HotFreeBooks.com
Byeways in Palestine
by James Finn
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

"Cantabit vacuus coram latrone viator."

After wandering round and around, we descended into Wadi Zahari, "the flowering valley," where, by the water-side, were reeds and oleanders forty or fifty feet high; and near them we observed a pear-tree and a fig-tree, all alone and deserted, the remains of former cultivation. This and other previous instances attest the risk that attends rural labour in that district, being in the immediate vicinity of the Bedaween, and the utter mockery of nominal Turkish rule. Here we filled our leathern water-bottles, (called zumzumia in the Desert, and mattara by towns-people,) and climbed up a stony hill, the heat of the day increasing. No path among the rocks, and all of us angry at Shaikh Yusuf for saving himself the few piastres by conducting us among such difficulties.

Then, after some time we perceived ourselves to be near Umm Kais, by the sarcophagi, the sepulchres, and ruts of chariot-wheels upon the rocks. We rushed up to a large tree for refreshing shelter, and near it found numerous sepulchres, highly ornamented, and some of them with the stone doors remaining on the hinges, which we swung about to test the reality of their remaining so perfect, (figs. 1, 2, 3.)

Among these was the one remarked by Lord Lindsay in his Travels, bearing a Hebrew name inscribed in Greek letters, but which he has not

[Picture: Fig. 1]

given quite correctly. It should be Gaanuiph instead of Gaaniph. This sepulchre is cut in black

[Picture: Fig. 2]

basaltic rock, and has some broken sarcophagi remaining inside. On a round fragment of a column, near this side, is the inscription given below, (fig. 4.) The upper part is the farewell of surviving relatives

[Picture: Fig. 3]

to the daughter of SEMLACHUS. The lower part, for whomsoever intended,—"and thou also farewell,"—carries with it a touch of nature that still affects the heart, after the lapse of many centuries.

[Picture: Fig. 4]

The mausoleums and sepulchres at the opposite end of the city were even more numerous, many having Greek inscriptions upon them.

But the theatre is the most remarkable of all the objects of antiquity,—so perfect, with its rows of seats complete, surrounded by numerous public edifices and lines of columns; and then commanding from those seats a large view of the beautiful Lake of Tiberias, and of the grand mountains which enclose it, as a frame to the picture.

Here I stayed behind the rest of the party for a considerable time, charmed with the spectacle of nature, and revolving over the incidents of Herodian history, so vividly portrayed by Josephus.

Then rejoined my friends, by galloping along a Roman road, paved with blocks of dark basalt.

But before leaving this place, I must express my surprise at any person that has been there imagining for a moment that it can be the Gadara of Scripture.

The distance from the lake is so great as to be utterly incompatible with the recorded transactions in the Gospels—having valleys and high hills intervening; and even supposing the miracle of relieving the demoniac to refer not to the city but to a territory named Gadara, it is inconceivable that the territory belonging to this city (Umm Kais) could extend beyond the deep natural crevasse of the river Yarmuk, and then rise up a high mountain, to descend again into a plain, all before reaching the lake.

Our descent to the Yarmuk was long and steep; and upon the plain which it intersects, the heat exceeded any that I had ever encountered anywhere. The air was like fire. Such a day I shall never forget.

The Yarmuk is so considerable a river that the Arabs call it Sheree'a, as they do the Jordan—only qualifying the latter as the larger one. It is called the Sheree'a el Menadherah, from a party of Bedaween occupying its banks in the interior.

The crevasse through which it issues is wild and romantic in the extreme. High cliffs of basalt are the confines of the water. This, on reaching the plain, is parted with several streams, (to compare great things with small,) in the fashion of the Nile or the Ganges; which the Jordan is not, either at its entrance into this lake or its entrance into the Dead Sea.

All the streams are fringed with oleander; and, in the extreme heat of the day, the horses enjoyed not only their drinking, but their wading through the rolling water.

This was the boundary between Bashan and Gilead, through the latter of which we had hitherto been travelling, and gave name to the great battle A.D. 637, where the victory obtained by the fierce Khalid and the mild Abu Obeidah decided the fate of Palestine, and opened the way of the Moslems to Jerusalem.

Over an extent of four or five miles, before reaching the Jordan, a rich harvest of wheat was being reaped upon the plain. We first attempted to cross at Samakh, but finding it impossible at that season, had to turn back to the ford at the broken bridge, which the natives call the 'mother of arches,' (Umm el Kanater;) and even there the water was still deep.

Corn-fields and flocks of sheep in every direction; but all the shepherds carrying firearms. We most of us lay down on our breasts to drink greedily once more from the dear old river; and then we crossed the Jordan into the land of Canaan, going on to Tiberias, and passing on the way some Franciscan monks. What a change of associations from those of the country we had traversed exclusively for the last nine days!

How absurd the sudden and unexpected contrast from old 'Abdu'l 'Azeez and the brilliant young 'Ali Deab in the freedom of the desert, to the cowl and the convent of the monks—from the grand savage language of the Ishmaelite to the mellifluous Italian.

At the hot baths of the lake we found our tents already pitched, and my old friend the missionary,—Thomson, from Bayroot,—who had been travelling on the eastern side of the lake, (a territory so little known,) and, as he and I believed, had discovered the true Gadara. We compared notes about affairs of the Arabs at the time.

Several of the juvenile travellers set themselves to swimming before dinner at sunset, the huge hills at the back casting long shadows across the lake.

We all had tea together, as we were to separate to our several destinations in the morning; and on my retiring to sleep, the thermometer was at 99 degrees Fahrenheit inside the open tent.

Saturday, 19th.—Bathing before the sun rose.

Our travellers engaged the boat from Tiberias for the day, and it came up from the town to our camp with the sail spread. Large flights of aquatic birds as usual flitting and diving about the lake, and the fish abundant, rising and splashing at the surface.

For an hour or two before starting on my way southwards, I lay on the beach contemplating the lovely scenery, and collecting my thoughts, both as to the past and for the future. The principal object of meditation was of course the placid lake itself—

"Dear with the thoughts of Him we love so well."

Then the noble old mountain of Hermon, crowned with snow, now called Jebel esh Shaikh; which the Sidonians called Sirion; and the Amorites called Shenir, (Deut. iii. 9.)

Next the ever-celebrated Jordan, with its typical resemblance to the limit dividing this life from the purchased possession of heaven,—recalling so much of bright images of Christian poetry employed to cheer the weary pilgrim, in anticipation of the time when

"We'll range the sweet fields on the banks of the river, And sing of salvation for ever and ever!"

Gratefully acknowledging the providence which had brought us happily so far, the present writer then girded up his mental loins, and returned to Jerusalem; but on the way occasionally glancing towards the eastward range of mountains,—the land of Gilead,—now called Belka and 'Ajloon, lately traversed; and with a feeling unknown since the verses were first echoed in childhood, the words involuntarily issue from the lips:

"Sihon, king of the Amorites, For His mercy endureth for ever, And Og the king of Bashan, For His mercy endureth for ever!"

Having learned that 'Akeeli Aga el Hhasi was encamped on the Jordan side, at no great distance, I resolved to visit this personage, who has since then become much more famous as a French protege, being an Arab of Algeria, but at this time only noted as having been the guide of the United States Expedition to the Dead Sea in 1848, and as being at the moment commissioned by the Turks as a Kaimakam of the district, seeing that they could not hold even nominal rule there without him.

At my starting there came up from his post a messenger, Hhasan Aga, the Bosniac officer of Bashi Bozuk, to conduct me to the tents. The Aga was dressed in a crimson silk long coat, over which was a scarlet jacket embroidered in gold, and on his legs the Albanian full kilt, or fustinella, of white calico; his saddle cloth was of pea-green silk with a white border, and yellow worsted network protected the horse's belly from flies, also a rich cloth with tassels lay over the horse's loins.

Proceeded southwards, and passed the broken bridge before mentioned. Harvest everywhere in progress, and the produce being carried home on asses to the village of 'Abadiyeh, adjoining to the houses of which were square and flat tents made of palm-leaf matting as residences of the Ghawarineh Arabs.

Came to the ruins of a wretched little village called Belhhamiyeh, formerly under the patronage of the 'Adwan; and thence appeared in full view upon the hill above the great castle of the Crusaders called Belvoir, but now named Cocab, or Cocab el Hawa. Upon the plain by the river side was the encampment scattered about, and several European tents among the others denoted the presence of Turkish soldiers.

We could see the Jis'r el Mejama'a, the bridge leading across to the land of Gilead.

