Narrative Of The United States Expedition To The River Jordan And The Dead Sea/21
WEDNESDAY, MAY 17. At 4 A.M. this morning, the thermometer stood at 53°. In our present condition, the air felt as keen at this temperature as formerly at home, when the sky was clouded, and there was snow upon the ground.
We ran the level up the road, and beyond the Jaffa gate, to the highest near peak, north-west of Jerusalem. There were many Jewish women and children, clothed all in white, under the olive-trees in the valley, as we passed. They were families from the city, who thus came to spend the day beneath the shade, away from the stifling air of the Jew’s quarter.
On the eminence just without the gate, was a large khan, in which the sections of our boats had been deposited on their arrival. A little beyond, on the somewhat flattened summit, a battalion of Turkish infantry was going through the exercise. The arms were brightly burnished and in fine order, and the precision of their evolutions was admirable; but the men were of small stature, and looked physically incapable of enduring much fatigue. They were dressed in the European costume.
Passing a large tomb which stands conspicuous to the north, we camped a little off the Jaffa road, beside an olive-tree, about a mile and a half distant from the city; and as far south-west from the reputed place where the empress Helena was buried, and immediately west of the site most probably occupied by the besieging camp of the Roman army under Titus. There were many fields of grain around us, occasionally separated by low walls of uncut and uncemented stone. There were few trees, and the mountains, from their summits two-thirds down, were masses of brown rock without soil and unrelieved by verdure. South-west from us, about a mile distant, was a large building, its towers just visible over an intervening ridge. It was the Greek convent of the Holy Cross, where, we were told, “is the earth that nourished the root, that bore the tree, that yielded the timber, that made the cross.” A most irreverent play upon words connected with such a theme, for it reminds one forcibly of the nursery tale of the “house that Jack built.”
It is from this quarter that the appearance of Jerusalem has been usually described. Looking hence upon the city, but little above a level, it is certainly less grand and imposing than from the gorge of the valley to the south-east, where it towers majestically above the spectator. Yet, beheld even from this point, there is no other city in the world which can compare with it in position. It does not, like other cities, present an indefinite mass of buildings, which must be viewed in detail before the eye can be gratified; but, with only its dome-roofs swelling above the time-stained and lofty walls, Jerusalem sits enthroned, a queen in the midst of an empire of desolation. Apart from its associations, we look upon it in admiration; but, connected with them, the mind is filled with reverential awe, as it recalls the wondrous events that have occurred within and around it.
The city is nearly in the form of a parallelogram, about three-fourths of a mile long, from east to west, and half a mile broad, from north to south. The walls are lofty, protected by an artificial fosse on the north, and the deep ravines of Jehoshaphat, of Gihon, and the Son of Hinnom, on the east, south, and west. There are now but four gates to the city. The Jaffa gate, the fish-gate of the New Testament, on the west; the Damascus gate, opening on the great northern road, along which our Saviour travelled, when, at twelve years of age, he came up with his mother and kindred; the gate of St. Stephen, on the east, near the spot where the first Christian martyr fell, and overlooking the valley of Jehoshaphat; and the Zion gate, to the south, on the crest of the mount. Immediately within the last, are the habitations of the lepers.
On the 18th, sent the sections of the boats to Jaffa, under the charge of Sherîf, whom we found here. We remained in camp until the 22d, the officers and men by turns visiting the city and its environs. During that time the weather was clear, cool at night, and delightful throughout the day.
Dr. Anderson left us here, his business calling him in another direction. Although not required to do so, he had, while with us, generously persisted in bearing his portion of watchfulness and fatigue; and by his invariable cheerfulness, his promptitude and zeal on all occasions, proved, independently of his professional services, a most valuable auxiliary. He won our esteem, and carried with him the fervent good will of every member of the party. Mr. Bedlow, who had studied medicine, and given us satisfactory proof of his capacity, was appointed to fill the place of Dr. Anderson.
The following account of his first day in Jerusalem is from the diary of the youngest member of the party, who was sent up from Ain Jidy in advance of the camp. I give it as the unvarnished recital of one who simply relates what he saw.
“Our bones yet ached from the effects of our fatiguing ride; nevertheless, we determined first to visit the holy places of Jerusalem, and then to regale ourselves with a civilized repast, and afterwards luxuriate upon a bona fide bed.
“Our cicerone had arrived betimes, and installed himself in his office with that pleasantness of manner which the expectation of a liberal fee produces. His entreaties to make haste roused us from our recumbent postures, and we sallied forth through miserable apologies for streets, lined on each side by dilapidated bazaars.
“The Via Dolorosa, or Sorrowful Way, first arrested our attention, and our guide pointed out the spot where our Saviour fell under the burthen of his cross. A little farther on, we had a partial view of the mosque of Omar, above the high walls by which it is surrounded. While we gazed upon it, a crowd of Abyssinian pilgrims called out to us with such fierce expressions of fanatic rage that our hands instinctively grasped our weapons. The movement had its effect, and after indulging our curiosity, we passed on unmolested.
