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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)


C H A P T E R   V I.


§ I.


      AS we have stated in a former chapter, the patriarchal form of government prevails in all Ar'ab families; and it has almost the same prevalence in the Christian families of the Greek Church. Fathers give away their daughters in marriage, as they have done in that country from the earliest ages; and it is not unusual for the father to make the proposals on this subject. Conder relates that he received on one occasion, in a very confidential way, a proposal from an Ar'ab to take his daughter in marriage, and that it taxed his ingenuity to find how he could decline without giving offense. But though the father gives away the bride, he always expects a present from the bridegroom, and this is another custom as old as the days of Abraham.1 Conder escaped by informing the sheikh that in his country it was the custom for the father-in-law to give a dowry to the son-in-law. When the sheikh heard this he had nothing more to say.

      When the day for the marriage arrives, the bridegroom with some of his friends goes to the house of the father-in-law, and receives the bride. She is brought with much parade to the bridegroom's home, where a feast is prepared, of which the guests partake with a great deal of boisterous merriment. The author saw a bridal party at Nazareth bringing home a bride from A'cre. She was mounted on a camel whose head and neck were ornamented with ribbons. Several other camels were in the company, ridden by female friends. The male attendants, including the bridegroom, as the party approached the town from the high hill to the northeast, dashed furiously forward and back on their horses, swinging their swords and spears in the air, and appearing like madmen in their glee. The bride was dismounted at the house of a friend to rest, and to remain there until the time appointed for the feast. While we were camped at Hebron we heard the shouts of laughter at [111] a wedding-feast within the town, and the same occurred at Tiberias. This method of celebrating marriages is not unlike that indicated in the parable of the ten virgins.2 It is probable that fathers in many instances pay some respect to the wishes of their daughters, and consult their real interests in contracting marriages for them; but usually this is not the case. Thomson speaks of a man of his acquaintance, sixty years old, who obtained for a wife a girl only thirteen.3

      The husband exercises the privilege of divorcing his wives at his own pleasure, the Mohammedan law in this respect being the same as the Mosaic. But as the wife is not chosen for a companion so much as for a servant and a drudge, he is not likely to exercise this privilege except in case of the most ungovernable and unprofitable women. In case of marital infidelity the wife is liable to death after a trial and condemnation before the elders of the village or of the tribe. In the towns where the Turkish authority is practically in force such cases are brought before the judges.

§ II.


      The care of young children in this country devolves on the mother even more exclusively than in more enlightened countries. But the care bestowed very often approaches that bestowed by our domestic brutes on their young. The infants are in their mothers' arms when necessary for their nourishment, and on their backs, suspended in a kind of bag which is supported by a strap passing around the mother's forehead, when it is necessary to carry them; but at other times they are rolling in dust and dirt about the hut, or under the shade of a bush in the field where the mother is at work. When they are of a little larger growth, so as to sit alone in safety, they are carried astride the shoulder of father or mother, steadying themselves by holding to the paternal head. But as soon as they can carry their own weight they are turned loose to care for themselves until they are large enough to do some work, when the utmost that they can do is required of them. The fondling of children by their parents or by their older brothers and sisters, which is so great a source of domestic enjoyment in enlightened society, is rarely seen among the Ar'abs; nor is it at all common to spend any money or labor in providing for them toys or other [112] articles of amusement. Toys for children constitute one of the clearest proofs of advanced civilization; they are never known among savages or half-civilized communities.

      Children are usually dressed in the scantiest clothing that will keep them from suffering in winter and hide their nakedness in summer. Indeed, the latter point is not always gained; for both in the villages and in the Bed'awin encampments it is not unusual to see little boys running about in a state of perfect nudity.

      The small children of a village, like other gregarious things, are fond of going in groups; and they often gather in large numbers on a low house-top, or on the village manure-pile, which has been accumulating at one side for ages, and is sometimes higher than any of the houses. Here they stand to gaze at passers-by; but they are seldom seen engaged in those plays and pranks which are universal among groups of children in enlightened countries. Indeed, the children are little "old people," with scarcely any of the gayety belonging to young life. Conder says, "They receive, as a rule, no education, and are neither disciplined nor cared for, the affection of the parents being in most cases small. They learn to curse almost as soon as to speak; and I have seen a boy of six or seven throwing stones at his father with the most vile language. They have none of the gayety of children, but are as solemn as their elders. To animals they are cruel, and to one another mischievous and tyrannical. . . . I have only once seen children in Palestine playing at any game: this was near Samaria, and the sport appeared to be a sort of hockey; but as a rule they seem to do nothing but mischief."4 The author saw Mohammedan boys at play only once, and the play was a game of ball in one of the most sacred places to that people in the world. It was in the Har'âm, or temple inclosure in Jerusalem, and in the portico of the mosque El Aksa. Frequently, however, when we have camped at night near a village or a Bed'awin encampment, I have heard the laughter and merry calls of children enlivening the air until a late bedtime.

