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Title: The Holy Land
Author: Kelman, John
Language: English
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                       [Illustration: JERUSALEM.

From the traditional spot on the Mount of Olives where Christ wept over
                              the city.]


                               HOLY LAND

                              PAINTED BY
                         JOHN FULLEYLOVE, R.I.

                             DESCRIBED BY
                           JOHN KELMAN, D.D.

                           A&C BLACK L^{TD}
                   4.5.6 SOHO SQUARE, LONDON, W.1.]

  _Printed in Great Britain by_ R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, _Edinburgh_.

   _First Edition, with 93 illustrations, published in October 1902
                      Reprinted in 1904 and 1912
  Second Edition, revised, with 32 illustrations, published in 1923_


                      64 & 66 FIFTH AVENUE, NEW YORK

                      205 FLINDERS LANE, MELBOURNE

                      ST. MARTIN’S HOUSE, 70 BOND ST., TORONTO

                      MACMILLAN BUILDING, BOMBAY
                      309 BOW BAZAAR STREET, CALCUTTA
                      INDIAN BANK BUILDINGS, MADRAS


The secrets of satisfactory travel are mainly two--to have certain
questions ready to ask; and to detach oneself from preconceptions, so as
to find not what one expects, or desires to find, but what is there.
These rules I endeavoured to follow while in the Holy Land. As to this
book, I have tried to write it “with my eye on the object”--to describe
things as they were seen, and to see them again while describing them.
The extent to which this ideal has been reached, or missed, will be the
measure of the book’s success or failure.

No attempt has been made to add anything original to the scientific
knowledge of Palestine. For that task I am not qualified either by
sufficient travel or by expert study of the subject. On the other hand,
this is not merely an itinerary, or journal of experiences and
adventures of the road. I have freely introduced notes from my journal
in illustration of characteristics of the country and its life, and have
claimed the privilege of digressing in various directions. But the main
object has been to give a record of impressions rather than of

These impressions are arranged in three parts, as they bear upon the
geography, the history, and the spirit of Syria. They have been
corrected and amplified by as wide reading as the short time at my
disposal allowed. A few of the books read or consulted are referred to
in footnotes, but many others have helped me. To append a list of them
to so small a contribution to the subject as this, would be but to
remind the reader of the old fable, _Nascetur ridiculus mus_. I must,
however, acknowledge with much gratitude my obligation to two volumes
above all others--Major (now Colonel) Conder’s _Tent Work in Palestine_,
and Professor George Adam Smith’s _Historical Geography of the Holy
Land_. To these every chapter is indebted more or less, some chapters
very deeply. Among the pleasures which this task has brought with it,
none is greater than the intimate acquaintance with these two works
which it entailed.

With Professor Smith I have a more personal bond of obligation than the
invaluable help I have had from his book. Last year we rode and camped
together from Hebron to Damascus, back over the eastern spurs of Hermon
to the coast, and north by Tyre and Sidon to Beyrout. All who were in
that party know, as no words can express, how much insight and
suggestion we owed to the leader who interpreted the land for us so
brilliantly and with such kindness. For my own part I feel that at times
it has been difficult to distinguish between impressions of my own and
those which have been unconsciously borrowed from him. If I have
borrowed freely, I am sure he will allow me to count that among the many
privileges of our long acquaintance, and as a token of my admiration for
his genius and gratitude for his friendship.




For the purposes of this reissue the author has revised the work and
slightly abridged it, but no attempt has been made to describe the
changed conditions consequent on the War.

_September 1923._


PART I.--THE LAND, pp. 1 to 84

CHAPTER                                                             PAGE

1. THE COLOUR OF THE LAND                                              7

2. THE DESERT                                                         20

3. THE LIFE OF THE LAND                                               37

4. THE WATERS OF ISRAEL                                               51

5. BROWN VILLAGES, WHITE TOWNS, AND A GREY CITY                       65

PART II.--THE INVADERS, pp. 85 to 172

1. ISRAELITE                                                          88

2. GRÆCO-ROMAN                                                        98

3. CHRISTIAN                                                         115

4. MOSLEM                                                            137

5. CRUSADER                                                          157

PART III.--THE SPIRIT OF SYRIA, pp. 173 to 245

1. THE LIGHTER SIDE OF THINGS                                        177

2. THE SHADOW OF DEATH                                               190

3. THE SPECTRAL                                                      205

4. THE LAND OF THE CROSS                                             226

5. RESURRECTION                                                      239

List of Illustrations

1. Jerusalem, from the traditional spot on the Mount of
Olives where Christ wept over the City                     _Frontispiece_

