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

The Ibn Simhhan people (being the great rivals of Abu Gosh) had often invited me to visit them at this castle,—describing with ardour the abundance and excellence of its springs of water, and the salubrity of its atmosphere.

On arriving at the "Ras," after a tedious and very wearisome journey,—difficult as the place is of access,—I found it to fall far below those promises. There are no springs near it. The only water is brought up by the women from the one which we had passed far below. Only within the castle (which was begun while building forty-four years before) some old wells, with good masonry stones, were discovered. These are now put into good order, and kept full, probably in readiness at any time against a siege by the faction of Abu Gosh. Many battles and sieges take place in these remote places that the Pasha of Jerusalem never hears of.

Although of modern origin, much of the earliest part of the castle is already falling to decay—such as gates, steps, etc. It was a melancholy spectacle to walk about the place, reminding one of some small middle-aged castles that I have seen in Scotland, burnt or destroyed during old times of civil warfare; or resembling my recollection, after many long years, of Scott's description of the Baron Bradwardine's castle in its later period. And the same melancholy associations recurred yesterday at Mejdal Yaba.

The people assured us that the tortuous and rocky road that we had taken from Ras el 'Ain was the best and nearest that we could have taken.

We were received by a couple of relatives of Ibn Simhhan, who is now Governor of Lydd; but they conducted us to the next village, Janiah, to be entertained there by the rest of the family. On our descent to the village, we met our hosts coming to meet us.

Janiah is a poor place; and we had glimpses of curious groups and scenes within the best one of the wretched houses. We were received in a large room, to which the access was by a steep and broken set of steps outside of the house. In the street below was a circle of the elders of the village; and at the time of sunset, one of them mounted on the corner of a garden wall to proclaim the Adan, or Moslem call to prayers. I did not observe that he was at all attended to.

A good number of the leading people came to visit us; and one old man quoted and recited heaps of Arabic poetry for our entertainment while awaiting the supper.

Then 'Abdu'l Lateef Ibn Simhhan, joined by another, (a humbler adherent of the family,) gave us a vivid relation of the famous battle of Nezib in 1838, and of his desertion from the Egyptian army to the Turkish with a hundred of his mountaineers, well armed, during the night; of how the Turkish Pasha refused to receive him or notice him till he had washed himself in a golden basin, and anointed his beard from vessels of gold; how the Turkish army was disgracefully routed; how he ('Abdu'l Lateef) was appointed to guard the Pasha's harem during the flight, etc., etc. This narrative was occasionally attested as true by a negro slave in the room, who had been with my host on that expedition.

The most lively fellow, however, of the party was one Hadj 'Abdallah of Jerusalem, who has two wives, one a daughter of Ibn Simhhan, the other a daughter of Abu Gosh!! His property in Jerusalem consists chiefly of houses let out to Jews, whom he mimicked in their Spanish and German dialects.

At length came supper; then sleep.

* * * * *

Saturday, 9th.—Asaad Ibn Simhhan and Hadj 'Abdallah rode with us to Mezra'ah to show us some ruins of an ancient city near it, called Hharrasheh, where, as they told us, there are "figures of the children of men" cut in the rock. This roused our curiosity immensely, and I felt sure of success in such company; for though we were in a very wild and unknown country, we had the second greatest of the Ibn Simhhan family with us, and the Hadji was evidently popular among them all.

We sent on our luggage before us to Jerusalem by Bait Unah and Bait Uksa.

In rather less than an hour we reached Mezra'ah—the journey much enlivened by the drollery and songs of Hadj 'Abdallah. Both he and Asaad had capital mares and ornamented long guns. The latter was all dressed in white—the turban, abbai, etc. His face was pale, and even his mare white.

Arrived at the village, we all mounted to the roof of a house—the people paying great reverence to Asaad. Gradually we found the whole population surrounding us, and then closing nearer and nearer upon us. As the heat of the sun increased, we descended to an arcade of the same house, at the end of which there were some itinerant Christians mending shoes for the people.

A breakfast was brought to us of eggs swimming in hot butter and honey, with the usual Arab cakes of bread. The crowd could not be kept off; and the people themselves told us it was because they had never before seen Europeans.

One man asked for some gunpowder from my horn. I gave some to Asaad, and one of the villagers took a pinch of it from him; then went to a little distance, and another brought a piece of lighted charcoal to make it explode on his hand. He came to me afterwards, to show with triumph what good powder it must be, for it had left no mark on his skin.

Ibn Simhhan had to make the people move away their lighted pipes while I was giving him some of the precious powder. He then informed the assembly that I had come to see Hharrasheh and the sculptured figures. They refused to allow it. He insisted that I should go; and after some violent altercation and swearing the majority of the men ran to arm themselves and accompany us, so as to prevent us from carrying off the hidden treasures.

We rode away; and at every few hundred yards places were pointed out to us as sites of clan massacres, or wonderful legends, or surprising escapes, in deep glens or on high hills. At one time we passed between two cairns of stones, one covering a certain 'Ali, the other a certain Mohammed, both slain by —-. "By whom?" said I. The Hadji gave no other reply than pointing over his shoulder to Asaad. I felt as if transported a couple of centuries back to the wilds of Perthshire or Argyleshire, among the Highland clans. The local scenery was of a suitable character.

In about forty minutes we arrived at some lines of big stones, that must have belonged to some town of enormous or incalculable antiquity; and this, they told us, was Hharrasheh. As for columns, the people told us to stoop into a cavern; but there we could perceive nothing but a piece of the rock remaining as a prop in the middle. "Well, now for the figures of the children of men." The people looked furious, and screamed. They gathered round us with their guns; but Asaad insisted; so a detachment of them led us down the side of a bare rocky hill, upon a mere goat-path; and at last they halted before a rough, uncut stone, whose only distinction from the many thousands lying about, was that it stands upright.

Asaad observed our disappointment, and said something—I forget the exact terms now—which led me to believe that this was not the object he had meant, and that the ignorant, superstitious people could not be coerced. He believed that this stone had been anciently set up with some meaning—probably by some one who had buried treasures; not as indicating the exact spot, but as leading in a line connected with some other object, to the real place of concealment.

So here the matter ended; and, when the people saw us looking disappointed, they went away satisfied to their village.

We parted from our friend Asaad Ibn Simhhan, taking one of the peasantry with us to show us the way to Ram Allah, which he did through vineyards and cheerful scenery; and we were soon again at that village after seventeen days' absence. In about two hours more we were in Jerusalem.



III. SOUTHWARDS ON THE PHILISTINE PLAIN AND ITS SEA COAST.

This extensive level is the original Palestine—the Pelesheth of Exod. xv. 14, and Isa. xiv. 29. So named because it was the country of the Pelishtim or Philistines (of Genesis x. 14, and passim) in the Old Testament history, extending from about Caesarea to Gaza, or farther southwards, and from the Mediterranean to the hill country of Judea, west to east.

This district is so exclusively understood in modern times by the name Palestine or Philistia, that a deputation of Oriental Christians coming once on a friendly visit, inquired why upon my Arabic seal the English consulate was designated that of "Jerusalem and Palestine," without mention of the other territories northwards to which its jurisdiction extended, such as Galilee. I could only answer that the ancient Romans called the whole country around, nay, even that beyond Jordan, and as far as Petra, by the name of Palestine, and this fact was old enough for us now-a-days to act upon. "Oh, the Romans!" they ejaculated, with a curious expression of countenance, as if disappointed at the mention of such comparatively modern people. So true is it that in the Holy Land, the Bible is the only book of history for Christians, and scriptural incidents are the traditions which leap over any number of centuries at a time. How little of this state of mind existing among the inhabitants of that country is comprehended in England!

But, in reference to the people Israel and the possession of it as the promised land, this allotment, shared partly by each of the tribes of Ephraim, Dan, and Judah, has a peculiar denomination—it is called the Shephelah, (translated by the common word vale in Josh. x. 40, xi. 16, and elsewhere.) In Arabic authors also of Mohammedan period, this large plain bears the same name, Siphla, meaning the same as in Hebrew, the "low country."

Thus, as one expanse from the hills to the sea, it bears one territorial name, either Philistine or Hebraic, just as another region is called the Negeb, or south, (see in the verses referred to above,) or as others were designated the hill country, or the desert, or Phoenicia. And many a time have I stood on the summits of hills to the west of Bethlehem, the eye ranging over its extent from the vicinity of Carmel to Gaza, with Jaffa and Ekron in front, and have sometimes seen beyond this, ships of large size sailing past on the "great and wide sea" of the 104th Psalm.

The ancient Philistines were not only exceptionally, but generally, a large race of people, and the population there are to this day remarkably tall; they are, even amid disadvantages, (that especially of want of water,) much more cleanly in their persons and clothing than the peasants of the hills, and many of their habits of life are modified by their circumstances, such as the pressure of their wild Arab neighbours from the southern desert that lies between them and Egypt.

