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


L E T T E R   I X.


      FROM our camp at the Springs of Moses we made an excursion, May 2d, to the hot springs of Callirrho'e, near which are the ruins of the castle of Machæ'rus. The castle was a favorite winter residence of Herod Antipas; and it was here, according to Josephus, that he confined John the Baptist after his arrest, and finally beheaded him.1 Our dragoman and the sheikh both said that we could make the excursion in seven hours, but both tried to dissuade us from going thither, declaring that there was danger of our being attacked and robbed by the wild Bed'awin of the Beni Sukrh tribe. But we made light of the [481] danger and insisted on going, whereupon the sheikh sent one of the two men who were with him to summon three footmen armed with guns to attend us as an additional guard. These fellows joined us when we were about halfway, and took the lead of the party. They led up one declivity and down another, in the most desolate region we had ever seen, and over the steepest mountain-paths. A ride which was to have occupied three and a half hours stretched into seven, and the thermometer went up into the nineties. Our new guards were armed with flint-lock muskets, and their entire dress consisted of a dirty handkerchief round the head, a brown cotton shirt, once white, nearly worn out, and reaching only to the knees, and a pair of old slippers with no upper leather around the heels. They seemed to feel their importance as the protectors of four innocent "babes in the wood" from the other side of the ocean, while the whole affair appeared to us extremely ridiculous. Frank said, "There is no use to have those ragamuffins to protect us out here, for nobody but us are fools enough to come to such a place."

      We finally reached the springs. They are in a deep, narrow gorge, into which we had to descend by climbing down an almost perpendicular cliff. It was too steep to ride down, and almost too steep for our horses to get down at all. When we reached the bottom, and had tried the temperature of some of the springs, we took our lunch under the thin shade of a tamarisk, with the thermometer at 97°. We took a bath in the creek just below its reception of the first hot stream, and found the water as hot as we could bear. But the rocks on which we stood were hotter, and they made us dance when we stood upon them with our naked feet. After the bath, the perspiration, which had flowed freely enough before, fairly streamed over us, yet we walked up and down the hot gulch for an hour or two, examining the springs and the rank tropical vegetation along the bank of the stream.

      On returning to camp we found that we had been absent fifteen and a half hours,--from 5 A. M. to 8½ P. M.,--and that we had been in the saddle fourteen hours, on some of the roughest and steepest paths that a horse ever traveled over. Many times we had to dismount, and even on foot some places were difficult and dangerous. A bright moon enabled us to descend the rocky side of Mount Nebo to the tents, or I think we would have been compelled to seek shelter in the tents of the Bed'awin. We were completely worn out, and we felt like bitterly reproaching Assad for deceiving us about the length of the ride. I am now satisfied, however, that old Fellâh' was actually afraid of an attack, and that he led us far out of the way in order to avoid it. We [482] had not been so fatigued since our long walk on the western shore of the Red Sea; but a good night's rest revived us, and the next day we were again ready for active service.

      From the Springs of Moses we descended into "the plains of Moab over against Jericho," sometimes called in the Bible "the plains of Shittim." It is a plain extending seven miles from the mountains to the Jordan, and eight from the Dead Sea north to a westward projection of the mountains where they reach out to within three or four miles of the Jordan. It is traversed by five streams of water, which, if properly applied, would irrigate the whole of it and make it a garden. Indeed, it once was a garden, and it supported five cities, the ruins of which now constitute five immense mounds, near the base of the hills. Near one of these is another hot spring, with a temperature of 102°. We camped here on Saturday, May 3d, and remained till Monday the 5th, with our tents pitched by the bank of Wâd'y Kefrein'. Mount Nebo hung above us to the southeast, and it now appeared the highest mountain in that direction. The Dead Sea was in full view to the southwest, and high up the mountains west of the Jordan we could see Bethlehem and the Mount of Olives. We were now on our return to Jerusalem. We crossed the Jordan at the ferry opposite Jericho; but, instead of using the boat, we forded the river at the head of a shoal just below. The water came well up on our saddle-skirts and one of my knees got wet, but all of our eighteen animals crossed in safety. While the pack-train was crossing, our party took a fine swim in the river, and once more tested it as a place for baptizing. It is rare that a better place for the purpose can be found in a running stream in any country,--pebbly shore, gradual descent into the water, pebbly bottom, and the current on the opposite bank. We also spent some time searching among the bushes on the shore for suitable sticks of which to make canes. We had already cut several on our first visit to the Jordan, and sent them up to Jerusalem by an Ar'ab, but we wanted as many as we could well carry, knowing that our friends at home would be glad to have them. We succeeded, however, in finding but few limbs that were straight enough to answer the purpose.

