Tomb of Herod the Great

THE road from Jerusalem to Jericho leads from St. Stephen’s Gate down
the steep sides of Moriah, across the Valley of the Kidron, over the
southwestern shoulder of Olivet, near the village of Bethany, through
the wilderness of Judea, and, descending the Mountain of Quarantania,
terminates on the great Plain of Jordan. It is another illustration of
the accuracy of the sacred writers in their topographical allusions,
and another proof that only those who were familiar with the land――who
had traversed its highways and noted its natural features, could have
written descriptions so minute, and, withal, so incidental. In his
parable of the “Good Samaritan,” the Savior casually states, “A certain
man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho;” which not only indicates
the relative position of the latter place to the former, but also the
descent of nearly 4000 feet from the Jewish capital to the city of
Herod the Great. To the careful and candid observer, such internal
evidence of the Bible is ever forcing itself upon his attention,
and calling forth expressions of wonder and admiration for the
truth-telling chroniclers of our Lord’s life and ministry.

The “latter rains” had delayed our departure for the Jordan, and a
farther delay had been caused by the high March winds, which had so
dried the surface of the earth, and had filled the air with dust to
such an extent, that for the space of a whole day the Mount of Olives
was invisible even to one standing upon the wall of the city. But
the charms of a Syrian spring morning soon returned, and at an early
hour we were in the saddle, waiting impatiently for the caravan to
rendezvous at the Garden of Gethsemane. It was a day peculiar to the
Promised Land, for the blandness of the sky and the softness of the air.
The foliage on shrub and tree wore every shade of green, and the lovely
flowers that covered vale and hill-side recalled the beautiful lines of

“And the spring arose on the garden fair,
Like the spirit of love felt every where;
And each flower and herb on earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest.”

Our dragoman had agreed to furnish horses, tents, board, and military
escort for the journey at six dollars a day _per capita_. The escort
is indispensable, for he who goes down to Jericho without a guard
“falls among thieves,” and, though it is only a question of time
when the traveler is robbed, whether prior to the tour or afterward,
yet, for the sake of convenience, the former is preferable. He is
robbed before the journey by the government, which insists that every
pilgrim must pay for its protection; he is robbed on the journey by the
organized banditti of the Ghôr, whose depredations the government winks
at, if it does not connive with the thieves themselves.

It was ten o’clock A.M. when the caravan moved. Happily for the social
amenities their society afforded and the smiles of joy their presence
never failed to impart, we were joined by the talented and amiable wife
and daughter of a distinguished New Yorker,[245] who was making the
tour of Palestine. Mounted on their swift Arabian horses, and tilting
their long burnished spears, the Arab guard led the way, followed by
the ladies on gentler horses, while the heavy-laden mules, carrying
tents, baggage, and cuisine, brought up the rear. On our right lay the
Valley of Jehoshaphat, with its monumental tombs; on our left were the
terraced slopes of Olivet, green with verdure and bright with flowers;
while before us rose the rugged Hill of Offense. Crossing the shoulder
of the Mount of Olives, the path sweeps abruptly to the east, and,
after winding round the head of the small valley that furrows the
hill-side, descends eastward past the place where the Redeemer paused
to weep over Jerusalem, and just beyond skirts the town of Bethany.
Descending between rough and barren hills, we entered a rocky glen,
and in half an hour came to the fountain of El-Haud, the “waters of
Enshemesh,”[246] marking the boundary-line between Judah and Benjamin.
It is the halting-place of caravans, and its cool, sweet water, flowing
into a stone trough beneath a Saracenic arch, is alike refreshing to
man and beast in a region so waste and arid. Continuing down the glen
for more than an hour, we turned to the left, and soon began the ascent
of a wild ravine, the sides of which are limestone, streaked in
graceful curves with dikes of porphyry. As the farewells of cultivation,
and half rebuking Nature for her general sterility, a stray flower
peeped above the rocks, and a stunted tree stood in silent desolation
on the hill above. Gradually ascending over chalky hills, our path lay
through the bleak Wilderness of Judea. At noon we reached the summit
of the central ridge between Enshemesh and Jericho. Neither pen can
describe nor pencil sketch the forbidding aspect of this dreary spot.
The hills are broken into a thousand rugged, barren peaks, and in color
are a mixture of yellow and of a dull red and white. The intervening
valleys are dry and stony, and on all that blighted soil there is
neither shrub, flower, blade of grass, nor any living thing to relieve
the dreariness of the accursed scene. Fit abode for the devil and his
angels, the counterpart of Pandemonium, it was hither the Spirit led
the suffering Son of God to encounter the Evil One.[247]

For twenty centuries this region has borne a thievish character, and
the lapse of time has not changed its reputation. As in the days of our
Lord, it is still infested with robbers, who, from their undiscovered
dens, or from behind some craggy bluff or beetling cliff, level their
long gun at the unwary traveler. Suggested by the dangers of the route,
the desolation of the spot, and the remains of an ancient caravansary,
tradition has identified it as the scene of the parable of the “Good
Samaritan.” Hard by the roadside are broken walls, fragments of an
arch, and deep vaults, said to mark the site of that inn to which
the “certain man was brought who went down to Jericho and fell among

Resuming our journey, we began rapidly to ascend, and soon came upon
portions of an old Roman road dating back to the reign of Herod the
Great. Winding downward amid chalky hills and through narrow rocky
defiles, we at length reached the brow of that sublime gorge through
which the brook Cherith flows. Like a silver thread, the stream is seen
flowing between banks bright with oleanders. It is here Elijah was fed
by the ravens while the famine raged in Palestine. Rising like massive
walls five hundred feet high on either side, the mountains cast their
deep shadows into the profound chasm below. In their precipitous sides
the anchorites have burrowed their solitary cells, and on the loftier
crags the Syrian eagle builds his eyrie. Increased by the sombre
foliage of the stunted shrubbery clinging to the rocks, there is a
solemn grandeur in this mountain gorge, reflecting the sturdy character
and rugged life of the great prophet of Tishbeh. Skirting the very
verge of the cliff, the winding path descends five hundred feet to the
bottom of the glen, where the white rocks reflect the heat like the
blast of a furnace. Bearing the Arabic name of El-Kelt, we soon reached
the verdant banks of the prophetic brook. The waters are clear, cool,
and sweet, but in early autumn, as in the time of Elijah, the stream
becomes dry, and as then, so now, the black-winged raven croaks in its
flight over the deep ravine.[249] The Cherith flows through the Valley
of Achor over the Plain of Jericho, and, meandering as it advances,
is lost amid the shrubbery surrounding the castle of Rîha. Refreshed
by its delicious waters, we ascended the northern bank of the
streamlet, and were soon in the Vale of Achor, where Achan was stoned
to death.[250]

Illustration: RAVEN.

Like the enchantment of a mirage, the Plains of the Jordan, green
and well-watered, now burst upon our view, and beyond appeared the
trans-Jordanic mountains. Following the sinuous banks of the Kelt, we
reached the foot of the descent late in the afternoon, and, turning
northward, pitched our tents near the Fountain of Elisha. The sun had
gone down behind Mizpeh and Gibeon; the shadows of Quarantania lay
darkly on the plain; the bleating flocks on the distant hill-side had
gathered round the shepherd of the Ghôr; the stars came out one by one
from their empyrean abode, and we lay down to slumber amid the ruins of
ancient Jericho.

Two cities, neither identical in site nor history, have borne the name
of Jericho――one belonging to the age of the prophets, the other founded
by Herod the Great and visited by our Lord. The remains of the former
consist of six mounds of rubbish and two noble fountains, located half
a mile from the foot of the mountain pass. These mounds vary in height
from ten to forty feet, and in like proportions in their circumference.
Around their bases and on their sides and summits are the débris of
old buildings, such as heaps of hewn stone and fragments of pottery,
and within them are the entombed dwellings and palaces of the ancient
city, remaining for future excavations to uncover. Situated on this
magnificent plain, the walls and towers of the older Jericho attracted
the attention of the Israelites, who from the mountains on the other
side of the Jordan looked down with delight upon this, the first city
of Canaan which they had seen.[251] Hither came the spies to “search
out the country;” here lived the friendly Rahab, who secreted the
two Israelites under the “stalks of flax which she had laid in order
upon the roof;” to the west are the mountains whither she sent them
to elude pursuit;[252] and around these mounds stood the walls which
were miraculously thrown down.[253] Dooming the city to perpetual
destruction and infamy for the gross idolatry of the inhabitants,
Joshua pronounced a curse upon him who should attempt to rebuild it,
which 550 years thereafter was singularly fulfilled in the days of
Ahab.[254] Here the embassadors of David, whom Hanun, king of the
Ammonites, so shamefully treated, were ordered to remain “till their
beards were grown.”[255] Subsequently to the reconstruction of the city
by Hiel, it became the seat of the famous school of the prophets.[256]
From it Elijah and Elisha passed over the plain to the Jordan, and,
crossing the river by a miracle, the former was translated, and the
latter, returning to the city, reluctantly consented that fifty of the
sons of the prophets should ascend the mountains of Moab to search for
Elijah.[257] Delighted with its pleasant situation, and desiring to
make it their permanent abode, the young prophets requested Elisha
to heal the fountain and restore fertility to the land; and after the
miracle, the effects of which are apparent to this day, the successor
of the renowned Tishbite left Jericho for Bethel.[258]

The fountain which the prophet healed is now called ’Ain es-Sultân,
and gushes forth from the base of a double mound. The water is cool and
sweet, and, after pouring into a large semicircular reservoir, flows in
random streamlets to the Jordan. Less than three miles to the northwest
is the more copious fountain of ’Ain Dûk, supplied from two springs
bursting out of the southern bank of Wady en-Narwaimeh. The water is
conducted by an aqueduct along the base of Quarantania to sugar-mills
half a mile distant from ’Ain es-Sultân; but, as the mills are now in
ruins, this fine stream performs no higher work than to water a few
gardens of cucumbers in the vicinity of its source and along its course.
Around these springs are strewn the remains of the celebrated Castle
of Doch, in which Simon Maccabæus was murdered by his son-in-law
Ptolemy.[259] Abandoning the site of the ancient city, Herod the Great
founded the Jericho of the New Testament on the banks of the Cherith,
a mile and a half to the south. Around it were the palm-groves and
balsam-gardens which Antony presented to Cleopatra, and which the
Idumean farmed of the Egyptian queen.[260] Selecting it as one of his
royal cities, Herod adorned it with a palace, a hippodrome, and other
magnificent buildings. Here he entertained Cleopatra in a sumptuous
manner, and here he terminated his life. From this palace he was borne,
amid unrivaled funeral pomp, over the southern plain, and up to the
wild pass of Nukb el-Kuneiterah, to be interred on the summit of
Herodium, in the splendid mausoleum which he himself had constructed
at great expense during his reign.[261] More than thirty years after
the death of this royal monster, Jericho was visited by Christ, in
his frequent tours from the Land of Moab to Judea. Here resided the
rich publican Zaccheus, with whom Jesus lodged; by the side of some of
its thoroughfares blind Bartimeus sat, whom the compassionate Savior
restored to sight; and from scenes so tender he ascended to Jerusalem,
to make his triumphal entry into the Holy City.[262]

Not two miles to the southeast is the Arab town of Rîha. It is small
and filthy, and contains a few hovels occupied by from fifty to one
hundred inhabitants, who are guilty of the sins of Sodom. Within a rude
court-yard is the only reservoir of the village, and near it stands a
rough stone tower thirty feet square and forty high. It is the barrack
of the Turkish garrison, stationed here for the protection of the
government lands, for the defense of the peasants of the Ghôr, to
collect the taxes imposed upon the miserable villagers, to punish
offenders, and to serve as the escort of travelers _en route_ for the
Jordan and the Dead Sea. Though bearing the name of Jericho, it is
more probably the site of ancient Gilgal. In view of the silence of
historians on the point, it is impossible now to decide whether Gilgal
was the name of a city or the designation of a tract of land, though
the former is more in harmony with the scriptural account of the place.
Accepting Josephus as authority, Gilgal was ten stadia, or less than
a mile and a half, from Jericho, and fifty stadia, or more than six
miles, from the Jordan.[263] The old Tower of Rîha coincides in its
location with this description, and may be regarded as indicating with
sufficient accuracy the scene of so many memorable events. Few names in
sacred history recall scenes more thrilling and momentous than Gilgal.
Removing the twelve monumental stones from the bed of the Jordan,
Joshua caused them to be placed here as the memorial of the miraculous
dividing of the river;[264] around them the Israelites first pitched
their tents within the Promised Land;[264] here they rolled away the
reproach of Egypt by the renewal of the rite of circumcision;[265]
here they kept the Passover for the first time in Canaan;[266] here
Joshua saw, in a day-vision, the captain of the Lord’s host “standing
over against him with his sword drawn in his hand;”[267] and here
the tabernacle was first set up in Palestine, where it remained till
removed to Shiloh.[268] Four centuries later Samuel held his court
nigh unto this ruined tower, and offered sacrifices for the people then
assembled.[269] Here Saul of Gibeah was made King of Israel,[270] and
two years thereafter, upon the very spot of his coronation, he lost
his kingdom by acting “foolishly.”[271] After the death of Absalom the
tribe of Judah assembled here to hail the return of David.[272] And
here, in the reign of Jehoram, Elisha healed the poisoned pot,[273]
restored Naaman to health, and cursed Gehazi with leprosy for his