Over this plain I have made several journeys at different periods, and now proceed to put down my jottings of an excursion in the spring of 1849.

* * * * *

May 1st.—"Sweet May-day" in the Holy Land as well as in England.

At Rachel's sepulchre, "in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem," we parted from a company of friends who had ridden with us from Jerusalem, and passed along the valley Duhheish'mah to the Pools of Solomon, then turned aside by the convent and village of El Khud'r (or St George), surrounded by flourishing vineyards. Then mounting up a stony ridge, we came in view of the wide Philistine plain, the hills falling in successive gradations from our feet to the level of the plain, but separate objects could scarcely be distinguished on account of the thick air of the prevailing Shirocco; green bushes, however, and abundant wild flowers, including the red everlasting, pheasant's eye, cistus, and some late anemones, were about us; the larks and the linnets were singing with delight.

In front was the village of Hhusan, and two roads led forward, that on the left to Nahhaleen, Wad Fokeen, and Jeba'; this was the road that I ought to have taken to Bait Nateef, our place for the night, but being considerably ahead of our baggage mules, I had ridden on with a kawwas, under Hhusan and Ras abu 'Ammar; by our wayside lay a defaced Roman milestone.

A solitary peasant youth, from whom I inquired the names of the villages about us, was so alarmed at the appearance of a European with a Turkish attendant, in a place so remote from common high-roads, that he ran off; but finding our horses keeping up with his fleet pace, he dropped behind a large stone and levelled his gun at us in sheer terror; it was difficult to get a rational reply from him.

Before us, a little to our left, was Hhubeen, half down a hill, at the foot of which was a valley green with waving crops of wheat and barley.

In ten minutes more there opened a fine view of Bait 'Atab, in which were some good new buildings. Before arriving at this village, which is the chief one of the 'Arkoob district, ruled by 'Othman el Lehham, I dismounted for rest beneath a gigantic oak, where there were last year's acorns and their cups shed around, and half a dozen saplings rising from the ground, sheltered from the sun by being all within the shadow of the parent tree; with arbutus bushes in every direction, wild thyme and other fragrant herbs serving as pasture for numerous humming bees, bright coloured bee-eaters were twittering in their swallow-like flight, and under the soothing influence of the whole, I fell into a pleasant slumber.

Some boughs of "the huge oak" were decorated with bits of dirty rags hanging upon the boughs as votive memorials of answers to prayers. Probably the site was that of a burial-place of some personage of ancient and local celebrity; but my attendant was positive in affirming that the people do not pray at such stations more than at any other spot whatever. There are many such venerated trees in different parts of the country. I believe that the reason as well as the amount of such veneration is vague and unsettled in the minds of the peasantry, yet the object remains a local monument from generation to generation, honoured now, as were in the Bible times—the oak of Deborah (Gen. xxxv. 8), the oak of Ophrah (Judges vi. II), for instance, with others.

"Multosque per annos Multa virum volvens durando saecula vincit."

By and by the groom overtook us on foot, having scoured about the neighbourhood in search of us. After another half an hour's rest, we followed him across very rocky and slippery hills towards the place of our destination—dwarf shrubs of evergreen oak, honeysuckle, a spring of water, and an old well near the village of Hhubeen, with doves cooing, and a vulture poised in the sky above. Then a ruined village called Lesed, {149} (as well as I could catch the sound from a distance,) near which, among the shrubs, the gnats troubled our horses exceedingly as evening drew on, which would imply the neighbourhood of water.

Arrived at Bait Nateef just at sunset, but no luggage had as yet arrived. This is Netophah in the lists of Ezra and Nehemiah.

The chief and elders of the village were, according to custom of the eventide, seated in a group, chattering or consulting, or calculating, probably, about taxes, or respective shares of the common harvest, or the alliances to be contracted for the next border-warfare, or marriages being planned, or the dividing of inheritances, etc. My groom was admitted into their circle, most likely welcomed as bringing the latest news from Jerusalem, or as being able to describe this strange arrival, and the road to be taken by us on the morrow.

I passed forward to select a spot for pitching the tents when they and the food should arrive. The village shaikh of course tendered all the hospitality in his power to offer, but this was unnecessary beyond a supply of water, milk, and eggs.

We waited, and waited: the sun was down; the stars came out, and the moon shone over us; but at length the mule bells became audible, and our dwellings and supplies came up. Supper and sleep are needless to mention.

Wednesday 2d.—The green hills around were enlivened by the clucking of partridges among the bushes, and the olive-trees by the cooing of doves.

Leaving this position with its extensive prospect, and passing an enormous evergreen oak we crossed a noble valley, and soon reached the hill on which stands Sh'weikeh, (or Shocoh in Hebrew.) This large valley runs east to west, and is the Elah of Scripture, the scene of David's contest with Goliath—a wide and beautiful plain, confined within two ranges of hills, and having a brook (dry at this season) winding at half distance between them. The modern names for the vale of 'Elah are Musurr, from the N.E. to near Sh'weikeh, and Sunt after that.

The plain was waving with heavy crops of wheat and barley, and the bed of the stream, bordered by old trees of acacia, called Sunt, (in that district called Hharaz.) These are of a brilliant green in summer, but as there are no such trees elsewhere nearer than Egypt, or the Wadi 'Arabah, (for they require water,) the people relate a traditional account of their origin, and say that once upon a time the country was invaded by a king of Egypt, named Abu Zaid, bringing a prodigious army; but on the occurrence of a sudden alarm, they decamped in such haste that their tent-pegs were left in the ground, which, being made of Sunt wood, struck roots at the next rainy season, and sprung up as we see them. Can this be a confused tradition of the rout of the Philistines to Shaaraim on the fall of Goliath?

The vale or plain (for in Hebrew the word Emek is often applied to the latter also when lying between ranges of hills—sometimes even when they are of considerable breadth, as at Rephaim and elsewhere) is about three hours or twelve miles long, and spacious enough to allow of military occupation and action; hostile armies might of course also occupy the opposite hills. From the direction of Hebron other valleys fall into this wide plain. On another occasion I entered it by that called Wadi 'Arab or Shaikh, descending from 'Ain Dirweh and Bezur or Bait Soor. Wadi 'Arab is commanded at its mouth by Kharas on the north and Nuba on the south. Near to the latter are the ruins of 'Elah, which I have no doubt gave name to the valley, and not any remarkable terebinth-tree, as is generally guessed by commentators on the Bible, unless, indeed, some remarkable terebinth-tree at first gave name to the village. Neither Robinson nor Porter appears to have seen or heard of this site of 'Elah, neither do they mention the route by the Wadi 'Arab, which lies to the north of Wadi Soor, which they do mention.

Southwards, but further inland, lies Keelah, which I suppose to be the Keilah of 1 Sam. xxiii. I, the scene of a remarkable incident in David's early career, before retiring to Ziph. The name is registered four hundred years before that in Josh. xv. 44, among the cities of Judah.

This, then, being the valley of 'Elah near to Shocoh, must have been the scene of David and Goliath's encounter. How could the Latin monks of the middle ages, and modern Roman Catholic travellers to Jerusalem, ever believe that it took place at Kaloneh near that city? The perversion can only be attributed to their ignorance concerning anything in the country beyond the immediate vicinity of their convents.

We halted at the ruined village of Shocoh (now made by a grammatical diminutive form of Arabic into Sh'weikeh) after picking, each of us his five smooth stones out of the brook, as memorials for ourselves, and for friends far away, endeavouring at the same time to form a mental picture of the scene that is so vividly narrated in sacred history, and familiar to us from early childhood.

There are now no regular inhabitants at the place; only a few persons occasionally live in caves and broken houses about there. Some remnants of antiquity, however, still exist, especially the wells, of fine masonry and great depth, at the foot of the hill. This probably represents the lower Shocoh mentioned by Eusebius and Jerome in the Onomasticon, "Soccho, duo sunt vici ascendentibus Eleutheropoli AEliam in nono milliario, alter superior, alter inferior, qui vocantur Socchoth in tribu Judae." Some peasants wandering about brought me to the fallen lintel of the door of a small mosque, bearing a rudely-executed Cufic-Arabic inscription, illegible because, as they said, "it had been eaten by the nights and days."

Large flocks of sheep were pasturing over the stubble, (for some of the harvest was already cut in that warm sheltered locality,) led by such shepherd boys as David the Bethlehemite may have been, and large flights of blue pigeons circling in short courses over our heads. Among the demolished houses some women were churning the milk of the flocks in the usual mode, by swinging alternately to each other a sewed up goat-skin, (the bottle of the Old Testament, Josh. ix. 4; Judges iv. 19; Ps. cxix. 83;) a hill close at hand is crowned by a Mohammedan Weli (a kind of solitary chapel) named Salhhi.

