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


L E T T E R   X V.


      WE left Tyre on the morning of the 14th of June and rode to Sidon, the city so intimately associated with it in sacred history, the same day. The distance between the two cities is 24 miles, and the road over the greater part runs along the narrow plain, only a mile or two in width, which constituted the only level portion of ancient Phœnicia. This narrow strip along the coast, together with the mountains immediately east of it, reaching back not more than 20 miles, constituted all the territory of the Phœnicians. They were a commercial and not an agricultural people, as appears from both their history and the nature of their country. For this reason Solomon paid Hiram for the cedar timber used in the temple in food,1 and in the New Testament period the country of Tyre and Sidon was still nourished by the [531] country of Herod.2 The territory was too limited for the support of the two large cities, and the nourishment of the sailors who came to these ports in ships, and the merchants who came with caravans.

      About six miles north of Tyre we crossed on a stone bridge the river Kasimî'yeh, called formerly the Litâ'ny and Leontes.3 It is emphatically a mountain river, descending rapidly through its narrow pass and flowing with a swift current. Its channel is deep and narrow, and there are few places at which it can be forded even in the summer. It is the largest stream, next to the Jordan, in all Syria.

      About halfway between Tyre and Sidon we passed the ruins of Sarepta, called Zarapheth in the Old Testament, and now called Sarfend. It was the home of the widow in whose house Elijah found a refuge after his brook in Wad'y Kelt4 had run dry. The unfaltering faith of this woman, who, though in a heathen land, cooked the last morsel of meal she had, when on the point of starvation, and gave it to the prophet of God, is one of the finest exhibitions of character in Bible history.5 Her act alone has given immortality to the name of the city in which she lived, and yet her own name has not been preserved. The nameless heroes and heroines of the past are doubtless far more numerous than those whose names have become illustrious. There is a day coming when the ladder of fame will be reversed, and many of those at the bottom now will stand on the topmost round. Although nothing is left of Sarepta except heaps of stones where its buildings once stood, and though no ships now visit its harbor, we felt the deepest interest in pausing to gaze upon the scene and to think of its distant past. Our road passed between the shallow harbor and the ruins of the city, giving us a fair view of both.

      About a mile north of Sarepta we stopped for lunch at a café, or Ar'ab house of entertainment. A few steps from the house was an artificial pool of water 10 feet long, 8 feet wide, and 3 feet deep. Its interior was plastered, and a stream of pure water was led into it by a stone aqueduct from a spring in the distance. Its wall was three feet thick all round, and it was covered on top with cement. Over all were spread the limbs of two tamarisk-trees, and their shade was supplemented by an arbor of boughs. In this luxuriant shade, seated on the broad wall around the pool, and cheered by the lively babble of the water as it flowed into the pool on one side and out of the other, we ate our bread in peace and laid ourselves quietly down to sleep. [532]

      On our morning ride we had been accompanied for several miles by a feeble-looking old Ar'ab who was traveling through the country on horseback, attended by a single servant. Assad, after conversing with him a while, represented him to us as a man of prodigious learning. In the course of conversation the question arose, why the Mohammedans keep Friday as a Sabbath. The old man said it was because Adam was created on Friday, and on Friday he sinned and was cast out of the garden of Eden. We thought it about as good a reason as Mohammed himself could have given. The old man was not only learned, but pious. When we sat down around the pool to eat our lunch, he also took a seat and spread out his own frugal meal; but ere he partook of it he drew off his shoes, washed hands and feet in the pool, and went through the entire formula of a Mohammedan prayer. There was a great contrast between this pompous ceremonial and the simple giving of thanks with which we prepared to take our food.

