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


L E T T E R   V I I I.


      ON Monday, April 21st, we left Jerusalem for Jericho, on an excursion intended to include the Jordan Valley as far as the Dam'ieh Ferry, all the principal places beyond the Jordan from Jerash on the north to Callirrhoe Springs on the south, the Plain of Shittim, and the road back to Jerusalem by way of Ai and Bethel.

      The road to Jericho has been improved a little in the last few years by the liberality of wealthy Europeans who have traveled over it. I was told that a German count, who fell from his horse and broke his leg, appropriated $500 to the improvement of the part near which he fell. A few more such broken legs would result in making the road very passable on horseback. The descent is very rapid, Jericho being nearly 4000 feet below the level of the Mount of Olives; yet there are some steep ascents along the way, and these but add to the steepness and length of the descending stretches. The distance as the road runs is 18 or 19 miles; it has never been measured. All distances here are estimated in hours; and an hour, on the average, is three miles. [467]

      When about half-way, we ascended a steep, naked hill, and dismounted by the side of a high rock, whose shade was large enough to protect us from the sun while we ate our lunch. This is the reputed place where, as our dragoman expressed it, "the good Samaritan fell among thieves." It is a very suitable place for the sudden attack and escape of robbers, but we saw several others that would have suited as well. It more certainly fulfilled another passage of Scripture, for the spot where we rested was literally what Isaiah calls "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." After lunch we spent an hour or two climbing over the adjacent hills and examining a ruined khân across the road, and a ruined castle a little farther off. Both declare plainly that this was once a dangerous road, but that the danger has passed away and the defenses have consequently gone to ruin.

      As we neared the Jordan Valley our path lay along the precipitous side of Wâd'y Kelt, the brook Cherith of Scripture, where Elijah was concealed when fed by ravens. Brother Earl and Brother Taylor were considerably in advance when they reached this spot, and the latter, hearing the rush of fresh water in the gorge below, and thinking it but a short distance down, started down to get a drink. When we came up he was out of sight and hearing, the steep brown rocks hiding him from view, and the roar of the stream dashing over its rough bed drowning our voices when we called to him. We rode on, leaving Brother Earl to wait for him. When he overtook us we asked him how the water of Elijah's brook tasted; but he said that after clambering down several hundred feet he came to a perpendicular cliff with the water still far below him, and then climbed back again without a drink. When he returned he was thirsty enough to drink some of the warm water in the jug hanging at the side of Solomon's horse. After reaching the Jordan plain we crossed this brook on our way to Jericho, and it was my purpose to explore it for a mile or two up its narrow and deep fissure, but our dragoman assured me that I could not make my way on horseback, and that it would be exceedingly toilsome on foot; so I contented myself for the time being with what I had already seen of it, realizing its perfect fitness as the hiding-place of the prophet.

      Our tents were pitched beside the fountain which Elisha healed,1 and which is therefore called by Christians "Elisha's Fountain," while the Ar'abs call it the "Sultan's Fountain," using the word sultan to indicate its pre-eminence among the fountains of the vicinity. It is a splendid spring, sending forth enough water to run a mill, and giving verdure to [468] eight or ten square miles of the plain that would otherwise be barren. It marks the site of the original Jericho, not a vestige of which remains except a mound consisting of plaster, building-stones, sun-dried bricks, and broken pottery. When we entered the plain, Frank and I were a quarter of a mile or more ahead of the sheikh and the remainder of our party, so we followed the road leading straight forward, instead of turning square to the left as we were expected to do. I saw before me the aqueducts which cross the Kelt on stone arches just west of modern Jericho, and off to my right the ruins of the great pool; and I was intent on examining these. When we were nearly to the pool we saw the sheikh galloping after us alone and heard him calling while he waved his long spear; but we disregarded his motions until we were through with our examinations, and then we allowed him to guide us to the tents. He wished to make us think we were in danger in wandering off thus from our company, so he put spurs to his white mare and led us over the plain in a rapid gallop.

      On the next day after reaching Elisha's Fountain we took a ride to the Dead Sea, distant ten miles. We left our tents pitched and our pack-animals at rest. We also left Frank in his tent taking medicine to keep off a chill. He had suffered from one the second day before, and was afraid of its return. We started before daybreak to avoid the heat, and got there at seven o'clock. Of course we plunged in for a swim, and such a swim we never had before. In trying to swim in the usual way our heels were constantly kicking out, and we could make but little progress. I soon found that the best way was to lie on my back with head and heels both out of the water, and paddle along feet foremost. When I stood erect in the water beyond my depth, with my hands down my side, the surface was on a level with my armpits, showing, as is commonly stated by writers on the Dead Sea, that the human body floats in it with one-third of its weight out of the water. We all got a taste of the nauseous stuff and felt the smart of it in our eyes, but beyond this we suffered no discomfort.