The view in every direction is most imposing. This rough plan will give a tolerably good idea of the Vale of 'Elah. Across the valley, opposite to Shocoh, stands a very fine terebinth-tree. Possibly in ancient days there were many such in the district, and so the valley and the village of 'Elah may have acquired this name.

'Ajoor commands a view of the great plain and the sea. From that hill, looking eastwards, the vale has a magnificent appearance as a ground for manoeuvres of an army.

[Picture: Plan of Vale of 'Elah]

Near Zacariah the Wadi es Sunt contains but few of those trees. We passed close under that prosperous-looking village with its palm-tree, mounted a rocky path, and went along a valley "covered over with corn," (Ps. cxv. 13;) here the very paths were concealed by the exuberant grain, so that we had to trample for ourselves a way through it.

Emerging on the great plain, we had to wade monotonously through an ocean of wheat. How I longed to have with me some of the blasphemers of the Holy Land, who tell us that it is now a blighted and cursed land, and who quote Scripture amiss to show that this is a fulfilment of prophecy. {155}

In many places, however, we saw how the rich produce had been trampled down and rolled upon by camels, or by Bashi-bozuk soldiers on their travels, after their horses were gorged to the full with gratuitous feeding. We met a black slave of 'Othman el Lehham of Bait 'Atab, a fine fellow, well mounted and armed, and he told us that a large part of this wheat was his master's property. He had been travelling from village to village upon business. His noble bearing, and his being thus confidentially employed, reminded me of the Arabic proverb, that "Even a Shaikh's slave is a Shaikh."

In one place I remarked some hundred yards square of fine oats. This was surprising, as I knew that oats are not cultivated in Palestine. The people assured me that they were of wild growth, but they were of excellent quality; and as the name (Khafeer) seemed to be well known, it seems difficult to understand that oats have not been at some time cultivated in that part of the country. With respect to its Arabic name, it is worth notice how near it is to the German name (Hafer) for oats. Wetzstein has since found wild oats growing on the N.E. of the Hauran.

Arrived at 'Ain Shems, the Beth Shemesh of the Bible, (I Sam. vi. 9, passim,) where, instead of the large population of ancient times, we found nothing but a weli and some fragments of peasant houses.

Due north from us as we rested, lay on the summit of a hill, Sora'a, which is Zorah, the birthplace of Samson, where the angel appeared to Manoah and his wife. The people told us of Amooriah to the left, but we could not quite see it, and the same with respect to Tibneh, or Dibneh, the Timnath of Samson's history.

All the plain and the low hills formed one waving sheet of corn, without divisions or trees; and often, as we had no tracks for guidance, we had to take sight of some object on the horizon, and work straight forward towards it. It was amid such a wonderful profusion that Samson let loose the foxes or jackals with firebrands, taking revenge on the Philistines, and he called it "doing them a displeasure!" I have seen from Jerusalem the smoke of corn burning, which had accidentally taken fire in that very district.

On the summit of a hill, where were good square stones of old masonry, I got into a sheepfold of stone walls, looking for antiquities; but, alas! came out with my light-coloured clothes covered with fleas; fortunately the clothes were not woollen.

Further on we had Bait Ziz, or Jiz, on the right, with Dejajeh, or Edjajeh, and Na'ana, or Ra'ana, on the left; Khulda in the distance at N.W.; a vast expanse of growing grain in every direction.

The population hereabouts are a fine race for stature, and paler in complexion than our peasantry on the hills; and it ought to be the reverse, unless, as is certainly the case, they are a distinct people.

We traversed the plain to 'Akir, which is Ekron of Scripture, one of the five principal cities of the Philistines, and chief place of the worship of Baal-zebub, (2 Kings i. 3.) All our inquiries had been in vain for any name that could possibly have been Gath. The utter extinction of that city is remarkable—the very name disappearing from the Bible after Micah, B.C. 730. Amos, B.C. 787, and Zephaniah, B.C. 630, mention the four other cities of the Philistines, omitting Gath. The name never occurs in the Apocrypha or the New Testament.

'Akir is now a very miserable village of unburnt brick; indeed, all the villages of this district are of that material, owing to the extreme rarity of stone. We saw women cutting bricks out of the viscous alluvial soil, and boys swimming luxuriously in the pool of rain water settled during winter in the excavation for bricks—quarry we might style it, if the material were stone. There was plenty of ploughing in progress for the summer crops of sesame, durrah, etc., and the people seemed rich in horned cattle.

This last feature constitutes another difference between them and the hill country. In the mountains, where the Bedaween forays are almost unknown, the cattle bred are principally sheep and goats. On the plains, flocks of sheep might be easily swept off by those marauders, oxen not so easily; the people, therefore, principally breed this species of cattle, and instead of idle shepherd boys amusing themselves with little flutes, and guiding the sheep by throwing stones at them, the herds here are driven by mounted horsemen with long poles. The flatness of the country and the frequency of oxen will serve to illustrate the exactness of Bible narratives, particularly in the matter of the wheeled carriage and the kine used for conveying the ark of God from this place, Ekron, to Bethshemesh (I Sam. vi.)

Forward we went to Yabneh, (Jabneel of Josh. xv. II, and Jabneh of 2 Chron. xxvi. 6,) where it is mentioned in connexion with Gath and Ashkelon. It was a border city of Judah, where the Wadi Surar, (called here the river Rubin,) forms the boundary between Judah and Dan. I think we may identify it as the "Me-Jarkon and the border that is over against Japho," of Josh. xix. 46. It is the Jamnia, where, for a long time after the Roman overthrow of Jerusalem, was a celebrated college of the Talmudists, before, however, the traditions and speculations of the rabbis were collected into volumes of Mishna and Gemara. It is believed that the truly great and venerable Gamaliel is buried here.

[Picture: Ancient church, now mosque, Yabneh]

Yabneh stands on a rising ground, and although a village of sun-baked bricks, it has remains of a Christian church, now used as a mosque, with a tower of stone.

While resting under a tree, awaiting the coming up of our baggage, 'Abd'errahhman Bek el 'Asali, a companion of ours from Jerusalem, threw a stone at a young filly and cursed her, because the colours of her legs were of unlucky omen. On such matters the native Moslems entertain strong prejudices, which are based upon precise and well-known rules.

On the arrival of our mules, we pitched the tents upon a pretty green common with a row of trees; the verdure consisted of wild clover, and leaves remaining of wild flowers—chiefly of the wild pink. It is an Arab proverb that "Green is a portion of paradise."

The villages in sight were Besheet to the S.E., and El Kubeibeh to the N.E. Our day's journey from Bait Nateef had been one of only seven hours, viz., from 8 A.M. to 3 P.M.

The population seemed very industrious: they have cheerful bayarahs, or enclosed orchards, and the open fields were exceedingly well cultivated. The evening scene was most pleasing, comprising the return of flocks and herds from pasture, and the barley-harvest coming home upon asses and camels with bells on their necks—all enlivened by the singing or chattering of women and children.

As the day advanced I was happily employed at my tent door reading the Arabic New Testament; it should have been in Hebrew at Yamnia, as being more profitable than all the Pirke Avoth of the Talmud. At sunset our party walked out in the fields to shoot the pretty bee-eaters.

Of this village there is a tale current among the peasantry over the country, which conveys an important lesson for the conduct of human life.

An old Shaikh of Yabneh had five sons. When very old, a complaint was brought to him that some one had stolen a cock; so he called together his sons and ordered them all to search for the cock; but it was not found. Some time afterwards it was represented to him that a sheep was stolen; he then commanded his sons to go and search for the cock. They replied, "O our father, it is not a cock but a sheep that is stolen;" but he persisted in his command, and they did what they well could, but without success. After that he was told that a cow was missing; he again commanded his sons to look after the cock. They thinking he had lost his senses, cried, "Sallem 'akalak ya Abuna, (May God perfect thy understanding, O our father,) it is not a cock but a cow that is missing." "Go look for the cock," persevered the old man; they obeyed, but this time again without success. People wondered and thought him in a state of mere dotage. Next came the news that a man was killed. The father pertinaciously adhered to his first injunctions, and ordered his sons to look for the cock. Again they returned without finding it, and in the end it came to pass that the killing of the man brought on a blood feud with his relations—the factions of several villages took up the case for revenge, and the whole town was destroyed, and lay long in a state of desolation, for want of sufficient zeal in discovering and punishing the first offence, the stealing of the cock, which thus became a root of all the rest. There is a good deal of wisdom contained in this narrative or allegory, whichever it may be considered. Offenders become emboldened by impunity, and the first beginnings should be checked.

Thursday 3d.—Early dew around the tents upon the green. We mounted at half-past six. I rode up to the village and got to the top of the tower in the village.

After an hour and a half of level riding southwards, we arrived at a broad old sycamore in the middle of the road.