      In the afternoon, as we drew near to Sidon and were about to close a long and hot days ride, we dismounted on the beach, about two miles south of the city, to refresh ourselves with a sea bath. The waves were rolling in with a majestic swell, and as we met them and bounded o'er them we were filled with boyish glee. In a short time we began to meet them swimming, and, finding this more exhilarating, we continued it until our limbs grew weary. Touching then for the bottom, we found that we had unconsciously swum, or had been drifted, beyond our depth. Almost simultaneously we turned and swam for the shallow water. After making a few strokes in that direction, I saw that we drifted backward almost as fast as we swam forward, and that if we had far to go we were in imminent peril. Fearing that Frank, who is a daring swimmer, did not realize the danger, I called out to him, "We shall hardly get out of this." I then exerted my utmost strength for a few moments, when, being much fatigued and turning on my back to rest, I saw that I was twenty or thirty yards in advance of Frank and Brother Earl, who were now close together. I also discovered that I was drifting away from them to the northward, in a line parallel with the shore. I turned on my face again and renewed the struggle, feeling for the bottom frequently, and hoping to touch it every moment. My strength was fast failing, and I knew that it could not last long. Escape appeared almost impossible, and the conviction seized me with paralyzing effect that Frank and Brother Earl, who were so far behind me, must certainly perish. By this time Brother Taylor, who had turned back sooner than we, was walking through the shallow water near the shore, entirely unconscious of our [533] danger. I called to him for help, though I knew not what help he could give. I also called earnestly on God to deliver me. I was continuing the struggle, almost in despair, when suddenly Brother Taylor swam close before me, gave me his left hand, spoke some word of encouragement, and tried to help me along. But having between us only two hands with which to swim, I soon saw that we made no progress. I knew that if he remained with me he would soon be in the same danger with myself, so I said to him, "Leave me, and save yourself; you cannot save me." With that I let go his hand, and he swam away.

      At this moment the thrilling question arose in my mind, Shall my life, my labors, and my present expedition end here, and in this manner? The thought was awfully repugnant to me, and it gave me a fresh impulse. But it was in vain. My muscles were aching, my joints were growing stiff, my strength was exhausted. I again turned on my back, giving up all thought of getting nearer to the shore, but determined to float as long as possible. I was able for a few moments longer to keep my mouth above water, but soon I swam so low that the crest of every wave broke over my face, filling eyes, nostrils, and mouth with the salt water, and threatening to strangle me. At last my hands and my feet both refused to make another stroke. I folded my aching arms across my breast, offered the prayer, "O God, bless my family; sustain them under this blow, and take me to heaven," and then sank beneath the waves.

      As I went down I was conscious of being turned upon my face. My mouth was involuntarily opened, and I felt the salt water filling it and forcing its way into my stomach. My chest and my head felt as if they were being crushed under a great weight, and my limbs were aching as if they were cramped. I thought of what I had often read concerning the ease of a death by drowning, and the contrast was awful. But I knew that my torture could not last long, and I watched and waited for the experience of leaving the body.

      The next sensation that I remember was that of the hot sun shining in my face. I opened my eyes, and saw that I was again at the surface and floating on my back. I felt a momentary relief, and I asked myself, "Is this a reality, or is it only a horrible dream?" I then sank into total unconsciousness. How long I remained in this condition I cannot tell; but I was partially aroused from it by feeling myself astride the naked back of a horse, and by hearing Brother Earl's familiar voice at my side. I next realized that I was being borne by the horse toward the shore, that I was reeling in my seat, and that I was kept from falling by a strong hand with a tight grasp on my left [534] arm. I knew when they took me down from the horse and held me upright, with my head on the ground, and pressed my sides to force out the water which I had swallowed; and I felt the water flowing from my mouth. They laid me down, and I soon threw up the remaining contents of my stomach. I then opened my eyes, and saw the face of a strange Ar'ab, who was holding two umbrellas to shield me from the sun. I saw that I was lying on a thick rug, which our servant carried as a cloth for our lunch, and that my head was resting on some kind of a pillow; then my eyes involuntarily closed again. Brother Earl asked me if I was conscious, and I said, "Yes." I heard him say, "Be quiet, Frank; he will soon be all right now." And I asked, "Where is Frank?" He answered, "Here he is, all right." I said, "Then we are out of that water."