The sun rose upon the Plains of Jericho after our first night’s
slumber among the Arabs of the Ghôr, reflecting a pale yellow light
through dense masses of mist which obscured from view the summits of
the distant mountains. Ascending the loftiest spur of Quarantania, a
landscape of extraordinary character lay before me. Stretching from
the northern shore of the Lake of Tiberias to the southern coast of
the Dead Sea, the valley of the Lower Jordan unfolded to the eye its
manifold and marvelous features. A hundred and twenty miles in length,
ten in breadth, and 1312 feet below the level of the Mediterranean, it
is among the greatest geological wonders of the globe. From sea to sea
lofty mountains bound this great chasm on either side. Rising thousands
of feet above the river terrace, the Moab range forms the eastern wall
of the great valley, while the Heights of Galilee, the Mountains of
Samaria, and the Hills of Judea run along its western border. Broken
and barren, the sides of these mountains are furrowed with deep ravines,
the frequented passes to the plains below. As far as the eye can reach,
the deep, tortuous bed of the Jordan is seen along its eastern side,
the turbid waters of which remain unseen till viewed from the second
terrace of the stream. The broadest portion of the Jordan valley,
the Plain of Jericho is not unlike in form a vast semicircle. Not ten
miles long, it is less than eight broad from the roots of the western
mountains to the banks of the river. On the south is the Dead Sea,
on the east the Jordan, on the north are the Hills of Judea dipping
into the rushing river, and on the west is Quarantania rising 2000
feet above its base. Level in the centre, but gently undulating toward
the north and south, it has a soil of inexhaustible fertility; and
abundantly watered by its numerous fountains, its groves of zukkûm,
its beautiful willows, its verdant meadows, its flowers and rank weeds
growing luxuriantly, sustain the scriptural allusion to “Jericho, the
city of palm-trees,”[275] and the prophetic blessing, the promise of
perennial fruitfulness.[276] Such was its fertility in the “Middle
Ages,” that the cultivation of the sugar-cane, with other products,
yielded the nuns of Bethany an annual revenue of $25,000,[277] and by
the application of scientific agriculture, would again become, in the
language of Josephus, a “divine region.”[278]


Called Quarantania to indicate the forty days during which the Son
of God endured the assaults of the Evil One upon its summit, the Mount
of Temptation is sterile and gloomy. The rocks are white and naked;
the sides are perforated with the cells of hermits, who, retiring from
society, hope by the rigors of a solitary life to obtain a better world;
and the summit is crowned with a small chapel, the only monument of the
Redeemer’s triumph over the Prince of Darkness. In the lower caves some
wild Bedouins, with their families, had taken refuge, and near them
were shepherds keeping their scanty flocks.

The sun had mounted high above the thick mists, which at an earlier
hour had veiled his brightness, when I returned to the encampment.
Weary in waiting my return, the caravan had moved, and I was left alone
among the “thieves of Jericho.” The sight of a revolver extorted from
a skulking Arab the direction the party had taken, and applying whip
and spur, I dashed through the jungle on the banks of the Cherith, and
in half an hour rejoined it. On reaching Rîha we obtained an additional
escort. Our military guard now consisted of six soldiers――five Bedouins
and their sheikh. Though wild in their exterior, there was a rude
grandeur in the soldiers of Rîha. Each wore a loose garment of camel’s
hair, with openings in the side for the free play of the arms, a pair
of rough sandals on his otherwise naked feet, and a bright-colored
shawl of Broosa silk thrown carelessly on the head, and held firmly
by an elastic cord, the ends of the shawl hanging loosely down. Each
carried a brace of pistols and a pair of daggers in his girdle; over
the shoulder was slung a long gun, by the side dangled a Damascus
blade, and in the hand was borne a lance fifteen feet long. The saddle
of each was large, with the bow terminating front and rear in a pommel.
The stirrups were of sheet iron, fourteen inches long and seven wide,
gently curving, the lateral edges turned upward. Each was mounted on
a small but swift and spirited horse, and the captain of the band was
followed by a pack of hounds used for hunting gazelles. Their speed
was wonderful. Proud of their splendid horsemanship and willing to
excite our admiration, these rude soldiers of the Desert gave proof of
their marvelous skill and daring, darting forward with the suddenness
and celerity of the thunderbolt over hill, through gully, over rocks,
through briers, over streams, through thickets, tilting the spear as
they rode, as if to plunge it into some advancing foe.

For half an hour our path lay through a jungle of thorny shrubs, beyond
which was an open plain. The day was glorious; the air balmy; the sun
shone through a gauze-like haze; the leafy songsters, from their sylvan
coverts along the streamlets, “caroled the melody of their song.” Our
horses were fleet, our spirits buoyant, and over that noble plain we
rode with unbounded delight. Both in kind and richness the soil varied
as we advanced. Now it was barren and covered with a thin, smooth,
nitrous crust, through which we sank as in ashes; again it was rich,
bearing groves of fruit-trees, tufts of the feathery tamarisk, and
beautiful oleanders, with their finger-like leaves and tulip-shaped
flowers. At ten A.M. we reached the first terrace, or highest bank of
the Jordan, composed of irregular hills of clay, and measuring twenty
feet deep. Here our soldiers sallied forth, plunging into the dense
thickets and sweeping like lightning around the hills to discover
the robbers and save us from surprise. In fifteen minutes more we had
descended to the second terrace, and five minutes thereafter we stood
on the banks of the most sacred and renowned river in the world. Other
rivers are deeper, broader, longer, but the Jordan is unsurpassed in
the peculiarities of its source, the sinuosities of its channel, the
glories of its history. Springing from the heart of anti-Libanus, ten
crystal fountains pour their eternal waters into its descending current.
From the base of snow-capped Hermon three noble fountains send their
united contributions southward, feeding the River Hasbâny. Situated
forty miles to the north from the head of Lake Tiberias, the first is
the Fountain Fuarr, at Hasbeîya, and is the remotest perennial source
of the Jordan; the second is called Sareid, located south of Kefr
Shubah; the third is Luisany, near El-Ghujar. Eighteen miles to the
south from Hasbeîya is the largest permanent fountain in the world,
known as El-Leddân. Its pure waters gush forth from the foot of the
green hill of El-Kâdy, and, after forming a pool, they flow southward
in a broad stream, increased in its course by many rills creeping
from beneath noble oaks, and at length it joins the Hasbâny seven
miles north of Lake Merom. Four miles to the east from El-Kâdy is
the Fountain of Banias, next in size to that of El-Leddân, but which,
unlike the latter, originates in many rivulets, which, uniting, rush on
to a confluence with the Leddân, and, a mile below the junction, join
the Hasbâny. Farther to the south the fountains of Derdara, Ruahiny,
and those of Belât, Blâta, and El-Mellâhah, unite with the same stream,
which, after flowing southward for six miles over the lovely Plain of
Hûleh, spreads out into Lake Merom, on whose shores Joshua achieved
his final triumph over the banded kings of Canaan.[279] Four and a half
miles in length and three and a half in breadth, this gem of the lakes
is the first gathering together of the waters of the Jordan from their
perennial springs. The lake having a triangular form, the river issues
through the apex, and, after running nine miles with a fall of 650
feet, expands into the Sea of Galilee, which is thirteen miles long and
six wide. The inlet to the sea is seventy feet broad, and the waters,
flowing between alluvial banks, are lazy and turbid. Purified in their
passage through this second reservoir of the Jordan, they find an
outlet in the southwest corner of the sea. Here the river is more than
ninety feet wide, the banks are high and round, and the contiguous
mountains rugged and barren. Half unwilling to leave the parent waters
to take the headlong leap over twenty-seven rapids to the Sea of Death,
the Jordan turns back upon itself; but, forced at length to return by
the unyielding rocks, it cuts a channel westward, then west by south,
when, impelled by the unchanging law of gravitation, it rushes madly
southward, foaming and leaping downward 700 feet in less than sixty
miles. Though, between the seas as the crow flies, the actual distance
is not more than sixty miles, yet, owing to the infinite multiplication
of its windings, it is more than 200 miles in length. The tortuous glen
through which it flows varies in breadth from 200 to 600 yards, and in
depth from fifty to eighty below the surrounding plain. The sides of
the glen are abrupt and broken, composed of marl and clay intermixed
with limestone. Where it is widest, the bottom is mud covered with
reeds; where it is narrowest, it is rock and sand. Along its banks
grow in rich profusion the scarlet anemone, the yellow marigold,
the water-lily, the feathery tamarisk, the pink oleander, the Syrian
thistle with its gorgeous purple blossom, and cane-reeds, oaks,
willows, and wild pistachios. Amid foliage so rich and rare are birds
of exquisite plumage and variant song. Disporting in the water are
herons and ducks; dancing from bower to bower are sparrows, swallows,
and nightingales; wheeling their tireless flight over stream and shrub
are eagles, partridges, hawks, and snipes, while storks spread their
vast wings along the banks, and

“The moping owl does to the moon complain
Of such as, wandering near her secret bower,
Molest her ancient solitary reign.”

In the deep, impenetrable jungle, extending for miles in depth along
either bank, is now, as formerly, the hiding-place of the leopard, the
wild boar, and tiger.

In color the Jordan is not unlike the Tiber. In breadth it varies from
eighty to 240 feet; in depth it is from two to sixteen feet; in motion
it flows from two to twelve knots an hour, bearing on its yellow bosom,
as it rolls to the sea, the débris of northern forests. In its descent
there are wild cascades, down which the foaming torrent leaps eleven
feet, at the rate of twelve miles an hour. Throughout its sinuous
course there are twenty-seven rapids, some of which are 900 feet long,
and the shallow waters foam as they pass over the large boulders of
sandstone and trap. Below the longest rapid there is a series of five
falls, having a descent of eighteen feet, with rapids between them; and
at El-Bŭk’ah there is a whirlpool grand and dangerous. At intervals,
where the channel is deep and free from rocks, a boat might glide
with ease and pleasure. In the broader portions of the river bed there
are islands, some barren, others verdant and flowery. Near the four
well-known fords are the remains of old mills, with their sluices,
and the ruins of ancient bridges of Roman construction, pointing us
back to a better civilization, and reflecting the genius, industry,
and utility of a former age. At Semakh, a mile south of the Lake of
Tiberias, are the abutments of a fine bridge of ninety feet span, and
at Zurka are the remains of a nobler structure.


Midway the two seas the Brook Jabbok flows into the Jordan. Descending
through a deep ravine, amid the loftiest of the Ajlûn range, its volume
is swelled by the mountain torrents, rendering it at times impassable.
Its banks are fringed with tamarisks and oleanders, the clustering
flower of the latter imparting a gorgeous aspect to the scene. As three
thousand years ago the Jabbok was the boundary between the kingdoms
of Sihon and of Og,[280] so this modern Zurka is the dividing line
between the province of Belka and that of Ajlûn. Somewhere on its banks
occurred one of those thrilling events so common in the patriarchal
history. Coming from the distant home of Laban, enriched with the
rewards of twenty years’ industry, and blessed with a numerous family
of children and servants, the patriarch Jacob halted on the northern
bank of the Jabbok, and that night wrestled with an angel. And as
the light of the coming day dawned, down the glens and sides of the
southern mountain the chieftain of Seir came, with his four hundred
warriors. Hoping to appease Esau’s anger by the gentleness of his
manner, Jacob crossed the brook, and, forgetting the enmities of
boyhood, the twin brothers embraced and were reconciled. Parting, Esau
returned to his mountain home, and, fording the Jordan here, Jacob
ascended by the beautiful Tirzah, and dwelt in the Vale of Shechem.[281]

Centuries later, this brook was the scene of events less peaceful.
Obeying the heroic Gideon, the men of Ephraim took possession of
this ford and slew the fugitive Midianites;[282] and ninety years
thereafter the Gileadites under Jephthah, descending from their native
mountains, held the passage of the stream, and slew every Ephraimite
whose betraying tongue could not correctly pronounce the password

The Pilgrim’s Ford, opposite Jericho, is no less enchanting in its
natural scenery than it is memorable for its sacred associations. A
hundred feet wide and twelve deep, the Jordan sweeps by at the rate of
six knots an hour. From this point to the Dead Sea the river retains
its general peculiarities of sinuosity, of color, of rapidity, of banks,
and foliage. The inlet to the Asphaltic Lake is three feet deep and 540
wide, and here is the third and largest reservoir of the Jordan――its
first and only stage of rest. Here it ends.

This being an ancient ford, the western bank is worn down to the
water’s edge by the tread of many generations. On either side willows
bend their graceful limbs to touch the rapid stream, tamarisks wave
gently in the soft zephyrs, oleanders bloom amid foliage of lighter
and deeper green, and the crystal streamlet from Rîha flows into the
turbulent Jordan among trees of statelier form. A little to the south
the banks are steep, and the bottom is soft and covered with weeds and
lacerating briers. Directly opposite, the Mountains of Moab rise in
all their rugged grandeur, with their sides broken by deep ravines and
their summits veiled in a purple haze. Forgotten in the lapse of time,
yet somewhere on those loftier peaks were the high places of Baal,[284]
the “field of Zophim,”[285] and the “top of Peor,”[286] whither Balak
led Balaam to curse Israel. From those summits of vision the prophet of
Pethor looked down upon the Lord’s chosen people, but could not “count
the dust of Jacob.”[287] He beheld them “crouching like a lion,”[288]
and, in the rapture of his song, exclaimed, “How goodly are thy tents,
O Jacob, and thy tabernacles, O Israel.”[289] Under more auspicious
circumstances, a greater than Balaam surveyed the Land of Promise from
Pisgah’s top.[290] Turning northward, “his eye that was not dim” swept
the land of Gilead unto the icy crown of Hermon; turning westward,
he beheld the distant hills of Naphtali standing out against the sky;
nearer, he saw the possessions of Ephraim and Manasseh; directly before
him was the Land of Judah and Benjamin, the City of the Great King, and
the blue waters of the Mediterranean beyond; while at his feet lay the
rich plain of Jericho, the “city of palm-trees,” the first conquest of
the triumphant arms of Joshua. In his tent, or in some retired glen,
or on some solitary peak, the son of Amram wrote most of his inspired
history; and yonder, when the work of his wondrous life was finished,
when the farewell view of the goodly Canaan had been completed, when
he had given his final blessing to Eleazar the priest, to Joshua the
warrior, “Moses, the servant of the Lord, died there in the land of
Moab, according to the word of the Lord; and he buried him in a valley
in the land of Moab, over against Beth-peor; but no man knoweth of
his sepulchre unto this day.”[291] A tomb so vast was worthy of the
worldwide influence of his life, and the Mountains of Moab are the
appropriate monument of a character so pure and a name so great.

