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TOMB OF RACHEL.
was the city of the Lord of Hosts ! Here He chose to dwell between the cherubim! Here my Lord was crucified !
It was not our plan to make any stay in Jerusalem at present. We should return in a few days. I contented myself, therefore, with entering at the Jaffa gate, and clattering for a few hundred feet along the stony street. Then, retracing my steps, I rode round a portion of the southern wall and descended into the valley of Hinnom, to rejoin my companions.
Passing the Pool of Gihon, and leaving the Hill of Evil Counsel on 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 whitewashed 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
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
TOMB OF RACHEL,
1 Gen. xxxv. 16-20.
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:
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.”2 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 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
? Eccles. ii. 4-6.
I Gen. xlviii. 7.
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 to this day famous throughout Southern Palestine for its size and flavour; 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 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
"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."
: Num. xiii, 23-27.