      The manner of my marvelous rescue, related to me afterward, was as follows: When Brother Taylor left me he swam to the shore, mounted his horse, and endeavored to ride to me; but his horse was afraid of the water, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he could force him slowly along. In the mean time, Brother Earl and Frank had effected their escape. Frank began to call for help about the same time that I did, and Brother Earl, who was close to him, gave him an occasional push to help him along. While thus helping Frank, he saw Brother Taylor go to me and leave me; then his heart sank at the thought that I must be lost, and he felt his strength giving way. No longer able to help Frank, he made a desperate effort to save himself, and a few strokes brought him to where he could touch bottom. The shallow water extended farther out where he was than in the place to which I had drifted. He now made a reach for Frank, who was by this time swimming very low, and drew him to the same spot. Then they hurried ashore; but Frank was so exhausted that he fell in the edge of the water. Brother Earl dragged him out on the sand and left him, ran to his horse, threw off the saddle, mounted him, and rode in after me. His horse went in willingly, so he passed Brother Taylor and reached me first. When he was almost in reach of me a large wave broke over him and washed him off of his horse; but he swung around before the horse's head, and obtained a firm footing on the bottom. The same wave washed me within his reach. He found me floating on my back, with my arms still folded across my breast, and Brother Taylor says that I exclaimed, "Will nobody save me?" I suppose that I had sunk and risen the second time. Brother Earl seized me by the arm, and by some means--he says he knows not how--he got me on the horse. I suppose the swell of the next wave assisted him. He [535] told me to hold fast to the horse's mane, which he says I did with both hands; but I did it unconsciously. He held me on, Brother Taylor led the horse, and thus was I taken ashore. It seems that I had drifted first into deeper and then into shallower water, and I was in the latter when they reached me, otherwise they could not have reached me at all.

      When we first dismounted, for the purpose of bathing, Assad, our dragoman, rode forward to the camp, which was already pitched near the gate of Sidon, leaving the Syrian servant, Solomon, to hold our horses. Solomon always attended us in our rides, mounted on a pack-horse and carrying our lunch and drinking-water. He understands but a few words of English, and consequently he did not at first comprehend our danger. But when he saw Brother Earl come out with Frank, and saw him and Brother Taylor rushing in on horseback after me, he took in the entire situation, and at once became frantic. He jerked off his kufeiyeh and tossed it into the air, and ran up and down the beach screaming and tossing his arms. His outcries brought to the spot three Ar'abs--two men and a woman--who were working in a garden near by.

      One of the men, at his bidding, mounted my horse and went at full speed to the camp to tell Assad what had happened. On arriving, he cried out to Assad, "One of your gentlemen has sunk." Assad immediately remounted his horse, commanded two of the muleteers to follow him on their pack-mules, and came with all possible speed to the spot. Meantime, the other Ar'ab had assisted Brothers Earl and Taylor in caring for me; and when they laid me down the woman had run and brought me a pillow. They say that I repeatedly cried out, "Oh, my head, my head!" and that once I exclaimed, "Set the lamp a little lower." Fearing, from the pain of which I complained, and the evident wandering of my mind, that congestion of the brain might ensue, Brother Earl called for cold water, and the woman ran to her tent and brought it. This they poured slowly on my head until I ceased to complain. But of all this I knew nothing. They say, also that when I was first rescued my face was livid almost to blackness, and my eyes were glazed, and that when they first laid me on the beach my pulse was scarcely perceptible.

