A Purple Prose Introduction to Canaan


A welcome breeze blows inland from the coast, carrying with it the tang of the sea. The port is abustle, the high prowed narrow wooden ships restive at anchor, their rectangular sails loose and drooping from their masts. On the shore, pale grey-eyed men in loin cloths and feather headdresses rub shoulders with shaven headed, dark-golden skinned men in sheer white linen robes. A few bare-chested men in long trews, their bleached hair pale and stiff, bear extensive tatooed interlacings. Overseeing all are the masters of the port, dark haired and bearded, intense eyed and proud, even in the afternoon heat, wrapped in richly textured and patterned garments of red, blue, green, yellow, and purple, their feet in delicate leather shoes, earrings dangling from their ears, their thick wavy hair secured by bright ribbons. Some have small tattoos on their shoulders, each a souvenir of a pilgrimage to a holy site.

At first you are over-powered by the animal smells from small herds of cattle and oxen, sheep and goats. There are even a few horses and camels. Then above it rise the richly seductive odors of cinnamon and cedar, frankincense and myrrh, acacia and myrtle, lily and narcissus, coriander and marjoram, sandalwood and rose. Nearly naked sweating men, their ropey muscles bulging under heavy weights, walk up and down the swaying gang-planks, unloading materials and loading finished goods onto the bucking ships. Arriving are stacks of elephant tusks for the ivory carvers' workshops and piles of ore-rich rocks awaiting cartage to smelters where the nickel, copper, and tin will be transformed into luxurious bronze. Other ships disgorge rolls of papyrus and fine rope.

Huge logs of fragrant cedar, pine and oak await shipment to Egypt. Other out-going treasures are elegant chairs, tables, beds, sofas, and thrones, all decorated with delicate ivory carvings - dancing images of big-eyed women holding lilies, winged lions, upright leafy palm trees - which glisten with gold leaf and faience inlay of cobalt blue, turquoise, and red. Amphorae of olive oil and wine, their pointed bottoms secured in wooden frames, their mouths sealed with beeswax and stamped with the signets of their manufacturers, wait for empty ships. You occasionally glimpse large plain clay jars, their glimmering contents carefully cushioned with straw - glinting gold and silver bracelets, torcs, rings, some set with sard, carnelian, onyx, lapis, or turquoise - or tiny precious glass vials of myriad marbled colors and thumb-sized real glass beads in the shape of men's heads with huge eyes and long ringlets, resembling the masters of the harbor - bound for mysterious ports.

To the east rises the city, compact within its enclosing wall, stucco-faced stone buildings glistening in the sun, most two or three stories high, but some reaching up to six! Farther to the east are the rolling foothills of the distant mountain ranges, running north and south, parallelling the coast, so recently green from the winter rains, now turning brown and sere in the increasing dry heat of summer. The slopes and ridges are dotted with the darker green of cedar and cypress, terebinth pine and oak, sacred to the Deities and beneficial to commerce. Women draped in brightly embroidered and woven robes pass by, their fragrantly oiled long hair softly veiled. Some have eyes that are serious and intent, others are welcoming and seductive. Their golden earrings are of many sizes and shapes, their arms are landen with jingling bracelets, around their necks torcs or chains with amulets of silver, gold, or engraved gemstones. The golden sun sets over the water, bathing the scene in scarlet, and the full silver moon slowly rises over the eastern hills.

Suddenly you hear the clamor of horns. Looking up, you see silhouetted against the darkening sky priests and priestesses in white robes standing on the temple walls waving fiery torches in the deepening dusk. Around you men and women softly begin to sing a plangent farewell to Shapash, Goddess of the Sun, the Wide Shiner, Torch of the Gods; "farewell, Guardian of Souls on Your Journey to the Underworld." As the mournful notes fade away, the people again burst into song, this time joyous and vibrant, some shaking sistrums, beating hand drums, clanging cymbals, welcoming Yarikh, the Moon God, Lord of the Silver Sickle; "come leaping over the hills like a gazelle," each says, "and enter my fragrant garden." All around you, the Canaanites are dancing on their sacred eve.



A Final Note

This is a fantasy, not exactly as it really was, but i hope it can convey some of the savor of the world of the Canaanites.



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