      From the seashore we went to the Jordan, at what is called the Pilgrim's Ford, the reputed site of the Saviour's baptism, four or five miles from the sea. It is certainly a good place for baptizing; for, although at this season of the year the water is 8 or 10 feet deep in the channel, there is a gradual descent on each side with a gravel bottom, and the only drawback to perfect comfort is the swiftness of the current. I have myself, however, baptized in the Missouri River where the current was swifter. We waded about and swam in the water till we thoroughly tested its depth, its current, and the character of its bottom. We were [469] amused, as we were about to enter the stream, at the solicitude of our sheikh and our dragoman. The latter had untied a long rope from the trappings of the pack-horse, and they both insisted that we should take hold of it as we went in, and let them tie the other end to a tree, so as to keep us from being washed away and drowned. When we laughed at them and plunged in, they fluttered about like an old hen with a brood of young ducks when she sees them rush into the water.

      On our way back to camp we visited the site of Gilgal, rode beside the long lines of low walls on which irrigating channels once flowed through the dry plain, and passed through the miserable village Erî'ha, the Ar'ab representative of Jericho. A single palm-tree reminded us that the original Jericho was once called "the city of palm-trees."

      On Wednesday, the 23d, we moved up the Jordan Valley to the Dam'ieh Ferry, so called from Tell Dam'ieh, the ruin of an ancient city on the plain east of the river. This name is supposed to be the Arabic corruption of Adam, the name of the city to which the backed water of the Jordan was heaped up when the river parted before Israel. (Josh. iii. 16.) Here again we tested the water by wading and swimming, and measuring its width along the rope by which the boat is pulled over.2

      Some two or three hundred yards above this ferry, hidden in a thicket of tamarisk and bulrushes, we found the ruins of the ancient stone bridge by which the river was crossed in the better days of this country. Our dragoman knew nothing of it, but when I inquired through him of the old sheikh who was now our protector, he immediately pronounced the words Jisr Dam'ieh (Damieh bridge) and pointed toward it. By the aid of an axman to chop a way for us through the brush, and with the guidance of the sheikh, we soon found it, and rode under three of the arches by which it approached the stream on the eastern side. The ruins of other arches and the abutments of those at the water's edge are visible, and at comparatively little expense the structure might be restored.

      The Damieh Ferry is situated immediately west of the point at which the lower valley of the river Jabbok cuts into that of the Jordan; but the stream from the former bends to the northward just here, and enters the Jordan above the old bridge. We passed up the Jabbok, now called Wâdy Zerka, about eight miles, to where it passes from the Gilead mountains into the Jordan plain. Here, near its northern bank, is a tell, as the Arabs call it, or the ruin of an ancient city in the shape of a [470] mound. It is called Hammâm (hot water), and it takes its name from a spring of hot water a little farther up the stream. Here again I had to resort to the sheikh for information as to the locality, and he called an Ar'ab from harvesting his little wheat-patch to find the spring for us. When we came to the spot the spring was dry, and the Ar'ab said that the only way to find the water was to dig for it. I began to feel disappointed, when it occurred to me that, as the spot pointed out was about 20 feet above the level of the Jabbok, the spring might have found an underground channel into the river; so I clambered down the rocky and almost perpendicular bank, and there I found three little streams of hot water trickling along from under the ledge. Their temperature was 96°. I am indebted to Dr. Merrill, of the American Palestine Exploration Society, for my information about this spring, and I think he is its discoverer.