      What is said above has reference only to the children of Mohammedan parents. There is no contrast more striking between Mohammedans and the native Greek and Latin Christians than in their care of children, and in the consequent appearance of the children themselves. Cheerfulness, comparative cleanliness, good food, and comfortable clothing are characteristics of these, and it is a rule among Christian parents to seek for their children at least a small amount of [113] education. In regard to the state of education among both classes, see Chapter Seventh.

§ III.


      The appliances for preparing food and making it palatable which are common in Europe and America are mostly unknown among the Ar'abs of Palestine. An American cook-stove, indeed, with its various attachments and conveniences, would be a novelty in any nation of Europe. But few of them have ever been used even in England. An Ar'ab housewife would stare at one in amazement. Copper frying-pans and skillets are used among them to some extent, as are kettles of copper and iron, while little copper coffee-pots that hold about a quart are among the indispensables; but of other cooking-vessels they know nothing. Their fuel consists of broken pieces of brush, of coarse weeds, or of dried manure; and more frequently of the last than of either of the others: only the most wealthy can afford charcoal. The
manure from cows, donkeys, and horses is all carefully gathered up by the village women, patted out into round cakes about six inches in diameter and one inch thick, and then either laid out on top of the house or stuck against the wall of the house to dry.5 These cakes when dried are used as chips for boiling the kettle, frying the meat, or heating the bake-oven. The ovens are little conical structures, made of mud and smoothly plastered both inside and out. An opening in one side enables the woman to put in the fuel and build the fire, and also to rake out the fire when the oven is hot, and to put in the bread. The odor of these ovens is what might be [114] expected. The loaves of bread, made up of unbolted flour, in shape and size about like the "chips" with which the oven is heated, dark, soft, and tough, are palatable when you are hungry and have nothing else to eat. As Artemus Ward said in regard to eating hash for breakfast at a Western tavern, when you eat these loaves "you know what you are eating."

      Another method of making bread is to roll the tough brown dough into large, thin cakes, less than an eighth of an inch thick, and fry them on a griddle with the mutton-tallow made from the sheep's tail.6 These cakes are almost as limber and as tough as sheets of India-rubber, but the native will roll one of them up into a long cylindrical roll, stick it into his pocket or his bosom, and eat it as he walks or rides along the way, with or without accompanying food. The shepherd boy, when he starts out for the day with his flock, is content with one of these rolls and a little sour goat's milk in a skin-bottle for his noonday meal. And the laborers in the fields have usually the same food at noon. They never return to the village to prepare warm food until the day's work is done.

      The reader can readily see from the above that if the traveler in Palestine were dependent for bread upon the native Ar'ab bakers he would suffer in the flesh; but, fortunately, in nearly all of the larger towns there are Jewish bakers or persons of some other nationality who have learned the art of baking in Europe. They procure flour of better quality, and make bread that is palatable; still, the art of bread-making, at best, is one of the undeveloped arts in Palestine. We may here remark that an American, traveling anywhere in the world away from his own country, will turn back to his native shore with longing for bread if for nothing else, for in no other country is bread used in such variety of wholesome and palatable forms.

      In cooking meats the people succeed much better, frying and stewing being very simple operations. Boiled rice, with a little gravy from the frying-pan poured over it, is a favorite dish among those who can afford it. Only a little meat is eaten, chiefly lambs and chickens. Coffee is universally used except among the extremely poor, who cannot afford it. It is prepared by putting a large quantity of the ground coffee into a pot of cold water (usually a copper pot holding from a pint to a quart), and setting it on the coals till it boils. It is then served in little cups which hold less than a gill, and is sweetened excessively before it is served. The coffee is very strong, and the cup is [115] generally nearly half full of dregs. It is not palatable, but it is always served to guests, even by the Bed'awin at his tent, and it is a breach of etiquette not to drink it. Coffee is never used, as in America, while eating other food, but is drunk as a beverage. The people of the Eastern European nations use it much in the same way.

      For the method of preparing fruits and garden-vegetables for use, the reader is referred to remarks on these articles in Chapter II., § III. Milk and butter are used extensively, but both in a very unsatisfactory condition, there being no cool place in which either can be kept sweet in the hot season.

      In the cities the cooking of meals as well as bread is done in better style than among the villagers. Meat-shops are seen among the bazaars, where meats are both offered for sale and cooked to order. On a kind of counter in the open front of the shop is a row of little bowl-shaped depressions, in which a fire is built with a handful of charcoal, and the meat is broiled on griddles. The mutton is often chopped into a kind of sausage, which is cooked and eaten at the shop, and seems to be a favorite dish.

