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


L E T T E R   I V.


      AT Naples we made the first change in the original plan of our tour. Finding that we could there take the French steamer which runs weekly from Marseilles to Alexandria, and reach Alexandria one day sooner than to go by rail to Brin'disi, and thence by steamer, we made this change, and thereby secured a pleasanter and cheaper, as well as a swifter, passage. There was not an officer on board who could speak English, and only two passengers, but through the politeness of the French and the free use of signs we got along very well.

      We left Naples on Saturday, March 29th, and in sailing away we had a fine view of its beautiful bay, but we concluded that its beauty has been exaggerated. At the northwestern part of it once stood Pute'oli, where Paul landed on his voyage to Rome as a prisoner, and the thought that he once crossed this sheet of water, gazed on that same Mount Vesuvius to the southeast, and saw Pompeii, then reposing in security at its feet, while Naples was but an insignificant town, gave the bay and our passage across it their chief interest in my mind. I had crossed the land-track of Paul in coming from Rome to Naples, and now I was sailing along the same path through the water by which he came in one day from Rhegium to Pute'oli, a good south wind filling his sails.1 Night closed in shortly after we passed out of the bay. We expected to be awake next morning in time to see our ship pass between the celebrated Scylla and Charybdis, and also to see Rhegium, now Reggio. But our ship, being lightly laden, made rapid time, and passed both places too soon for this. On Sunday morning, however, we saw a grand and lofty mountain in the distance to our right on the island of Sicily, covered with snow from its summit one-third of the way down to its base, and rising just this distance above the neighboring mountains. We at once recognized it as Mount Etna, the celebrated volcano of Sicily, whose fires have long been extinguished. I was not prepared to see it so lofty, nor to see it so extensively covered with snow at the end of March. It is 11,000 feet high.

      After losing sight of Mount Etna, and of the southern coast of Sicily which disappeared almost as soon, we saw nothing more of terra firma [419] until Wednesday morning. I arose early that morning and took a seat at a table in the saloon, expecting to spend at least all the forenoon in writing, but on rising to close a window, through which the air came in too cool, I looked toward the horizon and saw land. It was a low-lying shore, only a few feet above the level of the sea. I knew at once that we were nearing Alexandria, so I put away my portfolio, packed my valise, and stood on deck till the ship came to anchor in the harbor. We had no sooner reached the anchorage than we were surrounded by about twenty Ar'ab boats, each containing four or five boatmen of various colors and costumes, all crying at the top of their voices to engage passengers for the shore. Such a pandemonium I had never witnessed before, but I was prepared for it by the statements of travelers, and I quietly waited to hear some boatman call to me in English. Finally I heard good English from a dark-skinned Ar'ab, calling the name of Abbott's Hotel, the one we had chosen, and in two or three minutes more he and his assistants had hurried us and our baggage into his boat, and we were off through the yelling and struggling crowd toward the custom-house.

      So few articles are subject to duty in European and African ports that the examination of baggage is a mere form, and is very carelessly executed. At this custom-house we were for the first time asked for passports, and we had none. I gave the official a letter of introduction which I bore from Governor McCreary, with his official seal on it, and with this he allowed Brother Taylor, Frank, and myself to pass. Brother Earl had an English passport, and was all right.

      We spent the afternoon riding about Alexandria, guided by the dragoman who had met us at the ship. We saw Pompey's Pillar standing in a dusty lot near an Egyptian cemetery, and seeming altogether neglected. It was made familiar to me in my childhood by a story in one of my school-books about a company of American sailors who once threw a rope over it by means of a kite, climbed to its summit, and drank a bowl of punch there, while a gaping crowd looked on from below. It is correctly represented in our engraving. We saw near the old and now abandoned harbor the last of the ancient obelisks left standing near Alexandria. Others have been taken to London, Paris, and Rome,2where we saw them, and we regretted that they had not all been left where they were originally erected, that they might be seen in their natural associations. We saw the Turkish quarter, the Jewish [420] quarter, and other strange quarters of the city, and we encountered more strange people, strange costumes, strange customs, strange


tongues, and strange houses than we had ever met with before. As we rode along, gazing with both eyes open at every curious object, the natives all recognized us as Americans, and many of the young idlers would call out such American by-words as they had picked up. Some looked at us quizzically and said, "All right."

