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


L E T T E R   V I I.


      THE next day after we closed our labors at Suez we went from that city by rail to Ismailî'a, 50 miles distant, and half-way the length of the Suez Canal, reaching there at half-past eleven o'clock. Ismailî'a is a new town built during the construction of the Suez Canal, and dependent on the business of the canal and railroad for its support. We found in it a comfortable little French hotel with a good bill of fare. At 4 P. M. we went down to the Egyptian mail-steamer, which was to convey us from Ismailî'a through the canal to Port Sâ'id. The said steamer we found to be only 40 feet long and 9 feet wide, yet we were asked whether we were first-class or second-class passengers. After a glance at the dingy little craft, we almost wished that we were no class at all, and felt in doubt whether we ought to laugh or cry at the thought of being compelled to travel on her; but we were encouraged at the thought that, being first class, we would have the best if [455] there was any best, so we deposited our luggage on deck, had a big quarrel with the Ar'abs who had brought it from the hotel about the amount we should pay them, hunted for the cabin, which we found to be about the size and near the shape of a big omnibus, waited nearly two hours after the advertised time for the little thing to start, and were delighted by the swiftness with which she cut the water when she did start. The swift motion added force to a gentle north wind in the face of which we sailed, and we were much refreshed, as we sat on the little deck, after the weariness of a hot day. Ships are limited to six miles an hour in passing through the canal, lest the waves they stir up should wash in the banks too rapidly. The width of the water is 85 feet and its depth 25 feet. At intervals there are wider places intented for large ships to pass each other. But our little craft scarcely


made a ripple, and was allowed to run as fast as she chose. We overtook a large ship, and swiftly passed under her side. A hundred or two passengers and sailors gathered at the rail to look down on us, and appeared amused to see so tiny a boat run by them so swiftly. I waved my hat when we were nearly past them, and cried out, "Good-by; we'll tell them you are coming."

      We landed at Port Sâ'id at eleven o'clock at night, and were met by an English-speaking hotel-runner, who put us and our baggage into a row-boat and rowed us to the Netherland Hotel, situated on the pier of the harbor, and put us into most delightful quarters. From the veranda into which our windows opened we could see next morning all the shipping in the harbor and much of the town. [456]

      The cost of the Suez canal was more than ninety-two millions of dollars; but it now pays five per cent. dividends on the stock. Its income in the year 1877, the eighth year after its completion, was about $6,000,000, and the expense of keeping it in repair only $1,000,000. All this income is derived from the toll paid by steamships which pass through it, the number of which, therefore, is immense. At Port Sâ'id and at Suez they are constantly going and coming, and you can seldom look along the line of the canal from either place without seeing tall masts rising above the desert sands. There were 15 steamers in the harbor of Port Sâ'id at the time we left there, two of which had just come in from the canal. These vessels are here merely to pass into and out of the canal, and not to do business with the city; yet the city owes its origin and its continued existence to the canal and its traffic. Its present population is about 9000, mostly Europeans, and the French element predominates. It has no attractions apart from its commercial relations.

      We left Port Sâ'id on the Austrian steamer "Espero" at six P. M. Saturday, April 12th. She is one of a line of Austrian steamers which run biweekly from Trieste, viâ Brindisi, Alexandria, Port Sâ'id, and Joppa, to Beirut. We cast anchor off Joppa the next morning at ten. There is no harbor at Joppa, and consequently passengers cannot be landed at all in rough weather; but the sea was calm for us, and our dragoman, with whom we had contracted at Cairo, came out to the ship with a boat, took us ashore, and led us to Howard's Hotel. Our walk through the crooked street was among as motley a crowd, and through as much filth, as we wish to see again; but we had no sooner entered our rooms in the hotel than we were regaled with so sweet a fragrance as led us to look out at the window to see whence it came, and there, spread thickly over several acres attached to the hotel, was an orchard of lemon-trees in full bloom. The golden fruit and the pure white blossoms were hanging side by side, and beyond and about the lemon-orchard were gardens of oranges, showing no blossoms, but an abundance of ripe fruit. When we went down to lunch a large fruit-stand full of oranges graced the table, and we were so astonished at their enormous size that I went back up-stairs, got my tape-line, and measured three or four of them. I found that they averaged 11½ inches in circumference. On eating them we found them as superior in flavor as in size. They are entirely seedless, and, though less juicy than some varieties, their juice is thick and sweet, and their meat is so compact and tender that we can eat them as we would an apple. The market of Jerusalem and those of all the large towns of the interior are abundantly supplied with them, and [457] they are almost as cheap as Irish potatoes are in America. It is a sight worth seeing to ride among the orchards about Joppa, and see the stout little trees almost covered with the golden fruit, the limbs bending low and carefully propped, but never breaking.