“Next to Mecca, Jerusalem is the most holy place of Muhammedan pilgrimage, and throughout the year, the mosque of Omar and its court are crowded with turbaned worshippers. This mosque, built upon the site of the Holy Temple, is the great shrine of their devotions. It is strictly guarded against all intruders, and there is a superstitious Muslim belief that if a Christian were to gain access to it, Allah would assent to whatever he might please to ask, and they take it for granted that his first prayer would be for the subversion of the religion of the Prophet.
“In one of the streets we came to a low gate, passing through which and descending a long flight of stairs, we entered upon an open court in front of the church of the Holy Sepulcher, an ancient and venerable building. Scattered about the court were motley groups of Jew peddlers, Turks, beggars, and Christian pilgrims. The appearance of a poor cripple excited my compassion, and I gave him a piastre; but the consequences were fearful. The war-cry of the Syrian pauper, “backshish! backshish!” instantly resounded from all quarters, and we were hemmed in, pressed, and swayed to and fro by the rabble. Our cicerone plied his stick vigorously in our defence, and it truly seemed to be gifted with miraculous powers, for the blind saw, and the lame walked, and amid their imprecations upon our Christian heads we entered the church.
“Just within the door, seated on a raised divan, two sedate old Muslims were regaling themselves with miniature cups of coffee and the everlasting chiboque. Immediately in front of the entrance is the stone of unction, upon which, according to tradition, the body of our Lord was anointed. It is a plain slab of Jerusalem marble, slightly elevated above the floor of the church, and enclosed by a low railing. The pilgrims, in their pious fervour, crowding forward to kiss it, prevented our near approach.
“Turning to the left, we saw in the centre of the main body of the church a small oblong building, which contains the sepulcher. There were different processions crossing and recrossing each other with slow and measured pace, each pilgrim with a taper in his hand, and the numerous choirs, in various languages, were chanting aloud the service of the day. The lights, the noise, and the moving crowd had an effect for which the mind was not prepared, and with far less awe than the sanctity of the place is calculated to inspire, we entered the sepulcher. In the middle of the first apartment, for it is divided into two, is a stone, upon which the angel was seated when he informed the two Marys of the resurrection. This room is about eight feet square, and beautifully ornamented. From this we crept through a narrow aperture into the inner apartment, against the north side of which is the sepulcher in the form of a low altar. It is about the same size as the first, and between the sepulcher and the southern wall, there is barely space to kneel. It was brilliantly lighted by rich and costly lamps.
“From the sepulcher we were led to see the pillar of flagellation, visible through a hole in the wall, but we did not credit the pious imposition. Thence, we ascended to the altar of Calvary, with three holes beneath it, where were planted the crosses upon which the Saviour and the two thieves were crucified. The holes are cut through beautifully polished marble.* Near by is a fissure in the limestone rock, caused, it is alleged, by the earthquake which closed the sad drama of the crucifixion. This rent is certainly not an artificial one. Before leaving the church, we visited the tomb of Godfrey of Bouillon, and the place where the true cross, it is said, was found by the Empress Helena.
“We next determined to visit a spot respecting the identity of which even the mind of the most skeptical can have no room for doubt. Passing through the Damascus gate, we skirted the northern wall, and descending into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and crossing the bridge over the dry bed of the Kidron, we commenced the ascent of the Mount of Olives. We soon reached the summit, but the scorching heat of a Syrian sun did not permit us to enjoy long the magnificent view it afforded. Parts of the Dead Sea were visible, and looking down upon it, we felt proud in being able to say that we were the first thoroughly to explore this sea, which has for ages kept its mysteries buried in the deep bosom of its sullen waters.
“On our return, we stopped at the garden of Gethsemane, which is held by the Latins, who have enclosed it with a wall. After repeatedly knocking at the gate, we were about to come away, when it was opened by a garrulous old Spaniard, whose visage was as gnarled as the trees we now saw before us. The garden consists of eight enormous olive-trees, their venerable appearance truly typical of old age; and there can scarcely be a reasonable doubt that this is, indeed, the very place where the Saviour wept and prayed.
“Crossing the valley of Jehoshaphat, and ascending the slope of Mount Moriah, we passed by the Golden Gate, now walled up by the Turks. Why it is called ‘golden,’ I am unable to say, unless from its rich and elaborate sculpture.
“We next came to the fountain of the Virgin, which flows through a subterranean passage into the pool of Siloam, and is thence distributed along the slope of the valley. The pool is near the foot of the mount, and is a deep oblong pit, with fragments of columns in the centre. There are steps leading down to it on the left side, and the water is muddy and shallow. Here Christ restored the blind man to sight.
