Out-of-Doors in the Holy Land
by Henry Van Dyke
II. GOING UP TO
III. THE GATES
IV. MIZPAH AND
THE MOUNT OF
V. AN EXCURSION
TO BETHLEHEM AND
VI. THE TEMPLE
VII. JERICHO AND
VIII. A JOURNEY
X. GALILEE AND
XI. THE SPRINGS
XII. THE ROAD TO
Copyright, 1908, by Charles Scribner's Sons Published November, 1908
HOWARD CROSBY BUTLER
MASTER OF MERWICK
PROFESSOR OF ART AND ARCHÆOLOGY
WHO WAS A FRIEND TO THIS JOURNEY
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED
BY HIS FRIEND
For a long time, in the hopefulness and confidence of youth, I
dreamed of going to Palestine. But that dream was denied, for want of
money and leisure.
Then, for a long time, in the hardening strain of early manhood, I
was afraid to go to Palestine, lest the journey should prove a
disenchantment, and some of my religious beliefs be rudely shaken,
perhaps destroyed. But that fear was removed by a little voyage to the
gates of death, where it was made clear to me that no belief is worth
keeping unless it can bear the touch of reality.
In that year of pain and sorrow, through a full surrender to the
Divine Will, the hopefulness and confidence of youth came back to me.
Since then it has been possible once more to wake in the morning with
the feeling that the day might bring something new and wonderful and
welcome, and to travel into the future with a whole and happy heart.
This is what I call growing younger; though the years increase, yet
the burden of them is lessened, and the fear that life will some day
lead into an empty prison-house has been cast out by the incoming of
the Perfect Love.
So it came to pass that when a friend offered me, at last, the
opportunity of going to Palestine if I would give him my impressions of
travel for his magazine, I was glad to go. Partly because there was a
piece of work,a drama whose scene lies in Damascus and among the
mountains of Samaria,that I wanted to finish there; partly because of
the expectancy that on such a journey any of the days might indeed
bring something new and wonderful and welcome; but most of all because
I greatly desired to live for a little while in the country of Jesus,
hoping to learn more of the meaning of His life in the land where it
was spent, and lost, and forever saved.
Here, then, you have the history of this little book, reader: and if
it pleases you to look further into its pages, you can see for yourself
how far my dreams and hopes were realised.
It is the record of a long journey in the spirit and a short voyage
in the body. If you find here impressions that are lighter, mingled
with those that are deeper, that is because life itself is really woven
of such contrasted threads. Even on a pilgrimage small adventures
happen. Of the elders of Israel on Sinai it is written, They saw God
and did eat and drink; and the Apostle Paul was not too much engrossed
with his mission to send for the cloak and books and parchments that he
left behind at Troas.
If what you read here makes you wish to go to the Holy Land, I shall
be glad; and if you go in the right way, you surely will not be
But there are two things in the book which I would not have you
The first is the new conviction,new at least to me,that
Christianity is an out-of-doors religion. From the birth in the grotto
at Bethlehem (where Joseph and Mary took refuge because there was no
room for them in the inn) to the crowning death on the hill of Calvary
outside the city wall, all of its important events took place
out-of-doors. Except the discourse in the upper chamber at Jerusalem,
all of its great words, from the sermon on the mount to the last
commission to the disciples, were spoken in the open air. How shall we
understand it unless we carry it under the free sky and interpret it in
the companionship of nature?
The second thing that I would have you find here is the deepened
sense that Jesus Himself is the great, the imperishable miracle. His
words are spirit and life. His character is the revelation of the
Perfect Love. This was the something new and wonderful and welcome that
came to me in Palestine: a simpler, clearer, surer view of the human
life of God.
HENRY VAN DYKE.
Avalon, June 10, 1908.
Who would not go to Palestine?
To look upon that little stage where the drama of humanity has
centred in such unforgetable scenes; to trace the rugged paths and
ancient highways along which so many heroic and pathetic figures have
travelled; above all, to see with the eyes as well as with the heart
Those holy fields
Over whose acres walked those blessed feet
Which, nineteen hundred years ago, were nail'd
For our advantage on the bitter cross
for the sake of these things who would not travel far and endure
It is easy to find Palestine. It lies in the south-east corner of
the Mediterranean coast, where the sea in the midst of the nations,
makes a great elbow between Asia Minor and Egypt. A tiny land, about a
hundred and fifty miles long and sixty miles wide, stretching in a
fourfold band from the foot of snowy Hermon and the Lebanons to the
fulvous crags of Sinai: a green strip of fertile plain beside the sea,
a blue strip of lofty and broken highlands, a gray-and-yellow strip of
sunken river-valley, a purple strip of high mountains rolling away to
the Arabian desert. There are a dozen lines of steamships to carry you
thither; a score of well-equipped agencies to conduct you on what they
call a de luxe religious expedition to Palestine.
But how to find the Holy Landah, that is another question.
Fierce and mighty nations, hundreds of human tribes, have trampled
through that coveted corner of the earth, contending for its
possession: and the fury of their fighting has swept the fields as with
fire. Temples and palaces have vanished like tents from the hillside.
The ploughshare of havoc has been driven through the gardens of luxury.
Cities have risen and crumbled upon the ruins of older cities. Crust
after crust of pious legend has formed over the deep valleys; and
tradition has set up its altars upon every high hill and under every
green tree. The rival claims of sacred places are fiercely disputed by
churchmen and scholars. It is a poor prophet that has but one
birthplace and one tomb.
And now, to complete the confusion, the hurried, nervous,
comfort-loving spirit of modern curiosity has broken into Palestine,
with railways from Jaffa to Jerusalem, from Mount Carmel to the Sea of
Galilee, from Beirût to Damascus,with macadamized roads to Shechem
and Nazareth and Tiberias,with hotels at all the principal points of
interest,and with every facility for doing Palestine in ten days,
without getting away from the market-reports, the gossip of the
table d'hôte, and all that queer little complex of distracting
habits which we call civilization.
But the Holy Land which I desire to see can be found only by
escaping from these things. I want to get away from them; to return
into the long past, which is also the hidden present, and to lose
myself a little there, to the end that I may find myself again. I want
to make acquaintance with the soul of that land where so much that is
strange and memorable and for ever beautiful has come to pass: to walk
quietly and humbly, without much disputation or talk, in fellowship
with the spirit that haunts those hills and vales, under the influence
of that deep and lucent sky. I want to feel that ineffable charm which
breathes from its mountains, meadows and streams: that charm which made
the children of Israel in the desert long for it as a land flowing with
milk and honey; and the great Prince Joseph in Egypt require an oath of
his brethren that they would lay his bones in the quiet vale of Shechem
where he had fed his father's sheep; and the daughters of Jacob beside
the rivers of Babylon mingle tears with their music when they
There was something in that land, surely, some personal and
indefinable spirit of place, which was known and loved by prophet and
psalmist, and most of all by Him who spread His table on the green
grass, and taught His disciples while they walked the narrow paths
waist-deep in rustling wheat, and spoke His messages of love from a
little boat rocking on the lake, and found His asylum of prayer high on
the mountainside, and kept His parting-hour with His friends in the
moon-silvered quiet of the garden of olives. That spirit of place, that
soul of the Holy Land, is what I fain would meet on my pilgrimage,for
the sake of Him who interprets it in love. And I know well where to
I will not sleep under a roof in Palestine, but nightly pitch my
wandering tent beside some fountain, in some grove or garden, on some
vacant threshing-floor, beneath the Syrian stars. I will not join
myself to any company of labelled tourists hurrying with much
discussion on their appointed itinerary, but take into fellowship three
tried and trusty comrades, that we may enjoy solitude together. I will
not seek to make any archæological discovery, nor to prove any
theological theory, but simply to ride through the highlands of Judea,
and the valley of Jordan, and the mountains of Gilead, and the rich
plains of Samaria, and the grassy hills of Galilee, looking upon the
faces and the ways of the common folk, the labours of the husbandman in
the field, the vigils of the shepherd on the hillside, the games of the
children in the market-place, and reaping
The harvest of a quiet eye
That broods and sleeps on his own heart.
Four things, I know, are unchanged amid all the changes that have
passed over the troubled and bewildered land. The cities have sunken
into dust: the trees of the forest have fallen: the nations have
dissolved. But the mountains keep their immutable outline: the liquid
stars shine with the same light, move on the same pathways: and between
the mountains and the stars, two other changeless things, frail and
imperishable,the flowers that flood the earth in every springtide,
and the human heart where hopes and longings and affections and desires
blossom immortally. Chiefly of these things, and of Him who gave them a
new meaning, I will speak to you, reader, if you care to go with me
out-of-doors in the Holy Land.
Of the voyage, made with all the swiftness and directness of one who
seeks the shortest distance between two points, little remains in
memory except a few moving pictures, vivid and half-real, as in a
First comes a long, swift ship, the Deutschland, quivering
and rolling over the dull March waves of the Atlantic. Then the morning
sunlight streams on the jagged rocks of the Lizard, where two wrecked
steamships are hanging, and on the green headlands and gray fortresses
of Plymouth. Then a soft, rosy sunset over the mole, the dingy houses,
the tiled roofs, the cliffs, the misty-budded trees of Cherbourg. Then
Paris at two in the morning: the lower quarters still stirring with
somnambulistic life, the lines of lights twinkling placidly on the
empty boulevards. Then a whirl through the Bois in a motor-car,
a breakfast at Versailles with a merry little party of friends, a lazy
walk through miles of picture-galleries without a guide-book or a care.
Then the night express for Italy, a glimpse of the Alps at sunrise,
snow all around us, the thick darkness of the Mount Cenis tunnel, the
bright sunshine of Italian spring, terraced hillsides, clipped and
pollarded trees, waking vineyards and gardens, Turin, Genoa, Rome,
arches of ruined aqueducts, snow upon the Southern Apennines, the
blooming fields of Capua, umbrella-pines and silvery poplars, and at
last, from my balcony at the hotel, the glorious curving panorama of
the bay of Naples, Vesuvius without a cloud, and Capri like an azure
lion couchant on the broad shield of the sea. So ends the first series
of films, ten days from home.
* * * * *
After an intermission of twenty-four hours, the second series begins
on the white ship Oceana, an immense yacht, ploughing through
the tranquil, sapphire Mediterranean, with ten passengers on board, and
the band playing three times a day just as usual. Then comes the low
line of the African coast, the lighthouse of Alexandria, the top of
Pompey's Pillar showing over the white, modern city.
Half a dozen little rowboats meet us, well out at sea, buffeted and
tossed by the waves: they are fishing: see! one of the men has a
strike, he pulls in his trolling-line, hand over hand, very slowly, it
seems, as the steamship rushes by. I lean over the side, run to the
stern of the ship to watch,hurrah, he pulls in a silvery fish nearly
three feet long. Good luck to you, my Egyptian brother of the angle!
Now a glimpse of the crowded, busy harbour of Alexandria, (recalling
memories of fourteen years ago,) and a leisurely trans-shipment to the
little Khedivial steamer, Prince Abbas, with her Scotch
officers, Italian stewards, Maltese doctor, Turkish sailors, and
freight-handlers who come from whatever places it has pleased Heaven
they should be born in. The freight is variegated, and the third-class
passengers are a motley crowd.
A glance at the forward main-deck shows Egyptians in white cotton,
and Turks in the red fez, and Arabs in white and brown, and coal-black
Soudanese, and nondescript Levantines, and Russians in fur coats and
lamb's-wool caps, and Greeks in blue embroidered jackets, and women in
baggy trousers and black veils, and babies, and cats, and parrots. Here
is a tall, venerable grandfather, with spectacles and a long gray
beard, dressed in a black robe with a hood and a yellow scarf; grave,
patriarchal, imperturbable: his little granddaughter, a pretty elf of a
child, with flower-like face and shining eyes, dances hither and yon
among the chaos of freight and luggage; but as the chill of evening
descends she takes shelter between his knees, under the folds of his
long robe, and, while he feeds her with bread and sweetmeats, keeps up
a running comment of remarks and laughter at all around her, and the
unspeakable solemnity of old Father Abraham's face is lit up, now and
then, with the flicker of a resistless smile.
Here are two bronzed Arabs of the desert, in striped burnoose and
white kaftan, stretched out for the night upon their rugs of many
colours. Between them lies their latest purchase, a brand-new patent
carpet-sweeper, made in Ohio, and going, who knows where among the
hills of Bashan.
A child dies in the night, on the voyage; in the morning, at anchor
in the mouth of the Suez Canal, we hear the carpenter hammering
together a little pine coffin. All day Sunday the indescribable traffic
of Port Saïd passes around us; ships of all nations coming and going; a
big German Lloyd boat just home from India crowded with troops in
khâki, band playing, flags flying; huge dredgers, sombre,
oxlike-looking things, with lines of incredibly dirty men in fluttering
rags running up the gang-planks with bags of coal on their backs;
rowboats shuttling to and fro between the ships and the huddled,
transient, modern town, which is made up of curiosity shops, hotels,
business houses and dens of iniquity; a row of Egyptian sail boats,
with high prows, low sides, long lateen yards, ranged along the
entrance to the canal. At sunset we steam past the big statue of
Ferdinand de Lesseps, standing far out on the break-water and pointing
back with a dramatic gesture to his world-transforming ditch. Then we
go dancing over the yellow waves into the full moonlight toward
* * * * *
In the early morning I clamber on deck into a thunderstorm: wild
west wind, rolling billows, flying gusts of rain, low clouds hanging
over the sand-hills of the coast: a harbourless shore, far as eye can
see, a land that makes no concession to the ocean with bay or inlet,
but cries, Hitherto shalt thou come, but no farther; and here shall
thy proud waves be stayed. There are the flat-roofed houses, and the
orange groves, and the minaret, and the lighthouse of Jaffa, crowning
its rounded hill of rock. We are tossing at anchor a mile from the
shore. Will the boats come out to meet us in this storm, or must we go
on to Haifâ, fifty miles beyond? Rumour says that the police have
refused to permit the boats to put out. But look, here they come, half
a dozen open whale-boats, each manned by a dozen lusty, bare-legged,
brown rowers, buffeting their way between the scattered rocks, leaping
high on the crested waves. The chiefs of the crews scramble on board
the steamer, identify the passengers consigned to the different
tourist-agencies, sort out the baggage and lower it into the boats.
* * * * *
[Illustration: Jaffa. The port where King Solomon landed his cedar
beams from Lebanon for the building of the Temple.]
My tickets, thus far, have been provided by the great Cook, and I
fall to the charge of his head boatman, a dusky demon of energy. A
slippery climb down the swaying ladder, a leap into the arms of two
sturdy rowers, a stumble over the wet thwarts, and I find myself in the
stern sheets of the boat. A young Dutchman follows with stolid
suddenness. Two Italian gentlemen, weeping, refuse to descend more than
half-way, climb back, and are carried on to Haifâ. A German lady with a
parrot in a cage comes next, and her anxiety for the parrot makes her
forget to be afraid. Then comes a little Polish lady, evidently a
bride; she shuts her eyes tight and drops into the boat, pale, silent,
resolved that she will not scream: her husband follows, equally pale,
and she clings indifferently to his hand and to mine, her eyes still
shut, a pretty image of white courage. The boat pushes off; the rowers
smite the waves with their long oars and sing Halliyallahyah
hallah; the steersman high in the stern shouts unintelligible (and, I
fear, profane) directions; we are swept along on the tops of the waves,
between the foaming rocks, drenched by spray and flying showers: at
last we bump alongside the little quay, and climb out on the wet,
The kinematograph pictures are ended, for I am in Palestine, on the
first of April, just fifteen days from home.
Will my friends be here to meet me, I wonder? This is the question
which presses upon me more closely than anything else, I must confess,
as I set foot for the first time upon the sacred soil of Palestine. I
know that this is not as it should be. All the conventions of travel
require the pilgrim to experience a strange curiosity and excitement, a
profound emotion, a supreme anguish, as an Italian writer describes
it, in approaching this land long dreamed about, long waited for, and
almost despaired of.
But the conventions of travel do not always correspond to the
realities of the heart. Your first sight of a place may not be your
first perception of it: that may come afterward, in some quiet,
unexpected moment. Emotions do not follow a time-table; and I propose
to tell no lies in this book. My strongest feeling as I enter Jaffa is
the desire to know whether my chosen comrades have come to the
rendezvous at the appointed time, to begin our long ride together.
It is a remote and uncertain combination, I grant you. The
Patriarch, a tall, slender youth of seventy years, whose home is beside
the Golden Gate of California, was wandering among the ruins of Sicily
when I last heard from him. The Pastor and his wife, the Lady of Walla
Walla, who live on the shores of Puget Sound, were riding camels across
the peninsula of Sinai and steamboating up the Nile. Have the letters,
the cablegrams that were sent to them been safely delivered? Have the
hundreds of unknown elements upon which our combination depended been
working secretly together for its success? Has our proposal been
according to the supreme disposal, and have all the roads been kept
clear by which we were hastening from three continents to meet on the
first day of April at the Hotel du Parc in Jaffa?
Yes, here are my three friends, in the quaint little garden of the
hotel, with its purple-flowering vines of Bougainvillea, fragrant
orange-trees, drooping palms, and long-tailed cockatoos drowsing on
their perches. When people really know each other an unfamiliar
meeting-place lends a singular intimacy and joy to the meeting. There
is a surprise in it, no matter how long and carefully it has been
planned. There are a thousand things to talk of, but at first nothing
will come except the wonder of getting together. The sight of the
desired faces, unchanged beneath their new coats of tan, is a happy
assurance that personality is not a dream. The touch of warm hands is a
sudden proof that friendship is a reality.
Presently it begins to dawn upon us that there is something
wonderful in the place of our conjunction, and we realise dimly,very
dimly, I am sure, and yet with a certain vague emotion of
reverence,where we are.
We came yesterday, says the Lady, and in the afternoon we went to
see the House of Simon the Tanner, where they say the Apostle Peter
Did it look like the real house?
Ah, she answers smilingly, how do I know? They say there are two
of them. But what do I care? It is certain that we are here. And I
think that St. Peter was here once, too, whether the house he lived in
is standing yet, or not.
Yes, that is reasonably certain; and this is the place where he had
his strange vision of a religion meant for all sorts and conditions of
men. It is certain, also, that this is the port where Solomon landed
his beams of cedar from Lebanon for the building of the Temple, and
that the Emperor Vespasian sacked the town, and that Richard Lionheart
planted the banner of the crusade upon its citadel. But how far away
and dreamlike it all seems, on this spring morning, when the wind is
tossing the fronds of the palm-trees, and the gleams of sunshine are
flying across the garden, and the last clouds of the broken
thunderstorm are racing westward through the blue toward the highlands
Here is our new friend, the dragoman George Cavalcanty, known as
Telhami, the Bethlehemite, standing beside us in the shelter of the
orange-trees: a trim, alert figure, in his belted suit of khâki and his
riding-boots of brown leather.
Is everything ready for the journey, George?
Everything is prepared, according to the instructions you sent from
Avalon. The tents are pitched a little beyond Latrûn, twenty miles
away. The horses are waiting at Ramleh. After you have had your mid-day
breakfast, we will drive there in carriages, and get into the saddle,
and ride to our own camp before the night falls.
A PSALM OF THE DISTANT ROAD
Happy is the man that seeth the face of a friend in a far
country: The darkness of his heart is melted in the rising of an inward
It is like the sound of music heard long ago and half forgotten:
It is like the coming back of birds to a wood that winter hath made
I knew not the sweetness of the fountain till I found it flowing
the desert: Nor the value of a friend till the meeting in
a lonely land.
The multitude of mankind had bewildered me and oppressed me: And
I said to God, Why hast thou made the world so wide?
But when my friend came the wideness of the world had no more
terror: Because we were glad together among men who knew us not.
I was slowly reading a book that was written in a strange
language: And suddenly I came upon a page in mine own familiar tongue.
This was the heart of my friend that quietly understood me: The
open heart whose meaning was clear without a word.
O my God whose love followeth all thy pilgrims and strangers: I
praise thee for the comfort of comrades on a distant road.
II. GOING UP TO JERUSALEM
THE EXCELLENCY OF SHARON
You understand that what we had before us in this first stage of our
journey was a very simple proposition. The distance from Jaffa to
Jerusalem is fifty miles by railway and forty miles by carriage-road.
Thousands of pilgrims and tourists travel it every year; and most of
them now go by the train in about four hours, with advertised stoppages
of three minutes at Lydda, eight minutes at Ramleh, ten minutes at
Sejed, and unadvertised delays at the convenience of the engine. But we
did not wish to get our earliest glimpse of Palestine from a
car-window, nor to begin our travels in a mechanical way. The first
taste of a journey often flavours it to the very end.
The old highroad, which is now much less frequented than formerly,
is very fair as far as Ramleh; and beyond that it is still navigable
for vehicles, though somewhat broken and billowy. Our plan, therefore,
was to drive the first ten miles, where the road was flat and
uninteresting, and then ride the rest of the way. This would enable us
to avoid the advertised rapidity and the uncertain delays of the
railway, and bring us quietly through the hills, about the close of the
second day, to the gates of Jerusalem.
The two victorias rattled through the streets of Jaffa, past the
low, flat-topped Oriental houses, the queer little open shops, the
orange-groves in full bloom, the palm-trees waving their plumes over
garden-walls, and rolled out upon the broad highroad across the
fertile, gently undulating Plain of Sharon. On each side were the neat,
well-cultivated fields and vegetable-gardens of the German colonists
belonging to the sect of the Templers. They are a people of antique
theology and modern agriculture. Believing that the real Christianity
is to be found in the Old Testament rather than in the New, they
propose to begin the social and religious reformation of the world by a
return to the programme of the Minor Prophets. But meantime they
conduct their farming operations in a very profitable way. Their
grain-fields, their fruit-orchards, their vegetable-gardens are trim
and orderly, and they make an excellent wine, which they call The
Treasure of Zion. Their effect upon the landscape, however, is
But in spite of the presence and prosperity of the Templers, the
spirit of the scene through which we passed was essentially Oriental.
The straggling hedges of enormous cactus, the rows of plumy
eucalyptus-trees, the budding figs and mulberries, gave it a
semi-tropical touch and along the highway we encountered fragments of
the leisurely, dishevelled, dignified East: grotesque camels, pensive
donkeys carrying incredible loads, flocks of fat-tailed sheep and
lop-eared goats, bronzed peasants in flowing garments, and white-robed
women with veiled faces.
Beneath the tall tower of the forty martyrs at Ramleh (Mohammedan or
Christian, their names are forgotten) we left the carriages, loaded our
luggage on the three pack-mules, mounted our saddle-horses, and rode on
across the plain, one of the fruitful gardens and historic
battle-fields of the world. Here the hosts of the Israelites and the
Philistines, the Egyptians and the Romans, the Persians and the Arabs,
the Crusaders and the Saracens, have marched and contended. But as we
passed through the sun-showers and rain-showers of an April afternoon,
all was tranquillity and beauty on every side. The rolling fields were
embroidered with innumerable flowers. The narcissus, the rose of
Sharon, had faded. But the little blue lilies-of-the-valley were
there, and the pink and saffron mallows, and the yellow and white
daisies, and the violet and snow of the drooping cyclamen, and the gold
of the genesta, and the orange-red of the pimpernel, and, most
beautiful of all, the glowing scarlet of the numberless anemones. Wide
acres of young wheat and barley glistened in the light, as the
wind-waves rippled through their short, silken blades. There were few
trees, except now and then an olive-orchard or a round-topped carob
with its withered pods.
[Illustration: The Tall Tower of the Forty Martyrs at Ramleh.]
The highlands of Judea lay stretched out along the eastern horizon,
a line of azure and amethystine heights, changing colour and seeming
almost to breathe and move as the cloud shadows fleeted over them, and
reaching away northward and southward as far as eye could see. Rugged
and treeless, save for a clump of oaks or terebinths planted here or
there around some Mohammedan saint's tomb, they would have seemed
forbidding but that their slopes were clothed with the tender herbage
of spring, their outlines varied with deep valleys and blue gorges, and
all their mighty bulwarks jewelled right royally with the opalescence
In a hollow of the green plain to the left we could see the white
houses and the yellow church tower of Lydda, the supposed burial-place
of Saint George of Cappadocia, who killed the dragon and became the
patron saint of England. On a conical hill to the right shone the tents
of the Scotch explorer who is excavating the ancient city of Gezer,
which was the dowry of Pharaoh's daughter when she married King
Solomon. City, did I say? At least four cities are packed one upon
another in that grassy mound, the oldest going back to the flint age;
and yet if you should examine their site and measure their ruins, you
would feel sure that none of them could ever have amounted to anything
more than what we should call a poor little town.
It came upon us gently but irresistibly that afternoon, as we rode
easily across the land of the Philistines in a few hours, that we had
never really read the Old Testament as it ought to be read,as a book
written in an Oriental atmosphere, filled with the glamour, the
imagery, the magniloquence of the East. Unconsciously we had been
reading it as if it were a collection of documents produced in
Heidelberg, Germany, or in Boston, Massachusetts: precise, literal,
We had been imagining the Philistines as a mighty nation, and their
land as a vast territory filled with splendid cities and ruled by
powerful monarchs. We had been trying to understand and interpret the
stories of their conflict with Israel as if they had been written by a
Western war-correspondent, careful to verify all his statistics and
meticulous in the exact description of all his events. This view of
things melted from us with a gradual surprise as we realised that the
more deeply we entered into the poetry, the closer we should come to
the truth, of the narrative. Its moral and religious meaning is firm
and steadfast as the mountains round about Jerusalem; but even as those
mountains rose before us glorified, uplifted, and bejewelled by the
vague splendours of the sunset, so the form of the history was enlarged
and its colours irradiated by the figurative spirit of the East.
There at our feet, bathed in the beauty of the evening air, lay the
Valley of Aijalon, where Joshua fought with the five kings of the
Amorites, and broke them and chased them. The kings were head-men of
scattered villages, chiefs of fierce and ragged tribes. But the
fighting was hard, and as Joshua led his wild clansmen down upon them
from the ascent of Beth-horon, he feared the day might be too short to
win the victory. So he cheered the hearts of his men with an old
war-song from the Book of Jasher.
Sun, stand thou still upon Gibeon;
And thou, moon, in the Valley of Aijalon.
And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed,
Until the nation had avenged themselves of their enemies.
Does any one suppose that this is intended to teach us that the sun
moves and that on this day his course was arrested? Must we believe
that the whole solar system was dislocated for the sake of this battle?
To understand the story thus is to misunderstand its vital spirit. It
is poetry, imagination, heroism. By the new courage that came into the
hearts of Israel with their leader's song, the Lord shortened the
conflict to fit the day, and the sunset and the moonrise saw the Valley
of Aijalon swept clean of Israel's foes.
As we passed through the wretched, mud-built village of Latrûn (said
to be the birthplace of the Penitent Thief), a dozen long-robed Arabs
were earnestly discussing some question of municipal interest in the
grassy market-place. They were as grave as the storks, in their solemn
plumage of black and white, which were parading philosophically along
the edge of a marsh to our right. A couple of jackals slunk furtively
across the road ahead of us in the dusk. A kafila of long-necked
camels undulated over the plain. The shadows fell more heavily over
cactus-hedge and olive-orchard as we turned down the hill.
In the valley night had come. The large, trembling stars were strewn
through the vault above us, and rested on the dim ridges of the
mountains, and shone reflected in the puddles of the long road like
fallen jewels. The lights of Latrûn, if it had any, were already out of
sight behind us. Our horses were weary and began to stumble. Where was
Look, there is a light, bobbing along the road toward us. It is
Youssouf, our faithful major-domo, come out with a lantern to meet us.
A few rods farther through the mud, and we turn a corner beside an
acacia hedge and the ruined arch of an ancient well. There, in a little
field of flowers, close to the tiniest of brooks, our tents are waiting
for us with open doors. The candles are burning on the table. The rugs
are spread and the beds are made. The dinner-table is laid for four,
and there is a bright bunch of flowers in the middle of it. We have
seen the excellency of Sharon and the moon is shining for us on the
Valley of Aijalon.
THE STRENGTH OF THE HILLS
It is no hardship to rise early in camp. At the windows of a house
the daylight often knocks as an unwelcome messenger, rousing the
sleeper with a sudden call. But through the roof and the sides of a
tent it enters gently and irresistibly, embracing you with soft arms,
laying rosy touches on your eyelids; and while your dream fades you
know that you are awake and it is already day.
As we lift the canvas curtains and come out of our pavilions, the
sun is just topping the eastern hills, and all the field around us
glittering with immense drops of dew. On the top of the ruined arch
beside the camp our Arab watchman, hired from the village of Latrûn as
we passed, is still perched motionless, wrapped in his flowing rags,
holding his long gun across his knees.
Salâm 'aleikum, yâ ghafîr! I say, and though my Arabic is
doubtless astonishingly bad, he knows my meaning; for he answers
gravely, 'Aleikum essalâm!And with you be peace!
It is indeed a peaceful day in which our journey to Jerusalem is
completed. Leaving the tents and impedimenta in charge of Youssouf and
Shukari the cook, and the muleteers, we are in the saddle by seven
o'clock, and riding into the narrow entrance of the Wâdi 'Ali. It is a
long, steep valley leading into the heart of the hills. The sides are
ribbed with rocks, among which the cyclamens grow in profusion. A few
olives are scattered along the bottom of the vale, and at the tomb of
the Imâm 'Ali there is a grove of large trees. At the summit of the
pass we rest for half an hour, to give our horses a breathing-space,
and to refresh our eyes with the glorious view westward over the
tumbled country of the Shephelah, the opalescent Plain of Sharon, the
sand-hills of the coast, and the broad blue of the Mediterranean.
Northward and southward and eastward the rocky summits and ridges of
Judea roll away.
Now we understand what the Psalmist means by ascribing the strength
of the hills to Jehovah; and a new light comes into the song:
As the mountains are round about Jerusalem,
So Jehovah is round about his people.
These natural walls and terraces of gray limestone have the air of
antique fortifications and watch-towers of the border. They are truly
munitions of rocks. Chariots and horsemen could find no field for
their man[oe]uvres in this broken and perpendicular country. Entangled
in these deep and winding valleys by which they must climb up from the
plain, the invaders would be at the mercy of the light infantry of the
highlands, who would roll great stones upon them as they passed through
the narrow defiles, and break their ranks by fierce and sudden downward
rushes as they toiled panting up the steep hillsides. It was this
strength of the hills that the children of Israel used for the defence
of Jerusalem, and by this they were able to resist and defy the
Philistines, whom they could never wholly conquer.
Yonder on the hillside, as we ride onward, we see a reminder of that
old tribal warfare between the people of the highlands and the people
of the plains. That gray village, perched upon a rocky ridge above
thick olive-orchards and a deliciously green valley, is the ancient
Kirjath-Jearim, where the Ark of Jehovah was hidden for twenty years,
after the Philistines had sent back this perilous trophy of their
victory over the sons of Eli, being terrified by the pestilence and
disaster that followed its possession. The men of Beth-shemesh, to whom
it was first returned, were afraid to keep it, because they also had
been smitten with death when they dared to peep into this dreadful box.
But the men of Kirjath-Jearim were at once bolder and wiser, so they
came and fetched up the Ark of Jehovah, and brought it into the house
of Abinadab in the hill, and set apart Eleazar, his son, to keep the
Ark of Jehovah.
What strange vigils in that little hilltop cottage where the young
man watches over this precious, dangerous, gilded coffer, while Saul is
winning and losing his kingdom in a turmoil of blood and sorrow and
madness, forgetful of Israel's covenant with the Most High! At last
comes King David, from his newly won stronghold of Zion, seeking
eagerly for this lost symbol of the people's faith. Lo, we heard of it
at Ephratah; we found it in the field of the wood. So the gray stone
cottage on the hilltop gave up its sacred treasure, and David carried
it away with festal music and dancing. But was Eleazar glad, I wonder,
or sorry, that his long vigil was ended?
To part from a care is sometimes like losing a friend.
