Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/20

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search



MONDAY, MAY 15. Wind S. W.; partially cloudy. Thermometer, at 2 A.M., 58°; at Meridian, 72°. Discharged all the Arabs, except a guide and the necessary camel-drivers. The leveling party worked up the bed of the Kidron, while the camp proceeded along the edge of the western cliff. In about two hours, we passed a large cistern, hewn in the rock, twenty feet long, twelve wide, and eighteen high. There was water in it to the depth of four feet, and its surface was coated with green slime. In it two Arabs were bathing.


Nevertheless, our beasts and ourselves were compelled to drink it. Soon after, isolated tufts of scant and parched vegetation began to appear upon the hill-sides. We were truly in a desert. There was no difference of hue between the dry torrent-bed and the sides and summits of the mountains. From the Great Sea, which washes the sandy plain on the west, to that bitter sea on the east, which bears no living thing within it, all was dreary desolation! The very birds and animals, as on the shores of the Dead Sea, were of the same dull-brown colour, the colour of ashes. How literally is the prophecy of Joel fulfilled! “That which the palmer-worm hath left, hath the locust eaten; and that which the locust hath left, hath the canker-worm eaten; and that which the canker-worm hath left, hath the caterpillar eaten. The field is wasted, the land mourneth, and joy is withered from the sons of men.”

How different the appearance of the mountain districts of our own land at this season! There, hills and plains, as graceful in their sweep as the arrested billows of a mighty ocean, are before and around the delighted traveler. Diversified in scenery, luxuriant of foliage, and, like virgin ore, crumbling from their own richness, they teem with their abundant products. The lowing herds, the bleating flocks, the choral songsters of the grove, gratify and delight the ear; the clustering fruit-blossoms, the waving corn, the grain slow bending to the breeze, proclaim an early and redundant harvest. More boundless than the view, that glorious land is uninterrupted in its sweep until the one extreme is locked in the fast embrace of thick-ribbed ice, and the other is washed by the phosphorescent ripple of the tropic; while, on either side, is heard the murmuring surge of a wide-spread and magnificent ocean. Who can look upon that land and not thank God that his lot is cast within it?

And yet this country, scathed by the wrath of an offended Deity, teems with associations of the most thrilling events recorded in the book of time. The patriot may glory in the one, the Christian of every clime must weep, but, even in weeping, hope for the other.


Soon after leaving the cistern (pool), we passed an Arab burial-ground, the graves indicated by a double line of rude stones, as at Kerak; except one of a sheikh, over which was a plastered tomb. Before it our Arab guide stopped, and, bowing his head, recited a short prayer.

As we thence advanced, pursuing a north-westerly course, signs of cultivation began to exhibit themselves. On each side of us were magnificent rounded and shar-crested hills; and, on the top of one, we soon after saw the black tents of an Arab encampment; some camels and goats browsing along the sides; and, upon the very summit, the figures of some fellahas (Arab peasant women) cut sharp against the sky.

A little farther on, we came to a small. patch of tobacco, in a narrow ravine, the cotyledons just appearing; and, in the shadow of a rock, a fellah was seated, with his long gun, to guard it. Half a mile farther, we met an Arab, a genuine Bedawy, wearing a sheepskin aba, the fur inwards, and driving before him a she-camel, with its foal. A little after, still following the bed of the Kidron, we came to the fork of the pilgrim’s road, which turns to the north, at the foot of a high hill, on the summit of which was a large encampment of the tribe Subeih. Leaving the pilgrim’s road on the right, we skirted the southern base of the hill, with patches of wheat and barley covering the surface of the narrow valley; — the wheat just heading, and the fields of barley literally “white for the harvest.” Standing by the roadside, was a fellaha, with a child in her arms, who courteously saluted us. She did not appear to be more than sixteen.


The valley here was about two hundred yards wide; and to our eyes, so long unused to the sight of vegetation, presented a beautiful appearance. The people of the village collected in crowds to look upon us as we passed far beneath them. Some of them came down and declared that they would not permit the ‘Abeidiyeh (of which tribe were our camel-drivers) to pass through their territory; and claimed for themselves the privilege of furnishing camels. We paid no attention to them, but camped on the west side of the hill, where the valley sweeps to the north.