      The population of Alexandria is estimated at 200,000, of whom 50,000 are Europeans. A new European town has been built in the midst of the old Oriental city, and the important business of the city is chiefly in European hands.

      On Thursday, April 3d, at 8½ A. M. we took the train for Cairo, and arrived there about noon. Our route lay through the Delta, [421] crossing both branches of the Nile, and bringing into view the richest agricultural district of Egypt.

      Our first day in Cairo was spent in visiting Heliopolis, the dance of the Dervishes, the Nilometer, the Coptic convent, and the oldest


mosque in the city. Heliopolis, the ancient city of the Sun, called On in Genesis, was the place of residence of Joseph's father-in-law, Potipherah. It is five miles northeast of Cairo. Nothing is left there but mounds of rubbish, the débris of ancient buildings, and an obelisk which is probably the oldest one in the world. It is 66 feet high and 6 feet square at its base, and it now stands in a little wheat-field, with no wall or fence about it to protect it. It is covered with hieroglyphics on every side from bottom to top, but many of them are hidden by the dark cells of a swarm of little bees which have taken possession of it.

      The dance, or rather the whirl, of the Dervishes is the strangest and wildest exhibition of religious fanaticism I have ever seen. They are a kind of Mohammedan monks, and they live at Cairo in a dingy, tumble-down old convent. At a certain point in their Sabbath worship (Friday is their Sabbath), they walk out upon a circular space in the middle of the large room surrounded by a railing, and commence [422] whirling like children turning round on their tip-toes; and they whirl so fast that their long skirts, shaped like a woman's dress, stand out nearly straight. They kept this up, accompanied by screeching music from a choir in the gallery, for just 25 minutes, with only two intervals of rest of about one minute each; yet none of them seemed to be dizzy, but all walked without staggering when they were through.


      In the Copt quarter we were led down into a cellar under a cellar, where was a dirty and rudely constructed place for saying mass, and were shown two recesses in a wall, which looked very much like old bake-ovens with the fronts knocked out, and were told that Joseph sat in one of these, and Mary in the other, when they were in Egypt with the infant Jesus. I asked the ignoramus who conducted us what [423] Joseph it was, and what Mary; and he puzzled his brain not a little in trying to make me understand who they were. In approaching this place we very unexpectedly encountered an illustration of a familiar Bible scene. We heard a loud wailing from women in a house, and asked our guide what it meant. He said it was the wailing for the dead; that for 40 days after the death of a person the neighbor-women come to mourn with the family, and there is a loud wailing every time one of them comes in. On the same day, while walking through some private grounds to see the Nilometer, I heard a grinding noise, and, looking into a dark passage in the house, I saw a woman seated on the ground beside two small mill-stones, turning the upper one by a wooden pin let into the top of it. Again was a familiar Scripture scene brought unexpectedly before me in the land of Israel's bondage.

      The Nilometer is nothing more than a square stone pillar marked with figures to show the rise and fall of the water. It stands in an excavation near the river, walled with stone, and connected with the river by an underground passage. As we stood between this and the river, next to a perpendicular wall which at this point constitutes the river's bank, our guide pointed us to the place on the opposite bank where Moses was picked up out of the bulrushes. We saw no rushes there or anywhere else on the Nile, though we saw many on the Suez Canal; but we were satisfied that if the spot pointed out is not the one, it is not many miles from it. The great city of Memphis, in which the Pharaohs then resided, was situated a short distance above, and it is highly improbable that the place where Pharaoh's daughter went to wash at the river's brink was far from the city. Of course this requires us to suppose that the parents of Moses then lived near here, and not in the land of Goshen; but in this there is no improbability.

      Our second day in Cairo was devoted entirely to the Pyramids of Gizeh (pronounced Ge'zer), so called because the district in which they are situated has this name. In going thither we crossed the Nile on a magnificent bridge, as massive and handsome as the London Bridge across the Thames, and much longer; then we rode up the river about two miles; then in a straight line nearly due west for six miles, the pyramids being eight miles from Cairo. The entire ride is over an elevated road about 40 feet wide, smoothly macadamized, and completely shaded in most parts by rows of trees standing on both sides and meeting overhead in the middle. We rode out in an open carriage, with the thermometer about 70°, and all agreed that it was the most pleasant ride we had enjoyed since we left home. The traveling public must thank the present Khedive of Egypt for this road [424] and these trees, and also for a very comfortable stone house at the foot of the great pyramid in which to rest and take lunch. These trees were planted and are kept alive at great expense. As it never rains in Egypt, and the shade-trees will not grow without water, they are irrigated regularly by the use of a vast quantity of water.