      At noon that day, Thursday, the 24th, we again took lunch under "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land," and we remembered its cool shade with a sigh on several occasions afterward when we ate this meal in the broiling sun. This rock was 25 feet high and 36 feet thick, and it had fallen from the cliff two or three hundred feet to the edge of the plain. From our rock we overlooked the region of Succoth, where Jacob spent the first summer after his return from Padan-aram, and where he built booths for his cattle, to protect them from the great heat to which they were not accustomed.3 Our route during the morning had skirted the southern edge of this plain, and I had ridden several miles out of the way to examine the mounds of three ancient cities. I crossed irrigating channels in every direction, nearly all of them dry, but a few containing running streams, drawn from the Jabbok where it leaves the mountains. If all of these channels were in good repair, and enterprising farmers were scattered over this plain, there is scarcely an acre that would not yield most abundantly all through the summer. As it is, there are several square miles of promising wheat, and almost the entire plain is covered with verdure. Its former wealth and importance are attested by the ruins of not less than six towns of considerable size, which lie within a few miles of each other, the mass of crumbled building-material in some of them being 40 or 50 feet above the level of the plain.

      We were on our way to Jerash, the ancient Ger'asa, and from our lunching-place on the edge of the Plain of Succoth we were led by our sheikh across mountain spurs fit only for goats and Bed'awin [471] footmen to climb into Wâd'y Râ'jib, where our tents were pitched on a bench high up the mountain-side, near a village which gives name to the wâdy. Of Wâd'y Râ'jib I had obtained no previous information at all, except that I had seen it on the map of Dr. Merrill's report. I was not, therefore, at all prepared to see, as I did, one of the most picturesque and romantic mountain glens that I have ever beheld. Wooded mountain tops, with a naked crag here and there, rose a thousand feet above our camp in every direction except to the west. In that direction the sloping sides of the deep wâdy, covered with small bushes and patches of growing grain, descended 2000 feet to the Jordan Plain; while through the opening could be seen a narrow strip of that plain covered with alternate sections of green and yellow grain, and beyond this the mountains west of Jordan, piled one above another in the distance, and made to stand out with great distinctness by the soft light of the setting sun. I climbed to a rocky eminence above our tents to enjoy the scene. It was enlivened by the merry voices of many children in the adjacent village; by the rush of water in the stream near by dashing over the rocks; by the barking of dogs, and neighing of horses; and, as the twilight drew on, by the bleating of goats, the tinkling of small bells, the lowing of cattle, and the calls of shepherd-boys bringing in their flocks and herds along the mountain paths. A little later the camp-fires of wandering Bed'awin sprang up in various directions on the mountain-sides, and the moon, with the evening star close by her side, began to glow in the western sky. I sat on a projecting rock almost entranced, and said to myself, Could I only have home and the Bible College where those tents are, how I would love to live and die in this place! I lingered till the increasing darkness made my steps uncertain in descending the rocky steep, then came to the tent and sat in front of its door till the hour of worship and of slumber. Such places are rare in this country now, but they were abundant in its better days.

      From Wâd'y Râ'jib we traveled in one day to Jerash. For several hours we ascended the wâdy in which we had camped, passing through some dense forests abounding in oak-trees of several varieties, a few pines, wild olives, and other less familiar trees, and crossing many small fields of wheat and of freshly-ploughed ground. We saw some fresh clearings of the wooded slopes, and other evidences of increasing attention to agriculture. Flowers of many varieties bloomed on every side. They were not more numerous or more varied than I have seen on the prairies in the West, but they were generally of a more delicate texture. Among them we recognized four old Kentucky acquantainces, [472] --the yellow honeysuckle, the red poppy, the hollyhock, and----the dog fennel. The poppy we have seen everywhere, from Joppa to the Jordan and beyond; and in many places it grows so thick as to cover half an acre or more with red. The honeysuckle was a surprise to us, and especially when we saw it in the wild woods clambering over the tops of the scrubby oaks. While speaking of forest trees I may as well say here that only on a few mountain ridges and in the vicinity of streams are any to be seen in this country, and the most of those you do see are of a scrubby growth; yet I measured a wild olive in Wâd'y Râ'jib that was 16 feet 7 inches in circumference; I lunched one day under an English walnut, the spread of whose branches was nearly 40 feet; and I measured an oak on Jebel Owsha the diameter of whose foliage was 62 feet in two directions at right angles to each other. I never saw, in any country, a handsomer shade-tree than the last, or one which cast a denser shade. These specimens serve to show what the primitive forests of this country were when idolatrous Israel offered sacrifice and burnt incense "under oaks and poplars and elms, because the shadow thereof was good."4

      I had read something of the ruins at Jerash, and felt a deep interest in seeing them, but I was by no means prepared to see them so grand, so extensive, and so well preserved. As we have given a description of them in the topographical part of this work, we will not attempt one here. Our camp was close to the spring which sends forth nearly all the water of the stream that flows through the midst of the city. Thence we took walks and rides among the ruins until we had carefully examined them all. As we walked along the well-preserved pavements of the ancient streets, between rows of columns yet standing on either side, or stood on the walls of ruined churches and heathen temples, or sat on the well-preserved seats of the vast amphitheatre, we experienced much the same emotion as we did amid the ruins of Pompeii. The two cities were much alike, but Jerash was by far the more magnificent of the two.