      We visited, of course, the house of Simon the tanner, saw the room where Peter lodged, and climbed by an outside flight of stone steps upon the flat roof where he prayed and saw the vision of the sheet. The representation, however, was so obviously false, as appeared from the modern date of the building and its unsuitable surroundings, that we did not care to see the equally veritable house of Tab'itha, which is shown in another part of the town. But not far from these spots unquestionably stood the houses in which the memorable events connected with Peter's call to Cæsarea took place, and we could but realize that we were now in the midst of New Testament scenes. No one showed us the ship in which Jonah set sail, or the "floats" on which King Hiram sent the cedar beams to Joppa for Solomon's temple; but our own ship at anchor reminded us of both, and carried us back in thought 1000 years beyond the New Testament period.

      We had worship in our own room at the hotel at the usual hour of Lord's day worship at home. We afterward learned that there was an afternoon Episcopal service at the English school of Mrs. Hay, conducted by a visiting clergyman from England; but the information came too late for us to attend it. Mrs. Hay's school, by the by, is kept in a framed and weather-boarded house,--the only one in Palestine. It was the only house we saw which reminded us of home.

      At Joppa I began my Palestine work. I had prepared for it by spending all the time that my other engagements would allow, last fall and winter, in rereading the best books on the subject, and making notes on the places which I expected to visit. These notes were written in a strongly-bound blank-book, and blank spaces were left for filling up the descriptions as the places were visited. As I came to each object of interest I first read what I had already written concerning it, making corrections if any were needed, and then I wrote in the blanks any additional details which I thought worth preserving. I was provided with a pocket-compass with which to take bearings, a tape-line two chains in length with which to test former measurements and take new ones, a good field-glass with which to examine remote or inaccessible objects, and a thermometer with which to observe the temperature of both air and water. With this preparation and these facilities I find that I can make quite rapid progress in my work, and I am [458] correcting some errors committed by my predecessors. The work is often quite laborious, but my companions lightened it by cheerfully rendering all needed assistance.

      From Joppa to Jerusalem, distance 38 miles, there is a turnpike road, constructed seven years ago by the present pasha, the only one in Syria except one built by a French company from Beirût to Damascus. All other roads are mere bridle-paths, impassable for wheeled vehicles. Along the plain this pike is good and smooth, but in the mountains it is so washed and broken in places by winter torrents that vehicles can pass only with the utmost difficulty. We started out on this road the next morning after our arrival in Joppa, mounted on the horses which had been engaged for our whole tour. Our horses are scrub stock, all stallions, and in thin order. They walk tolerably well, canter pleasantly, and climb the hills, both up hill and down, like goats. Mine frequently trips on level ground, but he never misses his step or his foothold on the craggy sides of the mountains. We had our choice between Ar'ab and English saddles, but, though European travelers nearly always choose the latter, our Western horseback experience taught us at a glance that the former were preferable for a long journey. They are very much like the Mexican saddles, but, instead of the large wooden stirrup of the latter, they have an iron stirrup the bottom plate of which is wide enough to receive the entire foot from toe to heel. Our bridles are very fantastic, being made of woolen stuff of several bright colors, adorned with small white shells, and hung thick along the headstall with red and white tassels. Saddles and bridles are both of the regular Bed'awin style.