                                                             FACING PAGE

2. The Mount of Temptation, from Jericho                               9

3. Cana of Galilee                                                    16

4. On the Road from Jerusalem to Bethany                              25

5. The Hills round Nazareth, from the Plain of Esdraelon              32

6. Mount Hermon, from the Slopes of Tabor                             41

7. Jerusalem--The Pool of Hezekiah                                    48

8. The Golden Gate, from the Garden of Gethsemane                     57

9. The Lake of Galilee, looking North from Tiberias                   64

10. The Fountain of the Virgin at Nazareth                            73

11. Joppa, from the Sea                                               80

12. The Lake of Galilee, looking South from Tiberias                  89

13. Site of the ancient City of Samaria                               96

14. The Forecourt of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre                105

15. The Rotunda and Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre                     112

16. The Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar), as seen
from the Porch on the North Side of the Mosque
of El Aksa                                                           121

17. The Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar), from the
Barracks near the Site of the Tower of Antonia                       128

18. Interior of the Mosque of El Aksa, from the S.E.                 137

19. The Temple Area and the Mount of Olives, from Mount
Zion                                                                 144

20. The West Side of the Temple Area, from the Barracks
near the Site of the Tower of Antonia                                153

21. Entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre                     160

22. Interior of the Dome of the Chain, looking North                 169

23. Interior of the Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar),
from the S.E.                                                        176

24. The Mount of Olives, from a House-top on Mount Zion              185

25. The Church of the Nativity at Bethlehem, from a Garden
on the opposite Hill                                                 192

26. Jerusalem--Exterior of the Golden, or Beautiful, Gate            201

27. The Tomb of Rachel, on the Road from Jerusalem to
Hebron                                                               208

28. The Judean Desert and the Dead Sea, from the highest
point of the Mount of Olives                                         217

29. Valley of Hinnom, with Hill of Offence                           224

30. The Rock-cut Tombs of the Valley of Jehoshaphat                  233

31. The N.E. End of Jerusalem and Mizpah, from the
Mount of Olives                                                      240

32. The Plain of Jericho, looking towards the Mountains of
Moab                                                                 244

_Sketch-map on page viii_




A journey through the Holy Land may reasonably be expected to be in some
sort a sacramental event in a man’s life. Spiritual things are always
near us, and we feel that we have a heritage in them; yet they
constantly elude us, and need help from the senses to make them real and
commanding. Such sacramental help must surely be given by anything that
brings vividly to our realisation those scenes and that life in the
midst of which the Word was made flesh. The more clearly we can gain the
impression of places and events in Syria, the more reasonable and
convincing will Christian faith become.

Everything which revives the long past has power to quicken the
imagination, and site-hunters and relic-hunters in any field have much
to say for themselves. Now, apart altogether from the Christian story,
Syria has the spell of a very ancient land. The mounds that break the
level on the plain of Esdraelon represent six hundred years of buried
history for every thirty feet of their height. Among the first objects
pointed out to us in Palestine was a perforated stone which serves now
as ventilator for a Christian meeting-house in Lebanon, but which was
formerly a section of Zenobia’s aqueduct. In Syria the realisation of
the past is continual, and the centuries mingle in a solemn confusion.
Its modern life seems of little account, and is in no way the rival of
the ancient. In London, or even in Rome, the new world jostles the old;
in Palestine the old is so supreme as to seem hardly conscious of the

All this reaches its keenest point in connection with men’s worship; and
what a long succession of worshippers have left their traces here! The
primitive rock-hewn altar, the Jewish synagogue, the Greek temple, the
Christian church, the Mohammedan mosque--all have stood in their turn on
the same site. His must be a dull soul surely who can feel no sympathy
with the Moslem, or even with the heathen worship. These religions too
had human hearts beating in them, and wistful souls trying by their help
to search eternity. To the wise these dead faiths are full of meaning.
Through all their clashing voices there sounds the cry of man to his
God--a cry more often heard and answered than we in our self-complacency
are sometimes apt to think.