I confess that it is difficult to make these ancient stories of
peril and adventure, (or even the modern history of Abu Ghôsh the
robber-chief of this village a hundred years ago), seem real to us
to-day. Everything around us is so safe and tranquil, and, in spite of
its novelty, so familiar. The road descends steeply with long curves
and windings into the Wâdi Beit Hanîna. We meet and greet many
travellers, on horseback, in carriages and afoot, natives and pilgrims,
German colonists, French priests, Italian monks, English tourists and
explorers. It is a pleasant game to guess from an approaching pilgrim's
looks whether you should salute him with Guten Morgen, or
Buon' Giorno, or Bon jour, m'sieur. The country
people answer your salutation with a pretty phrase: Nehârak saîd
umubârakMay your day be happy and blessed.
At Kalôniyeh, in the bottom of the valley, there is a prosperous
settlement of German Jews; and the gardens and orchards are
flourishing. There is also a little wayside inn, a rude stone building,
with a terrace around it; and there, with apricots and plums blossoming
beside us, we eat our lunch al fresco, and watch our long
pack-train, with the camp and baggage, come winding down the hill and
go tinkling past us toward Jerusalem.
The place is very friendly; we are in no haste to leave it. A few
miles to the southward, sheltered in the lap of a rounding hill, we can
see the tall cypress-trees and quiet gardens of 'Ain Karîm, the village
where John the Baptist was born. It has a singular air of attraction,
seen from a distance, and one of the sweetest stories in the world is
associated with it. For it was there that the young bride Mary visited
her older cousin Elizabeth,you remember the exquisite picture of the
Visitation by Albertinelli in the Uffizi at Florence,and the joy of
coming motherhood in these two women's hearts spoke from each to each
like a bell and its echo. Would the birth of Jesus, the character of
Jesus, have been possible unless there had been the virginal and
expectant soul of such a woman as Mary, ready to welcome His coming
with her song? My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath
rejoiced in God my Saviour. Does not the advent of a higher manhood
always wait for the hope and longing of a nobler womanhood?
The chiming of the bells of St. John floats faintly and silverly
across the valley as we leave the shelter of the wayside rest-house and
mount for the last stage of our upward journey. The road ascends
steeply. Nestled in the ravine to our left is the grizzled and
dilapidated village of Liftâ, a town with an evil reputation.
These people sold all their land, says George the dragoman,
twenty years ago, sold all the fields, gardens, olive-groves. Now they
are dirty and lazy in that village,all thieves!
Over the crest of the hill the red-tiled roofs of the first houses
of Jerusalem are beginning to appear. They are houses of mercy, it
seems: one an asylum for the insane, the other a home for the aged
poor. Passing them, we come upon schools and hospital buildings and
other evidences of the charity of the Rothschilds toward their own
people. All around us are villas and consulates, and rows of freshly
built houses for Jewish colonists.
This is not at all the way that we had imagined to ourselves the
first sight of the Holy City. All here is half-European, unromantic,
not very picturesque. It may not be the New Jerusalem, but it is
certainly a modern Jerusalem. Here, in these comfortably commonplace
dwellings, is almost half the present population of the city; and rows
of new houses are rising on every side.
But look down the southward-sloping road. There is the sight that
you have imagined and longed to see: the brown battlements, the
white-washed houses, the flat roofs, the slender minarets, the
many-coloured domes of the ancient city of David, and Solomon, and
Hezekiah, and Herod, and Omar, and Godfrey, and Saladin,but never of
Christ. That great black dome is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The
one beyond it is the Mosque of Omar. Those golden bulbs and pinnacles
beyond the city are the Greek Church of Saint Mary Magdalen on the side
of the Mount of Olives; and on the top of the lofty ridge rises the
great pointed tower of the Russians from which a huge bell booms out a
deep-toned note of welcome.
On every side we see the hospices and convents and churches and
palaces of the different sects of Christendom. The streets are full of
people and carriages and beasts of burden. The dust rises around us. We
are tired with the trab, trab, trab of our horses' feet upon the hard
highroad. Let us not go into the confusion of the city, but ride
quietly down to the left into a great olive-grove, outside the Damascus
Here our white tents are pitched among the trees, with the dear flag
of our home flying over them. Here we shall find leisure and peace to
unite our hearts, and bring our thoughts into tranquil harmony, before
we go into the bewildering city. Here the big stars will look kindly
down upon us through the silvery leaves, and the sounds of human
turmoil and contention will not trouble us. The distant booming of the
bell on the Mount of Olives will mark the night-hours for us, and the
long-drawn plaintive call of the muezzin from the minaret of the little
mosque at the edge of the grove will wake us to the sunrise.
A PSALM OF THE WELCOME TENT
This is the thanksgiving of the weary: The song of him that is
ready to rest.
It is good to be glad when the day is declining: And the setting
of the sun is like a word of peace.
The stars look kindly on the close of a journey: The tent says
welcome when the day's march is done.
For now is the time of the laying down of burdens: And the cool
hour cometh to them that have borne the heat.
I have rejoiced greatly in labour and adventure: My heart hath
been enlarged in the spending of my strength.
Now it is all gone yet I am not impoverished: For thus only may I
inherit the treasure of repose.
Blessed be the Lord that teacheth my hands to unclose and my
to loosen: He also giveth comfort to the feet that are
washed from the dust of
Blessed be the Lord that maketh my meat at nightfall savoury: And
filleth my evening cup with the wine of good cheer.
Blessed be the Lord that maketh me happy to be quiet: Even as a
child that cometh softly to his mother's lap.
O God thou faintest not neither is thy strength worn away with
labour: But it is good for us to be weary that we may obtain thy gift
III. THE GATES OF ZION
A CITY THAT IS SET ON A HILL
Out of the medley of our first impressions of Jerusalem one fact
emerges like an island from the sea: it is a city that is lifted up. No
river; no harbour; no encircling groves and gardens; a site so lonely
and so lofty that it breathes the very spirit of isolation and proud
Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth
Is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north
The city of the great King.
Thus sang the Hebrew poet; and his song, like all true poetry, has
the accuracy of the clearest vision. For this is precisely the one
beauty that crowns Jerusalem: the beauty of a high place and all that
belongs to it: clear sky, refreshing air, a fine outlook, and that
indefinable sense of exultation that comes into the heart of man when
he climbs a little nearer to the stars.
Twenty-five hundred feet above the level of the sea is not a great
height; but I can think of no other ancient and world-famous city that
stands as high. Along the mountainous plateau of Judea, between the
sea-coast plain of Philistia and the sunken valley of the Jordan, there
is a line of sacred sites,Beërsheba, Hebron, Bethlehem, Bethel,
Shiloh, Shechem. Each of them marks the place where a town grew up
around an altar. The central link in this chain of shrine-cities is
Jerusalem. Her form and outline, her relation to the landscape and to
the land, are unchanged from the days of her greatest glory. The
splendours of her Temple and her palaces, the glitter of her armies,
the rich colour and glow of her abounding wealth, have vanished. But
though her garments are frayed and weather-worn, though she is an
impoverished and dusty queen, she still keeps her proud position and
bearing; and as you approach her by the ancient road along the ridges
of Judea you see substantially what Sennacherib, and Nebuchadnezzar,
and the Roman Titus must have seen.
The sides of the north slope gently down to the huge gray wall of
the city, with its many towers and gates. Within those bulwarks, which
are thirty-eight feet high and two and a half miles in circumference,
Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together, covering
with her huddled houses and crooked, narrow streets, the two or three
rounded hills and shallow depressions in which the northern plateau
terminates. South and east and west, the valley of the Brook Kidron and
the Valley of Himmon surround the city wall with a dry moat three or
four hundred feet deep.
Imagine the knuckles of a clenched fist, extended toward the south:
that is the site of Jerusalem, impregnable, (at least in ancient
warfare), from all sides except the north, where the wrist joins it to
the higher tableland. This northern approach, open to Assyria, and
Babylon, and Damascus, and Persia, and Greece, and Rome, has always
been the weak point of Jerusalem. She was no unassailable fortress of
natural strength, but a city lifted up, a lofty shrine, whose refuge
and salvation were in Jehovah,in the faith, the loyalty, the courage
which flowed into the heart of her people from their religion. When
these failed, she fell.
Jerusalem is no longer, and never again will be, the capital of an
earthly kingdom. But she is still one of the high places of the world,
exalted in the imagination and the memory of Jews and Christians and
Mohammedans, a metropolis of infinite human hopes and longings and
devotions. Hither come the innumerable companies of foot-weary
pilgrims, climbing the steep roads from the sea-coast, from the Jordan,
from Bethlehem,pilgrims who seek the place of the Crucifixion,
pilgrims who would weep beside the walls of their vanished Temple,
pilgrims who desire to pray where Mohammed prayed. Century after
century these human throngs have assembled from far countries and
toiled upward to this open, lofty plateau, where the ancient city rests
upon the top of the closed hand, and where the ever-changing winds from
the desert and the sea sweep and shift over the rocky hilltops, the
mute, gray battlements, and the domes crowned with the cross, the
crescent, and the star.
The wind bloweth where it will, and thou hearest the voice thereof,
but knowest not whence it cometh, nor whither it goeth; so is every one
that is born of the Spirit.
The mystery of the heart of mankind, the spiritual airs that breathe
through it, the desires and aspirations that impel men in their
journeyings, the common hopes that bind them together in companies, the
fears and hatreds that array them in warring hosts,there is no place
in the world to-day where you can feel all this so deeply, so
inevitably, so overwhelmingly, as at the Gates of Zion.
It is a feeling of confusion, at first: a bewildering sense of
something vast and old and secret, speaking many tongues, taking many
forms, yet never fully revealing its source and its meaning. The Jews,
Mohammedans, and Christians who flock to those gates are alike in their
sincerity, in their devotion, in the spirit of sacrifice that leads
them on their pilgrimage. Among them all there are hypocrites and
bigots, doubtless, but there are also earnest and devout souls, seeking
something that is higher than themselves, a city set upon a hill. Why
do they not understand one another? Why do they fight and curse one
another? Do they not all come to humble themselves, to pray, to seek
Dark walls that embrace so many tear-stained, blood-stained, holy
and dishonoured shrines! And you, narrow and gloomy gates, through
whose portals so many myriads of mankind have passed with their swords,
their staves, their burdens and their palm-branches! What songs of
triumph you have heard, what yells of battle-rage, what moanings of
despair, what murmurs of hopes and gratitude, what cries of anguish,
what bursts of careless, happy laughter,all borne upon the wind that
bloweth where it will across these bare and rugged heights. We will not
seek to enter yet into the mysteries that you hide. We will tarry here
for a while in the open sunlight, where the cool breeze of April stirs
the olive-groves outside the Damascus Gate. We will tranquillize our
thoughts,perhaps we may even find them growing clearer and
surer,among the simple cares and pleasures that belong to the life of
every day; the life which must have food when it is hungry, and rest
when it is weary, and a shelter from the storm and the night; the life
of those who are all strangers and sojourners upon the earth, and whose
richest houses and strongest cities are, after all, but a little
longer-lasting tents and camps.
THE CAMP IN THE OLIVE-GROVE
The place of our encampment is peaceful and friendly, without being
remote or secluded. The grove is large and free from all undergrowth:
the trunks of the ancient olive-trees are gnarled and massive, the
foliage soft and tremulous. The corner that George has chosen for us is
raised above the road by a kind of terrace, so that it is not too
easily accessible to the curious passer-by. Across the road we see a
gray stone wall, and above it the roof of the Anglican Bishop's house,
and the schools, from which a sound of shrill young voices shouting in
play or chanting in unison rises at intervals through the day. The
ground on which we stand is slightly furrowed with the little ridges of
last year's ploughing: but it has not yet been broken this spring, and
it is covered with millions of infinitesimal flowers, blue and purple
and yellow and white, like tiny pansies run wild.
The four tents, each circular and about fifteen feet in diameter,
are arranged in a crescent. The one nearest to the road is for the
kitchen and service; there Shukari, our Maronite chef, in his
white cap and apron, turns out an admirable six-course dinner on a
portable charcoal range not three feet square. Around the door of this
tent there is much coming and going: edibles of all kinds are brought
for sale; visitors squat in sociable conversation; curious children
hang about, watching the proceedings, or waiting for the favours which
a good cook can bestow.
The next tent is the dining-room; the huge wooden chests of the
canteen, full of glass and china and table-linen and new
Britannia-ware, which shines like silver, are placed one on each side
of the entrance; behind the central tent-pole stands the dining-table,
with two chairs at the back and one at each end, so that we can all
enjoy the view through the open door. The tent is lofty and lined with
many-coloured cotton cloth, arranged in elaborate patterns, scarlet and
green and yellow and blue. When the four candles are lighted on the
well-spread table, and Youssouf the Greek, in his embroidered jacket
and baggy blue breeches, comes in to serve the dinner, it is quite an
Oriental scene. His assistant, Little Youssouf, the Copt, squats
outside of the tent, at one side of the door, to wash up the dishes and
polish the Britannia-ware.
The two other tents are of the same pattern and the same gaudy
colours within: each of them contains two little iron bedsteads, two
Turkish rugs, two washstands, one dressing-table, and such baggage as
we had imagined necessary for our comfort, piled around the
tent-pole,this by way of precaution, lest some misguided hand should
be tempted to slip under the canvas at night and abstract an
unconsidered trifle lying near the edge of the tent.
Of our own men I must say that we never had a suspicion, either of
their honesty or of their good-humour. Not only the four who had most
immediately to do with us, but also the two chief muleteers, Mohammed
'Ali and Moûsa, and the songful boy, Mohammed el Nâsan, who warbled an
interminable Arabian ditty all day long, and Fâris and the two other
assistants, were models of fidelity and willing service. They did not
quarrel (except once, over the division of the mule-loads, in the
mountains of Gilead); they got us into no difficulties and subjected us
to no blackmail from humbugging Bedouin chiefs. They are of a
picturesque motley in costume and of a bewildering variety in
creedAnglican, Catholic, Coptic, Maronite, Greek, Mohammedan, and one
of whom the others say that he belongs to no religion, but sings
beautiful Persian songs. Yet, so far as we are concerned, they all do
the things they ought to do and leave undone the things they ought not
to do, and their way with us is peace. Much of this, no doubt, is due
to the wisdom, tact, and firmness of George the Bethlehemite, the best
We have many visitors at the camp, but none unwelcome. The American
Consul, a genial scholar who knows Palestine by heart and has made
valuable contributions to the archæology of Jerusalem, comes with his
wife to dine with us in the open air. George's gentle wife and his two
bright little boys, Howard and Robert, are with us often. Missionaries
come to tell us of their labours and trials. An Arab hunter, with his
long flintlock musket, brings us beautiful gray partridges which he has
shot among the near-by hills. The stable-master comes day after day
with strings of horses galloping through the grove; for our first
mounts were not to our liking, and we are determined not to start on
our longer ride until we have found steeds that suit us. Peasants from
the country round about bring all sorts of things to sellvegetables,
and lambs, and pigeons, and old coins, and embroidered caps.
There are two men ploughing in a vineyard behind the camp, beyond
the edge of the grove. The plough is a crooked stick of wood which
scratches the surface of the earth. The vines are lying flat on the
ground, still leafless, closely pruned: they look like big black
Women of the city, dressed in black and blue silks, with black
mantles over their heads, come out in the afternoon to picnic among the
trees. They sit in little circles on the grass, smoking cigarettes and
eating sweetmeats. If they see us looking at them they draw the corners
of their mantles across the lower part of their faces; but when they
think themselves unobserved they drop their veils and regard us
curiously with lustrous brown eyes.
One morning a procession of rustic women and girls, singing with
shrill voices, pass the camp on their way to the city to buy the
bride's clothes for a wedding. At nightfall they return singing yet
more loudly, and accompanied by men and boys firing guns into the air
Another day a crowd of villagers go by. Their old Sheikh rides in
the midst of them, with his white-and-gold turban, his long gray beard,
his flowing robes of rich silk. He is mounted on a splendid white Arab
horse, with arched neck and flaunting tail; and a beautiful, gaily
dressed little boy rides behind him with both arms clasped around the
old man's waist. They are going up to the city for the Mohammedan rite
Later in the day a Jewish funeral comes hurrying through the grove:
some twenty or thirty men in flat caps trimmed with fur and gabardines
of cotton velvet, purple, or yellow, or pink, chanting psalms as they
march, with the body of the dead man wrapped in linen cloth and carried
on a rude bier on their shoulders. They seem in haste, (because the
hour is late and the burial must be made before sunset), perhaps a
little indifferent, or almost joyful. Certainly there is no sign of
grief in their looks or their voices; for among them it is counted a
fortunate thing to die in the Holy City and to be buried on the
southern slope of the Valley of Jehoshaphat, where Gabriel is to blow
his trumpet for the resurrection.
IN THE STREETS OF JERUSALEM
Outside the gates we ride, for the roads which encircle the city
wall and lead off to the north and south and east and west, are fairly
broad and smooth. But within the gates we walk, for the streets are
narrow, steep and slippery, and to attempt them on horseback is to
travel with an anxious mind.
Through the Jaffa Gate, indeed, you may easily ride, or even drive
in your carriage: not through the gateway itself, which is a close and
crooked alley, but through the great gap in the wall beside it, made
for the German Emperor to pass through at the time of his famous
imperial scouting-expedition in Syria in 1898. Thus following the track
of the great William you come to the entrance of the Grand New Hotel,
among curiosity-shops and tourist-agencies, where a multitude of
bootblacks assure you that you need a shine, and valets de place
press their services upon you, and ingratiating young merchants try to
allure you into their establishments to purchase photographs or
embroidered scarves or olive-wood souvenirs of the Holy Land.
[Illustration: A Street in Jerusalem.]
Come over to Cook's office, where we get our letters, and stand for
a while on the little terrace with the iron railing, looking at the
motley crowd which fills the place in front of the citadel. Groups of
blue-robed peasant women sit on the curbstone, selling firewood and
grass and vegetables. Their faces are bare and brown, wrinkled with the
sun and the wind. Turkish soldiers in dark-green uniform, Greek priests
in black robes and stove-pipe hats, Bedouins in flowing cloaks of brown
and white, pale-faced Jews with velvet gabardines and curly ear-locks,
Moslem women in many-coloured silken garments and half-transparent
veils, British tourists with cork helmets and white umbrellas, camels,
donkeys, goats, and sheep, jostle together in picturesque confusion.
There is a water-carrier with his shiny, dripping, bulbous goat-skin on
his shoulders. There is an Arab of the wilderness with a young gazelle
in his arms.
Now let us go down the greasy, gliddery steps of David Street,
between the diminutive dusky shops with open fronts where all kinds of
queer things to eat and to wear are sold, and all sorts of craftsmen
are at work making shoes, and tin pans, and copper pots, and wooden
seats, and little tables, and clothes of strange pattern. A turn to the
left brings us into Christian Street and the New Bazaar of the Greeks,
with its modern stores.
A turn to the right and a long descent under dark archways and
through dirty, shadowy alleys brings us to the Place of Lamentations,
beside the ancient foundation wall of the Temple, where the Jews come
in the afternoon of Fridays and festival-days to lean their heads
against the huge stones and murmur forth their wailings over the
downfall of Jerusalem. For the majesty that is departed, cries the
leader, and the others answer: We sit in solitude and mourn. We pray
Thee have mercy on Zion, cries the leader, and the others answer:
Gather the children of Jerusalem. With most of them it seems a
perfunctory mourning; but there are two or three old men with the tears
running down their faces as they kiss the smooth-worn stones.
We enter convents and churches, mosques and tombs. We trace the
course of the traditional Via Dolorosa, and try to reconstruct
in our imagination the probable path of that grievous journey from the
judgment-hall of injustice to the Calvary of crueltya path which now
lies buried far below the present level of the city.
One impression deepens in my mind with every hour: this was never
Christ's city. The confusion, the shallow curiosity, the self-interest,
the clashing prejudices, the inaccessibility of the idle and busy
multitudes were the same in His day that they are now. It was not here
that Jesus found the men and women who believed in Him and loved Him,
but in the quiet villages, among the green fields, by the peaceful
lake-shores. And it is not here that we shall find the clearest traces,
the most intimate visions of Him, but away in the big out-of-doors,
where the sky opens free above us, and the landscapes roll away to far
As we loiter about the city, now alone, now under the discreet and
unhampering escort of the Bethlehemite; watching the Mussulmans at
their dinner in some dingy little restaurant, where kitchen, store-room
and banquet-hall are all in the same apartment, level and open to the
street; pausing to bargain with an impassive Arab for a leather belt or
with an ingratiating Greek for a string of amber beads; looking in
through the unshuttered windows of the Jewish houses where the families
are gathered in festal array for the household rites of Passover week;
turning over the chaplets, and rosaries, and anklets, and bracelets of
coloured glass and mother-of-pearl, and variegated stones, and curious
beans and seed-pods in the baskets of the street-vendors around the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre; stepping back into an archway to avoid a
bag-footed camel, or a gaily caparisoned horse, or a heavy-laden donkey
passing through a narrow street; exchanging a smile and an
unintelligible friendly jest with a sweet-faced, careless child;
listening to long disputes between buyers and sellers in that
resounding Arab tongue which seems full of tragic indignation and
wrath, while the eyes of the handsome brown Bedouins who use it remain
unsearchable in their Oriental languor and pride; Jerusalem becomes to
us more and more a symbol and epitome of that which is changeless and
transient, capricious and inevitable, necessary and insignificant,
interesting and unsatisfying, in the unfinished tragi-comedy of human
life. There are times when it fascinates us with its whirling charm.
There are other times when we are glad to ride away from it, to seek
communion with the great spirit of some antique prophet, or to find the
consoling presence of Him who spake the words of the eternal life.
A PSALM OF GREAT CITIES
How wonderful are the cities that man hath builded: Their walls
are compacted of heavy stones, And their lofty towers rise above the
Rome, Jerusalem, Cairo, Damascus, Venice, Constantinople,
Moscow, Pekin, London, New York, Berlin, Paris, Vienna,
These are the names of mighty enchantments: They have called to
the ends of the earth, They have secretly summoned an host of servants.
They shine from far sitting beside great waters: They are proudly
enthroned upon high hills, They spread out their splendour along the
Yet are they all the work of small patient fingers: Their
strength is in the hand of man, He hath woven his flesh and blood into
The cities are scattered over the world like ant-hills: Every one
of them is full of trouble and toil, And their makers run to and fro
Abundance of riches is laid up in their store-houses: Yet they
are tormented with the fear of want, The cry of the poor in their
streets is exceeding bitter.
Their inhabitants are driven by blind perturbations: They whirl
sadly in the fever of haste, Seeking they know not what, they pursue it
The air is heavy-laden with their breathing: The sound of their
coming and going is never still, Even in the night I hear them
whispering and crying.
Beside every ant-hill I behold a monster crouching: This is the
ant-lion Death, He thrusteth forth his tongue and the people perish.
O God of wisdom thou hast made the country: Why hast thou
suffered man to make the town?
Then God answered, Surely I am the maker of man: And in the heart
of man I have set the city.
IV. MIZPAH AND THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
THE JUDGMENT-SEAT OF SAMUEL
Mizpah of Benjamin stands to the northwest: the sharpest peak in the
Judean range, crowned with a ragged, dusty village and a small mosque.
We rode to it one morning over the steepest, stoniest bridle-paths that
we had ever seen. The country was bleak and rocky, a skeleton of
landscape; but between the stones and down the precipitous hillsides
and along the hot gorges, the incredible multitude of spring flowers
It was a stiff scramble up the conical hill to the little hamlet at
the top, built out of and among ruins. The mosque, evidently an old
Christian church remodelled, was bare, but fairly clean, cool, and
tranquil. We peered through a grated window, tied with many-coloured
scraps of rags by the Mohammedan pilgrims, into a whitewashed room
containing a huge sarcophagus said to be the tomb of Samuel. Then we
climbed the minaret and lingered on the tiny railed balcony, feeding on
The peak on which we stood was isolated by deep ravines from the
other hills of desolate gray and scanty green. Beyond the western range
lay the Valley of Aijalon, and beyond that the rich Plain of Sharon
with iridescent hues of green and blue and silver, and beyond that the
yellow line of the sand-dunes broken by the white spot of Jaffa, and
beyond that the azure breadth of the Mediterranean. Northward, at our
feet, on the summit of a lower conical hill, ringed with gray rock, lay
the village of El-Jib, the ancient Geba of Benjamin, one of the cities
which Joshua gave to the Levites.
This was the place from which Jonathan and his armour-bearer set
out, without Saul's knowledge, on their daring, perilous scouting
expedition against the Philistines. What fighting there was in olden
days over that tumbled country of hills and gorges, stretching away
north to the blue mountains of Samaria and the summits of Ebal and
Gerizim on the horizon!
There on the rocky backbone of Benjamin and Ephraim, was Ramallah
(where we had spent Sunday in the sweet orderliness of the Friends'
Mission School), and Beëroth, and Bethel, and Gilgal, and Shiloh.
Eastward, behind the hills, we could trace the long, vast trench of the
Jordan valley running due north and south, filled with thin violet haze
and terminating in a glint of the Dead Sea. Beyond that deep line of
division rose the mountains of Gilead and Moab, a lofty, unbroken
barrier. To the south-east we could see the red roofs of the new
Jerusalem, and a few domes and minarets of the ancient city. Beyond
them, in the south, was the truncated cone of the Frank Mountain, where
the crusaders made their last stand against the Saracens; and the hills
around Bethlehem; and a glimpse, nearer at hand, of the tall cypresses
and peaceful gardens of 'Ain Karîm.
This terrestrial paradise of vision encircled us with jewel-hues and
clear, exquisite outlines. Below us were the flat roofs of Nebi Samwîl,
with a dog barking on every roof; the filthy courtyards and dark
doorways, with a woman in one of them making bread; the ruined archways
and broken cisterns with a pool of green water stagnating in one
corner; peasants ploughing their stony little fields, and a string of
donkeys winding up the steep path to the hill.
Here, centuries ago, Samuel called all Israel to Mizpah, and offered
sacrifice before Jehovah, and judged the people. Here he inspired them
with new courage and sent them down to discomfit the Philistines.
Hither he came as judge and ruler of Israel, making his annual circuit
between Gilgal and Bethel and Mizpah. Here he assembled the tribes
again, when they were tired of his rule, and gave them a King according
to their desire, even the tall warrior Saul, the son of Kish.
Do the bones of the prophet rest here or at Ramah? I do not know.
But here, on this commanding peak, he began and ended his judgeship;
from this aerie he looked forth upon the inheritance of the turbulent
sons of Jacob; and here, if you like, today, a pale, clever young
Mohammedan will show you what he calls the coffin of Samuel.
THE HILL THAT JESUS LOVED
We had seen from Mizpah the sharp ridge of the Mount of Olives,
rising beyond Jerusalem. Our road thither from the camp led us around
the city, past the Damascus Gate, and the royal grottoes, and Herod's
Gate, and the Tower of the Storks, and St. Stephen's Gate, down into
the Valley of the Brook Kidron. Here, on the west, rises the
precipitous Temple Hill crowned with the wall of the city, and on the
east the long ridge of Olivet.
There are several buildings on the side of the steep hill, marking
supposed holy places or sacred eventsthe Church of the Tomb of the
Virgin, the Latin Chapel of the Agony, the Greek Church of St. Mary
Magdalen. On top of the ridge are the Russian Buildings, with the
Chapel of the Ascension, and the Latin Buildings, with the Church of
the Creed, the Church of the Paternoster, and a Carmelite Nunnery.
Among the walls of these inclosures we wound our way, and at last tied
our horses outside of the Russian garden. We climbed the two hundred
and fourteen steps of the lofty Belvidere Tower, and found ourselves in
possession of one of the great views of the world. There is Jerusalem,
across the Kidron, spread out like a raised map below us. The mountains
of Judah roll away north and south and east and westthe clean-cut
pinnacle of Mizpah, the lofty plain of Rephaïm, the dark hills toward
Hebron, the rounded top of Scopus where Titus camped with his Roman
legions, the flattened peak of Frank Mountain. Bethlehem is not
visible; but there is the tiny village of Bethphage, and the first roof
of Bethany peeping over the ridge, and the Inn of the Good Samaritan in
a red cut of the long serpentine road to Jericho. The dark range of
Gilead and Moab seems like a huge wall of lapis-lazuli beyond the
furrowed, wrinkled, yellowish clay-hills and the wide gray trench of
the Jordan Valley, wherein the river marks its crooked path with a line
of deep green. The hundreds of ridges that slope steeply down to that
immense depression are touched with a thousand hues of amethystine
light, and the ravines between them filled with a thousand tones of
azure shadow. At the end of the valley glitter the blue waters of the
Dead Sea, fifteen miles away, four thousand feet below us, yet seeming
so near that we almost expect to hear the sound of its waves on the
rocky shores of the Wilderness of Tekoa.
On this mount Jesus of Nazareth often walked with His disciples. On
this widespread landscape His eyes rested as He spoke divinely of the
invisible kingdom of peace and love and joy that shall never pass away.
Over this walled city, sleeping in the sunshine, full of earthly dreams
and disappointments, battlemented hearts and whited sepulchres of the
spirit, He wept, and cried: O Jerusalem, how often would I have
gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her own brood
under her wings, and ye would not!
THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE
Come down, now, from the mount of vision to the grove of
olive-trees, the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus used to take refuge
with His friends. It lies on the eastern slope of Olivet, not far above
the Valley of Kidron, over against that city-gate which was called the
Beautiful, or the Golden, but which is now walled up.
The grove probably belonged to some friend of Jesus or of one of His
disciples, who permitted them to make use of it for their quiet
meetings. At that time, no doubt, the whole hillside was covered with
olive-trees, but most of these have now disappeared. The eight aged
trees that still cling to life in Gethsemane have been inclosed with a
low wall and an iron railing, and the little garden that blooms around
them is cared for by Franciscan monks from Italy.
The gentle, friendly Fra Giovanni, in bare sandaled feet, coarse
brown robe, and broad-brimmed straw hat, is walking among the flowers.
He opens the gate for us and courteously invites us in, telling us in
broken French that we may pick what flowers we like. Presently I fall
into discourse with him in broken Italian, telling him of my visit
years ago to the cradle of his Order at Assisi, and to its most
beautiful shrine at La Verna, high above the Val d'Arno. His old eyes
soften into youthful brightness as he speaks of Italy. It was most
beautiful, he said, bellisima! But he is happier here, caring
for this garden, it is most holy, santissima!
The bronzed Mohammedan gardener, silent, patient, absorbed in his
task, moves with his watering-pot among the beds, quietly refreshing
the thirsty blossoms. There are wall-flowers, stocks, pansies, baby's
breath, pinks, anemones of all colours, rosemary, rue, poppiesall
sorts of sweet old-fashioned flowers. Among them stand the scattered
venerable trees, with enormous trunks, wrinkled and contorted, eaten
away by age, patched and built up with stones, protected and tended
with pious care, as if they were very old people whose life must be
tenderly nursed and sheltered. Their boles hardly seem to be of wood;
so dark, so twisted, so furrowed are they, of an aspect so enduring
that they appear to be cast in bronze or carved out of black granite.
Above each of them spreads a crown of fresh foliage, delicate,
abundant, shimmering softly in the sunlight and the breeze, with silken
turnings of the under side of the innumerable leaves. In the centre of
the garden is a kind of open flower house with a fountain of flowing
water, erected in memory of a young American girl. At each corner a
pair of slender cypresses lift their black-green spires against the
blanched azure of the sky.
It is a place of refuge, of ineffable tranquillity, of unforgetful
tenderness. The inclosure does not offend. How else could this sacred
shrine of the out-of-doors be preserved? And what more fitting guardian
for it than the Order of that loving Saint Francis, who called the sun
and the moon his brother and his sister and preached to a joyous
congregation of birds as his little brothers of the air? The flowers
do not offend. Their antique fragrance, gracious order, familiar looks,
are a symbol of what faithful memory does with the sorrows and
sufferings of those who have loved us bestshe treasures and
transmutes them into something beautiful, she grows her sweetest
flowers in the ground that tears have made holy.
It is here, in this quaint and carefully tended garden, this
precious place which has been saved alike from the oblivious trampling
of the crowd and from the needless imprisonment of four walls and a
roof, it is here in the open air, in the calm glow of the afternoon,
under the shadow of Mount Zion, that we find for the first time that
which we have come so far to seek,the soul of the Holy Land, the
inward sense of the real presence of Jesus.