      About four or five miles out from Joppa we turned out of the main road to the left, in order to pass through Lydda, whence Peter was called to Joppa, and where he raised Æ'neas from his long confinement with the paralysis.1 It is now a well-built Ar'ab village, surrounded by extensive groves of olive-trees. Its only public building is the Greek Church of St. George, the patron saint of England. It was here that the said George was born, here he was buried, and the representation of his celebrated feat of killing the dragon is sculptured on a marble slab over the door of the church. There is a St. George's Church in St. Louis, Missouri, and I once asked a lady who belonged to it what George it was who owned that church, but she could not tell me. From Lydda we turned south, and came into the pike again at Ramleh, a place of much note among the Crusaders, but not mentioned in the [459] Scriptures. There we lunched in the Latin monastery, and in the afternoon we rode to Latrûn', a village on a hill-top overlooking the Valley of Aijalon, over which Joshua made the moon stand still. Mr. Howard, of Joppa, has here a comfortable new hotel, just opened to the public last November, and furnishing a most convenient lodging-place for travelers. The village of Latrûn' is nestled among the ruins of some massive ancient buildings, and below it, near our hotel, are some ancient Jewish sepulchres cut in the solid rock. Tradition has it that this was the home of the penitent thief, and also the burial-place of Judas Maccabeus. An artificial pool below the hotel, walled with stone, and supplied with water from a well near by, is as well suited for a baptismal pool as if it had been made for the purpose.

      We had now crossed the Plain of Sha'ron at its southern extremity, the land of the Philis'tines next south of it having been in sight all day. In regard to this plain, I must use language which I would have thought extravagant before I saw it. It is truly a rich and lovely country, and even in the hands of its present inefficient cultivators it sends a large quantity of produce to market. It produces, without irrigation, better crops of wheat than are now produced in Egypt, and if I were suddenly put down there, I would think myself on one of the rich and rolling prairies of Illinois or Missouri. There is scarcely a limit to the grain and fruit which it would bring forth in the hands of skillful farmers. It has always been noted, and justly so, for the beauty and variety of its wild flowers. The red poppy blooms everywhere, except on the plowed ground, and in many places the entire surface is reddened with it. Many other flowers, smaller in size, delicate of texture, and of every hue, but nameless in my scant floral vocabulary, abound on every side. We were elated beyond expression as we rode over its smooth surface, gazing upon its broad fields of grain, its pasture lands, its brown villages, and the long mountain-wall which bounds it on the east. All was new, and yet old, and it gave promise of what we were yet to see in the Promised Land. We were also interested by meeting, every few moments, groups of strange-looking people coming down from Jerusalem to Joppa. The most of these were pilgrims of the Greek Church, chiefly Russians, who had been up to Jerusalem to spend the Holy Week, and to see the holy fire, which comes down every year from heaven.2 They were a dirty, miserable, stupid-looking set, and among them were old gray-haired men and women not far from the verge of the grave. Many were walking and many were riding in [460] all sorts of ways, on camels, asses, and mules, with bed-clothing, cooking-vessels, etc., hanging about them. The clothing of both sexes was of the heaviest winter goods, and I wondered that they were not overcome with the heat. Many of them carried long tin cylinders, from three to eight feet long and from four to six inches thick, which contained holy candles that had been lighted by the miraculous fire.

      Our ride on Tuesday, from Latrûn' to Jerusalem, was up one mountain-side and down another nearly all the way. We lunched in the Valley of Sorek, 1000 feet below, the heights on either side. This valley heads near Mizpeh, and opens out below in the country of the Philis'tines. Samuel chased the Philis'tines along the whole length of its deep chasm on that memorable day when, at the close of the chase, he set up a stone, called it Ebenezer, and said, "Hitherto the Lord hath been our helper."3

      We passed the reputed site of Kirjath-je'arim, where the ark rested so long after its return from the land of the Philis'tines, and that of the house of Obed-edom, where Uzzah fell when David was taking the ark from Kirjath-je'arim to Jerusalem, and where, in terror at this event, David left the ark three months ere he ventured to take it farther.4

      I knew very well when we were nearing the spot where the Holy City would first come into view, and I had read so much about the deep emotion with which the sight is first beheld that I resolved to preserve my equanimity and approach it calmly. But, in spite of my effort, I began to be nervous. I remembered the longings of almost a lifetime to be here. I thought of Jesus and the cross, and I covered my face with my umbrella to hide the tears which I could not keep down. And now, as I write, the same emotion and the same tears return again. The first object which I recognized was an unexpected one,--the dark-blue wall of the mountains of Moab beyond the Dead Sea and the Jordan. The next was the unmistakable Mount of Olives,

"that dear, honored spot,
The fame of whose wonders shall ne'er he forgot."