Another hour brought us to Asdood (Ashdod) of the Philistines, with Atna and Bait Duras on our left. I do not know where in all the Holy Land I have seen such excellent agriculture of grain, olive-trees, and orchards of fruit, as here at Ashdod. The fields would do credit to English farming—the tall, healthy, and cleanly population wore perfectly white though coarse dresses, and carried no guns, only the short sword called the Khanjar. We rested in an orchard beneath a large mulberry-tree, the fruit of which was just setting, and the adjacent pomegranate-trees shone in their glazed foliage and bright scarlet blossoms, the hedges of prickly pear were bursting into yellow fruit, palm-trees rising beyond, the sky was of deep sapphire brilliancy, and the sun delightfully hot.

Here then had been the principal temple of the fish-god Dagon, which fell nightly in presence of the Israelitish ark. Not the only temple, however, for there is still a village near Jaffa with the name of Bait Dajan, and another still further north, in the same plain, but in the Nabloos district. Strange that this temple of Dagon at Ashdod should have survived and preserved its worship so late as nearly to the Christian era, when it was burnt by Jonathan the Jerusalem high priest, (Josephus Ant., xiii. 4, 4; Macc. x. 84.)

Ought not Gath to be sought between this, and Ekron, according to 1 Sam. v.? See also 2 Chron. xxvi. 6.

Soon after remounting we arrived at the ruin of a fine old Khan, one of the numerous establishments of the kind upon the camel road from Damascus to Egypt, but now every one of them is broken and unfit for use. There was a noble column of granite lying across the gateway, and two Welies close adjoining.

Reached Hhamameh at 11 A.M., from which we turned aside through lanes of gardens, and over deep sand towards 'Ascalon, leaving Mejdal on our left, with its lofty tower rising over an extensive plantation of olive-trees. This tower is believed to be of Moslem erection. Passing another village on our left, we at length came to Jurah, a wretched brick hamlet, stuck as it were against the ancient walls of 'Ascalon.

We were on the sea-beach at noon. Upon this beach lie stupendous masses of overthrown city wall, and numerous columns of blue-gray granite of no very imposing dimensions. A great number of these have been at some time built horizontally into those walls, from which their ends protrude like muzzles of cannon from a modern fortification. This arrangement, with the same effect, is also found at Tyre, Caesarea, and other places along the coast.

The site or lie of the city is principally in two hollow basins, in which the detrition of houses forms now a soil for grain, for fruit gardens and good tobacco.

We were shown the ruins of what the people call "the Church," where there are several very large columns of polished granite lying prostrate, but neither there nor elsewhere could any capitals be found belonging to the columns. All over the East such objects are appropriated by townspeople as ornaments inside the houses, especially at the mouths of wells.

The people pointed out to us from a distance the spot where H. E. Zareef Pasha had lately obtained the marble slab of bas-relief, which he sent to the museum at Constantinople.

The walls of 'Ascalan are clearly distinguishable in all their circuit, and have been of great thickness.

The position of this "Bride of Syria," as the Saracens designated it, is very fine, and the prospect around must have been beautiful; but of this prize of so many sieges and neighbouring battles, the joy of Richard Coeur de Lion, where he laboured with his own hands in repairing the broken walls, only its name with the scriptural and later romantic history remain to claim our attention, and verify the prediction of the prophet Zephaniah, ii. 4-6.

I found no coins there, and none were brought to me; only some were brought to me in an after-journey at Mejdal; I therefore pass by for this time the classical allusions to the fish goddess, Deceto. A beautiful head of a female statue, but blackened by fire, brought from Ascalon, has since been sold to me, which I delivered to our museum.

We remained there an hour, then rode to Naaleea. The fine plain over which we galloped must have had many an English rider upon it in the Crusading times—many a man who never saw "merrie England" again, even in company with King Richard.

Naaleea, though built of brick, bears an appearance of real cleanliness; the olive plantation from Mejdal reaches thus far.

The barley reaped at Berberah was, I believe, the finest I have ever seen; and there were pretty roads winding among olive groves, orchards well enclosed by prickly-pear hedges, with bee-eaters skimming and twittering before us.

Bait Jirja on the left; then after a good while Bait Hhanoon also on the left.

Reached Ghuzzeh (Gaza) at 5 P.M. The very remarkable approach is by an avenue of at least a mile long, very wide like a boulevard, through an immense park of olive grounds, with the city for an object of vista at the end.

We encamped on the further side of Gaza, having the old reservoir called Birket el Basha between us and the Lazaretto.

Cheerful scene of camels and asses bearing the barley-harvest home, attended by women and children; small flocks of sheep also, with their shepherd lads playing sweet and irregular airs on their nayahs.

Friday 4th.—I resolved to stay here over Sunday.

The morning was cool, and though our situation was entirely unsheltered, I judged even the risk of exposure to the noontide sun, when it should arrive, not to be refused, while it gave us the blessings of free air from the sea and delivery from mosquitoes, which would certainly have plagued us under the shade of the fruit-trees. There was a mean suburb in front of our position, tenanted solely by Egyptians.

The sound of the distant sea rolling on the beach (though this was out of sight,) was music to my ears. Near us was a fence of the prickly-pear, (named Saber, or "patience" in Arabic.) One of our party referred to its extraordinary degree of vitality, even under disadvantageous circumstances. "Yes," replied the 'Asali, "she has drunk of the water of life."

I went to visit the Lazaretto, and while conversing with the doctor (M. Esperon,) and the Turkish superintendent, four wild Arabs were brought in, their hands fettered and chains on their legs, accused of striking a soldier near Khan Yunas. When identified by witnesses merely uttering two or three words, they were removed, cruelly pushed about in their chains and beaten on the head by the soldiers, who enjoyed the cowardly fun which they would not dare to perpetrate had the fine tall fellows had their limbs at liberty.

The captain of the Bashi-bozuk, having called at my tents with his mounted troop, followed me to the Lazaretto.

Returning home, and after some rest, or rather a visit from some Greek Christians which gave me no rest, I went to visit the newly-arrived kaimakam, or governor, one of the celebrated 'Abdu'l-Hadi family of Nabloos. His divan room was crowded with visitors of congratulation: such as shaikhs of villages, and some dignified Arab chiefs; the latter interceding on behalf of the men recently captured by the quarantine people; the former soliciting their official investitures for their several districts. The house was exceedingly mean and shattered, but this medley of visitors formed an interesting subject of study.

I next visited the kadi, (judge,) who was holding his court in the open air, with a canvas screen to shelter his head from the sun, in the midst of orchards and a flower garden. A cause, in which some women were vociferating and screeching in Arabic, (to which that language lends peculiar facility,) was suspended in order to receive my visit, and the litigants had to remain in silence at some distance till I left, returning to the tents.

All the people here praise the air and water of Gaza, and declare that disease of any kind is nearly unknown, except ophthalmia, which, of course, can be generally prevented. Provisions are said to be cheap; but the bread, as sold in the market, not so good as in Jerusalem or Nabloos. Probably their excellent wheat is exported to a distance.

Saturday, 5th.—Rode southwards on a day's excursion to Khan Yunas, with my people and an escort of two of the quarantine Bashi-bozuk. One of these, named Hadji Ghaneem, was a hardy old fellow, encircled by pistols and swords; his old gun, that was slung at his back, had the rusty bayonet fixed, perhaps fixed by the rust. The other, Hadji Khaleel, was an amusing companion, with plenty to tell and fond of talking.

Started before 7 A.M., passing between cornfields, with numerous larks trilling in the air.

At some distance we came to a low hill lying on our right hand, all the ground about being mere sea sand drifted inland. This is called Tell-ul-'Ejel, "the Calf's Hill," so named from its being haunted by the ghost of a calf, which no one has yet laid hold of, but whenever this shall be accomplished the fortunate person will come into possession of the boundless treasures concealed within the hill. Some say that this good luck will happen to any one that is favoured with a dream of the calf three times in succession. All our party professed to believe the local tradition, especially one who had been in Europe, and from whom such credulity had been less expected; but he was sure that some tales of that nature are well founded, and if so, why not this? In my opinion, it is probably a superstition connected with some ancient form of idolatry.

Half-way along our journey we came to a village called Ed Dair, (the convent, perhaps the Dair el Belahh of the list;) but this appellation Dair is often given to any large old edifice of which the origin is unknown. Here was a loop-holed Moslem tower occupied by twenty men of the Bashi-bozuk. Such towers are called Shuneh in the singular, Shuan in the plural.