      We left Jerash on Saturday, April 26th, at 10 A. M., for Es Salt. Our route was a little west of south. At noon we rested and lunched under a solitary tree on a high knoll overlooking the valley of the Jabbok, which lay to the south of us. On hanging my thermometer to a limb of the tree, I soon discovered that the temperature was 95° in the shade, and as this was the first extremely hot day which we had experienced, I suggested to my companions the propriety of a long rest and a short [473] ride in the afternoon. We had not realized how hot it was; for though the south wind which was blowing had a parching effect on our hands, lips, and faces, it evaporated so rapidly the perspiration from our bodies as to keep them comparatively cool.

      Where we crossed the Jabbok that afternoon, we found it a larger stream than it was where we had crossed it near its mouth. This difference is accounted for by the fact that much of its water below is drawn off into irrigating channels. Such is the case with many streams in Palestine. Often, indeed, small streams are turned entirely away from their natural channels for a few days at a time, when a large area is to receive a full supply of water.

      After fording the Jabbok and climbing the mountains south of it till we had gone six or seven miles farther, we found our tents pitched on a bench of a mountain, with a lively brook flowing in a narrow valley 150 feet below. Our sheikh called the place "The Valley of Pomegranates." We saw no sign of pomegranates, or of any other fruits in the vicinity, but we accepted the name. These Ar'abs have a name for every high hill and valley and plain in all the land, and a map of the country would have to be of immense size to allow all the names to be printed on it. The ancient Jews had the same custom; for often "the land of this" and "the land of that" in the Bible include only a few acres of ground.

      We had no sooner dismounted at the camp than we went down to the brook to see if we could find a bathing-place in which to refresh ourselves after the intense heat of the day. We found one to suit us admirably. In a narrow fissure of the rock the brook leaped over a precipice nearly 20 feet high, striking various projecting points as it descended, and scattering itself almost into a heavy rain. Here we enjoyed a most delightful shower-bath. When we returned to camp we found Assad quite unwell, and we insisted that a bath such as we had taken would do him good. He would not believe us at first, but said that to get under that waterfall would kill him. Finally, however, he yielded to our arguments and went. He returned evidently feeling much better, but he remarked in a grave manner, "I said my prayers before I got under the water."

      After spending Lord's day at the Valley of Pomegranates, we continued our ride to Es Salt on Monday morning. On the way we crossed a beautiful valley which formed a deep circular basin in the mountains four or five miles in diameter, with the ruins of a town on a knoll near the centre. I was charmed with its beauty as I rode over it, and when, after climbing a steep hill about 1000 feet high at its [474] southwestern side, I was about to lose sight of it, I dismounted and stood a long time alone gazing back upon it. Wide fields of growing grain; broad expanses of ploughed ground in which the ploughmen were still at work; occasional slopes of naked rock; dark spots covered by the black tents of Bed'awin encampments; gentle slopes all around toward the mountains; and a mountain wall on every side made smooth by the distance, constituted a picture never to be forgotten. As I mounted to ride on, I said, "Farewell, lovely valley! I shall never see you again."

      In approaching Es Salt we diverged from our course a couple of miles to the right, in order that we might visit the so-called tomb of the prophet Hose'a and enjoy the view from the lofty mountain on which it stands and to which it gives name. The mountain is 3470 feet high above the sea-level,--the highest mountain east of the Jordan,--and it rises almost precipitously from the Jordan Valley. We saw from this lofty perch almost the entire valley of the Jordan from about Jericho far up toward the Lake of Galilee. We looked beyond it over a very large portion of Western Palestine. To the northwest we could see the tops of Gerizim, Ebal, and Tabor, and directly to the north the horizon was bounded by Mount Hermon. This was our first view of Mount Hermon, and we gazed upon it with deep interest. We expected to see its top all white with snow, but, instead of this, we saw the snow in white streaks up and down its sides. Its rounded top, rising above all other objects and streaked with white, reminded us of the head of an enormous giant with his white locks hanging about his brow.