It is as clear and vivid as any outward experience. Why should I not
speak of it as simply and candidly? Nothing that we have yet seen in
Palestine, no vision of wide-spread landscape, no sight of ancient ruin
or famous building or treasured relic, comes as close to our hearts as
this little garden sleeping in the sun. Nothing that we have read from
our Bibles in the new light of this journey has been for us so suddenly
illumined, so deeply and tenderly brought home to us, as the story of
Here, indeed, in the moonlit shadow of these olivesif not of these
very branches, yet of others sprung from the same immemorial stemswas
endured the deepest suffering ever borne for man, the most profound
sorrow of the greatest Soul that loved all human souls. It was not in
the temptation in the wilderness, as Milton imagined, that the crisis
of the Divine life was enacted and Paradise was regained. It was in the
agony in the garden.
Here the love of life wrestled in the heart of Jesus with the
purpose of sacrifice, and the anguish of that wrestling wrung the drops
of blood from Him like sweat. Here, for the only time, He found the cup
of sorrow and shame too bitter, and prayed the Father to take it from
His lips if it were possiblepossible without breaking faith, without
surrendering love. For that He would not do, though His soul was
exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. Here He learned the frailty of
human friendship, the narrowness and dulness and coldness of the very
hearts for whom He had done and suffered most, who could not even watch
with Him one hour.
What infinite sense of the poverty and feebleness of mankind, the
inveteracy of selfishness, the uncertainty of human impulses and
aspirations and promises; what poignant questioning of the necessity,
the utility of self-immolation must have tortured the soul of Jesus in
that hour! It was His black hour. None can imagine the depth of that
darkness but those who have themselves passed through some of its outer
shadows, in the times when love seems vain, and sacrifice futile, and
friendship meaningless, and life a failure, and death intolerable.
Jesus met the spirit of despair in the Garden of Gethsemane; and
after that meeting, the cross had no terrors for Him, because He had
already endured them; the grave no fear, because He had already
conquered it. How calm and gentle was the voice with which He wakened
His disciples, how firm the step with which He went to meet Judas! The
bitterness of death was behind Him in the shadow of the olive-trees.
The peace of Heaven shone above Him in the silent stars.
A PSALM OF SURRENDER
Mine enemies have prevailed against me, O God: Thou hast led me
deep into their ambush.
They surround me with a hedge of spears: And the sword in my hand
My friends also have forsaken my side: From a safe place they
look upon me with pity.
My heart is like water poured upon the ground: I have come alone
to the place of surrender.
To thee, to thee only will I give up my sword: The sword which
was broken in thy service.
Thou hast required me to suffer for thy cause: By my defeat thy
will is victorious.
O my King show me thy face shining in the dark: While I drink the
loving-cup of death to thy glory.
V. AN EXCURSION TO BETHLEHEM AND
A sparkling morning followed a showery night, and all the little red
and white and yellow flowers were lifting glad faces to the sun as we
took the highroad to Bethlehem. Leaving the Jaffa Gate on the left, we
crossed the head of the deep Valley of Hinnom, below the dirty Pool of
the Sultan, and rode up the hill on the opposite side of the vale.
There was much rubbish and filth around us, and the sight of the
Ophthalmic Hospital of the English Knights of Saint John, standing in
the beauty of cleanness and order beside the road, did our eyes good.
Blindness is one of the common afflictions of the people of Palestine.
Neglect and ignorance and dirt and the plague of crawling flies spread
the germs of disease from eye to eye, and the people submit to it with
pathetic and irritating fatalism. It is hard to persuade these poor
souls that the will of Allah or Jehovah in this matter ought not to be
accepted until after it has been questioned. But the light of true and
humane religion is spreading a little. We rejoiced to see the
reception-room of the hospital filled with all sorts and conditions of
men, women and children waiting for the good physicians who save and
restore sight in the name of Jesus.
To the right, a little below us, lay the ugly railway station;
before us, rising gently southward, extended the elevated Plain of
Rephaïm where David smote the host of the Philistines after he had
heard the sound of a going in the tops of the mulberry-trees. The red
soil was cultivated in little farms and gardens. The almond-trees were
in leaf; the hawthorn in blossom; the fig-trees were putting forth
their tender green.
[Illustration: A Street in Bethlehem.]
A slowly ascending road brought us to the hill of Mâr Elyâs, and the
so-called Well of the Magi. Here the legend says the Wise Men halted
after they had left Jerusalem, and the star reappeared to guide them on
to Bethlehem. Certain it is that they must have taken this road; and
certain it is that both Bethlehem and Jerusalem, hidden from each other
by the rising ground, are clearly visible to one who stands in the
saddle of this hill.
There were fine views down the valleys to the east, with blue
glimpses of the Dead Sea at the end of them. The supposed tomb of
Rachel, a dingy little building with a white dome, interested us less
than the broad lake of olive-orchards around the distant village of
Beit Jâlâ, and the green fields, pastures and gardens encircling the
double hill of Bethlehem, the ancient House of Bread. There was an
aspect of fertility and friendliness about the place that seemed in
harmony with its name and its poetic memories.
In a walled kitchen-garden at the entrance of the town was David's
Well. We felt no assurance, of course, as we looked down into it, that
this was the veritable place. But at all events it served to bring back
to us one of the prettiest bits of romance in the Old Testament. When
the bold son of Jesse had become a chieftain of outlaws and was
besieged by the Philistines in the stronghold of Adullam, his heart
grew thirsty for a draught from his father's well, whose sweetness he
had known as a boy. And when his three mighty men went up secretly at
the risk of their lives, and broke through the host of their enemies,
and brought their captain a vessel of this water, he would not drink
thereof, but poured it out unto Jehovah.
There was a division of opinion in our party in regard to this act.
It was sheer foolishness, said the Patriarch, to waste anything that
had cost so much to get. What must the three mighty men have thought
when they saw that for which they had risked their lives poured out
upon the ground? Ah, no, said the Lady. It was the highest
gratitude, because it was touched with poetry. It was the best
compliment that David could have given to his friends. Some gifts are
too precious to be received in any other way than this. And in my
heart I knew that she was right.
Riding through the narrow streets of the town, which is inhabited
almost entirely by Christians, we noted the tranquil good looks of the
women, a distinct type, rather short of stature, round-faced, placid
and kind of aspect. Not a few of them had blue eyes. They wore
dark-blue skirts, dark-red jackets, and a white veil over their heads,
but not over their faces. Under the veil the married women wore a
peculiar cap of stiff, embroidered black cloth, about six inches high,
and across the front of this cap was strung their dowry of gold or
silver coins. Such a dress, no doubt, was worn by the Virgin Mary, and
such tranquil, friendly looks, I think, were hers, but touched with a
rarer light of beauty shining from a secret source within.
A crowd of little boys and girls just released from school for their
recess shouted and laughed and chased one another, pausing for a moment
in round-eyed wonder when I pointed my camera at them. Donkeys and
camels and sheep made our passage through the town slow, and gave us
occasion to look to our horses' footing. At one corner a great white
sow ran out of an alley-way, followed by a twinkling litter of pink
pigs. In the market-place we left our horses in the shadow of the
monastery wall and entered, by a low door, the lofty, bare Church of
The long rows of immense marble pillars had some faded remains of
painting on them. There were a few battered fragments of mosaic in the
clerestory, dimly glittering. But the general effect of the whitewashed
walls, the ancient brown beams and rafters of the roof, the large,
empty space, was one of extreme simplicity.
When we came into the choir and apse we found ourselves in the midst
of complexity. The ownership of the different altars with their gilt
ornaments, of the swinging lamps, of the separate doorways of the
Greeks and the Armenians and the Latins, was bewildering. Dark, winding
steps, slippery with the drippings from many candles, led us down into
the Grotto of the Nativity. It was a cavern perhaps forty feet long and
ten feet wide, lit by thirty pendent lamps (Greek, Armenian and Latin):
marble floor and walls hung with draperies; a silver star in the
pavement before the altar to mark the spot where Christ was born; a
marble manger in the corner to mark the cradle in which Christ was
laid; a never-ceasing stream of poor pilgrims, who come kneeling, and
kissing the star and the stones and the altar for Christ's sake.
[Illustration: The Market-place, Bethlehem.]
We paused for a while, after we had come up, to ask ourselves
whether what we had seen was in any way credible. Yes, credible, but
not convincing. No doubt the ancient Khân of Bethlehem must have been
somewhere near this spot, in the vicinity of the market-place of the
town. No doubt it was the custom, when there were natural hollows or
artificial grottos in the rock near such an inn, to use them as
shelters and stalls for the cattle. It is quite possible, it is even
probable, that this may have been one of the shallow caverns used for
such a purpose. If so, there is no reason to deny that this may be the
place of the wondrous birth, where, as the old French Noel has
Dieu parmy les pastoreaux,
Sous la crêche des toreaux,
Dans les champs a voulu naistre;
Et non parmy les arroys
Des grands princes et des roys,
Lui des plus grands roys le maistre.
But to the eye, at least, there is no reminder of the scene of the
Nativity in this close and stifling chapel, hung with costly silks and
embroideries, glittering with rich lamps, filled with the smoke of
incense and waxen tapers. And to the heart there is little suggestion
of the lonely night when Joseph found a humble refuge here for his
young bride to wait in darkness, pain and hope for her hour to come.
In the church above, the Latins and Armenians and Greeks guard their
privileges and prerogatives jealously. There have been fights here
about the driving of a nail, the hanging of a picture, the sweeping of
a bit of the floor. The Crimean War began in a quarrel between the
Greeks and the Latins, and a mob-struggle in the Church of the
Nativity. Underneath the floor, to the north of the Grotto of the
Nativity, is the cave in which Saint Jerome lived peaceably for many
years, translating the Bible into Latin. That was better than fighting.
ON THE ROAD TO HEBRON
We ate our lunch at Bethlehem in a curiosity-shop. The table was
spread at the back of the room by the open window. All around us were
hanging innumerable chaplets and rosaries of mother-of-pearl, of
carnelian, of carved olive-stones, of glass beads; trinkets and
souvenirs of all imaginable kinds, tiny sheep-bells and inlaid boxes
and carved fans filled the cases and cabinets. Through the window came
the noise of people busy at Bethlehem's chief industry, the cutting and
polishing of mother-of-pearl for mementoes. The jingling bells of our
pack-train, passing the open door, reminded us that our camp was to be
pitched miles away on the road to Hebron.
We called for the horses and rode on through the town. Very
beautiful and peaceful was the view from the southern hill, looking
down upon the pastures of Bethlehem where shepherds watched their
flocks by night, and the field of Boaz where Ruth followed the reapers
among the corn.
Down dale and up hill we journeyed; bright green of almond-trees,
dark green of carob-trees, snowy blossoms of apricot-trees, rosy
blossoms of peach-trees, argent verdure of olive-trees, adorning the
valleys. Then out over the wilder, rockier heights; and past the great
empty Pools of Solomon, lying at the head of the Wâdi Artâs, watched by
a square ruined castle; and up the winding road and along the lofty
flower-sprinkled ridges; and at last we came to our tents, pitched in
the wide, green Wâdi el-'Arrûb, beside the bridge.
Springs gushed out of the hillside here and ran down in a little
laughing brook through lawns full of tiny pink and white daisies, and
broad fields of tangled weeds and flowers, red anemones, blue iris,
purple mallows, scarlet adonis, with here and there a strip of
cultivated ground shimmering with silky leeks or dotted with young
cucumbers. There was a broken aqueduct cut in the rock at the side of
the valley, and the brook slipped by a large ruined reservoir.
George, said I to the Bethlehemite, as he sat meditating on the
edge of the dry pool, what do you think of this valley?
I think, said George, that if I had a few thousand dollars to buy
the land, with all this runaway water I could make it blossom like a
The cold, green sunset behind the western hills darkened into night.
The air grew chilly, dropping nearly to the point of frost. We missed
the blazing camp-fire of the Canadian forests, and went to bed early,
tucking in the hot-water bags at our feet and piling on the blankets
and rugs. All through the night we could hear the passers-by shouting
and singing along the Hebron road. There was one unknown traveller
whose high-pitched, quavering Arab song rose far away, and grew louder
as he approached, and passed us in a whirlwind of lugubrious music, and
tapered slowly off into distance and silencea chant a mile long.
The morning broke through flying clouds, with a bitter, wet, west
wind rasping the bleak highlands. There were spiteful showers with
intervals of mocking sunshine; it was a mischievous and prankish bit of
weather, no day for riding. But the Lady was indomitable, so we left
the Patriarch in his tent, wrapped ourselves in garments of mackintosh
and took the road again.
The country, at first, was wild and barren, a wilderness of rocks
and thorn bushes and stunted scrub oaks. Now and then a Greek
partridge, in its beautiful plumage of fawn-gray, marked with red and
black about the head, clucked like a hen on the stony hillside, or
whirred away in low, straight flight over the bushes. Flocks of black
and brown goats, with pendulous ears, skipped up and down the steep
ridges, standing up on their hind legs to browse the foliage of the
little oak shrubs, or showing themselves off in a butting-match on top
of a big rock. Marching on the highroad they seemed sedate, despondent,
pattering along soberly with flapping ears. In the midst of one flock I
saw a fierce-looking tattered pastor tenderly carrying a little black
kid in his bosomas tenderly as if it were a lamb. It seemed like an
illustration of a picture that I saw long ago in the Catacombs, in
which the infant church of Christ silently expressed the richness of
her love, the breadth of her hope:
On those walls subterranean, where she hid
Her head 'mid ignominy, death and tombs,
She her Good Shepherd's hasty image drew
And on His shoulders, not a lamb, a kid.
As we drew nearer to Hebron the region appeared more fertile, and
the landscape smiled a little under the gleams of wintry sunshine.
There were many vineyards; in most of them the vines trailed along the
ground, but in some they were propped up on sticks, like old men
leaning on crutches. Almond and apricot-trees flourished. The
mulberries, the olives, the sycamores were abundant. Peasants were
ploughing the fields with their crooked sticks shod with a long iron
point. When a man puts his hand to such a plough he dares not look
back, else it will surely go aside. It makes a scratch, not a furrow.
(I saw a man in the hospital at Nazareth who had his thigh pierced
clear through by one of these dagger-like iron plough points.)
Children were gathering roots and thorn branches for firewood. Women
were carrying huge bundles on their heads. Donkey-boys were urging
their heavy-laden animals along the road, and cameleers led their
deliberate strings of ungainly beasts by a rope or a light chain
reaching from one nodding head to another.
A camel's load never looks as large as a donkey's, but no doubt he
often finds it heavy, and he always looks displeased with it. There is
something about the droop of a camel's lower lip which seems to express
unalterable disgust with the universe. But the rest of the world around
Hebron appeared to be reasonably happy. In spite of weather and poverty
and hard work the ploughmen sang in the fields, the children skipped
and whistled at their tasks, the passers-by on the road shouted
greetings to the labourers in the gardens and vineyards. Somewhere
round about here is supposed to lie the Valley of Eshcol from which the
Hebrew spies brought back the monstrous bunch of grapes, a cluster that
reached from the height of a man's shoulder to the ground.
THE TENTING-GROUND OF ABRAHAM
Hebron lies three thousand feet above the sea, and is one of the
ancient market-places and shrines of the world. From time immemorial it
has been a holy town, a busy town, and a turbulent town. The Hittites
and the Amorites dwelt here, and Abraham, a nomadic shepherd whose
tents followed his flocks over the land of Canaan, bought here his only
piece of real estate, the field and cave of Machpelah. He bought it for
a tomb,even a nomad wishes to rest quietly in death,and here he and
his wife Sarah, and his children Isaac and Rebekah, and his
grandchildren Jacob and Leah were buried.
The modern town has about twenty thousand inhabitants, chiefly
Mohammedans of a fanatical temper, and is incredibly dirty. We passed
the muddy pool by which King David, when he was reigning here, hanged
the murderers of Ishbosheth. We climbed the crooked streets to the
Mosque which covers the supposed site of the cave of Machpelah. But we
did not see the tomb of Abraham, for no infidel is allowed to pass
beyond the seventh step in the flight of stairs which leads up to the
As we went down through the narrow, dark, crowded Bazaar a violent
storm of hail broke over the city, pelting into the little open shops
and covering the streets half an inch deep with snowy sand and pebbles
of ice. The tempest was a rude joke, which seemed to surprise the surly
crowd into a good humour. We laughed with the Moslems as we took
shelter together from our common misery under a stone archway.
After the storm had passed we ate our midday meal on a housetop,
which a friend of the dragoman put at our disposal, and rode out in the
afternoon to the Oak of Abraham on the hill of Mamre. The tree is an
immense, battered veteran, with a trunk ten feet in diameter, and
wide-flung, knotted arms which still bear a few leaves and acorns. It
has been inclosed with a railing, patched up with masonry, partially
protected by a roof. The Russian monks who live near by have given it
pious care, yet its inevitable end is surely near.
The death of a great sheltering tree has a kind of dumb pathos. It
seems like the passing away of something beneficent and helpless,
something that was able to shield others but not itself.
On this hill, under the oaks of Mamre, Abraham's tents were pitched
many a year, and here he entertained the three angels unawares, and
Sarah made pancakes for them, and listened behind the tent-flap while
they were talking with her husband, and laughed at what they said. This
may not be the very tree that flung its shadow over the tent, but no
doubt it is a son or a grandson of that tree, and the acorns that still
fall from it may be the seeds of other oaks to shelter future
generations of pilgrims; and so throughout the world, the ancient
covenant of friendship is unbroken, and man remains a grateful lover of
the big, kind trees.
We got home to our camp in the green meadow of the springs late in
the afternoon, and on the third day we rode back to Jerusalem, and
pitched the tents in a new place, on a hill opposite the Jaffa Gate,
with a splendid view of the Valley of Hinnom, the Tower of David, and
the western wall of the city.
A PSALM OF FRIENDLY TREES
I will sing of the bounty of the big trees, They are the green
tents of the Almighty, He hath set them up for comfort and for shelter.
Their cords hath he knotted in the earth, He hath driven their
stakes securely, Their roots take hold of the rocks like iron.
He sendeth into their bodies the sap of life, They lift
themselves lightly towards the heavens. They rejoice in the broadening
of their branches.
Their leaves drink in the sunlight and the air, They talk softly
together when the breeze bloweth, Their shadow in the noonday is full
The tall palm-trees of the plain are rich in fruit, While the
fruit ripeneth the flower unfoldeth, The beauty of their crown is
renewed on high forever.
The cedars of Lebanon are fed by the snow, Afar on the mountain
they grow like giants, In their layers of shade a thousand years are
How fair are the trees that befriend the home of man, The oak,
and the terebinth, and the sycamore, The fruitful fig-tree and the
In them the Lord is loving to his little birds, The linnets and
the finches and the nightingales, They people his pavilions with
nests and with music.
The cattle are very glad of a great tree, They chew the cud
beneath it while the sun is burning, There also the panting sheep lie
down around their shepherd.
He that planteth a tree is a servant of God, He provideth a
kindness for many generations, And faces that he hath not seen shall
Lord, when my spirit shall return to thee, At the foot of a
friendly tree let my body be buried, That this dust may rise and
rejoice among the branches.
VI. THE TEMPLE AND THE SEPULCHRE
THE DOME OF THE ROCK
There is an upward impulse in man that draws him to a hilltop for
his place of devotion and sanctuary of ascending thoughts. The purer
air, the wider outlook, the sense of freedom and elevation, help to
release his spirit from the weight that bends his forehead to the dust.
A traveller in Palestine, if he had wings, could easily pass through
the whole land by short flights from the summit of one holy hill to
another, and look down from a series of mountain-altars upon the
wrinkled map of sacred history without once descending into the valley
or toiling over the plain. But since there are no wings provided in the
human outfit, our journey from shrine to shrine must follow the common
way of men,which is also a symbol,the path of up-and-down, and many
windings, and weary steps.
The oldest of the shrines of Jerusalem is the threshing-floor of
Araunah the Jebusite, which David bought from him in order that it
might be made the site of the Temple of Jehovah. No doubt the King knew
of the traditions which connected the place with ancient and famous
rites of worship. But I think he was moved also by the commanding
beauty of the situation, on the very summit of Mount Moriah, looking
down into the deep Valley of the Kidron.
Our way to this venerable and sacred hill leads through the crooked
duskiness of David Street, and across the half-filled depression of the
Tyrop[oe]on Valley which divides the city, and up through the dim,
deserted Bazaar of the Cotton Merchants, and so through the central
western gate of the Haram-esh-Sherîf, the Noble Sanctuary.
This is a great inclosure, clean, spacious, airy, a place of refuge
from the foul confusion of the city streets. The wall that shuts us in
is almost a mile long, and within this open space, which makes an
immediate effect of breadth and tranquil order, are some of the most
sacred buildings of Islam and some of the most significant landmarks of
Slender and graceful arcades are outlined against the clear, blue
sky: little domes are poised over praying-places and fountains of
ablution: wide and easy flights of steps lead from one level to
another, in this park of prayer.
At the southern end, beyond the tall cypresses and the plashing
fountain fed from Solomon's Pools, stands the long Mosque el-Aksa: to
Mohammedans, the place to which Allah brought their prophet from Mecca
in one night; to Christians, the Basilica which the Emperor Justinian
erected in honor of the Virgin Mary. At the northern end rises the
ancient wall of the Castle of Antonia, from whose steps Saint Paul,
protected by the Roman captain, spoke his defence to the Jerusalem mob.
The steps, hewn partly in the solid rock, are still visible; but the
site of the castle is occupied by the Turkish barracks, beside which
the tallest minaret of the Haram lifts its covered gallery high above
the corner of the great wall.
Yonder to the east is the Golden Gate, above the steep Valley of
Jehoshaphat. It is closed with great stones; because the Moslem
tradition says that some Friday a Christian conqueror will enter
Jerusalem by that gate. Not far away we see the column in the wall from
which the Mohammedans believe a slender rope, or perhaps a naked sword,
will be stretched, in the judgment day, to the Mount of Olives
opposite. This, according to them, will be the bridge over which all
human souls must walk, while Christ sits at one end, Mohammed at the
other, watching and judging. The righteous, upheld by angels, will pass
safely; the wicked, heavy with unbalanced sins, will fall.
Dominating all these wide-spread relics and shrines, in the centre
of the inclosure, on a raised platform approached through delicate
arcades, stands the great Dome of the Rock, built by Abd-el-Melik in
688 A.D., on the site of the Jewish Temple. The exterior of the vast
octagon, with its lower half cased in marble and its upper half
incrusted with Persian tiles of blue and green, its broad, round
lantern and swelling black dome surmounted by a glittering crescent, is
bathed in full sunlight; serene, proud, eloquent of a certain splendid
simplicity. Within, the light filters dimly through windows of stained
glass and falls on marble columns, bronzed beams, mosaic walls, screens
of wrought iron and carved wood. We walk as if through an interlaced
forest and undergrowth of rich entangled colours. It all seems
visionary, unreal, fantastic, until we climb the bench by the end of
the inner screen and look upon the Rock over which the Dome is built.
This is the real thing,a plain gray limestone rock, level and
fairly smooth, the unchanged summit of Mount Moriah. Here the
priest-king Melchizedek offered sacrifice. Here Abraham, in the cruel
fervour of his faith, was about to slay his only son Isaac because he
thought it would please Jehovah. Here Araunah the Jebusite threshed his
corn on the smooth rock and winnowed it in the winds of the hilltop,
until King David stepped over from Mount Zion, and bought the
threshing-floor and the oxen of him for fifty shekels of silver, and
built in this place an altar to the Lord. Here Solomon erected his
splendid Temple and the Chaldeans burned it. Here Zerubbabel built the
second Temple after the return of the Jews from exile, and Antiochus
Epiphanes desecrated it, and Herod burned part of it and pulled down
the rest. Here Herod built the third Temple, larger and more
magnificent than the first, and the soldiers of the Emperor Titus
burned it. Here the Emperor Hadrian built a temple to Jupiter and
himself, and some one, perhaps the Christians, burned it. Here Mohammed
came to pray, declaring that one prayer here was worth a thousand
elsewhere. Here the Caliph Omar built a little wooden mosque, and the
Caliph Abd-el-Melik replaced it with this great one of marble, and the
Crusaders changed it into a Christian temple, and Saladin changed it
back again into a mosque.
This Haram-esh-Sherîf is the second holiest place in the Moslem
world. Hither come the Mohammedan pilgrims by thousands, for the sake
of Mohammed. Hither come the Christian pilgrims by thousands, for the
sake of Him who said: Neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem shall
ye worship the Father. Hither the Jewish pilgrims never come, for fear
their feet may unwittingly tread upon the Holy of Holies, and defile
it; but they creep outside of the great inclosure, in the gloomy trench
beside the foundation stones of the wall, mourning and lamenting for
the majesty that is departed and the Temple that is ground to powder.
But amid all these changes and perturbations, here stands the good
old limestone rock, the threshing-floor of Araunah, the capstone of the
hill, waiting for the sun to shine and the dews to fall on it once
more, as they did when the foundations of the earth were laid.
The legend says that you can hear the waters of the flood roaring in
an abyss underneath the rock. I laid my ear against the rugged stone
and listened. What sound? Was it the voice of turbulent centuries and
the lapsing tides of men?
We ought to go again to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, said the
Lady in a voice of dutiful reminder, we have not half seen it. So we
went down to the heart of Jerusalem and entered the labyrinthine
The motley crowd in the paved quadrangle in front of the
double-arched doorway were buying and selling, bickering and chaffering
and chattering as usual. Within the portal, on a slightly raised
platform to the left, the Turkish guardians of the holy places and
keepers of the peace between Christians were seated among their rugs
and cushions, impassive, indolent, dignified, drinking their coffee or
smoking their tobacco, conversing gravely or counting the amber beads
of their comboloios. The Sultan owns the Holy Sepulchre; but he is a
liberal host and permits all factions of Christendom to visit it and
celebrate their rites in turn, provided only they do not beat or kill
one another in their devotions. We saw his silent sentinels of
tolerance scattered in every part of the vast, confused edifice.
The interior was dim and shadowy. Opposite the entrance was the
Stone of Unction, a marble slab on which it is said the body of Christ
was anointed when it was taken down from the cross. Pilgrim after
pilgrim came kneeling to this stone, and bending to kiss it, beneath
the Latin, Greek, Armenian and Coptic lamps which hang above it by
The Chapel of the Crucifixion was on our right, above us, in the
second story of the church. We climbed the steep flight of stairs and
stood in a little room, close, obscure, crowded with lamps and icons
and candelabra, incrusted with ornaments of gold and silver, full of
strange odours and glimmerings of mystic light. There, they told us, in
front of that rich altar was the silver star which marked the place in
the rock where the Holy Cross stood. And on either side of it were the
sockets which received the crosses of the two thieves. And a few feet
away, covered by a brass slide, was the cleft in the rock which was
made by the earthquake. It was lined with slabs of reddish marble and
looked nearly a foot deep.
Priests in black robes and tall, cylindrical hats, and others with
brown robes, rope girdles and tonsured heads, were coming and going
around us. Pilgrims were climbing and descending the stairs, kneeling
and murmuring unintelligible devotions, kissing the star and the cleft
in the rock and the icons. Underneath us, though we were supposed to
stand on the hill called Golgotha, were the offices of the Greek clergy
and the Chapel of Adam.
We went around from chapel to chapel; into the opulent Greek
cathedral where they show the Centre of the World; into the bare
little Chapel of the Syrians where they show the tombs of Nicodemus and
Joseph of Arimathæa; into the Chapel of the Apparition where the
Franciscans say that Christ appeared to His mother after the
resurrection. There was sweet singing in this chapel and a fragrant
smell of incense. We went into the Chapel of Saint Helena, underground,
which belongs to the Greeks; into the Chapel of the Parting of the
Raiment which belongs to the Armenians. We were impartial in our
visitation, but we did not have time to see the Abyssinian Chapel, the
Coptic Chapel of Saint Michael, nor the Church of Abraham where the
Anglicans are allowed to celebrate the eucharist twice a month.
The centre of all this maze of creeds, ceremonies and devotions is
the Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre, a little edifice of precious marbles,
carved and gilded, standing beneath the great dome of the church, in
the middle of a rotunda surrounded by marble pillars. We bought and
lighted our waxen tapers and waited for a lull in the stream of
pilgrims to enter the shrine. First we stood in the vestibule with its
tall candelabra; then in the Angels' Chapel, with its fifteen swinging
lamps, making darkness visible; then, stooping through a low doorway,
we came into the tiny chamber, six feet square, which is said to
contain the rock-hewn tomb in which the Saviour of the World was
Mass is celebrated here daily by different Christian sects.
Pilgrims, rich and poor, come hither from all parts of the habitable
globe. They kneel beneath the three-and-forty pendent lamps of gold and
silver. They kiss the worn slab of marble which covers the tombstone,
some of them smiling with joy, some of them weeping bitterly, some of
them with quiet, business-like devotion as if they were performing a
duty. The priest of their faith blesses them, sprinkles the relics
which they lay on the altar with holy water, and one by one the
pilgrims retire backward through the low portal.
I saw a Russian peasant, sad-eyed, wrinkled, bent with many sorrows,
lay his cheek silently on the tombstone with a look on his face as if
he were a child leaning against his mother's breast. I saw a little
barefoot boy of Jerusalem, with big, serious eyes, come quickly in, and
try to kiss the stone; but it was too high for him, so he kissed his
hand and laid it upon the altar. I saw a young nun, hardly more than a
girl, slender, pale, dark-eyed, with a noble Italian face, shaken with
sobs, the tears running down her cheeks, as she bent to touch her lips
to the resting-place of the Friend of Sinners.
This, then, is the way in which the craving for penitence, for
reverence, for devotion, for some utterance of the nameless thirst and
passion of the soul leads these pilgrims. This is the form in which the
divine mystery of sacrificial sorrow and death appeals to them, speaks
to their hearts and comforts them.
Could any Christian of whatever creed, could any son of woman with a
heart to feel the trouble and longing of humanity, turn his back upon
that altar? Must I not go away from that mysterious little room as the
others had gone, with my face toward the stone of remembrance, stooping
through the lowly door?
And yetand yet in my deepest heart I was thirsty for the open air,
the blue sky, the pure sunlight, the tranquillity of large and silent
The Lady went with me across the crowded quadrangle into the cool,
clean, quiet German Church of the Redeemer. We climbed to the top of
the lofty bell tower.
Jerusalem lay at our feet, with its network of streets and lanes,
archways and convent walls, domes small and greatthe black Dome of
the Rock in the centre of its wide inclosure, the red dome and the
green dome of the Jewish synagogues on Mount Zion, the seven gilded
domes of the Russian Church of Saint Mary Magdalen, a hundred tiny
domes of dwelling-houses, and right in front of us the yellow dome of
the Greek Centre of the World and the black dome of the Holy
The quadrangle was still full of people buying and selling, but the
murmur of their voices was faint and far away, less loud than the
twittering of the thousands of swallows that soared and circled, with
glistening of innumerable blue-black wings and soft sheen of white
breasts, in the tender light of sunset above the façade of the gray old
Westward the long ridge of Olivet was bathed in the rays of the
Northward, beyond the city-gate, the light fell softly on a little
rocky hill, shaped like a skull, the ancient place of stoning for those
whom the cruel city had despised and rejected and cast out. At the foot
of that eminence there is a quiet garden and a tomb hewn in the rock.
Rosemary and rue grow there, roses and lilies; birds sing among the
trees. Is not that little rounded hill, still touched with the free
light of heaven, still commanding a clear outlook over the city to the
Mount of Olivesis not that the true Golgotha, where Christ was lifted
As we were thinking of this we saw a man come out on the roof of the
Greek Centre of the World, and climb by a ladder up the side of the
huge dome. He went slowly and carefully, yet with confidence, as if the
task were familiar. He carried a lantern in one hand. He was going to
the top of the dome to light up the great cross for the night. We spoke
no word, but each knew the thought that was in the other's heart.
Wherever the crucifixion took place, it was surely in the open air,
beneath the wide sky, and the cross that stood on Golgotha has become
the light at the centre of the world's night.
A PSALM OF THE UNSEEN ALTAR
Man the maker of cities is also a builder of altars: Among his
habitations he setteth tables for his god.