Khan Yunas is a hamlet of unburnt bricks, dirty and ruinous, which is not always the case with other villages of that material; the reason of this being so, I suppose to be, that most of its few houses are inhabited by Turkish soldiers. This is the last station southwards held by the sultan's forces, the next, El Areesh, being an Egyptian outpost. I was desirous of visiting that place had time allowed, not only for the satisfaction of curiosity on the above account, but in order to get some idea from ocular inspection whether the little winter stream or Wadi there could ever have been the divinely-appointed boundary of the land promised to Abraham and his seed for ever. My prepossession is certainly to the contrary.

However, I rode ten minutes beyond Khan Yunas, and sat to rest in a field beneath a fig-tree; the day was hot and brilliant, but there was a fine breeze coming in from the sea. The scene was picturesque enough, for there was a mosque-minaret and a broken tower rising behind a thick grove of palm-trees and orchards of fig, vine and pomegranate—a high bank of yellow sand behind the houses of the village, and the dark blue Mediterranean behind that.

With respect to the name of the place, there are many such in the country, and it is a mistake to ridicule the Moslems for believing in all of them as true sites of the large fish vomiting out Jonah, which they do not. These are, I believe, merely commemorative stations, and we are not in the habit of ridiculing Christians for having several churches under the same appellation; also it is not quite certain that all the Welies named after Yunas (Jonas) or Moosa (Moses) do refer to the Old Testament prophets. There have been Mohammedan reputed saints bearing those names.

Near this place is a village called Beni Seheela. On the return we left behind us the old Hadji Ghaneem, with his brown bayonet, and took a nearer road to Gaza, not so close to the sea as that by which we had left it. It was an easy pleasant ride, and there were barley crops almost all the way. We reached the tents in three hours from Khan Yunas.

At sunset, which is the universal dinner time in the east, I went to dine with the Governor Mohammed 'Abdu'l Hadi; it was a miserable degrading scene of gorging the pilaff with the hands and squeezing the butter of it through the fingers, without even water for drink supplied by the servants. The guests were about a dozen in number, and they were crowded so closely round the tinned tray as only to admit of their right arms being thrust between their neighbours, in order to do which the sleeves had to be tucked back; there was but little conversation beyond that of the host encouraging the guests to eat more.

Previous to eating, the governor and his younger brother performed their prayers in brief, after experiencing some difficulty in finding the true Kebleh direction for prayer, the rest of the company gossiping around them all the time. Above our heads was suspended a rude copper lamp, and the terrace just outside the door was occupied by slaves and other attendants; boughs of adjoining palms and other trees were softly stirred by an evening breeze, and the imperial moon shone over all.

After washing of hands and a short repose, (the other guests smoking of course their chibooks and narghilehs, and chatting upon topics of local interest,) I asked leave, according to Oriental etiquette, to take my departure.

Sunday, 6th.—Read the eighth chapter of Acts in Arabic, and some of our English liturgy in that noble language, with one of my companions. I feel certain, concerning the dispute whether the word [Greek word] (desert) in the twenty-sixth verse of the above chapter, refers to the city or to the road, that the true sense of the passage is this, "Go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza"—i.e., the way which is desert or free from towns and villages—as in Matt. iii. 1, and other places where the word in question does not imply the common European idea of any desolate wilderness.

I enjoyed a Sabbath stillness during most of the day, the people having been instructed that English Christians observe the Lord's-day with more serious composure than it is the habit of native Christians to do.

In the afternoon, however, the governor came on a visit with a long train of attendants mounted on beautiful horses, for which, indeed, this district is famed—there were specimens of Manaki, Jilfi, K'baishan, Mukhladiyeh, etc., etc. Mohammed, of course, discoursed as well as he could on European politics, and stayed long.

After his departure I strolled to look at some short columns of marble standing on a slight swell of ground; they are now inscribed to the memory of certain Moslem martyrs in battle of our fourteenth century, i.e., about seven centuries after the Hej'ra. These columns look very much as if they had been taken from some old Christian church, then each sawn into halves, and each of the halves partly sliced on one side to receive the inscription.

After sunset I dined with old Ibrahim Jahhshan, and his numerous household, (the principal one of the Christian families,) and a troop of friends. It was not a better entertainment than that of the kaimakam yesterday; perhaps, it would not be desirable for him to surpass the constituted authority of the city in such matters.

Among the company was the Nazir el Aukaf, (the superintendent of mosque-endowment property,) also a Durweesh from Lahore, consequently a British subject,—he was full of fun, and wanted me to make him a present of some fulminating balls and crackers; he assured me that in the Hharam (sanctuary, commonly called the Mosque of Omar,) at Jerusalem, there were at least thirty such British subjects as himself residing, including his own brother. A Turkish soldier present drank wine, as soon as the commissioner for inquiring into the delinquencies of the late governor had turned his back upon the table.

Before dinner I had accompanied the family to the church, (Greek rite,) where the priest was waiting to receive me. It was a poverty-stricken edifice, purposely kept so, in order to obviate the envy and malice of the Mohammedans; and all the Christians that I saw in Gaza were a stupid-looking people; they are few in number, and grievously oppressed by their numerous Moslem fellow-townsmen, being far away from the notice of consuls. One cannot but regard with compassion a people who have for ages endured suffering for the name of Christ, while facilities are offered for acquiring wealth and honour by apostasy. Generation after generation remains still as firm in their Christian creed as those before them, and now perhaps more so than ever.

I was surprised to learn that it is only about two generations since the Samaritans ceased to be a sect in Gaza, with their place of worship—they are now found nowhere but in Nabloos.

There is a slave-traffic in Gaza; but it only consists in the consignment of articles already commissioned for in Egypt, on behalf of private purchasers in Syria—at least, so the world is given to understand. The boundary of the two countries is so near that the Arabic dialect spoken here nearly approaches the Egyptian.

I made some inquiries as to the popular ideas on the achievements of Samson at Gaza, but only obtained such uncertain and even contradictory answers, that on this journey it did not seem worth while to take any great trouble on the subject; but I certainly had not expected to get better information from either the Mohammedans or from the poor ignorant Christians there.

The night was most beautiful, with full moonlight streaming, and stars peering between the swaying fronds of the lofty palm-trees, which grow more luxuriantly in Gaza then I had seen elsewhere.

The muleteers singing around their watch-fire.

Monday, 7th.—Tents struck and march commenced at 7 A.M. We returned through the great avenue by which we had arrived, but soon diverged upon the road to Hebron.

Alongside of Bait Hhanoon by half-past eight, where there was abundance of bee-eaters, and these imply fruit-trees. 'Abd'errahhman tried to shoot some, but failed, having no small shot, but only bullets for his gun.

At nine we left Timrah a little on our left. The people everywhere busied in reaping barley—a very lively scene; the reapers, as usual all over Palestine, wearing large leather aprons exactly like those used by blacksmiths in England, only unblackened by the forge; the women had face veils of the Egyptian pattern. Cows, goats, and sheep were feeding at liberty in the fields upon the new stubble.

In thirty-five minutes more we arrived at Semsem, leaving Bait Nejed on the right.

At five minutes past ten we reached B'rair, near which we rested for an hour, the day being very sultry, under an old tamarisk-tree, which on the plains instead of Turfa is called Itil.

An intelligent old man named 'Ali came up to me from the reaping and conversed much on the sad condition of agricultural affairs, complaining of the cruel oppression suffered by the peasantry from their petty local tyrants, and entreated me if I had any means of letting the Sultan of Constantinople know of it, that I would do so. He particularly described the exactions they had to endure from Muslehh el 'Az'zi of Bait Jibreen, and all his family.

Thence passing over an extensive plain, we had in sight for a long time a distant Dair (so-called convent) and village of Karateen, also at one time a village called Hhata.

At twenty minutes to one we reached Falooja; the heat had become intense, and incessant swarms of black stinging flies annoyed our horses beyond patience. In fact the Philistine plain (which, however, we were now soon to leave) was always noted for the plague of flies, and this gave rise to the ancient deprecatory worship of Baal-zebub, "the lord of flies," by that people; there is still a village upon the plain named Dair ed Duban, "the convent (or temple) of flies." Later in the summer this plague is said to be so intolerable to horses and animals of burden that travelling is only attempted there by night-time.

At length came a rustling noise along the fields and rain fell slowly in drops large as good teaspoonfuls, yet the heat was so great that my coat of nearly white linen did not for some time show marks of wetness; a black cloud from which the water fell accompanied us along the line of route, and the rain from it increased.

Over the plain going eastwards we had for a long time in view a rocky hill with a Weli crowning its summit; on our right, i.e. southwards, a conspicuous object, and called 'Arak Munshiyah (the rock of Munshiyah.) This is not to be confounded with the similar cliff cropping out of the plain, but upon our left, and called Tell es Safieh.

We noticed several deserted villages with small breastworks and turrets of loose construction remaining where the peasantry had of late resisted the raids of the southern Bedaween, but unsuccessfully. We were told by a solitary foot-passenger of such incursions having taken place only a day or two before, whereupon our muleteers took fright and hurried on apace. We all examined the state of our firearms, while the storm was driving furiously in our faces.