TUESDAY, MAY 16. Weather clear, cool, and delightful. At daylight, recommenced leveling. Soon after, the sheikh of the village above us, with fifteen or twenty followers, armed with long guns, came down and demanded money for passing through his territory. On our refusal, high words ensued; but finding his efforts at intimidation unsuccessful, he presented us with a sheep, which he refused to sell, but gave it, he said, as a backshish. Knowing that an extravagant return was expected, and determined not to humour him, I directed the fair value of the sheep, in money, to be given. Finding that no more was to be obtained, he left us.

It was a pastoral sight, when we broke up camp, this morning. The sun was just rising over the eastern hills; and, in every direction, we heard shepherds calling to each other from height to height, their voices mingling with the bleating of sheep and goats, and the lowing of numerous cattle. Reapers were harvesting in every field; around the threshing-floors the oxen, three abreast, were treading out the grain; and women were passing to and fro, bearing huge bundles of grain in the straw, or pitchers of leban (sour milk), upon their heads. Every available part of this valley is cultivated. The mode of harvesting is primitive. The reaping hook alone is used; the cradle seemed to be unknown.


The scene reminded one forcibly of the fields of Boaz, and Ruth the gleaner. But, with all its peaceful aspect, there was a feature of insecurity. Along the bases of the hills, from time to time shifting their positions, to keep within the shade, were several armed fellahin, guarding the reapers and the grain. The remark of Volney yet holds true: — “The countryman must sow with his musket in his hand, and no more is sown than is necessary for subsistence.”

Towards noon it became very warm, and we were thirsty. Meeting an old Arab woman, we despatched her to the Subeih for some leban. We noticed that ‘Awad, our Ta’amirah guide, was exceedingly polite to her. But when she returned, accompanied by her daughter, a young and pretty fellaha, he became sad, and scarce said a word while they remained. On being asked the reason of his sudden sadness, he confessed that he had once spent twelve months with that tribe, sleeping, according to the custom of Arab courtship, every night outside of the young girl’s tent, in the hope of winning her for his wife. He said that they were mutually attached, but that the mother was opposed to him, and the father demanded 4000 piastres, about 170 dollars. ‘Awad had 2000 piastres, the earnings of his whole life, and in the hope of buying her (for such is the true name of an Arab marriage), he determined to sell his horse, which he valued at 1000 piastres, or a little over forty dollars. But, “The course of true love did never yet run smooth;” and unfortunately his horse died, which reduced him to despair. Shortly after, the girl’s uncle claimed her for his son, then five years old, offering to give his daughter to her brother. According to an immemorial custom of the Arabs, such a claim took precedence of all others, and the beautiful girl, just ripening into womanhood, was betrothed to the child. With the philosophy of his race, however, ’Awad subsequently consoled himself with a wife; but, true to his first love, never sees its object without violent emotion.


He further told us, that in the same camp there was another girl far more beautiful than the one we had seen, for whom her father asked 6000 piastres, a little more than 250 dollars. The one we saw was lightly and symmetrically formed, and exceedingly graceful in her movements. The tawny complexion, the cheek-bones somewhat prominent, the coarse black hair, and the dark, lascivious eye, reminded us of a female Indian of our border.

Leaving the fellahin busy in their fields, and still following the ravine, we came to a narrow ridge, immediately on the other side of which were some thirty or forty black tents. Here a stain upon the rocks told a tale of blood.

An Arab widower ran off with a married woman from the encampment before us, — a most unusual crime among this people. In little more than a month, the unhappy woman died. Knowing that by the laws of the tribes he could be put to death by the injured man, or any of his or the woman’s relatives he might encounter, and that they were on the watch for him; and yet anxious to return, he made overtures for a settlement. After much negotiation, the feud was reconciled on condition that he gave his daughter, 400 piastres, a camel, and some sheep to the injured man. A feast was accordingly given, and the parties embraced in seeming amity. But the son-in-law brooded over his wrong, and one day seeing the seducer of his former wife approaching, concealed himself in a cavity of the rock and deliberately shot him as he passed. Such is the Arab law of vengeance, in cases of flagrant breach of faith like this, that all of both tribes, ’Awad told us, are now bound to put the murderer to death.


