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


L E T T E R   X I I.


      ON our return to Jerusalem from our southern excursion, we had very little more to do in the way of sight-seeing about the city. We first devoted ourselves to gathering, boxing, and shipping various souvenirs of our journey and presents for friends at home. We found in the shops devoted to the manufacture of articles in olive-wood a great variety of canes, boxes, paper-weights, paper-folders, book-racks, napkin-rings, etc., of which we bought freely at low prices. We also found in the bookstore cards of pressed flowers arranged with most exquisite taste, and as fresh in color as if they had been plucked from their stems that very hour. Photographs taken by the best French artists, and representing every interesting locality in the country, were obtained in abundance, and at reasonable prices. We also purchased crowns of thorns made of the same thorny twigs and in the same form with the crown which was placed on the head of Jesus. We packed in our box specimens of rock-salt from the Dead Sea, and a metallic bottle full of Dead-Sea water. All these articles, and many others, after being securely packed in a strong box, were placed in charge of Mr. Bergheim, the banker, who is agent for a cosmopolitan shipping company, and by him shipped for Philadelphia.

      On Sunday we once more attended the services of the English church. We found the house draped in mourning on account of the death of Bishop Gobat, who had been Bishop of Jerusalem for thirty-three years. He was very sick when we left the city for our southern tour, and he had died during our absence.1

      I brought with me to Jerusalem a letter of introduction to the Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem, written in his own language. I received it from an Armenian, G. N. Shishmanian, who was born on the head-waters of the river Euphrates, but had drifted away to America, had become a Protestant, and was a student under my instruction in the College of the Bible at Lexington. When I was ready to call at the palace of the Patriarch and present my letter, I learned that he knew nothing of English, neither could his interpreter speak any language [502] known to my interpreter or to me. The prospect for a pleasant interview was rather gloomy. In my strait I appealed to our consul, and he found for me a young German, secretary of the German consulate, who kindly consented to serve me. He could speak English very well, and also Italian, the only foreign tongue known to the Patriarch's dragoman. Brother Earl accompanied me, and we were received in quite a stately manner. I found the Patriarch a man of about my own age, with pleasant expression of countenance and simplicity of manners. Our conversation was four-handed. I would speak to the German, he would translate to the dragoman in Italian, and he to the Patriarch in Armenian. The answer came back to me along the same route. It was the slowest way to talk that I ever tried,--slower than the deaf and dumb alphabet. It was death to all attempts at humor; for when I would say anything funny, I had to wait so long before the laughing-point would get around to the Patriarch that my laugh was over before his began, and sometimes the fun would all be lost in the translations, so that the long-looked-for smile would not come at all. The effort to converse was relieved now and then by the arrival of a servant bringing cigarettes, sweetmeats, etc. Our refusal of the cigarettes caused much surprise to the party, and when some jelly was handed they all had a hearty laugh at my expense. The jelly was in a little bowl on a silver waiter, and by the bowl were two saucers, one empty and one full of little silver spoons. I took the empty saucer, dipped some of the jelly into it, and commenced eating. They all laughed. I couldn't see the point until my friend the German told me that I should have taken a spoonful out of the bowl, and, after eating that, laid the spoon in the empty saucer and taken a clean spoon for another dip into the bowl, and so on till I had used my share of the spoons. This I thought quite a refinement on the Ar'ab method of every man dipping his hand into the dish.

      On Monday morning, May 26th, after waiting till ten o'clock for the distribution of the mail which came in that morning from Joppa, we bade a final farewell to the Holy City. We did so without regret, for we had accomplished the object for which we had come to it; and, apart from its sacred associations, Jerusalem has no attractions at all to a stranger. There are few cities in the civilized world in which I would not rather live, either for enjoying life or for doing good.

      Previous to our final departure from Jerusalem we had explored all of Palestine which lies south of its parallel, and now our faces were turned northward. We had already been to Bethel, 12 miles due north, and we had seen, on the east of the road from that place to Jerusalem, [503] Michmash, Gibeah, Ramah, and Anathoth. But to the westward of this road there were several places of interest which we had not yet visited, and these now claimed our attention.