      Travelers who live in tents are usually provided with professional cooks, who are skilled in all parts of their trade except bread-making. The kitchen tent is furnished with a light portable range for cooking with charcoal, and with a full supply of pots, pans, and kettles. Chickens, lambs, eggs and vegetables are bought from the villagers, and charcoal is obtained in the larger towns. A heavy pack-train is necessary to transport supplies and baggage.

§ IV.


      No furniture such as Western nations use is found in the native houses. No chairs, tables, bedsteads, or bureaus. If a carpet is on the floor it is of heavy material, laid down loose, and it seldom covers the entire floor. An elevated platform or divan about a yard wide runs round the wall of the room, or across one side, on which are spread rugs and cushions. This answers the place of chairs during the day and of bedsteads at night. The members of the family, both male and female, sit on the divan during the day, with their feet drawn up under them, and their shoes on the floor before them ready for use when they are needed. At night thin mattresses, which are rolled up [116] and put away in closets during the day, are spread on these divans, or on the floor, for beds.

      Food for the family is usually served in large trays placed on low stands in the midst of the floor. Those who partake sit on the floor
around it and help themselves. The fingers are used instead of knives and forks. Spoons, both of metal and wood, are used as occasion requires.

      The shoes worn in the house by women are either wooden clogs attached to the foot by a broad strap across the toes, or slippers without heels. These are used because of the ease with which they are slipped on and off, the mode of sitting requiring that they be removed whenever the wearer takes a seat.

      In the meaner hovels of the poor mirrors are unknown, but they are used by the better classes. Clocks are also found in some houses, and the better class of mosques are supplied with them; but their dials are marked with the figure 12 where ours has 6, and so all round, according to the ancient method of beginning the day at six o'clock.

      The bareness of furniture does not mean, as one might at first suppose, want of comfort, or even of luxury; for, while in the huts of the poor there is no comfort, either in that country or this, the houses of the rich are often very luxurious. Floors covered with the richest of Turkish or Persian carpets, far more costly than any used in this country; divans covered with the richest silks, and supplied with the softest cushions; bedding of the same rich and costly materials; interior walls decorated with gilding, or colored porcelain of the richest hues; court-yards fragrant with flowers and green with the foliage of beautiful trees; sparkling fountains playing in the sun and cooling the air; costly raiment and gorgeous jewelry; servants in waiting to relieve their owners of every care and labor,--these all attest the ease and luxury in which the rich indulge, and they can be secured and enjoyed on a smaller income than will procure corresponding luxuries in our own country. Only in Damascus, however, of all the cities of Western Asia, are these luxuries enjoyed to the fullest extent, and there only by a few. In the palmier days of Mohammedan rule such living was not uncommon. [117]

§ V.


      While the better class of citizens in the large towns and cities are cleanly both as to their persons and their clothing, the masses of the people are repulsively filthy. The undergarments of the peasantry, made originally of white cotton, seldom appear as if they had ever been washed, and although the ancient custom of removing shoes from the feet on sitting down is still practiced, the twin custom of washing the feet has disappeared. The custom of sitting down on the highway, under a shade-tree, or about the streets, with the skirts of the garments spread out on the ground, greatly contributes to this uncleanliness. You seldom see a village woman in a gown that appears clean, unless it be a new one. Their mode of washing is rude and ineffectual. They have no wash-tubs or wash-boards, and they use no hot water nor soap. Beside the spring or pool where the washing is done they are provided with smooth, flat stones, on which they lay the garment, after dipping it in the water, and pound it with a smaller stone or with a heavy wooden paddle, dipping and pounding alternately, until the process is completed. This, with a little rubbing in the hands, is the entire process of washing. To supply them with tubs, wash-boards, and wringers, and to teach them how to use these, even with cold water, would greatly improve their condition. Until a better supply of fuel is obtained, the use of hot water must continue to be limited, and also the eating of warm food.

      We have already spoken, in § II. of this chapter, concerning the filthy habits in which children are reared, and in this respect the child is father of the man.

      The universal custom among the Ar'ab women of tattooing is observed and mentioned by all travelers. Features which would otherwise not be unpleasing to an American eye are sometimes rendered almost hideous by this barbarous custom. The tattoo-marks are on the lips, the chin, the cheeks, and the forehead; and they are also seen on the backs of the hands and on the wrists. Frequently the finger-nails and the palms of the hands are dyed with henna, which imparts to them an orange tinge, and the eyelids are painted almost black. Doubtless this disfigurement adds to the beauty of women according to Ar'ab taste, otherwise it would be discontinued. Tattooing is done by men whose profession it is, and they frequently visited our camp to offer us their services. [118]

      The personal ornaments of the women, in addition to the tattooing of their faces and hands, consist of bracelets of brass or glass on their wrists, brass rings on their fingers, and head-bands set thick with silver coins hanging just back of the forehead and passing down under the chin. Sometimes the coins extend all the way around the head-band; sometimes only as far down as the ears. These ornaments are worn even while the owners are engaged in the most common out-door labor, perhaps from the fact that they have no good place in the house to secrete them. It may be, however, that love of superior display prompts the habit, for it is only a favored few among the village women who can spare enough silver to make up such a head-dress. Infants are sometimes adorned with little metal anklets hung round with tiny bells. These make a slight tinkling as the child walks, or as it lies on its back and tosses its little feet in the air.