The next was the dark-gray wall of the city south of the Joppa gate. I would have seen, a moment sooner, the more northern part of the western wall but for new, unexpected, and unwelcome objects that intervened. These were the houses and high garden-walls of an actually new town, which has sprung up on both sides of the Joppa road within the last ten years, extending nearly a mile from the Joppa gate. [461] It is part of a new European city, springing up on the west and north of the old Jerusalem, and destined, before many years, to be the principal city of the two.

      On entering the city we directed our dragoman to lead us first to the office of the American consul, Colonel Wilson, of Iowa, where we found awaiting us our first letters from home. Though mine was written only one week after my departure from home, I felt as if its news and its messages were all fresh, and I tried to think it had been on the way but a little time. I had been from home six weeks, and had not heard a word from America, except some unimportant political items which I had seen in copies of the London Times.

      From the consulate we repaired to the Mediterranean Hotel. When I entered the room that was assigned me, I parted the window-curtain to let in more light and air, when my eyes fell upon the Pool of Hezekiah, lying beneath me like a mountain lake, in the rear of blocks of houses which inclose it on every side. Looking above and across it, there stood the magnificent Dome of the Rock, miscalled the Mosque of Omar, with the entire slope of the Mount of Olives beyond it. To the right lay the mosque El Aksa, on the southern part of the temple mount. Looking around to the left, the dome over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was also in view, and I immediately named all these objects to my companions. I was in Jerusalem at last; and there was not a window in the city that I would have preferred to the one that became, as if by chance, my own for a time. An afternoon walk down David Street to the gate where once stood the beautiful gate of the temple, thence to Stephen's Gate, on the eastern side of the city, thence along the entire length of the Via Dolorosa, and thence along Christian Street and through the Christian bazaar to the hotel, completed the labors of the day. As we passed along I readily recognized every prominent object, for I had studied Jerusalem until it was very familiar before I saw it, and I pointed out these objects to my companions. Our local guide Elias (the prophet Elijah we called him) began to think that I was taking his business out of his hands, so he looked up and said, "Professor, when were you in Jerusalem before?" He was greatly astonished when I told him that I had obtained my knowledge from books; and when he learned that I intended to write a book, he begged me to send him a copy of it.

      At the hotel we met with a number of European visitors, one of them a superstitious Englishman who believes every word of the priestly traditions in regard to sacred spots in and about the city. We found it the boarding-place of our consul and of the English clergyman. The table [462] was well provided and kept on the plan usual among hotels about the Mediterranean coast.

      According to contract with our dragoman, we were to have commenced living in tents as soon as we arrived at Joppa. We met him and made our contract with him at Cairo; and now, lest some of my readers may not know what a dragoman is, I must tell them that he is a native who has learned some English, French or German, or all three, and sometimes knows a little Italian, and whose business it is to act as guide, interpreter, and contractor for companies of tourists in Egypt and Palestine. As a class they have a bad reputation for honesty and truthfulness, and among them there is every variety of qualifications for their business, from the best to almost none. In the traveling-season they generally resort to Cairo, that they may meet persons on their way to Palestine and secure contracts in advance. We at first did not intend to employ one until we reached Jerusalem, and consequently we declined the offers of several; but when we met with Assad Smart, we were so well pleased with him and with his facilities for serving us that we agreed to employ him. A contract was formally drawn up by our consul's clerk, who knew what items to insert better than we did, a small sum was paid in advance, and Assad went on before us to Joppa to put everything in readiness. He was a native of Beirût, raised in the Greek Church, and educated at the American College in that city. The way in which he obtained the name "Smart" is characteristic of the East. His only original name was Assad, but, in the beginning of his career as dragoman, he escorted some ladies through Palestine who frequently complimented him by saying that he was "smart"; so, taking the word as a compliment without fully understanding it, he attached it to his name, and thenceforth signed himself Assad Smart.