      After crossing the river we returned to our old camp at the Fountain of Elisha, and there took our noonday rest. As we were now once more very near the deep gorge of the brook Cherith, and as I had learned to distrust Assad's statements about places out of the beaten track, I determined to see for myself whether it was practicable to ride some distance into that gorge. Brother Taylor agreed to go with me; so, taking a muleteer to hold our horses when we wished to dismount, we [483] rode to the mouth of the chasm, and found no serious difficulty in riding half a mile or more along the bed of the stream. Then we dismounted and went farther, clambering over the bowlders which almost block up the way, and struggling through the patches of cane which grow thick and rank wherever there is any soil, until we reached a spot which appeared in every way suitable for the hiding-place of the prophet Elijah. Perpendicular cliffs of brown, rotten-looking stone arose on each side not more than 20 steps apart, and filling the chasm with gloom by their dark shadows. No human being could climb up or down those cliffs, and no one could have any ordinary purpose for ascending the gorge from its mouth or descending it from its head, away up toward Michmash. A more secluded place could not be found, and it was well chosen for the prophet's confinement while Ahab was searching for him throughout his own and all adjoining kingdoms. When we had satisfied ourselves with the view we cut a walking-cane apiece from the stout stalks of a cane-brake and returned to our horses. As we were passing out of the chasm we saw, soaring high up in the air, a raven of the same variety which carried the bread and flesh every morning and evening to the prophet.

      From Elisha's Fountain we rode in the afternoon to Ain ed Dûk,2 where we camped for the night. We took much interest in examining the copious springs, and in tracing the artificial channels by which their water is conducted around the mountain-sides in one direction to the vicinity of old Jericho, and across the valley on arches in another direction to the fields which they irrigate. On the next morning, May 6th, we climbed the mountains from Ain ed Dûk to the village of Tai'yebeh, on the highlands northeast of Bethel. We had directed Assad to lead us by the most direct route to Bethel, intending to follow the line of Joshua's march when he went up to attack Ai, but he deliberately deceived us, as we afterward learned, and led us by a more circuitous route farther north.

      The village of Tai'yebeh is not known to the Scriptures, and is seldom mentioned in the writings of travelers, but it is a town of some importance, and the unusually good state of cultivation around it shows the influence of Christianity on its inhabitants. Its population is chiefly Mohammedan, but it contains a Latin and a Greek convent, a mission school of the English Church, some imposing ruins, and many marks of having once been a flourishing city. From the walls of a ruined church a short distance east of the town we had a fine [484] view of the country lying southward, and a splendid view of the Dead Sea, all of its eastern shore as far as the peninsula being in full view.

      At Tai'yebeh our dragoman bought for our table some dried figs, prepared by the natives. They were small, and quite inferior in every respect to the Smyrna figs which he had previously furnished us. Moreover, they had a smoky taste and appearance, from being kept in the smoky houses of the villagers. Thenceforward figs were not eaten in our camp so voraciously for lunch and dinner as they had been before, and I think Assad had some of that purchase left when we bade him a final farewell. The inferiority of the figs was due entirely to the unskillful and slovenly way in which they had been cured and kept.

      In the afternoon we rode to Bethel, and our tents were pitched in the midst of the large but unused reservoir just below the village spring. Our location enabled us to see all the villagers as they came and went, the men idling about, and the women carrying water. Many of the men, as is usual when we camp near a village, seated themselves in groups near our tents to talk with the muleteers and get a pipeful of tobacco from our dragoman. To smoke together and tell the news is the universal custom when companies of strangers meet.

      We had time before night to ride out east of Bethel and try to find the site of Ai, and of Abraham's camp between Bethel and Ai. We found both as we thought without difficulty, and we found the ruins of a tower on the top of the hill where Abraham pitched his tent and built his altar.3 Two young fellows of the village, who could not speak a word of English, had walked before us all the way, annoying us with their efforts to tell us something and to show us what we were already looking at. We knew that they were manufacturing an excuse to ask us for buckshîsh' when we started back, and we thought we would outwit them; so we turned suddenly and rode back to camp in a sweeping gallop. One of our tormentors, however, ran after us as fast as he could, and we had scarcely dismounted when he assailed us with his cry of "Buckshîsh'." We had to give him something to get rid of him.