      Those polite attentions between the sexes which make social life so agreeable among enlightened people are unknown among the Ar'abs, and very little known even among the native Christians. A man is never seen walking by the side of a woman; but she always follows after or goes before. Neither is a man ever seen sitting with his wife or daughters in pleasant conversation. Men converse with men, and women with women. When a man meets his friend from whom he has been long separated he kisses him on the right cheek, and receives a like salutation in return; but he never salutes his wife in any such way. Indeed, kissing, so far as it is seen by strangers, is confined to the men, and is not practiced by the women at all. Hand-shaking has been introduced to some extent, in imitation of Western customs, and because all Western travelers shake hands with the natives when they meet them; but the usual form of salutation between those who are not intimate friends, and those who have not been long separated, is to touch the breast, lips, and forehead with the right hand. This action means, "I am ready to serve you with heart, lips, and mind." If unusual politeness is intended, this action is accompanied with a low bow; if less than usual, the hand touches only the forehead. These forms of salutation are quite similar to those employed by the ancient Jews, and they are often alluded to in the Scriptures.

      Some part of the time of women is of course occupied in sewing, and some in spinning and weaving. The sewing is of the coarsest kind, and the idea of a fit in garments is scarcely entertained. They weave only the coarsest fabrics, such as the hair-cloth for tents and the heavy woolen goods for the ab'as of the men. The spinning is done by means of a heavy stick, shaped somewhat like an inverted top. The [119] thread being spun is wrapped round the middle of the stick and passes through a little hook at the tip end of it, and thence up to the thumb and forefinger of the left hand, between which the wool is drawn as it is twisted. With the right hand a twirl is given to the stick; and while it continues the same hand draws some of the wool through the other hand, then gives the stick another twirl, and so on continuously. The weaving is sometimes done in the most primitive manner. The warp is stretched on pins driven into the ground, and the filling is done slowly by hand. But while this mode of weaving is followed to some extent by the village women, in the larger towns there are weavers who use a loom not unlike the hand-looms used in our own country; and they weave both cotton and woolen stuffs of good quality and neat patterns. Hand-looms are also used in Damascus for weaving silk, and there are no patterns of silk in the world more beautiful than some of these.

§ VI.


      In regard to the amusements of children, we have spoken under the head of Care of Children, § II. of this chapter. The amusements of adults are more meagre than those of children. The Ar'abs are naturally a grave people, and they have probably become more so under the system of oppression and the state of poverty which they have long endured. Conder remarks: "The adults appear to have no amusements. They say themselves with terrible truth that they have 'no leisure in their hearts for mirth,' being hopeless and spiritless under their hard bondage of oppression, usury, and violence."7 They cannot be said to cultivate music, either vocal or instrumental. True, the rude shepherd's pipe mentioned in a former chapter is heard at rare intervals, and the dancing performances, if dancing it may be called, of the Bed'awin gypsies, is accompanied with guttural sounds uttered in regular time; but to call either of these music would be a free use of the term. In riding through all parts of the country for three months the author never heard an Ar'ab attempt to sing. Other travelers have been more fortunate, but all speak of the few attempts which they have heard as resulting in harsh and discordant sounds.8 Our Syrian muleteers from the Lebanon Mountains sometimes attempted a song, but it was nothing but a monotonous whine. The people appear [120] as incapable of appreciating music as of making it; for sometimes in our camp worship we had singing, which for melody and harmony would be not unpleasing to American ears, but it attracted no attention from the natives, either Christian or Mohammedan. The latter people have no music at all in their worship, and the Greek Church has usually none deserving the name, although the priests, instead of reading the Scriptures, try to sing them to a kind of chant. Perhaps the absence of music from their worship accounts largely for its absence from the social circle; for among the Western nations it is usually sacred music which first catches the ears of children, and the universal use of music in public worship tends more than all influences combined to make it universal among the people. In the train of a true religion, if it could once be introduced among the Eastern nations, there would doubtless follow the general cultivation of music.