The tradition that identifies this ford as the place where the
Israelites crossed the Jordan is supported by the clear and simple
statement that they “passed over right against Jericho.”[292] The
crossing, however, could not have been confined to this limited space.
Here probably the priests crossed, while the multitude sought a passage
at every feasible point between the city of Adam, thirty miles to
the north, and the Dead Sea, five miles to the south. To facilitate
the crossing, this long section of the river-bed became dry, which
was necessitated both by the millions of people to cross, and also by
the impassableness of many portions of the banks. The rendezvous was
opposite Jericho, and as the swarming millions came up the western bank,
they turned northward and southward toward a common centre. Bearing the
ark of the covenant, the priests led the van, and as their feet touched
the water, “the waters which came down from above stood and rose up
upon an heap very far from the city of Adam, that is, beside Zaretan;
and those that came down toward the sea of the plain, even the salt
sea, failed and were cut off, and the people passed over right against
Jericho.”[293] Unlike the dividing of the Red Sea, this was the cutting
off or damming up of the waters on the north; and the miracle is the
more wonderful, as at that time the river was more than ordinarily full.
The incidental allusion that the “Jordan overfloweth all his banks all
the time of harvest”[294] is equally true at the present day. In the
tropical climate of the Jordan Valley the harvest is many weeks earlier
than on the mountains 1300 feet above it. Barley harvest occurring
here in the middle of March and wheat harvest about three weeks later,
it is evident that the allusion refers to the harvest-time of the
Jericho plain. At this time of year the Jordan annually rises to
the fullness of its banks, and not unfrequently overflows them; and,
though occurring in the dry season of the year, the rise is owing
to the melting snows on Mount Hermon, and also to the heavy winter
rains, which, having previously fallen on the Hermon range, and by
March having percolated the sides of the mountains, begin to swell
the springs within them, which, being the sources of the Jordan, then
commence and for weeks continue to pour an increased volume into the
river channel, permitting the traveler of to-day to behold the filling
up and overflowing of the sacred river as it overflowed all its banks
three thousand years ago.

More than five centuries later, the Jordan was here twice divided in
one day――once for the safe passage of Elijah and Elisha to the land of
Moab, and again for the return of the latter to Jericho;[295] and, two
years subsequently, here the proud Naaman bathed his leprous person and
was made whole. To one unacquainted with the three rivers mentioned in
connection with his cure, there is the appearance of pride and contempt
in his language; but in recalling, in the moment of disappointment
and chagrin, the clear waters of the Abana and Pharphar, in contrast
with the yellow, turbulent waters of the Jordan, the Syrian warrior
but indicated the correctness of his taste in preferring the “rivers
of Damascus to all the waters of Israel.”[296] But after a cure so
miraculous, notwithstanding its inferior beauty, the Jordan must have
been to him the noblest and most sacred of rivers.

As the baptismal station of John the Baptist, and the scene of our
Lord’s baptism, the Christian contemplates this traditional spot with
deeper, sweeter interest. But, however sincere and intense may be the
desire to identify the scene of an event so hallowed, it is difficult
to ascertain with certainty where that greatest of all baptisms
occurred. In general terms, St. Luke describes John as coming into
“all the country about Jordan;”[297] but, with great precision,
St. John designates two stations of the great Baptist: “Bethabara,
beyond Jordan,”[298] and “Ænon, near Salim.”[299] Signifying “The House
of Passage,” Bethabara may have been the name of some well-known ford;
but the most eminent critics agree that Bethany should be inserted
in the text in the place of Bethabara.[300] Finding it difficult to
discover a Bethany beyond the Jordan, Origen, in the early part of the
third century, changed the reading, and others, following his version,
place Bethabara near the Brook Jabbok, on the east, and Ænon on the
west, eight miles southeast from Bethshean.[301]

Such locations, however, leave Southern Palestine without a baptismal
station. Born in the south, and from his Judean home called to the
great work of his mission, John’s ministry was commenced in the
“wilderness of Judea.”[302] His first hearers were those of the Jewish
capital and of its adjacent towns: “Then went out unto him Jerusalem,
and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan.”[303] Preferring
a journey of six hours to one of two days, the people of the south
would naturally descend to this traditional ford, where the Baptist as
naturally would be waiting to receive them. And where else should Jesus
be baptized but where his ancient people had crossed the “swellings of
Jordan,” and nigh unto the capital of his kingdom, whose citizens had
just received his forerunner?

Having prepared the way of the Messiah in Judea, and to accommodate
the multitudes of the north, and prepare them for the reception of the
promised Christ, John ascended the river to the mouth of the Jabbok,
where he baptized the inhabitants of Samaria; and ascending thirty
miles farther, to the ruined bridge of Semakh, he baptized the people
of Galilee. His mission accomplished in Southern, Central, and Northern
Palestine, and compelled to leave the Jordan at that season of the year
to seek water suitable to drink, John removed to the fountains of Ænon,
eight Roman miles southeast from Scythopolis, where there was “much
water,” and where he baptized “strangers,” and those who had failed
to attend his ministry at the river. His latter days were spent in
the north, and mostly in Tiberias, the royal city of Galilee, where,
true to his high calling, he reproved Herod Antipas for his connubial
infidelity, for which he was imprisoned and beheaded in the Castle of
Machaerus, near the scene of his earlier labors.

The sun was rapidly approaching the zenith when we left the ford for
the Dead Sea. To avoid a detour, and also to shun the banks of the
river, which, from their softness and steepness, are never safe, we
crossed diagonally the great plain extending to the sea. The heat was
intense; not a breath of air was stirring; neither shrub nor flower
appeared to gladden the eye; no fountain was nigh to moisten our
parched lips. A deep purple haze veiled earth and sky, obscuring the
view of Moab and the peaks of Engedi; and over that vast plateau of
unrelieved desolation was spread a white sulphurous crust, reflecting
the light and heat. Near the mouth of the Jordan a band of Bedouin
ruffians were holding an ominous consultation, and keenly watching our
movements. From the head of the caravan came the shrill voice of the
sheikh to “close ranks,” while two soldiers dashed into the jungle
to ascertain the design of the council. Intimidating the robbers by
threats, they returned, assuring us that no attack would be made, but
advising us to keep close together. At noon we stood upon the northern
shore of the Dead Sea. Owing to the thick haze that obscured the
mountains, it seemed shoreless. The smooth waters lay like molten
silver, silent and motionless, sparkling in the sunlight and dazzling
to the sight. It was death robed in light. The waters are clear as
crystal and exceedingly brilliant, and, though intensely salt, they
are so soft that a bath in them is like bathing in oil. When midway
my person I began to rise, and yielding to the soft hands that bore
me up, I reclined as upon the softest down. To sink was impossible; to
float required no effort; to read, converse, sleep, was easy. Where the
cuticle was bruised or broken a smarting sensation was experienced, and
for ten hours after the bath the hair remained stiff and the body felt
as if it had been lubricated with oil. Gently sloping toward the sea,
the northern coast consists of sand and blackened pebbles, and over
its entire breadth are strewn quantities of drift-wood, such as willow
twigs, broken canes, and poplar branches, thrown up by the violence
of the waves when the sea is in commotion. Higher up is a terrace
of bitumen, soft and slippery, and not unlike black clay. Neither
shrub, flower, nor blade of grass, nor shell, can be found on all that
lengthened beach.

Illustration: DEAD SEA.

Occupying the lowest portion of the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea
is forty miles long, from five to nine wide, and from two to 1308
feet deep. Its greatest depth is 2620 feet below the level of the
Mediterranean, and 5220 below the site of Jerusalem. Having its
greatest width midway the sea, from Ain Jidy to the River Arnon, it
is most shallow at its southern extremity, and deepest in its northern
section, southwest from the thermal waters of Callirrhoe. Not many
yards from the eastern cliffs it is more than one hundred and seventy
fathoms deep.

Geologically considered, the profound cavity containing this inland sea
must be coeval with the conformation of the Jordan Valley on the north
and the Valley of ’Arabah on the south. This mighty chasm must always
have been the bed of a great lake, receiving the waters of the Jordan
and the mountain torrents, together with those of the living springs
which abound along the margin of the vale. Though much smaller then
than now, both Abraham and Lot must have looked down upon its waters.
Originally confined within its deeper bed, it has passed its primal
limits by some convulsion or atmospheric phenomena as yet unknown. The
great difference in its depth, from a third of a fathom to two hundred
and eighteen fathoms, together with the record of Moses that the
“plain of Jordan was well watered every where before the Lord destroyed
Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the Lord, like the land of
Egypt as thou comest unto Zoar,”[304] sufficiently indicates that the
more shallow portions now overflown were once the rich green fields
so tempting to the eyes of Lot.[305] According to authentic history,
this vale was one of the cradles of the earliest civilization, not
only containing the five royal cities that were destroyed, but also the
cities of the Phœnicians, who, afterward removing to Tyre and Sidon,
rose to greatness in art, science, and commerce. Its present desolation
is due to natural causes, some of which are still apparent, and though
its waters must always have been more or less salt, and its coasts must
always have abounded in bitumen pits, yet these are not inconsistent
with the richness of its plains, as attested by sacred and profane

Though the receptacle of the perennial Jordan and of springs that
never fail, and though without an outlet its mighty caldron is never
filled to overflowing, and its waters have but a slight perceptible
rise and fall. Situated 1312 feet below the level of the Mediterranean,
and shut in by high barren mountains of limestone, its supply never
exceeds the demand made by its rapid evaporation. With the Gulf of
Akaba thirty-five feet above the Mediterranean, it is inconceivable how
the Dead Sea could ever have flowed southward over the plain of ’Arabah
to mingle its waters with those of the Red Sea; and this impossibility
is the more apparent from the fact that the waters of ’Arabah flow
into the Dead Sea from a water-shed midway between the two seas. Such
curious facts at once disprove the hypothesis either that there is a
subterranean outlet on the south, or that, prior to the fall of Sodom,
the waters of the Jordan flowed in a river channel through the “Vale of
Siddim” to mingle with those of the Indian Ocean. Evaporation was then,
as now, the only outlet.

With the exception of a few semicircular plains, the “Salt Sea” covers
the entire breadth of the vale, in many places the mountains dipping
into the waters without a footpath along the shore. At the northwest
corner there is a neck of land extending into the lake, which, when
the water is low by increased evaporation, is a peninsula, but at high
water its extreme point is a small island, covered with ruins of great
antiquity, consisting of heaps of unhewn stones, some of which retain
their original position in the foundation of a building whose history
is unknown; and at the southeast angle of the sea, near the ravine of
Kerak, is a low, broad promontory or cape, extending four miles to the
north up the centre of the lake. Wherever a brackish fountain trickles
down the hill-side, and flows over those little plains formed by the
receding mountains, there shrubs grow, flowers bloom as in more genial
climes, birds sing sweetly as in more enchanting bowers, and the Arab,
with the traveler, pitches his tent, unaffected by the fancied deadly
exhalations from the poisonous sea, which only exist in the stories of
poet and romancer.

The mountains that bound the Asphaltic Lake on the east and west
are as remarkable for their native grandeur as for their historic
associations. Those on the east are portions of the Moab and Edom
ranges; the one descending from the north and the other ascending
from the south, are separated midway the sea by the sublime chasm
of El-Môjib. The former is composed of sandstone, with sections of
limestone, and with dikes and seams of trap rock, over which are
scattered quantities of post-tertiary lava, pumice-stone, and volcanic
slag; the latter is in part sandstone with strata of limestone; while
at the extreme south there is a post-tertiary deposit of carbonate
of lime, with sandstone disintegrated, and with a mixture of sulphur
and gypsum. Rising from 2000 to 3000 feet high, the eastern range
is rugged and barren, and, from a peculiarity in the atmosphere, is
perpetually veiled in a purple haze. The sides are broken by twelve
ravines desolate and wild. Less than ten miles from the northeast angle
of the sea, at the mouth of Wady Zŭrka Ma’in, are the warm springs of
Callirrhoe, sending forth, between grand and lofty sandstone cliffs, a
copious stream, in whose thermal waters Herod the Great sought, in vain,
relief from his loathsome disease. It is twelve feet wide, ten inches
deep, and has a temperature of 95° Fahrenheit. Its banks are lined with
canes and tamarisks, and the pebbles are tinged with the sulphurous
waters. The chasm is 112 feet wide, and from eighty to 150 high,
through which the torrent sweeps to the sea at the rate of six knots an
hour. High up the ravine is a pretty cascade, with a perpendicular fall
of six feet, and below it the foaming waters rush over a succession
of rapids. In this sublime glen purple flowers bloom, and ravens
and butterflies wing their tireless flight. On the very brow of the
northern cliff stood the famous fortress of Machaerus, where John the
Baptist was beheaded.[306] Two miles to the south, on the borders of
a little streamlet, is a grove of thirty date-palm-trees; three miles
farther is a bright cascade, whose sparkling waters leap into the sea
from the very mountain summit; and five miles beyond is the ancient
river Arnon, on whose banks Balak met Balaam,[307] and which was the
southern boundary-line of the Amorites, whose dominion ran northward
to the Jabbok. This tract of land Moses conquered from Sihon,[308] and
for it the Ammonites fought with Jephthah[309] while it was possessed
by the tribes of Reuben and Gad.[310] The Arnon is a tributary to the
sea, eighty-two feet wide, four deep, and one hundred wide at its mouth.
The vast fissure through which it falls is ninety-seven feet wide,
and varies from 100 to 400 feet high. The cliffs are red, yellow, and
brown sandstone, and, worn by the winds and rains, resemble Egyptian
architecture. In graceful curves the ravine winds inward, and in its
profound depths are huge boulders, which have fallen from the summit
above. Along the border of the torrent a few shrubs grow, and gazelles
descend to drink of its limpid waters. Fifteen miles to the south, on
a summit 3000 feet above the sea, stands the ancient city of Kerak,
containing more than 3000 inhabitants, about equally divided into
Christians and Moslems, which is renowned in the history of Jewish
wars as the city whose king, in a moment of desperation, rather than
surrender to King Jehoram, offered up his eldest son upon the town wall
as a burnt-sacrifice, so disgusting the Israelites as to compel them
to raise the siege.[311] From the mountain of Kerak a wild ravine leads
down to the reputed ruins of Zoar, near the shore, to which Lot fled
when commanded to fly to the mountains above.[312]

To the southwest from the ruins of Zoar stood Sodom and Gomorrah,
with their companion cities of the plain. Covering a large area of what
was once dry land, the sea is here exceedingly shallow, and the plains
bordering on the southern coast give evidence of their former fertility.
These cities must have occupied this section of the vale, or it would
have been impossible for Abraham to have seen the conflagration from
Hebron, sixteen miles to the northwest.[313] But not a vestige of
those renowned cities remains to designate the scene of their glory and
shame. The “rain of fire” was probably a shower of nitrous particles
ignited by the electric flash, which, as it fell, kindled to a flame
the buildings of the cities, constructed of bituminous stones and
cemented by green asphalt. Formed of such combustible materials, the
conflagration of the towns must have raged with unwonted fury, and the
descending fire, wrapping vale and mountain in a winding-sheet of flame,
must have precluded the possibility of escape. But the preservation
of Zoar amid the general burning was a miracle of the highest order.
Standing within the vale and hard by the neighboring towns, but
without the smell of fire about its dwellings, it must have presented
a singular spectacle, surrounded by an invisible wall against which the
burning waves madly dashed in vain.