      When we reached Joppa we found that the tents which we were to use were in the hands of another party at Jerusalem, whose contract for them was to expire in a day or two, so we went to the hotel there, as we did also for a day or two in Jerusalem. It was our privilege, according to contract, to occupy a hotel at Jerusalem instead of the tents, but the next day after our arrival the tents were ready for us. We went out to see them, and we found them so comfortable that we determined to go into them at once and become somewhat habituated to them ere we started on an excursion away from the city. We found them pitched on a clean lot surrounded by a stone fence, about 200 yards in front of the Joppa gate, the most usual camping-place for tourists.

      And now, that our readers may understand the facilities for travel in [463] Palestine which have been provided within the last few years, I must give them a description of our camp. We had four circular tents, each 12 feet in diameter. Two of these were our sleeping-tents, accommodating two persons each; one was the dining-tent, and the other the kitchen. They were made of the heaviest cotton-cloth, clean and white, and the sleeping-tents had each an extra roof a few inches above the principal roof, so as to allow a current of air to pass between the two, and thus prevent the heat of the sun from penetrating, as it otherwise would. On the interior they were lined with blue worsted goods, on which were sewed figures cut out of red, white, and yellow, somewhat after the style of an old-fashioned quilt. So our walls and ceilings were frescoed in bright colors, and they had a very gay appearance. The perpendicular part of the tent, about five feet high, was attached to the roof and to stakes by loops in such a manner that we could open it at pleasure in the direction of the wind and thus secure a pleasant current of air in hot days or nights. On the right and left, as we entered the door, stood our iron bedsteads with mattresses and covering of the best quality; on the floor between was a broad strip of thick carpet; at the farther end stood a folding-table, to serve both as a writing-desk and a wash-stand; before the table stood two camp-stools; and around the tent-pole in the centre was a row of hooks for hanging up clothing and other articles. On the opposite page I present a picture of our camp taken at a later period amid the ruins of Baalbec. When we first entered our tents and found them thus provided, we felt somewhat like a young couple when they first go to housekeeping in a new house. Everything was lovely. Our thoughts next turned to the dining-tent and the comforts which pertained to it. When we were called to dinner, we found in the centre of the tent a table large enough for four plates, covered with a clean white cloth, and furnished with a set of French china, silver-plated knives and forks, spoons, coffee-pot, etc., and cut-glass tumblers. Our dinner consisted of soup, roasted lamb or chicken, a moderate variety of vegetables, a pudding, and a dessert of Joppa oranges, figs, or dates and nuts. This continued to be our bill of fare for dinner, with but little variation, throughout our tour. For breakfast we had broiled mutton-chops or chicken, with bread, coffee, and potatoes. A few times, but not often, we had English-made butter. The goat butter of the villagers we respectfully declined. Its color is a pure white, like lard, and its taste is,--well, the nearest I can come to it is to say it is goaty. We had two servants to wait on us at the table, and our cook, a Greek by the name of George, was adept in his art. He boasted of having cooked for [464]


the Grand Duke of Russia and several other titled and royal persons from Europe who had visited Palestine before us.

      In order to transport us through the country, with our baggage, tents, furniture, food, and fuel, our dragoman had provided six horses, ten mules, two donkeys, and seven men besides himself. Four of the horses were for us to ride, and the other two were for himself and a servant named Solomon, who always attended us in our rides, carrying on a pack-horse our noonday-lunch and four flat jugs of drinking-water. These jugs are sufficiently porous to allow some water to slowly ooze through and evaporate on the surface, thus keeping the interior cool. They are used throughout Syria and Egypt, and some, made of a neater pattern, are used to hold water on the tables of hotels and steamships. They are the best and only substitute for ice, and they keep water just cool enough not to be lukewarm. In our daily rides the pack-train always took the most direct route to our next camping-place, and they usually reached it in time to have the tents pitched and dinner prepared by the time of our arrival. Meantime, we struck out, with only Assad and Solomon in our company, to examine all objects of interest on the road and both to the right and left of it, devoting to each as much time as we thought proper. We usually rested one or two hours at noon, taking a nap under a shade-tree if one could be found, and arrived at camp in time for dinner, at from five to six o'clock. Such is about the usual routine of tent-life in Palestine. The entire expense to us of living and traveling with this outfit was $24 a day, or six dollars apiece for the four; and out of this Assad expected to clear five dollars a day for himself.