      A short ride, much of which was through the midst of vineyards with the vines trained flat on the ground, brought us to Es Salt, where we found our tents pitched on a mountain-bench opposite the town, within ten steps of a perpendicular precipice 60 feet down, and another rising still higher immediately behind them. It would have been a dangerous place for small children to play, but it gave us a full view of the city, which covered the mountain-side opposite to us. The houses are so steep above one another that the roofs of the lower serve in many places for the streets of those above. It was one of the most curious scenes we had yet witnessed. High above the city, on the summit of the mountain, were the frowning battlements of an old castle now disused. As night drew on flocks of goats, from every direction and in great numbers, were led in by the shepherds and disappeared among the houses, while their constant bleating, the ringing of the little bells on their necks, the barking of dogs, the voices of [475] children, and the calls of older persons, mingled together in pleasing confusion, softened by the distance.

      We had letters written which we hoped to mail at Es Salt, but, to our surprise, we found that it has no post-office, nor any other arrangement for mailing a letter. It was strange to be in a town claiming 12,000 inhabitants, with a Latin convent and school, an English mission-school, a garrison of Turkish soldiers, and a governor, but no way to mail a letter without sending it by a special messenger 40 miles to Jerusalem. But here we met with an illustration of Turkish management equally singular, though of a different kind. Our dragoman was out of bread, and there was only one baker in the town who could bake such bread as we would eat. Assad applied to him for a supply in the afternoon, but he had none baked, and said he would not bake any until the next day. Moreover, seeing our necessity, he put up the price. If this had been in America, we could have done nothing but pay the price and submit to the delay. But Assad, unwilling to be cheated or to delay us, hunted up the Turkish governor and laid the case before him. The governor sent a couple of soldiers for the baker, and ordered him to go to work immediately, sit up all night if need be, get that bread ready by daylight, and sell it at the usual price. The bread was delivered at our camp, warm from the oven, the next morning before breakfast. We concluded that arbitrary government, after all, works well sometimes.

      Es Salt is supposed to be the Ramoth-Gilead of the Old Testament. The supposition is based, not upon any very definite evidence, but rather upon the fact that Ramoth-Gilead must have stood somewhere in this region of the country, and there is no other town of antiquity and importance yet found here. There is not enough said in the Scriptures about the local topography of Ramoth-Gilead to serve as a clue to the identification.

      We left Es Salt on the morning of April 29th on our way to Ammân'. As we rode over the hills to the southeast we met more armed Bed'awin moving about the country and going toward the city than we had seen before. At noon we rested amid the ruins of an ancient city which our guide called Jubêhât'. The houses were nearly all prostrate, but some walls and arches were still standing a few feet high, rock-cut sepulchres and cisterns were abundant, and sarcophagi were scattered about. We had to eat our lunch without shade, and to take our rest in the hot sun protected only by our umbrellas; but Frank found a sarcophagus which was tilted so as to have a shade inside, and lying down in this he took a nap. Little did the dead man for whom the [476] coffin was made anticipate that a living man would sleep in it after he should have left it.

      Our afternoon ride was through a splendid country. Ruins of ancient cities were thick on every hand; large areas were covered with wheat growing rank with heavy heads; very large flocks of goats and sheep were grazing on the pastures; the Bed'awin encampments were large and numerous; and as we neared Ammân' we saw herds of camels amounting to two or three hundred. On the beaten edge of the road we saw in many places a well-sodded grass which we could not distinguish from Kentucky blue-grass.

      We reached Ammân' early in the afternoon, and were surprised to find its ruins almost equal in magnificence to those of Jerash. But our surprise at the ruins, which we have sufficiently described in Part Second,5 was scarcely greater than at the large quantity of fine fish which we saw in the Jabbok. We were not prepared to find any fish at all so far from the Jordan and so near the source of the Jabbok; for we were now within a mile and a half of the point at which it first springs out of the ground.6 The fish were in a series of pools from two to four feet deep, which the stream had scooped out in the rock of its bed, and multitudes of them were from six to eight inches long. After taking a swim in one of the largest pools, we extemporized a seine out of some large pieces of matting used on the pack-mules, and went a-fishing. We thought it would be pleasant and romantic to have a mess of fish caught in the river Jabbok, and we were so confident of success that we took Solomon with us to bring back the first mess to be cooked for supper, intending the others for subsequent meals. But our seine was not open enough, to drag freely through the water, and the fish, though so thick as almost to touch one another, all swam around it. After toiling in the hot sun till we were nearly worn out, we returned to camp without a single fish, and tried to convince ourselves that mutton and chicken were good enough.