The mountains on the western side of the Dead Sea, like the hills of
Judea, are limestone, of a white, red, and yellow hue, and, rising from
1000 to 2000 feet high, their sides are barren and rugged, and broken
into wild ravines. At intervals the hills recede, forming on the shore
semicircular plains, which, being watered by brackish fountains, are
converted into salt marshes. Along the western coast large quantities
of pure sulphur, asphalt, and pumice-stone abound. In the southwest
corner of the vale, extending five miles to the northwest, is a rugged
ridge of hills composed entirely of mineral salt. From a marshy delta,
coated with salt and bitumen, a grand ravine leads up to this saline
ridge, called by the Arabs Jebel Usdum. The winter torrents have cut
deep furrows in its sides from summit to base, and the combined action
of the rains, and the burning siroccos that sweep over mountain and
plain, have rounded the faces of the cliffs. The peaks rise in tiers,
while their roots, in lesser hills, project toward the sea. Far up
the ravine, between two higher cliffs, is a lower ridge, not unlike a
pedestal, on which is a singular pillar of pure solid salt, round in
front and angular behind. Resting on a pedestal sixty feet high, the
solitary column rises forty feet higher, connected with the hill behind
by an immense bar of salt. This is the only resemblance to “Lot’s
wife” in the vale, but can not be her, as its position is in the wrong
direction from Zoar. But the presence of such a mountain of salt, whose
base beneath the surface is washed by the waves, and from whose summit
large blocks of salt are carried down by the rains into the water,
sufficiently accounts for the extreme saltness of the sea. On the
marshy flats at its base is the “Valley of Salt,” where David slew
“eighteen thousand Syrians,”[314] and where Amaziah, at a later period,
slew “ten thousand Edomites.”[315]

Situated on the brow of a lofty cliff 1500 feet above the sea, and
twelve miles north from Usdum, is Masada, the last refuge of the Jews
after the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, and the scene of the
noblest heroism and of the most bloody tragedy in the annals of war.
Separated by a deep ravine from the surrounding mountains on the north
and south, and attached to them on the west by a narrow ridge two
thirds its height, is a naked rock, having a perpendicular face toward
the sea, and rising 700 feet high. Standing two miles from the shore,
it is not unlike a pyramid in form. Though the summit is jagged and
peaked, it contains a level area for building purposes 3000 feet in
length and 1200 in width. Portions of four buildings are standing. On
the south are the remains of an ancient gateway with a pointed arch;
on the north stands a tower with a double wall of great strength, and
near it is a quadrangular ruin. Within the ancient wall, which once
completely encircled the rock, are three large cisterns, hewn in the
solid rock, and covered with white cement. The largest of them is forty
feet broad, 100 long, and fifty deep. Adjacent to the wall are the
remains of the old Roman camps, constructed by the besieging army of
Flavius Silva, apparently as complete as when abandoned centuries ago.

Reared in the second century B.C. by Jonathan Maccabæus as a strong
defensive work, the fortress of Masada was enlarged and rendered
impregnable by Herod the Great. Designed by him at once for a palace
and a fortress, he strengthened the position, and connected with
his royal apartments baths, adorned with porticoes and colonnades.
Confident of its impregnability, here the Idumean king deposited his
rarest treasures against the day of danger.

Prior to the fall of Jerusalem, the Sicarii, who had sworn never to
submit to the Roman arms, obtained by treachery the possession of this
fortress. Commanded by the bold and skillful Eleazar, 600 of these
patriots, with their wives, children, and servants to the number of
967, retired to Masada as the last refuge of the Jewish nation. The
strong-holds of Machaerus and Herodium had yielded to the powerful arms
of Lucilius Bassus, and now Flavius Silva, his successor, laid siege to
Masada. Cutting off all hope of succor from without, and of escape from
within, by circumvallation, the Romans reared for the intended assault
a mound of earth and stones, on which they planted an iron-cased
tower commanding the walls of the fortress, and from which they drove
the Jews from their ramparts. Successful in gaining a position so
advantageous, the Romans retired for the night with the intention of
storming the fortress the following morning.

Illustration: MASADA.

Conscious of his inability to continue a successful defense――convinced
that any attempt to escape would prove disastrous――satisfied that
death awaited the garrison, ravishment their wives, and slavery their
children, that night Eleazar called his faithful band around him, and
proposed self-destruction as the terrible alternative. Appalled by
the thought of murder and suicide, the heroic Sicarii, whose souls
had never known the sensation of fear, for a moment hesitated; but,
upbraided for the want of true courage by their leader, a frenzy seized
them, and, each one grasping his wife and children in his arms, after
lavishing upon them the fondest tokens of affection, they plunged their
daggers to their hearts, leaving the bleeding bodies lifeless upon
the ground. Resolved not to survive a calamity so insupportable, they
prepared for their own destruction. Gathering the immense treasures of
the palace together, they consigned them to the flames; then, choosing
by lot ten of their number to dispatch the rest, each soldier threw
himself down by his wife and children, and, grasping them in his arms,
offered his neck to the sword of his companion. Drawing lots who should
be the last survivor of the ten and the executioner of the nine, the
lot fell on one who in turn was to dispatch himself. The nine slain,
all the victims were examined to ascertain whether life was extinct;
then, applying the torch to the palace, and surveying for a moment
the raging flames and the dead, in families, stretched upon the ground,
he lay down beside his wife and child, and the last of the Sicarii
dispatched himself.

The morning dawned; the command was given; the Romans rushed to the
assault; but, on scaling the ramparts, no foe appeared, no sound was
heard, and, lifting a shout of triumph, they rushed to the palace.
Their approach had startled from their retreat a sister of Eleazar,
an elderly woman, and five children, who, learning of the intended
slaughter, had secreted themselves in the vaults of the fortress.
When they refused to credit her story, the sister of Eleazar led the
conquerors within the court-yard of the palace, and pointed them to
the dead who were too brave to be Roman slaves.[316]

Fifteen miles to the north from the Plain of Masada is the Fountain
of the Kid. This beautiful spring is four hundred feet up the mountain
side. Bursting from a limestone rock, and rushing down over precipitous
rocks, and amid acacias and flowers, it fertilizes a small plain
extending to the beach, and cultivated by the Bedouins of the Ghôr.
Near this fountain David was secreted when pursued by Saul, and in
a cave near by he “cut off the skirt of Saul’s robe privily.”[317]
Up this pass the children of Ammon ascended to attack Jerusalem in
the days of Jehoshaphat.[318] Originally celebrated for its vines
and aromatic plants, Solomon compares his beloved to a “cluster of
camphire[319] in the vineyards of Engedi.”[320] Around this fountain
now grow the “apples of Sodom.” The fruit grows in clusters upon a
tree fifteen feet high and two in girth, is of a yellow color, and has
such a blooming appearance as to tempt the traveler’s appetite; but,
on being pressed, it explodes like a puff-ball, leaving in the hand
nothing but the rind and a few dry fibres.

On the summit of an adjacent hill are the ruins of Maon, the residence
of the churlish Nabal and his beautiful wife Abigail, and a mile to the
north is the large fountain where this “son of Belial” held his annual
feast, to whom David sent his famishing troops to ask permission to
enjoy the festival as a reward for services which he had previously
rendered to the ungrateful Nabal.[321]

The shrill call of the Bedouin sheikh roused me from my reverie as
I sat on the small island in the sea recalling the past and receiving
imperishable impressions of the changeless features of the “Vale of
Siddim.” That night we were to sleep with the monks of Mâr Sâba, and
the journey thither was long, toilsome, and dangerous. Filling a can
with seawater, and gathering mineral specimens from the beach, we
mounted. The path lay across an undulating plain to the right of Ain
Jehâir, whose brackish waters nourish a thicket of canes and a few pale
flowers. Ascending the rugged pass of Nukb el-Kuneiterah, one skirted
for an hour the verge of a yawning ravine, the precipitous sides of
which were as dangerous as the view below was grand and awful. Reaching
in less than two hours the summit of the highest ridge, the Wilderness
of Engedi lay before us, and through openings in the distant cliffs we
caught farewell glimpses of the Dead Sea. Passing an encampment where
the children were nude and the women unveiled, we were glad to drink
of Arab _leben_, or soured milk, a beverage similar to that which
Jael gave Sisera,[322] which was brought to us in a goatskin bottle.

Descending hills gray and barren, and crossing verdureless plains,
we reached the Vale of the Kidron as the last rays of the sun were
tipping the higher peaks of Moab. Wild and grand, the perpendicular
sides of the gorge are more than 300 feet high. The limestone rocks
are blackened with age, and perched on the highest portion of the
ridge is the famous Convent of Mâr Sâba. Approaching night had now
thrown a deeper shadow in the ravine below; the skies reflected subdued
light, and from the transparent blue the stars began to shine. The
fatigue of the day had left the mind pensive, and the silence of the
hour was unbroken except by the chirping of some invisible songster.
Winding round the brow of a bold cliff, the gray towers of the ancient
monastery stood out against the evening sky, and from the uppermost
turret a solitary monk in dark flowing robes was watching our approach.
The ponderous iron gate of the convent was thrown open, and, led by
one of the fraternity through an interior court-yard, where orange and
lemon trees scattered their rich perfume, we entered the “Pilgrim’s

Like many other religious establishments, the monastery of St. Sâba
rose from the devotion of a single hermit. Attracted by the solitude of
the spot and the wild grandeur of the situation, some time in the year
483 A.D., St. Sâba, a native of Cappadocia, and a man of extraordinary
sanctity, founded the convent which bears his name. His triumph over
the “Lion of the Kidron” attracted his fellow-anchorites to the glen,
to the number of 14,000, to share his glory and devotion. From the
cells which they excavated in the rocks gradually rose the walls,
towers, chambers, and chapels of the edifice; and so curiously are
the several parts arranged, that it is difficult to determine the
masonry from the native rock. Crowned with a dome and clock-turret, the
church stands on the brink of the highest cliff, supported by enormous
buttresses rising from the bed of the Kidron. The interior is after the
Byzantine order, adorned with pictures, ornamental lamps, and sacred
banners. Near the church is the charnel-house, where the bones of the
pious have been carefully preserved from the time of the patron saint
to the last brother deceased. The bodies of the dead are deposited in
vaults till the flesh has wasted away, when the skeleton is broken to
pieces, and the bones are piled up in ghastly array, arm with arm, leg
with leg, skull with skull.


Though enlarged and beautified by monkish industry, the cave in which
St. Sâba lived still retains its native rudeness. Among the pictures
which adorn the walls is one representing the beheading of John the
Baptist. The artist has transferred to the canvas the horror of the
murder and the turpitude of the crime which led to the execution. In
the background is seen the martyr’s cell, with barred window and iron
door. Robed in green garments, the headless body of John lies prostrate
upon the marble pavement, while over it stands the fierce executioner,
holding in one hand his sword still dripping with blood, and in the
other the bleeding head. With an air of triumphant revenge Salome is
approaching, attired in ermine and adorned with a coronet of jewels,
and bearing on her hands a charger to receive the dissevered head of
the faithful minister of truth and purity.

The morning was far advanced when the iron gates of Mâr Sâba opened
for our departure. The day was charming, and the ride to Bethlehem was
one of extraordinary delight. The spring clouds, like softest gauze,
screened us from the otherwise burning rays of a Syrian sun, and a
gentle breeze from the Mediterranean came over the hills of Judea
“fresh as the breath of morn.” It being early spring-time, Nature
smiled in all her virgin beauty. Grasses and grains were ripening;
flowers every where were in bloom; herds of cattle and flocks of sheep
were feeding on the hills, and high up in mid air three eagles screamed
as they soared above us.