“Re-entering the city through the Jaffa gate, our cicerone declared ‘by the body of Bacchus’ that he would show us the greatest sight in the Holy City. It was the Armenian convent near by. We entered through the portal, and were ushered into an ante-chamber by a sour looking old monk, where, in the midst of a crowd of camel-drivers, we waited for permission from the patriarch to see the riches of the convent. We were first shown the portraits of all preceding patriarchs, now canonized as saints in their calendar; while that of the present one was the most gorgeously framed-par excellence, the greatest saint of them all. Persons well versed in the art of discolouring canvass had painted these miserable daubs, which, taking the portrait of the present patriarch as a fair criterion, bore not the slightest resemblance to their originals.
“We then entered the chapel, the chef-d’oeuvre of this costly building. The most tasteful ornaments were the doors, made of tortoise-shell and inlaid with mother-of pearl. The walls were of mosaic, representing saints and devils engaged in most furious combats; but unfortunately, although our cicerone zealously endeavoured to point out which were the saints and which the devils, we often fell into a mistake respecting them. We were shown throughout the convent, which is constructed in the well-known Saracenic style of architecture; and the patriarch long detained us with an account of the improvements he intended to make.
“We returned to our hotel sorely fatigued, and for lack of better amusement, watched the preparations for dinner with more avidity than would a hungry citizen of Arkansas the like evolutions on board of a western steamboat.”
Jerusalem, its narrow, tortuous streets, with its pavement of large round stones, and its arches and recesses, time-stained and ivy-grown, and the walls of many of the houses, like those of the pavement, a consolidated limestone, cream-coloured and streaked with blood-red, has been repeatedly described.
Visitors to Jerusalem consist, usually, of three classes: — the ignorant and credulous, who are prepared to believe everything; the conceited and intolerant, who are equally determined to believe nothing; and the weak and indolent, who side with the last, because it is easier to doubt than to investigate.
The first listens with greedy ear, and assenting mind, to the most improbable legends. The second, stubborn and querulous, scoffs openly at what they hear, and laughs in their sleeve at the simplicity of those who differ from them. The third, not sufficiently ill-natured to sneer, adopts the opinions, without the malevolence, of others, who, because they are more positive, they conclude must be the best informed.
Most of the wall, and all the houses of, Jerusalem, were demolished by Titus. Who, therefore, can believe in the assigned localities along the “Via Dolorosa”? Who can credit that here the Virgin Mary was born; there, the Saviour instituted the sacrament of the last supper; or that yonder is the house where Pilate sat in judgment? Faith does not require, and true reverence would not be sustained by, such weak credulity.
But there is a place which, above all others, should be approached with humility, — the church of the Holy Sepulcher; for even the greatest cavillers admit that, if it does not cover all the sacred localities assigned to it, some, at least, may lie beneath its roof, and none can be very far distant from it.
It is known that early in the second century, the pagan conquerors of Jerusalem erected a statue to Jupiter, on the site of the Holy Sepulcher, and one to Venus, on Mount Calvary; — thus, the very means taken to obliterate the recollections of those localities, served, as has been often remarked, to perpetuate them. The Christians were never absent from the city, except at its destruction by Titus, when they took refuge, for a short time, in Pella. In less than two centuries after the destruction of the temple, the holy places were restored to them. So that they could not have forgotten them. Can the Jews forget the site of the temple?
It is not my purpose to enter into an argument. No one, however, should venture to approach the sacred precincts without learning thus much; and he who, with this knowledge, enters them with a cavilling spirit, is a heartless scoffer.
Some of our officers visited this church in company with a clergyman. While their minds were occupied with the thoughts which such a place is calculated to inspire in all but a perverted heart, the latter annoyed them by the frequent remark, “Well, I hope you will not be offended, but I am somewhat skeptical on this point.” At length one of the officers said to him, “Please reserve your doubts for discussion elsewhere; we do not believe all that is told us, but know that not far from this, if not here, the Saviour died.”
It is true that much occurs in these places calculated to shake the faith of the unstable, who cannot distinguish between what men do and what they are enjoined to do. The Almighty withheld from the Israelites all knowledge of the final resting-place of their great lawgiver: may not the same Supreme Wisdom have left us in ignorance of the exact position of places infinitely more sacred, to preserve them from desecration, whether of wanton malice or intemperate zeal? The possibility that any assigned spot may be the true one, and the certainty that it cannot be very far removed from it, is sufficient to inspire awe in every feeling breast.
Disgusted with the conduct of many of the pilgrims, in paschal week, without looking to the impelling motive, many come to the sage conclusion that the temple must be an imposture because some of its visitors are disorderly; — which is about as fair as to judge of the nature of our beautiful institutions by the pugilistic combats which sometimes (thank God, rarely) disgrace our national halls of legislation.