The sacramental quality of the Holy Land is of course felt most by those
who seek especially for memories and realisations of Jesus Christ.
Within the pale of Christianity there are several different ways of
regarding the land as holy, and most of them lead to disappointment. The
Greek and Roman Catholic Churches vie with one another in their passion
for sites and relics there, and seem to lose all sense of the
distinction between the sublime and the grotesque in their eagerness
for identifications. A Protestant counterpart to this mistaken zeal is
that of the huntsmen of the fields of prophecy, who cannot see a bat
fluttering about a ruin or a mole turning up the earth without turning
ecstatically to Hebrew prophetic books,--as if these were not the habits
of bats and moles all the world over. Apart from either of these, there
are others less orthodox but equally superstitious who have some vague
notion of occult and magic qualities which differentiate this from all
other regions of the earth. Benjamin Disraeli and Pierre Loti are
representatives of this point of view. The former is persuaded that the
land “must be endowed with marvellous and peculiar qualities”; and the
hero of his _Tancred_ seeks and finds there supernatural communications
from the unseen world. The latter tells in his _Jérusalem_ how he went
to Palestine with the hope that some experience might be given him which
would revive his lost faith in Christianity. He returned, a disappointed
sentimentalist. The saddening and yet fascinating narrative reaches its
climax in Gethsemane, where, beating his brow in the darkness against an
olive tree, he waited (as he himself confesses) for he knows not what.
His words are: “Non, rien: personne ne me voit, personne ne m’écoute,
personne ne me répond.”

The belief in miracle is always difficult: nowhere is it so difficult as
on the traditional site. The earth is just earth there as elsewhere; and
the sky seems almost farther above it. The rock is solid rock; the
water, air, trees, hills are uncompromising terrestrial realities. It
is wiser to abandon the attempt at forcing the supernatural to reveal
itself, and to turn to the human side of things as the surest way of
ultimately arriving at the divine. When that has been deliberately done
the reward is indeed magnificent. An unexpected and overwhelming sense
of reality comes upon the sacred narrative. These places and the life
that inhabited them are actualities, and not merely items in an ancient
book or the poetic background of a religious experience. More
particularly when you look upward to the hills, you find that your help
still cometh from them. Their great sky-lines are unchanged, and the
long vistas and clear-cut edges which you see are the same which filled
the eyes of prophets and apostles, and of Jesus Christ Himself.

It is this, especially as it regards the Saviour of mankind, that is the
most precious gain of Syrian travel. Now and again it comes on one with
overpowering force. Sailing up the coast, this impression haunted the
long hours. As we gazed on the mountains, and the image of them sank
deeper and deeper, the thought grew clear in all its wonder that
somewhere among these heights He had wandered with His disciples, and
sat down by the sides of wells to rest. In camp at Jericho we were
confronted by an uncouth, blunt-topped mountain mass, thrusting itself
aggressively up on the Judean side, in itself a very rugged and
memorable mountain-edge. Not till the light was fading, and the bold
outline struck blacker and blacker against the sky, did the fact
suddenly surprise us that this was Quarantana, the Mountain of
Temptation. Then we understood that wilderness story in all its
unprotected loneliness, and we almost saw the form of the Son of Man.

Thus, as day after day he rides through the country, the traveller finds
new meaning in the words, “I have glorified Thee _on the earth_.” An
inexpressible sense possesses him of the reality of Jesus Christ. These
pathways were, indeed, once trodden by His feet; through these valleys
He carried the lamp of life; under these stars He prayed; through this
sunshine He lay in a rock-hewn grave. To a man’s dying day he will be
nearer Christ for this. The chief sorrow of the Christian life for most
of us is the difficulty of realisation. At times we have all had to flog
up our imagination to the “realising sense” of Christ. After this
journey that necessity is gone. It is almost as if in long past years we
had seen Him there, and heard Him speak. The divine mystery of Christ is
all the more commanding when the human fact of Jesus has become almost a
memory rather than a belief.



Every land has a scheme of colour of its own, and while form and outline
are the first, they are not the most permanent nor the deepest
impressions which a region makes upon its travellers. It is the colour
of the land which slowly and almost unconsciously sinks in upon the
beholder day by day. We observe the outlines of a scene; we remember its

This is especially true of Palestine. Nothing about it is more
distinctive than its colour-scheme; and nothing is perhaps less familiar
to those who have not actually seen it. Syria may be treated as if it
were Italy, or even Egypt--in hard intense colouring; or it may be
treated as if it were England, in strong tones but with a certain homely
softening of edge. Neither of these modes is true to Syria. Its
edge-lines are sharp, but they are traced in such faint shades as to
produce an effect very difficult either to reproduce or to describe, and
yet impossible to forget.

The colours are manifold, and they vary considerably with the seasons of
the year. Yet the bare hill-sides (which form the greater masses of
colour in most landscapes), the desert, and the distant mountain ranges,
are ever the same. Most travellers make their first acquaintance with
Palestine in Judea, entering it from Jaffa. When the plains are behind
you, and you are in among the valleys up which the road climbs to
Jerusalem, you at once recognise the fact that a new and surprising
world of colour has been entered. In the valley-bottom there may be but
a dry watercourse, or perhaps a rusty strip of cultivated land; but
above you there is sure to be the outcrop of white and grey limestone.
In some places it appears in characterless and irregular blotches whose
grotesque intrusion seems to confuse and caricature the mountain side.
This is, however, only occasional, and the usual and characteristic
appearance is that of long and flowing lines of striation which
generally follow pretty closely the curve of the sky-line. The colours
of these strata are many. You have rich brown bands, dark red, purple,
yellow, and black ones; but these are toned down by the dominant grey of
the broader bands, and the general effect is an indistinct grey with a
bluish tinge, to which the coloured bands give a curiously artificial
and decorative appearance. As a work of Art Judea is most interesting;
as part of Nature it is almost incredible.