He bringeth the beauty of the rocks to enrich them: Marble and
alabaster, porphyry, jasper and jade.
He cometh with costly gifts to offer an oblation: He would buy
favour with the fairest of his flock.
Around the many altars I hear strange music arising: Loud
lamentations and shouting and singing and sighs.
I perceive also the pain and terror of their sacrifices: I see
the white marble wet with tears and with blood.
Then I said, These are the altars of ignorance: Yet they are
built by thy children, O God, who know thee not.
Surely thou wilt have pity upon them and lead them: Hast thou not
prepared for them a table of peace?
Then the Lord mercifully sent his angel forth to lead me: He led
me through the temples, the holy place that is hidden.
Lo, there are multitudes kneeling in the silence of the spirit:
They are kneeling at the unseen altar of the lowly heart.
Here is plentiful forgiveness for the souls that are forgiving:
And the joy of life is given unto all who long to give.
Here a Father's hand upholdeth all who bear each other's burdens:
And the benediction falleth upon all who pray in love.
Surely this is the altar where the penitent find pardon: And the
priest who hath blessed it forever is the Holy One of God.
VII. JERICHO AND JORDAN
GOING DOWN TO JERICHO
In the memory of every visitor to Jerusalem the excursion to Jericho
is a vivid point. For this is the one trip which everybody makes, and
it is a convention of the route to regard it as a perilous and exciting
adventure. Perhaps it is partly this flavour of a not-too-dangerous
danger, this shivering charm of a hazard to be taken without too much
risk, that attracts the average tourist, prudently romantic, to make
the journey to the lowest inhabited town in the world.
Jericho has always had an ill name. Weak walls, weak hearts, weak
morals were its early marks. Sweltering on the rich plain of the lower
Jordan, eight hundred feet below the sea, at the entrance of the two
chief passes into the Judean highlands, it was too indolent or cowardly
to maintain its own importance. Stanley called it the key of
Palestine; but it was only a latch which any bold invader could lift.
The people of Jericho were famous for light fingers and lively feet,
great robbers and runners-away. Joshua blotted the city out with a
curse; five centuries later Hiel the Bethelite rebuilt it with the
bloody sacrifice of his two sons. Antony gave it to Cleopatra, and
Herod bought it from her for a winter palace, where he died. Nothing
fine or brave, so far as I can remember, is written of any of its
inhabitants, except the good deed of Rahab, a harlot, and the honest
conduct of Zacchæus, a publican. To this day, at the tables d'hôte
of Jerusalem the name of Jericho stirs up a little whirlwind of bad
stories and warnings.
Last night we were dining with friends at one of the hotels, and the
usual topic came up for discussion. Imagine what followed.
That Jericho road is positively frightful, says a British female
tourist in lace cap, lilac ribbons and a maroon poplin dress, the heat
is most extr'ordinary!
No food fit to eat at the hotel, grumbles her husband, a rosy,
bald-headed man in plaid knickerbockers, no bottled beer; beastly
A voyage of the most fatiguing, of the most perilous, I assure
you, says a little Frenchman with a forked beard. But I rejoice
myself of the adventure, of the romance accomplished.
I want to know, piped a lady in a green shirt-waist from Andover,
Mass., is there really and truly any danger?
I guess not for us, answers the dominating voice of the conductor
of her party. There's always a bunch of robbers on that road, but I
have hired the biggest man of the bunch to take care of us. Just wait
till you see that dandy Sheikh in his best clothes; he looks like a
museum of old weapons.
Have you heard, interposed a lady-like clergyman on the other side
of the table, with gold-rimmed spectacles gleaming above his high,
black waistcoat, what happened on the Jericho road, week before last?
An English gentleman, of very good family, imprudently taking a short
cut, became separated from his companions. The Bedouins fell upon him,
beat him quite painfully, deprived him of his watch and several
necessary garments, and left him prostrate upon the earth, in an
embarrassingly denuded condition. Just fancy! Was it not perfectly
shocking? (The clergyman's voice was full of delicious horror.) But,
after all, he resumed with a beaming smile, it was most scriptural,
you know, quite like a Providential confirmation of Holy Writ!
Most unpleasant for the Englishman, growls the man in
knickerbockers. But what can you expect under this rotten Turkish
I know a story about Jericho, begins a gentleman from Colorado,
with a hay-coloured moustache and a droop in his left eyelidand then
follows a series of tales about that ill-reputed town and the road
thither, which leave the lady in the lace cap gasping, and the man with
the forked beard visibly swelling with pride at having made the
journey, and the little woman in the green shirt-waist quivering with
exquisite fears and mentally clinging with both arms to the personal
conductor of her party, who looks becomingly virile, and exchanges a
surreptitious wink with the gentleman from Colorado.
Of course, I am not willing to make an affidavit to the correctness
of every word in this conversation; but I can testify that it fairly
represents the Jericho-motif as you may hear it played almost
any night in the Jerusalem hotels. It sounded to us partly like an echo
of ancient legends kept alive by dragomans and officials for purposes
of revenue, and partly like an outcrop of the hysterical habit in
people who travel in flocks and do nothing without much palaver. In our
quiet camp, George the Bethlehemite assured us that the sheikhs were
humbugs, and an escort of soldiers a nuisance. So we placidly made
our preparations to ride on the morrow, with no other safeguards than
our friendly dispositions and a couple of excellent American revolvers.
But it was no brief Ausflug to Jericho and return that we had
before us: it was the beginning of a long and steady ride, weeks in the
saddle, from six to nine hours a day.
Imagine us then, morning after morning, mounting somewhere between
six and eight o'clock, according to the weather and the length of the
journey, and jingling out of camp, followed at a discreet distance by
Youssouf on his white pony with the luncheon, and Paris on his tiny
donkey, Tiddly-winks. About noon, sometimes a little earlier, sometimes
a little later, the white pony catches up with us, and the tent and the
rugs are spread for the midday meal and the siesta. It may be in
our dreams, or while the Lady is reading from some pleasant book, or
while the smoke of the afternoon pipe of peace is ascending, that we
hear the musical bells of our long baggage-train go by us on the way to
The evening ride is always shorter than the morning, sometimes only
an hour or two in the saddle; and at the end of it there is the
surprise of a new camp ground, the comfortable tents, the refreshing
bath tub, the quiet dinner by sunset-glow or candle-light. Then a bit
of friendly talk over the walnuts and the Treasure of Zion; a cup of
fragrant Turkish coffee; and George enters the door of the tent to
report on the condition of things in general, and to discuss the plan
of the next day's journey.
THE GOOD SAMARITAN'S ROAD
It is strange how every day, no matter in what mood of merry jesting
or practical modernity we set out, an hour of riding in the open air
brings us back to the mystical charm of the Holy Land and beneath the
spell of its memories and dreams. The wild hillsides, the flowers of
the field, the shimmering olive-groves, the brown villages, the
crumbling ruins, the deep-blue sky, subdue us to themselves and speak
to us rememberable things.
We pass down the Valley of the Brook Kidron, where no water ever
flows; and through the crowd of beggars and loiterers and pilgrims at
the crossroads; and up over the shoulder of the Mount of Olives, past
the wide-spread Jewish burying-ground, where we take our last look at
the towers and domes and minarets and walls of Jerusalem. The road
descends gently, on the other side of the hill, to Bethany, a
disconsolate group of hovels. The sweet home of Mary and Martha is
gone. It is a waste of time to look at the uncertain ruins which are
shown here as sacred sites. Look rather at the broad landscape eastward
and southward, the luminous blue sky, the joyful little flowers on the
rocky slopes,these are unchanged.
Not far beyond Bethany, the road begins to drop, with great
windings, into a deep, desolate valley, crowded with pilgrims afoot and
on donkey-back and in ramshackle carriages,Russians and Greeks
returning from their sacred bath in the Jordan. Here and there, at
first, we can see a shepherd with his flock upon the haggard hillside.
As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair
Once the Patriarch and I, scrambling on foot down a short-cut, think
we see a Bedouin waiting for us behind a rock, with his long gun over
his shoulder; but it turns out to be only a brown little peasant girl,
ragged and smiling, watching her score of lop-eared goats.
As the valley descends the landscape becomes more and more arid and
stricken. The heat broods over it like a disease.
I think I never saw
Such starved, ignoble nature; nothing throve;
For flowersas well expect a cedar grove!
We might be on the way with Childe Roland to the Dark Tower. But
instead we come, about noon, through a savage glen beset with blood-red
rocks and honeycombed with black caves on the other side of the ravine,
to the so-called Inn of the Good Samaritan.
The local colour of the parable surrounds us. Here is a fitting
scene for such a drama of lawless violence, cowardly piety, and
unconventional mercy. In these caverns robbers could hide securely. On
this wild road their victim might lie and bleed to death. By these
paths across the glen the priest and the Levite could pass by on the
other side, discreetly turning their heads away from any interruption
to their selfish duties. And in some such wayside khân as this,
standing like a lonely fortress among the sun-baked hills, the friendly
half-heathen from Samaria could safely leave the stranger whom he had
rescued, provided he paid at least a part of his lodging in advance.
We eat our luncheon in one of the three big, disorderly rooms of the
inn, and go on, in the cool of the afternoon, toward Jericho. The road
still descends steeply, among ragged and wrinkled hills. On our left we
look down into the Wâdi el-Kelt, a gloomy gorge five or six hundred
feet deep, with a stream of living water singing between its prison
walls. Tradition calls this the Brook Cherith, where Elijah hid himself
from Ahab, and was fed by Arabs of a tribe called the Ravens. But the
prophet's hiding-place was certainly on the other side of the Jordan,
and this Wâdi is probably the Valley of Achor, spoken of in the Book of
Joshua. On the opposite side of the cañon, half-way down the face of
the precipice, clings the monastery of Saint George, one of the pious
penitentiaries to which the Greek Church assigns unruly and criminal
[Illustration: Great Monastery of St. George.]
As we emerge from the narrow valley a great view opens before us: to
the right, the blue waters of the Dead Sea, like a mirror of burnished
steel; in front, the immense plain of the Jordan, with the dark-green
ribbon of the river-jungle winding through its length and the purple
mountains of Gilead and Moab towering beyond it; to the left, the
furrowed gray and yellow ridges and peaks of the northern wilderness
of Judea, the wild country into which Jesus retired alone after the
baptism by John in the Jordan.
One of these peaks, the Quarantana, is supposed to be the high
mountain from which the Tempter showed Jesus the kingdoms of the
world. In the foreground of that view, sweeping from the snowy summits
of Hermon in the north, past the Greek cities of Pella and Scythopolis,
down the vast valley with its wealth of palms and balsams, must have
stood the Roman city of Jericho, with its imperial farms and the
palaces, baths and theatres of Herod the Great,a visible image of
what Christ might have won for Himself if He had yielded to the
temptation and turned from the pathway of spiritual light to follow the
shadows of earthly power and glory.
Herod's Jericho has vanished; there is nothing left of it but the
outline of one of the great pools which he built to irrigate his
gardens. The modern Jericho is an unhappy little adobe village, lying a
mile or so farther to the east. A mile to the north, near a copious
fountain of pure water, called the Sultan's Spring, is the site of the
oldest Jericho, which Joshua conquered and Hiel rebuilt. The spring,
which is probably the same that Elisha cleansed with salt (II Kings ii:
19-22), sends forth a merry stream to turn a mill and irrigate a group
of gardens full of oranges, figs, bananas, grapes, feathery bamboos and
rosy oleanders. But the ancient city is buried under a great mound of
earth, which the German Palästina-Verein is now excavating.
As we come up to the mound I pull out my little camera and prepare
to take a picture of the hundred or so dusty Arabsmen, women and
childrenwho are at work in the trenches. A German gelehrter in
a very excited state rushes up to me and calls upon me to halt, in the
name of the Emperor. The taking of pictures by persons not imperially
authorised is streng verboten. He is evidently prepared to be
abusive, if not actually violent, until I assure him, in the best
German that I can command, that I have no political or archæological
intentions, and that if the photographing of his picturesque
work-people to him displeasing is, I will my camera immediately in its
pocket put. This mollifies him, and he politely shows us what he is
A number of ruined houses, and a sort of central temple, with a rude
flight of steps leading up to it, have been discovered. A portion of
what seems to be the city-wall has just been laid bare. If there are
any inscriptions or relics of any value they are kept secret; but there
is plenty of broken pottery of a common kind. It is all very poor and
beggarly looking; no carving nor even any hewn stones. The buildings
seem to be of rubble, and the walls of Jericho are little better than
the stone fences on a Connecticut farm. No wonder they fell down at the
blast of Joshua's rams' horns and the rush of his fierce tribesmen.
We ride past the gardens and through the shady lanes to our camp, on
the outskirts of the modern village. The air is heavy and languid, full
of relaxing influence, an air of sloth and luxury, seeming to belong to
some strange region below the level of human duty and effort as far as
it is below the level of the sea. The fragrance of the orange-blossoms,
like a subtle incense of indulgence, floats on the evening breeze.
Veiled figures pass us in the lanes, showing lustrous eyes. A sound of
Oriental music and laughter and clapping hands comes from one of the
houses in an inclosure hedged with acacia-trees. We sit in the door of
our tent at sundown and dream of the vanished palm-groves, the gardens
of Cleopatra, the palaces of Herod, the soft, ignoble history of that
region of fertility and indolence, rich in harvests, poor in manhood.
Then it seems as if some one were saying, I will lift up mine eyes
unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. There they stand, all
about us: eastward, the great purple ranges of Gad and Reuben, from
which Elijah the Tishbite descended to rebuke and warn Israel;
westward, against the saffron sky, the ridges and peaks of Judea, among
which Amos and Jeremiah saw their lofty visions; northward, the
clear-cut pinnacle of Sartoba, and far away beyond it the dim outlines
of the Galilean hills from which Jesus of Nazareth came down to open
blind eyes and to shepherd wandering souls. With the fading of the
sunset glow a deep blue comes upon all the mountains, a blue which
strangely seems to grow paler as the sky above them darkens, sinking
down upon them through infinite gradations of azure into something
mysterious and indescribable, not a color, not a shadow, not a light,
but a secret hyaline illumination which transforms them into aerial
battlements and ramparts, on whose edge the great stars rest and flame,
the watch-fires of the Eternal.
PASSING OVER JORDAN
I have often wondered why the Jordan, which plays such an important
part in the history of the Hebrews, receives so little honour and
praise in their literature. Sentimental travellers and poets of other
races have woven a good deal of florid prose and verse about the name
of this river. There is no doubt that it is the chief stream of
Palestine, the only one, in fact, that deserves to be called a river.
Yet the Bible has no song of loving pride for the Jordan; no tender and
beautiful words to describe it; no record of the longing of exiled Jews
to return to the banks of their own river and hear again the voice of
its waters. At this strange silence I have wondered much, not knowing
the reason of it. Now I know.
The Jordan is not a little river to be loved: it is a barrier to be
passed over. From its beginning in the marshes of Huleh to its end in
the Dead Sea, (excepting only the lovely interval of the Lake of
Galilee), this river offers nothing to man but danger and difficulty,
perplexity and trouble. Fierce and sullen and intractable, it flows
through a long depression, at the bottom of which it has dug for itself
a still deeper crooked ditch, along the Eastern border of Galilee and
Samaria and Judea, as if it wished to cut them off completely. There
are no pleasant places along its course, no breezy forelands where a
man might build a house with a fair outlook over flowing water, no rich
and tranquil coves where the cattle would love to graze, or stand
knee-deep in the quiet stream. There is no sense of leisure, of
refreshment, of kind companionship and friendly music about the Jordan.
It is in a hurry and a secret rage. Yet there is something powerful,
self-reliant, inevitable about it. In thousands of years it has changed
less than any river in the world. It is a flowing, everlasting symbol
of division, of separation: a river of solemn meetings and partings
like that of Elijah and Elisha, of Jesus and John the Baptist: a type
of the narrow stream of death. It seems to say to man, Cross me if you
will, if you can; and then go your way.
The road that leads us from Jericho toward the river is pleasant
enough, at first, for the early sunlight is gentle and caressing, and
there is a cool breeze moving across the plain. It is hard to believe
that we are eight hundred feet below the sea this morning, and still
travelling downward. The lush fields of barley, watered by many
channels from the brook Kelt, are waving and glistening around us.
Quails are running along the edge of the road, appearing and
disappearing among the thick grain-stalks. The bulbuls warble from the
thorn-bushes, and a crested hoopoo croons in a jujube-tree. Larks are
on the wing, scattering music.
We are on the upper edge of that great belt of sunken land between
the mountains of Gilead and the mountains of Ephraim and Judah, which
reaches from the Lake of Galilee to the Dead Sea, and which the Arabs
call El-Ghôr, the Rift. It is a huge trench, from three to
fourteen miles wide, sinking from six hundred feet below the level of
the Mediterranean, at the northern end, to thirteen hundred feet below,
at the southern end. The surface is fairly level, sloping gently from
each side toward the middle, and the soil is of an inexhaustible
fertility, yielding abundant crops wherever it is patiently irrigated
from the streams which flow out of the mountains east and west, but
elsewhere lying baked and arid under the heavy, close, feverous air. No
strong race has ever inhabited this trench as a home; no great cities
have ever grown here, and its civilization, such as it had, was a
hot-bed product, soon ripe and quickly rotten.
We have passed beyond the region of greenness already; the little
water-brooks have ceased to gleam through the grain: the wild grasses
and weeds have a parched and yellow look: the freshness of the early
morning has vanished, and we are descending through a desolate land of
sour and leprous hills of clay and marl, eroded by the floods into
fantastic shapes, furrowed and scarred and scabbed with mineral refuse.
The gullies are steep and narrow: the heat settles on them like a
Through this battered and crippled region, the centre of the Jordan
Valley, runs the Jordan Bed, twisting like a big green serpent. A dense
half-tropical jungle, haunted by wild beasts and poisonous reptiles and
insects, conceals, almost at every point, the down-rushing, swirling,
It has torn and desolated its own shores with sudden spates. The
feet of the pilgrims who bathe in it sink into the mud as they wade out
waist-deep, and if they venture beyond the shelter of the bank the
whirling eddies threaten to sweep them away. The fords are treacherous,
with shifting bottom and changing currents. The poets and prophets of
the Old Testament give us a true idea of this uninhabitable and
unlovable river-bed when they speak of the pride of Jordan, the
swellings of Jordan, where the lion hides among the reeds in his
secret lair, a refuge of lies, which the overflowing scourge shall
No, it was not because the Jordan was beautiful that John the
Baptist chose it as the scene of his preaching and ministry, but
because it was wild and rude, an emblem of violent and sudden change,
of irrevocable parting, of death itself, and because in its one gift of
copious and unfailing water, he found the necessary element for his
deep baptism of repentance, in which the sinful past of the crowd who
followed him was to be symbolically immersed and buried and washed
At the place where we reach the water there is an open bit of
ground; a miserable hovel gives shelter to two or three Turkish
soldiers; an ungainly latticed bridge, stilted on piles of wood,
straddles the river with a single span. The toll is three piastres,
(about twelve cents,) for a man and horse.
The only place from which I can take a photograph of the river is
the bridge itself, so I thrust the camera through one of the
diamond-shaped openings on the lattice-work and try to make a truthful
record of the lower Jordan at its best. Imagine the dull green of the
tangled thickets, the ragged clumps of reeds and water-grasses, the
sombre and silent flow of the fulvous water sliding and curling down
out of the jungle, and the implacable fervour of the pallid, searching
sunlight heightening every touch of ugliness and desolation, and you
will understand why the Hebrew poets sang no praise of the Jordan, and
why Naaman the Syrian thought scorn of it when he remembered the lovely
and fruitful rivers of Damascus.
A PSALM OF RIVERS
The rivers of God are full of water: They are wonderful in the
renewal of their strength: He poureth them out from a hidden fountain.
They are born among the hills in the high places: Their cradle is
in the bosom of the rocks: The mountain is their mother and the forest
is their father.
They are nourished among the long grasses: They receive the
tribute of a thousand springs: The rain and the snow are a heritage for
They are glad to be gone from their birthplace: With a joyful
noise they hasten away: They are going forever and never departed.
The courses of the rivers are all appointed: They roar loudly but
they follow the road: The finger of God hath marked their pathway.
The rivers of Damascus rejoice among their gardens: The great
river of Egypt is proud of his ships: The Jordan is lost in the Lake of
Surely the Lord guideth them every one in his wisdom: In the end
he gathereth all their drops on high: He sendeth them forth again in
the clouds of mercy.
O my God, my life runneth away like a river: Guide me, I beseech
thee, in a pathway of good: Let me flow in blessing to my rest in thee.
VIII. A JOURNEY TO JERASH
THROUGH THE LAND OF GILEAD
I never heard of Jerash until my friend the Archæologist told me
about it, one night when we were sitting beside my study fire at
Avalon. It is the site of the old city of Gerasa, said he. The most
satisfactory ruins that I have ever seen.
There was something suggestive and potent in that phrase,
satisfactory ruins. For what is it that weaves the charm of ruins?
What do we ask of them to make their magic complete and satisfying?
There must be an element of picturesqueness, certainly, to take the eye
with pleasure in the contrast between the frailty of man's works and
the imperishable loveliness of nature. There must also be an element of
age; for new ruins are painful, disquieting, intolerable; they speak of
violence and disorder; it is not until the bloom of antiquity gathers
upon them that the relics of vast and splendid edifices attract us and
subdue us with a spell, breathing tranquillity and noble thoughts.
There must also be an element of magnificence in decay, of symmetry
broken but not destroyed, a touch of delicate art and workmanship, to
quicken the imagination and evoke the ghost of beauty haunting her
ancient habitations. And beyond these things I think there must be two
more qualities in a ruin that satisfies us: a clear connection with the
greatness and glory of the past, with some fine human achievement, with
some heroism of men dead and gone; and last of all, a spirit of
mystery, the secret of some unexplained catastrophe, the lost link of a
story never to be fully told.
This, or something like it, was what the Archæologist's phrase
seemed to promise me as we watched the glowing embers on the hearth of
Avalon. And it is this promise that has drawn me, with my three
friends, on this April day into the Land of Gilead, riding to Jerash.
The grotesque and rickety bridge by which we have crossed the Jordan
soon disappears behind us, as we trot along the winding bridle-path
through the river-jungle, in the stifling heat. Coming out on the open
plain, which rises gently toward the east, we startle great flocks of
storks into the air, and they swing away in languid circles, dappling
the blaze of morning with their black-tipped wings. Grotesque,
ungainly, gothic birds, they do not seem to belong to the Orient, but
rather to have drifted hither out of some quaint, familiar fairy tale
of the North; and indeed they are only transient visitors here, and
will soon be on their way to build their nests on the roofs of German
villages and clapper their long, yellow bills over the joy of houses
full of little children.
The rains of spring have spread a thin bloom of green over the
plain. Tender herbs and light grasses partly veil the gray and stony
ground. There is a month of scattered feeding for the flocks and herds.
Away to the south, where the foot-hills begin to roll up suddenly from
the Jordan, we can see a black line of Bedouin tents quivering through
Now the trail divides, and we take the northern fork, turning soon
into the open mouth of the Wâdi Shaîb, a broad, grassy valley between
high and treeless hills. The watercourse that winds down the middle of
it is dry: nothing but a tumbled bed of gray rocks,the bare bones of
a little river. But as we ascend slowly the flowers increase; wild
hollyhocks, and morning-glories, and clumps of blue anchusa, and
scarlet adonis, and tall wands of white asphodel.
The morning grows hotter and hotter as we plod along. Presently we
come up with three mounted Arabs, riding leisurely. Salutations are
exchanged with gravity. Then the Arabs whisper something to each other
and spur away at a great pace ahead of uslaughing. Why did they
Ah, now we know. For here is a lofty cliff on one side of the
valley, hanging over just far enough to make a strip of cool shade at
its base, with ferns and deep grass and a glimmer of dripping water.
And here our wise Arabs are sitting at their ease to eat their mid-day
meal under the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.
Vainly we search the valley for another rock like that. It is the
only one; and the Arabs laughed because they knew it. We must content
ourselves with this little hill where a few hawthorn bushes offer us
tiny islets of shade, beset with thorns, and separated by straits of
intolerable glare. Here we eat a little, but without comfort; and sleep
a little, but without refreshment; and talk a little, but restlessly.
As soon as we dare, we get into the saddle again and toil up through
the valley, now narrowing into a rugged gorge, crammed with ardent
heat. The sprinkling of trees and bushes, the multitude of flowers,
assure us that there must be moisture underground, along the bed of the
stream; but above ground there is not a drop, and not a breath of wind
to break the dead calm of the smothering air. Why did we come into this
But presently the ravine leads us, by steep stairs of rock, up to a
high, green table-land. A heavenly breeze from the west is blowing
here. The fields are full of flowersred anemones, white and yellow
daisies, pink flax, little blue bell-flowersa hundred kinds. One
knoll is covered with cyclamens; another with splendid purple iris,
immense blossoms, so dark that they look almost black against the
grass; but hold them up to the sun and you will see the imperial
colour. We have never found such wild flowers, not even on the Plain of
Sharon; the hills around Jerusalem were but sparsely adorned in
comparison with these highlands of bloom.
And here are oak-trees, broad-limbed and friendly, clothed in
glistening green. Let us rest for a while in this cool shade and forget
the misery of the blazing noon. Below us lies the gray Jordan valley
and the steel-blue mirror of the Dead Sea; and across that gulf we see
the furrowed mountains of Judea and Samaria, and far to the north the
peaks of Galilee. Around us is the Land of Gilead, a rolling
hill-country, with long ridges and broad summits, a rounded land, a
verdurous land, a land of rich pasturage. There are deep valleys that
cut into it and divide it up. But the main bulk of it is lifted high in
the air, and spread out nobly to the visitations of the wind. And
seefar away there, to the south, across the Wádi Nimrîn, a
mountainside covered with wild trees, a real woodland, almost a forest!
Now we must travel on, for it is still a long way to our
night-quarters at Es Salt. We pass several Bedouin camps, the only kind
of villages in this part of the world. The tents of goat's-hair are
swarming with life. A score of ragged Arab boys are playing hockey on
the green with an old donkey's hoof for a ball. They yell with
refreshing vigour, just like universal human boys.
The trail grows steeper and more rocky, ascending apparently
impossible places, and winding perilously along the cliffs above little
vineyards and cultivated fields where men are ploughing. Travel and
traffic increase along this rude path, which is the only highway:
evidently we are coming near to some place of importance.
But where is Es Salt? For nine hours we have been in the saddle,
riding steadily toward that mysterious metropolis of the Belka, the
only living city in the Land of Gilead; and yet there is no trace of it
in sight. Have we missed the trail? The mule-train with our tents and
baggage passed us in the valley while we were sweltering under the
hawthorns. It seems as if it must have vanished into the pastoral
wilderness and left us travelling an endless road to nowhere.
At last we top a rugged ridge and look down upon the solution of the
mystery. Es Salt is a city that can be hid; for it is not set upon a
hill, but tucked away in a valley that curves around three sides of a
rocky eminence, and is sheltered from the view by higher ranges.
Who can tell how this city came here, hidden in this hollow place
almost three thousand feet above the sea? Who was its founder? What was
its ancient name? It is a place without traditions, without
antiquities, without a shrine of any kind; just a living town, thriving
and prospering in its own dirty and dishevelled way, in the midst of a
country of nomads, growing in the last twenty years from six thousand
to fifteen thousand inhabitants, driving a busy trade with the
surrounding country, exporting famous raisins and dye-stuff made from
sumach, the seat of the Turkish Government of the Belka, with a
garrison and a telegraph officedecidedly a thriving town of to-day;
yet without a road by which a carriage can approach it; and old,
The castle that crowns the eminence in the centre is a ruin of
unknown date. The copious spring that gushes from the castle-hill must
have invited men for many centuries to build their habitations around
it. The gray houses seem to have slipped and settled down into the
curving valley, and to have crowded one another up the opposite slopes,
as if hundreds of generations had found here a hiding-place and a city
We ride through a Mohammedan graveyardunfenced, broken,
neglectedand down a steep, rain-gulleyed hillside, into the filthy,
narrow street. The people all have an Arab look, a touch of the
wildness of the desert in their eyes and their free bearing. There are
many fine figures and handsome faces, some with auburn hair and a
reddish hue showing through the bronze of their cheeks. They stare at
us with undisguised curiosity and wonder, as if we came from a strange
world. The swarthy merchants in the doors of their little shops, the
half-veiled women in the lanes, the groups of idlers at the corners of
the streets, watch us with a gaze which seems almost defiant. Evidently
tourists are a rarity hereperhaps an intrusion to be resented.
We inquire whether our baggage-train has been seen, where our camp
is pitched. No one knows, no one cares; until at last a ragged, smiling
urchin, one of those blessed, ubiquitous boys who always know
everything that happens in a town, offers to guide us. He trots ahead,
full of importance, dodging through the narrow alleys, making the
complete circuit of the castle-hill and leading us to the upper end of
the eastern valley. Here, among a few olive-trees beside the road, our
white tents are standing, so close to an encampment of wandering
gypsies that the tent-ropes cross.
Directly opposite rises a quarter of the town, tier upon tier of
flat-roofed houses, every roof-top covered with people. A wild-looking
crowd of visitors have gathered in the road. Two soldiers, with the
appearance of partially reformed brigands, are acting as our guard, and
keeping the inquisitive spectators at a respectful distance. Our mules
and donkeys and horses are munching their supper in a row, tethered to
a long rope in front of the tents. Shukari, the cook, in his white cap
and apron, is gravely intent upon the operation of his little charcoal
range. Youssouf, the major-domo, is setting the table with flowers and
lighted candles in the dining-tent. After a while he comes to the door
of our sleeping-tents to inform us, with due ceremony, that dinner is
served; and we sit down to our repast in the midst of the swarming
Edomites and the wandering Zingari as peacefully and properly as if we
were dining at the Savoy.
The night darkens around us. Lights twinkle, one above another, up
the steep hillside of houses; above them are the tranquil stars, the
lit windows of unknown habitations; and on the hill-top one great
planet burns in liquid flame.
The crowd melts away, chattering down the road; it forms again, from
another quarter, and again dissolves. Meaningless shouts and cries and
songs resound from the hidden city. In the gypsy camp beside us
insomnia reigns. A little forge is clinking and clanking. Donkeys raise
their antiphonal lament. Dogs salute the stars in chorus. First a
leader, far away, lifts a wailing, howling, shrieking note; then the
mysterious unrest that torments the bosom of Oriental dogdom breaks
loose in a hundred, a thousand answering voices, swelling into a
yapping, growling, barking, yelling discord. A sudden silence cuts the
tumult short, until once more the unknown misery, (or is it the secret
joy), of the canine heart bursts out in long-drawn dissonance.
From the road and from the tents of the gypsies various human voices
are sounding close around us all the night. Through our confused dreams
and broken sleep we strangely seem to catch fragments of familiar
speech, phrases of English or French or German. Then, waking and
listening, we hear men muttering and disputing, women complaining or
soothing their babies, children quarrelling or calling to each other,
in Arabic, or Romanynot a word that we can understandvoices that
tell us only that we are in a strange land, and very far away from
home, camping in the heart of a wild city.
OVER THE BROOK JABBOK
After such a night the morning is welcome, as it breaks over the
eastern hill behind us, with rosy light creeping slowly down the
opposite slope of houses. Before the sunbeams have fairly reached the
bottom of the valley we are in the saddle, ready to leave Es Salt
without further exploration.
There is a general monotony about this riding through Palestine
which yet leaves room for a particular variety of the most entrancing
kind. Every day is like every other in its main outline, but the
details are infinitely uncertainalways there is something new, some
touch of a distinct and memorable charm.
To-day it is the sense of being in the country of the nomads, the
tent-dwellers, the masters of innumerable flocks and herds, whose
wealth goes wandering from pasture to pasture, bleating and lowing and
browsing and multiplying over the open moorland beneath the blue sky.
This is the prevailing impression of this day: and the symbol of it is
the thin, quavering music of the pastoral pipe, following us wherever
we go, drifting tremulously and plaintively down from some rock on the
hillside, or floating up softly from some hidden valley, where a brown
shepherd or goatherd is minding his flock with music.