      On the next morning we rode through the hills of Benjamin from Bethel to Jerusalem. The road follows the watershed, crossing now the head of a ravine which runs toward the Jordan, and now another that runs toward the Mediterranean. It climbs no high hills, and descends into no deep valleys, but it is rough and stony, and now and then it has sections of the old pavement laid by the ancient Jews. All the way it passes in view of historical towns, such as Be'eroth, Ramah, [485] Gibeah, and Mizpeh, and there is no highway in the country more frequently the scene of biblical events.

      We reached Jerusalem about 10 A. M., on the 7th of May, having been absent since the 21st of April, nearly seventeen days. We felt very much like one returning home. We repaired at once to the consulate to receive the letters from home which had accumulated in our absence, and then sat down in our tents at the old camping-place to read and answer them.

      One of our first duties on our return was to settle with Fellâh', the old sheikh who had been our guide and protector during our journey. He had faithfully complied with his contract. On his little white mare, with his long spear across his shoulder, he had ridden before us all the time by day; he had eaten uncomplainingly of the scant fare doled out to him by our dragoman; he had smoked his pipe on the ground outside our tents, and slept there wrapped only in his ab'a every night; he had answered all questions promptly, and complied with every request in a good humor, and we had become really attached to him. When we handed him the gold which was due, he received it with a bow, and asked for no more. We all wanted his photograph, and when we asked him to sit for it, he answered that it was contrary to his religion to make pictures, but he would not disappoint us; so he went with us to the gallery of an Armenian photographer, and we obtained the likeness of which the engraving in this book is a faithful copy.4 If the Christian faith could be planted in the hearts of such men of the desert as he, it would find congenial soil and bring forth much fruit. The Lord hasten the day!

      From Wednesday, the 7th, to Saturday, the 10th of May, we remained in camp at Jerusalem, and spent the time revisiting localities already seen and seeing new ones. Thursday we devoted to the Har'am, and on account of the expense of admission we visited it only once. It is unlawful for a Christian to enter this sacred inclosure without the permission of the Ar'ab sheikh who is intrusted with its guardianship, and it is thought to be dangerous to do so without his personal presence with you, and the protection of a couple of Turkish soldiers and of the cavasse or Turkish body-guard of your consul. The danger is not from the authorities, but from the fanatical Moslem, who might gather a mob and stone you. In order that proper preparation may be made you must give the consul notice of your intended visit a day in advance, then he attends to everything else. We repaired with [486] our interpreter to the consulate at the appointed hour, the cavasse led us to the barrack and obtained the two soldiers, and then, escorted by all three of these, we entered the inclosure from David Street, and were met by the sheikh of the Har'am. From the time we entered the place until we got through our examination of all its curious objects, our attendants were constantly trying to hurry us, evidently wishing to get their fees for the least amount of time and trouble. But we had come to see, and to see once for all; and we would not be hurried. We examined carefully all objects of interest both above ground and under ground, both within and without the sacred buildings, in about the same order in which we have described them in another part of this book.5 Only once was there the slightest attempt to restrain the freedom of our curiosity, and that was when I laid my profane hands on the immense manuscript copy of the Koran, which lay on the pulpit in the Dome of the Rock. It was so large (about 30 inches square) that I had a curiosity to see inside of it, and I threw it open. Immediately our guide cried out with alarm, and the sheikh made a threatening motion with a scowl on his face, but as my hands were no longer touching the book, I pretended not to understand what was said, and looked at the written page until I was satisfied.

      In former years a system of extortion was practiced on travelers in regard to visiting the Har'am, and instead of a fixed price of admission the sheikh demanded all that every individual visitor could be induced to pay, first putting his figures enormously high, and then gradually coming down until he reached the visitors highest bid. But the European and American consuls have of late combined their influence to prevent extortion, and now a fixed fee of five francs for every visitor is all that is paid, and this is paid, not to the sheikh, but to the consul, who delivers it to him. Besides this, you give a voluntary fee of from two to five francs for the company to each of the soldiers and the cavasse. [487]

      1 For a description of the castle and the springs see page 371. [481]
      2 See page 345. [484]
      3 See description of this vicinity, pages 239, 240. [485]
      4 See page 81. [486]
      5 Part Second, Chapter I., Sec. VII. [487]


[LOB 481-487]

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

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