Intemperate zeal may be as reckless as intoxication from drink; — but is the sincere Christian to be, therefore, classed with a fanatic; or a sober citizen with an inebriate? At all events, on such a subject, an excess of enthusiasm is preferable to insensibility; and he who believes and bows down is more to be envied than he that stands scornfully erect because unconvinced by so many feet and inches. He who, in such places, with tape-line and rule, employs himself measuring the sizes of objects, and their exact distances from each other, thereby endeavouring not only to destroy what he persuades himself are the illusions, but absolutely undermining the religious belief, of others, is little better than a heathen.
There is nothing which so perverts the heart as intellectual pride. The calamities which have most afflicted and debased our race have sprung from the abuse of the free and gifted intellect. In the perversity of a corrupt will, and in the excesses of a presumptuous understanding, man has frightfully abused the powers entrusted to him for high and holy purposes. Too often, the extent of human knowledge is the measure of human crime.
History, revelation, and tradition, unite to teach us that the unchastened will, and the perverted genius, seeking to snatch the forbidden fruit, have been man’s first, greatest, unforgiven sin. While other crimes seem rather to excite the pity than to provoke the immediate wrath of heaven, and, by degrading the soaring spirit to the earth, serve to humble its pride, this appears to be a rebellion against Him, who is a jealous God, and who will avenge his cause. From the fall of the son of the morning star, who, in the excess of a presumptuous understanding, dared to wage war “against the throne and monarchy of God,” down, through the deserted paths of paradise, to the terrible convulsions of the last century, when an impiety, second only to that of the archangel ruined, met with a punishment scarcely less horrible, we see, everywhere, this frightful lesson written in characters of ruin.
Yet mind is not like the “corporal rind” with which it is “immanacled,” subjected to age, and decay, and decrepitude. Nor is it refluent in its essence, having a latent power within, or a controlling principle without, which proclaims, thus far shalt thou go, and no farther. It is immortal in its energies and aspirings — ever advancing and to advance — soaring still higher and higher with untiring wing, and gaining new scope and vigour from every flight towards Him from whom it descended, and with whose image it is stamped. Limitless and free; its nature is progressive, its spring is upward; no barrier to check its lofty aspirations; no power to control its daring flight; no obstacle to stay its resistless progress, but its own wild and erring presumption, its own fiery and impetuous promptings, its own inherent and rebellious pride. As long as, with humble heart and chastened will, it seeks the end of its being in the ocean of truth, its stream can never flow backward.
Such is the law of all intelligence. “The rapt seraph that adores and burns,” the chief of the hierarchy of Heaven, the moment he deems himself sufficient for his own support, by that one act of impious self-idolatry, falls, headlong, from his high estate.
Such is the awful and salutary lesson which we glean from that book, which contains all that is useful in time and hopeful in the future. As if to impress indelibly upon the soul of man the terrible consequences of a presumptuous intellect, a jealous Deity has enforced the lesson with special revelations. He has not only bestowed upon us the godlike capacity of reason to collect and compare the fruits of experience in the ages which have been gathered to the past, but he has suspended the arm of the cherubim, that we might enter the forbidden paths of paradise to read, beneath the tree of knowledge, the price of disobedience.
And he has unbarred the gates of heaven itself, that, in the fill of the angelic hosts, we might tremble at the instant and irremediable ruin which followed the single sin of thought. One truth we therefore know, that, unaccompanied with an upright heart and a chastened will, with the morality which springs from religion, the measure of man’s intellect is the measure of his ruin. The pride of wealth inspires contempt, and the pride of place awakens resentment, — they are human follies, and are punished by human means; but the pride of intellect, wherein the gifted wars with the Giver, is a crime which the dread Creator has reserved for special retribution. There is a remark of Sir Humphry Davy, so appropriate to this subject, that I cannot withhold it. — “I envy no quality of the mind or intellect of others, — not genius, wit, nor fancy; but if I could choose what would be most delightful, and, I believe, most useful to me, I prefer a firm religious belief to any other blessing; for it makes discipline of good, creates new hopes when earthly hopes vanish, and throws over the decay, the destruction of existence, the most gorgeous of all lights; awakens life in death, and, from corruption and decay, calls up beauty and divinity; makes an instrument of misfortune and of shame the ladder of ascent to paradise, and, far above all combinations of earthly hopes, calls up the most delightful visions of palms and amaranths,— the gardens of the blest, and the security of everlasting joys, where the sensualist and the skeptic view only gloom, decay, annihilation, and despair.”
My apology for touching on this subject, which is without my sphere and above my capacity, is the pain I have felt, with others, in witnessing the effects of the cavilling spirit of those who plume themselves on being considered the most literary of modern travelers to the Holy Land. For their peace of mind here, I hope that they may never know how much they have injured a cause, of which some of them are the professed champions; and, for their future welfare, every true Christian will pray that the evil has not been premeditated. I have not meant to reflect upon those who honestly doubt; for faith is not a product of reason, but a gift, an inspiration from on high. I allude to those whose intellectual pride prompts them to parade their own attainments in opposition to, rather than in the search of, truth, — which never shrinks from a fair encounter. In the words of Milton, “Truth is strong, next to the Almighty.” The mists of human prejudice cannot long withstand the penetrating light of truth, — which is the purest ray, reflected from the brightest gem in the diadem of the Great Jehovah.