      On leaving Jerusalem we rode directly to Neby Samwil, ascended the mountain by a steep path, and climbed to the top of the minaret. The view, which we have described elsewhere,2 well repaid us for our labor. After satisfying ourselves with it, and eating our lunch under the shade of the mosque with a gaping crowd of dirty villagers around us, we rode to Gibeon and searched for its ancient pool, by which the armies of Joab and Abner were encamped before the battle which proved so fatal to the latter.3 With some difficulty, and after much inquiry of the villagers, we found it, but it is no longer a pool. Its ancient wall is scarcely traceable, it is nearly filled with earth, and it was growing a patch of cucumbers when we saw it. The feeble spring which once supplied it with water is now used for irrigating the adjacent gardens.

      Gibeon, the reader will recollect, is the city whose inhabitants so craftily surrendered to Joshua, and the place in which Solomon made his famous choice of wisdom.4 It was after Joshua had driven the confederated kings of Canaan away from Gibeon, and while he was pursuing them westward, that he commanded the sun and moon to stand still.5 As he stood near upper Beth-horon, Gibeon was one of the points in his eastern horizon, and at nine o'clock in the morning the sun would seem to hang over it. The Valley of Ajalon was in a southwesterly direction from him, and the moon, if just entering its last quarter, would seem to hang over it. I saw the sun and moon in the same relative positions when I was crossing the Valley of Ajalon, on the 14th of April.

      Having made a détour of three or four miles to the west of the main road leading north from Jerusalem, on leaving Gibeon we followed a path which brought us back into that road before we reached Bethel. Thence we rode to a spring called Robber's Fountain, about 18 miles north of Jerusalem, where we found our tents pitched for the night. The road lies nearly on the watershed between the slopes which descend to the Jordan and those which descend to the Mediterranean, but there is no continuous dividing-ridge for it to follow, and it constantly crosses the heads of the wadies, which descend first one way and then the other. It is, therefore, quite an uneven road and very rough. Traces of an ancient paved road are occasionally seen. [504]

      On the next day we rode to Nab'lus, the ancient She'chem, but on the way we made a détour to the right in order to visit the site of Shiloh. The place is easily identified, both by its Ar'ab name, Seilûn', which is a corruption of Shiloh, and by its correspondence to what is said of Shiloh in the Scriptures.

      The town, which was never a large one, was built on a hill of moderate height. In front of it, to the south, lies a beautiful plain, surrounded by lofty hills. On the east and west are narrow valleys, which are continuations of this plain, while on the north is a much higher hill, separated from Shiloh by a ravine. There is nothing of Shiloh left except a confused mass of weather-worn building-stones covering the rounded top of the hill. But immediately north of the town there is a space on the slope of the hill, which has been artificially leveled, and, as we have shown on page 281, there is no doubt that here is the site of the tabernacle, which stood at Shiloh during the long period from Joshua to Eli. A discovery like this--first made, I think, by Captain Wilson--is one of those striking evidences of the truth of the Old Testament history with which the Holy Land abounds, and which are the more convincing because they are unexpected.

      This identification was gratifying to me for another reason. In the account of Eli's death6 he is represented as sitting by the wayside and by the gate watching for news from the battle, yet the messenger is represented as coming into the city and telling the news to the people, while Eli learns nothing of it till he hears the outcry of the people and inquires what this means. Then it is said that the man "came in" hastily and told Eli. This has been somewhat of a puzzle to me, but now it is clearly explained. Eli was sitting, not at the gate of the city, but at that of the tabernacle, and by the wayside which led to it. The messenger, coming from the south,--the direction in which the battle was fought,--came into the city first, and when Eli, hearing the tumult, demanded the meaning of it, the man came in where the tabernacle stood and told the fatal news.

      Riding on from Shiloh we passed no object of special interest until we came to Jacob's Well. We approached it through the Plain of Moreh, now called Mûkhnah, the same plain over which Jesus walked on the day in which, "being wearied with his journey," he sat on the well and conversed with the Samaritan woman. This plain is seven miles long and about two miles wide. It lies nearly north and south. Its western side is bounded by Mount Geri'zim and Mount Ebal. [505] Between these two mountains lies a valley about half a mile in width, at a right angle to the plain, and Jacob's Well is at the angle made by the southern side of this valley and the western side of the plain.7

      It robs one of much enjoyment on visiting such a spot to find it so different from what it was. The folly of building a church over this well, instead of leaving it and keeping it as it was when Jesus sat upon it, is amazing. But such is the hereditary folly of the priests. I was told in She'chem that the Greeks are about to rebuild the church over the well, and I devoutly wish that before they begin some sensible man will buy the property and restore the well's mouth to its original form and appearance, the model for which can be found in the wells of Abraham at Beer'-sheba.