The rain was over as we reached Bait Jibreen, just after 3 P.M. This important place was our station for the day. We pitched in an eligible situation under a line of olive-trees at some distance from the houses, in view of the principal antique buildings. The principal people came out to welcome us, especially 'Abdu'l 'Azeez, the brother of the Nazir Shaikh Muslehh, for whom I had brought a letter of recommendation from the governor of Gaza.

We were fatigued as much as anything from the effect of the shirocco wind. Then dark clouds from a distance with thunder surrounded us. As the time of sunset approached, the preparations for dinner were interrupted by the driving of a heavy shirocco, low, near the ground, which soon became so strong that the tents began to tumble over, and we took refuge in the house of 'Abdu'l 'Azeez; there was, however, no rain.

Here then I was lodged in a house of sun-baked bricks plastered inside with mud, but as clean as such a house could possibly be. There were cupboard recesses in the walls, a fireplace and chimney, wooden nails driven into "sure places" in the walls, (see Isa. xxii. 23,) strange scratches of blue and red painting in fancy scrolls, etc.; a raised Mastabah or dais, and a lower part of course near the door, for guests to leave their shoes there; the whole being roofed by a few strong beams wattled between with faggot-wood. A piece of ancient marble lay across the doorway.

The very rudely fabricated lamp was lighted from a huge clump of wood taken burning from the hearth. Dinner as uncivilised but as hospitable as could be expected at half-past nine. I should have had my own long before but for the tempest outside.

News arrived that eighty people from Kuriet el 'Aneb (the well-known village of Abu Gosh on the Jerusalem road from Jaffa) were escaping to us across the hills, on account of troubles at their home.

Then we very soon lay down to sleep.

Tuesday 8th.—'Abdu'l 'Azeez and his two young sons escorted us in looking over the ruins of old Eleutheropolis, as their town was called in the period of early Christianity. These consist of a church near the great well, another on a hill farther eastwards called St Anna, or, as the Arabs pronounce it, Sandanna, and numerous extensive caverns, probably enlargements by art from nature.

The former church has a roof remaining only over one of the aisles; the ground plan of the whole edifice is, however, sufficiently marked out by the fragments of columns in situ.

St Anna is larger and more perfect than this; the semicircular apse is entire, and there are remains of other buildings attached to the church. It stands on high ground, and commands a very fine prospect.

The caverns are formed in the substance of chalk hills, often in a circular form, with a rounded roof, through which an aperture admits both air and daylight. Antiquarians are puzzled to account for the origin of these, as they are too numerous and capacious to be needed for supply of water; besides that in common times the large well and aqueducts that bring water from a distance would suffice for that purpose. They are likewise too extensive and deep to be required for magazines of grain, such as the villages on the open plains cut into the underground rocks for preservation of their food from the raids of the Bedaween; perhaps, however, some were used for one of these purposes and some for the other.

Near the entrance of one of these excavations, in which there are passages or corridors with running ornament sculptured along each side, we found figures (now headless, of course, since the Moslem conquest) resembling church saints in Europe—one, indeed, had its head remaining, though disfigured, and the arms posed in the manner of the Virgin Mary when holding the infant Saviour. These were sculptured in the chalk rock itself, and standing in niches hollowed behind them. If these were really what they seemed to be, they must have been made in the era of the Latin kingdom, for the Oriental Christians have never made images of the saints.

In two other of these caverns, high up on their sides or within the cupola, we saw short inscriptions of black paint, (if I remember rightly,) the large characters of which had very much the general forms of Cufic-Arabic, but not the Cufic of the old coins. There was also an ornamented cross in this cupola, and other crosses in other chambers. We were totally unable to satisfy ourselves as to how the inscriptions could have been written at such inaccessible heights. Certainly the present race of people are unable even to deface them, were they disposed to do so.

One excavation we entered with some trouble near the top, and out of some labyrinthine passages we descended a spiral staircase, with a low wall to hold by in descending, all cut into the solid but soft rock; there were also small channels for conducting water from above to the bottom—these demonstrate the use of the whole elaborate work in this instance, namely for holding water.

Returning to rest awhile in the house, 'Abdu'l 'Azeez assured me that immensely tall as he is, he had had eight brothers, all at least equal to himself; most of them had been killed in their faction battles, and his father, taller than himself, had died at the age of thirty-one. His sons could neither read nor write; they at one time made a beginning, but the teacher did not stay long enough to finish the job. "However," said he, pointing to the one sitting by us, perhaps ten years of age, "he can ride a mare so that none of our enemies can possibly overtake him."

We left Bait Jibreen soon after 9 A.M., riding through a grove of olives, and soon arrived alongside of Dair Nahhaz, {182} and afterwards Senabrah. By noon we were quite off the plain, and entering a beautiful green valley bounded by cliffs of rock sprinkled with dwarf evergreen oak and pines, the spaces between them being filled up with purple cistus, yellow salvia, and other flowers. This continued for an hour, by which time we had gradually attained a considerable elevation, where we had our last survey for that journey of the Philistine plain and its glorious long limit, the Mediterranean Sea.

In another quarter of an hour we rested among the wreck of Khirbet en Nasara, (ruins of the Christians,) not far from Hebron. Thence I despatched a messenger to my old friend the Pakeed (agent in temporal affairs) of the Sephardim Jews in the city, and he sent out provisions to my halting-place under the great oak, above a mile distant from Hebron.

In regard to the researches after the lost site of Gath, I may mention that on a later visit to Bait Jibreen, I got Shaikh Muslehh (the government Nazir, and the head of his family) to tell me all the names of deserted places he could recollect in his neighbourhood. I wrote from his dictation as follows, but it does not seem that the object of inquiry is among them. In Arabic the name would most probably be Jett or Jatt.

Merash. Munsoorah. Umm Saidet. Sagheefah. Shemaniyeh. 'Arak Hala. Lahh'm. Shaikh Aman. 'Attar. Kobaibeh. Obeyah. St Anna. Fort. Ghutt. Judaidah. Martosiyah. Ahhsaniyeh. Ilmah.



CHAPTER IV. HEBRON TO BEERSHEBA, AND HEBRON TO JAFFA.

In August 1849 I left my large family encampment under the branches of the great oak of Sibta, commonly called Abraham's oak by most people except the Jews, who do not believe in any Abraham's oak there. The great patriarch planted, indeed, a grove at Beersheba; but the "Elone Mamre" they declare to have been "plains," not "oaks," (which would be Allone Mamre,) and to have been situated northwards instead of westwards from the present Hebron. With a couple of attendants I was bound for Beersheba. The chief of the quarantine, not having a soldier at home, gave us a peasant to walk with us as far as the Boorj, (Tower,) with a letter of our own handwriting in his name, addressed to the guard there, directing them to escort us further.

Scrambling up a steep rough lane, due south from the tree, with vineyards on either side richly laden with fruit, and occasional sumach-trees bearing bright red berries, we were rewarded on the summit by a vast prospect of country, hilly before us in the south, Moab and Edom mountains to the left, and Philistia plains with the Mediterranean on the right.

All nature was revived by the evening sea-breeze, and the sun in undiminished grandeur was retiring towards his rest.

On a summit like this, with a wide expanse laid out for survey, there are large and lively ideas to be conceived in matters of Scriptural geography. Consider, for instance, on that spot Psalm cviii., with its detail of territories one after another. That "psalm of David" declares that God in His holiness had decreed the future dispensations of Shechem, (there is its position, Nabloos, in the north of the circular landscape;) then the valley of Succoth, (there it is, the Ghor, or vale of the Jordan,) coasting between Gilead, Manasseh, and Ephraim; also Moab, with its springs of water, where He would (speaking in human poetic language) wash His feet, at the period of treading with His shoe over Edom: that remarkable event paralleled in the Prophecy of Isaiah lxiii., when, in apparel dyed red from Bozrah, the conqueror tramples down the people in his anger. The Psalmist then has to triumph over Philistia, that large Shephelah stretched between us and the sea—concluding with the exclamation, "Who will bring me into the strong city (Petra)? who will lead me into Edom?"

All this was accomplished by the providence of God in the history of David, that shepherd boy of Bethlehem, at whose coronation all Israel was gathered together at Hebron, just behind the spectator on this eminence.

To return, however, from the solemnity of these historical meditations to the commonplace transactions of the journey, we had to carry on a considerable amount of wrangling with the muleteers, who were continually allowing their animals to stumble, and the ropes of the luggage to come loose, so that the things fell to the ground; I sent them back, and we proceeded without tents or bedding, only two blankets and our cloaks. The true reason of the men's behaviour lay in their dread of being attacked by wild Arabs, and having their animals carried off.