In an hour from the monastery Jerusalem was seen to the north, and
half an hour beyond I for the first time saw Bethlehem nestling among
the Judæan hills. A flood of childhood’s memories rushed back to mind,
unsealing the fountain of emotion as when in boyhood I was accustomed
to read the story of the new-born King. On the south lay the Plains of
Bethlehem, where shepherds were watching their flocks――some chanting
a pastoral song, others playing upon their rude flute. The sterility
of the wilderness had given place to cultivated fields, and along the
wayside grew a pretty blue flower, of a stellar form, called by the
monks the “Star of Bethlehem.” Passing through the small village of
Beit Sahûr, we turned westward, and, ascending a well-made road, in
half an hour we passed beneath the ancient portal of the City of the
Nativity. The streets were crowded with people, and along the main
thoroughfare were merchants selling fruits, flowers, grains, vegetables,
cutlery, saddlery, clothing, furniture, and ornaments, and mechanics of
all kinds were pursuing their respective vocations.

Illustration: VIEW OF BETHLEHEM.

So long as childhood continues, Bethlehem will be cherished by the
young, and recalled with delight by those of riper years. The synonym
of helpless infancy, mothers will revert to it with hope, and the
children of each generation will claim it as their common heritage.
As here the young mother pressed her tender offspring to her bosom
for the first time, Bethlehem must ever remain the symbol of domestic
affections and privacies.

Originally called “The House of Bread,” and now “The House of Flesh,”
its Arabic name, Beit Lahm, contains the significance of its wondrous
history. To distinguish it from Bethlehem belonging to the tribeship
of Zebulun,[323] it is called by the sacred historian “Bethlehem of
Judah;”[324] to preintimate its fruitfulness, it was prophetically
designated Ephratah;[325] to illustrate its rising glory “among the
thousands of Judah,” it was announced as the birthplace of Him “whose
goings forth have been from of old.”[326] In antiquity coeval with the
oldest cities in the world, its identity is unquestioned. Stretching
backward thirty-six centuries, its authentic history opens with the
mournful death and burial of the beautiful Rachel;[327] and rendered
imperishable by the sepulchral monument to that beloved wife, 600 years
later it was the scene of the touching story of Boaz and the youthful
widow of Chilion.[328] Giving birth to Obed, the father of Jesse,
Bethlehem, less than 100 years subsequent to the marriage of Ruth and
Boaz, was the birthplace of David,[329] where, at the tender age of
seventeen, he was anointed king over Israel; and, in honor of events so
illustrious, it thereafter was called the “City of David.” During the
reverses which befell Saul of Gibeah it was captured by the Philistines,
and David, having been declared a public enemy, was compelled to fly to
the cave of Adullam.

After 1000 years of comparative oblivion, Bethlehem suddenly emerged
from obscurity into brighter and more enduring glory. Summoned by the
Emperor Augustus to their native city to be taxed, Joseph and Mary
came from the hills of Nazareth, and, reaching the town at the close
of the day, after a journey of eighty miles, the mother of the Messiah
was compelled to lodge in the stable, “because there was no room for
them in the inn.”[330] That night the Prince of Peace was born; the
race commenced its life anew; angels sang the song of the nativity;
wondering shepherds hastened to pay homage to the new-born King; a lone
but marvelous star arrested the attention of the magi of Arabia Felix;
and Bethlehem rose to be “greatest among the thousands of Judah.”

An event so great and memorable has rendered the city of the Savior’s
birth a holy shrine, at which the devout of all ages and countries
have bowed with unspeakable delight. And, in commemoration of the
event, and to rescue the site from oblivion, the Emperor Constantine,
in the commencement of the fourth century, ordered the erection of a
magnificent basilica over the “Grotto of the Nativity,” which is now
the oldest monument of Christian architecture in the world. Separated
from the town by a long esplanade, the church occupies the eastern brow
of the hill on which the city is built, and, together with the three
convents abutting from its sides, forms an enormous pile of limestone,
vast in dimensions, irregular in outline, and, though it is destitute
of external architectural grandeur, the size, strength, and commanding
position of the edifice render it the chief attraction of the place.
The Greeks, Latins, and Armenians hold joint possession of the basilica,
and adjoining it are the monasteries for the entertainment and devotion
of their respective orders.

It was late one evening in the month of April that I rapped for
admission at the iron door of the Latin convent. The Franciscans
received me kindly, and, after a generous meal, an aged monk led me to
my apartments for the night. The convent bell called me early from my
slumbers, and, ascending to the broad, flat roof of the monastery, I
enjoyed an extensive view of the surrounding country. The sky was soft,
the air pure, and the sun was just rising above the mountains of Moab.
The shepherd’s shrill voice mingled with the tinkling of bells as he
led his flock in search of pasture, and the leaves of orange, fig, and
olive trees shone like jewels as the dew-drops thereon reflected the
morning light. Far away to the east are the Plains of the Jordan, the
mountains of Gilead, Moab, Ammon, and Seir; on the north the Hills
of Judea are bleak; on the west they are green as far as the eye can
reach toward the “Great Sea;” on the south are the Gardens of Urtâs and
the Pools of Solomon. With a mind attuned by such a scene, I read the
romantic story of Ruth and Boaz, the history of David’s coronation, and
the more tender narrative of the Savior’s birth. The past returned with
all the reality of the present, and history repeated its wondrous deeds
before the eye of a sublime faith. But the charm was broken in a moment
by the chant of a funeral dirge. Just beneath me, and near the convent
wall, a long procession of women was approaching, following to its
final rest the lifeless form of some daughter of Bethlehem. It was a
singular hour for a burial. Except the men who bore the corpse, there
were no others present. Fifty women robed in white gathered about the
grave, and, as a symbol of the abundant happiness of departed spirits,
each one bore upon her head a basket of bread, and, leaving it upon the
tomb, they all retired.

Descending through the long halls of the monastery, we found the
monks differently engaged; some were arranging their scanty toilets,
others repeating their prayers. On each door is a rude picture
illustrating the faith of the inmate, and the subject he desired to
be most frequently reminded of. On one is a coffin; on another are the
lambent flames of Purgatory; but on most is the serene face of Mary.
My guide rejoined me in the hall of the refectory, and led me to the
stable of blessed memory. Passing through the Latin chapel, where a
priest was celebrating mass, we descended a flight of narrow winding
steps, cut in the native rock, at the foot of which is the sacred
grotto. Thirty-eight feet long, eleven wide, and two deep, it has
the appearance of having been the cellar of a Syrian house, which,
according to a custom still prevalent, serves as a stable. Near the
eastern end is the supposed place of our Lord’s birth, marked by a
white marble slab, in the centre of which is a large silver star,
encircled with an inscription in Latin, “Here Jesus Christ was born
of the Virgin Mary.” Sixteen silver lamps shed a perpetual light upon
the shrine; from golden censers incense unceasingly ascends, while
the walls are covered with silk embroidered with gold. To the south is
the substituted manger, the original having been carried to Rome and
deposited in the church of Santa Maria Maggiore. Above it is a fine
picture of the birth-scene by Maello, and near it is a better one of
the Magi. A narrow passage leads to the small grotto where Joseph is
said to have stood at the moment our Lord was born, and in it is a
picture representing the angel warning him to take the young child and
his mother and escape into Egypt. The angel’s face is expressive of
intense earnestness; the countenance of Joseph is calm and thoughtful;
while Mary tenderly but firmly clasps her infant to her bosom.


Following a glimmering light, we entered a large sepulchral vault
containing the dust of the departed members of the fraternity, and
from it passed to the “altar of the infant martyrs” slain by Herod. A
picture above it commemorates the death of “twenty thousand innocents,”
and the old monk groaned as he looked upon it. In an adjoining oblong
chamber are altars dedicated to the memory of St. Paula and her
daughter Eustachia, two eminent Roman ladies, who spent their days
here in charity and devotion; and near the altars are their tombs, over
which are the portraits of the saints. Their features are represented
as sharp, their expression pensive, and over their heads an angel holds
a wreath of glory. Not far from these sepulchres is the tomb of Jerome,
and in the north end of the same chamber is the study of that eminent
scholar. Here, in a cell twenty feet square and nine deep, around which
runs a stone seat, he spent most of his life, producing those great
works which have given immortality to his name. Here, in the severities
of monastic life, he smote his body with a stone while imploring the
mercy of the Lord. It was here he fancied he heard the peals of the
trump of the last judgment incessantly ringing in his ear. On the wall
hangs a portrait of this great man. The head is round and bald, the
face beams with intelligence, by his side hangs a crucifix, and behind
him stands an angel sounding in his ear the trumpet of the last day.

Reascending the narrow staircase, we passed into the magnificent
Basilica of St. Helena. In length 120 feet by 110 wide, the interior
consists of a central nave and four lateral aisles, formed by four rows
of twelve Corinthian columns in each row, twenty feet high and two and
a half in diameter, supporting a horizontal architrave. According to
tradition, these pillars were taken from the porches of the Temple at
Jerusalem. Originally the roof and rafters were formed of cedar from
the forests of Lebanon, but at present they are of oak, the gift of
King Edward IV. when the church was last repaired. The gold, marble,
and mosaics which once adorned the walls of this noble edifice have
been removed, and by the mutual jealousies of the rival sects this
grandest of Eastern basilicas is in a neglected state. The aspect of
the interior is greatly injured by a partition wall separating the
choir from the body of the church, which in turn is divided into two
chapels, one belonging to the Greeks and the other to the Armenians; on
the north side of the choir is the Chapel of St. Catharine, occupied by
the Latins.


Though we reject the unwarrantable grouping together in a single
grotto of so many “holy places” as unfounded in fact, and especially
the particular spot where Christ was born, there is no reason for the
rejection of the cave itself. Its history runs too far back to have its
identity affected by the flood of monastic legends which followed the
conversion of the empire, and the historical chain is unbroken from the
death of the Apostle John to our own day. A native of Nablous, and born
in the beginning of the second century, Justin Martyr describes the
birthplace of Jesus “as a grotto in Bethlehem;” one hundred years later,
Origen refers to the fact as recognized by Christians and pagans; and,
a century after him, Eusebius mentions it as an accepted traditional
spot, and as so regarded prior to the time of St. Helena’s visit.
Crediting the tradition, the mother of Constantine caused to be erected
the present basilica in the year 327 A.D., and fifty years after its
erection, Jerome of Dalmatia, with Paul and Eustachia, settled in
Bethlehem, where the great “Father of Church History” expired, in
420 A.D., in his ninetieth year. Though the city fell into the hands
of the Moslems at a later period, and the church was stripped of its
ornaments, yet the cave remained undisturbed; and, on their approach to
Jerusalem, the Crusaders retook Bethlehem, and in 1110 A.D., Baldwin I.
elevated it to the dignity of an episcopal see; and, notwithstanding
the vicissitudes through which it has passed, it is now a thoroughly
Christian town. Unlike the tradition identifying our Lord’s tomb, the
traditional history of his birthplace is unmixed with monkish miracles,
and the preservation of the site is as simple as it is natural.

In a land where the customs of the people never change, all the
incidents of the story of the birth of the Savior are confirmed by
modern usage. It is no evidence of the poverty of Joseph and Mary that
they failed to obtain lodgings in the inn, as the decree of Augustus
had called home all citizens belonging to the town, which, being small,
was filled to overflowing; nor is it proof of the humbleness of the
holy family that they were compelled to lodge in the stable, as to this
day, both in Bethlehem and in other Syrian cities, kitchen, parlor,
and stable are frequently under the same roof, and often without a
partition between them. In going from Jerusalem to Nablous, I stopped
with a Christian at Beeroth, near Bethel. His dwelling was a one-story
house. Within was a raised platform not two feet high, on which was
arranged the furniture of his home; at the foot of the platform was
a space four feet wide, and extending the whole depth of the building,
which was the stable, and in one corner stood his ass. And in a
neighboring house a woman was kneading dough on the platform, and a
little girl was holding an infant, and two feet from them stood the ass,
with his elongated head thrust into a stone manger excavated in the
solid rock. This order of domestic architecture throws light upon the
apparent discrepancies of Matthew and Luke. The former mentions a house
in connection with our Lord’s birth;[331] the latter a manger, thereby
supposing a stable.[332] But the historians refer to two distinct
events――St. Luke, to the night of the Savior’s birth; St. Matthew, to
the visit of the Magi, which occurred some time later. Mary and her son
may then have found room in the inn; or, if the visit of the wise men
was simultaneous with that of the shepherds, St. Matthew alludes to a
house with a stable under the same roof, and the entrance to which was
through the main door of the dwelling.

Bethlehem may be viewed with a pleasing confidence as the city where
“God was manifested in the flesh,” and that from a place so humble
influences have gone forth affecting the present condition and future
hopes of the entire race. Since that wondrous child was born, empires
have passed away and generations have descended to the grave. Of that
renowned empire, whose proud emperor summoned Mary to perform a journey
of eighty miles in the rains of December, not a fragment remains; and
of the Herods who waylaid his infancy and persecuted his manhood, not
a descendant reigns over an inch of the broad earth. But the kingdom
of Christ endures, his subjects people both hemispheres, and the song
of the Bethlehem songsters is yet to be the anthem of a redeemed world.

The situation of Bethlehem is peculiar. Located on a narrow ridge
projecting eastward from the central mountain range, and breaking down
in the form of terraced slopes, it is bounded on the east, north, and
south by deep valleys. Constructed of white limestone, well built,
square in form, and crowned with small domes, the buildings rise above
each other in somewhat regular gradations. The streets are few and
narrow, and though the city is not surrounded with a wall, it has
two gates, which are closed at night. Sweeping in graceful curves
around the ridge, and regular in their ascent as stairs, the well-kept
terraces are adorned with the vines of Eshcol, and with fig and
olive-trees. Extending from the base of the hill toward the south and
east are the fertile plains where Ruth gleaned, and where the glory of
the Lord shone around the peaceful shepherds.