In the northern district, near Bethel, everything yields to stone, and
the brighter colours disappear. The mountain slopes shew great naked
ribs and bars--the gigantic stairs of Jacob’s dream. On the heights your
horse slips and picks his way over long stretches of


The Mount of Temptation is one of the spurs of the mountains which
overlook the deep valley of the Jordan on its western side. The central
peak is the traditional site of the Temptation of Christ.]

smooth white rock; in the valleys the soil is buried under innumerable
boulders and fragments of broken rock.

The whole land is stony, but Judea shews this at its worst. It is an
immense stone wedge thrust into Palestine from east to west. South of it
lie the fertile valleys of Hebron, with their wealth of orchard and
plantation. North of it open the “fat valleys” of Samaria, winding among
rounded hills planted to the top with olives, or terraced for vines.
Over these, here and there, a red cliff may hang, or the irrigation
ditches may furrow and interline a vale of dove-coloured clay. But while
the green of Judea is for the most part but the thinnest veil of sombre
olive-green, a mere setting for the rocks, Samaria is a really green
land, variegated by stone.

In the north of Samaria the land sinks gradually upon the Plain of
Esdraelon. As we saw it first it was covered by a yellow mist through
which nothing could be seen distinctly. But afterwards, viewed in its
whole expanse from the top of Tabor in clear sunlight, the great
battlefield of the Eastern world appeared in characteristic garb--“red
in its apparel,” with the very colour of the blood which has so often
drenched it.

Galilee repeats the limestone outcrop of Judea, but in far gentler
fashion, the undergrowth and trees softening almost every landscape, and
the mountains leading the eye along bold sky-lines to rest on that form
of beauty and of light which masters and watches over the whole
land--the white Hermon. Hermon is always white. But sometimes when
clouds are forming rapidly around its summit, it is a wonder of
brightness. On no other mountain, surely, was it that “a bright cloud
overshadowed” Jesus and his three friends. Even now, on many a summer
day, Hermon is lost in a changing glory of frosted silver, when the sun
strikes upon its cloudwork, and the long trails of snow in the corries
stream towards the plain below.

The limestone runs on into Phœnicia, and seems to grow whiter there.
Nothing could be finer than the valleys east of Tyre at harvest time,
when the fields of ripe grain wave below cliffs white as marble, and the
whole scene, with its foreground of brilliantly robed reapers, is a
study in white and gold. But in the higher valleys of Phœnicia the rock
breaks through a rich red soil, which in parts is gemmed with the
curious and beautiful “Adonis stones”--little egg-shaped bits of
sandstone, dyed to the heart of them with deep crimson, as if they had
been steeped in newly shed blood. Little wonder if the women of old days
“wept for Tammuz” at the sight of them.

The thing most characteristic of Syrian colour is its faintness and
delicacy. Pierre Loti, who in this matter is a witness worthy of all
regard, is constantly ending the colour adjectives in his Syrian books
with _-atre_--“yellowish,” “bluish,” “greenish,” etc. The general
impression is of dim and faded tints, put on, as it were, in thin
washes. In the stoniest regions there seems to be no colour at all, as
if the sun had bleached them. The curious colouring of the Judean
valleys, which has been described, is never aggressive, and it takes
some carefulness of observation to see anything in them more than a blue
green in the sparsely-planted olive-groves fading into faint greenish
grey above. The valleys of ripe sesame and vetch are washed into the
picture in pale yellow or yellow ochre. Where tilled earth appears it is
generally a variegated expanse of light brown, or pink, or terra-cotta.
The eastern slopes of Hermon, below the snow, shew vertical stripes like
those of the haircloth and jute garments of the peasants, washed out
with rain and sun; or they are spread upon the roots of the mountain
like some vast Indian shawl cunningly and minutely interwoven with red
and green threads, but worn almost threadbare. As you approach a village
in strong sunlight, you see it as a dark brown mass shaded angularly
with black; but it seems to float above a mist of the airiest purple
sheen, where the thinly-planted iris-flowers stand among the graves
before the walls. The Sea of Galilee, as we saw it, was light blue; the
Dead Sea was light green, with a haze of evaporation rendering it even
fainter in the distance.