      When Assad and the muleteers arrived, it was thought best to take me to the camp. I was scarcely willing to be moved so soon, for I could not yet hold up my head; but they insisted, and I yielded. They put on me a part of my clothing, and lifted me on the broad pad which covered the back of one of the mules. Assad sat behind me to hold me on, and thus I was borne slowly to my tent. I suffered still [536] with severe pains in my limbs, my head was much oppressed, and my stomach was tortured with both heat and thirst. I called for ice, if any could be found in Sidon, and fortunately some was brought to me. It was the first city we had visited in Syria where ice is kept, and no ice ever tasted so delicious to me as that. Dr. Abela, the American consul and a physician, was sent for, and between him and Brother Earl, who is himself a good practitioner of the homœopathic school, I was treated with such restoratives as my case required. The next morning I was free from pain, and in the course of the day I was able to take a little liquid food. Mr. Eddy, an American Presbyterian missionary in Sidon, who had called to see me the evening before, kindly invited me to occupy one of the airy and comfortable rooms of his dwelling; but I was at ease in my tent and unwilling to give trouble, so I declined his invitation. Before the sun set I dressed myself and took a short walk about the camp, and on Monday morning, by the amazing mercy of God, I was able to mount my horse and resume my journey. This was only about forty hours after my disaster, yet I rode six hours that day without unusual fatigue. Our route, before turning into the hills, led us back for a short distance along the same path by which we had come to Sidon, Saturday afternoon. We passed once more the garden of cucumbers kept by the three Ar'abs who had befriended me, and they came out to meet me. Brother Earl had given each of them a present, but I gave them more, saying to them, "I give you this for your kindness to me; and I hope you will show the same kindness to any other stranger when you can." They received the money with warm expressions of thankfulness, and one of the men kissed my hand and with a loud voice praised Allah for my deliverance.

      I have now repeated the story of what I may call my death and restoration; and the reader can see, as plainly as I, that to Brothers Earl and Taylor, but especially to the former, I owe the prolongation of my life. True, the latter did what he could, and he did it most bravely. When he swam out into the deep water and took me by the hand, he knowingly put his life in my power; for had I been frantic, as most persons are in drowning, I would have dragged him under me and we both would have gone down together. And had his horse come freely into the water, he would probably have rescued me while Brother Earl was helping Frank. But as it is, I owe chiefly to Brother Earl the preservation of my life, and probably of that of my cousin Frank. But for him Frank's mother might have been a childless widow, and my wife the widowed mother of a dependent family. I told him, as I lay helpless in my tent before the gate of Sidon, that I could never [537] recompense him for his kindness. He commanded me to keep silent on the subject, but perish the hand that writes these lines if I ever forget the debt of gratitude which I owe him!

      And if I am thus indebted to my faithful brethren and fellow-travelers, what shall I say of the debt I owe to Him without whose help they could have done nothing? It was He who rescued first of all two lives of which I had despaired, and then made one of these the instrument of saving mine. I had passed through all the conscious experience of dying, and God drew me back out of the very jaws of death. I feel that the remnant of my days, whatever it shall be, is a special gift of His providence,--as special as that granted to King Hezekiah when his hour to die had come, and God, hearing his prayer for longer time, added fifteen years to his life. And if the gift is special, I think it must have a special purpose. I fain would know what that purpose is. Is it that I may bear, before I go hence, a heavier burden of earthly woe than has hitherto fallen to my easy lot? Is it that some dire temptation shall grapple with my soul and strain my faith to its utmost tension? Is it that I shall follow to the grave with a breaking heart my wife and children, who came so near being left behind? Or is it that I shall continue for some years, and with more abounding fruit, the labor of teaching and preaching God's blessed word? Oh, how often, since that dreadful 14th of June, have I asked myself these questions! On the snowy top of Hermon; amid the cedars of Lebanon; musing by moonlight among the ruins of Baalbec; pacing the deck of many a ship; standing on Mars' Hill by the imaginary side of Him who spent "a day and a night in the deep;" on the lone mountain and in the crowded city, these questions have pressed themselves upon me, and have occupied many a tearful hour. I desire that my children shall watch the course of my life, and that when I am gone they shall write at the foot of this page the answer which time shall then have revealed. At present, one answer, and only one, I have been able to find: it is that in the days which God has added to me I shall love Him with all my heart, and work for Him with all my strength. This, with His heavenly help, I am pledged to do.

"Here at thy feet I leave my vow,
    And thy rich grace record:
 Witness, you saints who hear me now.
    If I forsake the Lord."

      Before I left home, many of my brethren and sisters, men and women who are in favor with God, gave me assurance that they would [538] continually pray for my safe return. I know they have done so; and I have the strongest conviction that their prayers have been effective. I would now address to all of them the words addressed by Paul to the saints in Corinth on a somewhat similar occasion: "We would not, brethren, have you ignorant of our trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed out of measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life. But we had the sentence of death in ourselves, that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead. Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us: you also helping by prayer for us, that for the gifts bestowed upon us by the means of many persons, thanks may be given by many on our behalf." (2 Cor. i. 8-11.)

      After my disaster I read again with new interest Lieutenant Conder's account of a similar escape made by him in the same sea near Askelon. His account is very brief, but in the light of my own experience I can now read it with many of its details mentally supplied. Speaking of the pleasures of his camping-ground near that place, he says, "We were also able to enjoy a daily bath in the sea, which, however, nearly cost me my life on the 5th of April; for the surf was breaking, and a strong suck-back of the waves carried me out into the broken water, whence I was rescued by Lieutenant Kitchener."6

      Sidon, like all the ancient Asiatic cities, has passed through an eventful history. In the days of Paul it contained a Christian church, as did Tyre,7 thus verifying the words of Jesus, "If the mighty works which have been done in thee had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes." It was nominally a Christian city for several centuries previous to the Mohammedan conquest. In the Crusading period it passed through terrible vicissitudes, being several times razed and partially rebuilt, and for several centuries afterward it almost ceased to exist. It was only about two centuries ago that it began finally to revive, and even in very recent times it has suffered at the hands of military powers; for in 1840 its harbor fortifications were destroyed by the allied fleets of England and France. In the attempted massacre of the Christians throughout Syria in 1860, it is said that 1800 were slain in Sidon.

      Having a better harbor than Tyre, Sidon was the principal seaport on the Syrian coast, and the landing-place for Damascus, until some twenty or more years ago, when its trade began to be diverted to Beirût. [539] It was selected forty years ago as the headquarters of Presbyterian missionary operations in Syria, and although these headquarters have recently been transferred to Beirût the mission still owns a valuable property at Sidon, and has the oversight of many mission stations in the villages of the interior. The present population of the city is estimated at 12,000, of whom 8000 are Moslem, and the remainder Christians of various kinds and Jews. Vegetation grows luxuriantly in the plain about it, and its oranges are famous for their delicious flavor; some persons prefer them to the oranges of Joppa.

      The only remains of antiquity about Sidon are its rock-hewn sepulchres; for the Phœnicians buried their dead very much as did the Jews, and like the Egyptians they sometimes embalmed them. A class of sepulchres found there is peculiar. They were excavated by first digging a perpendicular shaft down into the solid rock, and then excavating burial-chambers to the right and left from it. The shafts are from 10 to 13 feet deep and from 3 to 7 feet wide. They are descended by steps cut in their sides. The French exploring-party of 1860, under Ernest Renan, made extensive excavations here as well as at Tyre and in other parts of Phœnicia. They made many valuable discoveries connected with the history and topography of the country, and disinterred many interesting relics with which to adorn the national museum in Paris.

      1 1 Kings v. 11. [531]
      2 Acts xii. 20. [532]
      3 For description see page 21. [532]
      4 See page 234. [532]
      5 1 Kings xvii. 7-15. [532]
      6 Tent-Work, ii. 164. [539]
      7 Acts xxi. 3-6; xxvii. 3. [539]


[LOB 531-540]

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

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