      Within a few minutes after alighting from our carriage, I was clambering up the great pyramid, with two Ar'abs climbing before me and pulling my hands, while a third pushed me behind, and a fourth carried my field-glass and umbrella. Notwithstanding all this help, I stopped two or three times to rest and to look about me. With a tape-line I measured many of the courses of stone, and found that they vary much in thickness. Some are but two feet thick, and some more than three feet. I measured individual stones that were four feet thick, and one that was six feet. The stones of the latter two sizes, however, usually run through two courses perpendicular, like a brick of double thickness with two of ordinary thickness by its side. When we reached the top we took seats on the stones, and remained more than an hour, surveying the widespread landscape and conversing, as well as a dozen babbling Ar'abs would let us, on the various topics which it suggested.

      To the west of us, and stretching as far as the eye could reach, was the great Libyan Desert, with its ocean of yellow sand, as bare of vegetation as the palm of your hand. To the east, beginning within a few steps of the pyramid's base, was the green valley of the Nile, growing narrow as it stretched away to the south, and spreading out like a fan as it stretched along the Delta to the north. Farther east, this green and beautiful belt is limited by the rocky cliff east of the Nile, which rises up to the naked desert stretching away to the Red Sea. Many towns, villages, palaces, palm-groves, and yellow fields of ripening grain diversified the view along the plain. The valley west of the river is from seven to eight miles wide, and is terminated westward by a limestone cliff about 100 feet high, which rises to the level of the desert. The great Pyramid of Cheops stands on the edge of this bluff, due west of Cairo, and for a distance of 12 or 15 miles to the south of it other pyramids, at irregular intervals, mark the line of the same bluff, while the solid rock of its eastern face is honeycombed with rock-hewn sepulchres for stowing away the mummies of human beings, cats, and sacred bulls. All of this space was necessary to bury the dead of the ancient city of Memphis, the city of the Pharaohs, of Joseph, and of Moses. In the valley between the bluff and the river lie the crumbled ruins of that great city, with here and there a broken statue or column half buried in the earth to tell the mournful story of its desolation. [425]

      The Bed'awin Ar'abs who dwell near the pyramid are allowed the privilege of assisting travelers to ascend it, and of guiding them about its vicinity. They are full of curiosity, and very quick-witted. When I laid my pocket-compass down to get the bearings of the pyramid, they watched the needle how it would point one way and dance back to it when disturbed, and they cried out, "Good, very good!" When they heard me call out to my companions the number of feet, as I measured the top of the pyramid, they were puzzled to know what I meant by feet, and they held out their own feet in all manner of positions to get an explanation. I tried to explain, but made a failure. When at last I wound the tape rapidly into its case and put it in my pocket, they laughed with delight, and said, "Very good, Merican man! Yankee Doodle! hurrah!" They had all heard of Mark Twain. When his name was mentioned, one of them said, "Mark Twain like de debbil!" I asked, "What do you mean by that?" But I could get no explanation from him. One of them proposed, as usual, to run down the great pyramid, on which we stood, across the intervening space of about 200 yards, and up to the top of the second pyramid, in 10 minutes, for a franc. We gave him the money, and he performed the feat, bringing back to me a piece of the cement which originally encased that pyramid, and much of which still clings to its sides. When thus encased its exterior was as smooth as a plastered wall. The great pyramid was encased with polished granite.