      On the last day of April we left Ammân' and struck across the country in a southwesterly direction toward Mount Nebo. It was another khamsín' day, as the natives call,--that is, a hot-wind day. A strong breeze from the south, almost as hot as our breath, and as dry as if it had come from an oven, blew in our faces, and it was often so strong that we had to close our umbrellas and receive in addition the direct heat of the sun. We passed, as in going to Ammân', many ruined towns, some of large size, many Bed'awin encampments, and very [477] large herds of goats, sheep, black cattle, and camels. We once more lunched and rested at noon in the open sun, not having seen a single shade-tree during our forenoon ride. While resting I took a kind of meridian observation to ascertain the true time. For fear of being robbed while out among the Bed'awin, we had left our gold watches, as well as our other gold, with the consul in Jerusalem, and we had in our entire company only two indifferent silver watches. These had got so far apart that we had no accurate idea of the time of day, and we knew not which watch was the nearer right. I laid my pocket-compass on the ground, and stuck a cedar pencil (the longest straight stick to be found) opposite the south end of the needle, and when its shadow pointed to the north we pronounced it noon, and set both watches accordingly.

      We had seen a troop of about 200 Turkish soldiers, indifferently mounted on mules and horses, scouring the plains as we came along, and we observed that their presence caused some commotion among the camps of Bed'awin. While we were resting at noon we saw a half-dozen of the latter gentry leave their camp about a mile south of us, and come dashing up toward us at full speed with their tall lances on their shoulders. Sheikh Fellâh' met them a short distance from us, and learned that they had mistaken us for a squad of the Turkish cavalry, and had come to see whether we meant war or peace. They said if the Turks wanted to fight they were ready for them, but I observed that as soon as they got back to camp they struck their tents, packed everything on camels, including their women and children, and departed in a great hurry.

      About 4 P. M. that day, after riding three or four miles down a ravine descending from the plateau which we had previously traversed between the rugged mountains approaching the Jordan Valley, we reached Ain Hasbân',-- the spring of Heshbon. It is a bold stream gushing out from under a ledge of rock in the hillside, and running for a mile or more southward through a smooth and gently-sloping valley about a quarter of a mile wide. This valley was dotted all over with Bed'awin tents, and among them were the tents of old Fellâh', our escort. His white mare had moved at a livelier pace for the last few miles, and the old man's face had brightened up as he drew nearer to his home; but when he met his friends, though he had a kiss for the men of his kin, he scarcely noticed his wife and his daughters. Men kiss men in this country, but we never see them kiss the women, nor do the women ever kiss one another. This is one of the particulars in which they have turned matters completely wrong end foremost. We camped [478] that night in the midst of a Bed'awin encampment, and we had a better opportunity than ever before to see these people at their ease in their own homes. We were pleased to see the freedom with which the women moved about; we were vexed by the ear-splitting bark of a dozen dogs every time we passed near one of their tents; and we were kept awake till a late bed-time by the loud voices of the children, who seemed to take the early part of the night as their play-time. It appeared to us that all the adults went to sleep at dark, and that all the children woke up at the same time and went to playing.

      Late in the afternoon we had a visit from Sheikh Goblân', a brother of Fellâh', who came with three of his chief men to meet his brother after his absence with us. Most of the travelers who have gone beyond the Jordan have had Goblân' for an escort, but I had read so much of his treachery and his savage temper that we told our consul not to send for him, but for his milder-tempered brother. The consul, moreover, told us a tale about him which I did not fully credit, until I saw in Tristram's "Land of Moab" that Goblân himself had told Tristram the same story. I copy it as follows: "I once had from him the story of his first crime. When a very young man, riding over the plain, he noticed a horseman before him on a splendid iron-gray mare; the demon seized him; he resolved he would have the mare, and watching his opportunity he speared the man and carried off the animal. Years have passed and Goblân knows not the name or the family of his victim, but he feels sure that some one has vowed vengeance and that he shall yet suffer retribution. 'I cannot sleep,' said he, 'without seeing the gray mare and her rider before me. But she was a splendid mare. Who would not have killed a stranger for her?'"7

      When I was introduced to the old savage I could not greet him very cordially. He is very tall, has a very dark complexion, almost black, has a fearful scar from a sabre-cut on one of his cheeks, and a crippled arm. He has gone through many a bloody fight with the Turks and with unfriendly tribes of his own people, and these wounds are some of the results.