Rode up to 'Akeeli's tent, and found with him the formidable Shaikh Fendi el Faiz of the Beni Sukh'r, and a musician with his rebabeh. A slave was making coffee on a fire of dried camel's dung, although it was in the fast of Ramadan. We conversed guardedly about Deab and the rest of the 'Adwan, and the camp at Dahair el Hhumar. 'Akeeli then had brought in for his amusement a wild beast called a fahh'd, differing from a panther in being larger and in having black stripes down the face; it seemed wild enough, but was confined by a rope, the pulling of which, and alternately patting the creature was the amusement or occupation of the Aga. They brought me some coffee and water to drink, whereupon 'Akeeli called for some too, and said to me—"These fools of Mohammedans are keeping Ramadan, but I am a Frenchman," he then drank off the water. This man, whom Lynch, the American commander, styles a "magnificent savage," was savage enough in manners, and dirty, and half-naked. He has since, however, made his influence felt, and may perhaps do so again.

Altogether, my reception was not one in accordance with my notions of Arab hospitality. Perhaps he did not wish me to espy what was going on about him in company with Shaikh Fendi el Faiz, so I took my leave, riding towards Cocab. At an Arab encampment we got some Leben Sheneeni, (soured fresh milk, most delicious in hot weather,) and drank almost a pailful of it between myself, the kawwas, and the muleteer. The heat was prodigious. In the camp were only women and children at home: the former employed in weaving and dyeing woollen trappings for horses,—serving to keep off the plague of flies,—of which articles we bought two.

'Akeeli had sent an escort to accompany us as far us the castle. One of the men was a care-worn old fellow from the far north, wearing a very heavy sheepskin coat with wide sleeves, to keep out the scorching heat of the sun, and his face covered with a mandeel or cotton handkerchief, to protect him from reflection from the ground; his venerable musket terminated in a rusty bayonet.

We went southwards until opposite the bridge, then turned westward to the hills, and forded the water of Wadi Berreh. The ascent was difficult and long, during which our escort carried on a conversation in the Arnaout language.

At the summit I sent on the servants and baggage to Jeneen, there to pitch the tents for us—the sheepskin man, the kawwas, and I turned aside to survey the old castle at Cocab el Hawa. It has been a large and noble erection in a strong natural position; the trench and sloping walls are pretty perfect, the stone-work being still sharp-edged; the portion of the defences looking towards the Jordan consists of large stones rabbeted, equal to any work in Jerusalem or elsewhere, which must be an indication of a fortress long before the time of the Crusaders—though the stones are not of dimensions equal to those of the Jerusalem Temple wall.

All the masonry, except the rabbeted work, is constructed from the dark basalt which abounds in that district. All the space within walls, not remaining entire, and part of the trench, is occupied by miserable hovels, forming a sort of village, with patches of tobacco cultivation attached to the dwellings.

But what can one say in description of the glorious prospect from that eminence? It seemed to me to exceed the wonders of Nebi Osha: the principal objects in view being the Lake of Tiberias, the river Jordan, Tabor, Duhy, Beisan, Carmel, Hermon, a stretch of the Hauran, and the cleft of the Yarmuk. One thing surprised me, which was to see how far South Cocab is from Tabor, it had never appeared so before from the direction of Jeneen or of Nazareth. It was due east from Duhy; the best way of getting at it from Nabloos is across the plain of Jezreel. It is distinguishable from a great distance by means of a white-washed tower standing in the midst of the castle.

Forwards we went through a village called Kifereh. As usual the ride over the plain is very tedious and tiring to the limbs—a hilly country in moderation is much more comfortable. We reached Shutta, then the tents of the Shiukh Arabs close under hills, and beneath a hill called Nooris, and at a mill called Jalood, we were overtaken by rain late in the year, being the 19th of May.

The sun set a good while before our arriving at Zer'een (Jezreel); the road was not straight, for a detour was necessary in order to ensure firm ground among the marshes; stagnated water abounds, that has been poured down from the hills of Gilboa. We passed the natural cavern from which the Jalood water issues on the side of a hill. A large cistern is formed at the place. The inhabitants—such as we saw occasionally—were very unhealthy in appearance.

Night came on, and dew with it, to which we had been long unaccustomed. The storm cleared off, and we travelled several hours by moonlight. Then we saw abundance of fire-flies flitting across our way.

Overtaking our luggage, we all jogged on slowly together, very tired and silent, till a horseman appeared, who galloped off on our inquiry, "Who goes there?"

At length we heard the welcome sounds of frogs croaking, then dogs barking, then saw the lights of Jeneen, and being Ramadan the minaret there was illuminated with festoons of lamps.

Then we reached the appointed well-known grove of olive trees.

Our day had been very long and fatiguing—the cattle exhausted. It was Saturday night, and the week ended with the intelligence that Shaikh Barakat el Fraikh had declared war against the Beni Sukh'r, so that we had just passed through the Over-Jordan country in time to be able to do so. At Jerash I had met Barakat, and at 'Akeeli's camp had met his adversary Fendi el Faiz.



II. NORTHWARDS TO BEISAN, KADIS, ANTIPATRIS, etc.

October 23, 1850.

Leaving Jerusalem upon the Nabloos road, and crossing the upper portion of the valley which, lower down, after a curve becomes the valley of Jehoshaphat, we passed almost directly over the sepulchre of Simon the Just, of whom such "excellent things are spoken" in the books of the Maccabees, and in whose memory an annual festival is kept by the Jerusalem Jews on this spot on the day called [Hebrew text] rather more than a month after the passover. Two other saints are celebrated on the same day of the calendar—viz., R. Simeon bar Jochai, the cabbalist of Safed, author of Zohar, and R. Akiva of Tiberias.

Then mounting up the side of Scopus, we halted for a few minutes to survey that view of the holy city which surpasses all others, and must have done so in the palmy days of history. It was at the time of mid-afternoon, when the sun's rays pour slantingly with grand effect upon the Temple site. I could not but recollect that this was exactly the hour appointed for the daily evening sacrifice "between the two evenings," (Hebrew of Exod. xii. 6,) and think of the choral music of Levitical services grandly reverberating among the semicircle of hills.

Meditations of this nature would lead one far away in varied directions, perhaps unsuited for the commencement of a long journey lying before us.

The next object attracting our attention was the Roman milestone lying beside the road, shortly

[Picture: Roman Milestone]

after passing Sha'afat. This I always make it a rule to examine every time of passing it. At one time I had it rolled over in order to be able to read the inscription; but I afterwards found it tossed with the writing downwards—perhaps all the better for its preservation.

The inscription I read as follows:—

[Picture: Milestone inscription]

That is to say, a register of the names of the Antonine emperors; but there must have been other names on the upper part, now broken away.

Then passed under Er Ram on our right hand, the Ramah of the Old Testament, but as it is not often noticed, may be found in Jeremiah xl. 1, as the place where the Babylonish captain of the guard, as a favour, released the prophet, after bringing him with the rest in chains from Jerusalem.

Slept in a house at Ram Allah. This is a village about three-quarters of an hour N.W. from Er Ram. The weather being cold we first lit a fire, thereby trying the utility of a chimney that was in the house—in vain, for no smoke would pass up it; it all settled in the room itself; and the people excused themselves on the ground that it had never been tried before. Probably it was a novelty imported to the place by some of the people who had been employed by Europeans in Jerusalem; and yet I have always found that the old Saracenic houses of the Effendis in Jerusalem have all of them chimneys; and the word for chimney is well known in Arabic.

This being almost exclusively a Christian village, it was interesting to hear the people addressing each other as Peter, James, Elijah, John, Paul, etc., instead of Mohammed, Ali, Omar, or other such appellations. It is a little beside the purpose, but I may remark in passing, that throughout these countries there are names in use common to all religions,—some scriptural, as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, or David; and others mere epithets, as Assaad or Selim.

In this village are three priests, (Greek orthodox,) idle, ignorant, and coarse men; but the peasantry are a bold set of fellows, speaking and acting very independently of clerical domination,—very indifferent as to whether they shall turn Protestants or Papists. One thing they are in earnest about, and that is to get schools for their children.

Ram Allah exhibits the same characteristic as all other Christian villages in Palestine, that of being in good condition—new houses being built, and old ones repaired; contrary to the condition of Moslem villages, almost without one exception—that of falling to decay. There is, however, no water here; the women bring it in jars upon their heads from Beeri, a considerable distance.

We made a detour from the high-road, in order to look for Jifna, the Gophna of Josephus, where Titus and his renowned Tenth Legion (recently arrived from Britain) slept the night before reaching Jerusalem. Then the Eagles were gathered together over the doomed carcass of the city. Inquiring our way from Ram Allah to Jifna, some said there was a road without going to Beeri; some said there was none. At length we were put upon a pretty decent path.