      After examining the well we rode across to Joseph's Tomb, about 300 yards farther to the north, and gazed for a short time upon it. How we longed for the privilege of digging down into that tomb and seeing whether the embalmed body of Joseph is actually there! I suppose every visitor has this feeling, and I was not surprised to hear Brother El Kârey, the Baptist missionary in She'chem, say that he had often been tempted to go there in the night and dig into the tomb, though he felt sure that the Moslem would kill him if he were found guilty of the act.

      After examining these two interesting objects at the mouth of the valley of Nab'lus or She'chem, we rode along the valley, with Mount Geri'zim on our left and Mount Ebal on our right, until we passed the town and found our tents pitched at the farther end of it. We were now beside one of the most ancient cities in all the land. It was called Sychem in the days of Abraham, and She'chem in the later Old Testament history. During the Roman dominion it acquired the name of Neapolis, and the modern name, Nab'lus, is an Arabic corruption of this.

      On reaching She'chem we called on Brother El Kârey, the only Baptist missionary in Palestine. I had a letter of introduction to him, given me by a Baptist preacher from London whom I met at Naples. He received us very cordially, explained to us his missionary labors, and, being a native of the place, though educated in England, he was full of the local information for which we were in search. We especially wanted to learn the best way to reach Ænon, the locality of which was definitely fixed by Lieutenant Conder, but which our dragoman had never visited. He gave us the desired information, and the next [506] morning, leaving our tents pitched at She'chem, we made an excursion to that interesting spot.

      Our route took us back through the valley, and we resolved that while passing between the two mountains of Ebal and Geri'zim, in the still morning air, we would try the experiment of reading the blessings and curses. It will be remembered by the reader that, in compliance with directions given before the death of Moses, Joshua assembled all the people on these two mountains, stationing six tribes on one, and six opposite to them on the other, and he stood between and read to them all the blessings and curses of the law.8 It has been urged by some skeptics that it was impossible for Joshua to read so as to be heard by six hundred thousand persons. It is a sufficient answer to this to show that while Joshua read, the Levites were directed to repeat the words "with a loud voice,"9 and that it was an easy matter to station them at such points that their repetitions, like those of officers along the line of a marching army, could carry the words to the utmost limits of the multitude. But it is interesting to know that the spot chosen by God for this reading is a vast natural amphitheatre, in which the human voice can be heard to a surprising distance. About halfway between She'chem and the mouth of the valley in which it stands there is a deep, semicircular recess in the face of Mount Ebal, and a corresponding one precisely opposite to it in Mount Geri'zim. No man with his eyes open can ride along the valley without being struck with this singular formation. As soon as I saw it I recognized it as the place of Joshua's reading. It has been asserted repeatedly by travelers that, although two men stationed on the opposite slopes of these two mountains are a mile apart, they can read so as to be heard by each other. We preferred to try the experiment in stricter accordance with Joshua's example; so I took a position, Bible in hand, in the middle of the valley, while Brother Taylor and Frank, to represent six tribes, climbed halfway up the slope of Mount Geri'zim; and Brother Earl, to represent the other six tribes, took a similar position on Mount Ebal. I read, and they were to pronounce the amen after each curse or blessing. Brother Taylor heard me distinctly, and I could hear his response. But Brother Earl, though he could hear my voice, could not distinguish the words. This was owing to the fact that some terrace-walls on the side of the mountain prevented him from ascending high enough, and the trees between me and him interrupted the passage of the sound. The experiment makes it perfectly obvious that if Joshua had a strong voice,--which I [507] have not,--he could have been heard by his audience without the assistance of the Levites. As to the space included in the two amphitheatres, I think it ample to accommodate the six hundred thousand men, though of this I cannot be certain. If more space was required, the aid of the Levites was indispensable.