If this be true of the near, it is doubly so of the distant, landscape.
In a country so mountainous and so sheer-cleft as Palestine, distant
views are seen for the most part as vistas, the “land that is very far
off” revealing itself at the end of some =V=-shaped gorge or towering over
some intermediate mountain range. Of course distant views are faint in
all lands, but in Palestine the clear air keeps them distinct with
clean-cut edge, however faint they are. Thus there is perhaps nothing
more delicate and _spirituel_ in the world than those faint dreamlike
mountains in the extreme distance of Syrian vistas--the hills east of
Jordan grey, with a mere suspicion of blue in them, or the lilac and
heliotrope mountains of the desert which form the magic background of
Damascus looking eastward.

Reference has been made to the irises (the “lilies of the field”) near
villages. These are but typical of the general sheen of that carpet of
wild flowers which every spring-time spreads over the land. They are of
every colour. There are scarlet poppies and crimson anemones, blue dwarf
cornflowers, yellow marigolds, white narcissus (said to be the Rose of
Sharon); but here they seldom grow in patches of strong hue. Each flower
blooms apart, and the sheen of them is delicate and suggestive rather
than gorgeous. They seem to share the reticence and shyness of the land,
and tinge rather than paint it. Even the animal life conforms to this
dainty rule; lizards are everywhere, but their colouring is that of
their environment, now stone-grey, now wine-red, now straw-coloured.
Chameleons are anything you please--green in growing corn, black among
basalt rocks. Tortoises are blue at the sulphur springs, brown or slate
in the muddy banks of streams.

This faintness is, however, but half the truth of the colour of Syria.
Everywhere it is rendered emphatic by certain vivid splashes of the most
daring brilliance. Wherever springs are found you have instances of this
contrast, and Palestine is essentially the land of bright foregrounds
thrown up against dim backgrounds.

The Jordan valley is the greatest example, running south along its whole
length, “a green serpent” between the pale mountains of the east and the
faint mosaic of the western land. Its jungle is uncompromisingly
distinct throughout the entire course, and its colour is living green,
with a white flash of broken water or a quiet flow of brown bursting
here and there through the verdure. Other streams are similarly marked,
with luxurious undergrowth of reeds, varied by clumps of hollyhock or
edged with winding ribbons of magenta oleander. But the most striking
oases of this kind are the valley of Shechem and the city of Damascus.
There is a hill seldom visited by tourists, but well worth climbing, set
in the broad vale of Makhna, right opposite Jacob’s Well. North and
south past the foot of this hill runs the broad valley. It is edged on
the western side by the continuous line of the central mountain range of
Samaria--continuous except for one great gash, where, as if a giant’s
sword had cleft the range, the valley of Shechem enters that of Makhna
at right angles. The whole landscape is in dim colour except for that
valley of Shechem. Ebal and Gerizim guard its eastern end, dull and
rocky both. But the valley which they guard is fed by countless springs
and intersected by rivulets, so that below the shingle of their slopes
there spreads a fan-shaped expanse of intensely vivid green, like a
carpet flung out from Nablus between the mountains. The lower edge of
the green is broken by the white wall of the enclosure of Jacob’s Well,
and the cupola of Joseph’s tomb. Damascus--surely the most bewitching
of cities--owes its witchery to the same cause. The river Abana spends
itself upon the city. As you approach it from the south it discloses
itself as a mass of bold outline and high colour in the midst of a great
field of verdure, flanked on the west by precipitous hills of sand and
rock--sheer tilted desert. When you climb those hills you see the white
city, jewelled with her minarets of many hues, resting on a cloth of
dark green velvet whose edge is sharply defined. Immediately beyond that
edge the sand begins, stretching into the farther desert through paler
and paler shades of rose and yellow to the lilac hills in the eastern

It is not only the water-springs, however, that provide the land with
vivid foregrounds. Loti describes a little sand-hill in the desert “all
bespangled with mica,” which “sets itself out, shining like a silver
tumulus.” Such bold and detached features are by no means uncommon even
on the west of the Jordan. The name of the cliff “Bozez” in Michmash
means “shining,” and there are many shining rocks in these
valleys--either masses of smooth limestone, or dark basalt rocks, from
whose dripping surface the sun is reflected in blinding splendour after
rain. Even without such reflection the sudden intrusion of black rock
will often give character to an otherwise neutral landscape.