In ten minutes we came to a sort of well with a little water, where women were thumping clothes upon stones; this is called washing in the East. Magnificent view westwards of the great plain, the Great Sea, Jaffa, Ramlah, etc.

We wandered about hills and among vineyards, and came to a small village named Doorah, in good condition, with water, and excellent cultivation of garden vegetables in small patches, similar to those of Selwan (Siloam) and Urtas; then turning a corner saw Jifna at some distance, in the midst of a plain enclosed by hills; and there it must have been that the manipulus with S.P.Q.R. was posted in front of Italian tents, and the soldiers bustling about or jesting in Latin or British language, before their retiring to rest, in the spring season of the year A.D. 70.

Becoming entangled among a long belt of vineyards between us and it, and time passing away while our luggage was far on the road to Nabloos, we turned aside and regained the high-road at 'Ain Yebrood. Reluctantly I retreated from Jifna, for I had wished to discover the precise road upon which Titus and his army marched towards Jerusalem. Passing Sinjil, Lubban, and Sawiyeh, we rested just beyond Sawiyeh under the great oak, at the divergence of the valley of Laithma. Beneath its wide-spreading branches a flock of sheep was resting at noon (Cant. i. 7.) From these we got good draughts of fresh milk.

As evening approached, we were passing within the huge shadow of Mount Gerizim; and in Nabloos I remained till Monday morning,—this being the end of Thursday.

28th. Preparing for descent into the Jordan valley, I engaged, in addition to the usual servants, a horseman of the Bashi Bozuk, recommended by the local governor, Suliman Bek Tokan. It seemed prudent to obtain this man's attendance, as he might be known and recognised by disorderly persons throughout the turbulent and unknown country before me, whatever might be his character for valour or discretion. Two of the native Protestants of Nabloos accompanied me also for about four hours on the way.

Passing Joseph's sepulchre and the village of Asker, (is not this Sychar? it is near the traditional Jacob's Well,) we went northwards over the plain of Mukhneh, equivalent to Makhaneh, "camp," in Hebrew, (the Moreh of Gen. xii. 6, Deut. xi. 30, and Judges vii. 1) having left the eastern valley with Salem (Gen. xxxiii. 18) on our right. To my surprise the plain was soon and abruptly terminated at the foot of a very lofty mountain, and we commenced a descent among chasms of great convulsions of nature, displaying remarkable contortions of geological strata. This brought us into the Wadi En-Nab, so called from the growth there of a fruit-tree, (the Jujube,) bearing that name, better in quality than anywhere else in Palestine; and, indeed, the tree is found in but few other places. At the confluence of this valley with the Wadi Bedan there are several fragments of ancient columns remaining, quite four feet in diameter.

Hitherto we had met many more peasants travelling with merchandise than I had expected. They were all going in one direction, namely, towards Nabloos, and therefore from Es-Salt in Gilead, beyond Jordan.

These, however, ceased after we had crossed the water of Wadi Bedan into the larger Wadi Fara'ah,—which is, however, the high-road to Es-Salt.

Soon afterwards we observed, by our wayside, a square of solid ancient masonry, three courses high. In England this would be certainly the pedestal of some old demolished market-cross; but it may have been the lower part of some memorial pyramid. In the previous year I had seen just such another at Ziph (Josh. xv. 55,) beyond Hebron.

Then we came upon a distinct piece of Roman paved road, which showed that we were upon the high-road between Neapolis and Scythopolis, alias Shechem and Bethshan, alias Nabloos and Beisan.—Crossed a stream richly bordered with rosy-blossomed oleander, and soon turned the head of the water. A demolished castle was on our right, commanding the entrance of Wadi Fara'ah.

Soon after noon we gained the olive-trees alongside of Tubas, a prosperous village, yet inhabited by a people as rude and coarse as their neighbours. Tubas is always liable to incursions from the eastern Bedaween, and always subject to the local wars of the Tokan and 'Abdu'l Hadi factions. I have known it to be repeatedly plundered. The natural soil here is so fertile that its wheat and its oil, together with those of Hanoon, fetch the highest prices in towns; and the grain is particularly sought after as seed for other districts.

The place, however, is most remarkable to us as being the Thebez of Judges ix. 50, where Abimelech was slain by the women hurling a millstone on his head from the wall. The more I become acquainted with the peculiar population of Jebel Nabloos, (i.e. the territory of which Nabloos is the metropolis,) a brutish people "waxing fat and kicking," the more does the history of the book of Judges, especially the first twelve chapters, read like a record of modern occurrences thereabouts. It is as truly an Arab history as any other oriental book can supply. I observed that Mount Gerizim can be seen from Tubas,—which fact seemed to give additional emphasis to the words, "And all the evil of the men of Shechem did God render upon their heads; and upon those came the curse of Jotham, the son of Jerubbaal."

The site of Tubas is elevated. It is still a considerable village, and possesses that decided evidence of all very ancient sites in Palestine—a large accumulation of rubbish and ashes.

I was told that here, as well as in several of the villages around, there are scattered Christians, one or two families in each among the Moslems, without churches, without clergy, without books or education of any kind; still they are Christians, and carry their infants to the Greek Church in Nabloos for baptism. What a deplorable state of things! Since the date of this journey the Church Missionary Society's agents have in some degree ministered to the spiritual destitution of these poor people by supplying some at least with copies of the Holy Scriptures.

Here my principal kawwas, Hadj Mohammed es Serwan, found the fever, which had been upon him more or less for the last three days, so greatly increased, that it was not possible for him to proceed farther with me. The fever he attributed to his having, on arrival at Nabloos, indulged too freely in figs and milk together. The general experience of the country warrants this conclusion.

Poor fellow! after several times dismounting, and renewing his efforts to keep up with me, he was at length totally disabled; and our Protestant friends, who were now about to return home, engaged to get him into the village, and have him carefully attended to, there and at Nabloos, till he should be able to return to his family at Jerusalem. I left him under a large tree, gazing wistfully after me, and endeavouring to persuade me not to go down to that Gehennom of a place, Beisan. {94}

My forward journey lay through fine olive-grounds and stubble-fields of wheat. In an hour we passed Kayaseer, a wretched but ancient place, with exceedingly old olive-trees about it. Then going on for some time among green bushes and straggling shoots of trees, we descended to the water-bed of a valley. Once more upon a Roman road, on which at twenty minutes' distance was a prostrate Roman milestone, but with no inscription to be seen; perhaps it was on the under side, upon the ground. Then the road, paved as it was with Roman work, rose before us on a steep slope, to a plain which was succeeded by the "Robbers' Valley," (Wadi el Hharamiyeh,) in which we met two peasants driving an ass, and inquired of them "Is the plain of the Jordan safe?"—meaning, Are there any wild Bedaween about? The reply was "It is safe;" but the whole conversation consisted of four words in the question, and one in the answer.

Over a precipitous and broken rocky hill,—the worst piece of road I ever met with,—till we came suddenly upon the grand savage scenery of the Ghor, with the eastern barrier of the mountains of Gilead. The river Jordan is not visible, as is the case in most parts, till one almost reaches the banks.

Here the vegetation had changed its character,—leaving all civilisation of olive-trees behind, and almost all consisting of oak and hawthorn. We had instead the neb'k or dom-tree, and the ret'm or juniper of Scripture; the heat excessive.

At the junction of the Valley with the Ghor are three Roman milestones, lying parallel and close side by side,—all of them in the shape and size stereotyped throughout the country. This, then, was probably a measured station of unusual importance; and from it the acropolis of Bethshan just comes into view. This is known in the country by the name of El Hhus'n.

The ground was in every direction covered with black basalt fragments, among which, however, was corn stubble remaining; and we were told that the crop belonged to the people of Tubas.

We kept upon a straight path leading directly up to Beisan, which all the way was intersected by running streams issuing from the hills on our left, and going to the Jordan.

The water was not often good for drinking; but at most of these rivulets our attendant, Suliman Bek's horseman, alighted to say his prayers, out of fright on account of the Arab Bedaween.

Tabor N.W. and Hermon N.E. were both prominent objects in the landscape, with the town of Beisan between the two,—the ground abounding in the kali plant and neb'k trees, with bright yellow fruit, from which we frequently saw clearly desert camels cropping the lower branches, notwithstanding the long and sharp thorns upon them.

We marched straight on, from one ancient artificial mound to another, with Beisan before us, the streams all the way increasing in width and rapidity,—some of them bordered, or even half-choked, with a jungle of oleander in flower, hemlock, gigantic canes, wild fig-trees, neb'k, and tangled masses of blackberry. Some of them we had to ford, or even leap our horses over. We were surprised at such torrents of water rushing into the Jordan at such a season of the year.

