Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/18

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FRIDAY, May 5. We arose at 2 A.M. Fresh wind from the north; air quite chilly, and the warmth of the fire agreeable. It was this contrast which made the heat of the day so very oppressive. Everything was still and quiet, save the wind, and the surf breaking upon the shore. I had purposed visiting the ruins of Machaerus, upon this singular hot-water stream, and to have excavated one of the ancient tombs mentioned in the Itinerary of Irby and Mangles, the most unpretending, and one of the most accurate narratives I have ever read; but the increasing heat of the sun, and the lassitude of the party, warned me to lose no time.


In his description of the fortress of Machaerus, rebuilt by Herod, Josephus says, “It was also so contrived by nature that it could not be easily ascended; for it is, as it were, ditched, about with such valleys on all sides, and to such a depth that the eye cannot reach their bottoms, and such as are not easily to be passed over, and even such as it is impossible to fill up with earth; for that valley which cuts it off on the west extends to threescore furlongs, and did not end till it came to the Lake Asphaltites; on the same side it was, also, that Machaerus had the tallest top of its hill elevated above the rest.” Speaking of the fountains, his words are, “Here are, also, fountains of hot water that flow out of this place, which have a very different taste one from the other; for some of them are bitter, and others of them are plainly sweet. Here are, also, many eruptions of cold waters; and this not only in the places that lie lower and have their fountains near one another, but what is still more wonderful, here is to be seen a certain cave hard by, whose cavity is not deep, but it is covered over by a rock that is prominent; above this rock there stand up two (hills or) breasts, as it were, but a little distant from one another, the one of which sends out a fountain that is very cold, and the other sends out one that is very hot; which waters, when they are mingled together, compose a most pleasant bath; they are medicinal, indeed, for other maladies, but especially good for strengthening the nerves. This place has in it, also, mines of sulphur and alum.”

At 2:45, called the cook to prepare our breakfast. At 3:40, called all hands, and having “Broke our fast, Like gentlemen of Beauce,” started to sound across to Ain Turabeh, thus making a straight line to intersect the diagonal one of yesterday. Two furlongs from the land, the soundings were twenty-three fathoms (138 feet). The next cast, five minutes after, 174 (1044 feet), gradually deepening to 218 fathoms (1308 feet); the bottom, soft, brown mud, with rectangular crystals of salt.


At 8 A.M., met the Fanny Skinner. Put Mr. Aulick, with Dr. Anderson, in her; also the cook, and some provisions, and directed him to complete the topography of the Arabian shore, and determine the position of the mouth of the Jordan; and, as he crossed over, to sound again in an indicated spot. Made a series of experiments with the self-registering thermometer, on our way, in the Fanny Mason, to Ain Turabeh. At the depth of 174 fathoms (1044 feet), the temperature of the water was 62°; at the surface, immediately above it, 76°. There was an interruption to the gradual decrease of temperature, and at ten fathoms there was a stratum of cold water, the temperature, 59°. With that exception, the diminution was gradual. The increase of temperature below ten fathoms may, perhaps, be attributable to heat being evolved in the process of crystalization. Procured some of the water brought up from 195 fathoms, and preserved it in a bottle. The morning intensely hot, not a breath of air stirring, and a mist over the surface of the water, which looked stagnant and greasy.

At 10:30, we were greeted with the sight of the green fringe of Ain Turabeh, dotted with our snow-white tents, in charge of the good old Sherîf . Sent two Arabs to meet Mr. Aulick, at the mouth of the Jordan. Sherîf had heard of the fight between ’Akil and his friends with the Beni ‘Adwans; we learned from him that several of the Beni Sukrs had since died of their wounds, and that the whole tribe had suffered severely.

Reconnoitred the pass over this place, to see if it would be practicable to carry up the level. It proved very steep and difficult, but those at ‘Ain Feshkhah and Ain Jidy are yet more so; and, after consultation with Lieut. Dale, determined to attempt the present one. Made arrangements for camels, to transport the boats across to the Mediterranean. The weather very warm.


SATURDAY, MAY 6. A warm but not oppressive morning; the same mist over the sea; the same wild and awful aspect of the overhanging cliffs. Commenced taking the copper boat apart, and to level up this difficult pass. To Lieut. Dale, as fully competent, I assigned this task. With five men and an assistant, he laboured up six hundred feet, but with great difficulty.