This elopement is not an isolated circumstance, although a most unusual one. The only wonder is that with such a licentious race as the Arabs, the marriage contract, wherein the woman has no choice, is not more frequently violated. Burckhardt relates a similar case, which occurred south of Kerak, in 1810.

A young man of Tafyle had eloped with the wife of another. The father of the young man with all his family had been also obliged to fly, for the Bedouin law authorized the injured husband to kill any of the offender’s relations in retaliation for the loss of his wife. Proffers were made for a settlement of the difficulty, and negotiations were opened. The husband began by demanding from the young man’s father two wives in return for the one carried off, and the greater part of the property which the emigrant family possessed in Tafyle. The father of the guilty wife, and her first-cousin also, demanded compensation for the insult which their family had received by the elopement. The affair was settled by the offender’s father placing four infant daughters, the youngest of whom was not yet weaned, at the disposal of the husband and his father-in-law, who might betroth them to whom they pleased, and receive themselves the money which is usually paid for girls. The four girls were estimated at three thousand piastres. In testimony of peace being concluded between the two families, and of the price of blood having been paid, the young man’s father, who had not yet shown himself publicly, came to shake hands with the injured husband; a white flag was suspended at the top of the tent in which they sat, a sheep was killed and the night spent in feasting. After that, the guilty pair could return in safety.


Soon after noon, we passed the last encampment of black tents, and turning aside from the line of march, I rode to the summit of a hill on the left, and beheld the Holy City, on its elevated site at the head of the ravine. With an interest never felt before, I gazed upon the hallowed spot of our redemption. Forgetting myself and all around me, I saw, in vivid fancy, the route traversed eighteen centuries before by the Man of Sorrows. Men may say what they please, but there are moments when the soul, casting aside the artificial trammels of the world, will assert its claim to a celestial origin, and regardless of time and place, of sneers and sarcasms, pay its tribute at the shrine of faith, and weep for the sufferings of its founder.

I scarce realized my position. Could it be, that with my companions I had been permitted to explore that wondrous sea, which an angry God threw as a mantle over the cities he had condemned, and of which it had been heretofore predicted that no one could traverse it and live. It was so, for there, far below, through the descending vista, lay the sombre sea. Before me, on its lofty hill, four thousand feet above that sea, was the queenly city. I cannot coincide with most travelers in decrying its position. To my unlettered mind, its site, from that view, seemed, in isolated grandeur, to be in admirable keeping with the sublimity of its associations. A lofty mountain, sloping to the south, and precipitous on the east and west, has a yawning natural fosse on those three sides, worn by the torrents of ages. The deep vale of the son of Hinnom; the profound chasm of the valley of Jehoshaphat, unite at the south-east angle of the base to form the Wady en Nar, the ravine of fire, down which, in the rainy season, the Bidron precipitates its swollen flood into the sea below.


Mellowed by time, and yet further softened by the intervening distance, the massive walls, with their towers and bastions, looked beautiful yet imposing in the golden sunlight; and above them, the only thing within their compass visible from that point, rose the glittering dome of the mosque of Omar, crowning Mount Moriah, on the site of the Holy Temple. On the other side of the chasm, commanding the city and the surrounding hills, is the Mount of Olives, its slopes darkened with the foliage of olive-trees, and on its very summit the former Church of the Ascension, now converted into a mosque.

Many writers have undertaken to describe the first sight of Jerusalem; but all that I have read convey but a faint idea of the reality. There is a gloomy grandeur in the scene which language cannot paint. My feeble pen is wholly unworthy of the effort. With fervent emotions I have made the attempt, but congealed in the process of transmission, the most glowing thoughts are turned to icicles. The ravine widened as we approached Jerusalem; fields of yellow grain, orchards of olives and figs, and some apricot-trees, covered all the land in sight capable of cultivation; but not a tree, nor a bush, on the barren hill-sides. The young figs, from the size of a currant to a plum, were shooting from the extremities of the branches, while the leaf-buds were just bursting. Indeed, the fruit of the fig appears before the leaves are formed, [Kitto's Palestine] and thus, when our Saviour saw a fig-tree in leaf, he had, humanly speaking, reason to expect to find fruit upon it.

Although the mountain-sides were barren, there were vestiges of terraces on nearly all of them. On the slope of one there were twenty-four, which accounts for the redundant population this country once supported.