Reached Beisan at half-past six,—a wild-looking place, with magnificent mountains in every direction around, but all frowning black with volcanic basalt; and the people horribly ugly—black and ferocious in physiognomy. They were just in the busiest time of the indigo harvest; but they had herds of very fine cows brought home, as the sun in setting threw over us the shadow of the mountains of Gilboa. My companion from Jerusalem looked up with horror to these hills, and began quoting the poetic malediction of David upon them on account of the death of Saul and Jonathan: "Let there be no dew, neither rain upon you, nor fields of offerings," etc.

It was indeed a notable event in one's life to have arrived at the place where the body of the first king of Israel, with that of his son, the dear friend of David, after being beheaded, were nailed to the walls of the city. Jabesh-Gilead could not have been very far off across the Jordan; for its "valiant men arose, and went all night, and took the body of Saul, and the bodies of his sons, from the walls of Bethshan, and came to Jabesh, and burnt them there. And they took their bones and buried them under a tree at Jabesh, and fasted seven days," (1 Sam. xxxi. 12, 13). This respectful treatment was by way of grateful recompense for Saul's past kindness, as the very first act of his royalty had been to deliver them from danger when besieged by Nahash the Ammonite (I Sam. xi.); and they kept his remains till king David removed them into the ancestral sepulchre within the tribe of Benjamin (2 Sam. xxi. 14).

To return. The people of Beisan urged upon us their advice not to sleep in our tents, for fear of Arabs, who were known to be about the neighbourhood. I however preferred to remain as I was; and many of the people slept around the tents upon heaps of indigo plant, making fires for themselves from the straw. Before retiring to sleep, I several times found the horseman at his prayers by moonlight. During the night the roaring of the water-torrents re-echoed loudly from the rocky hills.

29th.—We learned that the indigo cultivation is not very laborious. The seed is scattered over the ground, and then the people turn the streams over the surface for inundation. There is no ploughing. This is done directly after barley-harvest from the same ground. There is no produce for two years, but after that period the same stalks successively for five years produce about seventy-two-fold. I bought a timnah (measure) of the seed for curiosity, to deposit in our museum.

We finished breakfast, had the tents struck, and the mules laden, all before the sky began to look red, announcing the coming sun.

The castle of 'Ajloon was a very conspicuous object on the mountainous horizon of the east.

I then spent about three hours in exploring the Roman antiquities of the place when it bore the name of Scythopolis. These are all contained within or along a natural basin, of which I here give a rough map.

[Picture: Scythopolis]

The general form is that of an oval, the centre of which has four pediments for the arch of a bridge, or a triumphal arch, over a rivulet that traverses the whole obliquely. From this central square of four pediments extends right and left one long colonnade, or dromos. Within the basin, but on the south bank of the water, is the theatre; on the north, and outside of the oval, is the lofty mound, surmounted by fortified buildings, forming the acropolis, the Hhus'n, which is visible for miles and miles over the country. In the S.E. corner is the modern village—a very insignificant one, but with remains of a Christian church, for I should suppose the Moslems never built so good a mosque at Beisan. Of course the present inhabitants use it for their devotions. The building is all angular, with a square tower at the south end. The principal doorway—that at the north end—is perforated into a walled-up large pointed arch.

The principal object of my curiosity was the theatre, which, like all those of the Romans and Greeks, is a building of nearly a semicircle in form, with the extremities connected by a chord or straight line; this latter was the proscenium or stage, and is near 200 feet in length. Upon the ground-plan, at half distance from the centre to the outer curve, the vomitories or passages for entrance and exit begin, leaving an open area; these are formed in concentric semicircles, divided across by radii, all coming from the one centre.

Over these passages the seats for spectators are constructed, rising higher as approaching to the outer curve—and the dens for the wild beasts, when they were to be exhibited, were under the front seats. The vomitories are of the most perfect design for utility, and still remain in complete preservation, all vaulted over with admirable workmanship.

[Picture: Ground plan of the Theatre]

I looked about in vain for the indentings in front of the rows of seats which had held the [Greek text] or brazen saucers, which indentings are stated to have been seen by Irby and Mangles; but we know that the [Greek text] were so placed in ancient theatres for increasing the power of voice uttered upon the stage.

The front blocks of the stage are white, and these are brought from a distance. They measure eight feet by four each. But the peculiarity of the general building lies in its being built of the black stone of the country adjacent. I afterwards saw Roman theatres at Amman and Umm Kais, as already mentioned in the journey "Over the Jordan," but they were white; and another at Petra, but that was of rosy red. All the three—the black, the white, and the red—were each of its own one colour, without intermixture of others, except that here the stage was of another colour from the rest of the building.

I then prepared to mount to the acropolis or Hhus'n. The hill is shaped as an oblong square, sloping downwards, and rounded at the four edges. Steps have been cut into it for ascending from below.

Arriving at what appears from below to be the summit, but is not, I found a large platform, improved by art, with remains of houses and cisterns, and surrounded at the edge by a parapet wall five feet thick,—except at the eastern end, opposite to the present town, where one-third of the hill has been left rising considerably higher, and therefore a wall is not required.

In this wall, at the N.W. side, I found remains of a very massive gateway, with fragments of older columns and friezes built up into the side work. At this spot the rising hill above is particularly precipitous. I climbed to the extreme summit, but found there no remains of human labour. The view, however, as may be supposed, amply repaid the exertion. In one direction the prolonged Ghor of the Jordan; and in another appeared the opening of the plain of Esdraelon and Tabor, with the Mediterranean far away, and Carmel almost hull down, as one might say of a ship. In the nearer distance were lines of black Arab tents, an old khan, ruins of water-mills, and rushing rivulets in abundance, the sources of which lie so high in the adjacent hills of Gilboa, that the town and the irrigation of the district are supplied from them copiously.

I picked up some tesserae about the acropolis hill, but I saw none elsewhere near Beisan,—discovered no inscriptions, and heard of no coins.

Close to the town there were thick layers of calcareous sediment, containing petrified reeds or canes, of which I brought away specimens for our museum.

Thus ended my inspection of this really interesting place, so remarkable for being all built of black volcanic stone,—the theatre, the church, and the modern village, besides the rocks all about: add to this the vile appearance of the people, and one cannot wonder at visitors entertaining a dread and disgust at the whole.—I find that I have omitted to mention the mineral quality of the water, the most of which is undrinkable.

We left Beisan at half-past nine, after examining it more completely than the published accounts of former travellers lead us to believe they have done. Thomson's account is of later date.

Our journey now lay due north, along the Ghor to Tiberias; and a very pleasing journey it proved to be.

In half an hour we had to ford a pretty wide stream, and in five minutes more were among very extensive ruins of an ancient town; upon a tumulus at its farther extremity are lying portions of three huge sarcophagi, and a portion of a thick column. This must be the "Es Soudah," (i.e., black,) mentioned by Thomson—indeed, all ruins of that district are of black basalt, excepting the columns and sarcophagi. The name soda or black occurs in English as a synonym for alkali, and means the black or dark-coloured ashes of the plant al-kali when burnt for use—the white colour of it seen in Europe is obtained by chemical preparation.

Black tents and fires of the kali burners were visible in many directions—a delicious breeze blowing in our faces; but above everything cheerful was the green line of the Jordan banks. No snow to be seen at present at that distance upon Hermon. At half-past eleven we were beneath some castellated remains of great extent, namely, the Crusaders' Belvoir, now called Cocab el Hawa. Our ground had become gradually more undulated; then hilly, and the Ghor narrowed: we were obliged to cross it diagonally towards the Jordan; forded a running stream abounding in oleander, where, according to his usual custom, my Egyptian servant took a handful of the flowers to wear in his waistcoat. Then the birds carolling so happily, recalling the well-known lines—

"And Jordan, those sweet banks of thine, With woods so full of nightingales."

The songsters that I heard were certainly neither the linnets nor goldfinches of other parts of Palestine, but must have been the bulbul, the note of which, though rich and tender in expression, is not however the same with that of English nightingales.

Then we came to the bridge called Jis'r el Mejama'a, which is in tolerably good condition, with one large and several smaller arches in two rows, and a dilapidated khan at the western end. I crossed over the bridge into the territory of Gilead.

The khan has been a strong edifice, but the stones of the massive gateway, especially the great keystone, are split across, as if from the effects of gunpowder.

When that bridge was erected, the country must have been in safe and prosperous circumstances; the beauty of the scenery was not found in contrast to the happiness of the people; there must have been rich commerce carried on between the far east and the towns of Palestine; and it is in reference to such a fortunate period that the wandering minstrels, even now among the Bedaween, sing the songs of the forty orphan youths who competed in poetic compositions under the influence of love for an Arab maiden at the bridge of Mejama'a.