What quaint and rustic melodies are these! Wild and unfamiliar to
our ears; yet doubtless the same wandering airs that were played by the
sons and servants of Jacob when he returned from his twenty years of
profitable exile in Haran with his rich wages of sheep and goats and
cattle and wives and maid-servants, the fruit of his hard labour and
shrewd bargaining with his father-in-law Laban, and passed cautiously
through Gilead on his way to the Promised Land.
On the highland to the east of Es Salt we see a fine herd of horses,
brood-mares and foals. A little farther on, we come to a muddy pond or
tank at which a drove of asses are drinking. A steep and winding path,
full of loose stones, leads us down into a grassy, oval plain, a great
cup of green, eight or ten miles long and five or six miles wide,
rimmed with bare hills from five to eight hundred feet high. This, we
conjecture, is the fertile basin of El Buchaia, or Bekaa.
Bedouin farmers are ploughing the rich, reddish soil. Their black
tent-villages are tucked away against the feet of the surrounding
hills. The broad plain itself is without sign of human dwelling, except
that near each focus of the ellipse there is a pile of shattered ruins
with a crumbling, solitary tower, where a shepherd sits piping to his
In one place we pass through a breeding-herd of camels, browsing on
the short grass. The old ones are in the process of the spring
moulting; their thick, matted hair is peeling off in large flakes, like
fragments of a ragged, moth-eaten coat. The young ones are covered with
pearl-gray wool, soft and almost downy, like gigantic goslings with
four legs. (What is the word for a young camel, I wonder; is it camelet
or camelot?) But young and old have a family resemblance of ugliness.
The camel is the most ungainly and stupid of God's useful beastsan
awkward necessitythe humpbacked ship of the desert. The Arabs have a
story which runs thus: What did Allah say when He had finished making
the camel? He couldn't say anything; He just looked at the camel, and
laughed, and laughed!
But in spite of his ridiculous appearance the camel seems satisfied
with himself; in fact there is an expression of supreme contempt in his
face when he droops his pendulous lower lip and wrinkles his nose,
which has led the Arabs to tell another story about him: Why does the
camel despise his master? Because man knows only the ninety-nine common
names of Allah; but the hundredth name, the wonderful name, the
beautiful name, is a secret revealed to the camel alone. Therefore he
scorns the whole race of men.
The cattle that feed around the edges of this peaceful plain are
small and nimble, as if they were used to long, rough journeys. The
prevailing colour is black, or rusty brown. They are evidently of a
degenerate and played-out stock. Even the heifers are used for
ploughing, and they look but little larger than the donkeys which are
often yoked beside them. They come around the grassy knoll when our
luncheon-tent is pitched, and stare at us very much as the people
stared in Es Salt.
In the afternoon we pass over the rim of the broad vale and descend
a narrower ravine, where oaks and terebinths, laurels and balsams,
pistachios and almonds are growing. The grass springs thick and lush,
tall weeds and trailing vines appear, a murmur of flowing water is
heard under the tangled herbage at the bottom of the wâdi. Presently we
are following a bright little brook, crossing and recrossing it as it
leads us toward our camp-ground.
There are the tents, standing in a line on the flowery bank of the
brook, across the water from the trail. A few steps lower down there is
a well-built stone basin with a copious spring gushing into it from the
hillside under an arched roof. Here the people of the village, (which
is somewhere near us on the mountain, but out of sight), come to fill
their pitchers and water-skins, and to let their cattle and donkeys
drink. All through the late afternoon they are coming and going,
plashing through the shallow ford below us, enjoying the cool, clear
water, disappearing along the foot-paths that lead among the hills.
These are very different cattle from the herds we saw among the
Bedouins a couple of hours ago; fine large creatures, well bred and
well fed, some cream-coloured, some red, some belted with white. And
these men who follow them, on foot or on horseback, truculent looking
fellows with blue eyes and light hair and broad faces, clad in long,
close-fitting tunics, with belts around their waists and small black
caps of fur, some of them with high bootswho are they?
They are some of the Circassian immigrants who were driven out of
Russia by the Czar after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, and deported
again after the Bulgarian atrocities, and whom the Turkish Government
has colonized through eastern Palestine on land given by the Sultan.
Nobody really knows to whom the land belongs, I suppose; but the
Bedouins have had the habit, for many centuries, of claiming and using
it as they pleased for their roaming flocks and herds. Now these
northern invaders are taking and holding the most fertile places, the
best springs, the fields that are well watered through the year.
Therefore the Arab hates the Circassian, though he be of the same
religion, far more than he hates the Christian, almost as much as he
hates the Turk. But the Circassian can take care of himself; he is a
fierce and hardy fighter; and in his rude way he understands how to
make farming and stock-raising pay.
Indeed, this Land of Gilead is a region in which twenty times the
present population, if they were industrious and intelligent and had
good government, might prosper. No wonder that the tribe of Gad and
Reuben and the half-tribe of Manasseh, on the way to Canaan, when they
saw the land of Jazer and the land of Gilead, that, behold, the place
was a place for cattle, (Numbers xxxii) fell in love with it, and
besought Moses that they might have their inheritance there, and not
westward of the Jordan. No wonder that they recrossed the river after
they had helped Joshua to conquer the Canaanites, and settled in this
high country, so much fairer and more fertile than Judea, or even than
It was here, in 1880, that Laurence Oliphant, the gifted English
traveller and mystic, proposed to establish his fine scheme for the
beginning of the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. A territory
extending from the brook of Jabbok on the north to the brook of Arnon
on the south, from the Jordan Valley on the west to the Arabian desert
on the east; railways running up from the sea at Haifâ, and down from
Damascus, and southward to the Gulf of Akabah, and across to Ismailia
on the Suez Canal; a government of local autonomy guaranteed and
protected by the Sublime Porte; sufficient capital supplied by the
Jewish bankers of London and Paris and Berlin and Vienna; and the
outcasts of Israel gathered from all the countries where they are
oppressed, to dwell together in peace and plenty, tending sheep and
cattle, raising fruit and grain, pressing out wine and oil, and
supplying the world with the balm of Gileadsuch was Oliphant's
But it did not come true; because Russia did not like it, because
Turkey was afraid of it, because the rest of Europe did not care for
it,and perhaps because the Jews themselves were not generally
enthusiastic over it. Perhaps the majority of them would rather stay
where they are. Perhaps they do not yearn passionately for Palestine
and the simple life.
But it is not of these things that we are thinking, I must confess,
as the ruddy sun slowly drops toward the heights of Pennel, and we
stroll out in the evening glow, along the edge of the wild ravine into
which our little stream plunges, and look down into the deep, grand
valley of the Brook Jabbok.
Yonder, on the other side of the great gulf of heliotrope shadow,
stretches the long bulk of the Jebel Ajlûn, shaggy with oak-trees. It
was somewhere on the slopes of that wooded mountain that one of the
most tragic battles of the world was fought. For there the army of
Absalom went out to meet the army of his father David. And the battle
was spread over the face of all the country, and the forest devoured
more people that day than the sword devoured. It was there that the
young man Absalom rode furiously upon his mule, and the mule went
under the thick boughs of a great oak, and his head caught hold of the
oak, and he was taken up between heaven and earth. And a man came and
told Joab, the captain of David's host, Behold I saw Absalom hanging
in the midst of an oak. Then Joab made haste; and he took three darts
in his hand, and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was
yet alive in the midst of the oak. And when the news came to David,
sitting in the gate of the city of Mahanaim, he went up into the
chamber over the gate and wept bitterly, crying, Would I had died for
thee, O Absalom, my son! (II Samuel xviii.)
To remember a story like that is to feel the pathos with which man
has touched the face of nature. But there is another story, more
mystical, more beautiful, which belongs to the scene upon which we are
looking. Down in the purple valley, where the smooth meadows spread so
fair, and the little river curves and gleams through the thickets of
oleander, somewhere along that flashing stream is the place where Jacob
sent his wives and his children, his servants and his cattle, across
the water in the darkness, and there remained all night long alone, for
there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.
Who was this man with whom the patriarch contended at midnight,
and to whom he cried, I will not let thee go except thou bless me? On
the morrow Jacob was to meet his fierce and powerful brother Esau, whom
he had wronged and outwitted, from whom he had stolen the birthright
blessing twenty years before. Was it the prospect of this dreaded
meeting that brought upon Jacob the night of lonely struggle by the
Brook Jabbok? Was it the promise of reconciliation with his brother
that made him say at dawn, I have seen God face to face, and my life
is saved? Was it the unexpected friendliness and gentleness of that
brother in the encounter of the morning that inspired Jacob's cry, I
have seen thy face as one seeth the face of God, and thou wast
pleased with me?
Yes, that is what the old story means, in its Oriental
imagery. The midnight wrestling is the pressure of human enmity and
strife. The morning peace is the assurance of human forgiveness and
love. The face of God seen in the face of human kindnessthat is the
sunrise vision of the Brook Jabbok.
Such are the thoughts with which we fall asleep in our tents beside
the murmuring brook of Er Rumman. Early the next morning we go down,
and down, and down, by ledge and terrace and grassy slope, into the
Vale of Jabbok. It is sixty miles long, beginning on the edge of the
mountain of Moab, and curving eastward, northward, westward,
south-westward, between Gilead and Ajlûn, until it opens into the
Here is the famous little river, a swift, singing current of
gray-blue waterNahr ez-Zerka blue river, the Arabs call itdashing
and swirling merrily between the thickets of willows and tamaracks and
oleanders that border it. The ford is rather deep, for the spring flood
is on; but our horses splash through gaily, scattering the water around
them in showers which glitter in the sunshine.
Is this the brook beside which a man once met God? Yesand by many
another brook too.
THE RUINS OF GERASA
We are coming now into the region of the Decapolis, the Greek cities
which sprang up along the eastern border of Palestine after the
conquests of Alexander the Great.
They were trading cities, undoubtedly, situated on the great roads
which led from the east across the desert to the Jordan Valley, and so,
converging upon the Plain of Esdraelon, to the Mediterranean Sea and to
Greece and Italy. Their wealth tempted the Jewish princes of the
Hasmonean line to conquer and plunder them; but the Roman general
Pompey restored their civic liberties, B.C. 65, and caused them to be
rebuilt and strengthened. By the beginning of the Christian era, they
were once more rich and flourishing, and a league was formed of ten
municipalities, with certain rights of communal and local government,
under the protection and suzerainty of the Roman Empire.
The ten cities which originally composed this confederacy for mutual
defence and the development of their trade, were Scythopolis, Hippos,
Damascus, Gadara, Raphana, Kanatha, Pella, Dion, Philadelphia and
Gerasa. Their money was stamped with the image of Cæsar. Their soldiers
followed the Imperial eagles. Their traditions, their arts, their
literature were Greek. But their strength and their new prosperity were
Here in this narrow wâdi through which we are climbing up from the
Vale of Jabbok we find the traces of the presence of the Romans in the
fragments of a paved military road and an aqueduct. Presently we
surmount a rocky hill and look down into the broad, shallow basin of
Jerash. Gently sloping, rock-strewn hills surround it; through the
centre flows a stream, with banks bordered by trees; a water-fall is
flashing opposite to us; on a cluster of rounded knolls about the
middle of the valley, on the west bank of the stream, are spread the
vast, incredible, complete ruins of the ancient city of Gerasa.
They rise like a dream in the desolation of the wilderness, columns
and arches and vaults and amphitheatres and temples, suddenly appearing
in the bare and lonely landscape as if by enchantment.
How came these monuments of splendour and permanence into this
country of simplicity and transience, this land of shifting shepherds
and drovers, this empire of the black tent, this immemorial region that
has slept away the centuries under the spell of the pastoral pipe? What
magical music of another kind, strong, stately and sonorous, music of
brazen trumpets and shawms, of silver harps and cymbals, evoked this
proud and potent city on the border of the desert, and maintained for
centuries, amid the sweeping, turbulent floods of untamable tribes of
rebels and robbers, this lofty landmark of
the glory that was Greece
And the grandeur that was Rome?
What sudden storm of discord and disaster shook it all down again,
loosened the sinews of majesty and power, stripped away the garments of
beauty and luxury, dissolved the lovely body of living joy, and left
this skeleton of dead splendour diffused upon the solitary ground?
Who can solve these mysteries? It is all unaccountable,
unbelievable,the ghost of the dream of a dream,yet here it is,
surrounded by the green hills, flooded with the frank light of noon,
neighboured by a dirty, noisy little village of Arabs and Circassians
on the east bank of the stream, and with real goats and lean, black
cattle grazing between the carved columns and under the broken
architraves of Gerasa the Golden.
Let us go up into the wrecked city.
This triumphal arch, with its three gates and its lofty Corinthian
columns, stands outside of the city walls: a structure which has no
other use or meaning than the expression of Imperial pride: thus the
Roman conquerors adorn and approach their vassal-town.
Behind the arch a broad, paved road leads to the southern gate,
perhaps a thousand feet away. Beside the road, between the arch and the
gate, lie two buildings of curious interest. The first is a great pool
of stone, seven hundred feet long by three hundred feet wide. This is
the Naumachia, which is filled with water by conduits from the
neighbouring stream, in order that the Greeks may hold their mimic
naval combats and regattas here in the desert, for they are always at
heart a seafaring people. Beyond the pool there is a Circus, with four
rows of stone seats and an oval arena, for wild-beast shows and
The city walls have almost entirely disappeared and the South Gate
is in ruins. Entering and turning to the left, we ascend a little hill
and find the Temple (perhaps dedicated to Artemis), and close beside it
the great South Theatre. There is hardly a break in the semicircular
stone benches, thirty-two rows of seats rising tier above tier, divided
into an upper and a lower section by a broader row of boxes or
stalls, richly carved, and reserved, no doubt, for magnates of the city
and persons of importance. The stage, over a hundred feet wide, is
backed by a straight wall adorned with Corinthian columns and decorated
niches. The theatre faces due north; and the spectator sitting here, if
the play wearies him, can lift his eyes and look off beyond the
proscenium over the length and breadth of Gerasa.
But he looked upon the city, every side,
Far and wide,
All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades
All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,and then,
All the men!
In the hollow northward from this theatre is the Forum, or the
Market-place, or the HippodromeI cannot tell what it is, but a
splendid oval of Ionic pillars incloses an open space of more than
three hundred feet in length and two hundred and fifty feet in width,
where the Gerasenes may barter or bicker or bet, as they will.
From the Forum to the North Gate runs the main street, more than
half a mile long, lined with a double row of columns, from twenty to
thirty feet high, with smooth shafts and acanthus capitals. At the
intersection of the cross-streets there are tetrapylons, with domes,
and pedestals for statues. The pavement of the roadway is worn into
ruts by the chariot wheels. Under the arcades behind the columns run
the sidewalks for foot-passengers. Turn to the right from the main
street and you come to the Public Baths, an immense building like a
palace, supplied with hot and cold water, adorned with marble and
mosaic. On the left lies the Tribuna, with its richly decorated façade
and its fountain of flowing water. A few yards farther north is the
Propylæum of the Great Temple; a superb gateway, decorated with columns
and garlands and shell niches, opening to a wide flight of steps by
which we ascend to the temple-area, a terrace nearly twice the size of
Madison Square Garden, surrounded by two hundred and sixty columns, and
standing clear above the level of the encircling city.
The Temple of the Sun rises at the western end of this terrace,
facing the dawn. The huge columns of the portico, forty-five feet high
and five feet in diameter, with rich Corinthian capitals, are of
rosy-yellow limestone, which seems to be saturated with the sunshine of
a thousand years. Behind them are the walls of the Cella, or inner
shrine, with its vaulted apse for the image of the god, and its secret
stairs and passages in the rear wall for the coming and going of the
priests, and the ascent to the roof for the first salutation of the
sunrise over the eastern hills.
Spreading our cloth between two pillars of the portico we celebrate
the feast of noontide, and looking out over the wrecked magnificence of
the city we try to reconstruct the past.
[Illustration: Ruins of Jerash, Looking West. Propylæum and Temple
It was in the days of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, in the
latter part of the second century after Christ, that these temples and
palaces and theatres were rising. Those were the palmy days of
Græco-Roman civilisation in Syria; then the shops along the Colonnade
were filled with rich goods, the Forum listened to the voice of
world-famous orators and teachers, and proud lords and ladies assembled
in the Naumachia to watch the sham battles of the miniature galleys. A
little later the new religion of Christianity found a foothold here,
(see, these are the ruined outlines of a Christian church below us to
the south, and the foundation of a great Basilica), and by the fifth
century the pagan worship was dying out, and the Bishop of Gerasa had a
seat in the Council of Chalcedon. It was no longer with the comparative
merits of Stoicism and Epicureanism and Neo-Platonism, or with the
rival literary fame of their own Ariston and Kerykos as against
Meleager and Menippus and Theodorus of Gadara, that the Gerasenes
concerned themselves. They were busy now with the controversies about
Homoiousia and Homoöusia, with the rivalry of the Eutychians and the
Nestorians, with the conflicting, not to say combative, claims of such
saints as Dioscurus of Alexandria and Theodoret of Cyrus. But trade
continued brisk, and the city was as rich and as proud as ever. In the
seventh century an Arabian chronicler named it among the great towns of
Palestine, and a poet praised its fertile territory and its copious
Then what happened? Earthquake, pestilence, conflagration, pillage,
devastationwho knows? A Mohammedan writer of the thirteenth century
merely mentions it as a great city of ruins; and so it lay, deserted
and forgotten, until a German traveller visited it in 1806; and so it
lies to-day, with all its dwellings and its walls shattered and
dissolved beside its flowing stream in the centre of its green valley,
and only the relics of its temples, its theatres, its colonnades, and
its triumphal arch remaining to tell us how brave and rich and gay it
was in the days of old.
Do you believe it? Does it seem at all real or possible to you? Look
up at this tall pillar above us. See how the wild marjoram has thrust
its roots between the joints and hangs like the hyssop that springeth
out of the wall. See how the weather has worn deep holes and crevices
in the topmost drum, and how the sparrows have made their nests there.
Lean your back against the pillar; feel it vibrate like a reed shaken
with the wind; watch that huge capital of acanthus leaves swaying
slowly to and fro and trembling upon its stalk as a flower of the
* * * * *
All the afternoon and all the next morning we wander through the
ruins, taking photographs, deciphering inscriptions, discovering new
points of view to survey the city. We sit on the arch of the old Roman
bridge which spans the stream, and look down into the valley filled
with gardens and orchards; tall poplars shiver in the breeze; peaches,
plums, and cherries are in bloom; almonds clad in pale-green foliage;
figs putting forth their verdant shoots; pomegranates covered with
ruddy young leaves. We go up to see the beautiful spring which bursts
from the hillside above the town and supplies it with water. Then we go
back again to roam aimlessly and dreamily, like folk bewitched, among
the tumbled heaps of hewn stones, the broken capitals, and the tall,
rosy columns, soaked with sunbeams.
The Arabs of Jerash have a bad reputation as robbers and
extortionists; and in truth they are rather a dangerous-looking lot of
fellows, with bold, handsome brown faces and inscrutable dark eyes. But
although we have paid no tribute to them, they do not molest us. They
seem to regard us with a contemptuous pity, as harmless idiots who loaf
among the fallen stones and do not even attempt to make excavations.
Our camp is in the inclosure of the North Theatre, a smaller
building than that which stands beside the South Gate, but large enough
to hold an audience of two or three thousand. The semicircle of seats
is still unbroken; the arrangements of the stage, the stairways, the
entries of the building can all be easily traced.
There were gay times in the city when these two theatres were filled
with people. What comedies of Plautus or Terence or Aristophanes or
Menander; what tragedies of Seneca, or of the seven dramatists of
Alexandria who were called the Pleias, were presented here?
Look up along those lofty tiers of seats in the pale, clear
starlight. Can you see no shadowy figures sitting there, hear no light
whisper of ghostly laughter, no thin ripple of clapping hands? What
flash of wit amuses them, what nobly tragic word or action stirs them
to applause? What problem of their own life, what reflection of their
own heart, does the stage reveal to them? We shall never know. The play
at Gerasa is ended.
A PSALM AMONG THE RUINS
The lizard rested on the rock while I sat among the ruins; And
the pride of man was like a vision of the night.
Lo, the lords of the city have disappeared into darkness; The
ancient wilderness hath swallowed up all their work.
There is nothing left of the city but a heap of fragments; The
bones of a carcass that a wild beast hath devoured.
Behold the desert waiteth hungrily for man's dwellings; Surely
the tide of desolation returneth upon his toil.
All that he hath painfully lifted up is shaken down in a moment;
The memory of his glory is buried beneath the billows of sand.
Then a voice said, Look again upon the ruins; These broken arches
have taught generations to build.
Moreover the name of this city shall be remembered; Here a poor
man spoke a word that shall not die.
This is the glory that is stronger than the desert; For God hath
given eternity to the thought of man.
IX. THE MOUNTAINS OF SAMARIA
Look down from these tranquil heights of Jebel Osha, above the
noiseful, squalid little city of Es Salt, and you see what Moses saw
when he climbed Mount Pisgah and looked upon the Promised Land which he
was never to enter.
Could we but climb where Moses stood,
And view the landscape o'er,
Not Jordan's stream, nor death's cold flood,
Should fright us from the shore.
Pisgah was probably a few miles south of the place where we are now
standing, but the main features of the view are the same. These broad
mountain-shoulders, falling steeply away to the west, clad in the
emerald robe of early spring; this immense gulf at our feet, four
thousand feet below us, a huge trough of gray and yellow, through which
the dark-green ribbon of the Jordan jungle, touched with a few silvery
gleams of water, winds to the blue basin of the Dead Sea; those scarred
and wrinkled hills rising on the other side, the knotted brow of
Quarantana, the sharp cone of Sartoba, the distant peak of Mizpeh, the
long line of Judean, Samarian, and Galilean summits, Olivet, and Ebal,
and Gerizim, and Gilboa, and Tabor, rolling away to the northward,
growing ever fairer with the promise of fertile valleys between them
and rich plains beyond them, and fading at last into the azure
vagueness of the highlands round the Lake of Galilee.
Why does that country toward which we are looking and travelling
seem to us so much more familiar and real, so much more a part of the
actual world, than this region of forgotten Greek and Roman glory, from
which we are returning like those who awake from sleep? The ruined
splendours of Jerash fade behind us like a dream. Samaria and Galilee,
crowded with memories and associations which have been woven into our
minds by the wonderful Bible story, draw us to them with the convincing
touch of reality. Yet even while we recognise this strange difference
between our feelings toward the Holy Land and those toward other parts
of the ancient world, we know that it is not altogether true.
Gerasa was as really a part of God's big world as Shechem or Jezreel
or Sychar. It stood in His sight, and He must have regarded the human
souls that lived there. He must have cared for them, and watched over
them, and judged them equitably, dividing the just from the unjust, the
children of love from the children of hate, even as He did with men on
the other side of the Jordan, even as He does with all men everywhere
to-day. If faith in a God who is the Father and Lord of all mankind
means anything it means this: equal care, equal justice, equal mercy
for all the world. Gerasa has been forgotten of men, but God never
What, then, is the difference? Just this: in the little land between
the Jordan and the sea, things came to pass which have a more enduring
significance than the wars and splendours, the wealth and culture of
the Decapolis. Conflicts were fought there in which the eternal issues
of good and evil were clearly manifest. Ideas were worked out there
which have a permanent value to the spiritual life of man. Revelations
were made there which have become the guiding stars of succeeding
generations. This is why that country of the Bible seems more real to
us: because its history is more significant, because it is Divinely
inspired with a meaning for our faith and hope.
Do you agree with this? I do not know. But at least if you were with
us on this glorious morning, riding down from the heights of Jebel Osha
you would feel the vivid beauty, the subduing grandeur of the scene.
You would rejoice in the life-renewing air that blows softly around us
and invites us to breathe deep,in the pure morning faces of the
flowers opening among the rocks,in the light waving of silken grasses
along the slopes by which we steeply descend.
There is a young Gileadite running beside us, a fine fellow about
eighteen years old, with his white robe girded up about his loins,
leaving his brown legs bare. His head-dress is encircled with the black
'agâl of camel's hair like a rustic crown. A long gun is slung over his
back; a wicked-looking curved knife with a brass sheath sticks in his
belt; his silver powder-horn and leather bullet-pouch hang at his
waist. He strides along with a free, noble step, or springs lightly
from rock to rock like a gazelle.
His story is a short one, and simple,if true. His younger brother
has run away from the family tent among the pastures of Gilead, seeking
his fortune in the wide world. And now this elder brother has come out
to look for the prodigal, at Nablûs, at Jaffa, at Jerusalem,Allah
knows how far the quest may lead! But he is afraid of robbers if he
crosses the Jordan Valley alone. May he keep company with us and make
the perilous transit under our august protection? Yes, surely, my brown
son of Esau; and we will not inquire too closely whether you are really
running after your brother or running away yourself.
There may be a thousand robbers concealed along the river-bed, but
we can see none of them. The valley is heat and emptiness. Even the
jackal that slinks across the trail in front of us, droops and drags
his tail in visible exhaustion. His lolling, red tongue is a signal of
distress. In a climate like this one expects nothing from man or beast.
Life degenerates, shrivels, stifles; and in the glaring open spaces a
sullen madness lurks invisible.
We are coming to the ancient fording-place of the river, called
Adamah, where an event once happened which was of great consequence to
the Israelites and which has often been misunderstood. They were
encamped on the east side, opposite Jericho, nearly thirty miles below
this point, waiting for their first opportunity to cross the Jordan.
Then, says the record, the waters which came down from above stopped,
and were piled up in a heap, a great way off, at Adam, ... and the
people passed over right against Jericho. (Joshua iii: 14-16.)
Look at these great clay-banks overhanging the river, and you will
understand what it was that opened a dry path for Israel into Canaan.
One of these huge masses of clay was undermined, and slipped, and fell
across the river, heaping up the waters behind a temporary natural dam,
and cutting off the supply of the lower stream. It may have taken three
or four days for the river to carve its way through or around that
obstruction, and meantime any one could march across to Jericho without
wetting his feet. I have seen precisely the same thing happen on a
salmon river in Canada quite as large as the Jordan.
The river is more open at this place, and there is a curious
six-cornered ferry-boat, pulled to and fro with ropes by a half-dozen
bare-legged Arabs. If it had been a New England river, the practical
Western mind would have built a long boat with a flat board at each
side, and rigged a couple of running wheels on a single rope. Then the
ferryman would have had nothing to do but let the stern of his craft
swing down at an angle with the stream, and the swift current would
have pushed him from one side to the other at his will. But these
Orientals have been running their ferry in their own way, no doubt, for
many centuries; and who are we to break in upon their laborious
indolence with new ideas? It is enough that they bring us over safely,
with our cattle and our stuff, in several bands, with much tugging at
the ropes and shouting and singing.
We look in vain on the shore of the Jordan for a pleasant place to
eat our luncheon. The big trees stand with their feet in the river, and
the smaller shrubs are scraggly and spiny. At last we find a little
patch of shade on a steep bank above the yellow stream, and here we
make ourselves as comfortable as we can, with the thermometer at 110°,
and the hungry gnats and mosquitoes swarming around us.
Early in the afternoon we desperately resolve to brave the sun, and
ride up from the river-bed into the open plain on the west. Here we
catch our first clear view of Mount Hermon, with its mantle of
glistening snow, hanging like a cloud on the northern horizon, ninety
miles away, beyond the Lake of Galilee and the Waters of Merom; a
vision of distance and coolness and grandeur.
The fields, watered by the full streams descending from the Wâdi
Fârah, are green with wheat and barley. Along our path are balsam-trees
and thorny jujubes, from whose branches we pluck the sweet, insipid
fruit as we ride beneath them. Herds of cattle are pasturing on the
plain, and long rows of black Bedouin tents are stretched at the foot
of the mountains. We cross a dozen murmuring watercourses embowered in
the dark, glistening foliage of the oleanders glowing with great soft
flames of rosy bloom.
At the Serâi on the hill which watches over this Jiftlîk, or domain
of the Sultan, there are some Turkish soldiers saddling their horses
for an expedition; perhaps to collect taxes or to chase robbers. The
peasants are returning, by the paths among the cornfields, to their
huts. The lines of camp-fires begin to gleam from the transient Bedouin
villages. Our white tents are pitched in a flowery meadow, beside a
low-voiced stream, and as we fall asleep the night air is trembling
with the shrill, innumerable brek-ek-ek-coäx-coäx of the frog
MOUNT EPHRAIM AND JACOB'S WELL
Samaria is a mountain land, but its characteristic features, as
distinguished from Judea, are the easiness of approach through open
gateways among the hills, and the fertility of the broad vales and
level plains which lie between them. The Kingdom of Israel, in its
brief season of prosperity, was richer, more luxurious, and weaker than
the Kingdom of Judah. The poet Isaiah touched the keynote of the
northern kingdom when he sang of the crown of pride of the drunkards
of Ephraim, and the fading flower of his glorious beauty which is on
the head of the fat valley. (Isaiah xxviii: 1-6.)
We turn aside from the open but roundabout way of the well-tilled
Wâdi Fârah and take a shorter, steeper path toward Shechem, through a
deep, narrow mountain gorge. The day is hot and hazy, for the Sherkîyeh
is blowing from the desert across the Jordan Valley: the breath of
Jehovah's displeasure with His people, a dry wind of the high places
of the wilderness toward the daughter of my people, neither to fan nor
At times the walls of rock come so close together that we have to
wind through a passage not more than ten feet wide. The air is parched
as in an oven. Our horses scramble wearily up the stony gallery and the
rough stairways. One of our company faints under the fervent heat, and
falls from his horse. But fortunately no bones are broken; a
half-hour's rest in the shadow of a great rock revives him and we ride
The wonderful flowers are blooming wherever they can find a foothold
among the stones. Now and then we cross the mouth of some little lonely
side-valley, full of mignonette and cyclamens and tall spires of pink
hollyhock. Under the huge, dark sides of Eagle's Cragbare and rugged
as Ben Neviswe pass into the fruitful plain of Makhna, where the
silken grainfields rustle far and wide, and the rich olive-orchards on
the hill-slopes offer us a shelter for our midday meal and siesta.
Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim now rise before us in their naked bulk;
and, as we mount toward the valley which lies between them, we stay for
a while to rest at Jacob's Well.
There is a mystery about this ancient cistern on the side of the
mountain. Why was it dug here, a hundred feet deep, although there are
springs and streams of living water flowing down the valley, close at
hand? Whence came the tradition of the Samaritans that Jacob gave them
this well, although the Old Testament says nothing about it? Why did
the Samaritan woman, in Jesus' time, come hither to draw water when
there was a brook, not fifty yards away, which she must cross to get to
Who can tell? Certainly there must have been some use and reason for
such a well, else the men of long ago would never have toiled to make
it. Perhaps the people of Sychar had some superstition about its water
which made them prefer it. Or perhaps the stream was owned and used for
other purposes, while the water of the well was free.
It makes no difference whether a solution of the problem is ever
found. Its very existence adds to the touch of truth in the narrative
of St. John's Gospel. Certainly this well was here in Jesus' day, close
beside the road which He would be most likely to take in going from
Jerusalem to Galilee. Here He sat, alone and weary, while the disciples
went on to the village to buy food. And here, while He waited and
thirsted, He spoke to an unknown, unfriendly, unhappy woman the words
which have been a spring of living water to the weary and fevered heart
of the world: God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship
Him in spirit and in truth.
NABLÛS AND SEBASTE
About a mile from Jacob's Well, the city of Nablûs lies in the
hollow between Mount Gerizim on the south and Mount Ebal on the north.
The side of Gerizim is precipitous and jagged; Ebal rises more
smoothly, but very steeply, and is covered with plantations of
thornless cactus, (Opuntia cochinillifera), cultivated for the
sake of the cochineal insects which live upon the plant and from which
a red dye is made.
The valley is well watered, and is about a quarter of a mile wide. A
little east of the city there are two natural bays or amphitheatres
opposite to each other in the mountains. Here the tribes of Israel may
have been gathered while the priests chanted the curses of the law from
Ebal and the blessings from Gerizim. (Joshua viii: 30-35.) The cliffs
were sounding-boards and sent the loud voices of blessing and cursing
out over the multitude so that all could hear.