THURSDAY, MAY 18. Visited, to-day, the church of the Holy Sepulcher, and other places consecrated by tradition. All these localities have been so repeatedly and so minutely described by other writers, as to be familiar to every Sunday-school scholar, beyond the age of childhood, at home; and Jerusalem itself is, geographically, better known to the educated classes in the United States, than Boston, New York, or Philadelphia, to those who do not reside in and have not visited them.
Neither need anything be said of the present condition and future prospects of Palestine; for it is a theme too copious for this work, even if it were not above the capacity of its author. I can only express an opinion, founded upon what I have seen and heard, that the fanaticism of the Turks is fast subsiding, with the rapid diminution of their number, while the Christian and Jewish population is increasing. As yet, this holds good only of the capital. The country traversed by nomadic tribes, and cultivated but in patches, continues to be as insecure as it is unproductive. But, like the swelling of the waters which precede the tide of flood, there are indications of a favourable change. The Muhammedan rule, that political sirocco, which withers all before it, is fast losing the fierce energy which was its peculiar characteristic, and the world is being gradually prepared for the final dismemberment of the Ottoman empire.
It needs but the destruction of that power which, for so many centuries, has rested like an incubus upon the eastern world, to ensure the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. The increase of toleration; the assimilation of creeds; the unanimity with which all works of charity are undertaken, prove, to the observing mind, that, ere long, with every other vestige of bigotry, the prejudices against this unhappy race will be obliterated by a noble and a God-like sympathy. “Many a Thor, with all his eddas, must first be swept into dimness;” — but the time will come. All things are onward; and, in God’s providence, all things are good. How eventful, yet how fearful, is the history of this people! “The Almighty, moved by their lamentations, determined, not only to relieve them from Egyptian bondage, but to make them the chosen depositary of his law, by the observance of which men might be gradually prepared for the advent of the Saviour. Living at first under a theocracy, the most perfect form of government that can exist, for it unites infinite wisdom with power supreme;” and subsequently, under judges, prophets, and kings, the Israelites were led through wondrous vicissitudes to the trying scene, which crowned their perfidy with an act so atrocious that, like the glimmer of an earthly torch before the lurid glare of pandemonium, their previous crimes sunk into insignificance; and nature thrilled with horror as she looked upon the deicides, their hands imbrued in the blood they should have worshipped. Yet even this sin will be forgiven them; and the fulfilment of the prophecy with regard to the Egyptians ensures the accomplishment of the numerous ones which predict the restoration of the tribes. Besides overwhelming Pharaoh and his host, the Almighty decreed, through Ezekiel, that Egypt should never obey a native sceptre. From Cambyses to the Mamelukes; from Muhammed to Ali Pasha, how wonderfully has this judgment been carried out!
From the 15th to the 22d of May was devoted to making astronomical observations, and reconnoitering the country for the most eligible route to level across to the Mediterranean. All the time not appropriated to duty, was spent in visiting over and over again the interesting localities in and around Jerusalem. Above all others, the spot least doubted, and very far from the least hallowed, was the garden of Gethsemane. It is enclosed by a high stone wall, and when we saw it, the trees were in blossom; the clover upon the ground in bloom, and altogether, in its aspect and its associations, was better calculated than any place I know to soothe a troubled spirit. Eight venerable trees, isolated from the smaller and less imposing ones which skirt the base of the Mount of Olives, form a consecrated grove. High above, on either hand, towers a lofty mountain, with the deep, yawning chasm of Jehoshaphat between them. Crowning one of them is Jerusalem, a living city; on the slope of the other is the great Jewish cemetery, a city of the dead. Each tree in this grove, cankered, and gnarled, and furrowed by age, yet beautiful and impressive in its decay, is a living monument of the affecting scenes that have taken place beneath and around it. The olive perpetuates itself and from the root of the dying parent stem, the young tree springs into existence. These trees are accounted 1000 years old. Under those of the preceding growth, therefore, the Saviour was wont to rest; and one of the present may mark the very spot where he knelt, and prayed, and wept. No cavilling doubts can find entrance here. The geographical boundaries are too distinct and clear for an instant’s hesitation. Here the Christian, forgetful of the present, and absorbed in the past, can resign himself to sad yet soothing meditation. The few purple and crimson flowers, growing about the roots of the trees, will give him ample food for contemplation, for they tell of the suffering life and ensanguined death of the Redeemer.