It was about sunset, and our track lay over plains of arable land, between hills clothed with the usual dwarf evergreens, of baloot, arbutus, etc., then over eminences with tall fragrant pines, and the evening breeze sighing among their branches, such as I had only once heard since leaving Scotland, and that was in the Lebanon. Old stumps and half trunks of large trees standing among myriads of infantile sprouts of pines attested the devastation that was going on, by means of the peasantry, for making of charcoal, and for supplying logs to the furnaces of Hebron, where very rude manufactures of glass are carried on.

Along a glen which opened into an arable plain with stubble of millet (durrah) remaining, but no village near. There we met a party of Arab women, and after them a boy mounted on a camel, who informed us that he was coming from Merj-ed-Dom, lying between us and Samua', where there are remains of antiquity, such as large doorways, cisterns, etc.

The country was all level enough for carriages; and it is probable that all the way in the south is practicable in like manner, for we know that Joseph sent carriages from Egypt to his father at Beersheba.

The Boorj is simply a look-out tower, now used for quarantine purposes, ridiculous as they may be in the pure air of the desert.

There are relics of a village about it; but as the people are living in caverns rather than taking pains to rebuild their houses, we may infer that they do not feel secure on the very last remnant of fixed habitations towards the great southern wilderness, although under Turkish government.

They are, however, kept in considerable awe of the petty officers stationed there; for when one of our party was impatient at the intrusion of a cat near our supper cloth, the people besought us not to injure the animal, seeing that it was the property of the Dowleh (Government.) They furnished us with eggs and milk; and, after our meal, we lay down on the leeward side of the town, to await the rising of the moon. We had a fire burning near us, its red light flickering over the wild scene; the sky with its milky-way over our heads, and the polar star in the direction of England, fixed in its well-known place.

The villagers had their own chatting round the watchfire, discussing local politics, chiefly, as to whether 'Abderrahhman the governor of Hebron was likely to accept the Pasha's invitation to meet 'Abdallah Wafa Effendi, who was sent with overtures of reconciliation between the brothers of the Amer family. This being a question that bore very nearly on their personal interests.

I awoke just as the moon gleamed in the east, but did not arouse the youths for another half hour, till I became apprehensive of evil effects from their sleeping in the moonlight.

After coffee we mounted and went forward, escorted by two of the quarantine guardians. There were no more hills, but the remaining country was all of hard untilled ground, with sprinklings of tamarisk and kali bushes, which showed we were entering on a new botanical region.

Arrived at an Arab encampment, where our escort were obliged to hire the shaikh for showing us the way, as they either did not know it, or, which I believe the more probable, did not dare to take travellers over his land without his sharing in the profits, even though they were officials of quarantine. He soon came up, riding a fine mare of the Saklawi race, and his spear over the shoulder, glittering in the moonlight. His name was Ayan, and his people were a small offset from the great Tiyahah tribe. We passed several other such stations, of which we were always made aware beforehand by the barking of their dogs, and by seeing the camels browsing or reposing at a little distance from the tents.

As the night advanced, the mist rose and increased till the stars were obscured and the moon scarcely perceptible; our clothes also became nearly wet through.

We reached Beersheba (now called Beer-es-Seba) perhaps a couple of hours before daylight, and after sharing some food, wrapt the blankets over our heads, and lay down with our heads against the parapet stones of the great well, and fell asleep, notwithstanding the cold wet mist.

I rose before the sun, and wrote two letters to friends in England by morning twilight.

The mist disappeared as the glorious sun came forth; and we walked about to survey the place. The wide plain around was disused arable land, showing in some places some stubble from a recent harvest, but only in small patches, which in the early spring must have been cheerful to the sight.

Near us was a pretty water-course of a winter torrent, shallow and comparatively wide, but then quite dry.

The great well has an internal diameter at the mouth of twelve feet six inches, or a circumference of nearly forty feet. The shaft is formed of excellent masonry to a great depth until it reaches the rock, and at this juncture a spring trickles perpetually. Around the mouth of the well is a circular course of masonry, topped by a circular parapet of about a foot high. And at a distance of ten or twelve feet are stone troughs placed in a concentric circle with the well, the sides of which have deep indentions made by the wear of ropes on the upper edges.

The second well, about 200 yards farther south, is not more than five feet in diameter, but is formed of equally good masonry, and furnishes equally good water. This is the most common size of ancient wells throughout Palestine.

Two other wells of proportions about equal to the first well were shown us, but they are filled to the brim with earth and stones; and Shaikh Ayan told us of two others. The barbarous practice of filling up wells from motives of hostility was adopted at this place very soon after Abraham had dug them. (Gen. xxvi. 15, etc.) Who can tell how often these have been opened, closed and opened again?

All Arab-speaking people wish to count neither more nor less than seven wells here, and so create the name Seba; but even in this way the etymology would not hold good, for the term seven wells would be Seba Bear, not Beer-es-Seba. From the Hebrew history, however, we know how the designation was first given. Gen. xxi. 31, "Wherefore he called that place Beersheba, because there they sware both of them," i.e., Abraham and Abimelech. Yet it deserves notice that the verb to swear is identical with the numeral seven; and in the three preceding verses we find Abraham ratifying the oath by a sacrifice of seven ewe-lambs as a public guarantee for the fulfilment of the conditions; the killing of lambs with this view is a usage which still obtains in the country.

On a rising ground near the wells are scattered lines of houses, covering a considerable space; but all that now appears is of inferior construction, and of no importance.

Soon after sunrise the Arabs of the vicinity came to water their flocks and camels at the troughs. Young men stripping themselves nearly naked, two at each well, pulled up goat-skins of water by the same rope, hand over hand, and singing in loud merriment, with most uncivilised screams between the verse lines. These men were of very dark complexion—not quite black, but nearly so.

There were linnets singing also, but in far more agreeable melody; but where they could be was more than I could discover—not a tree or a shrub was within sight-distance.

After an hour we commenced our return by a different route from that of our arrival. Shaikh Ayan and Hadj 'Othman, of the quarantine, amusing themselves with jereed-playing and other mimic manoeuvres of warfare, which they performed very cleverly.

The shaikh being dismissed with sufficient compliments on each side, we proceeded upon the main track from Egypt across the plain towards Doheriyeh, passing occasional parcels of durrah stubble rising out of mere scratches of the soil, varied by the wilderness plants of tamarisk, etc. When one remembers the fact of that same land in the days of Abraham and Isaac producing a hundredfold of corn, (Gen. xxvi. 12,) how deplorable it is to see it lying untilled for want of population, and serving only as so much space for wild tribes to roam over it! Surely it will not always remain so.

Crossing a good road at right angles with ours, we met a large caravan of camels going eastwards. The people told us they were going to Ma'an, (beyond Petra,) one of the Hadj stations between Damascus and Mecca, where stores of provisions are always laid up by the Government for supply of the pilgrims at the appointed season of the year.

Approaching the hills, we rested from the heat, which had become considerable, beneath a neb'k-tree, where all the roads between Egypt and Hebron meet at a point.

At the entrance of a valley between the hills the quails were very numerous, and so tame as to come almost under the horses' feet. Unfortunately, just at the time when wanted, my fowling-piece was found to be unloaded, that is to say, not reloaded after having gone off yesterday by an accident.

It was a relief from the great heat to mount the hills to Doheriyeh, although the road was tiresome, winding round and among the bases of almost circular hills in succession. At the village all the population was cheerfully employed in threshing or winnowing the harvest, and their flocks crouched in the shade of the trees. It was early in the afternoon, and we lay down to rest under the branches of a fig-tree growing out of a cavern, which cavern was so large that we placed all our horses in it.

We parted from the quarantine soldiers, and took a guide for Hebron. The road was good and direct, through a pleasant country, so that we made quick progress. At an hour and three-quarters from Doheriyeh we arrived at a pretty glen of evergreen oak and pine; and at the entrance of this glen is a fountain, called Afeeri, of beautiful water issuing from a rock.

Shortly after we joined the route by which we had left our encampment yesterday, near the fountain of Dilbeh, where we had drawn water when outward bound. Then came to an ancient well of good masonry, hexagonal in shape, but without water. A cistern for rain-water was close adjoining.

Reached the oak of Sibta in twenty-eight hours after leaving it, well pleased with having been able to visit Beersheba, the scene of many ancient and holy transactions, in the days when the great patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, walked humbly with their God, and God gave them a faith capable of overthrowing mountains.

In conclusion, I may express my regret that, although residing in the country many years afterwards, I could not get an opportunity of visiting either Beer-la-hai-roi or Isaac's well of Esek. (Gen. xxvi. 20.) Concerning the former we find some indications in an appendix to Williams' Holy City; and I have been assured personally that the latter is still held in estimation by the Bedaween tribes, under the name of Esak, and frequented as a rendezvous for making truces and covenants.