      In the large towns some of the people are entertained in companies by the public reading of romances, and many of them indulge excessively in gambling by means of chess and draughts.9 They also assemble about the cafés, places where pipes are kept for public use, and indulge for hours in smoking and quiet conversation. The favorite pipe used at these places is the narghî'leh. It consists of a glass bottle, supported by a brass foot, and about half filled with water. A brass pipe-bowl filled with tobacco sits on top of the bottles neck, with a brass tube extending from its bottom down into the water. To another tube, entering the side of the bottle above the water, is attached a guttapercha tube, extending to the mouth of the smoker. As he draws through this tube the air from the portion of the bottle above the water, the outer air forces itself down through the burning tobacco and the tube beneath it, and from the bottom of that tube up through the water to the other, which leads to the mouth, carrying the smoke all the way with it. The advantage of this pipe is that the passage of the smoke through the water cools it, and takes away some of its strength. Only the strongest Persian tobacco is used in the narghî'leh, and before it is put in the pipe it is moistened to make it burn slowly. This method of smoking can be indulged only when the victim of it is sitting still and is at leisure, for the narghî'leh cannot well be carried about in the hand. At other times the inveterate smoker generally uses a common clay pipe, though the cigarette, made of fine-cut tobacco rolled in paper, is now rapidly taking its place.

      In the villages which cannot afford a café neither smoking nor [121] gambling abound to any great extent, and the only amusement of the people seems to consist in the quiet one of sitting on the ground in a shady place and talking in a very subdued manner on the slender topics that come up in village life. The women in such groups usually have some kind of knitting, sewing, or spinning in hand, while the men fold their hands in idleness.

      Among the Bed'awin the men sometimes amuse themselves by manœuvres on horseback, in imitation of battles. Their women, especially those of the Jordan Valley, sometimes engage in a wild, shuffling kind of dance, keeping time to grunting sounds made by themselves. The men also have a performance somewhat similar, in which a number of them, with arms locked, go through a great variety of swaying and bowing motions in unison, while one in front of the line directs the movements and accompanies the motions of his body with fierce and rapid swinging of a sword.

§ VII.


      Among the Ar'abs, both villagers and Bed'awin, funerals are conducted in a wild, disorderly manner. If the corpse is that of a child, it is borne to the grave coffinless in the arms of a man, accompanied by a group of men who walk along without any order. The women who attend reach the graveyard in advance, and take seats on the ground a few steps distant from the grave. The men, when they arrive, stand around the grave, and the one bearing the corpse takes it in among the women, that all may have a final glance at its features, presenting it to the mother last of all. During this ceremony there is a loud wailing and tossing of arms among the women, but the men look on with solemn calmness. The corpse is then taken to the grave, which is seldom a fresh one, but usually one already containing a number of corpses, and very shallow at that. The flat stone which covers it has been removed, and a shallow excavation made. The body is deposited, mud mixed with lime is hastily worked into a kind of mortar, some fresh earth is thrown in, the flat slab is replaced, the mortar is pressed around the edges of the slab, and the attendants return to their homes, departing in small groups. Such was a funeral witnessed by the author at Hebron, in May, 1879.

      When the deceased is an adult the demonstrations of grief are more violent. Thomson describes one that he witnessed at Sidon about as follows: the procession, "a confused medley of men and boys in all [122] sorts of costume, rolling on somehow or other toward the cemetery; the only thing solemn about it the low, sad monotone in which they chant that eternal truth, La illah illa Allah (no God but God)! accompanied by that necessary lie, as Gibbon calls it, W' Muhammedhû russù'l Allâh (and Mohammed is the prophet of God.) This and nothing else is their funeral dirge, and they repeat it over and over until they reach the grave." At the grave, whither the women have preceded them, a ring is formed by the men, with two or three of their number in the centre. These last are the choristers. They shake their heads, twist and jerk their bodies, and begin very slowly to repeat Ya-Allah! Ya-Allah! "As they grow warm their motions become wild and frantic; the chant runs into a horrid, deep growl, like wild beasts, in which it is impossible to distinguish any words." This is continued until from sheer exhaustion they break down. The performance is called the Zikr, and Thomson says "there is nothing in all the customs of the East so outrageously repulsive and disgusting."10

      The funeral processions of the Greek Church are conducted in a more orderly manner, and with much more real solemnity. The corpse, in grave-clothes, but without a coffin, is borne to the grave on an open bier carried by four men, the arms of the bier resting on their shoulders. Two or more priests, bearing censers of burning incense, which they swing backward and forward as they go, march with measured step before the bier. Women, weeping wildly, tossing their arms and swinging their handkerchiefs high above their heads, follow the bier, while male attendants walk at the side or in the rear, without any prescribed order. The author saw several processions of this kind at Jerusalem, and he met one in a Lebanon village, in which a young girl thirteen or fourteen years of age was lying on the bier, with her face entirely uncovered. The features of the corpse were regularly formed, and they bore the expression of peaceful sleep.