The name is derived from the meeting of two branches of the Jordan in that place after having separated above. Below the bridge the bed of the river is very rocky, and the course of the water disturbed, but above the "meeting of the waters" all is beautifully smooth and tranquil; wild aquatic birds enjoying their existence on its surface, and the banks fringed with willows and oleanders. How grateful is all this to the traveller after a scorching ride of several hours.

Then the river, and with it our road, deflected back to the western hills; again the river wound in serpentine sinuosities about the middle of the plain, with little islands and shallow sands within its course. I am not sure that the delight we experienced was not enhanced by the circumstance of travelling upwards against stream. Whenever tourists find the country safe enough for the purpose, and have leisure at command, I certainly recommend to them this district of Jordan, between Beisan and Tiberias: of course this presupposes that they visit Nazareth before or afterwards.

Occasionally we came to rings of stones laid on the ground,—these mark the graves of Arabs of the vicinity; then a cattle enclosure, fenced in by a bank of earth, and thorns piled on the top. All about this were subterranean granaries for corn, having apertures like wells, but empty. Close to this was a ford to the eastern bank. The river has many interruptions certainly, but yet in two days' ride we had seen a good deal of smooth water for boating. At half-past one was reached the village of Abadiyeh.

Near the village we saw people cutting twigs of tamarisk and willow. At the village were large plantations of the kitchen vegetable, Bamia, which is a hibiscus, (called ochra in the West Indies,) the plants four feet high, with bright yellow blossom. Near the regular houses were suburb huts made of reeds. This is often seen along the Ghor; they are tenanted by wanderers at certain seasons of the year.

There was a profusion of good wheat straw lying wasting upon the ground; it is here too plentiful to be cared for.

We saw afterwards a low wall of masonry entirely crossing the Jordan, but having now a broken aperture in the middle. In former times these artificial works were common, and served to irrigate the lands on each side. The river was never used for navigation.

At two o'clock we reached one well-known rendezvous, the old broken bridge, popularly called "Mother of Arches." The ford was now low in water. Here we rested under a neb'k tree; and on getting out the luncheon, discovered that all our stores of bread, coffee, sugar, and arrow-root had been soaked by the splashing of streams and fords that we had this day encountered.

The horseman fell again to his prayers. Several Arabs from the Hauran with their camels, crossed the Jordan while we were there.

Another hour took us to the baths of Tiberias; the heat very great, and by our roadside there was a whole mountain with its dry yellow grass and weeds on fire.

Near the south end of the lake are some palms growing wild. We dismounted at a quarter to four.

* * * * *

Next day I ascended the hills to Safed, a well-known station. The place is exceedingly healthy, enjoying the purest mountain air, as is evinced by the healthy complexion of the numerous Jews residing there; and the landscape views are both extensive and beautiful.

On the following day I undertook a few hours' excursion to Kadis (Kedesh Naphtali), where Barak, son of Abinoam, and Deborah, collected the forces of Zebulun and Naphtali, for marching to Mount Tabor against Sisera. It was also one of the six cities of refuge for cases of unintentional homicide, (Josh. xx. 7;) it lies to the N.N.E. from Safed.

In an hour we obtained a grand view of Hermon just opposite to us, and never lost sight of it till our return. Passed between the villages of Dilathah on the right, and Taitaba on the left; the country is all strewn with volcanic basalt. In another half-hour we had Ras el Ahhmar on our left. Then Farah and Salhhah at some distance to the left, and Alma just before us. The volcanic brown stones had on them occasionally a thin lichen of either orange colour, or a sour pale green, like verdigris.

About this village were women and children gathering olives from the trees—first beating the boughs with poles, then picking up the fruit from the ground.

The small district around here is named "the Khait," and the people boast of its extraordinary fertility in corn-produce.

Down a steep descent of white limestone, where it is said the torrents are so strong in winter that no one attempts to pass that way. Rising again, we found near the summit of the opposite hill a spring of water, from which some Bedaween women were carrying away water in the common fashion, in goat-skins upon their backs. They were young, pretty, dirty, and ragged. Of course their rags were blue, and their lips were coloured to match.

Pleasant breeze springing up after the heat of the day. Corn stubble on the fields, and fine olive plantations, as we got near to Kadis, our place of destination; with such a wide clear road up to it, as might seem to be traditionally preserved as such from ancient times, if the Talmud be relied upon when it gives the legal width of various kinds of roads, and prescribes twice as much for a highway towards the cities of refuge, as for any other description of road. {109}

The scenery around Kadis is cheerful, but the village itself consisted of only about half-a-dozen wretched houses. In passing by these, towards an orchard at the farther side, we saw some large ancient sarcophagi,—three of them lying side by side, but broken, and some capitals of columns.

After selecting our site for the tents, and setting the cook to work in his peculiar vocation, not forgetting to see that the horses were being attended, we procured a guide to conduct us down the hill to the antiquities.

There are still evidences remaining that the old city had been wealthy and celebrated—squared stones lying profusely about. At the spring of water: this was received into an embellished sarcophagus for a trough, and adjoining to it a spacious paved reservoir.

Here began a series of highly ornamental public edifices and sepulchral monuments. We went first to the farthest; and there it was greatly to be regretted that there was not with us an artist able to do justice to the exceeding beauty of the remains.

It was a large oblong building, placed east and west, an ornamental moulding running round the whole at four feet from the ground; the roof fallen in. At the eastern extremity have been three portals, of which the middle one was by far the largest; each of these decorated richly by a bead and scroll moulding. The lintel of the principal gate has fallen from its place, and now stands perpendicular, leaning against one of the uprights: this is one stone of fifteen feet in length, beautifully sculptured. Some broken pillars are lying about, and several magnificent Corinthian capitals of square pilasters, which had been alongside of the principal portal. I have never seen anywhere in Palestine any relic of so pure a Grecian taste as this temple. {110}

Nearer to the town is a Roman erection of large well-cut stones, which have acquired from the effects of time the fine yellow tinge which is remarkable on the relic of the Church of St John Baptist at Sebustieh. {111}

This was a smaller building than the other, and is nearly entire, except that the roof is fallen in. It is in a square form: at each corner is a solid square of masonry thirty feet high, and these are connected with each other by semi-circular arches, two of which are fallen, and the other two have their keystones dangling almost in the air, so slight is the hold of their voussoirs to keep them from falling. The walls rise half way up these abutments; the doorway is to the south, and has the ports and lintel richly decorated. Of the use of this erection I could form no judgment.

Between the two edifices was a mass of solid masonry, supporting a sarcophagus nearly ten feet long, with a double sarcophagus of the same dimensions at each side of it: not only the middle single one, but each double sarcophagus, was formed of one stone each. Can we doubt of the relation which the persons buried in the double ones bore to each other? The sides of these stone coffins are highly adorned with floral garlands, and the lids are lying broken across beside them.

Oh! vain expectation, to preserve the human frame from violation, by elaborate and durable monuments! There is but one safe repository for the decaying part of man, and that is what the Almighty Maker at first decreed—namely, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust. The poorest slave, buried in a hole within the ground, is safer from man's greed and violence than the mightiest conqueror; for the massive porphyry sarcophagus of Alexander was rifled by Caligula, and after that by others, in Egypt. And the same fate has befallen the tombs of Cyrus and Darius in Persia, for the sake of the riches entombed with them.

Some copper coins were brought to us, but of no particular value: they were either corroded or broken, and of no remarkable antiquity.

As twilight faded away we returned to the tents, and had the evening meal. The wind rose considerably, so that we lighted a fire on the lee side of my tent, and gazed round upon the strange and noble scene around. There was Hermon just before us, seen indistinctly by starlight; and there was sufficient novelty and non-security in the place to keep attention awake.

The shaikh of the village came and assured us that in the Lebanon (not far distant) the Druses were up; that the convent at Maaluleh had been sacked, and twenty-two Emirs had been seized by the beastly Turks (as he denominated them); that Abu Neked was up in arms, and even the villages in the south, about Nazareth, were fighting. Of course there was considerable exaggeration in all this, but our muleteer began to pray that he might be soon safe again in Jerusalem.

The shaikh informed us that in the happy time of the Egyptian rule, under Ibrahim Pasha, his village was so populous that they cultivated fifty feddans of land, whereas now they could only work six; that then property was so safe that Arab marauders were always caught and punished, (he had himself had Bedaween kept prisoners in his house,) whereas now, under the Turks, they come into his house to steal.

While he was relating this, a man came running from the village to announce that neighbouring Arabs were just before carrying off some of their cows in the dark, but on being pursued, had made off without them.