On the same slope and a little below Gethsemane, facing the city, are the reputed tombs of Absalom, Zachariah, St. James, and Jehoshaphat, the last giving its name to the valley. Some of them are hewn bodily from the rock, and the whole form a remarkable group. That of Absalom in particular, from its peculiar tint, as well as from its style of architecture, reminded us of the descriptions of the sepulchral monuments of Petra. It is eight feet square, surmounted by a rounded pyramid, and there are six semi-columns to each face, which are of the same mass with the body of the sepulcher.
The tomb of Zachariah is also hewn square from the rock, and its four sides form a pyramid. The tomb of Jehoshaphat has a handsomely carved door; and a portico with four columns indicates the sepulcher where St. James, the apostle, concealed himself. It was in the valley of Jehoshaphat that Melchisedec, king of Salem, met Abraham on his return from defeating the five kings in the vale of Siddim. In the depths of this ravine Moloch was worshipped, beneath the temple of the Most High, which crowned the summit of Mount Moriah.
In the village of Siloam, the scene of Solomon’s apostasy, the living have ejected the dead, and there are as many dwelling in tombs as in houses. Beneath it, at the base of the Mount of Offence, is the great burial-ground, the desired final resting-place of Jews all over the world. The flat stones, rudely sculptured with Hebrew characters, lie, as the tenants beneath were laid, with their faces towards heaven. In the village above it and in the city over against it, the silence is almost as death-like as in the grave-yard itself. Here the voice of hilarity or the hum of social intercourse is never heard, and when man meets his fellow there is no social greeting. The air here never vibrates with the melodious voice of woman, the nearest approach to a celestial sound; but, shrouded from head to foot, she flits about, abashed and shrinking like some guilty thing. This profound silence is in keeping with the scene. Along the slope of the hill, above the village, the Master, on his way to Bethany, was wont to teach his followers the sublime truths of the gospel. On its acclivity, a little more to the north, he wept for the fate of Jerusalem. In the garden below, he was betrayed, and within those city walls he was crucified. Everything is calculated to inspire with awe, and it is fitting that, except in prayer, the human voice should not disturb these sepulchral solitudes.
From the slope of the Mount of Olives projects a rock, pointed out by tradition as the one whereon the Saviour sat when he predicted and wept over the fate of Jerusalem. It is farther alleged that upon this spot Titus pitched his camp when besieging the city. Neither the prediction nor its accomplishment required such a coincidence to make it impressive. The main camp of the besiegers was north of the city, but as the sixth legion was posted on the Mount of Olives, the tradition may not be wholly erroneous.
A little higher, were wane grotto-like excavations, hypothetically called the Tombs of the Prophets; and above them, were some arches, under which, it is said, the Apostles composed the creed. Yet above, the spot is pointed out where the Messiah taught his disciples the Lord’s Prayer, — that beautiful compend of all that it is necessary for man to ask, whether for time or eternity.
On the summit of the mount are many wheat-fields, and it is crowned with a paltry village, a small mosque, and the ruined church of the Ascension. In the naked rock, which is the floor of the mosque, an indentation is shown as the foot-print of the Messiah, when he ascended to heaven. Apart from the sites of the Temple, of Calvary, and of the Holy Sepulcher, the assigned localities within the city walls, such as the Arch of the Ecce Homo, and the house of the rich man before whose gate Lazarus lay, are unworthy of credit. But those without the walls, like the three first-named within them, are geographically defined, and of imperishable materials. While one, therefore, may not be convinced with regard to all, he feels that the traditions respecting them are not wholly improbable.
From the summit, the view was magnificent. On the one hand lay Jerusalem, with its yellow walls, its towers, its churches, its dome-roof houses, and its hills and valleys, covered with orchards and fields of green and golden grain, while beneath, distinct and near, the mosque of Omar, the Harem (the Sacred), lay exposed to our infidel gaze, with its verdant carpet and groves of cypress, beneath whose holy shade none but the faithful can seek repose. On the other hand was the valley of Jordan, a barren plain, with a line of verdure marking the course of the sacred river, until it was lost in an expanse of sluggish water, which we recognised as the familiar scene of our recent labours. The rays of the descending sun shone full upon the Arabian shore, and we could see the castle of Kerak, perched high up in the country of Moab, and the black chasm of Zerka, through which flows the hot and sulphureous stream of Callirohoe.
No other spot in the world commands a view so desolate, and, at the same time, so interesting and impressive. The yawning ravine of Jehoshaphat, immediately beneath, was verdant with vegetation, which became less and less luxuriant, until, a few miles below, it was lost in a huge torrent bed, its sides bare precipitous rock, and its bed covered with boulders, whitened with saline deposit, and calcined by the heat of a Syrian sun. Beyond it, south, stretched the desert of Judea; and to the north, was the continuous chain of this almost barren mountain. These mountains were not always thus barren and unproductive. The remains of terraces yet upon their slopes, prove that this country, now almost depopulated, once maintained a numerous and industrious people.
