Author Jack Dempsey provides a different perspective on The Promised Land in his latest novel.
“Look your family in the eyes, and say
why, in this fight before us,
your courage will endure your blood upon a blade—
why moon and sun shall see
an end of wandering, people of the sea.”
A perfect sequel to his 1996 work, Ariadne’s Brother: A Novel on the Fall of Bronze Age Crete, Dempsey’s People of the Sea opens with a rather lengthy prologue called “Out of Djahi.”
Dempsey sets the tenor of his narrative with first-person accounts using fictionalized names. The prologue’s stories articulate, for the first time, why each tribe of Sea Peoples—who for the most part lived in peace and worshipped Mother Earth—will join in the actual great attack (c. 1177 BCE) on the powerful but fading Egyptian empire under Pharaoh Ramses III.
For Bible and ancient history buffs, this prologue alone should be eye-opening, since the Sea Peoples were the original Palestinians, or in Bible terms, “Philistines.” The Old Testament depicts the Philistines as nothing but a brutish pagan group that had to be annihilated. Dempsey paints a different picture.
Dempsey groups his plot into three sections, continuing in first person narrative, but this time using an old Minoan priest-chief as narrator. He tells of various factors (i.e., volcanic eruption, battles, brutal occupation) that lead not only to the destruction of Minoan Knossos—considered the oldest European city—but also to the determination of a people to survive oppression and build proud lives again.
Readers may find themselves adjusting to Dempsey’s writing style from the get-go. Very atypical of work of ancient history, Dempsey has chosen a different design that may seem format-free: “free verse” that evokes these peoples’ love of music and ceremony, dialogue free of quotation marks that reduces the sense of authorial intrusion, and storytelling free of periods between paragraphs—as, for the Sea Peoples, one reality or point of view keeps melting into another.
Dempsey’s attempt through his lilting narrative to capture the heart of peoples who have been significantly misunderstood and mislabeled is spot-on. Indeed,while he does not identify ancient Philistines with modern Arabs, this represents the foundational first episode of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—driven by a wish to “separate” from other peoples and so become exclusive heirs to a multicultural land.
“Based on new archaeology and multicultural myth,” People of the Sea takes readers through fascinating adventures that change our perspective on the ethnocentric and damning Old Testament accounts. They also lead to discoveries of a new old world—in the hope of recovering buried memories “of our real archaeological ancestors, with their long-successful human ways of life.”
Dempsey’s latest may not garner broad reader appeal, but for those who want to understand the humanizing heritage hidden behind a wall of long-standing tradition, look no further than People of the Sea.