      Funerals are said to be exceedingly expensive to the living relatives, not, as in this country, on account of the costly burial-case, the number of carriages engaged, the price of mourning raiment, and that of a cemetery lot and a monument, for none of these expenses are known in Palestine; but, as stated by Thomson (i. 849), "Crowds of relatives, friends, and acquaintances assemble at the funerals. For all these refreshments must be provided, and not a few of them from a distance tarry all night, and must be entertained. Then these gatherings and feasts for the dead are repeated at stated times for forty days. [123] The priests and religious functionaries must also be rewarded for their attendance, and for subsequent prayers and good offices in behalf of the dead. Many families are reduced to poverty by funerals." Thomson thinks that this expensiveness characterized to some extent the funerals of the ancient Jews, and that allusion is made to it in the solemn statement required of men when they brought the tithes to the Lord, saying, among other things, "I have not eaten thereof in my mourning, nor given aught thereof for the dead."11

      During the interval between the death of a person and the removal of the corpse, a system of mourning prevails quite similar to that among the ancient Jews. In every community there are women who are skilled in the art of mourning, and who are sent for on such occasions. They recite in piteous tones such incidents in the history of the dead as to keep up a wailing among the kindred; and as one sympathizing friend after another comes in to visit the family they strike up impromptu lamentations concerning the deceased relatives of each, for they know the history of the entire village, and thus they keep all the house in an uproar.12 The author heard this kind of wailing in a house in Cairo occupied by Copts, for it prevails in Egypt as well as in Syria. The practice is of very ancient origin, and is alluded to by Jeremiah, when lamenting over the downfall of Judah. He says, "Consider ye and call for the mourning-women, that they may come, and send for the cunning women that they may come, and let then make haste and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run down with tears and our eyelids gush out with waters."13 The "minstrels" who were found in the house of Jairus when Jesus went there to heal his daughter, and the people who made "a tumult and wept and wailed greatly," were these professional mourners and the friends of the family whose emotions were excited by them.14 These women are usually spoken of as mere pretenders; but it is more likely that they are in the main women of tender sympathies, who can readily enter into the sorrows of their neighbors, and whose emotions are genuine. Such women are found in every community, even in our own land, and they contribute no little to the consolation of stricken families. Weeping is but an outflow of sorrow, and whatever contributes to it is a means of relief.

      Mourning does not terminate with the funeral ceremonies, but the custom of visiting the graves of the dead, which is so natural as to be common in all countries, is observed in a peculiar manner. Every city [124] and large town has, of course, its cemetery, and almost every morning of the year one or more groups of women arrayed in white can be seen as soon as daylight is abroad making their way toward it. They sit down in silence about the freshly-made grave or the old grave, as the case may be, which has received another occupant. In a few moments remarks are made concerning the dead, and weeping begins. Some of these women are mere friendly attendants of the mourners, and consequently they manifest but little emotion; but the sorrow of the real mourners is perhaps as genuine as that of more highly civilized


persons. They sorrow, too, as those who have little hope, because the thoughts of ignorant Mohammedans concerning the future of the dead are little more consoling than those of the heathen. This visitation is kept up at least nine days, and longer if the parties are so inclined. It is observed with but little regard to wind or weather, so that it often results in the winter season in serious illness to the mourners, such as rheumatism, catarrh, and fever.

      The modern burial-places of the country are similar to the unfenced and neglected graveyards in some of the older parts of our own country. There is not one in all Palestine that has a fence or a wall around it. A large portion of the area immediately adjoining Jerusalem on the east; and a considerable portion of that on the west, is [125] covered thick with gravestones. Those of the Jewish grounds are plain slabs of limestone, barely large enough to cover the mouth of the grave, and laid flat upon it after it is filled up. Above the Mohammedan graves there is usually a structure of rough stones about as high as the mound of a newly-made grave in our country graveyards, and in about the same shape. This is covered with plaster and whitewashed. Those of the better class are built up of hewed stones, and are not plastered. In the village graveyards there is often nothing to mark the grave except a rude stone at the head and foot, as in the meanest graveyards of America. The graveyards in all Mohammedan countries might be described in the same terms, except that those in Asia Minor and those about Constantinople are usually surrounded by a fence and planted thick with cypress-trees. In those regions, also, the headstone is often a round pillar of stone carved on top in imitation of a fez, as though the head of the man were there with his fez still upon it.

      The ancient rock-hewn sepulchres of which we read in the Bible have long since gone into disuse. They abound in all the rocky regions of Palestine and of all Syria, but so far as they have been discovered they have long since been robbed of their dead. The author visited one at Nabatî'yeh, a village of Southern Phœnicia, which had but recently been opened, but its fifteen places for burial purposes for bodies had all been dug open in search of relics, and the bones were still lying scattered about the floor. This universal robbing of sepulchres has taken place since the Mohammedan possession of the country, and it was effected in the search for relics and articles of value. It was the custom of the ancient Jews, Syrians, and Phœnicians to bury articles of value, such as jewelry, weapons, and lamps, with the dead; and when the land fell into the hands of a strange people, void of respect for the dead of a hated race, the robbery began. But it is not the ignorant Ar'ab treasure-hunter alone who has thus invaded these houses of the dead; he has been seconded by the relic-hunter from the most enlightened nations of Europe. Wherever a sarcophagus has been found in a tomb, if it possessed any merit as a work of art, or any inscriptions that could be deciphered, it has been snatched greedily from its resting-place and transported to some of the museums of Italy, France, or England. The visitor to the Phœnician department of the museum in the Louvre at Paris sees a sarcophagus of black basalt, which was found in the tombs of the ancient kings of Sidon in 1856, and which declares by an inscription on its lid, in the ancient Phœnician characters, that it is the sarcophagus of Ashmunaz'er, king of the Sidonians. It was taken out of its resting place and [126] removed to Paris under an order from Louis Napoleon, notwithstanding the following malediction which constitutes a part of its inscription:

      "My prohibition to every royal person, and to every man, not to open my sepulchre and not to seek with me treasures, for there are no treasures with me; not to take away the sarcophagus of my funeral couch, nor to transfer me with my funeral couch upon the couch of another; and if men command to do so, listen not to their opinion, because every royal person and every man who shall open this funeral couch, or shall take away the sarcophagus of this funeral couch, or shall transfer me with the funeral couch, he shall have no funeral with the dead, nor be buried in a sepulchre, nor leave behind them son or posterity; and the holy gods, with the king that shall rule over them, shalt cut off that royal person and that man who has opened my couch, or who has abstracted this sarcophagus, and so also the posterity of that royal person or of that man whoever he be; nor shall his root be planted downward nor his fruit spring upward; and he shall he accursed among those living under the sun, because I am to be pitied--snatched away before my time, like a flowing river."15

      This malediction, so little regarded by the late emperor and his officers, yet so nearly fulfilled in the subsequent history of himself and his son, shows with what tenacity men of that age clung to the desire for a permanent resting-place in death; and it shows as clearly that the practice of robbing tombs for the sake of the treasures to be found in them was already known at that early period.

      The sarcophagus, even in its cheapest form, was too costly a coffin for any but the very rich. Those of basalt and of granite were the most expensive, on account of the exceeding hardness of these rocks, and the consequent difficulty of shaping and polishing them. Marble was employed for the purpose in the countries convenient to the Greek Archipelago, where this material is so abundant, and many sarcophagi used by the ancient Greeks contain on their sides and lids some of the most beautiful specimens of sculpture that have been preserved from antiquity. But in Palestine none have been found, I believe, of any other material than limestone. Many of these are seen in various parts of the country; but nearly all lying on the surface, or half buried in the ground, and in a mutilated condition. They indicate that the ancient Jews, like their Phœnician neighbors, sometimes employed these in their burials.

      But in the sepulchres of the Jews bodies were usually buried as they now are in that country, without a coffin of any kind. The mode of excavating their sepulchres and burying in them was as follows: A mass of rock was found, of sufficient extent for the purpose, without seams through which water could find its way, and with an exposed side already perpendicular, or easily made so. Into the face of this [127] perpendicular side of the rock a doorway was cut, usually about two feet wide and three feet high, intended to admit one person at a time in a stooping posture. After chiseling this opening twelve or eighteen inches into the rock, a square chamber was chiseled out, never less than eight feet square and sometimes twenty feet square and eight feet high. This chamber was not the burial-place, but a room around which the actual graves were dug. These last were niches like pigeon-holes cut into the sides of the chamber, of the right size to receive a man feet foremost, and long enough to receive his entire body. They are usually about twenty inches wide and twenty-five or twenty-six high. There are usually three of these on a side, and they are cut with their floors nearly on a level with the floor of the chamber.


      Sometimes a second tier of niches was made above the first, with about a foot of rock between. When a body was placed in one of these niches, a stone slab cut the right size and shape was fitted to the mouth of it with cement around its edges, so that the odors of decomposition would be confined and not allowed to infect the central chamber. A similar stone was fitted to the outer door of the chamber, or else the door was closed by a large round stone like a millstone, which could be rolled to the right or left when admittance was sought, [128] without throwing it on its side. The purpose of this outer stone was to guard the sepulchre, not against men, whose horror for the uncleanness of the dead would keep them out of it, and who could easily remove the stone, but against small animals, like dogs, cats, and jackals, which might otherwise feed upon the dead bodies.

