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TOMB OF RACHEL.
our left, an extensive view opens before us. The eye ranges over a vast expanse of rocky hills, covered with a sparse vegetation. Several fortified and castellated convents-Greek, Latin, Copt and Armenian-remind us that Christianity is but encamped as a foreigner in the land which gave it birth, suggest too the wild and lawless character of the people where the monks have to live as garrisons holding fortresses in an enemy's country. Several villages, each with a name which recalls events of biblical history, come into view.
One of these, conspicuous from its size and position, is Bethlehem, which we hope to visit on our return from Hebron.
An hour and a quarter after leaving Jerusalem, we approach a square white-washed building surmounted by a dome. Except for its greater size,
it differs in no respect from the ordinary tombs of Moslem saints, so numerous throughout Egypt and Syria. It is the birth-place of Benjamin, and the TOMB OF RACHEL. The present edifice is modern, but the identity of the site is undoubted, being clearly marked out by the inspired narrative, “And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was but a little way to come to Ephrath : and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-oni (i.e. the son of my sorrow): but his father called him Benjamin (i.e., the son of my right hand). And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set a pillar upon her grave:
that is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.”: How deeply and permanently this event, with all its details, was impressed on the mind of the bereaved patriarch, may be gathered from the fact, that, on his death-bed, he recalled all the circumstances: “As for me, when I came from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to come unto Ephrath, and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath." It has been said that the roads in the East never vary, but continue to follow precisely the same course age after age. It will be noticed that, in both accounts of the death of Rachel, stress is laid upon the fact that she died and was buried “in the way.” The tomb of Rachel still stands on the roadside.
An hour beyond Rachel's tomb brings us to a fertile, but desolate and unpeopled valley, in which stands a large old castellated khan, near which are three remarkable cisterns of great size, constructed with solid masonry, the joints of which have the peculiar bevel which is regarded as characteristic of old Jewish or Phænician work. Their dimensions are as follows:
380 423 582
25 39 50
230 230 175
They are fed by three perennial springs, which gush from the rock into a cavern lined with masonry in the hill above the khan, access to which is gained by a narrow doorway, and are conducted by a subterranean conduit into the upper pool. In the valley, below the lower pool, on the way to Bethlehem and Jerusalem, are traces of ancient gardens and orchards. Fruit trees are growing wild; the hills on either side are terraced; and there are indications of fountains, waterfalls, and arbours having been constructed amongst the rocks. The name by which they are known, Solomon's Pools, leads the mind to the passage in Ecclesiastes : “I made me great works ; I builded me houses; I planted me vineyards: I made me gardens and orchards, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruits : I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees."; Though we have no positive proof that these are relics of “the glory of Solomon,” the probability is strong in favour of their being so.
About four hours and a half south of Solomon's Pools, stands a city, which contests with Damascus the distinction of being the oldest in the world ; and which, in historical interest, may almost vie with Jerusalem itself—HEBRON. It has been said that the road thither is unique, as being absolutely the worst in the world. It would, however, be more correct to say-that for the greater part of the distance there is no road at all. A track, indistinctly marked, crosses hill and valley, over smooth sheets of slippery rock, winding in and out amongst piles of stones, or leading into treacherous quagmires. Here and
2 Gen. xlviii. 7.
3 Eccles. ii. 4-6.
1 Gen. xxxv. 16-20.
there traces of Roman pavement may be detected, or a mass of limestone rock has been cut through. In all other respects the rugged mountain-sides remain unchanged. The scenery is monotonous and depressing. A succession of bare, rounded hills, absolutely treeless, and apparently hopelessly barren, stretch to the horizon in every direction. There is nothing to break the solitude, save now and then a string of camels on their way between Hebron and Jerusalem. Not a house, or sign of human habitation, is visible.
The prevailing grey tone of the landscape, save where a strip of brilliant green in the valleys marks the line of a watercourse, adds to the monotony. And yet this district, now so lonely and desolate, must at some period have been both populous and prosperous. Ruins of ancient villages are to be seen on every hand; and the lines of stones, which now add to the sterile aspect of the hill-sides, prove on examination to be the remains of artificial terraces, by means of which the steepest slopes and the scantiest soil were once brought under cultivation.'