At 9 A.M., thermometer, in the shade, 100°; the sky curtained with thin, misty clouds. At 11 A.M., Mr. Aulick returned, having completed the topography of the shore, and taken observations and bearings at the mouth of the Jordan. Dr. Anderson had collected many specimens in the geological department. The exploration of this sea was now complete. Sent Mr. Aulick out again, in the iron boat, to make experiments with the self-registering thermometer, at various depths; the result the same as yesterday and the day previous, the coldest stratum being at ten fathoms. Light, flickering airs, and very sultry during the night.

SUNDAY, MAY 7. This day was given to rest. The weather during the morning was exceedingly sultry and oppressive. At 8:30, thermometer 106°. The clouds were motionless, the sea unruffled, the rugged faces of the rocks without a shadow, and the canes and tamarisks around the fountain drooped their heads towards the only element which could sustain them under the smiting heat. The Sherîf slept in his tent, the Arabs in various listless attitudes around him; and the mist of evaporation hung over the sea, almost hiding the opposite cliffs.

At 6 P.M., a hot hurricane, another sirocco, blew down the tents and broke the syphon barometer, our last remaining one. The wind shifted in currents from N.W. to S.E.; excessively hot. In two hours it had gradually subsided to a sultry calm. All suffered very much from languor, and prudence warned us to begone. The temerature of the night was pleasanter than that of the day, and we slept soundly the sleep of exhaustion.


MONDAY, MAY 8. A cloudy, sultry morning. At 5 A.M., the leveling party proceeded up the pass to continue the leveling. At 8, the sun burst through his cloudy screen, and threatened an oppressive day. Constructed a large float, with a flag staff fitted to it. In the morning, a bird was heard singing in the thicket near the fountain, its notes resembling those of the nightingale of Italy. The bulbul, the nightingale of this region, is like our kingfisher, except that its plumage is brown and blue, and the bill a deep scarlet. We cannot say that we ever heard it sing; but at various places on the Jordan we heard a bird singing at night, and the Arabs said it was the bulbul.

The heat increased with the ascending sun, and at meridian the thermometer stood at 110° in the shade. The Sherîf’s tent was dark and silent, and we were compelled to discontinue work. The surface of the sea was covered by an impenetrable mist, which concealed the two extremities and the eastern shore; and we had the prospect of a boundless ocean with an obscured horizon. At 1:30 P.M., a breeze sprang up from the S.E., which gradually freshened and hauled to the north. Towards sunset went to Ain Ghuweir, a short distance to the north. So far from being brackish, we found the water as sweet and refreshing as that of Ain Turabeh.

At 4 P.M., the leveling party returned, having leveled over the crest of the mountain and 300 feet on the desert of Judea. They had been compelled to discontinue work by the high wind. The tent I sent them was blown down, and they were forced to dine under the “shadow of a rock.”


TUESDAY, MAY 9. Awakened at early daylight by the Muslim call to prayer. A light wind from N.E. Sky obscured; a mist over the sea, but leas of yesterday. Sent Lieut. Dale with the interpreter to reconnoitre the route over the desert towards Jerusalem. Pulled out in the Fanny Skinner, and moored a large float, with the American ensign flying, in eighty fathoms water, abreast of Ain Ghuweir, at too long a distance from the shore to be disturbed by the Arabs. Sent George Overstock and Hugh Read, sick seamen, to the convent of Mar Saba. Wind light throughout the day, ranging from N. to S.E.

Nusrallah, sheikh of the Rashayideh, to whom I had refused a present before our work was complete, said to Sherîf to-day that if it had not been for him (Sherîf), he would have found means of getting what he wanted, intimating by force. On the matter being reported, he was ordered instantly to leave the camp. On his profession of great sorrow, and at the intercession of the Sherîf, he was permitted to remain, with the understanding that another remark of the kind would cause his immediate expulsion.

Sent off the boats in sections to Bab el Hulil (Jaffa gate), Jerusalem. Tried the relative density of the water of this sea and of the Atlantic — the latter from 25° N. latitude and 52° W. longitude; distilled water being as 1. The water of the Atlantic was 1.02, and of this sea 1.13. The last dissolved 1/11, the water of the Atlantic 1/6, and distilled water 5/17 of its weight of salt. The salt used was a little damp. On leaving the Jordan we carefully noted the draught of the boats. With the same loads they drew one inch less water when afloat upon this sea than in the river.