It seems as if it were mainly the echo of the cursing of Ebal that
greets us as we ride around the fierce little Mohammedan city of Nablûs
on Friday afternoon, passing through the open and dilapidated
cemeteries where the veiled women are walking and gossiping away their
holiday. The looks of the inhabitants are surly and hostile. The
children shout mocking ditties at us, reviling the Nazarenes. We will
not ask our dragoman to translate the words that we catch now and then;
it is easy to guess that they are not fit to print.
Our camp is close beside a cemetery, near the eastern gate of the
town. The spectators who watch us from a distance while we dine are
numerous; and no doubt they are passing unfavourable criticisms on our
table manners, and on the Frankish custom of permitting one unveiled
lady to travel with three husbands. The population of Nablûs is about
twenty-five thousand. It has a Turkish governor, a garrison, several
soap factories, and a million dogs which howl all night.
At half-past six the next morning we set out on foot to climb Mount
Ebal, which is three thousand feet high. The view from the rocky summit
sweeps over all Palestine, from snowy Hermon to the mountains round
about Jerusalem, from Carmel to Nebo, from the sapphire expanse of the
Mediterranean to the violet valley of the Jordan and the garnet wall of
Moab and Gilead beyond.
For us the view is veiled in mystery by the haze of the south wind.
The ranges and peaks far away fade into cloudlike shadows. The depths
below us seem to sink unfathomably. Nablûs is buried in the gulf. On
the summit of Gerizim, a Mohammedan wêli, shining like a flake
of mica, marks the plateau where the Samaritan Temple stood. Hilltop
towns, Asîret, Tallûza, Yasîd, emerge like islands from the misty sea.
In that great shadowy hollow to the west lie the ruins of the city of
Samaria, which Cæsar Augustus renamed Sebaste, in honour of his wife
Augusta. If she could see the village of Sebastiyeh now she would not
be proud of her namesake town. It is there that we are going to make
our midday camp.
King Omri acted as a wise man when he moved the capital of Israel
from Shechem, an indefensible site, commanded by overhanging mountains
and approached by two easy vales, to Shomron, the watch-hill which
stands in the centre of the broad Vale of Barley.
As we ride across the smiling corn-fields toward the isolated
eminence, we see its strength as well as its beauty. It rises steeply
from the valley to a height of more than three hundred feet. The
encircling mountains are too far away to dominate it under the ancient
conditions of warfare without cannons, and a good wall must have made
it, as its name implied, an impregnable stronghold, watching over a
region of immense fertility.
What pomps and splendours, what revels and massacres, what joys of
victory and horrors of defeat, that round hill rising from the Vale of
Barley has seen. Now there is nothing left of its crown of pride, but
the broken pillars of the marble colonnade a mile long with which Herod
the Great girdled the hill, and a few indistinguishable ruins of the
temple which he built in honour of the divine Augustus and of the
hippodrome which he erected for the people. We climb the terraces and
ride through the olive-groves and ploughed fields where the street of
columns once ran. A few of them are standing upright; others leaning or
fallen, half sunken in the ground; fragments of others built into the
stone walls which divide the fields. There are many hewn and carven
stones imbedded in the miserable little modern village which crouches
on the north end of the hill, and the mosque into which the Crusaders'
Church of Saint John has been transformed is said to contain the tombs
of Elisha, Obadiah and John the Baptist. This rumour does not concern
us deeply and we will leave its truth uninvestigated.
Let us tie our horses among Herod's pillars, and spread the rugs for
our noontide rest by the ruined south gate of the city. At our feet
lies the wide, level, green valley where the mighty host of Ben-hadad,
King of Damascus, once besieged the starving city and waited for its
surrender. (II Kings vii.) There in the twilight of long ago a panic
terror whispered through the camp, and the Syrians rose and fled,
leaving their tents and their gear behind them. And there four nameless
lepers of Israel, wandering in their despair, found the vast encampment
deserted, and entered in, and ate and drank, and picked up gold and
silver, until their conscience smote them. Then they climbed up to this
gate with the good news that the enemy had vanished, and the city was
DÔTHÂN AND THE GOODNESS OF THE SAMARITAN
Over the steep mountains that fence Samaria to the north, down
through terraced vales abloom with hawthorns and blood-red poppies,
across hill-circled plains where the long, silvery wind-waves roll over
the sea of grain from shore to shore, past little gray towns sleeping
on the sunny heights, by paths that lead us near flowing springs where
the village girls fill their pitchers, and down stony slopes where the
goatherds in bright-coloured raiment tend their flocks, and over broad,
moist fields where the path has been obliterated by the plough, and
around the edge of marshes where the storks rise heavily on long
flapping wings, we come galloping at sunset to our camp beside the
little green hill of Dôthân.
Behind it are the mountains, swelling and softly rounded like
breasts. It was among them that the servant of Elisha saw the vision of
horses and chariots of fire protecting his master. (II Kings vi:
North and east of Dôthân the plain extends smooth and gently
sloping, full of young harvest. There the chariot of Naaman rolled when
he came down from Damascus to be healed by the prophet of Israel. (II
Kings v: 9.)
On top of the hill is a spreading terebinth-tree, with some traces
of excavation and rude ruins beneath it. There Joseph's envious
brethren cast him into one of the dry pits, from which they drew him up
again to sell him to a caravan of merchants, winding across the plain
on their way from Midian into Egypt. (Genesis xxxvii.)
Truly, many and wonderful things came to pass of old around this
little green hill. And now, at the foot of it, there is a well-watered
garden, with figs, oranges, almonds, vines, and tall, trembling
poplars, surrounded by a hedge of prickly pear. Outside of the hedge a
big, round spring of crystal water is flowing steadily over the rim of
its basin of stones. There the flocks and herds are gathered, morning
and evening, to drink. There the children of the tiny hamlet on the
hillside come to paddle their feet in the running stream. There a
caravan of Greek pilgrims, on their way from Damascus to Jerusalem for
Easter, halt in front of our camp, to refresh themselves with a draught
of the cool water.
As we watch them from our tents there is a sudden commotion among
them, a cry of pain, and then voices of dismay. George and two or three
of our men run out to see what is the matter, and come hurrying back to
get some cotton cloth and oil and wine. One of the pilgrims, an old
woman of seventy, has fallen from her horse on the sharp stones beside
the spring, breaking her wrist and cutting her head.
I do not know whether the way in which they bound up that poor old
stranger's wounds was surgically wise, but I know that it was humanly
kind and tender. I do not know which of our various churches were
represented among her helpers, but there must have been at least three,
and the muleteer from Bagdad who had no religion but sang beautiful
Persian songs was also there, and ready to help with the others. And
so the parable which lighted our dusty way going down to Jericho is
interpreted in our pleasant camp at Dôthân.
The paths of the Creeds are many and winding; they cross and
diverge; but on all of them the Good Samaritan is welcome, and I think
he travels to a happy place.
A PSALM OF THE HELPERS
The ways of the world are full of haste and turmoil: I will sing
of the tribe of helpers who travel in peace.
He that turneth from the road to rescue another, Turneth toward
his goal: He shall arrive in due time by the foot-path of mercy, God
will be his guide.
He that taketh up the burden of the fainting, Lighteneth his own
load: The Almighty will put his arms underneath him, He shall lean upon
He that speaketh comfortable words to mourners, Healeth his own
heart: In his time of grief they will return to remembrance, God will
use them for balm.
He that careth for the sick and wounded, Watcheth not alone:
There are three in the darkness together, And the third is the Lord.
Blessed is the way of the helpers: The companions of the Christ.
X. GALILEE AND THE LAKE
THE PLAIN OF ESDRAELON
Going from Samaria into Galilee is like passing from the Old
Testament into the New.
There is indeed little difference in the outward landscape: the same
bare lines of rolling mountains, green and gray near by, blue or purple
far away; the same fertile valleys and emerald plains embosomed among
the hills; the same orchards of olive-trees, not quite so large, nor so
many, but always softening and shading the outlook with their touches
of silvery verdure.
It is the spirit of the landscape that changes; the inward view; the
atmosphere of memories and associations through which we travel. We
have been riding with fierce warriors and proud kings and fiery
prophets of Israel, passing the sites of royal splendour and fields of
ancient havoc, retracing the warpaths of the Twelve Tribes. But when we
enter Galilee the keynote of our thoughts is modulated into peace.
Issachar and Zebulon and Asher and Naphtali have left no trace or
message for us on the plains and hills where they once lived and
fought. We journey with Jesus of Nazareth, the friend of publicans and
sinners, the shepherd of the lost sheep, the human embodiment of the
This transition in our journey is marked outwardly by the crossing
of the great Plain of Esdraelon, which we enter by the gateway of
Jenîn. There are a few palm-trees lending a little grace to the
disconsolate village, and the Turkish captain of the military post, a
grizzled veteran of Plevna, invites us into the guard-room to drink
coffee with him, while we wait for a dilatory telegraph operator to
send a message. Then we push out upon the green sea to a brown island:
the village of Zer'în, the ancient Jezreel.
The wretched hamlet of adobe huts, with mud beehives plastered
against the walls, stands on the lowest bench of the foothills of Mount
Gilboa, opposite the equally wretched hamlet of Sûlem in a
corresponding position at the base of a mountain called Little Hermon.
The widespread, opulent view is haunted with old stories of battle,
murder and sudden death.
Down to the east we see the line of brighter green creeping out from
the flanks of Mount Gilboa, marking the spring where Gideon sifted his
band of warriors for the night-attack on the camp of Midian. (Judges
vii: 4-23.) Under the brow of the hill are the ancient wine-presses,
cut in the rock, which belonged to the vineyard of Naboth, whom Jezebel
assassinated. (I Kings xxi: 1-16.) From some window of her favourite
palace on this eminence, that hard, old, painted queen looked down the
broad valley of Jezreel, and saw Jehu in his chariot driving furiously
from Gilead to bring vengeance upon her. On those dark ridges to the
south the brave Jonathan was slain by the Philistines and the desperate
Saul fell upon his own sword. (I Samuel xxxi: 1-6.) Through that open
valley, which slopes so gently down to the Jordan at Bethshan, the
hordes of Midian and the hosts of Damascus marched against Israel. By
the pass of Jenîn, Holofernes led his army in triumph until he met
Judith of Bethulia and lost his head. Yonder in the corner to the
northward, at the base of Mount Tabor, Deborah and Barak gathered the
tribes against the Canaanites under Sisera. (Judges iv: 4-22.) Away to
the westward, in the notch of Megiddo, Pharaoh-Necho's archers pierced
King Josiah, and there was great mourning for him in Hadad-rimmon. (II
Chronicles xxxv: 24-25; Zechariah xii: 11.) Farther still, where the
mountain spurs of Galilee approach the long ridge of Carmel, Elijah put
the priests of Baal to death by the Brook Kishon. (I Kings xviii:
All over that great prairie, which makes a broad break between the
highlands of Galilee and the highlands of Samaria and Judea, and opens
an easy pathway rising no more than three hundred feet between the
Jordan and the Mediterraneanall over that fertile, blooming area and
around the edges of it are sown the legends
Of old, unhappy, far-off things
And battles long ago.
But on this bright April day when we enter the plain of Armageddon,
everything is tranquil and joyous.
The fields are full of rustling wheat, and bearded barley, and
blue-green stalks of beans, and feathery kirsenneh,
camel-provender. The peasants in their gay-coloured clothing are
ploughing the rich, red-brown soil for the late crop of doura.
The newly built railway from Haifâ to Damascus lies like a yellow
string across the prairie from west to east; and from north to south a
single file of two hundred camels, with merchandise for Egypt, undulate
along the ancient road of the caravans, turning their ungainly heads to
look at the puffing engine which creeps toward them from the distance.
Larks singing in the air, storks parading beside the watercourses,
falcons poising overhead, poppies and pink gladioluses and blue
corn-cockles blooming through the grain,a little village on a swell
of rising ground, built for their farm hands by the rich Greeks who
have bought the land and brought it under cultivation,an air so pure
and soft that it is like a caress,all seems to speak a language of
peace and promise, as if one of the old prophets were telling of the
day when Jehovah shall have compassion on His people Israel and restore
them. They that dwell under His shadow shall return; they shall revive
as the grain, and blossom as the vine: the scent thereof shall be as
the wine of Lebanon.
It is, indeed, not impossible that wise methods of colonization,
better agriculture and gardening, the development of fruit-orchards and
vineyards, and above all, more rational government and equitable
taxation may one day give back to Palestine something of her old
prosperity and population. If the Jews really want it no doubt they can
have it. Their rich men have the money and the influence; and there are
enough of their poorer folk scattered through Europe to make any land
blossom like the rose, if they have the will and the patience for the
slow toil of the husbandman and the vine-dresser and the shepherd and
But the proud kingdom of David and Solomon will never be restored;
not even the tributary kingdom of Herod. For the land will never again
stand at the crossroads, the four-corners of the civilized world. The
Suez Canal to the south, and the railways through the Lebanon and Asia
Minor to the north, have settled that. They have left Palestine in a
corner, off the main-travelled roads. The best that she can hope for is
a restoration to quiet fruitfulness, to placid and humble industry, to
olive-crowned and vine-girdled felicity, never again to power.
And if that lowly re-coronation comes to her, it will not be on the
stony heights around Jerusalem: it will be in the Plain of Sharon, in
the outgoings of Mount Ephraim, in the green pastures of Gilead, in the
lovely region of Galilee of the Gentiles. It will not be by the sword
of Gideon nor by the sceptre of Solomon, but by the sign of peace on
earth and good-will among men.
With thoughts like these we make our way across the verdurous inland
sea of Esdraelon, out of the Old Testament into the New. Landmarks of
the country of the Gospel begin to appear: the wooded dome of Mount
Tabor, the little village of Nain where Jesus restored the widow's only
son. (Luke vii: 11-16.) But these lie far to our right. The beacon
which guides us is a glimpse of white walls and red roofs, high on a
shoulder of the Galilean hills: the outlying houses of Nazareth, where
the boy Jesus dwelt with His parents after their return from the flight
into Egypt, and was obedient to them, and grew in wisdom and stature,
and in favour with God and men.
THEIR OWN CITY NAZARETH
Our camp in Nazareth is on a terrace among the olive-trees, on the
eastern side of a small valley, facing the Mohammedan quarter of the
This is distinctly the most attractive little city that we have seen
in Palestine. The houses are spread out over a wider area than is usual
in the East, covering three sides of a gentle depression high on the
side of the Jebel es-Sikh, and creeping up the hill-slopes as if to
seek a larger view and a purer air. Some of them have gardens, fair
white walls, red-tiled roofs, balconies of stone or wrought iron. Even
in the more closely built portion of the town the streets seem cleaner,
the bazaars lighter and less malodorous, the interior courtyards into
which we glance in passing more neat and homelike. Many of the doorways
and living-rooms of the humbler houses are freshly whitewashed with a
light-blue tint which gives them an immaculate air of cleanliness.
The Nazarene women are generally good looking, and free and
dignified in their bearing. The children, fairer in complexion than is
common in Syria, are almost all charming with the beauty of youth, and
among them are some very lovely faces of boys and girls. I do not mean
to say that Nazareth appears to us an earthly paradise; only that it
shines by contrast with places like Hebron and Jericho and Nablûs, even
with Bethlehem, and that we find here far less of human squalor and
misery to sadden us with thoughts of
What man has made of man.
The population of the town is about eleven or twelve thousand, a
quarter of them Mussulmans, and the rest Christians of various sects,
including two or three hundred Protestants. The people used to have
rather a bad reputation for turbulence; but we see no signs of it,
either in the appearance of the city or in the demeanour of the
inhabitants. The children and the townsfolk whom we meet in the
streets, and of whom we ask our way now and then, are civil and
friendly. The man who comes to the camp to sell us antique coins and
lovely vases of iridescent glass dug from the tombs of Tyre and Sidon,
may be an inveterate humbug, but his manners are good and his prices
are low. The soft-voiced women and lustrous-eyed girls who hang about
the Lady's tent, persuading her to buy their small embroideries and
lace-work and trinkets, are gentle and ingratiating, though persistent.
I am honestly of the opinion that Christian mission-schools and
hospitals have done a great deal for Nazareth. We go this morning to
visit the schools of the English Church Missionary Society, where Miss
Newton is conducting an admirable and most successful work for the
girls of Nazareth. She is away on a visit to some of her outlying
stations; but the dark-eyed, happy-looking Syrian teacher shows us all
the classes. There are five of them, and every room is full and bright
On the Christian side, the older girls sing a hymn for us, in their
high voices and quaint English accent, about Jesus stilling the storm
on Galilee, and the intermediate girls and the tiny co-educated boys
and girls in the kindergarten go through various pretty performances.
Then the teacher leads us across the street to the two Moslem classes,
and we cannot tell the difference between them and the Christian
children, except that now the singing of Jesus loves me and the
recitation of The Lord is my Shepherd are in Arabic. There is one
blind girl who recites most perfectly and eagerly. Another girl of
about ten years carries her baby-brother in her arms. Two little
laggards, (they were among the group at our camp early in the morning),
arrive late, weeping out their excuses to the teacher. She hears them
with a kind, humorous look on her face, gives them a soft rebuke and a
task, and sends them to their seats, their tears suddenly transformed
From the schools we go to the hospital of the British Medical
Mission, a little higher up the hill. We find young Doctor Scrimgeour,
who has lately come out from Edinburgh University, and his
white-uniformed, cheerful, busy nurses, tasked to the limit of their
strength by the pressure of their work, but cordial and simple in their
welcome. As I walk with the doctor on his rounds I see every ward full,
and all kinds of calamity and suffering waiting for the relief and help
of his kind, skilful knife. Here are hernia, and tuberculous glands,
and cataract, and stone, and bone tuberculosis, and a score of other
miseries; and there, on the table, with pale, dark face and mysterious
eyes, lies a man whose knee has been shattered by a ball from a Martini
rifle in an affray with robbers.
Was he one of the robbers, I ask, or one of the robbed?
I really don't know, says the doctor, but in a few minutes I am
going to do my best for him.
Is not this Christ's work that is still doing in Christ's town, this
teaching of the children, this helping of the sick and wounded, for His
sake, and in His name? Yet there are silly folk who say they do not
believe in missions.
There are a few so-called sacred places and shrines in Nazareththe
supposed scene of the Annunciation; the traditional Workshop of Joseph;
the alleged Mensa Christi, a flat stone which He is said to have
used as a table when He ate with His disciples; and so on. But all
these uncertain relics and memorials, as usual, are inclosed in
chapels, belit with lamps, and encircled with ceremonial. The very
spring at which the Virgin Mary must have often filled her pitcher,
(for it is the only flowing fountain in the town), now rises beneath
the Greek Church of Saint Gabriel, and is conducted past the altar in a
channel of stone where the pilgrims bathe their eyes and faces. To us,
who are seeking our Holy Land out-of-doors, these shut-in shrines and
altared memorials are less significant than what we find in the open,
among the streets and on the surrounding hillsides.
The Virgin's Fountain, issuing from the church, flows into a big,
stone basin under a round arch. Here, as often as we pass, we see the
maidens and the mothers of Nazareth, with great earthern vessels poised
upon their shapely heads, coming with merry talk and laughter, to draw
water. Even so the mother of Jesus must have come to this fountain many
a time, perhaps with her wondrous boy running beside her, clasping her
hand or a fold of her bright-coloured garment. Perhaps, when the child
was little she carried Him on her shoulder, as the women carry their
Passing through a street, we look into the interior of a
carpenter-shop, with its simple tools, its little pile of new lumber,
its floor littered with chips and shavings, and its air full of the
pleasant smell of freshly cut wood. There are a few articles of
furniture which the carpenter has made: a couple of chairs, a table, a
stool: and he himself, with his leg stretched out and his piece of wood
held firmly by his naked toes, is working busily at a tiny bed which
needs only a pair of rockers to become a cradle. Outside the door of
the shop a boy of ten or twelve is cutting some boards and slats, and
putting them neatly together. We ask him what he is making. A box, he
answers, a box for some dovesand then bends his head over his
absorbing task. Even so Jesus must have worked at the shop of Joseph,
the carpenter, and learned His handicraft.
[Illustration: The Virgin's Fountain, Nazareth.]
Let us walk up, at eventide, to the top of the hill behind the town.
Here is one of the loveliest views in all Palestine. The sun is setting
and the clear-obscure of twilight already rests over the streets and
houses, the minarets and spires, the slender cypresses and round
olive-trees and grotesque hedges of cactus. But on the heights the warm
radiance from the west pours its full flood, lighting up all the
flowerets of delicate pink flax and golden chrysanthemum and blue
campanula with which the grass is broidered. Far and wide that roseate
illumination spreads itself; changing the snowy mantle of distant
Hermon, the great Sheikh of Mountains, from ermine to flamingo
feathers; making the high hills of Naphtali and the excellency of
Carmel glow as if with soft, transfiguring, inward fire; touching the
little town of Saffûriyeh below us, where they say that the Virgin Mary
was born, and the city of Safed, thirty miles away on the lofty
shoulder of Jebel Jermak; suffusing the haze that fills the Valley of
the Jordan, and the long bulwarks of the Other-Side, with hues of mauve
and purple; and bathing the wide expanse of the western sea with
indescribable splendours, over which the flaming sun poises for a
moment beneath the edge of a low-hung cloud.
On this hilltop, I doubt not, the boy Jesus often filled His hands
with flowers. Here He could watch the creeping caravans of Arabian
merchants, and the glittering legions of Roman soldiers, and the slow
files of Jewish pilgrims, coming up from the Valley of Jezreel and
stretching out across the Plain of Esdraelon. Hither, at the evening
hour, He came as a youth to find the blessing of wide and tranquil
thought. Here, when the burden of manhood pressed upon Him, He rested
after the day's work, free from that sadness which often touches us in
the vision of earth's transient beauty, because He saw far beyond the
horizon into the spirit-world, where there is no night, nor weariness,
nor sin, nor death.
For nearly thirty years He must have lived within sight of this
hilltop. And then, one day, He came back from a journey to the Jordan
and Jerusalem, and entered into the little synagogue at the foot of
this hill, and began to preach to His townsfolk His glad tidings of
spiritual liberty and brotherhood and eternal life.
But they were filled with scorn and wrath. His words rebuked them,
stung them, inflamed them with hatred. They laid violent hands on Him,
and led Him out to the brow of the hill,perhaps it was yonder on that
steep, rocky peak to the south of the town, looking back toward the
country of the Old Testament,to cast Him down headlong.
Yet I think there must have been a few friends and lovers of His in
that disdainful and ignorant crowd; for He passed through the midst of
them unharmed, and went His way to the home of Peter and Andrew and
John and Philip, beside the Sea of Galilee, never to come back to
A WEDDING IN CANA OF GALILEE
We thought to save a little time on our journey, and perhaps to
spare ourselves a little jolting on the hard high-road, by sending the
saddle-horses ahead with the caravan, and taking a carriage for the
sixteen-mile drive to Tiberias. When we came to the old sarcophagus
which serves as a drinking trough at the spring outside the village of
Cana, a strange thing befell us.
We had halted for a moment to refresh the horses. Suddenly there was
a sound of furious galloping on the road behind us. A score of
cavaliers in Bedouin dress, with guns and swords, came after us in hot
haste. The leaders dashed across the open space beside the spring,
wheeled their foaming horses and dashed back again.
Is this our affair with robbers, at last? we asked George.
He laughed a little. No, said he, this is the beginning of a
wedding in Kafr Kennâ. The bridegroom and his friends come over from
some other village where they live, to show off a bit of fantasia
to the bride and her friends. They carry her back with them after the
marriage. We wait a while and see how they ride.
The horses were gayly caparisoned with ribbons and tassels and
embroidered saddle-cloths. The riders were handsome, swarthy fellows
with haughty faces. Their eyes glanced sideways at us to see whether we
were admiring them, as they shouted their challenges to one another and
raced wildly up and down the rock-strewn course, with their robes
flying and their horses' sides bloody with spurring. One of the men was
a huge coal-black Nubian who brandished a naked sword as he rode.
Others whirled their long muskets in the air and yelled furiously. The
riding was cruel, reckless, superb; loose reins and loose stirrups on
the headlong gallop; then the sharp curb brought the horse up suddenly,
the rein on his neck turned him as if on a pivot, and the pressure of
the heel sent him flying back over the course.
Presently there was a sound of singing and clapping hands behind the
high cactus-hedges to our left, and from a little lane the bridal
procession walked up to take the high-road to the village. There were a
dozen men in front, firing guns and shouting, then came the women, with
light veils of gauze over their faces, singing shrilly, and in the
midst of them, in gay attire, but half-concealed with long, dark
mantles, the bride and the virgins, her companions, in raiment of
As they saw the photographic camera pointed at them they laughed,
and crowded closer together, and drew the ends of their dark mantles
over their heads. So they passed up the road, their shrill song broken
a little by their laughter; and the company of horsemen, the bridegroom
and his friends, wheeled into line, two by two, and trotted after them
into the village.
This was all that we saw of the wedding at Kafr Kennâjust a vivid,
mysterious flash of human figures, drawn together by the primal impulse
and longing of our common nature, garbed and ordered by the social
customs which make different lands and ages seem strange to each other,
and moving across the narrow stage of Time into the dimness of that
Arab village, where Jesus and His mother and His disciples were guests
at a wedding long ago.
It is one of the ironies of fate that the lake which saw the greater
part of the ministry of Jesus, should take its modern name from a city
built by Herod Antipas, and called after one of the most infamous of
the Roman Emperors,the Sea of Tiberias.
Our road to this city of decadence leads gradually downward, through
a broad, sinking moorland, covered with weeds and wild flowersrich,
monotonous, desolate. The broidery of pink flax and yellow
chrysanthemums and white marguerites still follows us; but now the
wider stretches of thistles and burdocks and daturas and cockleburs and
water-plantains seem to be more important. The landscape saddens around
us, under the deepening haze of the desert-wind, the sombre Sherkîyeh.
There are no golden sunbeams, no cool cloud-shadows, only a gray and
melancholy illumination growing ever fainter and more nebulous as the
day declines, and the outlines of the hills fade away from the dim,
silent, forsaken plain through which we move.
We are crossing the battlefield where the soldiers of Napoleon,
under the brave Junot, fought desperately against the overwhelming
forces of the Turks. Yonder, away to the left, in the mysterious haze,
the double Horns of Hattin rise like a shadowy exhalation.
That is said to be the mountain where Jesus gathered the multitude
around Him and spoke His new beatitudes on the meek, the merciful, the
peacemakers, the pure in heart. It is certainly the place where the
hosts of the Crusaders met the army of Saladin, in the fierce heat of a
July day, seven hundred years ago, and while the burning grass and
weeds and brush flamed around them, were cut to pieces and trampled and
utterly consumed. There the new Kingdom of Jerusalem,the last that
was won with the sword,went down in ruin around the relics of the
true cross, which its soldiers carried as their talisman; and Guy de
Lusignan, their King, was captured. The noble prisoners were invited by
Saladin to his tent, and he offered them sherbets, cooled with snow
from Hermon, to slake their feverish thirst. When they were refreshed,
the conqueror ordered them to be led out and put to the sword,just
yonder at the foot of the Mount of Beatitudes.
From terrace to terrace of the falling moor we roll along the
winding road through the brumous twilight, until we come within sight
of the black, ruined walls, the gloomy towers, the huddled houses of
the worn-out city of Tiberias. She is like an ancient beggar sitting on
a rocky cape beside the lake and bathing her feet in the invisible
water. The gathering dusk lends a sullen and forlorn aspect to the
place. Behind us rise the shattered volcanic crags and cliffs of
basalt; before us glimmer pallid and ghostly touches of light from the
hidden waves; a few lamps twinkle here and there in the dormant town.
This was the city which Herod Antipas built for the capital of his
Province of Galilee. He laid its foundations in an ancient graveyard,
and stretched its walls three miles along the lake, adorning it with a
palace, a forum, a race-course, and a large synagogue. But to strict
Jews the place was unclean, because it was defiled with Roman idols,
and because its builders had polluted themselves by digging up the
bones of the dead. Herod could get few Jews to live in his city, and it
became a catch-all for the off-scourings of the land, people of all
creeds and none, aliens, mongrels, soldiers of fortune, and citizens of
the high-road. It was the strongest fortress and probably the richest
town of Galilee in Christ's day, but so far as we know He never entered
After the fall of Jerusalem, strangely enough, the Jews made it
their favourite city, the seat of their Sanhedrim and the centre of
rabbinical learning. Here the famous Rabbis Jehuda and Akîba and the
philosopher Maimonides taught. Here the Mishna and the Gemara were
written. And here, to-day, two-thirds of the five thousand inhabitants
are Jews, many of them living on the charity of their kindred in
Europe, and spending their time in the study of the Talmud while they
wait for the Messiah who shall restore the kingdom to Israel. You may
see their flat fur caps, dingy gabardines, long beards and melancholy
faces on every street in the drowsy little city, dreaming (among fleas
and fevers) of I know not what impossible glories to come.
You may see, also, on the hill near the Serâi, the splendid Mission
Hospital of the United Free Church of Scotland, where for twenty-three
years Doctor Torrance has been ministering to the body and soul of
Tiberias in the name of Jesus. Do you find the building too large and
fine, the lovely garden too beautiful with flowers, the homes of the
doctors, and teachers, and helpers of the sick and wounded, too clean
and healthful and orderly? Do you say To what purpose is this waste?
Then I know not how to measure your ignorance. For you have failed to
see that this is the embassy of the only King who still cares for the
true welfare of this forsaken, bedraggled, broken-down Tiberias.
On the evening of our arrival, however, all these things are hidden
from us in the dusk. We drive past the ruined gate of the city, a mile
along the southern road toward the famous Hot Baths. Here, on a little
terrace above the lake, between the road and the black basalt cliffs,
our camp is pitched, and through the darkness
'We hear the water lapping on the crag,
And the long ripple washing in the reeds.'
In the freshness of the early morning the sunrise pours across the
lake into our tents. There is a light, cool breeze blowing from the
north, rippling the clear, green water, (of a hue like the stone called
aqua marina), with a thousand flaws and wrinkles, which catch the
flashing light and reflect the deep blue sky, and change beneath the
shadow of floating clouds to innumerable colours of lapis lazuli, and
violet, and purple, and peacock blue.
The old comparison of the shape of the lake to a lute, or a harp, is
not clear to us from the point at which we stand: for the northwestward
sweep of the bay of Gennesaret, which reaches a breadth of nearly eight
miles from the eastern shore, is hidden from us by a promontory, where
the dark walls and white houses of Tiberias slope to the water. But we
can see the full length of the lake, from the depression of the Jordan
Valley at the southern end, to the shores of Bethsaida and Capernaum at
the foot of the northern hills, beyond which the dazzling whiteness of
Hermon is visible.
Opposite rise the eastern heights of the Jaulân, with almost level
top and steep flanks, furrowed by rocky ravines, descending
precipitously to a strip of smooth, green shore. Behind us the
mountains are more broken and varied in form, lifted into sharper peaks
and sloped into broader valleys. The whole aspect of the scene is like
a view in the English Lake country, say on Windermere or Ullswater;
only there are no forests or thickets to shade and soften it. Every
edge of the hills is like a silhouette against the sky; every curve of
the shore clear and distinct.
Of the nine rich cities which once surrounded the lake, none is left
except this ragged old Tiberias. Of the hundreds of fishing boats and
passenger vessels which once crossed its waters, all have vanished
except half a dozen little pleasure skiffs kept for the use of
tourists. Of the armies and caravans which once travelled these shores,
all have passed by into the eternal far-away, except the motley string
of visitors to the Hot Springs, who were coming up to bathe in the
medicinal waters in the days of Joshua when the place was called
Hammath, and in the time of the Greeks when it was named Emmaus, and
who are still trotting along the road in front of our camp toward the
big, white dome and dirty bath-houses of Hummam. They come from all
parts of Syria, from Damascus and the sea-coast, from Judea and the
Haurân; Greeks and Arabs and Turks and Maronites and Jews; on foot, on
donkey-back, and in litters. Now, it is a cavalcade of Druses from the
Lebanon, men, women and children, riding on tired horses. Now, it is a
procession of Hebrews walking with a silken canopy over the sacred
books of their law.
In the morning we visit Tiberias, buy some bread and fish in the
market, and go through the Mission Hospital, where one of the gentle
nurses binds up a foolish little wound on my wrist.
