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THE VALLEY OF SHECHEM.
patriarch. The deep alluvial soil would not allow of the interment being in a rock-hewn grave; but if the coffin were of granite or alabaster, like those of Egyptian magnates, it might yet be recovered if excavation were permitted. We have, however, already seen, when speaking of the Cave of Machpelah, that the Mohammedans assert that the body was removed from its original place of sepulture and placed with those of the other patriarchs at Hebron.
The valley leading up to NaBLUS, the Neapolis of the Romans, the Sychar, or Shechem of the Jews, is one of rare beauty. Dr. Porter says, with slight exaggeration, “it is the finest in Palestine-in fact, it is the only really beautiful site from Dan to Beersheba.” Without the grandeur of the snow-crowned peaks of Switzerland, it yet reminded me of the Swiss-Italian valleys in its bright colour and rich vegetation. Van de Velde's description of it is graphic and truthful: “Here there is no wilderness, here there are no wild thickets, yet there is always verdure ; always shade, not of the oak, the terebinth, and the carob-tree, but of the olive grove-so soft in colour, so picturesque in form, that for its sake we can willingly dispense with all other wood. Here there are no impetuous mountain-torrents, yet there is water; water, too, in more copious, supplies than anywhere else in the land ; and it is just to its many fountains, rills, and watercourses, that the valley owes its exquisite beauty. . . . There is a singularity about the Vale of Shechem, and that is the peculiar colouring which objects assume in it. You know that wherever there is water, the air becomes charged with watery particles; and that distant objects beheld through that medium seem to be enveloped in a pale blue or grey mist, such as contributes not a little to give a charm to the landscape. But it is precisely these atmospheric tints that we miss so much in Palestine. Fiery tints are to be seen both in the morning and the evening, and glittering violet or purple-coloured hues where the light falls next to the long deep shadows; but there is an absence of colouring, and of that charming dusky haze in which objects assume such softly blended forms, and in which also the transition in colour from the foreground to the farthest distance loses the hardness of outline peculiar to the perfect transparency of an eastern sky. It is otherwise in the Vale of Shechem, at least in the morning and the evening. Here the exhalations remain hovering among the branches and leaves of the olive-trees, and hence that lovely bluish haze."
To enjoy this lovely scenery in its full perfection, we must spend the evening hours on one of the flat roofs of the city. One such evening I shall never forget. Ebal and Gerizim were glowing in the light of the setting sun. The long stretch of orchards and gardens along the valley were already dim in the purple shadows. The noise from the crowded streets died away. The stars began to peep out. The landscape faded from view. Our evening hymn of praise ascended to the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, who “sendeth darkness, and it is night.”
The abundance of water to which Van de Velde refers raises the question why Jacob should have dug a well so deep, with so much cost and labour, when the natural springs of the valley would have sufficed him ? Why, too, should the Samaritan woman have come hither from the city, ! nearly two miles distant, to draw water, when she must have passed numerous fountains by the way? The reply to the first question is, that throughout the East water is jealously guarded by the inhabitants, who resent the intrusion of strangers upon their rights. In the Book of Genesis, as amongst the fellahin and Bedouin of to-day, we find no case of contention as to pasturage, but numerous instances of feuds arising out of the use of wells and fountains. And, as Dean Stanley remarks, we have here an illustration of the characteristic prudence and caution of Jacob, who carefully avoided all causes of quarrel with the tribes amongst whom he had settled.
The reply to the second question is probably to be found in the fact that there are indications that the ancient city extended farther to the eastward and nearer to the well than the present. There may, too, have been reasons for preferring the water drawn from hence. Its superior quality
-Orientals are epicures in this respect-or the hallowed associations connected with the well may have prompted the Samaritans to fetch it from a distance, though there were fountains close at hand.'
Doubts and difficulties have often been expressed as to the possibility of the law being read on the opposite mountains of Ebal and Gerizim whilst the people were encamped between them. It has been said that at so great a distance the voices must have been inaudible. Some commentators have felt this so strongly that they have sought for an Ebal and Gerizim elsewhere. Infidels have made merry over the assumed incredibility of the narrative. But no real difficulty exists. Just where the valley begins to narrow a deep depression indents the sides of the opposing mountains, up which at the height of a few hundred feet two level plateaux confront each other. At this spot, which seems as though it had been created for the very purpose, the reading of the law probably took place, the priests standing on the plateau on either side, the people in the plain below. We tried the experiment under the most unfavourable circumstances. A very high wind was blowing down the valley, carrying the sounds away from us. Neither of the readers had powerful voices. And yet not only could we who remained in the valley hear them, but they heard one another with sufficient distinctness to read alternate verses, each beginning where the other left off. Had the day been calm, or had the readers possessed voices of greater power, every word would have been distinctly audible. This is due partly to the confor
Since the earlier editions of this work passed through the press the researches of the Palestine Exploration Fund have rendered it probable that Sychar was not, as had been previously supposed, a synonym for Shechem, but was the name of a village nearer to the well.
HISTORICAL ASSOCIATIONS OF GERIZIM.
mation of the hill sides forming, as it were, a double amphitheatre, partly to the elastic quality of the dry atmosphere of Syria, which conveys sound to an amazing distance.
The side of Ebal, the mountain of the cursing, is barren and rocky as compared with that of Gerizim, the mountain of the blessing. The latter is clothed with abundant pasturage to the very summit. The ascent is steep and difficult, but it well repays the labour, even if it were for the view alone. Nearly the whole extent of Palestine is visible—the hills of Galilee, the mountains of Benjamin and Judah, the Mediterranean and the great Philistine plain, the valley of the Jordan, the plains of Bashan and the mountains of Moab. Hermon is just hidden by an intervening height. The Samaritans assert, and many modern scholars maintain, that here, and not on the southern
Moriah, Abraham was about to sacrifice Isaac. A more imposing site could hardly be found, and reading the narrative on the spot, the imagination is strongly enlisted in favour of the opinion which has found so able a defender in Dean Stanley.