On breaking up our camp at Abraham's oak, the family took the direct road for Jerusalem, while I struck across the Philistine plain for Jaffa.

With one horseman and a kawwas, I diverged westwards from the common road just before the descent to 'Ain Dirweh, between it and the ruined town of Bait Soor, (Bethzur of Joshua xv. 58,) leaving Hhalhhool of the same verse on my right hand. Advanced gradually down a woody glen of the usual evergreen oak and pine. The higher part of the valley is in excellent cultivation, with careful walls, and drains to keep off the winter rains that descend from the hills, although no villages were in sight except in one place on an eminence to the left, where an apparently well-built village was entirely abandoned. It is called Ma'naeen; and the history of it, as I have since learned, is that it was only a few years before built by a colony of refugees from oppression in sundry villages, who concerted to set up on their own account, without regard to the authority of their family connexions, or of the hereditary shaikhs. So daring an innovation upon national customs was resented by a coalition of all the country round, who made war upon them, and dispersed the people once more to their miserable homes. The Turkish Government allowed of this proceeding, on the ground that to suffer the establishment of new villages (which of course implies new shaikhs to rule them) would derange the account-books of the taxes, which had been definitely fixed years before under the Egyptian Government.

Lower down, where the glen became narrow and stony, a large rock has been hewn into a chamber for some ancient hermit, not unlike the one in the Wadi Ahhmed between Rachel's sepulchre and Batteer (Bether) near Jerusalem, only in this case the entrance is shaded by venerable karoobah-trees, so large as to cover the road also with their branches.

We were met by various camel-parties carrying kali for the glass-works of Hebron during the approaching winter, also fine mats and other goods from Damietta, which, after being landed at Jaffa, are thus conveyed by reliefs of camels to their destination of Hebron, Bethlehem, and Jerusalem.

On emerging from the valley (Wadi Arab or Shaikh) into the open Vale of 'Elah, we had Kharas perched on an eminence close at our right, and Nuba similarly posted to our left.

Also the ruins of 'Elah were on our left, and far behind our left hand, in among the hills, on a commanding height, was Keelah.

We were now traversing the Valley of 'Elah, which runs north-westwards, and which I have described in my former journey. Now, as on that visit, I saw young shepherd lads pasturing large flocks as David may have done over the same ground.

This time, however, I had entered the valley from a different point—viz., from its eastern end at Kharas, and not where Shocoh and Bait Nateef lie opposite to each other.

We then traversed the same country as then as far as the village of Khuldah, which is a very thriving place, and where, as usual, on the wide plains there are not many flocks of sheep, but herds of horned cattle instead, driven by men on horseback. This is an indication of insecurity, on account of forays of Bedaween Arabs, from whom on their approach they have to scamper as fast as they can.

The same insecurity is attested by each of these villages having its Shuneh, or little rude tower with a breast-work, in which the peasants may defend themselves when in sufficient force to do so.

Next came Saidoon, where we obtained a distant prospect of Ramlah and Lydd, with Gimzo at the mouth of the Bethhoron Pass, (2 Chron. xxviii. 18,) and Ras-el-Ain still beyond, with its fountains and rich lands conspicuous on the Great Plain, backed by the hills of Ephraim. Then we passed the poor clay-built village of Deaneh, where the people were winnowing a large harvest of millet, and the Government tax-farmers with their soldiers, lent by the authorities, measuring the heaps.

Lastly, we entered the vast olive grounds belonging to Ramlah, and found our tents (which had been sent on by another road) just as the Moeddin in the minaret was calling to sunset prayers.

I am never weary of the scenery about Ramlah; we have there the most picturesque Orientalism of all Palestine—a warm climate, numerous waving palm-trees, with the large reservoir for cattle drinking, all gilded in brilliant sunlight, together with the busy voices of a considerable population.

A burly fellow of a wandering durweesh or sorcerer, with rows of large black beads round his neck, came up to us, and bellowed out one of the ninety-nine attributes of God, according to the Moslems: "Ya Daeem," (O thou everlasting!) This was by way of asking alms. My companion gave him some, which I would not have done.

In the morning we ascended to the top of the great White Tower, called "the Tower of the Forty," meaning forty martyrs. This is a favourite appellation of ancient ruins in Palestine. I do not know what it alludes to. And from among the Comandalune windows I copied the following vignette.

[Picture: Window of the White Tower]



V. THE LAND OF BENJAMIN.

Who has ever stood upon the Scopus hill, north of Jerusalem, (his mind first prepared by biblical reading and biblical feeling,) facing northwards, and seeing at one glance, as upon a map, the land of the tribe of Benjamin, without desiring to wander about there, were it only to experience the reality of standing and breathing upon the sites of 'Anathoth, Michmash, Gibea of Saul, and Gibeon? It can be most of it performed in one day, and sometimes a line through it is traversed in that time by English residents of Jerusalem, namely, from Jerusalem to Michmash and Bethel, and the return.

There is also a pleasant spot above Lifta, in a grove of olives, figs, and pomegranates, where Europeans have sometimes established summer camps for their families. At that spot it is delightful to repose in the evening shadows cast by the trees, and gaze over the landscape of Benjamin, with a deep valley sinking in immediate front, only to rise again to the greater height of Nebi Samwil and a landscape view extending as far as the rock Rimmon, which stands in pyramidal form upon the horizon.

There are, however, several ancient and biblical sites known to exist within that circuit that are not visible from either of those stations, and only to be perceived on reaching the places themselves. For instance, Bait Hhaneena of Nehemiah xi. 32.

There is 'Adasa, the scene of a great victory gained by Judas Maccabaeus over the mighty host of Nicanor; this I discovered from the peasants ploughing one day, while resting after a gazelle chase. It is not far from Gibeon. "So Nicanor went out of Jerusalem, and pitched his tents in Bethhoron, where an host of Syrians met him. But Judas pitched in Adasa with three thousand men. . . . So the thirteenth day of the month Adar [i.e. on the eve of Purim] the hosts joined battle: but Nicanor's host was discomfited, and he himself was first slain in the battle . . . . Then they pursued after them a day's journey, from Adasa unto Gazera, sounding an alarm after them with their trumpets," (Macc. vii. 39-45,) i.e. a day's journey for an army, perhaps, that day's journey after fighting; for it is a pleasant ride with respect to distance, as I proved by riding to Jadeerah, passing through Beer Nebala.

And on another day's expedition alone, I was riding near 'Anata (Anathoth) eastwards from the village, thinking over the faith of the prophet Jeremiah, in purchasing a family estate, the future occupation of which was contrary to all human probability, and after recounting to myself the cities of Benjamin allotted to the priests, as Anathoth, (to which the treasonable priest Abiathar belonged, 1 Kings ii. 26,) Gibeon, and Geba, wondering what had become of the fourth city Almon, (Josh. xxi. 17, 18,) I came up to a hill on which appeared some remains of an ancient town; there my horse carried me up the steep side, and while passing among the lines of foundations on the summit, a peasant who joined me said the place was called 'Alman. Some time afterwards, I was riding on the other side of the same hill, in the direction of Hhizmeh, (the Az-maveth of Neh. vii. 28, as I suppose,) when a peasant informed me that the place on the hill was named Almeet. This corresponds to the other name of the town as given in 1 Chron. vi. 60, and vii. 8, where it is Alemeth. So remarkable a preservation of both names by another people than the Jews, after long or perhaps repeated desolations, appears to me almost miraculous, and is a fresh illustration of the exact verbal inspiration of Holy Scripture.

I once visited the rock Rimmon of Judges xx. 47. The first part of the journey was made in company with Lieutenant Vandevelde, going from Jericho to Bethel, a totally-unknown road; it must have been the same as that taken by Joshua after the fall of Jericho.

This was in 1852. The Arabs were unwilling to take us in that direction, probably on account of some local hostilities to which they might be exposed. At first they denied there was any road that way, then said it was so difficult that we could not reach Bethel in less than two days, which was ridiculous, considering the shortness of the distance. At length we resolved to find a road without them, and ordered the luggage to go round by Khatroon, or if necessary by Jerusalem, but to meet us at Bethel that night.

Shaikh Mohammed el Hejjaz then sent with us his slave Suliman. By his having that Moslem name, I should suppose this to be a freed-man, inasmuch as it is not the custom to give Moslem or Christian names to slaves; they may be only called Jewel, Diamond, Cornelian, Thursday, Friday, etc. It is not uncommon for a freed-man to be still called in popular speech a slave; but not in serious earnest or in matters of business, and not unless they are blacks from Africa.

It is not unusual in the East for a slave, even though still in bondage, to be educated in reading and writing, to be trained in military accomplishments, and so to be employed as confidential agent of property, or trainer of children in the family, riding the best horses and carrying weapons of best quality. And this Suliman was a bright specimen of that class of men,—of good bodily presence, merry-humoured, and well-accoutred.

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