      After satisfying ourselves with the outside of the pyramid we descended, took our lunch, walked about the Sphinx and the surrounding tombs for a couple of hours, and then spent two hours and a half exploring and measuring the interior of the pyramid. Our work within the passages and chambers was very fatiguing. The entrance passage is just 3 feet 9 inches wide and 2 feet 11 inches high, measuring at a right angle to the floor. Of course we had to enter in a stooping posture, and the angle of descent is 26° 41'. Moreover, the floor is of white marble smoothly polished, and our only mode of descent would be to slide down and butt our brains out at the bottom, or to have a rope tied at the outside, to which we could hold as we descended, but for the fact that notches have been chiseled in the floor at irregular intervals to furnish a foot-rest. These are so rudely cut, though, that our boots were constantly slipping on them, and but for the help of the Ar'abs, whose bare feet seemed to stick to the stone as if they were glued to it, we would at last have dropped into the sliding method above mentioned. With two Ar'abs to help each of us, and one apiece to hold a candle before us, we managed to get along [426]

    1. 30 feet perpendicular gone from the top.
    2. Lowest chamber 100 feet below natural rock surface. Unfinished room.
    3. Entrance passage.
    4. Grand gallery.
    5. King's chamber.
    6. Queen's chamber.
    7. Each side of the base (original size), 761 feet 6 inches.
    8. Rough dark line at right, passage blasted by Calif, Al Mamoun, before true passage discovered.
Page 426.      

without breaks or bruises; but to take accurate measurements under these circumstances required some patience and much straining of our muscles.

      The mouth of this entrance passage is on the northern side of the pyramid, about midway between its eastern and western corners, and 48 feet perpendicular above its base. Measuring from the beginning of the marble floor, we descended 88 feet 4 inches to a pile of sand which has accumulated at the point where this passage meets with the first upward passage, and which prevented us from completing the measurement with accuracy. Below this pile of sand, which has been blown in by the winter winds, the passage continues in the same direction as before, until it reaches a chamber 101 feet below the natural surface of the rock on which the pyramid stands. This lower part of the shaft is stopped up and covered with the pile of sand just mentioned, so we could not explore it. The pile of sand not only prevented us from completing the measurement of the entrance passage with accuracy, but also came so near choking up the passage that we had to stoop our lowest, and snuff up a considerable quantity of dust that smelt like anything else than cologne, in order to pass over it. We measured, however, the horizontal surface of the sand, and, according to the best estimate we could make, the length of the floor of the descending passage to the point where the floor of the ascending passage begins is 96 feet. It was originally more than this, for several feet, and perhaps yards, of the exterior face of the pyramid have been removed. Here I note the first serious inaccuracy of the measurements given in the little book of Mr. Seiss called "Miracle in Stone." He gives the length of this chamber (page 84) as 1000 inches, which equals 83 feet 4 inches. I am certain that it is several yards longer than this.

      We had now descended within a few feet of the natural rock. From this point we began to climb upward at about the same angle by which we had descended, still going toward the centre of the pyramid; but the first 15 feet of the original passage upward is blocked up by masses of granite, and a rough passage has been cut around these to the right through the soft limestone of which the pyramid is mainly built. These granite blocks were probably placed here by the original builders to keep out intruders. The passage forced open around them is very difficult to ascend, and still more so to descend. We had to have help both ways, and in coming down an Ar'ab stood below me, took me on his shoulder, and swung me down and around the most dangerous point. This made me nervous; for if his feet had slipped, broken bones would have been the certain result. [427]

      From this granite obstruction the passage upward, now only 3 feet 5 inches wide, extends 110 feet to what is called the grand gallery. If our estimate of 15 feet for the obstructed part is correct (we could not measure it accurately), the entire length of this part of the passage is 125 feet. The figures quoted by Mr. Seiss (page 84) make it 1542 inches, or 128 feet 6 inches, and are probably more nearly correct than ours.

      When we reach what is called the grand gallery, the ceiling of the passage suddenly rises to 28 feet in height, and, while the width of the floor remains the same as below, at an elevation of 20 inches above the floor, the passages widen 20 inches on each side, making the entire width of this part 6 feet 9 inches. The entire length of the floor of this gallery is 151 feet 4 inches according to our measurement, 155 feet according to Baedeker's Guide-Book, and 156 feet 10 inches according to Mr. Seiss. We measured with care, but we may possibly have made a slight mistake.