In the afternoon we sail on the southern part of the lake. The
boatmen laugh at my fruitless fishing with artificial flies, and catch
a few small fish for us with their nets in the shallow, muddy places
along the shore. The wind is strange and variable, now sweeping down in
violent gusts that bend the long arm of the lateen sail, now dying away
to a dead calm through which we row lazily home.
I remember a small purple kingfisher poising in the air over a
shoal, his head bent downward, his wings vibrating swiftly. He drops
like a shot and comes up out of the water with a fish held crosswise in
his bill. With measured wing-strokes he flits to the top of a rock to
eat his supper, and a robber-gull flaps after him to take it away. But
the industrious kingfisher is too quick to be robbed. He bolts his fish
with a single gulp. We eat ours in more leisurely fashion, by the light
of the candles in our peaceful tent.
MEMORIES OF THE LAKE
A hundred little points of illumination flash into memory as I look
back over the hours that we spent beside the Sea of Galilee. How should
I write of them all without being tedious? How, indeed, should I hope
to make them visible or significant in the bare words of description?
Never have I passed richer, fuller hours; but most of their wealth
was in very little things: the personal look of a flower growing by the
wayside; the intimate message of a bird's song falling through the
sunny air; the expression of confidence and appeal on the face of a
wounded man in the hospital, when the good physician stood beside his
cot; the shadows of the mountains lengthening across the valleys at
sunset; the laughter of a little child playing with a broken water
pitcher; the bronzed profiles and bold, free ways of our sunburned
rowers; the sad eyes of an old Hebrew lifted from the book that he was
reading; the ruffling breezes and sudden squalls that changed the
surface of the lake; the single palm-tree that waved over the mud
hovels of Magdala; the millions of tiny shells that strewed the beach
of Capernaum and Bethsaida; the fertile sweep of the Plain of
Gennesaret rising from the lake; and the dark precipices of the
Robbers' Gorge running back into the western mountains.
The written record of these hours is worth little; but in experience
and in memory they have a mystical meaning and beauty, because they
belong to the country where Jesus walked with His fishermen-disciples,
and took the little children in His arms, and healed the sick, and
opened blind eyes to behold ineffable things.
Every touch that brings that country nearer to us in our humanity
and makes it more real, more simple, more vivid, is precious. For the
one irreparable loss that could befall us in religion,a loss that is
often threatened by our abstract and theoretical ways of thinking and
speaking about Him,would be to lose Jesus out of the lowly and
familiar ways of our mortal life. He entered these lowly ways as the
Son of Man in order to make us sure that we are the children of God.
Therefore I am glad of every hour spent by the Lake of Galilee.
* * * * *
I remember, when we came across in our boat to Tell Hûm, where the
ancient city of Capernaum stood, the sun was shining with a fervent
heat and the air of the lake, six hundred and eighty feet below the
level of the sea, was soft and languid. The gray-bearded German monk
who came to meet us at the landing and admitted us to the inclosure of
his little monastery where he was conducting the excavation of the
ruins, wore a cork helmet and spectacles. He had been heated, even
above the ninety degrees Fahrenheit which the thermometer marked, by
the rudeness of a couple of tourists who had just tried to steal a
photograph of his work. He had foiled them by opening their camera and
blotting the film with sunlight, and had then sent them away with
fervent words. But as he walked with us among his roses and Pride of
India trees, his spirit cooled within him, and he showed himself a
learned and accomplished man.
He told us how he had been working there for two or three years,
keeping records and drawings and photographs of everything that was
found; going back to the Franciscan convent at Jerusalem for his short
vacation in the heat of mid-summer; putting his notes in order, reading
and studying, making ready to write his book on Capernaum. He showed us
the portable miniature railway which he had made; and the little iron
cars to carry away the great piles of rubbish and earth; and the rich
columns, carved lintels, marble steps and shell-niches of the splendid
building which his workmen had uncovered. The outline was clear and
perfect. We could see how the edifice of fine, white limestone had been
erected upon an older foundation of basalt, and how an earthquake had
twisted it and shaken down its pillars. It was undoubtedly a synagogue,
perhaps the very same which the rich Roman centurion built for the Jews
in Capernaum (Luke vii: 5), and where Jesus healed the man who had an
unclean spirit. (Luke iv: 31-37.) Of all the splendours of that proud
city of the lake, once spreading along a mile of the shore, nothing
remained but these tumbled ruins in a lonely, fragrant garden, where
the patient father was digging with his Arab workmen and getting ready
to write his book.
Weh dir, Capernaum I quoted. The padre nodded his
head gravely. Ja, ja, said he, es ist buchstäblich
* * * * *
I remember the cool bath in the lake, at a point between Bethsaida
and Capernaum, where a tangle of briony and honeysuckle made a shelter
around a shell-strewn beach, and the rosy oleanders bloomed beside an
inflowing stream. I swam out a little way and floated, looking up into
the deep sky, while the waves plashed gently and caressingly around my
* * * * *
I remember the old Arab fisherman, who was camped with his family in
a black tent on a meadow where several lively brooks came in (one of
them large enough to turn a mill). I persuaded him by gestures to wade
out into the shallow part of the lake and cast his bell-net for fish.
He gathered the net in his hand, and whirled it around his head. The
leaden weights around the bottom spread out in a wide circle and
splashed into the water. He drew the net toward him by the cord, the
ring of sinkers sweeping the bottom, and lifted it slowly,
carefullybut no fish!
Then I rigged up my pocket fly-rod with a gossamer leader and two
tiny trout-flies, a Royal Coach-man and a Queen of the Water, and began
to cast along the crystal pools and rapids of the larger stream. How
merrily the fish rose there, and in the ripples where the brooks ran
out into the lake. There were half a dozen different kinds of fish, but
I did not know the name of any of them. There was one that looked like
a black bass, and others like white perch and sunfish; and one kind was
very much like a grayling. But they were not really of the salmo
family, I knew, for none of them had the soft fin in front of the tail.
How surprised the old fisherman was when he saw the fish jumping at
those tiny hooks with feathers; and how round the eyes of his children
were as they looked on; and how pleased they were with the bakhshîsh
which they received, including a couple of baithooks for the eldest
* * * * *
I remember the place where we ate our lunch in a small grove of
eucalyptus-trees, with sweet-smelling yellow acacias blossoming around
us. It was near the site which some identify with the ancient
Bethsaida, but others say that it was farther to the east, and others
again say that Capernaum was really located here. The whole problem of
these lake cities, where they stood, how they supported such large
populations (not less than fifteen thousand people in each), is
difficult and may never be solved. But it did not trouble us deeply. We
were content to be beside the same waters, among the same hills, that
Jesus knew and loved.
It was here, along this shore, that He found Simon and his brother
Andrew casting their net, and James and his brother John mending
theirs, and called them to come with Him. These fishermen, with their
frank and free hearts unspoiled by the sophistries of the Pharisees,
with their minds unhampered by social and political ambitions,
followers of a vocation which kept them out of doors and reminded them
daily of their dependence on the bounty of God,these children of
nature, and others like them, were the men whom He chose for His
disciples, the listeners who had ears to hear His marvellous gospel.
It was here, on these pale, green waves, that He sat in a little
boat, near the shore, and spoke to the multitude who had gathered to
He spoke of the deep and tranquil confidence that man may learn from
nature, from the birds and the flowers.
He spoke of the infinite peace of the heart that knows the true
meaning of love, which is giving and blessing, and the true secret of
courage, which is loyalty to the truth.
He spoke of the God whom we can trust as a child trusts its father,
and of the Heaven which waits for all who do good to their fellowmen.
He spoke of the wisdom whose fruit is not pride but humility, of the
honour whose crown is not authority but service, of the purity which is
not outward but inward, and of the joy which lasts forever.
He spoke of forgiveness for the guilty, of compassion for the weak,
of hope for the desperate.
He told these poor and lowly folk that their souls were unspeakably
precious, and that He had come to save them and make them inheritors of
an eternal kingdom. He told them that He had brought this message from
God, their Father and His Father.
He spoke with the simplicity of one who knows, with the assurance of
one who has seen, with the certainty and clearness of one for whom
doubt does not exist.
He offered Himself, in His stainless purity, in His supreme love, as
the proof and evidence of His gospel, the bread of Heaven, the water of
life, the Saviour of sinners, the light of the world. Come unto Me,
He said, and I will give you rest.
This was the heavenly music that came into the world by the Lake of
Galilee. And its voice has spread through the centuries, comforting the
sorrowful, restoring the penitent, cheering the despondent, and telling
all who will believe it, that our human life is worth living, because
it gives each one of us the opportunity to share in the Love which is
sovereign and immortal.
A PSALM OF THE GOOD TEACHER
The Lord is my teacher: I shall not lose the way to wisdom.
He leadeth me in the lowly path of learning, He prepareth a
lesson for me every day; He findeth the clear fountains of instruction,
Little by little he showeth me the beauty of the truth.
The world is a great book that he hath written, He turneth the
leaves for me slowly; They are all inscribed with images and letters,
His face poureth light on the pictures and the words.
Then am I glad when I perceive his meaning, He taketh me by the
hand to the hill-top of vision; In the valley also he walketh beside
me, And in the dark places he whispereth to my heart.
Yea, though my lesson be hard it is not hopeless, For the Lord is
very patient with his slow scholar; He will wait awhile for my
weakness, He will help me to read the truth through tears.
Surely thou wilt enlighten me daily by joy and by sorrow: And
lead me at last, O Lord, to the perfect knowledge of thee.
XI. THE SPRINGS OF JORDAN
THE HILL-COUNTRY OF NAPHTALI
Naphtali was the northernmost of the tribes of Israel, a bold and
free highland clan, inhabiting a country of rugged hills and steep
mountainsides, with fertile vales and little plains between.
Naphtali is a hind let loose, said the old song of the Sons of
Jacob (Genesis xlix: 21); and as we ride up from the Lake of Galilee on
our way northward, we feel the meaning of the poet's words. A people
dwelling among these rock-strewn heights, building their fortress-towns
on sharp pinnacles, and climbing these steep paths to the open fields
of tillage or of war, would be like wild deer in their spirit of
liberty, and they would need to be as nimble and sure-footed.
Our good little horses are shod with round plates of iron, and they
clatter noisily among the loose stones and slip on the rocky ledges, as
we strike over the hills from Capernaum, without a path, to join the
main trail at Khân Yubb Yûsuf.
We are skirting fields of waving wheat and barley, but there are no
houses to be seen. Far and wide the sea of verdure rolls around us,
broken only by ridges of grayish rock and scarped cliffs of reddish
basalt. We wade saddle-deep in herbage; broad-leaved fennel and
trembling reeds; wild asparagus and artichokes; a hundred kinds of
flowering weeds; acres of last year's thistles, standing blanched and
ghostlike in the summer sunshine.
The phantom city of Safed gleams white from its far-away
hilltop,the latest and perhaps the last of the famous seats of
rabbinical learning. It is one of the sacred places of modern Judaism.
No Hebrew pilgrim fails to visit it. Here, they say, the Messiah will
one day reveal himself, and after establishing His kingdom, will set
out to conquer the world.
But it is not to the city, shining like a flake of mica from the
greenness of the distant mountain, that our looks and thoughts are
turning. It is backward to the lucent sapphire of the Lake of Galilee,
upon whose shores our hearts have seen the secret vision, heard the
inward message of the Man of Nazareth.
Ridge after ridge reveals new outlooks toward its tranquil
loveliness. Turn after turn, our winding way leads us to what we think
must be the parting view. Sleeping in still, forsaken beauty among the
sheltering hills, and open to the cloudless sky which makes its water
like a little heaven, it seems to silently return our farewell looks
with pleading for remembrance. Now, after one more round among the
inclosing ridges, another vista opens, the widest and the most serene
Farewell, dear Lake of Jesus! Our eyes may never rest on thee again;
but surely they will not forget thee. For now, as often we come to some
fair water in the Western mountains, or unfold the tent by some lone
lakeside in the forests of the North, the lapping of thy waves will
murmur through our thoughts; thy peaceful brightness will arise before
us; we shall see the rose-flush of thy oleanders, and the waving of thy
reeds; the sweet, faint smell of thy gold-flowered acacias will return
to us from purple orchids and white lilies. Let the blessing that is
thine go with us everywhere in God's great out-of-doors, and our hearts
never lose the comradeship of Him who made thee holiest among all the
waters of the world!
* * * * *
The Khân of Joseph's Pit is a ruin; a huge and broken building
deserted by the caravans which used to throng this highway from
Damascus to the cities of the lake, and to the ports of Acre and Joppa,
and to the metropolis of Egypt. It is hard to realize that this wild
moorland path by which we are travelling was once a busy road, filled
with camels, horses, chariots, foot-passengers, clanking companies of
soldiers; that these crumbling, cavernous walls, overgrown with thorny
capers and wild marjoram and mandragora, were once crowded every night
with a motley mob of travellers and merchants; that this pool of muddy
water, gloomily reflecting the ruins, was once surrounded by flocks and
herds and beasts of burden; that only a few hours to the southward
there was once a ring of splendid, thriving, bustling towns around the
shores of Galilee, out of which and into which the multitudes were
forever journeying. Now they are all gone from the road, and the vast
wayside caravanserai is sleeping into decaya dormitory for bats and
What is it that makes the wreck of an inn more lonely and forbidding
than any other ruin?
A few miles more of riding along the flanks of the mountains bring
us to a place where we turn a corner suddenly, and come upon the full
view of the upper basin of the Jordan; a vast oval green cup, with the
little Lake of Huleh lying in it like a blue jewel, and the giant bulk
of Mount Hermon towering beyond it, crowned and cloaked with silver
Up the steep and slippery village street of Rosh Pinnah, a modern
Jewish colony founded by the Rothschilds in 1882, we scramble wearily
to our camping-ground for the night. Above us on a hilltop is the old
Arab village of Jaûneh, brown, picturesque, and filthy. Around us are
the colonists' new houses, with their red-tiled roofs and white walls.
Two straight streets running in parallel lines up the hillside are
roughly paved with cobble-stones and lined with trees; mulberries,
white-flowered acacias, eucalyptus, feathery pepper-trees, and
rose-bushes. Water runs down through pipes from a copious spring on the
mountain, and flows abundantly into every house, plashing into covered
reservoirs and open stone basins for watering the cattle. Below us the
long avenues of eucalyptus, the broad vineyards filled with low, bushy
vines, the immense orchards of pale-green almond-trees, the smiling
wheat-fields, slope to the lake and encircle its lower end.
The children who come to visit our camp on the terrace wear shoes
and stockings, carry school-books in their bags, and bring us offerings
of little bunches of sweet-smelling garden roses and pendulous
locust-blooms. We are a thousand years away from the Khân of Joseph's
Pit; but we can still see the old mud village on the height against the
sunset, and the camp-fires gleaming in front of the black Bedouin tents
far below, along the edge of the marshes. We are perched between the
old and the new, between the nomad and the civilized man, and the
unchanging white head of Hermon looks down upon us all.
In the morning, on the way down, I stop at the door of a house and
fall into talk with an intelligent, schoolmasterish sort of man, a
Roumanian, who speaks a little weird German. Is the colony prospering?
Yes, but not so fast that it makes them giddy. What are they raising?
Wheat and barley, a few vegetables, a great deal of almonds and grapes.
Good harvests? Some years good, some years bad; the Arabs bad every
year, terrible thieves; but the crops are plentiful most of the time.
Are the colonists happy, contented? A thin smile wrinkles around the
man's lips as he answers with the statement of a world-wide truth,
Ach, Herr, der Ackerbauer ist nie zufrieden. (Ah, Sir, the farmer
is never contented.)
THE WATERS OF MEROM
All day we ride along the hills skirting the marshy plain of Huleh.
Here the springs and parent streams of Jordan are gathered, behind the
mountains of Naphtali and at the foot of Hermon, as in a great green
basin about the level of the ocean, for the long, swift rush down the
sunken trench which leads to the deep, sterile bitterness of the Dead
Sea. Was there ever a river that began so fair and ended in such waste
Here in this broad, level, well-watered valley, along the borders of
these vast beds of papyrus and rushes intersected by winding, hidden
streams, Joshua and his fierce clans of fighting men met the Kings of
the north with their horses and chariots, at the waters of Merom, in
the last great battle for the possession of the Promised Land. It was a
furious conflict, the hordes of footmen against the squadrons of
horsemen; but the shrewd command that came from Joshua decided it:
Hough their horses and burn their chariots with fire. The Canaanites
and the Amorites and the Hittites and the Hivites were swept from the
field, driven over the western mountains, and the Israelites held the
Jordan from Jericho to Hermon. (Joshua xi:1-15.)
The springs that burst from the hills to the left of our path and
run down to the sluggish channels of the marsh on our right are
abundant and beautiful.
Here is 'Ain Mellâha, a crystal pool a hundred yards wide, with wild
mint and watercress growing around it, white and yellow lilies floating
on its surface, and great fish showing themselves in the transparent
open spaces among the weeds, where the water bubbles up from the bottom
through dancing hillocks of clean, white sand and shining pebbles.
Here is 'Ain el-Belâta, a copious stream breaking forth from the
rocks beneath a spreading terebinth-tree, and rippling down with merry
rapids toward the jungle of rustling reeds and plumed papyrus.
While luncheon is preparing in the shade of the terebinth, I wade
into the brook and cast my fly along the ripples. A couple of ragged,
laughing, bare-legged Bedouin boys follow close behind me, watching the
new sport with wonder. The fish are here, as lively and gamesome as
brook trout, plump, golden-sided fellows ten or twelve inches long. The
feathered hooks tempt them, and they rise freely to the lure. My
tattered pages are greatly excited, and make impromptu pouches in the
breast of their robes, stuffing in the fish until they look quite fat.
The catch is enough for a good supper for their whole family, and a
dozen more for a delicious fish-salad at our camp that night. What kind
of fish are they? I do not know: doubtless something Scriptural and
Oriental. But they taste good; and so far as there is any record, they
are the first fish ever taken with the artificial fly in the sources of
The plain of Huleh is full of life. Flocks of waterfowl and solemn
companies of storks circle over the swamps. The wet meadows are covered
with herds of black buffaloes, wallowing in the ditches, or staring at
us sullenly under their drooping horns. Little bunches of horses, and
brood mares followed by their long-legged, awkward foals, gallop beside
our cavalcade, whinnying and kicking up their heels in the joy of
freedom. Flocks of black goats clamber up the rocky hillsides,
following the goatherd who plays upon his rustic pipe quavering and
fantastic music, softened by distance into a wild sweetness. Small
black cattle with white faces march in long files across the pastures,
or wander through the thickets of bulrushes and papyrus and giant
fennel, appearing and disappearing as the screen of broad leaves and
trembling plumes close behind them.
A few groups of huts made out of wattled reeds stand beside the
sluggish watercourses, just as they did when Macgregor in his Rob Roy
canoe attempted to explore this impenetrable morass forty years ago.
Along the higher ground are lines of black Bedouin tents, arranged in
These flitting habitations of the nomads, who come down from the
hills and lofty deserts to fatten their flocks and herds among
unfailing pasturage, are all of one pattern. The low, flat roof of
black goats' hair is lifted by the sticks which support it, into half a
dozen little peaks, perhaps five or six feet from the ground. Between
these peaks the cloth sags down, and is made fast along the edges by
intricate and confusing guy-ropes. The tent is shallow, not more than
six feet deep, and from twelve to thirty feet long, according to the
wealth of the owner and the size of his family,two things which
usually correspond. The sides and the partitions are sometimes made of
woven reeds, like coarse matting. Within there is an apartment (if you
can call it so) for the family, a pen for the chickens, and room for
dogs, cats, calves and other creatures to find shelter. The fireplace
of flat stones is in the centre, and the smoke oozes out through the
roof and sides.
The Bedouin men, in flowing burnous and keffiyeh, with
the 'agâl of dark twisted camel's hair like a crown upon their heads,
are almost all handsome: clean-cut, haughty faces, bold in youth and
dignified in old age. The women look weatherbeaten and withered beside
them. Even when you see a fine face in the dark blue mantle or under
the white head-dress, it is almost always disfigured by purplish
tattooing around the lips and chin. Some of the younger girls are
beautiful, and most of the children are entrancing.
They play games in a ring, with songs and clapping hands; the boys
charge up and down among the tents with wild shouts, driving a round
bone or a donkey's hoof with their shinny-sticks; the girls chase one
another and hide among the bushes in some primeval form of tag or
A merry little mob pursues us as we ride through each encampment,
with outstretched hands and half-jesting, half-plaintive cries of
Bakhshîsh! bakhshîsh! They do not really expect anything. It is
only a part of the game. And when the Lady holds out her open hand to
them and smiles as she repeats, Bakhshîsh! bakhshîsh! they
take the joke quickly, and run away, laughing, to their sports.
At one village, in the dusk, there is an open-air wedding: a row of
men dancing; a ring of women and girls looking on; musicians playing
the shepherd's pipe and the drum; maidens running beside us to beg a
present for the invisible bride: a rude charcoal sketch of human
society, primitive, irrepressible, confident, encamped for a moment on
the shadowy border of the fecund and unconquerable marsh.
Thus we traverse the strange country of Bedouinia, travelling all
day in the presence of the Great Sheikh of Mountains, and sleep at
night on the edge of a little village whose name we shall never know. A
dozen times we ask George for the real name of that place, and a dozen
times he repeats it for us with painstaking courtesy; it sounds like a
compromise between a cough and a sneeze.
WHERE JORDAN RISES
The Jordan is assembled in the northern end of the basin of Huleh
under a mysterious curtain of tall, tangled water-plants. Into that
ancient and impenetrable place of hiding and blending enter many little
springs and brooks, but the main sources of the river are three.
The first and the longest is the Hasbâni, a strong, foaming stream
that comes down with a roar from the western slope of Hermon. We cross
it by the double arch of a dilapidated Saracen bridge, looking down
upon thickets of oleander, willow, tamarisk and woodbine.
The second and largest source springs from the rounded hill of Tel
el-Kâdi, the supposed site of the ancient city of Dan, the northern
border of Israel. Here the wandering, landless Danites, finding a
country to their taste, put the too fortunate inhabitants of Leshem to
the sword and took possession. And here King Jereboam set up one of his
idols of the golden calf.
There is no vestige of the city, no trace of the idolatrous shrine,
on the huge mound which rises thirty or forty feet above the plain. But
it is thickly covered with trees: poplars and oaks and wild figs and
acacias and wild olives. A pair of enormous veterans, a valonia oak and
a terebinth, make a broad bower of shade above the tomb of an unknown
Mohammedan saint, and there we eat our midday meal, with the murmur of
running waters all around us, a clear rivulet singing at our feet, and
the chant of innumerable birds filling the vault of foliage above our
After lunch, instead of sleeping, two of us wander into the dense
grove that spreads over the mound. Tiny streams of water trickle
through it: blackberry-vines and wild grapes are twisted in the
undergrowth; ferns and flowery nettles and mint grow waist-high. The
main spring is at the western base of the mound. The water comes
bubbling and whirling out from under a screen of wild figs and vines,
forming a pool of palest, clearest blue, a hundred feet in diameter.
Out of this pool the new-born river rushes, foaming and shouting down
the hillside, through lines of flowering styrax and hawthorn and
willows trembling over its wild joy.
The third and most impressive of the sources of Jordan is at
Bâniyâs, on one of the foothills of Hermon. Our path thither leads us
up from Dan, through high green meadows, shaded by oak-trees, sprinkled
with innumerable blossoming shrubs and bushes, and looking down upon
the lower fields blue with lupins and vetches, or golden with yellow
chrysanthemums beneath which the red glow of the clover is dimly
burning like a secret fire.
Presently we come, by way of a broad, natural terrace where the
white encampment of the Moslem dead lies gleaming beneath the shade of
mighty oaks and terebinths, and past the friendly olive-grove where our
own tents are standing, to a deep ravine filled to the brim with
luxuriant verdure of trees and vines and ferns. Into this green cleft a
little river, dancing and singing, suddenly plunges and disappears, and
from beneath the veil of moist and trembling leaves we hear the sound
of its wild joy, a fracas of leaping, laughing waters.
[Illustration: The Approach to Bâniyâs.]
An old Roman bridge spans the stream on the brink of its downward
leap. Crossing over, we ride through the ruined gateway of the town of
Bâniyâs, turn to right and left among its dirty, narrow streets, pass
into a leafy lane, and come out in front of a cliff of ruddy limestone,
with niches and shrines carved on its face, and a huge, dark cavern
gaping in the centre.
A tumbled mass of broken rocks lies below the mouth of the cave.
From this slope of débris, sixty or seventy feet long, a line of
springs gush forth in singing foam. Under the shadow of trembling
poplars and broad-boughed sycamores, amid the lush greenery of wild
figs and grapes, bracken and briony and morning-glory, drooping
maidenhair and flower-laden styrax, the hundred rills swiftly run
together and flow away with one impulse, a full-grown little river.
There is an immemorial charm about the place. Mysteries of grove and
fountain, of cave and hilltop, bewitch it with the magic of Nature's
life, ever springing and passing, flowering and fading, basking in the
open sunlight and hiding in the secret places of the earth. It is such
a place as Claude Lorraine might have imagined and painted as the scene
of one of his mythical visions of Arcadia; such a place as antique
fancy might have chosen and decked with altars for the worship of
unseen dryads and nymphs, oreads and naiads. And so, indeed, it was
chosen, and so it was decked.
Here, in all probability, was Baal-Gad, where the Canaanites paid
their reverence to the waters that spring from underground. Here,
certainly, was Paneas of the Greeks, where the rites of Pan and all the
nymphs were celebrated. Here Herod the Great built a marble temple to
Augustus the Tolerant, on this terrace of rock above the cave. Here, no
doubt, the statue of the Emperor looked down upon a strange confusion
of revelries and wild offerings in honour of the unknown powers of
All these things have withered, crumbled, vanished. There are no
more statues, altars, priests, revels and sacrifices at Bâniyâsonly
the fragment of an inscription around one of the votive niches carved
on the cliff, which records the fact that the niche was made by a
certain person who at that time was Priest of Pan. But the name of
this person who wished to be remembered is precisely the part of
the carving which is illegible.
Ironical inscription! Still the fountains gush from the rocks, the
poplars tremble in the breeze, the sweet incense rises from the
orange-flowered styrax, the birds chant the joy of living, the sunlight
and the moonlight fall upon the sparkling waters, and the liquid
starlight drips through the glistening leaves. But the Priest of Pan is
forgotten, and all that old interpretation and adoration of Nature,
sensuous, passionate, full of mingled cruelty and ecstasy, has melted
like a mist from her face, and left her serene and pure and lovely as
Here at Paneas, after the city had been rebuilt by Philip the
Tetrarch and renamed after him and his Imperial master, there came one
day a Peasant of Galilee who taught His disciples to draw near to
Nature, not with fierce revelry and superstitious awe, but with
tranquil confidence and calm joy. The goatfoot god, the god of panic,
the great god Pan, reigns no more beside the upper springs of Jordan.
The name that we remember here, the name that makes the message of
flowing stream and sheltering tree and singing bird more clear and cool
and sweet to our hearts, is the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
Yes, this little Mohammedan town of Bâniyâs, with its twoscore
wretched houses built of stones from the ancient ruins and huddled
within the broken walls of the citadel, is the ancient site of Cæsarea
Philippi. In the happy days that we spend here, rejoicing in the most
beautiful of all our camps in the Holy Land, and yielding ourselves to
the full charm of the out-of-doors more perfectly expressed than we had
ever thought to find it in Palestine,in this little paradise of
friendly trees and fragrant flowers,
at snowy Hermon's foot,
Amid the music of his waterfalls,
the thought of Jesus is like the presence of a comrade, while the
memories of human grandeur and transience, of man's long toil,
unceasing conflict, vain pride and futile despair, visit us only as
* * * * *
We climb to the top of the peaked hill, a thousand feet above the
town, and explore the great Crusaders' Castle of Subeibeh, a ruin
vaster in extent and nobler in situation than the famous Schloss
of Heidelberg. It not only crowns but completely covers the summit of
the steep ridge with the huge drafted stones of its foundations. The
immense round towers, the double-vaulted gateways, are still standing.
Long flights of steps lead down to subterranean reservoirs of water.
Spacious courtyards, where the knights and men-at-arms once exercised,
are transformed into vegetable gardens, and the passageways between the
north citadel and the south citadel are travelled by flocks of
From room to room we clamber by slopes of crumbling stone,
discovering now a guard-chamber with loopholes for the archers, and now
an arched chapel with the plaster intact and faint touches of colour
still showing upon it. Perched on the high battlements we look across
the valley of Huleh and the springs of Jordan to Kal'at Hûnîn on the
mountains of Naphtali, and to Kal'at esh-Shakîf above the gorge of the
From these three great fortresses, in the time of the Crusaders,
flashed and answered the signal-fires of the chivalry of Europe
fighting for possession of Palestine. What noble companies of knights
and ladies inhabited these castles, what rich festivals were celebrated
within these walls, what desperate struggles defended them, until at
last the swarthy hordes of Saracens stormed the gates and poured over
the defences and planted the standard of the crescent on the towers and
lit the signal-fires of Islam from citadel to citadel.
All the fires have gone out now. The yellow whin blazes upon the
hillsides. The wild fig-tree splits the masonry. The scorpion lodges in
the deserted chambers. On the fallen stone of the Crusaders' gate,
where the Moslem victor has carved his Arabic inscription, a green-gray
lizard poises motionless, like a bronze figure on a paper-weight.
* * * * *
[Illustration: Bridge Over the River Lîtânî.]
We pass through the southern entrance of the village of Bâniyâs, a
massive square portal, rebuilt by some Arab ruler, and go out on the
old Roman bridge which spans the ravine. The aqueduct carried by the
bridge is still full of flowing water, and the drops which fall from it
in a fine mist make a little rainbow as the afternoon sun shines
through the archway draped with maidenhair fern. On the stone pavement
of the bridge we trace the ruts worn two thousand years ago by the
chariots of the men who conquered the world. The chariots have all
rolled by. On the broken edge of the tower above the gateway sits a
ragged Bedouin boy, making shrill, plaintive music with his pipe of
* * * * *
We repose in front of our tents among the olive-trees at the close
of the day. The cool sound of running streams and rustling poplars is
on the moving air, and the orange-golden sunset enchants the orchard
with mystical light. All the swift visions of striving Saracens and
Crusaders, of conquering Greeks and Romans, fade away from us, and we
see the figure of the Man of Nazareth with His little company of
friends and disciples coming up from Galilee.
It was here that Jesus retreated with His few faithful followers
from the opposition of the Scribes and Pharisees. This was the
northernmost spot of earth ever trodden by His feet, the longest
distance from Jerusalem that He ever travelled. Here in this exquisite
garden of Nature, in a region of the Gentiles, within sight of the
shrines devoted to those Greek and Roman rites which were so luxurious
and so tolerant, four of the most beautiful and significant events of
His life and ministry took place.
He asked His disciples plainly to tell their secret thought of
Himwhom they believed their Master to be. And when Peter answered
simply: Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus blessed
him for the answer, and declared that He would build His church upon
Then He took Peter and James and John with Him and climbed one of
the high and lonely slopes of Hermon. There He was transfigured before
them, His face shining like the sun and His garments glistening like
the snow on the mountain-peaks. But when they begged to stay there with
Him, He led them down to the valley again, among the sinning and
suffering children of men.
At the foot of the mount of transfiguration He healed the demoniac
boy whom his father had brought to the other disciples, but for whom
they had been unable to do anything; and He taught them that the power
to help men comes from faith and prayer.
And then, at last, He turned His steps from this safe and lovely
refuge, (where He might surely have lived in peace, or from which He
might have gone out unmolested into the wide Gentile world), backward
to His own country, His own people, the great, turbulent, hard-hearted
Jewish city, and the fate which was not to be evaded by One who loved
sinners and came to save them. He went down into Galilee, down through
Samaria and Perea, down to Jerusalem, down to Gethsemane and to
Golgotha,fearless, calm,sustained and nourished by that secret food
which satisfied His heart in doing the will of God.