North of Gethsemane, nearer the bed of the ravine and the one-arched bridge which spans it, is a subterranean church, in a grotto reputed to contain the tomb of the Virgin Mary. Having no faith in the tradition, which is based on an improbable legend, I did not visit it; but in passing by, just from the garden, and accoutred in a soiled and salt-encrusted dress, the only one I had, I saw a European fop ascending the flight of steps, attired in a short frock, tightly-fitting pants, a jockey-cap upon his head, a riding-whip in his hand, and the lines of his face wreathed in a smile of smirking self-conceit, — not one feature of the man or his dress in keeping with the scenes around him.
H.B.M. Consul, Mr. Finn, as I have before said, kindly took charge of the money I sent to him; and, furthermore, put himself to great trouble in paying the drafts which, from time to time, I made upon it; and; also, in forwarding provisions to our depot at Ain Jidy. In all matters of business, he was as attentive as he could have been were he our own consular representative. But from none of the foreign residents in Jerusalem did we receive the slightest personal attention. This I ascribe to the condition of our wardrobe. Before commencing the descent of the Jordan, we had been compelled to send back from Tiberias everything that could possibly be dispensed with. Each one, officer and man, retained only the suit he wore, with a change of linen; and, whenever circumstances permitted, did his own washing. Sometimes, when both of those garments required the process, we lay in the water until one of them had dried. From an indifferent tailor, we procured a few articles of dress a short time previous to our departure from Jerusalem, but had to be economical, in order to reserve what money remained for the necessary expenses of the expedition. I mention the circumstance, not as a matter of complaint, but to account to any of those gentlemen who may see this, for our toil-worn and shabby appearance.
Returning from the Mount of Olives, we passed along the hill of Zion, and made another circuit of the city.
A little below the gate of St. Stephen is the pool of Bethesda, where our Saviour healed the paralytic. It is now dry, and partly filled with rubbish.
Yet farther south, in the face of the eastern wall, near the court of the mosque of Omar, is the Golden gate, now built up. Through this gate, it is supposed, the Messiah entered in triumph on the Sunday preceding his crucifixion.
Some distance down, is the Fountain of the Virgin; and yet farther below, the pool of Siloam, which has been mentioned before. The water, which is hard and unpalatable to the taste, has no regular current, but ebbs and flows at intervals of a few minutes.
North of the city, on the margin of the Damascus road, was a picturesque scene-hundreds of Jews, enjoying the fresh air, seated under enormous olive-trees-the women all in white shrouds, the men in various costumes — some with broad-brimmed black hats, and many with fur caps. There were also many Turks and Christians abroad.
The Jewesses, while they enveloped their figures in loose and uncomely robes, allowed their faces to be seen; and the Christian and the Turkish female exhibited, the one, perhaps, too much, the other, nothing whatever of her person and attire. There was also a marriage-procession, which was more funereal than festive. The women, as usual, clothed all in white, like so many spectres, chaunted unintelligibly, in a low, monotonous, wailing tone; while some, apparently the most antique, for they tottered most, closed each bar with a scream like a diapason. The least natural and the most pompous feature of the scene, was the foreign consuls, promenading with their families, preceded by Janissaries, with silver-mounted batons, stalking solemnly along, like so many drum-majors of a marching regiment. As the sun sank behind the western hills, the pedestrians walked faster, and the sitters gathered themselves up and hastened within the walls.
The present walls of the city were rebuilt in the 16th century, and vary from thirty to sixty or seventy feet in height, according to the inequalities of the ground. They are about ten feet thick at the base, narrowing to the top. The stones are evidently of different eras, extending back to the period of Roman sway, if not to the time when Judea was an independent kingdom. Some massive pieces near the south-eastern angle, bear marks of great antiquity. From a projecting one, the Turks have a prediction that Muhammed, their Prophet, will judge his followers. We have also a prediction respecting this vicinity which will prove as true as the other is fabulous. It is up the valley of Jehoshaphat that the prophet Joel declares the quick and the dead shall come to judgment.
On the third day after our arrival, we went to Bethlehem, two hours distant. Going out of the Jaffa gate, and obliquely descending the western flank of Mount Zion, we crossed the valley of the son of Hinnom (Wady Gehenna, or valley of Hell), by the wall of the lower pool of Gihon. The road then turned southwardly, and ran mostly parallel with the aqueduct from Solomon’s pools. This aqueduct consists of stones hollowed into cylinders, well cemented at the joints, and supported upon walls or terraces of rock or earth, and mostly concealed from sight. Here and there, a more than usual luxuriance of vegetation indicated places where water was drawn from it to irrigate the olive orchards which, for much of the way, abounded on our left; and occasionally, a stone drawn aside disclosed a fracture in the trough beneath, where the traveler might quench his thirst.