After I got to bed, one of our people shot at a hyaena, and the villagers shouted from the roofs of their houses to know if we were attacked. In the morning they told us that they had seen the hyaena, big enough to eat a man, and that their attention had been attracted to it by the cry of an owl.

Saturday, November 2.—We returned towards Safed over the plain of Alma. The wheat of this district is renowned far and wide for quality and quantity of produce. The guide told us that at this place were splendid remains of antiquity; but, on arriving, we could hear of nothing but a poor cistern within a cavern. Here the black basalt recommences after the region of white limestone where we had been; and then again, at the distance of a good-sized field, we were upon common brown agricultural soil. It is curious how sharply these division-lines of soil are drawn in every direction about this place. {114}

Thence we diverged off from yesterday's road to visit Jish, passing through Ras el Ahhmar. Most magnificent views of Hermon and Anti-Lebanon.

Had to go down into a valley, through which, on a former journey, we had passed on coming from Bint Jebail, and visited again the ancient monument in a vineyard by the roadside. It appears to have consisted of one small building. The lower parts of two upright posts of its doorway remain, together with a fragment of the transverse lintel: several pieces of columns are lying about, and pediments of these in situ. Besides these, there is the following fragment of sculpture

[Picture: Ancient sepulchre near Jish]

nearly level with the ground, and is probably the entrance of a sepulchre, but we had no opportunity of clearing away the soil to ascertain that. The ornamentation seems to be that of laurel leaves. Near adjoining is a fragment of a round pillar, partly buried; but on seeing Hebrew writing upon it, I cleared it away partly. Some of it was but indistinct. I could only read it thus—

[Picture: Hebrew writing]

—from which not much signification can be gathered. Perhaps some cracks in the stone have disfigured the characters; but how and when did a Hebrew inscription come in such a place? The site is very agreeable, with streamlets of water tinkling among trees by the roadside.

Thence we mounted up to the village of Jish, the place of John of Giscala, the antagonist of Josephus. This seems to have been the centre-point of the dreadful earthquake in 1837, from which Safed and Tiberias suffered so much. It occurred on the New Year's day, while the people of the village were all in church; and just as the priest held the sacramental cup in his hand, the whole village was in a moment destroyed, not one soul being left alive but the priest himself, and, humanly speaking, his preservation was owing to the arch above his head. All the villages around shared the same fate, and the greater part of the towns above mentioned. Much damage was sustained all over Palestine; and a heart-rending description of the events has since been printed, though little known in England, by a Christian Israelite, named Calman, who, together with Thomson, the American missionary, hasted from Bayroot on hearing of the calamity, and aided in saving many lives of persons buried beneath the ruins of Safed and Tiberias, during several days after the catastrophe.

This sad event serves for an era to date from; and the Jews there, when referring to past occurrences, are accustomed to say, it was so many years before (or after) the [Hebrew text] (the earthquake.)

Among the ruins of Jish are no remains of antiquity, except a fragment of the thick shaft of a column and a small sarcophagus, only large enough for a child, in a field half a mile distant. The Jews appropriate this to Shemaiah Abtelin.

We passed between Kadita and Taitaba, over land strewn with volcanic stone, beginning near Jish and extending almost to those villages. The crater, of very remote times, noticed by Robinson, is about one-third of the distance from Jish to Safed; not very imposing in appearance.

The journey from Kadis to Safed is one of five hours' common travelling. We reached the olive ground encampment shortly before noon. Being the Jewish Sabbath, there was the Eruv suspended at the exits of the principal streets. This is an invention of the Talmudists, used in unwalled towns, being a line extended from one post to another, indicating to Jews what is the limit which they are to consider as the town-wall, and certain ordinances of the Sabbath are regulated thereby.

A strong wind from the south blew up a mist that almost concealed the huge dark ravine of Jarmuk, but the night became once more hot and still.

3d.—"And rested the Sabbath-day, according to the commandment,"—neither the principal prayer-day of the Mohammedans, which is Friday, nor the Sabbath-day of the large population of Jews about me, but that which the early Christians so beautifully named the Lord's-day, while observing it as a Sabbath. I attended divine service in the English language at the house of Mr Daniel, the missionary to the Jews: we were six in number. The rest of the day was spent in quiet reading and meditation, with visits at one time from the rabbis, and at another from the missionary.

4th.—An excursion to Meroon to visit the sepulchres of several eminent canonized rabbis. The Jews believe this place to be the Shimron-Meron of Joshua xii. 20. An odd party we formed: there were the missionary and his lady, Polish rabbis with very broad beaver hats and curled ringlets on each side of the face, a crowd of Jewish idlers walking, the Moslem attendants, and a peasant of the village we were going to. Certainly the rabbinical riding was not of a very dashing character: their reverences were all mounted on asses with mean accoutrements, for the adjustment of which they often had to dismount. Our place of destination lies at the foot of the great hill Jarmuk, and the road to it is very rough, with broken rocks fallen from the summit; but the place commands a grand prospect of Safed and the Lake of Galilee.

The first object of interest was of course the sepulchre of Rabbi Simeon bar Jochai, the patron saint of this region, and of regions beyond. He lived a miraculous life in the second Christian century; wrote the famous book (Zohar), by which, if I mistake not, the Cabbalists still work miracles; and miracles are performed in answer to prayers at his tomb—so it is believed; and his commemoration festival, in the month Iyar (see ante) is attended by Jewish votaries from all parts of the world, many of whom practise the heathen rite of burning precious objects, such as gold lace, Cashmere shawls, etc., upon the tomb, to propitiate his favour. On these occasions scenes of scandalous licence and riot are witnessed, and sometimes lives are lost in conflicts with Moslems begun in drunkenness. The rabbis, however, procure great gains from the annual festival or fair.

(In the town of Safed there is at least one (perhaps more) Beth ha-Midrash, a sort of synagogue, with perpetual endowment, for reading of the Zohar day and night for ever.)

First we entered a court-yard with a walnut-tree in the midst. At a farther corner of this court is a small clean apartment, with a lighted lamp in a frame suspended from the ceiling, which is capable of holding more lamps. In a corner of this apartment is a recess with a lamp burning before it; in this a roll of the law is kept; it is the shrine itself of the author of Zohar. One of our rabbis retired behind us for prayer. In another part of this chamber is buried Eleazar, son of the illustrious Simeon.

These sepulchres are marked out upon the roof, outside of the chamber, by a small pillar over each, with a hollow on the top of it for burning of the votive offerings as above mentioned. Near the first entrance gate is a similar pillar for lamps and offerings vowed to Rabbi Isaac, a celebrated physician.

All these three saints still perform as many miracles as ever they did; and the common people believe that any person forcing an entrance to the shrines, without express permission of the living rabbis, will be infallibly punished with sudden death. They cited instances of such visitations having occurred.

We then went to the ruin of what the Jews assert to have been a synagogue. It has been an oblong square building, one of its sides being formed by the scarped surface of a rock, and its opposite (the north) stands upon what is now the brink of a low precipice, probably from the earth having given way below at the time of the earthquake; indeed it must be so, for the one of the three portals at the east end, which was there, is now missing. The floor is solid surface of rock, and now used by the peasants for a thrashing-floor. The portals have been handsome, with bold mouldings; but no floral embellishment or inscription now remains.

[Picture: Possible synagogue]

The transverse lintels are each of one stone; the central one is at least fifteen feet in length.

Persons still living remember this building very much more entire than it now is. There is an abundance of large loose stones lying about, and fragments of broken columns or moulded friezes. Upon the rock by its side is a small tower that was erected by old Daher (Volney's hero of the Report on Syria) in the eighteenth century.

The village population now consists of about thirty souls, friendly to the Jews, from whom indeed they derive their principal subsistence, in consideration of guarding the sanctuaries from spoliation. Other sanctified rabbis are interred in sites about the village and the hill. {121}

After a temperate luncheon upon the rocks among the noble scenery in the open air, and consulting the Hebrew book of travels of R. Joseph Schwartz, (who was still living in Jerusalem,) we parted from our rabbis, and proceeded to visit Cuf'r Bera'am.

When we arrived close to Sasa, there was Jish before us on the right. We passed through a district of stones and underwood of evergreen oak; clouds and rain coming on, which overtook us sharply as we reached the village.