But that which invests the summit of Gerizim with an interest absolutely unique is the fact that here, and here alone, the feast of the Passover is still celebrated in accordance with the Mosaic ritual. The Jews for eighteen centuries have been unable to observe their great national festival. The Samaritans have never ceased to do so. I should gladly have been present at this interesting ceremony, but as it wanted three weeks to the full moon of the month Nisan, I was unable to remain. I received, however, a minute description of the ceremony from a native of Nablus who has often
witnessed it, and Yacoub, the high priest, gave me much information on the subject.
Near the ruins of their ancient Temple and, as they allege, close to the spot where Abraham offered Isaac, and Joshua placed the stones inscribed with the words of the law from Gilgal, two pits have been dug, and a long trench formed and lined with stones. Early in the morning of the day the officials commence their preparations. Fuel is gathered and a large fire kindled in each of the pits, prayers being recited the whole time. Over one of the pits two large cauldrons are placed and filled with water. In the afternoon, the lambs, five or six in number, are driven to the spot. The narrative of the institution of the Passover is now chanted in a high key, the women who stand round joining in with shrill excited cries. At a signal from the priest the lambs are thrown across the trench, and, in an instant, a ! keen long knife is drawn twice across the throat of each, nearly severing the head from the body. When the blood has been thoroughly drained from the 1 carcass, it is either dipped into the cauldron, or the boiling water is poured over it, to enable the shochetim to strip off the wool without difficulty. The entrails having been taken out and burnt, the portions allotted to the priests removed and salt added, the bodies are placed upon spits made, it is said, of pomegranate wood. A transverse bar is affixed to one end of the spit to prevent the body slipping. This forms a rude cross. Justin Martyr, a native of Nablus, writing in the second century, says that the forelegs were fastened to the cross-bar. Though this is no longer done, there is no reason to doubt the accuracy of his statement, nor can we wonder that he saw in it a type of the crucifixion of the true Paschal Lamb. The bodies are now placed amongst the hot ashes of the oven prepared for the purpose. A hurdle is placed over it, and covered with earth, so as to retain the heat. In about three hours the earth is removed, the hurdle torn off, and the lambs drawn out amidst the wild excited cries of the people. During the early part of the ceremony they had stood barefooted in acknowledgment of the sanctity of the place, but now having resumed their shoes, tied girdles of rope round their waists, and taken staves in their hands, they proceed eagerly and hastily to tear off, and eat portions from the bodies, over which bitter herbs have been sprinkled. In an incredibly short time the whole has been consumed excepting the bones. These are then collected, and with every fragment that can be found, after the most diligent search, are thrown into the fire to be consumed. The ceremony concludes soon after midnight. It was described to me as strangely impressive. The wild cries of the worshippers, the glare of the fires, the mountain top and the surrounding landscape lit up by the light of the full moon, the solemn associations of the rite and the place, must together make up a scene of intense interest.
The Samaritans—“the smallest and the oldest sect in the world"-are now reduced to one hundred and twenty persons, all of whom reside in
Nablus. The aged priest Amram, mentioned favourably by Wilson, Dean Stanley, and Mills, has lately been deposed from his office in consequence of an intrigue conducted by his nephew and successor, Yacoub. The latter looks about thirty years of age, though he is probably older. He has remarkably handsome and finely-chiselled features, but with a sinister, unpleasant expression. He professes to be able to trace his pedigree in a unbroken line from Aaron. The account he gives of his ancestry is that, down to the time of Nehemiah the high priesthood continued in one unbroken line, but that then one of the sons of Joiada, the son of Eliashib, the high priest, having married the daughter of Sanballat, the governor of Samaria,' refused to put her away when required to do so. Hereupon a schism took place, and from this point his genealogy follows a different line to that of the high priest of Jerusalem. He said that a genealogical table, laid up with the copies of the law in the Holy Place of the synagogue, gave all the generations of this pedigree, and that it recorded the most memorable events that happened in the period of each high priest. He declared that amongst these memorabilia was one recording that “a prophet named Jesus had appeared at Jerusalem, but that the priests there, with their usual wickedness and malignity, had put him to death out of envy.” If such a contemporary record does indeed exist, it would be a document of extraordinary interest and value. He adhered to his statement, notwithstanding my stronglyexpressed incredulity, and promised to send me extracts from the original roll. These, however, I have not received. The character for untruthfulness which the Samaritans bear excites suspicion, but it is difficult to see what he could hope to gain by deceiving me.
The synagogue of the Samaritans is a small secluded edifice, entered through a walled garden, out of which an inclosed court conducts into the building itself. It is only thirty-seven feet and a few inches in length, and perhaps twenty feet in breadth; the walls are whitewashed and the floor covered with matting. A place is railed off for the Holy Place, in a recess of which the volumes of the law are kept. We were of course anxious to see the famous copy of the Pentateuch, declared to have been written by “ Abishua, the great grandson of Aaron, at the door of the Tak the thirteenth year of the settlement of the children of Israel” in the Holy Land. Though this is recorded in the body of the manuscript itself, the statement is discredited, and the most contradictory opinions are entertained amongst scholars as to its actual date, some ascribing to it a venerable antiquity, and others insisting that it is comparatively modern.
Having taken off our shoes at the entrance, Yacoub locked the door, so that none of his co-religionists might enter, and took out from the recess a roll of the law, which he declared to be the one we desired to see. According to his usual custom, however, he was endeavouring to palm off upon us a "Neh. xiii. 28.