Shortly before reaching Hebron the road passes along a valley, the sides of
SOLOMON'S POOLS. which are covered with figs, olives, pomegranates, peaches, and apricots. But the extent and luxuriance of the vineyards form its most striking feature. It is the VALLEY OF Eshcol, where the spies “cut down a branch with one cluster of grapes, and they bare it between two upon a staff; and they brought of the pomegranates, and of the figs."? The fruit of Eshcol is famous to this day for its size and flavour throughout Southern Palestine ; and as we looked around on the expanse of orchards and olive groves and vineyards, it was easy to understand the favourable report of the spies—“We came unto the land whither thou sentest us, and surely it floweth with milk and honey; and this is the fruit of it." We are in the territory of Judah, and as we observed the
· The soil which looks so utterly and hopelessly barren is not so in reality. To an English eye the attempt to cultivate these hill-sides would appear almost madness. But the result of my inquiries was, that under proper tillage the soil is very fertile. The reply of several peasants when questioned was, “ If we had people to till the ground, and a government that would let us live, we could grow anything.”
2 Num. xiii. 23-27.
size of the vine-stubs, and the abundance of their produce, the prophetic blessing of Jacob could not be forgotten, Binding his foal unto the vine, and his ass's colt unto the choice vine; he washed his garments in wine, and his clothes in the blood of grapes : his eyes shall be red with wine, and his teeth white with milk.",
We noticed, too, the vineyards walled round with stones, collected from within the enclosure, each with its wine-fat and a tower, constructed, like the fences, with stones and masses of rock which would otherwise have marred the soil ; and the words of Isaiah found an exact illustration, “My wellbeloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill : and he fenced it, and gathered out the
stones thereof, and planted it with the choicest vine, and built a tower in the midst of it, and also made a winepress therein."? The parable spoken by our Lord was, at the same time, vividly illustrated. “There was a certain householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower."3
The grapes are either eaten fresh, or dried into raisins, or boiled down into grape-honey (dibs), or made into wine. Of course the Mohammedans leave the production and consumption of the latter to the Jewish and Christian residents, its use being forbidden by the Koran. I found the wine of Hebron
3 Matt. xxi. 33. Mark xii. 1.
i Gen. xlix. II, 12.
2 Isa. v. I, 2.
Luke xx. 9.
strong, but very sweet, being loaded with grape-honey, and apparently flavoured with spices, tasting much like the elder-berry wine which is made in country districts in England.
The first view of Hebron is very striking. It is picturesquely situated among groves of olives, on the slope of a hill at the southern end of the valley of Eshcol. Solidly built with blocks of grey weather-beaten stone, it has an appearance of great antiquity as befits a city reared “seven years before Zoan in Egypt.”: Zoan has disappeared, but Hebron still stands, with a history which goes back for more than three thousand years. The ancient names of the city—“ Kirjath-Arba, the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron,"are no longer used. But its modern name is strangely impressive and affecting. It is now known as El-Khulil, that is, The Friend, leading the mind back to the title given to the illustrious patriarch by God Himself, “ Abraham, My friend."3 It is by this name that he is always known throughout the Mohammedan world; and the epithet has passed over from the patriarch himself to the city with which he was so intimately associated.
Very early in the life of Abraham we find him encamped "in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and he built there an altar unto the Lord.”+ He and his nephew Lot had parted. Lot had chosen the well-watered and luxuriant plain of the Jordan, which lies just across the range of hills on the western slope of which Hebron stands; and Abraham had remained on the elevated plateau which was henceforth to be inseparably associated with himself and his descendants.
It was whilst encamped at Mamre that he received tidings of the disaster which had fallen upon his nephew. Chedorlaomer, king of Elam, with his allies, had attacked and sacked the cities of the plain, had carried away Lot as captive, and, laden with spoil, was returning to his own country. Abraham at once collected his clan," born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen,