gives birth to Benjamin. They finally arrive at Mamre (modern-day Hebron) to bear witness to the death of Jacob’s father, Isaac, and to bury him alongside Jacob’s grandfather Abraham in the cave Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite. It is here that Dinah envisions the slaughter she now believes took place in Heaven, of which the massacre at Shechem was “echo”.
(I drew this map using as template Map 3, “Palestine of the Old Testament”; Wansbrough, Henry, ed.; The New Jerusalem Bible; Doubleday: 1990.)