      Just at the lower end of this gallery or hall, and at the right hand as we ascend, is a rough opening in its side where we see the mouth of what is called the well. This is a circular passage about 30 inches in diameter descending in a crooked line to the vicinity of the underground chamber mentioned above. Several of the Ar'abs proposed to go down this for us, candle in hand, for a fee of a franc, and they had a loud quarrel as to which one should go. One of them had already crawled into it far enough to keep the others back; so I decided in his favor, and he went down about 40 feet to a sharp angle, beyond which he would be invisible to us. There I told him he might stop, though he proposed to go farther. I was afraid the fellow would fall and break his bones, for he descended by straddling his feet across the passage and resting them on little protuberances from which anybody's feet but an Ar'abs would have slipped. The purpose of this well is not known. Some suppose that it was dug upward from the passage below by persons who were seeking for treasures in the pyramid and had found their way into the lower passage, but not into the upper. The floor is here level, and we entered the passage leading to what is called the Queen's Chamber. The width of this passage is 3 feet 5 inches all the way, and its height, for 106 feet 7 inches, is 3 feet 10½ inches; but at the end of this distance the floor drops 21 inches, making the height from floor to ceiling the remainder of the way 5 feet 7½ inches. Here we could stand nearly erect, and the length of this higher part is 18 feet 1 inch. Thus the entire length of the horizontal passage leading to the Queen's Chamber is 124 feet 8 inches. [428] This chamber is 18 feet 10 inches long and 17 feet 1 inch wide. Its ceiling is formed of slabs of stone with their lower ends resting on the walls and their upper ends propped against each other, like the two parts of a roof, thus forming a kind of pointed arch. From the floor to the point of this arch is said to be 20 feet 4 inches. We had no means of measuring it. This chamber is entirely empty, but, strange to say, its walls are incrusted in places with a thin deposit of salt, some of which we collected to bring home with us.

      Returning from the Queen's Chamber to the grand gallery, we continued our ascent until we reached a horizontal passage leading into the King's Chamber, the central and most important opening in the whole pyramid. We had now reached a perpendicular height of 139½ feet. The horizontal passage through which we reached the chamber is 24 feet 10 inches long, measuring along its level floor; 3 feet 5 inches wide, and 3½ feet high.

      When we entered the King's Chamber, our Ar'abs, whose noise had already been very annoying, set up such a babel of loud talking to us and loud quarreling with one another that we could have no conversation. Every one wanted to magnify his own importance by telling us what we already knew, and he was equally anxious to push his neighbor into the background so as to get all the buckshîsh' to himself. I finally succeeded, by yelling louder than all of them together, in bringing them to silence and in posting four of the candle-bearers near the four corners, while the fifth candle was held near us to throw light on our measurements. We first measured the coffer or stone coffin, which stands near the western end of the room and is the only movable object in the chamber. We found its inside measurement exactly 6 feet 6 inches in length, 2 feet 2½ inches in width, and 2 feet 8 inches in depth. These figures show that its interior cubical capacity is exactly 66.144 inches; whereas Mr. Seiss, in making it appear that its capacity is the same as that of the ark of the covenant made by Moses, represents it as 71.250 inches. This is one of the emphatic points which he makes in his argument, and I am sure that in it he is mistaken. He also affirms that this coffer could not possibly have been brought into the pyramid after the latter was built, and from this draws the inference that it was not intended for a coffin. The inference would be by no means logical if its premises were granted; for it is obvious that if the pyramid was intended as a monumental tomb of the king who built it, his coffin might have been put in position while the work was going on. But it is not at all certain that the coffer was not brought in through the present entrance passages. Its external width is exactly [429] 3 feet 3 inches, and the narrowest part of the passage is 3 feet 5 inches. Its height is exactly 3 feet 4 inches, and the lowest part of the entrance passage is 3 feet 6½ inches. Consequently it could have been slid along the smooth straight floor and between the straight sides of the passages all the way from the outside to its present position.

      The King's Chamber is 34 feet 5½ inches long from east to west, and 17 feet 3 inches wide, the length being almost exactly double the width. Its ceiling is flat, and is covered by 10 slabs of stone, which reach entirely across the width of the chamber. If we allow about 18 inches at each end of these stones for them to lap on the wall, they are 20 feet long, and their width is just 46 inches each. These stones, however thick they may be, could scarcely support the mass of rock piled above them, consequently several openings called construction-chambers are found above them, with the masonry so arranged as to furnish the proper support. It is difficult and dangerous, without a supply of ropes and ladders, to climb up into these, and, as there is no particular interest connected with them, we did not attempt it.