* * * * *
It was in the quest of this Jesus, in the hope of somehow drawing
nearer to Him, that we made our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And now,
in the cool of the evening at Cæsarea Philippi, we ask ourselves
whether our desire has been granted, our hope fulfilled?
Yes, more richly, more wonderfully than we dared to dream. For we
have found a new vision of Christ, simpler, clearer, more satisfying,
in the freedom and reality of God's out-of-doors.
Not through the mists and shadows of an infinite regret, the sadness
of sweet, faded dreams and hopes that must be resigned, as Pierre Loti
saw the phantom of a Christ whose irrevocable disappearance has left
the world darker than ever!
Not amid strange portents and mysterious rites, crowned with I know
not what aureole of traditionary splendours, founder of elaborate
ceremonies and centre of lamplit shrines, as Matilde Serao saw the
image of that Christ whom the legends of men have honoured and
The Jesus whom we have found is the Child of Nazareth playing among
the flowers; the Man of Galilee walking beside the lake, healing the
sick, comforting the sorrowful, cheering the lonely and despondent; the
well-beloved Son of God transfigured in the sunset glow of snowy
Hermon, weeping by the sepulchre in Bethany, agonizing in the moonlit
garden of Gethsemane, giving His life for those who did not understand
Him, though they loved Him, and for those who did not love Him because
they did not understand Him, and rising at last triumphant over
death,such a Saviour as all men need and as no man could ever have
imagined if He had not been real.
His message has not died away, nor will it ever die. For confidence
and calm joy He tells us to turn to Nature. For love and sacrifice He
bids us live close to our fellowmen. For comfort and immortal hope He
asks us to believe in Him and in our Father, God.
That is all.
But the bringing of that heavenly message made the country to which
it came the Holy Land. And the believing of that message, to-day, will
lead any child of man into the kingdom of heaven. And the keeping of
that faith, the following of that Life, will transfigure any country
beneath the blue sky into a holy land.
THE PSALM OF A SOJOURNER
Thou hast taken me into the tent of the world, O God: Beneath thy
blue canopy I have found shelter: Therefore thou wilt not deny me the
right of a guest.
Naked and poor I arrived at the door before sunset: Thou hast
refreshed me with beautiful bowls of milk: As a great chief thou hast
set forth food in abundance.
I have loved the daily delights of thy dwelling: Thy moon and thy
stars have lighted me to my bed: In the morning I have found joy with
Surely thou wilt not send me away in the darkness? There the
enemy Death is lying in wait for my soul: Thou art the host of my life
and I claim thy protection.
Then the Lord of the tent of the world made answer: The right of
a guest endureth but for an appointed time: After three days and three
nights cometh the day of departure.
Yet hearken to me since thou fearest the foe in the dark: I will
make with thee a new covenant of everlasting hospitality: Behold I will
come unto thee as a stranger and be thy guest.
Poor and needy will I come that thou mayest entertain me: Meek
and lowly will I come that thou mayest find a friend: With mercy and
with truth will I come to give thee comfort.
Therefore open the door of thy heart and bid me welcome: In this
tent of the world I will be thy brother of the bread: And when thou
farest forth I will be thy companion forever.
Then my soul rested in the word of the Lord: And I saw that the
curtains of the world were shaken, But I looked beyond them to the
eternal camp-fires of my friend.
XII. THE ROAD TO DAMASCUS
THROUGH THE LAND OF THE DRUSES
You may go to Damascus now by rail, if you like, and have a choice
between two rival routes, one under government ownership, the other
built and managed by a corporation. But to us encamped among the
silvery olives at Bâniyâs, beside the springs of Jordan, it seemed a
happy circumstance that both railways were so far away that it would
have taken longer to reach them than to ride our horses straight into
the city. We were delivered from the modern folly of trying to save
time by travelling in a conveyance more speedy than picturesque, and
left free to pursue our journey in a leisurely, independent fashion and
by the road that would give us most pleasure. So we chose the longer
way, the northern path around Mount Hermon, through the country of the
Druses, instead of the more frequented road to the east by Kafr Hawar.
How delightful is the morning of such a journey! The fresh face of
the world bathed in sparkling dew; the greetings from tent to tent as
we four friends make our rendezvous from the far countries of sleep;
the relish of breakfast in the open air; the stir of the camp in
preparation for a flitting; canvas sinking to the ground, bales and
boxes heaped together, mule-bells tinkling through the grove, horses
refreshed by their long rest whinnying and nipping at each other in
playall these are charming variations and accompaniments to the old
tune of Boots and Saddles.
The immediate effect of such a setting out for a day's ride is to
renew in the heart those vital feelings of delight which make one
simply and inexplicably glad to be alive. We are delivered from those
morbid questionings and exorbitant demands by which we are so often
possessed and plagued as by some strange inward malady. We feel a sense
of health and harmony diffused through body and mind as we ride over
the beautiful terrace which slopes down from Bâniyâs to Tel-el Kâdi.
We are glad of the green valonia oaks that spread their shade over
us, and of the blossoming hawthorns that scatter their flower-snow on
the hillside. We are glad of the crested larks that rise warbling from
the grass, and of the buntings and chaffinches that make their small
merry music in every thicket, and of the black and white chats that
shift their burden of song from stone to stone beside the path, and of
the cuckoo that tells his name to us from far away, and of the splendid
bee-eaters that glitter over us like a flock of winged emeralds as we
climb the rocky hill toward the north. We are glad of the broom in
golden flower, and of the pink and white rock-roses, and of the spicy
fragrance of mint and pennyroyal that our horses trample out as they
splash through the spring holes and little brooks. We are glad of the
long, wide views westward over the treeless mountains of Naphtali and
the southern ridges of the Lebanon, and of the glimpses of the ruined
castles of the Crusaders, Kal'at esh-Shakîf and Hûnîn, perched like
dilapidated eagles on their distant crags. Everything seems to us like
a personal gift. We have the feeling of ownership for this day of all
the world's beauty. We could not explain or justify it to any sad
philosopher who might reproach us for unreasoning felicity. We should
be defenceless before his arguments and indifferent to his scorn. We
should simply ride on into the morning, reflecting in our hearts
something of the brightness of the birds' plumage, the cheerfulness of
the brooks' song, the undimmed hyaline of the sky, and so, perhaps,
fulfilling the Divine Intention of Nature as well as if we chose to
becloud our mirror with melancholy thoughts.
* * * * *
We are following up the valley of the longest and highest, but not
the largest, of the sources of the Jordan: the little River Hâsbânî, a
strong and lovely stream, which rises somewhere in the northern end of
the Wâdi et-Teim, and flows along the western base of Mount Hermon,
receiving the tribute of torrents which burst out in foaming springs
far up the ravines, and are fed underground by the melting of the
perpetual snow of the great mountain. Now and then we have to cross one
of these torrents, by a rude stone bridge or by wading. All along the
way Hermon looks down upon us from his throne, nine thousand feet in
air. His head is wrapped in a turban of spotless white, like a Druse
chieftain, and his snowy winter cloak still hangs down over his
shoulders, though its lower edges are already fringed and its seams
opened by the warm suns of April.
Presently we cross a bridge to the west bank of the Hâsbânî, and
ride up the delightful vale where poplars and mulberries, olives,
almonds, vines and figs, grow abundantly along the course of the river.
There are low weirs across the stream for purposes of irrigation, and a
larger dam supplies a mill with power. To the left is the sharp barren
ridge of the Jebel ez-Zohr separating us from the gorge of the River
Lîtânî. Groups of labourers are at work on the watercourses among the
groves and gardens. Vine-dressers are busy in the vineyards. Ploughmen
are driving their shallow furrows through the stony fields on the
hillside. The little river, here in its friendliest mood, winds merrily
among the plantations and orchards which it nourishes, making a
cheerful noise over beds of pebbles, and humming a deeper note where
the clear green water plunges over a weir.
We have now been in the saddle five hours; the sun is ardent; the
temperature is above eighty-five degrees in the shade, and along the
bridle-path there is no shade. We are hungry, thirsty, and tired. As we
cross the river again, splashing through a ford, our horses drink
eagerly and attempt to lie down in the cool water. We have to use
strong persuasion not only with them, but also with our own spirits, to
pass by the green grass and the sheltering olive-trees on the east bank
and push on up the narrow, rocky defile in which Hâsbeiyâ is hidden.
The bridle-path is partly paved with rough cobblestones, hard and
slippery, which make the going weariful. The heat presses on us like a
burden. Things that would have delighted us in the morning now give us
no pleasure. We have made the greedy traveller's mistake of measuring
our march by the extent of our endurance instead of by the limit of our
Hâsbeiyâ proves to be a rather thriving and picturesque town built
around the steep sides of a bay or opening in the valley. The
amphitheatre of hills is terraced with olive-orchards and vineyards.
There are also many mulberry-trees cultivated for the silkworms, and
the ever-present figs and almonds are not wanting. The stone houses of
the town rise, on winding paths, one above the other, many of them
having arched porticoes, red-tiled roofs, and green-latticed windows.
It is a place of about five thousand population, now more than half
Christian, but formerly one of the strongholds and capitals of the
mysterious Druse religion.
Our tents are pitched at the western end of the town, on a low
terrace where olive-trees are growing. When we arrive we find the camp
surrounded and filled with curious, laughing children. The boys are a
little troublesome at first, but a word from an old man who seems to be
in charge brings them to order, and at least fifty of them, big and
little, squat in a semicircle on the grass below the terrace, watching
us with their lustrous brown eyes.
They look full of fun, those young Druses and Maronites and Greeks
and Mohammedans, so I try a mild joke on them, by pretending that they
are a class and that I am teaching them a lesson. A, B, C, I chant,
and wait for them to repeat after me. They promptly take the lesson out
of my hands and recite the entire English alphabet in chorus, winding
up with shouts of Goot mornin'! How you do? and merry laughter. They
are all pupils from the mission schools which have been established
since the great Massacre of 1860, and which are helping, I hope, to
make another forever impossible.
One of our objects in coming to Hâsbeiyâ was to ascend Mount Hermon.
We send for the Druse guide and the Christian guide; both of them
assure us that the adventure is impossible on account of the deep snow,
which has increased during the last fortnight. We can not get within a
mile of the summit. The snow will be waist-deep in the hollows. The
mountain is inaccessible until June. So, after exchanging visits with
the missionaries and seeing something of their good work, we ride on
our way the next morning.
RÂSHEIYÂ AND ITS AMERICANISM
The journey to Râsheiyâ is like that of the preceding day, except
that the bridle-paths are rougher and more precipitous, and the views
wider and more splendid. We have crossed the Hâsbânî again, and leaving
the Druses' valley, the Wâdi et-Teim, behind us, have climbed the high
table-land to the west. We did not know why George Cavalcanty led us
away from the path marked in our Baedeker, but we took it for granted
that he had some good reason. It is well not to ask a wise dragoman all
the questions that you can think of. Tell him where you want to go, and
let him show you how to get there. Certainly we are not inclined to
complain of the longer and steeper route by which he has brought us,
when we sit down at lunch-time among the limestone crags and pinnacles
of the wild upland and look abroad upon a landscape which offers the
grandeur of immense outlines and vast distances, the beauty of a
crystal clearness in all its infinitely varied forms, and the
enchantment of gemlike colours, delicate, translucent, vivid, shifting
and playing in hues of rose and violet and azure and purple and golden
brown and bright green, as if the bosom of Mother Earth were the breast
of a dove, breathing softly in the sunlight.
As we climb toward Râsheiyâ we find ourselves going back a month or
more into early spring. Here are the flowers that we saw in the Plain
of Sharon on the first of April, gorgeous red anemones, fragrant purple
and white cyclamens, delicate blue irises. The fig-tree is putting
forth her tender leaf. The vines, lying flat on the ground, are bare
and dormant. The springing grain, a few inches long, is in its first
flush of almost dazzling green.
The town, built in terraces on three sides of a rocky hill, 4,100
feet above the sea, commands an extensive view. Hermon is in full
sight; snow-capped Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon face each other for forty
miles; and the little lake of Kafr Kûk makes a spot of blue light in
We are camped on the threshing-floor, a level meadow beyond and
below the town; and there the Râsheiyan gilded youth come riding their
blooded horses in the afternoon, running races over the smooth turf and
showing off their horsemanship for our benefit.
There is something very attractive about these Arabian horses as you
see them in their own country. They are spirited, fearless,
sure-footed, and yet, as a rule, so docile that they may be ridden with
a halter. They are good for a long journey, or a swift run, or a
fantasia. The prevailing colour among them is gray, but you see
many bays and sorrels and a few splendid blacks. An Arabian stallion
satisfies the romantic ideal of how a horse ought to look. His arched
neck, small head, large eyes wide apart, short body, round flanks,
delicate pasterns, and little feet; the way he tosses his mane and
cocks his flowing tail when he is on parade; the swiftness and spring
of his gallop, the dainty grace of his walkwhen you see these things
you recognise at once the real, original horse which the painters used
to depict in their Portraits of General X on his Favourite Charger.
I asked Calvalcanty what one of these fine creatures would cost. A
good horse, two or three hundred dollars; an extra-good one, four
hundred; a fancy one, who knows?
We find Râsheiyâ full of Americanism. We walk out to take
photographs, and at almost every street corner some young man who has
been in the United States or Canada salutes us with: How are you
to-day? You fellows come from America? What's the news there? Is Bryan
elected yet? I voted for McKinley. I got a store in Kankakee. I got one
in Jackson, Miss. A beautiful dark-eyed girl, in a dreadful
department-store dress, smiles at us from an open door and says: Take
my picture? I been at America.
One talkative and friendly fellow joins us in our walk; in fact he
takes possession of us, guiding us up the crooked alleys and out on the
housetops which command the best views, and showing us off to his
friends,an old gentleman who is spinning goats' hair for the coarse
black tents (St. Paul's trade), and two ladies who are grinding corn in
a hand-mill, one pushing and the other pulling. Our self-elected guide
has spent seven years in Illinois and Indiana, peddling and
store-keeping. He has returned to Râsheiyâ as a successful adventurer
and built a stone house with a red roof and an arched portico. Is he
going to settle down there for life? I not know, says he. Guess I
want sell my house now. This country beautiful; I like look at her. But
America freegood governmentgood place to live. Gee whiz! I go back
quick, you bet.
ANTI-LEBANON AND THE RIVER ABANA
Our path the next day leads up to the east over the ridges of the
slight depression which lies between Mount Hermon and the rest of the
Anti-Lebanon range. We pass the disconsolate village and lake of Kafr
Kûk. The water which shone so blue in the distance now confesses itself
a turbid, stagnant pool, locked in among the hills, and breeding fevers
for those who live beside it. The landscape grows wild and sullen as we
ascend; the hills are strewn with shattered fragments of rock, or worn
into battered and fantastic crags; the bottoms of the ravines are
soaked and barren as if the winter floods had just left them. Presently
we are riding among great snowdrifts. It is the first day of May. We
walk on the snow, and pack a basketful on one of the mules, and pelt
each other with snowballs.
We have gone back another month in the calendar and are now at the
place where winter lingers in the lap of spring. Snowdrops, crocuses,
and little purple grape-hyacinths are blooming at the edge of the
drifts. The thorny shrubs and bushes, and spiny herbs like astragalus
and cousinia, are green-stemmed but leafless, and the birds that
flutter among them are still in the first rapture of vernal bliss, the
gay music that follows mating and precedes nesting. Big dove-coloured
partridges, beautifully marked with black and red, are running among
the rocks. We are at the turn of the year, the surprising season when
the tide of light and life and love swiftly begins to rise.
From this Alpine region we descend through two months in half a day.
It is mid-March on a beautiful green plain where herds of horses were
feeding around an encampment of black Bedouin tents; the beginning of
April at Khân Meithelûn, on the post-road, where there are springs, and
poplar-groves, in one of which we eat our lunch, with lemonade cooled
by the snows of Hermon; the end of April at Dimas, where we find our
tents pitched upon the threshing-floor, a levelled terrace of clay
looking down upon the flat roofs of the village.
Our camp is 3,600 feet above sea-level, and our morning path follows
the telegraph-poles steeply down to the post-road, and so by a more
gradual descent along the hard and dusty turnpike toward Damascus. The
landscape, at first, is bare and arid: rounded reddish mountains, gray
hillsides, yellowish plains faintly tinged with a thin green. But at
El-Hâmi the road drops into the valley of the Baradâ, the far-famed
River Abana, and we find ourselves in a verdant paradise.
Tall trees arch above the road; white balconies gleam through the
foliage; the murmur and the laughter of flowing streams surround us.
The railroad and the carriage-road meet and cross each other down the
vale. Country houses and cafés, some dingy and dilapidated, others new
and trim, are half hidden among the groves or perched close beside the
highway. Poplars and willows, plane-trees and lindens, walnuts and
mulberries, apricots and almonds, twisted fig-trees and climbing roses,
grow joyfully wherever the parcelled water flows in its many channels.
Above this line, on the sides of the vale, everything is bare and brown
and dry. But the depth of the valley is an embroidered sash of bloom
laid across the sackcloth of the desert. And in the centre of this long
verdure runs the parent river, a flood of clear green; rushing,
leaping, curling into white foam; filling its channel of thirty or
forty feet from bank to bank, and making the silver-leafed willows and
poplars, that stand with their feet in the stream, tremble with the
swiftness of its cool, strong current. Truly Naaman the Syrian was
right in his boasting to the prophet Elisha: Abana, the river of
Damascus, is better than all the waters of Israel.
The vale narrows as we descend along the stream, until suddenly we
pass through a gateway of steep cliffs and emerge upon an open plain
beset with mountains on three sides. The river, parting into seven
branches, goes out to water a hundred and fifty square miles of groves
and gardens, and we follow the road through the labyrinth of rich and
luscious green. There are orchards of apricots enclosed with high mud
walls; and open gates through which we catch glimpses of crimson
rose-trees and scarlet pomegranates and little fields of wheat glowing
with blood-red poppies; and hedges of white hawthorn and wild brier;
and trees, trees, trees, everywhere embowering us and shutting us in.
Presently we see, above the leafy tops, a sharp-pointed minaret with
a golden crescent above it. Then we find ourselves again beside the
main current of the Baradâ, running swift and merry in a walled channel
straight across an open common, where soldiers are exercising their
horses, and donkeys and geese are feeding, and children are playing,
and dyers are sprinkling their long strips of blue cotton cloth laid
out upon the turf beside the river. The road begins to look like the
commencement of a street; domes and minarets rise before us; there are
glimpses of gray walls and towers, a few shops and open-air cafés, a
couple of hotel signs. The river dives under a bridge and disappears by
a hundred channels beneath the city, leaving us at the western entrance
THE CITY THAT A LITTLE RIVER MADE
I cannot tell whether the river, the gardens, and the city would
have seemed so magical and entrancing if we had come upon them in some
other way or seen them in a different setting. You can never detach an
experience from its matrix and weigh it alone. Comparisons with the
environs of Naples or Florence visited in an automobile, or with the
suburbs of Boston seen from a trolley-car, are futile and
The point about the Baradâ is that it springs full-born from the
barren sides of the Anti-Lebanon, swiftly creates a paradise as it
runs, and then disappears absolutely in a wide marsh on the edge of the
The point about Damascus is that she flourishes on a secluded plain,
the Ghûtah, seventy miles from the sea and twenty-three hundred feet
above it, with no hinterland and no sustaining provinces, no
political leadership, and no special religious sanctity, with nothing,
in fact, to account for her distinction, her splendour, her populous
vitality, her self-sufficing charm, except her mysterious and enduring
quality as a mere city, a hive of men. She is the oldest living city in
the world; no one knows her birthday or her founder's name. She has
survived the empires and kingdoms which conquered her,Nineveh,
Babylon, Samaria, Greece, Egypttheir capitals are dust, but Damascus
still blooms like a tree planted by the rivers of water. She has
given her name to the reddest of roses, the sweetest of plums, the
richest of metalwork, and the most lustrous of silks; her streets have
bubbled and eddied with the currents of
the multitudinous folk
That do inhabit her and make her great.
She is the typical city, pure and simple, of the Orient, as New York
or San Francisco is of the Occident: the open port on the edge of the
desert, the trading-booth at the foot of the mountains, the pavilion in
the heart of the blossoming bower,the wonderful child of a little
river and an immemorial Spirit of Place.
Every time we go into the city, (whether from our tents on the
terrace above an ancient and dilapidated pleasure-garden, or from our
red-tiled rooms in the good Hôtel d'Orient, to which we had been driven
by a plague of sand-flies in the camp), we step at once into a chapter
of the Arabian Nights' Entertainments.
It is true, there are electric lights and there is a trolley-car
crawling around the city; but they no more make it Western and modern
than a bead necklace would change the character of the Venus of Milo.
The driver of the trolley-car looks like one of The Three Calenders,
and a gayly dressed little boy beside him blows loudly on an instrument
of discord as the machine tranquilly advances through the crowd. (A man
was run over a few months ago; his friends waited for the car to come
around the next day, pulled the driver from his perch, and stuck a
number of long knives through him in a truly Oriental manner.)
The crowd itself is of the most indescribable and engaging variety
and vivacity. The Turkish soldiers in dark uniform and red fez; the
cheerful, grinning water-carriers with their dripping, bulbous
goatskins on their backs; the white-turbaned Druses with their bold,
clean-cut faces; the bronzed, impassive sons of the desert, with their
flowing mantles and bright head-cloths held on by thick, dark rolls of
camel's hair; the rich merchants in their silken robes of many colours;
the picturesquely ragged beggars; the Moslem pilgrims washing their
heads and feet, with much splashing, at the pools in the marble
courtyards of the mosques; the merry children, running on errands or
playing with the water that gushes from many a spout at the corner of a
street or on the wall of a house; the veiled Mohammedan women slipping
silently through the throng, or bending over the trinkets or fabrics in
some open-fronted shop, lifting the veil for a moment to show an
olive-tinted cheek and a pair of long, liquid brown eyes; the bearded
Greek priests in their black robes and cylinder hats; the Christian
women wrapped in their long white sheets, but with their pretty faces
uncovered, and a red rose or a white jasmine stuck among their smooth,
shining black tresses; the seller of lemonade with his gaily decorated
glass vessel on his back and his clinking brass cups in his hand,
shouting, A remedy for the heat,Cheer up your hearts,Take care of your teeth; the boy peddling bread, with an
immense tray of thin, flat loaves on his head, crying continually to
Allah to send him customers; the seller of turnip-pickle with a huge
pink globe upon his shoulder looking like the inside of a pale
watermelon; the donkeys pattering along between fat burdens of grass or
charcoal; a much-bedizened horseman with embroidered saddle-cloth and
glittering bridle, riding silent and haughty through the crowd as if it
did not exist; a victoria dashing along the street at a trot, with whip
cracking like a pack of firecrackers, and shouts of, O boy! Look
out for your back! your foot! your side!all these figures are
mingled in a passing show of which we never grow weary.
The long bazaars, covered with a round, wooden archway rising from
the second story of the houses, are filled with a rich brown hue like a
well-coloured meerschaum pipe; and through this mellow, brumous
atmosphere beams of golden sunlight slant vividly from holes in the
roof. An immense number of shops, small and great, shelter themselves
in these bazaars, for the most part opening, without any reserve of a
front wall or a door, in frank invitation to the street. On the earthen
pavement, beaten hard as cement, camels are kneeling, while the
merchants let down their corded bales and display their Persian carpets
or striped silks. The cook-shops show their wares and their processes,
and send up an appetising smell of lamb kibâbs and fried fish
and stuffed cucumbers and stewed beans and okra, and many other
dainties preparing on diminutive charcoal grills.
In the larger and richer shops, arranged in semi-European fashion,
there are splendid rugs, and embroideries old and new, and delicately
chiselled brasswork, and furniture of strange patterns lavishly inlaid
with mother-of-pearl; and there I go with the Lady to study the art of
bargaining as practised between the trained skill of the Levant and the
native genius of Walla Walla, Washington. In the smaller and poorer
bazaars the high, arched roofs give place to tattered awnings, and
sometimes to branches of trees; the brown air changes to an atmosphere
of brilliant stripes and patches; the tiny shops, (hardly more than
open booths), are packed and festooned with all kinds of goods,
garments and ornaments: the chafferers conduct their negotiations from
the street, (sidewalk there is none), or squat beside the proprietor on
the little platform of his stall.
[Illustration: A Small Bazaar in Damascus.]
The custom of massing the various trades and manufactures adds to
the picturesque joy of shopping or dawdling in Damascus. It is like
passing through rows of different kinds of strange fruits. There is a
region of dangling slippers, red and yellow, like cherries; a little
farther on we come to a long trellis of clothes, limp and pendulous,
like bunches of grapes; then we pass through a patch of saddles, plain
and coloured, decorated with all sorts of beads and tinsel, velvet and
morocco, lying on the ground or hung on wooden supports, like big,
In the coppersmiths' bazaar there is an incessant clattering of
little hammers upon hollow metal. The goldsmiths sit silent in their
pens within a vast, dim building, or bend over their miniature furnaces
making gold and silver filigree. Here are the carpenters using their
bare feet in their work almost as deftly as their fingers; and yonder
the dyers festooning their long strips of blue cotton from their
windows and balconies. Down there, on the way to the Great Mosque, the
booksellers hold together: a dwindling tribe, apparently, for of the
thirty or forty shops which were formerly theirs not more than half a
dozen remain true to literature: the rest are full of red and yellow
slippers. Damascus is more inclined to loafing or to dancing than to
reading. It seems to belong to the gay, smiling, easy-going East of
Scheherazade and Aladdin, not to the sombre and reserved Orient of
fierce mystics and fanatical fatalists.
Yet we feel, or imagine that we feel, the hidden presence of
passions and possibilities that belong to the tragic side of life
underneath this laughing mask of comedy. No longer ago than 1860, in
the great Massacre, five thousand Christians perished by fire and shot
and dagger in two days; the streets ran with blood; the churches were
piled with corpses; hundreds of Christian women were dragged away to
Moslem harems; only the brave Abd-el-Kader, with his body-guard of
dauntless Algerine veterans, was able to stay the butchery by flinging
himself between the blood-drunken mob and their helpless victims.
This was the last wholesale assassination of modern times that a
great city has seen, and prosperous, pleasure-loving, insouciant
Damascus seems to have quite forgotten it. Yet there are still enough
wild Kurdish shepherds, and fierce Bedouins of the desert, and riffraff
of camel-drivers and herdsmen and sturdy beggars and homeless men,
among her three hundred thousand people to make dangerous material if
the tiger-madness should break loose again. A gay city is not always a
safe city. The Lady and I saw a man stabbed to death at noon, not fifty
feet away from us, in a street beside the Ottoman Bank.
Nothing is safe until justice and benevolence and tolerance and
mutual respect are diffused in the hearts of men. How far this inward
change has gone in Damascus no one can tell. But that some advance has
been made, by real reforms in the Turkish government, by the spread of
intelligence and the enlightenment of self-interest, by the sense of
next-doorness to Paris and Berlin and London, which telegraphs,
railways, and steamships have produced, above all by the useful work of
missionary hospitals and schools, and by the humanizing process which
has been going on inside of all the creeds, no careful observer can
doubt. I fear that men will still continue to kill each other, for
various causes, privately and publicly. But thank God it is not likely
to be done often, if ever again, in the name of Religion!
The medley of things seen and half understood has left patterns
damascened upon my memory with intricate clearness: immense droves of
camels coming up from the wilderness to be sold in the market;
factories of inlaid woodwork and wrought brasswork in which hundreds of
young children, with beautiful and seeming-merry faces, are hammering
and filing and cutting out the designs traced by the draughtsmen who
sit at their desks like schoolmasters; vast mosques with rows of marble
columns, and floors covered with bright-coloured rugs, and files of
men, sometimes two hundred in a line, with a leader in front of them,
making their concerted genuflections toward Mecca; costly interiors of
private houses which outwardly show bare white-washed walls, but within
welcome the stranger to hospitality of fruits, coffee, and sweetmeats,
in stately rooms ornamented with rich tiles and precious marbles,
looking upon arcaded courtyards fragrant with blossoming orange-trees
and musical with tinkling fountains; tombs of Moslem warriors and
saints,Saladin, the Sultan Beibars, the Sheikh Arslân, the
philosopher Ibn-el-Arabi, great fighters now quiet, and restless
thinkers finally satisfied; public gardens full of rose-bushes,
traversed by clear, swift streams, where groups of women sit gossiping
in the shade of the trees or in little kiosques, the Mohammedans with
their light veils not altogether hiding their olive faces and languid
eyes, the Christians and Jewesses with bare heads, heavy necklaces of
amber, flowers behind their ears, silken dresses of soft and varied
shades; cafés by the river, where grave and important Turks pose for
hours on red velvet divans, smoking the successive cigarette or the
continuous nargileh. Out of these memory-pictures of Damascus I choose
* * * * *
The Lady and I are climbing up from the great Mosque of the
Ommayyades into the Minaret of the Bride, at the hour of 'Asr, or
afternoon prayer. As we tread the worn spiral steps in the darkness we
hear, far above, the chant of the choir of muezzins, high-pitched,
long-drawn, infinitely melancholy, calling the faithful to their
Allah akbar! Allah akbar! Allah is great! I testify there is no
God but Allah, and Mohammed is the prophet of Allah! Come to prayer!
The plaintive notes float away over the city toward all four
quarters of the sky, and quaver into silence. We come out from the
gloom of the staircase into the dazzling light of the balcony which
runs around the top of the minaret. For a few moments we can see
little; but when the first bewilderment passes, we are conscious that
all the charm and wonder of Damascus are spread at our feet.
The oval mass of the city lies like a carving of old ivory, faintly
tinged with pink, on a huge table of malachite. The setting of groves
and gardens, luxuriant, interminable, deeply and beautifully green,
covers a circuit of sixty miles. Beyond it, in sharpest contrast, rise
the bare, fawn-coloured mountains, savage, intractable, desolate; away
to the west, the snow-crowned bulk of Hermon; away to the east, the
low-rolling hills and slumbrous haze of the desert. Under these flat
roofs and white domes and long black archways of bazaars three hundred
thousand folk are swarming. And there, half emerging from the huddle of
decrepit modern buildings and partly hidden by the rounded shed of a
bazaar, is the ruined top of a Roman arch of triumph, battered, proud,
* * * * *
An hour later we are scrambling up a long, shaky ladder to the flat
roofs of the joiners' bazaar, built close against the southern wall of
the Mosque. We walk across the roofs and find the ancient south door of
the Mosque, now filled up with masonry, and almost completely concealed
by the shops above which we are standing. Only the entablature is
visible, richly carved with garlands. Kneeling down, we read upon the
lintel the Greek inscription in uncial letters, cut when the Mosque was
a Christian church. The Moslems who are bowing and kneeling and
stretching out their hands toward Mecca among the marble pillars below,
know nothing of this inscription. Few even of the Christian visitors to
Damascus have ever seen it with their own eyes, for it is difficult to
find and read. But there it still endures and waits, the bravest
inscription in the world: Thy kingdom, O Christ, is a kingdom of
all ages, and Thy dominion lasts throughout all generations.
* * * * *
From this eloquent and forgotten stone my memory turns to the
Hospital of the Edinburgh Medical Mission. I see the lovely garden full
of roses, columbines, lilies, pansies, sweet-peas, strawberries just in
bloom. I see the poor people coming in a steady stream to the neat,
orderly dispensary; the sweet, clean wards with their spotless beds;
the merciful candour and completeness of the operating-room; the
patient, cheerful, vigorous, healing ways of the great Scotch doctor,
who limps around on his broken leg to minister to the needs of other
folk. I see the little group of nurses and physicians gathered on
Sunday evening in the doctor's parlour for an hour of serious, friendly
talk, hopeful and happy. And there, amid the murmur of Abana's rills,
and close to the confused and glittering mystery of the Orient, I hear
the music of a simple hymn:
Dear Lord and Father of mankind,
Forgive our foolish ways!
Reclothe us in our rightful mind,
In purer lives thy service find,
In deeper reverence, praise.
O Sabbath rest by Galilee!
O calm of hills above,
Where Jesus knelt to share with Thee
The silence of eternity
Interpreted by love!
Drop thy still dews of quietness,
Till all our strivings cease;
Take from our souls the strain and stress,
And let our ordered lives confess
The beauty of Thy peace.
* * * * *