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READING OF THE SCRIPTURES.
keep these lawless robbers under some degree of restraint. The interior of this establishment, contrasted with its external appearance, quite surprised us; and in the court-yard were some lovely lemon trees, then covered with their light and elegant blossoms, which scented the whole place.
The Padres came and sat with us in the evening ; they were anxious to hear of Europe, and in particular of their native country, while we were anxious to learn something of the antiquities and scripture localities of the neighbourhood. But they were not able to gratify our curiosity, or communicate to us any information ; for on these subjects they, as well as all, or nearly all, the monks whom we met in the Holy Land, were lamentably ignorant, and knew nothing of either the geography or enthnography of the places around them; or if they had any tale to tell, it was that of some hacknied tradition, or some saintly legend equally false and absurd. The life led by those three monks was one of extreme indolence. The two elder seldom left the convent walls. The younger, who was the curé and the cook, informed us, that of late he had frequently been obliged to go out among his flock, consisting of a few Maronites, to correct the awful heresy of reading the Scriptures, which had made considerable (and in his eyes lamentable) progress, since the English and American missionaries, and Bible agents had been labouring among these simple people. Some of them, he said, he had brought back to the bosom of the mother church, yet many, he regretted to say, were incorrigible, and, like the Bereans of old, were determined to search the Scriptures, to “see whether these things were so." All the ecclesiastics speak favourably of Ibrahim Basha, owing to the protection he has afforded the Christian religion ; and the different convents look upon his occupation of the country as a blessing. The monks remarked, that from the protection he afforded, a much greater intercourse with Franks had taken place of late years. This alone will have the most salutary effects; for it cannot fail, after some time, of introducing our customs, and of overcoming many of the prejudices of the Mooslims, as the roughness and the inequalities of the rocky fragment, swept down by the mountain torrent, become smooth, and even by mingling with and rubbing against the polished pebbles on the beach, where the ebbing and flowing waves in time roll all to an equal polish.
We rose early next morning, having enjoyed more rest that the
THE HILL COUNTRY OF JUDEA.
trumpeting of musquitos and the howling of jackals at first promised. In order to avoid the attacks of the former, I think it a good plan, when the traveller is not provided with a net, to leave a lamp burning in the apartment during the night, as it attracts the insect, and generally proves the means of its destruction.
We again set forward on our journey towards Jerusalem. The plain on which Ramlah stands, extends further eastward for about five or six miles, and then the land rises in gentle slopes towards the mountains, still, however retaining its verdure, its beauty, and its fertility. This part of the country was well cultivated, but the crops of wheat, oats, millet, and barley were all suffering from extreme drought, for no rain had fallen for a long time. On this account the barley was in ear, though it was not more than eighteen inches high.
The hill country is entered by a narrow pass at a place called Ladron, where are the remains of an old fort, and the gothic arches of a large church. The former was probably erected as a resting place, and also as a defence for the pilgrims, as this spot has ever been the haunt of the Arab robbers.
Several flocks of gazelles bounded across our path, and numerous herds of small black goats, with long silken hair and beautiful pendant ears almost reaching to the ground, followed the steps of the goat-herd as he led them along the different mountain passes. The tinkling of their little copper bells, when heard among those solitary hills through which our road lay, had a pleasing effect, and helped to beguile the tedium of our way. We had reached the hill country of Judea, and as we ascended a complete change came over the scene. The eye was no longer refreshed with the verdant sward and the beauty of the plain which we had traversed after leaving Jaffa ; the hum of bees, the low of cattle, and even the music of the goat's bell was no longer heard. A solemn wildness reigns in those elevated regions, the hills of which rise in amphitheatres, or rather in concentric circles, one above another. The strata of grey limestone protrudes its naked head through these hills at regular intervals, like so many seats in a stadium ; there is no vestige of human beings, and the road becomes a mere horse-track, with scarcely room for two to pass abreast ; yet the dreariness and monotony of the view is occasionally relieved by valleys and ravines clothed with low woods of dwarf oak, which was then putting forth its young leaves and
long green catkins ; and here, for the first time in our travels, we met the thorn becoming white with blossom, and reminding us of the lawns and hedge-rows of our own far-distant homes. A few fields of corn, by their fertility, caused by the moisture which is more abundant on these elevated regions than on the plains, showed what could still be effected by cultivation on the limestone soil of Judea, and on the terraces between these bands of rock, which act as so many retaining walls to the scanty earth. Much was originally, and much could still be effected in the growth of the vine and the olive on the sides of these hills. Those who exclaim against the sterility and barrenness of this country, should recollect, that want of population and proper cultivation gives it much of the sterile and barren appearance which it now presents to the traveller. The plough in use here is one of the rudest instruments of the kind that I have ever seen ; it resembles the ancient Egyptian plough, and does little more than scratch the soil, making a furrow scarcely three inches in depth.