      I was disappointed in regard to the external condition and appearance of this pyramid. I had been led to think that it was built of the hardest and most durable limestone, but in fact the stone is of the most perishable kind, some of the blocks almost as soft as soapstone, and many of them very porous. Evidently the builder depended on the outside casing of granite, which once covered it, for its preservation, and since that was taken away a very rapid disintegration has been going on. The extent of this is best appreciated by standing at the points of the original corner-stones, which were discovered and uncovered some years ago by Professor Piazzi Smith, of Edinburgh, and observing that at least 15 feet in depth of the original surface has been taken away on every side. A large portion of this has been removed in order to build the city of Cairo, but an immense portion of it now lies at the base of the pyramid in the form of heaps of broken and crumbled stone, rising 40 or 50 feet high along the pyramid's side. The khedive has macadamized the turnpike to Cairo from these heaps, yet we can scarcely miss what he has taken away. There is enough left, I suppose, to make 100 miles or more of double-track turnpike.

      I found it difficult to realize the vastness of the pyramid. It was not until I stood close to its base and looked up, that it appeared what it really is,--the loftiest structure on earth built by human hands. The highest cathedral-tower in the world is that at Strasbourg, which is 473 feet, while the pyramid was originally 483 feet. And it was not until [430] I had walked along the whole length of its western side under a scorching afternoon sun, the thermometer in the shade standing at 93°, that I realized the almost incredible fact that this huge mass of masonry covers 13 acres of ground. Like all well-proportioned structures of great size, it appears to the eye smaller than it is.

      The theory--first advanced by Professor Piazzi Smith, of Edinburgh, who spent one entire winter at the pyramid, and made known in the United States through the small volume by Mr. Seiss, of Philadelphia, which I have mentioned above--that this vast pile of masonry was constructed by the guide of inspiration, that the measurements about it and within it show a miraculous knowledge of astronomy and an insight into the future, and that all the other pyramids, which are confessedly tombs of kings, were built in a mistaken imitation of this, is rejected by the antiquarians of Europe as altogether visionary. The reader of "Miracle in Stone" will himself see the visionary character of the theory if he will observe how frequently the figures in the mathematical calculations work out the desired results only by "splitting the difference" where discrepancies occur, and how frequently coincidences readily accounted for on other suppositions are taken as positive proofs of a given design. The pyramid shows no more skill in architecture and no more knowledge of science than is known to have been possessed by the ancient Egyptians.

      We speak of the pyramid because, in comparison with the one which we have described (called the Pyramid of Cheops), the others, of which there are about twenty, are scarcely worthy of mention, though they would still be entitled to a place among the Seven Wonders of the ancient world if their great companion were taken away. The second pyramid of the group of three at Gizeh is but little inferior in size to the first, but all the others are greatly inferior to it.

      It is expected of every traveler who visits the pyramids that he will give a fee of two or three francs to the sheikh of the Bed'awin village near by, and this is professedly all that is demanded for the services of his men. But your individual attendants use honeyed words to you and press officious attentions upon you from the moment they get possession of you, in the hope of a special fee to each. As I climbed the pyramid one of them, whom they called "the doctor," seized the calves of my legs whenever I sat down, and rubbed them to keep them from aching the next day. I had to fairly kick the doctor away from me before I could rid myself of the annoyance. When I was coming out of the interior passages they began to importune me for buckshish, insisting that I should give it then and there, so that the sheikh would [431] not know it,--"For," said they, "if he knows it he will take it from us." I told them they must wait till I was through with them, and that I would not give them anything at all unless they quit begging for it. Finally, when we started for our carriage we were surrounded with a perfect bedlam. We had given them all extra fees, but they clamored loudly for more, pulled at our arms and skirts, stood in our way, and seemed determined not to let us move until we emptied our purses. It was not until I clubbed my umbrella and began to swing it violently around me that they dodged back and gave me room to breathe and move. And when we were seated at last in our carriage they still crowded around, holding the wheels with one hand and stretching out the other for buckshîsh, until our driver laid whip to his horses and dashed away. Such is the common experience of visitors to the pyramids, and such it will continue to be until the Turkish authorities learn something about police regulations such as are established in the better-governed nations of Europe.

      1 See Acts xxviii. 13. [419]
      2 And since our return another had been brought to New York and is to be erected in Central Park. [420]


[LOB 419-432]

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

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