Ascending the valley, which, at every step, presented more and more an increasing luxuriance of vegetation, the dark hue of the olive, with its dull, white blossoms, relieved by the light, rich green of the apricot and the fig, and an occasional pomegranate, thickly studded with its scarlet flowers, we came to En Rogel, the Well of Job, or of Nehemiah (where the fire of the altar was recovered), with cool, delicious water, 118 feet deep, and a small, arched, stone building over it.

On our right, was the Mount of Offence, where Solomon worshipped Ashtaroth: before us, in the rising slope of the valley of Jehoshaphat, had been the kings’ gardens in the palmy days of Jerusalem: a little above, and farther to the west, were the pool of Siloam and the fountain of the Virgin: on the opposite side of the chasm was the village of Siloam, where, it is said, Solomon kept his strange wives; and, below it, the great Jewish burial-ground, tessellated with the flat surfaces of grave-stones; and, near by, the tombs of Absalom, Zacharias, and Jehoshaphat; and, above and beyond, and more dear in its associations than all, the garden of Gethsemane.

We here turned to the left, up the valley of the son of Hinnom, where Saul was anointed king; and, passing a tree on the right, which, according to tradition, indicates the spot where Isaiah was sawn in half; and by a cave in which it is asserted that the apostles concealed themselves when they forsook their Master; and under the Aceldama, bought with the price of blood; and near the pool in the garden of Urias, where, from his palace, the king saw Bathsheba bathing; we leveled slowly along the skirts of Mount Zion, near the summit of which towered a mosque, above the tomb of David.

It was up Mount Zion that Abraham, steadfast in faith, led the wondering Isaac, the type of a future sacrifice.

Centuries after, a more august and a self-devoted victim, laden with the instrument of his torture, toiled along the same acclivity; but there was then no miraculous interposition; and He who felt for the anguish of a human parent, spared not Himself.


From this valley Mount Zion rises high and precipitous; and, isolated as the hill was under the Jebusites, might well justify their scornful message, when summoned by David to surrender.

Following the curve of the vale of Hinnom, the Gehenna of the Old Testament, which rounds gradually to the north, with the Hill of Evil Counsel* on our left, we proceeded to the lower pool of Gihon, where, at 5 P.M., we were compelled to halt, in consequence of the high wind agitating the spirit-level.

We pitched our tents upon a terrace, just above where the, aqueduct crosses from Solomon’s pool, with Zion gate immediately over us, and, a quarter of a mile below the tower of Hippacus and the Jaffa gate. In a line with us, above the Jaffa gate, was the upper pool of Gihon, with a number of Turkish tombs near it. On the opposite, or western side of the ravine, were old, gray, barren cliffs, with excavated tombs and caverns. The lower pool, beneath the camp, is formed by two huge, thick walls across the chasm. The aqueduct is led along the upper edge of the lower one; and the surface of the wall serves as a bridge, over which passes the road to Bethlehem, the one traversed by our Saviour, on his first visit to Jerusalem. We made a bench-mark on a rock, above the north-west angle of the city-wall. We made a similar mark in the Wady en Nar, immediately under the Convent of Mar Saba. The object of these bench-marks was to prevent the necessity of recommencing the level, de novo, in the event of an error.

  • So called, from the tradition that on it Caiaphas dwelt when he counseled with the Jews.


There was little evidence of curiosity respecting us or the labour in which we were engaged. Our interpreter once or twice heard the remark, “the Franks are preparing to take possession of the Holy City.”

The localities around us were so interesting, every spot teeming with recollections of the past, that the night was far advanced before we slept. The stars shone forth lustrous, yet serene; and the fleecy cloud drifted slowly along the sky; and the glittering dew settled upon the bending blade, which, while it bent, it fertilized. The luxuriant valleys, the lofty mountains, and the jeweled sky, proclaimed the existence of a Being as merciful as He is potent; while the crumbling terraces, the desecrated tombs, and the fast-bound gates of the silent city, beyond which, after night-fall, none can venture in security, told of the devastating hand, and the cruel and rapacious nature of man.

The dew was heavy, and we suffered from the cold, although the thermometer did not range below 52° in the night. The grain, already cut, laid in heaps in the valley below, exposed to the depredation of the spoiler, for none dared remain to guard it. Of all that solitude, we were the only tenants.