      Our dragoman set out a large bowl of boiled rice for him and his men, and we were amused to see how they ate it. Drawing their feet out of their boots, and sitting down around the bowl, Goblân rolled the sleeve of his right arm about halfway to the elbow, put his hand into the dish, squeezed up a mass of the rice into a roll about the size and shape of a hen's egg, with a skillful use of his forefinger tossed it [479] into his wide mouth, then prepared another as his comrades did the same, and that bowl of rice disappeared with marvelous rapidity. This illustrates the universal method of eating among the Ar'abs.

      On the next morning, May 1st, we rode southward along Wâd'y Hasbân' a mile and a half, passing some ruined mills and the ruins of a strong castle, and then, after climbing a very rough and steep mountain-side still farther south, and thus rising again to the level of the plateau, we reached Tell Hasbân (the ruins of Heshbon),8 about three miles distant from the spring. Although the ruins here are so old that the outlines of only a few houses are distinguishable, yet the antiquity of the place, its association with the march of Moses and the children of Israel toward Canaan, and the magnificent view which we enjoyed from its high summit caused us to linger on the spot an hour or two. We had seen no richer country in all Palestine, nor one more beautiful, than the rolling plain which stretched away for 20 miles to the south and the southeast of us. At the same time we could see out into the desert to the east, we could overlook nearly all the country in which we had been traveling the last few days, and nearly all the hill country of Palestine west of the Jordan. I was here led to think more intently than before on the singular circumstance that in all this region west of the Jordan, though the surface is covered more thickly than any other in the world with ruined towns and cities, not a human habitation has been erected out of these ruins, nor is there a single permanent habitation to be found except in Es Salt and a few villages to the northwest of it. To the question, Who wrought all this ruin? the answer is found in these black tents which dot all these plains, and these brown savages who dwell in them. This leads me almost to adopt the sentiments of Prof. Palmer in regard to these people. He says, "The Bed'awi has a constitutional dislike to work, and is entirely unscrupulous as to the means he employs to live without it; these qualities (which adorn also the thief and the burglar of civilization) he mistakes for evidences of thorough breeding, and prides himself accordingly upon being one of Nature's gentlemen. . . . To call him a 'son of the desert' is a misnomer; half the desert owes its existence to him, and many a fertile plain from which he has driven its useful and industrious inhabitants becomes in his hands, like the south country, a parched and barren wilderness."9 He might have added that, but for the robbing expeditions of the Bed'awin, the portion of Palestine inhabited by the Fellahin would now be in a far more prosperous [480] condition, and a much greater area of the country would be in cultivation.

      From the heights of Heshbon, Mount Nebo, called by the Ar'abs Jebel Nebâ, was in full view about four miles to the west. We could see that it is a lower mountain than the one on which we stood, and the surface between is but little depressed. When we were satisfied with the view from Heshbon I turned to Fellâh', and pronounced the words Jebel Nebâ. He answered, "Jebel Nebâ," pointed toward it, and led the way. It was our privilege now to "climb where Moses stood and view the landscape o'er." The way in which we ascertained the point on which Moses stood, and found the landscape which he viewed, is fully described in our account of Mount Nebo.10 While we were visiting Heshbon and Mount Nebo our camp had moved from the spring of Heshbon to Ayûn Mûsa, the Springs of Moses. These springs, of which we have also given a description elsewhere,11 are on the northern side of Mount Nebo and about 1100 feet below its summit. Our tents were pitched on a narrow bench of the ravine just below the springs, and thus by day and by night we were in the midst of scenes made sacred by the presence of Moses, of the tribes of Israel, and of the pillar of cloud. The day's excursion had been one of the most interesting in our entire tour, and our resting-place at night was one of the most impressive.

      1 2 Kings ii. 19-22. [468]
      2 See the result, page 34. [470]
      3 Gen. xxxiii. 17. [471]
      4 Hosea iv. 13. [473]
      5 See page 365. [477]
      6 See page 367. [477]
      7 Land of Moab, 341. [479]
      8 See description, pp. 368, 369. [480]
      9 Desert of the Exodus, pp. 241, 242. [480]
      10 Page 372.
      11 Page 374. [481]


[LOB 467-481]

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

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