      After making this experiment, which occupied an hour or more, we proceeded on our way towards Ænon, having with us, as escort and guide, a Turkish soldier belonging to the garrison at Nab'lus.

      Salem, near to which Ænon was located,10 is a village on the slope of the hills east of the Plain of Moreh, and opposite its northern end. Our nearest route would have been to pass by it, but we preferred tracing the waters from near their fountain-head; so we went northward a few miles along the Damascus road.

      This brought us to the head-waters of Wâd'y Bedân', a tributary of the wâdy on which Ænon is located, called Wâd'y Far'ah. On Wâd'y Bedân' we found 12 water-mills in the course of two miles. These are all overshot mills, and are propelled by water drawn into races. The rapid descent of the principal stream makes it practicable to draw off these side-channels at short intervals, and to build the mills close together. In some instances the mill-race is so high above the principal stream that it runs through and propels two mills in making its way down. From the junction of the two streams we continued down Wâd'y Far'ah in search of a place answering to Ænon. The "much water" we found all the way, and, although the season was exceptionally dry, pools well suited for baptizing were abundant. We rode into a number of these to try their depth. But we wanted to find, in addition to the much water, an open space on the bank of the stream suitable for the assembling of the great multitudes who flocked to John's baptism, and for several miles we found no such place. We pursued our pathless way along the slopes of a narrow ravine, with high and precipitous hills on either side. We had to ford the stream frequently, and its banks were everywhere so thickly crowded with a jungle of oleanders in full bloom that we could not always cross where we would. Never, in a single day, have I seen so many oleanders. For as many as five miles their line of mingled pink and green was as continuous as the current of the stream which nourished them. Finally, after a fatiguing ride, during which both our dragoman and our escort became discouraged and fell behind, there suddenly opened before us a beautiful valley among the mountains, about one mile wide and three miles long. [508] Bed'awin tents were pitched in groups here and there; herds of camels, to the number of 300 or 400, were grazing, or drinking, or moving about; and swarms of brown-skinned boys, both large and small, were bathing at different places in the stream. Here, then, was the open space required, and a more suitable place for the gathering of a multitude could not be found on the banks of any stream in Palestine. It is identified as Ænon by the only man who has ever made a thorough and scientific exploration of the country, and it is now accepted as such without dispute from any quarter. We cut an oleander cane apiece from the bank of the stream, and we took a bath in one of its pools.

      Our excursion to Ænon occupied the whole day. The next morning we ascended Mount Geri'zim, to see the site of the ancient Samaritan temple, the ruins of a citadel and church built by the Crusaders, and the rock on which Jotham stood when he recited to the She'chemites his celebrated fable of the trees. That a man could stand within speaking-distance of an assembly of his enemies who had slain all his brothers, and were at the time engaged in crowning as king the instigator of the slaughter, make them an audible speech, and yet be out of reach of their weapons and safe from pursuit, is scarcely credible. Yet the locality shows that it was altogether practicable. A projecting rock on the face of Mount Geri'zim overlooks the city of She'chem. From its top a man's voice can be distinctly heard in the plain below; it is too high to be reached by arrows shot from the plain, and pursuers would be compelled to climb the mountain or pass a long distance around it, while the flight of the speaker was unobstructed. (See the narrative in Judges ix. 1-21).

      We were accompanied in our ascent of the mountain by Brother El Kârey, whose pleasant conversation enlivened the way, and whose familiarity with every object in view made him an excellent guide. We saw all the wonders of the summit, and thought much on the strange superstition which has made this a sacred mountain in the estimation of the Samaritans ever since the days of Nehemiah.11 [509]

      1 For a brief account of his work in Jerusalem see pages 134, 140. [502]
      2 See page 241. [504]
      3 2 Sam. ii. 12-32; iii. 20-27. [504]
      4 Josh. ix.; 1 Kings iii. 4-15. [504]
      5 Josh. x. 11-14. [504]
      6 1 Sam. iv. 12-18. [505]
      7 For a description of the well, see page 282. [506]
      8 See Deut. xxvii., xxviii., and Josh. viii. 30-35. [507]
      9 Deut. xxvii. 14. [507]
      10 John iii. 23. [508]
      11 For a fuller account of it, see pages 289-292. [509]


[LOB 502-509]

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

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