We soon came to the well of the Magi, assigned by tradition as the spot where the star reappeared to the wise men from the east. The country on our left was here broken and rough, and on the right was the plain of Rephaim, with the convent of John the Baptist, erected on the spot where the great precursor was born, and the grotto where the Virgin Mary pronounced that sublime hymn, beginning “My soul doth magnify the Lord.” We next came to the tomb of Rachel, in the plain of Ramah, — a modern Turkish building, but the locality of which is believed to be correctly assigned. It is a small building, with two apartments, the one over the tomb being surmounted by a dome. On the right was the wilderness of St. John, wherein the Baptist practised his austerities. In that direction, too, is the valley of Elah, where David slew the giant; and in the valley before us, it is said the army of Sennacherib the Assyrian was encamped, when “The angel of death spread his wings on the blast”
Ascending the hill from the tomb, and for the second time during the ride recognising the Dead Sea through gorges in the mountains, we passed some extensive olive orchards, and after turning aside to the left to look at a nearly dry cistern called David’s Well, and admiring the luxuriant groves of olives and figs, and the many vineyards which beautify the head of the ravine of Ta’amirah, we entered Bethlehem, the “city of king David,” and the birthplace of the Redeemer; and went direct to the Franciscan convent, a large, massive, and ancient building. The church within it, erected by the Empress Helena, is in the form of a cross. It is supported by four rows of twelve columns each, without a ceiling, and presented the appearance of a network of longitudinal and transverse beams of wood, with the roof above them. But this church, and the grotto of the Nativity within it, has been repeatedly and accurately described.
Many visitors to Bethlehem have persuaded themselves to use the words of a recent one,”that the Saviour was not born in a subterraneous cavern like this, difficult of access to cattle, but in an approachable stable attached to the khan, or inn, in which the virgin mother could not be accommodated.”
Without dwelling on our own observation of the frequent and almost universal appropriation, where practicable, of caverns and recesses in the rocks for sheltering man and beast from the heat and inclemency of the weather, and forbearing to quote from Stephens, whose experience was similar to our own, I extract some passages from Calmet’s dissertation upon the habitations of the ancient Hebrews, to show that such places were frequently selected as desirable human dwellings.
“The rocks and the caverns were not only places “of retreat, and forts against enemies, in times of war and trouble; they were also ordinary dwelling-places, both commodious and agreeable, in the country of the Israelites. On the coasts of the Red Sea sad the Persian Gulf, in the mountains of Armenia, in the Balearic Islands, and in the isle of Malta, we learn that certain people had no other homes than the hollows of the rocks, scooped out by their own labours; from which circumstance they took the name of Troglodytes, which signifies, in Greek, those who hide themselves in caverns.
“In short, they were the ordinary retreat of the prophets and the just in times of persecution, to avoid the machinations of the wicked; and in times of peace, to fly from the corruptions of the world, and to exercise themselves in practices of piety and prayer. It was this mode of life that Elias, St. John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ adopted.
“The summer habitations were of various kinds, or rather, they had various means of protecting themselves from the extreme heat of the sun. Sometimes it was in places deep and hidden, where its ardour could not penetrate, under crypts, subterranean porticoes, &c.” *
To the east of Bethlehem is the hill where the shepherds heard the annunciation of the birth of the Messiah; and in the plain below, the field where Ruth gleaned after the reapers. The country around was luxuriant with vegetation, and the yellow grain, even as we looked, was falling beneath the sickle. Variegated flint, chalk and limestone, without fossils, cropped out occasionally on the hill-sides; but along the lower slopes, and in the bottom of the valley, were continuous groves, with a verdant carpet beneath them. It was the most rural and the loveliest spot we had seen in Palestine. From among many flowers we gathered a beautiful white one, free from all earthly taint, fit emblem of the purity of the infant Godhead.
* Those who wish to see more on the subject, are referred to Pliny, lib. vi. c. 29. Strabo, lib. xi. c. 26. Diodorus Siculus, lib. v. Josephus Antiq., lib. xiv. c. 27, where he speaks of the caverns of Galilee. Genesis, xix. 30. Judges, xv. 8. 1 Kings, x. 11; xxiv. 4. Judges, vi. 2. 1 Kings, xiii. 6. 3 Kings, xviii. 4.Hebrews, xi.38.
This was not the only time we visited Bethlehem; but, although my notes are copious, I deem it unnecessary to say anything more of a place which has been so often and so well described. The same remark holds good of the tombs of the kings, or of the Empress Helena, the grotto of Jeremiah, and other places within and without the walls of Jerusalem.
In the Latin convent at Jerusalem, poor pilgrims are allowed to remain thirty days, with two meals a day, free of cost; in the one at Bethlehem, three days; and at Ramleh, one day. No Frank is permitted to hold real estate in Palestine, or, I believe, in any part of the Turkish dominions. In the country around Jerusalem, olives, figs, wheat, barley, dhoura, lentils, melons, cucumbers, artichokes, and many leguminous plants and Irish potatoes are cultivated; the last in small, experimental patches. The silk-worm is also reared, and some little silk is made.