Some of the party being but poor riders, we were later than I had expected to be; it was quite sunset; and the people of the place, (almost all of them Maronite Christians,) headed by their priest could do no less than press us to stay through the night with them, especially as the sky threatened a continuation of rain. After deliberative counsel being taken among us, it was resolved that we could only thank the good people for their intended hospitality, and return home. We first halted before an ancient square building, the outside of which has been much encroached upon by the alluvial earth of ages, and the simple but correct Tuscan portico, encumbered with piles of fagots for the village use during the approaching winter. The three doorways of the facade were embellished by sculptured wreaths of vine leaves and grapes. Hearing that some Hebrew inscription was to be found beneath one of the windows, we had some of the fagots removed, sufficient to enable us to read the words [Hebrew text] (this house, etc.); but on account of the labour required to do more with such a tangled and heavy mass of wood, besides the rain and the lateness of the hour, we were obliged to abandon the task, and go forward to the large decorated portal which is standing alone, without its edifice, in an enclosed field at about a quarter of a mile distant. This is erected upon a raised platform of masonry. Upon the transverse lintel we read the following Hebrew inscription, neatly engraved:—

[Picture: Hebrew inscription]

(Peace be within this place, and all places of the sojourners . . . to the work . . . blessing in his works.)

This is all written in one line, without breaks or stops, very small, and in as neat a square character as if lately copied from a printed book. The two uprights and the lintel have a simple and chaste ornament like a bead moulding. The transverse lintel has in the middle of its length a rosette surmounted by a circular wreath, at each end of which may be seen upon close inspection, and in a slanting light, traces of a small animal, most likely a sheep, recumbent, which have been chiselled away. On a visit some years after, and on closer inspection, I remarked the same figures upon the facade of that building above mentioned, with Tuscan pillars for a portico, though pains have been taken, as in this instance, to obliterate them.

The ground all about there is strewn with moulded stones and broken columns.

We reached Safed, cold and wet, in the dark, having ridden but slowly, in order to accommodate certain individuals of the party; but it was in the month of November, at an altitude of above 2000 feet, with rain and gusts of wind coming between dark mountains.

My evening reflections alone naturally ran upon the almost unknown circumstance of Hebrew inscriptions existing upon remains of ancient and decorated edifices in this part of the country, while nothing of the sort is known elsewhere. Were the two buildings at Cuf'r Bera'am, and the sepulchre in the field below Jish, really Jewish? and if so, when were they erected?

The modern Jews, in their utter ignorance of chronology, declare these to be synagogues of the time of the second temple in Jerusalem; and affirm that, notwithstanding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, this province of Upper Galilee remained without its people being led into captivity, and that many families (for instance, the Jewish agriculturists still at Bokeea', between Safed and Acre) continue now, just as they were then, in the same localities.

My good old friend Nicolayson, the late missionary to the Jews, was willing to believe a good deal about this local stability of Jews in Upper Galilee, and to give credit for a state of much prosperity among the Jews in the East during the reigns of the Antonine emperors; and his idea was the most probable one of any that I have heard advanced—namely, that these edifices (corresponding in general character with those remaining at Kadis) are really synagogues from the era of the Antonines, and that the inscriptions are of the same date; meanwhile keeping in mind that they are utterly wanting in the robust style of archaic Hebraism, and that the embellishments indicate somewhat of a low period.

For myself, after two visits to the place, and many years of consideration, I cannot bring myself to this belief; but rather conclude that they were heathen temples of the Antonine epoch, and afterwards used as synagogues by the Jews, long ago—probably during some interval of tranquillity under the early Mohammedans,—and that the Hebrew inscriptions were then put upon them.

There is some regularity and method in the writing upon the lonely portal in the field, though even this is not so well executed as the contiguous moulding upon the same stone; but the other two inscriptions (those upon the facade of the building in the village, and that upon the broken column in the field below Jish) are put irregularly upon any vacant space that happened to be unencumbered. I am convinced that, in the latter instance, the sculpture and the writing have nothing to do with each other.

The surest demonstration, however, to my mind, lies in the evident fact of animal figures having been originally upon the same lintel where the writing now is. Although their relief-projection has been chiselled down, the outlines of the figures are unmistakable. These, I feel certain, were coeval with the buildings, while the inscriptions are only coeval with their being defaced.

Next day we travelled southwards towards Jerusalem. On leaving the town we passed the ruins of an old church, which they call "The Church of the Forty Martyrs," (this seems to be a favourite traditional designation, as there are other such about the country) and in half an hour reached a stream in the midst of a wood of neb'k trees, where an Arab, riding a fine mare and carrying a long spear decorated with black ostrich feathers, was driving a cow across the water—very probably plundered from some neighbouring village.

At Yakook—the dirtiest place in the world, I suppose, there was a large Arab encampment, the men sitting apart from the women, and cooking going on—thence to Hhatteen. The volcanic stones of this region are far blacker than elsewhere; the district resembles some dismal coal district in the north of England. Thence out of the common road to Nimrin, by Lubieh, Tura'an, to Cuf'r Cana, the old and true Cana of Galilee.

At this village of peculiarly scriptural interest, the women and children were spreading cotton pods, just picked, on their house-roofs to dry. Here is a square-built cistern filled from a spring within it, and the cattle were drinking from a beautiful sarcophagus. Losing our road again we came to Meshhad, rather west of the usual road. Clouds lowering and frowning over Carmel. At the village of Raineh I noticed a man harrowing a ploughed field by dragging a bunch of prickly-pear leaves after a yoke of oxen. Arrived at Nazareth.

Next day, across the plain of Esdraelon to Jeneen and Sanoor, where we slept. Then by a new road, untraversed by Europeans. After Jeba', we got into the plain of Sharon, through the large olive plantations of Fendecomia, (pente, five, and comai, villages—in Greek,) between Yaero, (a ruin,) Adjah, Rameeen, and Attarah, with other villages in good condition. Saw Cuf'r Ra'i very distinctly at a distance in the West, and numerous villages besides.

From an eminence we looked down upon an extensive prospect of shaded unoccupied hills, with the wide plain beyond and the Mediterranean Sea; then descended into a valley, the road winding about through immense olive groves; the travelling was easy, and all the district bore the appearance of prosperity, such as could hardly be expected where we know that factious warfare so frequently exists. Passed Cuf'r Ruman. As far as 'Annabeh the course had been for a long time westwards; but there, at the opening of the great plain, we turned due southwards. This was four hours from Sanoor, at a good pace. Passed between 'Annabeh and Tool el Ker'm in changing our course. Near Irtahh we passed a camel-party going down to Egypt with bales of soap and tobacco for sale. We were upon the established route of trade between Damascus and Egypt, and not very far distant from Dothan, where the Midianite or Ishmaelite caravan bought Joseph from his brethren; but we had passed this on our left hand in the morning.

Soon passed Farra'an on our left, with a weli and a cistern below it, by the roadside. Kalinsawa in sight, but far away to the right; Ferdisia and Zenabeh on the left. The day very hot, and the peasantry observed to be, as usual in all the Philistine country, cleaner in their garments than those of the mountains.

Coasted along, parallel to the line of hills, as far as Kalkeeleh, where we began to turn inwards, across the fields, towards the place of our destination, namely, Mejdal Yaba, which was conspicuous on an eminence before us. This was at six and a half hours from Sanoor.

In a field we arrived at a well, where the water must have been very low down, being late in the year; for it was only obtained by jars or skins drawn up at the end of a very long rope, worked by a long line of women walking across the field, and singing at their work, while the men sat looking on and smoking.

We passed the remains of some old considerable town, where, among the fallen building stones and the lines of foundations, there was a cistern, and an ancient sarcophagus by its side; also a deep square well filled up with rubbish, and remains of quarrying work in the solid rock,—besides an unroofed building, with a semicircular arch to the doorway. Surely this must have been of Roman construction.

Arrived at Mejdal Yaba in nine hours from Sanoor,—a hot and tiring journey. At a short distance below us was the site of Ras el 'Ain; and farther westwards, but within sight, the tall white tower of Ramlah. Time—sunset.

I had a special object in coming off the common high-roads to this place, but little known, at that time not at all known, to Europeans,—namely, to visit Shaikh Sadek, the responsible ruler of the district, and regarded by the peasantry with especial deference, out of traditional obedience to his ancient family.

We found the village and the castle in a very dilapidated condition, and the great shaikh not at home. Some of his relatives, however, received us; but both they and the peasantry were surprised, if not alarmed, at our coming. To them it seemed as if we were suddenly dropped upon them from the sky. Perhaps they had never seen Europeans before; or they might have thought us spies sent by the Turkish Government. There were plenty of idle fellows lounging about; but their supplies of food from the village were scanty, and of inferior quality.

The Sadek family apologised for apparent want of hospitality,—explaining that the only unbroken part of the castle was but just sufficient to contain the hareem of the women, and there was not a single room to give me. So I was glad to have my bedding and other paraphernalia spread upon a mustabah, or raised stone divan, just within the gate. A narrow vaulting covered my head; but it was open at the side to the square court, into which the horses, asses, cows, and sheep were driven for the night.