But the sun is the magician of Syria, who bleaches her and then throws
up against his handiwork the boldest contrasts of strong light and
shade. No one who has seen the crimson flush of sunset on the olives,
or the sudden change of a grey Judean hill-side to rich orange, or the
whole eastern cliffs of the Sea of Galilee turned to the likeness of
flesh-coloured marble, will be likely to forget the picture. Loti’s
wonderful description of desert sunsets--“incandescent violet, and the
red of burning coals”--is not overdrawn. Shadows will transform the
poorest into the richest colouring. The tawny desert changes to the
luscious dark of lengthening indigo at the foot of a great rock; and the
shadows of clouds float across Esdraelon, changing the red plain to deep
wine-colour as they pass. Silhouettes are of daily occurrence in that
crisp air. One scene in particular made an indelible impression. It was
a village on terraced heights, thrown black against a gold and
heliotrope sunset. The figures of Arabs standing or sitting statuesque
upon the sky-line were magnified to the appearance of giant guardians of
the walls, and the miserable little hamlet might have been an
impregnable fortress.

The inhabitants have entered with full sympathy into the spirit of this
play of foreground. They are spectacular if they are anything. Their
religion forbids them all practice of the graphic arts, and most of the
Western pictures which are to be seen in churches are execrable enough
to reconcile them to the restriction. But they obey the law in small
things only to break it by transforming themselves and their
surroundings into one great picture. Their clothing, their buildings,
and their handiwork are a brilliant foil to the dull background. From
them Venice learned her bright colouring, and there are few English
homes which have not borrowed something from them.

In part, this is thrust upon them by the sun. The interiors of houses
are all Rembrandt work, as Conder has happily remarked. The rooms are
dark, and the windows very small. But when the sun shines through the
apertures, their rich brown rafters and red pottery gleam out of the
shadow. One such interior is especially memorable, where a bar of
intense sunlight lit up the skin and many-coloured garments of children
sitting in the window-sill, while through the open door the green grass
of the courtyard shone. Still more wonderful is the effect when one
opens the door of a silk-winding room in sunlight, and sees the colours
wound on the great spindles, or when one enters the dark archways of the
bazaars where long shafts of light striking down slantwise upon a
shining patch below turn the brown shadow of the arch to indigo. The
natives see this, and love the lusciousness of it. They build minarets
cased with emerald tiles, or domes of copper which will soon be coated
with verdigris. Of late years a further touch has been added in the
red-tiled roofs which are already so popular in the towns.

In proof of the genius of the Easterns for colour, nothing need be
mentioned but their carpets and their glass. The glass of old windows in
mosques beggars all description. It is an experience rather than a
spectacle. The panes are so minute, and so destitute of picture or of
pattern, that they are unnoticed in

[Illustration: CANA OF GALILEE.

This is the village of Kafr Kenná, believed to be the Cana of the New
Testament, where our Lord performed His first miracle at the marriage

detail, and the general effect is that of a religious atmosphere in
which all one’s ordinary thoughts and feelings are lost in the
overpowering sense of “something rich and strange.” After the magic of
that light, with its blended purple and amber and ruby, the finest
Western work seems harsh. It is hardly light; it is illuminated shadow.
The rugs and carpets, with their intricate colouring, are more familiar
and need not be described. The finest of them are of silk, and their
delicacy of shade is marvellous. The patterns constantly elude the eye,
promising and just almost reaching some recognisable figure, only to
lose themselves in a bright maze. It is said that they were suggested by
the meadows of variegated flowers; but they are intenser and more
passionate--as if their designers had felt that their task was to supply
an even stronger counterpart to the faint landscape.

The gay clothing of the East is proverbial. Even the poorest peasants
are resplendent. “Fine linen” is still the mark of the rich man, but
Lazarus can match him for “scarlet.” In certain parts the men are clad
in coats of sheepskin, the wool being inside, and protruding like a
heavy fringe along the edges. Almost everybody’s shoes are bright red.
In one place we saw a shepherd whose sheepskin coat had met with an
accident, and the patch which filled the vacant space in the raw brown
back of him was of an elaborate tartan cloth. In another village all the
men wore crimson aprons. When our camp-servants were on the march they
seemed to be in sackcloth, or in thick grey felt which suggested
fire-proof apparel; but when they reached a town they blossomed out into
a rainbow. Children playing in a village street, women at the wells,
statuesque shepherds standing solitary in the fields, all seemed
arranged as for a tableau. Everybody official--the railway guard, the
escort, even the mourner at a funeral--is immensely conscious of his
dignity; and on him descends the spirit of Solomon in all his glory. The
man you hire to guide you for a walk of half a dozen miles will
disappear into his house and emerge in gorgeous array. One of our guides
decked himself in flowing yellow robes and marched before us
ostentatiously carrying in front of him a weapon which appeared to be a
cross between a carving-knife and a reaping-hook, through a land
peaceful as an infant school. A procession marching to some sacred place
across a plain lights the whole scene as with a string of coloured
lanterns. Even where the natives have adopted European dress the fez is
retained, and a crowd of men, seen from above, is always ruddy.