Numbering over three thousand souls, the modern Bethlehemites are
superior in their appearance to the citizens of any other town in
Palestine. The men are of light complexion, with finely developed
forms, and, in their affable demeanor and noble bearing toward the
“stranger within their gates,” are not unworthy descendants of Boaz.
In the regularity of their features, the freshness of their complexion,
and the sweetness of their countenance, the women are not unlike those
of America; and as if the Savior had bequeathed the beauty of his
childhood to the children of his native city, they are exceedingly
fair. So thoroughly Christian in sentiment are the inhabitants,
that no Moslem is allowed a residence within the town. The Cross is
unrivaled by the Crescent, and Christ reigns supreme where he was born.
While most of the people are either peasants or shepherds, others are
the manufacturers of “pious wares,” such as beads, crosses, rings,
crucifixes, and models of the Holy Sepulchre, wrought out of olive-wood
and mother-of-pearl.

Five miles to the southeast from Bethlehem is Herodium, the tomb
of Herod the Great. Cherishing an ambition that knew no bounds, and
rivaling Solomon in the magnificence of his reign and in the splendor
of the cities of his kingdom, Herod sought renown in life by the power
of his name and the perpetuity of his fame in death, by rearing for
himself a mausoleum which he vainly hoped would have continued complete
to the latest generation. Conscious of the vicissitudes to which his
empire city was subject, and knowing that as he himself had rifled the
sepulchre of David, his in turn might be plundered, he prepared for
himself a tomb of great strength, far from human habitation. A ride
of more than an hour brought us to the grave of this most execrable of
monarchs. Being the last position held by the Crusaders after the fall
of Jerusalem, the hill bears the traditional name of “Frank Mountain;”
but, from the supposed luxurious life of Herod, the Arabs call it Jebel
Fureidis, or “Little Paradise Hill.” Josephus, however, designates
it Herodium, after the founder of the city which crowned its summit.
According to him, it is sixty stadia from Jerusalem, and was designed
by Herod to be a military outpost, protecting the inhabitants of the
inland towns from the depredations of the Bedouins of Engedi, and
also to serve as a palatial retreat for the king and his court. Having
subserved the double purpose of war and pleasure, it at length fell
before the powerful arms of Lucilius Bassus.[333]


Rising in the form of a truncated cone 400 feet from the crest of a
round isolated ridge, it resembles, when viewed from the plain below,
some grand catafalco. The ascent is up a circular path, and the view
from the summit imposing. Through openings in the cliffs the Dead Sea
is seen to the east; two miles to the southwest is the small town of
Tekoa, the home of the wise woman whom Joab called to plead before
David in behalf of Solomon,[334] and the birthplace of the Prophet
Amos;[335] and to the northwest are the white walls and domes of
Bethlehem. At its northern base is a reservoir 200 feet square, from
the centre of which rises a mound of earth like an island in a lake,
and near it are traces of the aqueduct, which conveyed the water from
a great distance. The summit is an area 750 feet in circumference,
surrounded by a ruined wall of large hewn stones, with a massive square
tower at each angle. Within this inclosure are many vaults, and the
walls of what appears to have been an amphitheatre. The latter is in
the form of a three-quarter circle, and on the south side are three
large blocks of limestone, so arranged as to suggest the idea that
they were the royal seats from which Herod and his courtiers beheld
the dramatic and equestrian feats so pleasing to Oriental kings. To
the northwest of this structure is a large vault, which I succeeded in
entering by creeping through a narrow opening. The roof is a beautiful
raised dome, with a circular keystone in the centre, and on the sides
are doors leading to other chambers. On the very summit of the hill is
the Tomb of Herod. It is a vaulted chamber of hewn limestone, fifteen
feet long, twelve wide, and ten deep. Dying at Jericho, the royal
monster was here interred, amid the scene of his crimes and folly.
Profound silence now reigns where once the noise of revelry was heard,
and, unhonored and unlamented, the dust of the proud Idumean is trodden
by the foot of the transient traveler and the wild Arabs of Engedi,
while in sight of his sepulchre the domes and towers of the city in
which he sought to slay the “young child” rise up toward the throne
of the world’s Redeemer as the monuments of the birthplace of Him who
“liveth for evermore.”

One of the wildest, roughest roads in Palestine leads from Herodium to
the Cave of Adullam, where David and his men were secreted when pursued
by Saul, and where “every one that was in distress, and every one that
was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves
unto him, and he became a captain over them, and there were with him
about four hundred men.”[336] From this cave his three “mighty men”
broke through the lines of the Philistines who garrisoned Bethlehem,
and, drawing water from the well that David loved so much, and which
still exists, brought it in triumph to their chief;[337] and from here
he took his parents across the Jordan, to place them in the care of his
kinsmen of Moab.[338]

Descending over ledges of rocks to the bottom of a deep ravine, dry
and barren, and walled in by perpendicular mountains 1000 feet high,
we found ourselves in one of the grandest gorges in the Wilderness
of Judea, where the solitude is unbroken by human habitation. In the
face of the rocks are vast caverns, partly excavated by the winds and
partly by the band of robbers whose dens they were. Winding round rocky
projections and crossing wilder ravines, we reached at noon the foot
of the ascent of the opposite mountain range, in the side of which,
400 feet above us, was the cave of Adullam. Compelled by the intense
heat and the impossibility of finding a path to leave our horses, we
advanced single file, now leaping yawning gulfs, now clambering over
smooth-faced rocks, and again skirting some dangerous precipice.

It was past noon when the advanced guide cried out “Kureitûn!” In front
of the cave were three immense boulders, over whose smooth slanting
sides only goats could apparently pass; but we had endured too much
to be thwarted by such obstacles. One leap brought us flat upon the
first rock, another on the second, a third into the mouth of the cave.
Turning round, I looked down upon a scene of complete desolation.
No mountain pine waved its green foliage as in Alpine solitudes; no
waterfall delighted the ear with its music; no feathered songster
awakened the slumbering echoes of the glen. Entering the cave through
a passage-way six feet high, four wide, and thirty long, but which soon
contracted to such dimensions as to compel us first to stoop and then
to creep, we at length found ourselves in the hiding-place of David.
Owing to the curve in the entrance, no sunlight ever penetrates this
dismal abode. Lighting our candles, we began to explore. We found
the interior divided into chambers, halls, galleries, and dungeons,
connected by intricate passage-ways. The chief hall is 120 feet
long and fifty wide; the ceiling is high and arched, ornamented with
pendents resembling stalactites, and from the walls extend sharp
projections, on which the ancient warriors hung their arms. The effect
was grand as our tapers revealed each irregular arch, graceful pendent,
and sharp projection, giving the whole the appearance of a grand Gothic
hall. Lateral passages radiate in every direction from this chamber,
but ultimately converge in a central room. Threading one by one these
labyrinthian alleys, I became separated from the guide, and felt no
little trepidation till I heard him respond to my call. The darkness
and silence were oppressive, and the seclusion and intricacies of the
cave would have baffled any attempt of Saul to capture the object of
his pursuit. From the side of the first chamber we reached a pit ten
feet deep, and from it a low, narrow alley, 210 feet long, leads to
another hall, the inner _sanctum_, where David held his secret councils.
On the walls are the names of a few explorers, and among them that of
a romantic Irish lady. Though this appeared to be the end of the great
cave, yet the guide spoke of a secret passage to Tekoa and Hebron.

The only difficulty in identifying this cave with the one David
occupied is the fact that two Adullams are mentioned in the Bible――one
on the borders of Philistia, and the other among the cities of Judea.
A hundred feet above the cavern are the ruins of a city, probably the
site of the Judæan Adullam, from which the cave takes its name. And
three scriptural facts seem to place the question beyond dispute:
David’s escape from Gath,[339] the reception of his father’s house,
[340] and the draught of water which his “mighty men” obtained for him
at the peril of their lives,[341] all of which favor this location
rather than the one in an enemy’s country.

IT was four o’clock, one Friday afternoon in the month of March, when
we issued from the western portal of Bethlehem on our way to Hebron.
We had dined at a small German inn within the town, and from the
proprietor I had obtained a spirited horse, though at an exorbitant
price. The descent from the hill on which the city stands is rapid and
difficult. In less than half an hour we reached the Pools of Solomon,
but the day was too far advanced to examine them with care. Many
travelers were on their way to northern cities, some on camels, some on
asses, some on foot. Salutations were exchanged as we passed each other,
and their appearance indicated both kindness and thrift. The men were
attired in loose flowing robes, with sandals and turbans; the women in
blue garments, and a white sheet enveloping their person; a thin veil
was drawn closely around the lower part of the face, just above which
their black lustrous eyes were peering. It was a strange sight to an
American to see men riding and women walking; but in the land of Sarah,
Rachel, and Mary, where the highest honor ever bestowed upon our race
was conferred upon a woman, her degradation is no less true than sad.

Beyond the Pools the country rapidly improved in fertility and beauty.
Though hilly, the land was not mountainous; and though the relative
position of hill and valley was not regular, yet this confusion added
interest to the scene. The vales were green with grains and grasses;
the hills were covered with groves of fruit-trees; and along the
highway were wells and fountains of cool water. As we advanced the
scenery became picturesque. Now the valleys ran tortuously between
the mountains; now ridges of Jura limestone rose on either hand;
now dwarfed oaks and wild flowers covered hill and vale, while every
where were visible ancient terraces and ruined towers, the evidence of
former cultivation and of a larger population. But the pleasures of the
journey were lessened by the condition of the roads, which were crooked
and uneven, broken and stony. Sections of the old Roman highway remain,
but by the neglect of twelve centuries this once famous road, over
which the Roman chariot rolled, has been so damaged that those “royal
road-makers” would now disown it as the work of their hands. Yet even
an inconvenience so great was forgotten in the recollection that over
this same road Abraham had passed with Isaac to the Land of Moriah,
Jacob had fled from the face of Esau, David had ridden in triumph to
Jerusalem, and the Holy Family had hastened to Egypt to escape the
murdering minions of Herod.

The day was far gone as we neared the home of the Patriarchs. The sun
was fast sinking into the blue waters of the Mediterranean; the Hebron
Hills were casting their lengthening shadows over the vineyards of
Eshcol, and the wild flowers, blooming along the path, were closing
their tiny petals “beneath the kisses of night.” It was such an hour
and such a scene as the plaintive bard has embalmed in immortal verse:

“The lowing herd winds slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.

* * * * *

“Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds,
Save where the beetle wheels his droning flight,
And drowsy tinklings lull the distant folds.”[342]

Illustration: HEBRON.

A solitary light shone from the minaret of Hebron as we entered its
ancient portal. “Strangers in a strange land,” we sat down upon the
stone pavement, waiting the return of our dragoman, whom, in the
absence of a hotel, we had dispatched to search for lodgings in a
private dwelling. Weary and hungry, we waited till nine o’clock for
his return, being closely watched by the Hebronites, and, in turn, we
watched the progress of a little courtship between a pretty Jewess and
a young Israelite――she coquettishly peeping through a latticed window,
he standing beneath it, catching the smiles and accents of love.

A Polish Jew had been persuaded to receive us into his house, but as
it was Friday night, the beginning of the Jewish Sabbath, the family
refused to prepare us food, or do any thing for our comfort which
required work. Our host’s name was Jonah, a most unpromising fact.
According to the style of Polish Jews, he wore yellow robes trimmed
with fur, and a high round fur cap. His wife was elegantly attired, and
was a person of more than ordinary beauty, which was not true of the
other ladies of the family. Their house was near the Cave of Machpelah,
and built of gray limestone. The room we occupied was in the second
story; the ceiling was arched, and on the sides of the apartment was a
raised platform, which served us as a couch. We had eaten nothing since
we left Bethlehem; our host’s religion would not allow him to relieve
our hunger, and, while we sent for a little Mohammedan maid to prepare
the meal, I thought on our Lord’s parable of the ass in a ditch on the

Hebron comes from Kirjath-Arba――city of Arba――from Arba, who was
father of Anak, and progenitor of the giants called Anakims. At a
later period it received the name of Mamre, in honor of Mamre, the
Amorite, the friend and ally of Abraham. It now bears the Arabic name
of El-Khulêl, “The Friend of God,” evidently referring to the “Father
of the Faithful.” Hebron is older than the oldest authentic history.
According to Moses, Hebron was built seven years before Zoan in
Egypt.[343] But when was Zoan built? Seven years after Hebron! This
indefinite answer leaves us to infer that Hebron is among the oldest
cities in the world, having a greater antiquity than Damascus. Though
its earliest history is obscure, its identity with the home of the
patriarchs is unquestioned. Subsequently to his separation from Lot at
Bethel, Abraham pitched his tent on the Plains of Mamre.[344] Hither
came the fugitive from the battle of the kings, and informed him of the
capture of his nephew.[345] From these peaceful pasture-fields he went
forth with 318 trained servants, born in his own house, and, pursuing
the victors unto Dan, there retook his relative.[346] It was here,
while sitting in his tent door, as old men are accustomed now to sit,
that three angels in human form came to his tent, one to promise him a
son, the others to pass on and destroy the “cities of the plain;”[347]
and, ascending the eastern hill early the next morning, he saw the
smoke of the country that went up as the smoke of a furnace.[348] Here,
in harmony with the renewal of a covenant previously formed, and in
obedience to the Lord’s command, he and all the males of his house
were circumcised. Here is the scene of the unhappy story of Hagar and
Ishmael,[349] and, years later, of the birth of Isaac. Here Sarah died,
and in the cave of Machpelah Abraham interred his beloved wife.[350]
Years after, the prince of patriarchs was laid by her side; and, in the
termination of generations, Isaac and Rebecca,[351] Leah and Jacob,[352]
descended to this abode of death. Two and a half centuries subsequent
to the demise of Jacob, the good Caleb rested in peace and honor in
Hebron;[353] and, 400 years later, David here inaugurated a long and
prosperous reign, and held his court during seven and a half years.[354]
But in less than 1000 years thereafter the home of the patriarchs and
the seat of royalty became the theatre of the most horrid tragedies of
war. Here, beside the graves of their fathers, and beneath the noble
oaks on the ancestral plain, thousands of Jewish captives were brought
from Jerusalem by the victorious Romans and sold into slavery.

