(Book Excerpt 2) People of the Sea by Jack Dempsey

In People of the Sea Part III, the Sea Peoples (Pulesati or Philistines) begin to fit in among Near Eastern Canaanites. This excerpt recounts the Creation story recorded on tablets from ancient Ugarit—the “original” story radically changed in the later Bible’s Genesis:

–You will find your way, Radharani smiled. –Sure as El found the ocean.

For as she told it, in the very beginning El, Beneficent Bull who reigned from his mighty horned mountain, looked down on the sublimity and dewy freshness of the world. Turning his gaze in every direction, El basked in what he alone had created and accomplished. Yet, among all the green and gray distances surrounding him, half of what El saw was blue, in a place and a way that was not the sky. So did El descend his mountain, to see what this different blue was.

When El for the first time stood beside the ocean, he wondered at so vast a living thing, as it tossed and sighed and glimmered. Now, El saw two immaculate creatures at play in the waters and the waves, sporting and flashing and enjoying themselves. They seemed to be waiting for him. Their flashing eyes and solemn looks reached down into El’s great root, and stretched his being from one horizon to the other.

El cried out to them, and said they might call him father, or husband, as they pleased. They gave El one laughing answer—Husband!—and El knew that his being and doing had never been alone. These wonders in the waters were the handiwork of Asherah, El’s one wife older than stars, the walker in the sea, who had made all things beside him. Horny old fool, how had he forgotten? El’s laughter at himself shook the universe awake. And together they named these immortal younglings, Shachar the dawn, and Shalim, dusk: children of the sea, Elohim, the first divine offspring.

There were more than seventy powers like these consecrated from the harbors to the inland mountains of this land, with names and temples and confused crossings-over to make your head swim—each the patron of a family or a guild or some profession. Dagon and Belatu, mother and father of nourishing dew, were raisers of the grain. Their son was Baal Hadad of thunder and storm, like his father with a wish to rule alone: his mate was Baalat. Anat, ever-virgin of a million copulations, slaughterer on battlefields, was a match for Reshef her crazy kinsman of the desert, who brought plague or skillful healing at his whim. Yam ruled the oceans and rivers, Kotharat was comfort to a woman with child. Nikal filled men’s orchards with succulence, Yarikh was her husband of the moon: Kothar a craftsman, and Shapshu the living sun. Hawwah and Adham, wife and husband tending vineyards on the mountain, lived like all of the Elohim forever. And the crown of their realm was the world’s great Tree of Life.

Mot was the name of death in these Canaani lands and towns. He alone, Radharani said, received no worship and no offerings. After all, every day, the hand of Mot took for itself. And why was that?

El had forgotten himself in vanity. Baal Hadad had done likewise. So had another of the Elohim, Horon—a guardian of men against the desert’s wild beasts, as cunning as snakes at magic and in places underground. Horon took his chance to challenge El. With a single toss of one horn, El sent Horon head-over-backwards down the mountain. But Horon, raging, resolved on a hopeless revenge. In a flash he was a snake, and he sank his fangs into The Tree of Life. It changed into a hideous Tree of Death, and Horon cast around it a sickly fog, a mist that choked and dimmed the world.

From the Elohim, El sent Adham of the vineyards to fight Horon. So, they grappled up and down the thundering mountain. But Horon coiled up his vicious spite, and struck his fangs into Adham. As Adham felt this bite, and took this poison, he knew that he lived no more among his undying sisters and brothers.

This was the beginning of Mot. No greater grief could Adham suffer. Yet, to his comfort came Shapshu, the living sun, to be mistress of the dead and light the way. Adham the new creature, she called man, Adam. And because for him, there was no life without Hawwah, Shapshu gently folded her hand into Adam’s.

But this was not the deathless hand of his companion from their vineyards on the mountain. This mortal, woman, she called Eve, Life, The Mother of All Living to be born. Henceforth, said Shapshu, their immortality would be their children.

The Elohim together, moved by these wrongs and kindnesses, turned in wrath against Horon. The Elohim forced Horon to rip his Tree of Death up by the roots, and to restore The Tree of Life, that man and woman never want for its fruit; nor shall they want who are mujomena, mystis, or understanding.

Yet, for this undoing, Mot was not to be be undone. Shapshu the sun, for her part, never shone so bright. She burned away the last of Horon’s sickly fog, and the land and living things were fresh as dew again.

As an islander, I had sought these first Canaani things in hope of their wisdom about death, and why it had not touched me down these years. It seemed their answer was the one I had from home: no answer, only the comforts and consolations of this life. This was at least fair ground for hope that I might fit in….

(Read Part 1 here.)

(Meet Mago Contributor) Jack Dempsey, Ph.D.


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