After considerable delay, a rude supper was produced,—of which, however, I could not persuade the family to partake till after ourselves. They then ate up the remainder in company with my servants. They were very solemn and slow in conversation; indeed, I could not but suspect that they had some hostile schemes in preparation, which they did not wish to have ascertained or communicated to their neighbours.

Troubling myself very little about their local politics, I was soon on my bed, and looking up at the brilliant stars. Sleep did not come very soon, as the men kept up firing guns, and the women trilling their songs, to a late hour. They said it was on account of a wedding.

Daybreak found me up, and in full enjoyment of the exquisite luxury of open air, in a clear and pure Oriental climate, before sunrise.

[Picture: Remains of old Christian church]

The servants were all busied in various occupations, and the peasantry driving out the cattle, while I was surveying the considerable remains of an old Christian church, which now forms one side of the shaikh's mansion, and is used for a stable and a store of fodder. This vignette represents its entrance, in a corner now darkened by the arcade in which I had slept. The workmanship is massive and very rude, and the Greek of the inscription upon the lintel not less barbarous, signifying "Martyr Memorial Church of the Holy Herald,"—i.e., John the Baptist.

This discovery interested me deeply, in that region so remote from any body of Christians at the present day, and among a population very like savages dwelling amid stern hill-scenery.

Not less touching was the special designation of the saint so commemorated. I believe that the Easterns pay more respect than Europeans do to the memory of him whom the Saviour himself pronounced to be greater than all the Old Testament prophets. And while we are accustomed to ascribe to him only one of his official characters,—that of the Baptizer,—they take pleasure in recalling his other scriptural offices; as, for instance, this of the Herald, or Preacher {131a} of righteousness, and that of the Forerunner. {131b} Indeed, individuals are not unfrequently named after him in baptism by this latter appellation, without the name John.

This building appears to have been at all times heavy and coarse in construction; indeed, one may fairly suppose that part of the frontal has at some time been taken down, and strangely put together again.

This church is the only object of curiosity that I had found along the recent novel route.

On leaving Mejdal, I descended to inspect once more the site so interesting to me of Ras el 'Ain, at half an hour's distance,—which I unhesitatingly believe to be Antipatris, as I conceived it to be on my first seeing the place the preceding year. I had then passed it rather late in the evening, and upon the other side.

Cuf'r Saba, to which I was then going, is a wretched village, of unburnt bricks, on the wide open plain, with no other water near it than the deposit of rain-water in an adjoining square tank of clay. Yet travelling authors have constantly pronounced this to be the locality of Antipatris. Not one of them, however, has visited the place.

What does Josephus say (Antiq. xvi. 5, 2, in Whiston)?—"After this solemnity and these festivals were over, Herod erected another city in the plain called Caphar Saba, where he chose out a fit place, both for plenty of water and goodness of soil, and proper for the production of what was there planted; where a river encompassed the city itself, and a grove of the best trees for magnitude was round about. This he named Antipatris, from his father Antipater." [Greek text]. No words can be more distinctly descriptive; yet Robinson, who had not visited that district, in his positive manner lays down that the village of Cuf'r Saba is the site of Antipatris; and "doubtless" all that is said about "well watered," and "a river encompassing the city," means that some wadi or watercourse came down from the hills in that direction, and made the place watery in the winter season.

Now, what are the facts remaining at the present day? Upon the same plain with Cuf'r Saba, and within sight of it, at hardly six miles' distance, is a large mound capable of containing a small town, with foundations of ancient buildings, bits of marble, Roman bricks, and tesserae scattered about,—but especially a large strong castle of Saracenic work, the lower courses of the walls of real Roman construction; and at the foot of the mound rises the river Aujeh out of the earth in several copious streams, crowded with willows, tall wild canes, and bulrushes,—the resort of numerous flocks, and of large herds of horned cattle brought from a distance, and (as I have seen there) counted by the Government inspector of the district, for the levying of agricultural taxes upon them. {133} This is our Ras el 'Ain.

For a considerable extent there is capital riding-ground of green grass, so rare in Palestine. Let any one familiar with that country answer, Could Herod have selected a better spot for a military station, (as Antipatris was,) just on the border, descending from the hill-country upon the plain? With this description in view, we understand all the more vividly the narrative of Felix sending St Paul to Caesarea. To elude the machinations of the conspiracy, the military party travelled by night over the hilly region; and on reaching the castle of Antipatris, the spearmen and other soldiers left him to continue the journey with cavalry upon the plain to Caesarea, about three hours farther, (Acts xxiii. 23, and 31, 32.)

It seems impossible to avoid the conclusion that this is the true site of Antipatris; and as for Josephus calling that neighbourhood "the plain of Cuf'r Saba," that must be for the same reason as another part of the same vast extent was called the Plain of Sharon,—or as it is now very much the custom for modern travellers to call the whole Philistine plain by that name.

As for the statement that a river encompassed the city itself; I imagine that the town was not upon the elevated mound,—this was probably occupied by military works and a temple,—but upon the level of the water, among the serpentine separate streams, which soon combine into one river, the Aujeh, with its water-mills, and which was navigable for some distance inland to the north of Jaffa. In the course of ages some of these streams may have somewhat changed their direction. The mound has still a dry trench around it, which must have anciently had its current of water through it.

It cannot be that the deep trench dug by Alexander from Antipatris to the sea (Antiq. xiii. 15, I, Whiston) can have begun at this village of Cuf'r Saba, where no water rises, and which is far away from the hills in an open plain. Although the words are distinctly, "from Capharzaba," the trench must have originated at the river head, i.e., Antipatris, where there was a fortified castle, and passed round the nearest town, viz., that of Cuf'r Saba.

I should observe, that not only Herod did well in selecting this spot for a castle, because of its situation on the verge of the mountains, commanding the road from Jerusalem to either Caesarea or Joppa; but because it lies also upon the direct caravan track between Damascus and Egypt, nearly at right angles with the other road.

The ruined Saracenic khan which now stands on the foundations of the Roman castle, is of large size, and has a broken mosque in the centre of the enclosure.

We rested and breakfasted, from our own resources, (without taxing the Arab hospitality of Shaikh Sadek's family at Mejdal,) at the springs of the Aujeh,—the water bubbling up warm from the ground, among stones, with aquatic birds flying over us, and the morning breeze sighing among the gigantic reeds and the willows.

We engaged a guide for what seemed likely to be a short day's journey to Ras Kerker, the cursi, or metropolis, of another dominant family—that of Ibn Simhhan—within the mountains; but it proved far longer than was expected.

We were conducted due south, yet so far away from the line of hills that we missed the Roman temple of M'zeera'a, which I do not know that, to this day, any European but myself has seen. {136}

To Nebi Sari, which is a pretty weli, two hour only from Jaffa. To Runtieh, which is a poor place. Then south-eastwards to Teereh; near which we started a gazelle across the fields.

In that part of the country the population has so greatly increased of late years that there was a scarcity of land for cultivation; and at the end of autumn the villages contest the right of ploughing there by fights of fire-arms.

Suddenly we turned into a valley, at an acute angle with our previous road. This is named Wadi el Kharnoob—probably from some conspicuous karoobah-tree. In ascending the hill, I looked back, and had a beautiful prospect of Jaffa, and a white ship sailing on the sea.

We continued ascending higher and higher. Before us was a large building on a single hill, which they called Dair Musha'al. Passed the ruined village, Hhanoonah. On our right hand, among trees, was Desrah. Passed through Shukbeh. How different is the mountain air from that of the plain, so light and so pure!

Descended a little to Shibtain, where there was a great ancient well; and being surrounded by hills, the place was very hot. Then for some time over very dangerous paths, mounting upwards, till we reached the region of a cool breeze, such as I once heard a peasant say was "worth a thousand purses" on a summer's day.

Saw Ras Kerker, the place of our destination, high above, in a very remarkable situation; but how to get at it was a puzzle which patient perseverance alone could solve.

We rode round and round one hill after another, till we reached Dair 'Ammar. Then opened upon us one of those few prospects which in a lifetime impress themselves indelibly on the mind. This was not lovely, but stern, consisting chiefly of a wild, dark alternation of lower hills, with the valleys between them.

The villages hereabouts bear an appearance of prosperity—perhaps because Turkish officials are never seen there; but the people of Dair 'Ammar behaved rudely. Down, deep deep down we went, leading our horses, in order to rise afterwards to a higher elevation. At length we reached a petty spring of water, where there were some dirty, but otherwise good-looking women, who pointed out our path towards the castle at the top of the hill.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7     Next Part
Home - Random Browse