Having an elevation of 28,000 feet above the sea, the modern town of
Hebron is beautifully situated in the Valley of Eshcol. Extending north
and south, and spreading out over the slopes of the neighboring hills,
the city is divided by gardens into two sections, the main portion
lying on the eastern slope, surmounted by the lofty wall of the Haram.
To the north, on the declivities of the western hills, is a large
cemetery. The graves of ordinary persons are marked by a circle of
stones, while the tombs of distinguished individuals are designated
by heaps of small stones, thrown together by friends and admirers to
perpetuate their memory. The hills that bound the city on the east
and west are not high, but graceful and rolling. To the northwest they
are thickly covered with olive-groves, orchards of fruit-trees, and
vineyards, each with a watch-tower for shelter and protection. There
is nothing in the architecture of the town to awaken admiration. Like
the buildings in the suburbs of Damascus, the dwellings are of gray
limestone, with flat roofs, and surmounted by one or two domes. Unlike
Jerusalem, the city has no walls, though at the entrance of the chief
thoroughfares there are gates, which are closed at night, and carefully
guarded during the day. The streets are nothing more than paved
alleys, and would be vastly improved by an occasional cleansing.
Though subject to Mohammedan control, Hebron is a thoroughly Jewish
city. The population is estimated at 10,000, 500 of whom are Polish
Jews. There is not a resident Christian in Hebron. The citizens live
by cultivating fruit-groves and vineyards; by a small mercantile trade;
and by the manufacture of water skin-bottles and colored glass trinkets,
such as rings and bracelets, which find a ready market among this
simple-hearted people.

In a country where water is scarce, and the mechanical art is in a
rude condition, the pools and fountains of the wiser and more opulent
ancients are preserved with care. The traveler is therefore not
surprised to find himself standing beside fountains as old as the reign
of David. In the southern part of the vale, where the buildings stretch
across the valley from east to west, is the pool over which were hanged
the murderers of Ishbosheth.[355] It is a square tank, solidly built
of large hewn stones, measuring 130 feet on each side and fifty deep;
and in the northern section of the town there is another reservoir,
eighty-five feet long, fifty-five broad, and eighteen deep.

But the chief attraction in Hebron, alike to the Christian, the Jew,
and the Moslem, is the cave of Machpelah, now bearing the Arabic name
of El-Khulîl――“The Friend of God.” Approaching it with a reverence
almost religious, with head uncovered, and with emotions excited by
the hallowed associations of the place, I had hoped to have entered
its precincts, and to have read the Bible story of its purchase and
of the interment of the patriarchal families, but a Moslem fanaticism,
as inhuman as it is irreligious, drove me from the sacred inclosure.
What a stinging rebuke to such conduct is found in the courtesy, the
justice, the goodness displayed by Abraham in the purchase of the field
from the sons of Heth! His memory should soften religious asperities;
his character should pacify the rage of fanaticism; his spirit should
harmonize the discordant elements of sectarian strife; but a Moslem
is too selfish, too bigoted, too depraved to rise to such sublime

The field containing the cave of Machpelah is located on the higher
slope of the eastern hill, and is now inclosed by a massive wall fifty
feet high, the lower portion of which, to the height of forty feet,
is of Jewish construction, and the upper part is of Saracenic origin,
with a minaret at each angle. The wall has an ancient appearance, being
constructed of large beveled stones hewn smooth, and extends north and
south 200 feet, and 115 east and west. The exterior is ornamented with
square pilasters, sixteen on each side, eight at each angle, which,
without capitals, support a cornice extending the whole length of the
structure. The wall is solid, without window or aperture except at the
angles of the northern end, where are the chief entrances, reached by
broad flights of steps, of gentle ascent, leading to the court within.
Within this mural inclosure stands a mosque, once a Byzantine church,
which, like the Church of St. Sophia in Constantinople and the Church
of Justinian in Jerusalem, has been essentially altered and dedicated
to Mohammed. Beneath it is the cave of Machpelah, and within it are the
monumental shrines of the patriarchal dead. Within a small chapel, on
the right, is the cenotaph in honor of Abraham, and directly opposite,
in a similar recess, is the shrine of Sarah. Each is inclosed by an
iron railing, and guarded by a silver gate. That of the father of the
faithful consists of a coffin-like-structure, six feet high, built
of plastered marble, draped with three carpets of a green color,
embroidered with gold, while over that of Sarah is spread a pall. On
the sides of the mosque, midway the building, and immediately opposite
each other, are the monumental tombs of Isaac and Rebecca. Like those
of their parents, they are placed within chapels, in the walls of which
are windows, protected by iron bars. In a separate cloister, opposite
the entrance of the mosque, in corresponding recesses, are the tombs of
Jacob and Leah. Over that of the former are green-colored carpets of a
coarse texture; against that of the latter recline two war-banners of
the same hue.

Regarding these tombs with a superstitious veneration in keeping with
the spirit and teachings of their religion, and with a fanaticism that
would lead to the instant death of an intruder, the Moslems reverence
them as among their holiest shrines. Until the year 1862, admittance
was absolutely refused to Jew and Christian, except to architects,
who were allowed to enter to repair the structure; but, thanks to
the intelligence, the power, and perseverance of the Prince of Wales,
the bar of seclusion from this most sacred and interesting place has
been removed; and though at present the relaxation is slight, yet
the ultimate effect of the prince’s visit must be the removal of all
restraint, at least so far as to admit the ordinary traveler to the
sacred inclosure, as he is now admitted to the Mosque of Omar, for a
small fee, which formerly was as sacredly guarded. Moslem cupidity can
not brook the temptations of gold.

Canon Stanley, who accompanied the prince, has recorded, with his usual
elegance of diction, some thrilling illustrations of the superstition
and almost religious awe with which the guardians of the Mosque regard
these patriarchal shrines. “The princes of any other nation,” said
the chief santon, “should have passed over my dead body sooner than
enter; but to the eldest son of the Queen of England we are willing to
accord even this privilege.” And, as the party entered the silver gate
guarding the tomb of Abraham, the priest ejaculated, “O Friend of God,
forgive this intrusion.” Maintaining even in death their rigid rule
of the exclusion of male visitors from the society of their females,
not even the Crown Prince of England was permitted to approach the
cenotaphs of Sarah and her female descendants. The patriarchs being
regarded as still existing in a state of suspended animation, and
capable of resenting any indignity offered to their sepulchres, or
the presence of any unwelcome visitor, the prince’s party was denied
admittance to the tomb of Isaac, who, according to the santon, being
unlike his kind-hearted father, and more easily exasperated, would
arise and drive out any but those congenial to his spirit.

Beneath the Mosque is the sacred cave where rest in peace the remains
of the eminent dead, and where to this day may still repose intact
the embalmed body of Jacob. Machpelah signifying “double,” the cave
consists of two compartments, separated by a wall of native rock. To
its sepulchral vaults there are three entrances――one in the northwest
corner, close to the western wall; a second in the court, opposite the
entrance-gate of the Mosque; and a third near the shrine of Abraham.
Believing, like the Catholics, in the intercession of saints, the
Moslems throw their petitions to the patriarchs[356] through the latter

Of the identity of this spot with the cave of Machpelah there can
not be a reasonable doubt. In the days of Josephus it was marked by
a memorial erected by Abraham himself, and from his time both Jews,
Christians, and Moslems have in turn been the faithful guardians of
the patriarchal tomb. Its identity is avouched by the belief of the
Jews themselves, and around its venerable walls the despised descendant
of the illustrious patriarchs now chants his prayers, and laments the
departed glory of the once mighty kingdom of his renowned ancestors.
Threatened with instant death should his devotion or temerity lead him
to cross the threshold, he is only permitted, on certain occasions, to
look through an aperture in the massive wall upon the spot where rest
in peace those who were mighty in their day and generation, but who, in
the helplessness of death, can bring no relief to a posterity who have
abandoned their altars, and rejected the long-promised and now exalted

There was something touching in the thought that I stood beside the
family vault of those who had long lived together in the happy estate
of matrimony, and there was even enjoyment in the reflection that God
had vindicated the duality and unity of marriage in the grave. Here,
side by side, sleep Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and
Leah. Hagar and Keturah are not with Sarah, and Rachel is not with her
sister Leah. Is this separation in death God’s reproof to Jacob for
his dissatisfaction with Leah? Though the reasons that determined him
to inter his beautiful Rachel in a common field by the roadside are
unknown to us, and though Hebron is less than twenty miles distant from
Ephrath, yet it is somewhat remarkable that in after years she was not
exhumed and laid in the family tomb of Machpelah. Was Jacob unwilling
to divide his grave with the daughters of Laban? or, conscious of the
purity and singleness of his affection for Rachel, would he have her
alone even in death? By the highway her solitary tomb remains, and, as
if impressed with the patriarch’s wish, his descendants have made no
interments on the spot.

Inseparably connected with Hebron is Beersheba, which is less
than forty miles to the south. The road thither is hilly, and the
journey toilsome; but, on approaching the well that Abraham dug, the
pasture-fields of the patriarchs stretch out before the eye in all
their native beauty and richness. Covering an area half a mile in
length and a quarter of a mile in breadth are fragments of pottery,
remains of foundations, and traces of a stone wall, the date of which
is unknown, called by Moses Beer-sheba, “Well of the Oath,” because
of the covenant between Abraham and Abimelech, and by the Arabs Bîr
es-Seb’a, “Well of the Seven,” because of the seven ewe-lambs the
former gave the latter: the modern name corresponds with the Bible
designation. Having a diameter of twelve and a half feet, and a depth
of forty-four feet to the surface of the water, this well is excavated
in the living rock, and contains an abundance of pure fresh water.

Around this well what thrilling memories cluster! Departing from Hebron
after the conflagration of Sodom, Abraham planted here a grove, whose
fruit he gathered, and beneath whose shade he worshiped.[357] Here
Isaac spent his happy youth, rejoicing in the smiles of honored parents,
and here his father received the command to offer the child of promise
as a burnt-offering.[358] After the demise of his mother, here Isaac
received his bride Rebekah; and Beersheba became the scene of that
sad episode in domestic life, the fraud of Jacob in obtaining Esau’s
birthright.[359] Here, in manhood, those brothers were estranged by a
mother’s folly, and from this ancestral abode Jacob fled to Haran.[360]
After the lapse of seventy-five years he was here again, and offered
sacrifices prior to his departure into Egypt, whence he was brought
back with funeral honors such as only kings receive.[361] Threatened
by the infatuated Jezebel, hither Elijah fled, and, sitting beneath
the shade of a juniper-tree, requested for himself that he might
die.[362] And here was the southern boundary of the Promised Land,
whose uttermost limits, in the earlier history of the nation, were
from “Dan to Beersheba.”

In a land where social and domestic customs never change, the scenes
of historic associations possess an interest that never fails. The
advanced civilization of Europe has there left to the traveler the
ruins of renowned cities, without perpetuating the customs of their
citizens. The temples, palaces, and dwellings of the Greeks and
Romans remain, attesting the genius, elegance, and wealth of their age,
but the social habits of the inhabitants of Athens and Rome bear no
resemblance to those of their superior ancestors. In Italy and Greece
one feels himself in an ancient country surrounded by a modern people,
and, to re-live the past, he must forsake the present. But in the East,
where a “thousand years are but as one day”――where the stereotyped life
of the patriarchs is the every-day life of the Arabs――where intonations
of voice, peculiarities of gesture, modes of salutation, styles of
dress, habits of business, customs of domestic life, and where the
tent, the meal, the fold are the same, the only difference is in the
change of the persons who now occupy the homes of those whose memory
we cherish, whose examples we imitate, and whose faith we aspire
to attain. Accustomed to the slow and regular processes of nature,
possessing power rather than capacity, and clinging to experience as
something immutable, those who live by the cultivation of the soil
look with suspicion upon novelties, regard innovations with dread,
and are the last to change. The incoming of Franks into Eastern cities
insensibly affects the manners of society; but here, on the patriarchal
pasture-fields of Mamre and Beersheba, the domestic life of to-day is
the same as it was 4000 years ago.

In crossing the great Plain of Wady esh-Sheikh, in Arabia, _en route_
for Mount Sinai, Sheik Hassan, the chief of a tribe of Tawarahs,
invited us to dine at his tent. It was noon when, from the backs of
our camels, we espied the encampment to the southward. Nine tents of
camel’s hair were arranged in a line, supported by rude poles. Those
for the females were impenetrable to the eye of strangers, while those
for the males consisted merely of a roof, with the sides and ends open.
On reaching the tent prepared for our reception, our camels knelt, we
dismounted, and the sheikh’s father, a man of eighty years, rose to
greet us, and bowed himself to the ground in an attitude of profound
respect.[363] Mats were spread for us to sit upon, and water was
brought to wash our hands and feet.[364] To the east of this tented
home Hassan’s daughters were keeping his flocks, as Rachel had kept
those of Laban nearly forty centuries ago.[365] A young man was sent
to the fold to fetch a kid, tender and good, and, having dressed it,
carried it into the tent to Hassan’s wife, who cooked it with milk
and rice. The rice and meat were brought on two large wooden plates
into our tent, and set before us on a small stool less than a foot
high. Without knife, fork, or spoon, we returned to the days before
the invention of such instruments, and with our fingers begun to eat,
while the sheikh respectfully stood up, attentive to our wants.[366] It
being a breach of Arab etiquette to inquire after the health of a wife,
we were not permitted to ask for Sarah as the angels did.[367]

Had the dinner Abraham prepared for the three angels on the plains
of Mamre been dramatized, the correspondence could hardly have been
more exact. The tent-life; this distant field; the pressing invitation
to dine; the water for the ablution of our hands and feet; the going
to the field for a kid; handing it to a servant to dress it; the meal
itself; the sheikh standing up while we ate; the seclusion of the
females gave a lifelike reality to the sacred story.