About midway to Jerusalem we passed through a deep narrow gorge, wooded to an extent that we could scarcely have anticipated from the rocky and barren desert in which it is situated. The ascent out of this valley is fearfully precipitous, and has long been noticed in modern history as the hiding-place or fastness of the lawless Bedawee. Some time previous to our visit, a large band of Egyptian cavalry were completely destroyed in this ravine. The huge rocks, the close wood on either side, and the overhanging crags, form a complete cover for an enemy, who might attack the largest body of men passing through it, while they would remain secure, especially from horsemen. Thanks to the rule of Ibrahim Basha, whatever be his faults, and I believe he has many, we passed through this part of Palestine in perfect security, and without the slightest interruption. In the bottom of this waddy or ravine is a ruined khan, overhung by some splendid lotus trees; and by the way-side were some enormous rocks, which, in several places, contained excavations, under which we rested for some time, enjoying their cool shade, thankful, in a country like this, for those inestimable blessings—a well of water, and the “ shadow of a great rock in a weary land”—blessings that can only be known and appreciated by those who may have panted on the thirsty mountain side, or toiled in the heat of the day,
over the dreary waste of the Eastern desert, or among the lonely hills of Palestine. To our left lay Beth-horon, a valley of a similar character ; where we are informed, in the book of Joshua, when the Canaanites were flying from Gibeon, “ the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah.”
Ascending from this valley, the traveller again enters upon the rugged Appenine country, from whose heights he has a last glimpse of the blue waters of the midland sea. We next arrived at Kuryet el Euab, the scriptural Kirjath Jearim, and sometimes called by modern travellers, the village of Jeremiah, situated in an extensive valley, bounded on all sides by bold crags and barren fells. The vale itself, however, contains some rich fields of corn, and the sides of the lower hills are studded with full-grown olives that thrive upon the parterres between the rocks, and appear luxuriant, if such a term can be applied to those seedy-looking trees, whose rusty-coloured leaves have so little of that verdant freshness which we are wont to associate with vegetable beauty. The olive is the peculiar tree of Palestine, and its fruit forms at present a principal article of diet, as its oil did in the days of Solomon. During lent it is the chief food of the inmates of the convents; and I shall not easily forget the grimace and the shrug of Padre Benjamin, when, a few days after we arrived in Jerusalem, we invited him to partake of some at our dessert. Some of the largest olive trees now known grow in Syria, among which we might instance those found at Gethsemane and in the plain of Sharon.
While our horses were feeding, and luncheon was preparing, I visited the old church—a gothic building, which is chiefly remarkable for the vast thickness of its walls, and its arched roof, supported by two rows of pillars. The door is low, and flanked by two strong buttresses. The windows are placed at the top of the building, and admit but scanty, light, and from the defensive appearance of the place it has more the look of a fort or magazine than of a church dedicated to the worship of God. The state of the country at the period of its erection required that it should be constructed in this form, in order that the infirm and defenceless might have a place of refuge to fly to in case of invasion. Of late years this valley has become a place of celebrity, from its
THE TEREBINTHINE VALE.
being the residence of Aboo-Goush, the chief of the Arab plunderers that inhabit these regions. His house is in the vicinity of the church ; and as we passed it, a few discontented and ferociouslooking men were seated on its front terrace, abusing some of the women and children who ran out to see the Frankees.
An hour and a half's ride then brought us to Kulonieh, in the Terebinthine vale, memorable as the battle-field on which the stripling son of Jesse prostrated the vaunting champion of the Philistines. A narrow bridge here crosses a small stream, in which it is said the youthful warrior filled his scrip with the smooth pebbles, one of which laid Goliath in the dust, and achieved such a glorious victory for the army of Israel. The scene instantly calls to mind the position of the two armies placed upon opposite hills, with a valley running between. The hill to the left is now occupied by a considerable village of low, square Arab huts. Along the banks of the rivulet are some lovely gardens, adorned with apple trees, apricots, almond trees, orange and acacia groves, together with rose-laurels, figs, and sycamores.*
All this hill country belonged originally to the Philistines, whose feelings and habits, like those of most other mountaineers, were deeply tinged by the wild scenery amidst which they dwelt, and the mode of life which they pursued, all of which, doubtless, contributed in forming that warlike disposition which marked their character. The inhabitants of this country are considered to be what is usually called a “bad set ;” and they gave much annoyance to the Básha while he was encamped at Jerusalem, by interrupting his communications, and robbing his couriers, so that several important despatches fell into the hands of the enemy. At length one of his messengers adopted the following successful expedient;-he inserted the letter into the long tube of his pipe; and although his person was diligently searched, they never thought that the pipe, which he continued to smoke during the examination, contained the object for which they were so anxiously looking. Josephus mentions that in his day the conveying of despatches through this country was always attended with diffi
* Dr. Robinson has lately denied this locality to the battle-field so memorable in Scripture story, and places it at Socoli, a valley to the S. W. of Jerusalem, on the road to Gaza.