      The following cut represents the front of two sepulchres, one open and the other closed. The one closed is also sealed, a cord being stretched across the stone and its ends fastened with wax to the rock on either side. When the body of Jesus was laid away by Joseph in his


new tomb hewn out in the rock, it was not placed in one of the niches, as is evident from the fact that one of the angels seen there by Mary sat at the head and the other at the foot of the place where he had lain.16 This was either because the sepulchre being new was not yet completed by cutting the niches, or because Joseph had not yet completed his preparation of the body for its final resting-place. It is certain that the women had yet something to do in preparing the body,17 and it is probable that Joseph either intended to complete the task himself, not knowing of their purpose, or had left the matter in their hands. The statement that "he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre"18 implies that it was not the stone made for the purpose but one that he extemporized for the occasion. Probably the stone intended for the door had not yet been completed. The stooping mentioned in John xx. 5, 11, in order to look into the sepulchre, was necessary, because the door was a low one, as usual.

      A sepulchre once dug by a man continued for an indefinite time to be used by his descendants; hence the oft-recurring expression of the Scriptures about being buried in the sepulchre of one's fathers.19 But [129] in order that it might answer this purpose it was enlarged as necessity required. It is to some such enlargement as this in the cave of Machpelah, that Jacob referred when he said to Joseph, "In my grave which I have digged for me in the land of Canaan there shalt thou bury me;" for Abraham had originally prepared the sepulchre, and Jacob can only have enlarged it.20

      When all the niches that could be made in the first chamber were occupied another door was cut, usually much higher than the outer door, and deep enough to pass the niches on the same side, if any were there, and another chamber opened; and so on as far as the mass of solid rock would allow or the needs of the family require. The niches are usually designated by the Latin term loculi (little places). In the sepulchre miscalled the Tomb of the Kings, which is about a mile north of Jerusalem, there are four of these chambers and about forty of the
loculi. A tomb on the western side of the Mount of Olives, miscalled the Tomb of the Prophets, is peculiar in form. Its principal apartment is a narrow, semi-circular passage, fifty yards in circuit, on the outer side of which is dug a row of loculi about thirty in number. These two sepulchres and another about two miles northwest of the city, called the Tomb of the Judges, have received their names in modern times through the mere fancy that their superior extent and costliness justified a name of superior importance. It is certain that the tomb of the kings of Judah was inside the city;21 and there is no probability that any two of the Judges or of the Prophets were ever buried in the same sepulchre. [130]

      Many slight variations were made from this general plan of the sepulchre, the result of the taste or the means of the owner, or of the peculiarities of the rock in which the excavations were made. In a few instances the loculus for the body was made parallel to the side of the principal chamber, with the entire side of it open, so that the whole body was in sight after being laid in it. In some others they


were dug in the floors of the chambers, only deep enough to receive a body, and covered with close-fitting slabs. The author and his party explored a sepulchre of this latter class near Nabatî'yeh, in Southern Phœnicia, which had not previously been entered by a European, having been discovered by the villagers only two years before our visit. It contained eight chambers, seven of which had each two graves side by side, while the eighth had only one, and it was dug in the middle [131] of the chamber with the evident purpose of being left alone to be occupied, perhaps, by the head of the family. Its plan is seen in the preceding cut.

      Thomson describes some sepulchres of this character near Sidon, the floors of whose chambers were paved with closely-fitting slabs of dressed rock, intended to conceal the existence of the graves beneath, but he says that they have long since been opened and robbed of their contents.

      The modern Ar'abs have little of the reverence for burial-places which characterized the Jews of old. The empty sepulchres of the ancients are everywhere used for the folds of sheep and goats when practicable, and some of them, with their doors enlarged and an additional structure in front, are used as dwellings. Even the modern cemetery in which their own dead are buried is but little reverenced. The author saw at Gaza a crowd of women enjoying a kind of picnic under the shade-trees of a graveyard, while a small group of their company were dancing for the amusement of the others in a narrow space closely surrounded by gravestones.

      1 See Gen. xxiv. 53. [111]
      2 Matt. xxv. 1-13. [112]
      3 I. 451. [112]
      4 II. 252. [113]
      5 Mark Twain's amusing description of this in "Innocents Abroad" is true to life. [114]
      6 See description of Syrian sheep, p. 63. [115]
      7 II. 253. [120]
      8 See Lynch, pp. 185, 242. [120]
      9 Conder, ii. 253. [121]
      10 Land and Book, i. 142. [123]
      11 Deut. xxvi. 12-16. [124]
      12 Thomson, i. 146. [124]
      13 Jer. ix. 17, 18. [124]
      14 Matt. ix. 23; Mark v. 38. [124]
      15 Land and Book, i. 200. [127]
      16 John xx. 12. [129]
      17 Mark xvi. 1. [129]
      18 Matt. xxvii. 60. [129]
      19 See Judges viii. 32; 2 Sam. ii. 32; xvii. 23; xxi. 14; 1 Kings xiii. 22, et al. [129]
      20 Gen. l. 5, 13. [130]
      21 1 Kings ii. 10; xi. 43; xiv. 31. [130]


[LOB 111-132]

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J. W. McGarvey
Lands of the Bible (1881)

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