Like the patriarchs of old, these Bedouin sheikhs lead a predatory life,
moving their tents from place to place, according to the climate, and
the demands of their herds and flocks. But in wealth, in hospitality,
in reputation, in purity of character, in devotion, in intellect, in
nobility of nature, the modern Arab chief holds no comparison with the
exalted nature, the high-toned character, and the Christian-like piety
of the prince of the patriarchs.

As in the days of the Hebrew spies, the Vale of Hebron is still famous
for the delicious grapes of Eshcol.[368] Extending up the valley for
more than a mile, and covering the sloping hills on either side, these
celebrated vineyards are cultivated with care, and are a source of
considerable revenue to the proprietors. Unlike our vineyards, those
of Eshcol have no arbors. The vines are planted in rows, from eight to
ten feet apart in each direction. When they attain a height of six feet
they are attached to a stake, placed in a sloping position, and the
shoots extending from vine to vine form a long and graceful festoon.
Occasionally two opposite rows are purposely inclined toward each
other, forming with their branches a natural arbor. After vintage, in
late autumn, all the shoots are pruned off, and the stocks are cut down
within a few feet of the ground, leaving an ungainly and apparently
dead trunk; but the returning spring brings forth again the tender
leaf, and the coming summer matures the luscious grape for the autumnal
vintage. In each vineyard there is a lodge, or stone tower, from which
the watchman keeps guard against the depredations of beasts and the
incursions of robbers. During the vintage season the town is deserted;
the people retire to these towers, each one sitting beneath his own
vine and fig-tree,[369] and dividing the time between the gathering of
the fruitage and the enjoyments of the annual festival. As the Moslems,
who are the principal proprietors, are not allowed by their Koran to
make wine, the grapes are either dried into raisins, or they are first
pressed, and the juice is then boiled down into a sirup called dîbs,
not unlike molasses, but of a more delightful flavor and delicious
taste. It was to these vineyards the spies came, and from them they
carried bunches of the grapes to Moses and their brethren as evidence
of the fruitfulness of the Promised Land. Their journey was long,
fatiguing, and perilous. Leaving Kadesh Barnea, in the Desert of Paran,
they entered the Jordan Valley, and followed the river northward to
Lake Tiberias, and, winding round its northern shore, entered the upper
valley of the Jordan, pursuing their journey as far as Rehob, near
Dan, as men come to Hamath; thence returning through the midst of the
land by Tabor, across the great plain of Esdraelon, over the hills of
Samaria, through the vale of Shechem, by Jacob’s well, over the heights
of Benjamin and Judah, by Shiloh, Bethel, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, to
Hebron. Here flows the brook Eshcol, from which they drank, and from
the vines along its banks they cut down a branch with one cluster of
grapes, “and they bare it between two upon a staff.” To those who live
in more northern climates, this story of the enormous size and great
weight of a single bunch of grapes must seem incredible; but, whatever
may be the degeneracy of the Syrian grape, through centuries of neglect,
the proof is abundant that in southern latitudes grapes grow to an
enormous size. According to Pliny, a bunch of African grapes was larger
than an infant. Paul Lucas mentions bunches which he saw in Damascus
weighing forty-five pounds each, and in Naples I have eaten grapes
each one as large as a plum. The mode, however, adopted by the spies to
carry the bunch from Eshcol to Kadesh Barnea was probably not rendered
necessary by the size of the cluster so much as by the desire to
preserve it entire for the benefit of their brethren.[370] Watched by
the keen eye of the vine-dresser, we entered the vineyard, and were
impressed with the exact correspondence between the one before us and
the one described by our Lord: There was a certain householder, which
planted a vineyard, hedged it round about, digged a wine-press in it,
built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen.[371] There were the vines;
around them was the hedge; within it was the press; yonder stood the
tower, and by my side toiled the husbandman. Within the same vale are
groves of olives, and orchards of figs, and apricots, and quinces,
and pomegranates. The latter fruit, so frequently referred to in the
Bible, is as sweet to the taste as it is pleasant to the eye. In form
and size it is not unlike an orange, and in color inclines to a pale
yellow, tinged with a red blush. They grow upon a thorny bush, with
a tulip-shaped flower of a brilliant red color, and form one of the
luxuries of the East both to the native and to the stranger. But the
noblest of all the trees of Hebron is the remarkable oak of Abraham. It
stands in the midst of the vineyards, in a clean, smooth spot, covered
with soft, fresh grass, and near a well of cool water. It is an oak of
the evergreen species, measuring twenty-three feet in girth, and its
magnificent branches spread out over a circle ninety feet in diameter.
Six feet from the ground the trunk separates into four huge branches,
and, higher up, these in turn spread out into many more. Standing alone,
it appears to greater advantage, and its lengthened arms, loaded with
exquisite foliage, affords delightful shade to the weary traveler. Here,
on their festive days, the Jewish maidens and the young men of Hebron
assemble beneath this ancestral tree to enjoy the rural pleasure of the
song and dance. Though of great age, it is still sound and majestic,
and with it tradition associates many thrilling memories. Standing
on the Plain of Mamre, it probably marks the spot where Abraham
pitched his tent and entertained the angels. Though hardly credible
that this terebinth should have remained green and vigorous during the
lapse of nearly forty centuries, yet it may be cherished as the last
representative of the sacred forest of Mamre. Fond of contrasts, and
never happier than when the extremes of fortune and the ends of time
meet in the same scene, the Oriental legendaries point to this noble
oak as the slave-mart where the descendants of Abraham were sold by
their Roman masters into captivity.

Plucking a leaf from the famous oak and a sprig from the vines of
Eshcol, we mounted our horses, and in less than an hour reached the
ruins of Remit el-Khulîl, the house of Abraham. Occupying the summit
of a mountain ridge, from which the blue waters of the Mediterranean
were distinctly seen, they consist of massive stone walls, of rounded
columns now broken, of arched vaults now in ruins, and of a noble well
hewn out of the solid rock. The two remaining walls are constructed of
well-dressed stones, measuring fifteen feet in length, and are in good
condition. The wall facing the south extends east and west 290 feet,
while the other, running at right angles with the former, is 160 in
length. The well is a perfect circle, with a diameter of ten feet.
Its sides are faced with smooth dressed stones, from out the joints of
which exquisite ferns were growing. The water is deep, clear, and sweet,
reflecting the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night. An unsolved
mystery still hangs over the ruins of Remit el-Khulîl, if ruins they be.
Their founder and their age are alike unknown. The Jews point to them
as marking one of the halting-places of Abraham; the Latin fathers
of church history ascribe them to Constantine the Great; while others
attribute them to some unknown person, who would have reared for
himself a castle and a palace, but was unable to finish the designed

Resuming our journey, in half an hour we passed on our right a mosque,
whose solitary minaret rose gracefully in honor of the Prophet Jonah,
while to the left, a mile beyond, was a crumbling tower with pointed
arches, and near it an immense fountain, where shepherds were bathing.
On either side of the road were excavated tombs, now the haunt of the
hyena and jackal. The mosque probably marks the site of Halhul, and the
tower the site of Beth-zur, enumerated by Joshua as among the cities of
Judah.[372] Fifteen miles to the north from Hebron the valley of Urtâs
crosses the road at right angles, and to the right of the highway are
the celebrated Pools of Solomon. To these, and to the lovely gardens
which once environed them, he refers in Ecclesiastes, ii., 5, 6: “I
made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds
of fruits. I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that
bringeth forth trees.” Nowhere in the environs of Jerusalem could
the wise king have attained the consummation of his wishes to greater
advantage than here. Under the horticultural care of a Christian Jew,
the valley of Urtâs has been transformed into a charming garden. What
were once rocky hills are now terraced from base to summit, covered
with olives, figs, and almonds, while in the bed of the valley are
grains and grasses, flowers and vegetables, growing in rich abundance.
With his inexhaustible resources, what a scene of beauty must the
vale of Etham and the neighboring hills have presented in the days
of Solomon’s strength and glory! But Time, that inexorable destroyer
of human works, has effaced every trace of his wonderful genius save
the pools that bear his name. Both history and tradition point with
unmistakable accuracy to the imperial founder of these great fountains.
With his accustomed love of detail, Josephus refers to the rivulets and
gardens of Etham, situated fifty stadia to the south from the Holy City,
whither Solomon was wont to retire for rural delights; and the Rabbins,
with even greater minuteness, describe the aqueduct which conveyed the
waters of Urtâs to Jerusalem.

Illustration: URTÂS.

These pools consist of three immense reservoirs, situated in a straight
line one below the other, and so constructed that the bottom of the
first is higher than the top of the second, and the second than that of
the third. They are in part excavated in the rocky bed of the valley,
and in part built of square hewn stones covered with cement, and are
entered by stone steps excavated in the rock. Measuring 380 feet in
length, 236 in breadth, and twenty-five in depth, the upper pool is
the smallest of the three. A hundred and sixty feet to the east is the
middle pool, which is 423 feet long, thirty-nine deep, and varies from
160 to 250 wide. Two hundred and forty-eight feet farther east is the
lowest and largest reservoir, being 582 feet in length, from 148 to 207
in width, and fifty feet in depth, and, when full, capable of floating
one of our largest men-of-war. The eastern end of the lowest pool is
supported by immense buttresses, in one of which is a chamber, and in
the north wall of the first tank is a filter――a wise precaution. Forty
rods to the northwest, in an open field, are the perennial sources of
these great fountains. Twelve feet below the surface are two vaulted
chambers, the larger of the two being thirty-seven feet long and twenty
wide. Springing up at four different places through the bottom of these
chambers, the water is conducted by little ducts into a large basin,
from which it flows through a subterranean canal to the northwest
corner of the first pool, where it is divided, a portion of it flowing
into a deep vault near the old castle, and thence being conducted into
the first pool, while the remainder is carried by an aqueduct along the
hill-side, which is so arranged as to send a portion of its water into
the second and third pools, and then, descending rapidly, joins the
aqueduct leading from the lowest pool, from which point the water is
conducted, via Bethlehem, by a sinuous channel to Jerusalem. I know not
which to admire more――the genius of the architect that conceived such
a complicated work, or the public spirit of the king who supplied the
means for its execution. The original design was to supply the Holy
City with pure cool water, and also the Temple service, which demanded
such large quantities. And to obtain a constant and unfailing supply,
these tanks bore to each other a mutual relation. When the fountain
yielded more than was necessary, the surplus was carried into the pools,
and when the yield was not equal to the demand, the deficiency was
supplied from the pools themselves.

The wind blew hard from the northwest as I traced up the hill-side
the ancient aqueduct, repeating those impressive words of the great
proverbialist, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Like the melancholy
strains of a dirge, the winds moaned as they swept round the mountain
brow, and the waters sighed as they languidly fell from pool to pool.
Was it not the requiem of his departed glory? A solitary descendant
of his mighty kingdom now grubs a living where once his royal gardens
stood, of whose beauty he sang in all the tenderness of the Canticles;
and the robber of the desert and the wild Bedouin of the hills now
bathe in those fountains which once sent murmuring streamlets along
verdant banks and flowery beds, and supplied the imperial table with
the cooling beverage.

Illustration: SOLOMON’S POOLS.

The aqueduct is constructed of red earthen pipes, covered, for
protection, by common limestone flagging. In many places the flagging
is removed and the pottery broken, to accommodate the traveler with
water. To preserve a proper level, it sweeps around the hills and heads
of the valleys; and, though fatiguing to follow its windings, it repaid
the toil, as illustrating the fact that, while the ancients could
construct the most complicated works of masonry, they were ignorant
of the simple method of conducting water over a level higher than its
source. Having followed the aqueduct two miles, we crossed the wild
valley of Ta’âmirah, and reached Bethlehem in time to enjoy a Christian
wedding. Ten pretty maidens had assembled at the door of the bride, and
were singing a simple but sweet melody, accompanied with the clapping
of hands. Unlike the music of the Moslems, there was a warmth in these
bridal songs thrilling and joyous. From a scene so happy we passed
through the town, and, a mile from the ancient gateway to the northwest,
we came to the tomb of Rachel. “And they journey from Bethel; and there
was but a little way to come to Ephrath; and Rachel died and was buried
in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon
her grave; that is the pillar of Rachel’s grave unto this day.”[373]
The pillar reared to the memory of a beloved wife has given place to a
small white square building, surmounted by a dome. It is a Mohammedan
wely. Standing by the side of the great road from Jerusalem to Hebron,
the site has never been lost, its identity never questioned. Jew,
Christian, Moslem, equally revere it, and never pass it without some
token of affectionate remembrance. Gathering a few wild flowers growing
near the dust of Rachel, we resumed our journey toward Jerusalem. In
half an hour we reached the convent dedicated to Elijah, called Mâr
Eliâs, and here came upon the new and noble macadamized road, extending
from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, constructed by the monks of Mâr Eliâs,
which is the first of the kind in Palestine, since the construction
of a similar road by the French, running from Beîrut to Damascus. The
wind had increased to a tornado as we swept by the Plain of Rephaim. It
was the last object of Biblical interest to heighten the joy of a long
and interesting tour. Stretching from the rocky brow of Hinnom to the
Convent of Elias, it gradually declines to the narrow Valley of Roses.
A mile in length, it is one of the richest plains in the Holy Land. It
is remarkable in sacred history as the camp of the Philistines in the
days of Saul, and as containing a mulberry-grove, now gone, in the tops
of the trees, of which David heard a “sound of a going,”[374] which to
him was the signal of war and the pæan of victory.