      Our first little excursion after repairing to our tents was a ride around the city. We rode along the northern wall, pausing at the Damascus gate, crossed the Kedron Valley from the eastern gate, passed by the Garden of Gethsemane, descended the Valley of the Kedron to the Pool of Siloam, rode up the Valley of Hinnom to the lower Pool of Gihon, and thence up the Valley of Gihon to the Joppa gate and our camp. This ride placed before our eyes and engraved on our memories the whole exterior of Jerusalem, with its surrounding valleys and mountains. We frequently repeated the different parts of it on subsequent occasions.

      Our first night in tents was a new and strange experience, but I slept well, and was up next morning before the sun and out to see what was going on around us. The first thing that arrested my attention was a group of women, wrapped up head and all in white sheets, walking slowly toward an old unfenced graveyard beyond our camp. [465] I followed them, and found about forty women in the same costume sitting in a group among the gravestones. As I stood within a dozen steps of them studying their appearance, a young woman in the crowd picked up a stone and threw it toward me; but she did it with a half smile on her countenance, and I stood my ground. Presently a boy, who sat a few steps from the women, picked up a stone and threw it very near me. As he picked up another, I also picked up one and stood ready to throw as soon as he did. When he saw this he dropped his and I dropped mine. By this time a crowd of men had begun to collect, and after they were all seated among the graves one of them began to read or recite something aloud in Arabic, and some of the women began to wail. They were paying their respects to a friend not long ago buried, and the excitement did not run so high as at a funeral. After looking on until our breakfast-hour was at hand I left them, but they did not break up their strange meeting until after it had lasted more than an hour. Every morning while we were camped about Jerusalem we witnessed similar scenes.

      During the remainder of the week we visited every interesting locality within and immediately without the city, except the Har'am, walked nearly all the way around it on top of the wall, loitered much on the streets and among the bazaars, and made arrangements for an excursion beyond the Jordan. The chief preparation for this excursion, so far as we were concerned, was to secure the services of a Bed'awin escort. This we did through our consul. He sent a messenger for Sheikh Fellâh' of the Adwân' tribe on Thursday, and on Sunday morning, just before breakfast, he and four of his men rode into our camp heavily armed, dismounted, stuck their long spears upright in the ground, and took seats on a piece of carpet spread for them in the open space before the tents. They were dressed in regular Bed'awin style,5 and it was amusing to see them slip off their low-topped red boots as they were about to sit down. The boots were so loose and heavy that the bare feet came out of them without the use of a boot-jack or even of the hand. They stood quietly before their owners until the latter arose to depart, and then in the same quiet way the feet were again slipped into them.

      With this sheikh we entered into a written contract, drawn up by the consul's clerk and signed in the presence of the consul, we signing our names and he attaching his seal, which he drew from his bosom for the purpose. The contract bound him to escort us to every part of the [466] country of his tribe which we might choose to visit, and to protect us against all enemies; and it bound us to pay him a certain amount as tribute to his tribe, a certain amount as buckshîsh to him and his attendants, and all the food which they would require, our whole bill amounting to about $117. Of this we paid about one-fourth in hand; and the remainder was to be due when we returned in safety to Jerusalem.

      On our first Sunday in Jerusalem we attended the services of the English Episcopal Church. We went in company with the consul, whose armed and uniformed cavasse (body-guard) preceded us to the door, stood by till we entered, and waited outside to escort us back to the consulate when the services were concluded. Being a Mohammedan and a Turkish soldier, he would not go into the church. There were 25 or 30 adults present at church, all Europeans, and we were pleased with the earnestness and promptness with which they performed their liturgy. There were also about 40 native boys present, belonging to the English school, who took part in the responses, but the most of them did so as if they were doing penance. They were evidently glad to hear the final Amen.

      1 See Acts ix. 32-38. [459]
      2 See the account of this fire, page 174. [460]
      3 1 Sam. vii. 3-14. [461]
      4 2 Sam. vi. [461]
      5 See description of it, page 81. [466]


[LOB 455-467]

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

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