The delight in strong colour goes even one step farther. The rich hues
of the flesh in sunny lands seem to suit the landscape, and one soon
learns to sympathise with the native preference for dusky and brown
complexions. To them a fair skin appears leprous, though bright flaxen
or auburn hair are regarded with great admiration. Not satisfied,
however, with their natural beauty, the Syrians paint and tattoo their
flesh in the most appalling manner, and redden their finger-nails with
henna. Fashionable ladies, and in some places men also, paint their
eyebrows to meet, and touch in their eyelids with antimony, whose blue
shadow is supposed to convey the impression of irresistible eyelashes.
In towns where “the Paris modes” are the sign of smartness, some of the
girls paint their faces pink and white--faces painted with a vengeance,
with a thick and shining enamel which transforms the wearers into
animated wax dolls of the weirdest appearance. But that which shocks the
unsophisticated traveller most is the tattooing of many of the women.
Some of them are marked with small arrow-head blue patches on forehead,
cheeks, and chin; others are lined and scored like South Sea Islanders,
and their lower lips transformed entirely from red to blue.

All this is savage enough, but it illustrates in its own crude way that
delight in strong colour which transforms the human life of the East
into such a vivid foreground to the faint landscape. In the dress there
is artistic instinct as well as barbaric splendour, and in the carpets,
the mosaics, and the glass there is brilliant and matchless artistry. As
to the general principle which has been stated in regard to natural
colouring, this is as it always must have been. These were the quiet
hues of the land, and these the brilliant points of strong light in it
which Christ’s eyes saw, and which gave their colour to the Gospels.



Environment counts for much in national life. A country knows itself,
and asserts itself, as in contrast with what is immediately over its
border; or it retains connection with the neighbouring life, and is what
it is partly because the region next it overflows into its life. At any
rate, to understand anything more than the colour of a land--indeed even
to understand that, as we shall see--it is necessary to begin outside it
and know something of its surroundings. For Palestine, environment means
sea and desert--sea along a straight line for the most part unbroken by
any crease or wrinkle of coast-edge which might serve for a harbour, and
desert thrown round all the rest, except the mountainous north.
Palestine is a great oasis--a fertile resting-place for travellers
making the grand journey from Egypt to Mesopotamia; between which
kingdoms she was ever also the buffer state in war and politics. These
nations were her visitors, her guests, her terrors, but they never were
her neighbours. Her neighbours are the sea and the desert.

The sea she never took for a friend. With no harbour, nor any visible
island to tempt her to adventure, and no sailor blood in her veins, she
hated and feared the sea, and thought of it with ill-will. There is
little of the wistfulness of romance in her thought of the dwellers in
its uttermost parts; little of the sense of beauty in her poetry of the
breaking waves. She views the Phœnician trader who does business on the
ocean as a person to be astonished at rather than to be counted heroic.
She exults in the fact that God has his path on the great waters, but
has no wish to make any journey there herself. Her angels plant their
feet upon the sea, and she looks forward almost triumphantly to the time
when it will be dried up and disappear. Meanwhile its inaccessible huge
depth is for her poets a sort of Gehenna--a fit place for throwing off
evil things beyond the chance of their reappearing. Sins are to be cast
into it, and offenders, with millstones at their necks.

The desert was Israel’s real neighbour. South-east from her it stretched
for a thousand miles. From N.N.E. round through E. and S. to W. it
hemmed her in. To a Briton, watching the departure of the Bagdad
dromedary post from Damascus, the desert seems infinitely more appalling
and unnatural than the sea. For ten days these uncanny beasts and men
will travel, marching (it is said) twenty hours out of every
twenty-four. The stretch of dreariness which opens to the Western
imagination, as you watch the lessening specks in the tawny distance, is
indescribable. To the Eastern it is not so, and it never was so. He
knows its horrors, and yet he loves it. The modern Arab calls it Nefud
(_i.e._ “exhausted,” “spent”), and, according to Palgrave, there are in
the Arabian desert sands no less than 600 feet in depth. Yet with all
its horrors it is after all his home.