The streams from the fountains of Turabeh, Ain Jidy, and the salt spring near Muhariwat, were almost wholly absorbed in the plains, as well as those running down the ravines of Sudeir, Seyal, Mubughghik, and Humeir, and the torrent between the Arnon and Callirohoe. Taking the mean depth, width, and velocity of its more constant tributaries, I had estimated the quantity of water which the Dead Sea was hourly receiving from them at the time of our visit, but the calculation is one so liable to error, that I withhold it. It is scarcely necessary to say, that the quantity varies with the season, being greater during the winter rains, and much less in the heat of summer.

At 8:30, Lieut. Dale and the interpreter returned. Before retiring, we bathed in the Dead Sea, preparatory to spending our twenty-second and last night upon it. We have carefully sounded this sea, determined its geographical position, taken the exact topography of its shores, ascertained the temperature, width, depth, and velocity of its tributaries, collected specimens of every kind, and noted the winds, currents, changes of the weather, and all atmospheric phenomena. These, with a faithful narrative of events, will give a correct idea of this wondrous body of water, as it appeared to us.

From the summit of these cliffs, in a line a little north of west, about sixteen miles distant, is Hebron, a short distance from which Dr. Robinson found the dividing ridge between the Mediterranean and this sea. From Beni Na’im, the reputed tomb of Lot, upon that ridge, it is supposed that Abraham looked “toward all the land of the plain,” and beheld the smoke, “as the smoke of a furnace.” The inference from the Bible, that this entire chasm was a plain sunk and “overwhelmed” by the wrath of God, seems to be sustained by the extraordinary character of our soundings.


The bottom of this sea consists of two submerged plains, an elevated and a depressed one; the firmer averaging thirteen, the latter about thirteen hundred feet below the surface. Through the northern, and largest and deepest one, in a line corresponding with the bed of the Jordan, is a ravine, which again seems to correspond with the Wady el Jeib, or ravine within a ravine, at the south end of the sea. Between the Jabok and this sea, we unexpectedly found a sudden breakdown in the bed of the Jordan. If there be a similar break in the water-courses to the south of the sea, accompanied with like volcanic characters, there can scarce be a doubt that the whole Ghor has sunk from some extraordinary convulsion; preceded, most probably, by an eruption of fire, and a general conflagration of the bitumen which abounded in the plain. I shall ever regret that we were not authorized to explore the southern Ghor to the Red Sea.

All our observations have impressed me forcibly with the conviction that the mountains are older than the sea. Had their relative levels been the same at first, the torrents would have worn their beds in a gradual and correlative slope; — whereas, in the northern section, the part supposed to have been so deeply engulfed, although a soft, bituminous limestone prevails, the torrents plunge down several hundred feet, while on both sides of the southern portion, the ravines come down without abruptness, although the head of Wady Kerak is more than a thousand feet higher than the head of Wady Ghuweir. Most of the ravines, too, as reference to the map will show, have a southward inclination near their outlets, that of Zerka Main or Callirohoe especially, which, next to the Jordan, must pour down the greatest volume of water in the rainy season. But even if they had not that deflection, the argument which has been based on this supposition would be untenable; for tributaries, like all other streams, seek the greatest declivities without regard to angular inclination. The Yermak flows into the Jordan at a right angle, and the Jabok with an acute one to its descending course.


There are many other things tending to the same conclusion, among them the isolation of the mountain of Usdum; its difference of contour and of range, and its consisting entirely of a volcanic product.

But it is for the learned to comment on the facts we have laboriously collected. Upon ourselves, the result is a decided one. We entered upon this sea with conflicting opinions. One of the party was skeptical, and another, I think, a professed unbeliever of the Mosaic account. After twenty-two days’ close investigation, if I am not mistaken, we are unanimous in the conviction of the truth of the Scriptural account of the destruction of the cities of the plain. I record with diffidence the conclusions we have reached, simply as a protest against the shallow deductions of would-be unbelievers.

At midnight the scene was the same as at Ain el Feshkhah, the first night of our arrival, save that the ground was more firm and the weather warmer; but the sea presented a similar unnatural aspect. There was also a new feature betokening a coming change; there were camels lying around, which had been brought in, preparatory to to-morrow’s movement. Heretofore, I had always seen this animal reposing upon its knees, but on this occasion all not chewing the cud were lying down. The night passed away quietly, and a light wind springing up from the north, even the most anxious were at length lulled to sleep by the rippling waves, as they brattled upon the shore.