The desert is not all consecrated to death. Besides the occasional oases
which dot its barren expanse, there are many regions where grass and
herbage may be had continually so long as the flocks keep wandering.
Accordingly the long low black tent, with its obliquely pitched
tent-ropes and skilfully driven pegs, takes the place of such
substantial building as might create a city. It has been so for
countless generations, until now the desert Arab fears walls and will
not be persuaded to enter them. Kinglake gives a remarkable instance of
this, telling of a journey to Gaza on which his Arabs actually abandoned
their camels rather than accompany them within the gates.[1]

Colonel Conder insists that the Arabs are entirely distinct from the
Fellahin of the Syrian villages; yet he and other writers call attention
to the borderland east of Jordan where the boundaries of the rival races
swing to and fro with the varying successes or failures of the years. In
places where the land lies open, as at the Plain of Esdraelon, the east
invades the west. No one who travels in Palestine can fail to be
impressed--most will probably be surprised--by the frequency with which
those black hair-cloth tents are seen, sprawling like the skin of some
wild-cat pegged out along the ground. If the question be asked what
becomes of them, the day’s journey will likely enough supply the answer.
In the market-place of a town you may see their inhabitants trading
their desert ware for city produce. But even such slight contact of city
with desert evidently has its temptations. In the valley below, the tent
is pitched on the edge of a field rudely cultivated. The nomad here has
already yielded to the agriculturist. Descend to the Jordan valley, and
you shall see the hair-cloth covering a hut whose sides are of woven
reeds from the river, and a little farther on the covering itself will
be exchanged for a roof of reeds. Finally, you may look from the road
that runs between the two main sources of the Jordan, and see in the
southern distance, shining out against the lush verdure of the Huleh
morass, the red-tiled roof of a two-storey villa--the house of the
Sheikh of the local tribe of Arabs![2] This immigration has gone on from
time immemorial, and it was some such process by which Palestine
received all her earlier inhabitants. Once fixed in cities and settled
down to the cultivation of the fields, their character and way of life
so changed that the desert and its folk became their enemies. Yet a
deeper loyalty remained through all such alienation; and, in spite of
dangers and even hostilities, the desert was still their former home.

It is not only by its neighbourhood, however, that the desert has
influenced Palestine. Nature has done her best to shut it off from the
land, from the eastern side at least, by the tremendous barrier of the
Jordan valley. Not even the angel of the wilderness, one would think,
might cross that defence. Yet even that barrier has been crossed, and a
bird’s-eye view of Palestine shews a land bitten into by great tracts of
real desert west of Jordan. In a modified degree, the whole of
Judea--that great stone wedge to which reference was made in Chapter
I.--exemplifies this. Half the Judean territory is wilderness, and the
other half is only kept back from the desert by sheer force of industry.
Even on the western side this is strikingly seen. As viewed from the
ocean, the desolate sand and scrub of the coast seems to clutch at the
land, stretching here and there far inland from the shore. But the
desert of Judah, in the south-east of the country, is the great
intrusion of the desert upon Palestine. The sea-board of Palestine is
perhaps the smoothest and most unbroken of any country in the world. But
if a coast-line of the desert were sketched in the same way as a
sea-coast is shewn on maps, the edge would show an outline almost as
broken as that of the Greek coast, with many a bay and creek. The desert
is the sea of Syria, and its inthrust is like that of great fingers
feeling their way through the pastures to the very gates of her cities,
and at one place reaching a point within a mile or two of her capital.
Disraeli describes graphically the transition from Canaan to


stony Arabia--the first sandy patches; the herbage gradually
disappearing till all that is left of it is shrubs tufting the ridges of
low undulating sand-hills; then the sand becoming stony, with no
plant-life remaining but an occasional thorn, until plains of sand end
in dull ranges of mountains covered with loose flints. In the journey
from Bethlehem to the Dead Sea the transition is even more abrupt.
Hardly have you left the “fields of the shepherds” when you perceive
that the herbs, though still plentiful among the stones, are parched. In
a mile or two there is nothing round you but wild greyish-yellow sand
and rock. You thread your way precariously along the sides of gorges
till you reach that sheer yellow cleft down which Kidron is slicing its
way with the air of a suicide to the sea. Then you come up to a lofty
ridge from which are seen the dreary towers of Mar Saba, like the “blind
squat turret” of Childe Roland’s adventure, “with low grey rocks girt
round, chin upon hand, to see the game at bay.” So you journey on,
feeling at times that this is not scenery, it is being buried alive in
great stone chambers beneath the surface; at other times welcoming the
sight of a broom bush like that under which Elijah lay down and prayed
that he might die. The carcase of a horse or the skeleton of a camel are
almost welcome, breaking the monotonous emptiness of this land of death.

The physical influence of the desert on the land is evident in many
ways. Greece and Britain are not more truly children of the sea than is
Syria the desert’s child. Even those who have had no experience of the
desert proper, but have only made the regulation tour in Palestine, will
have memories of what they saw recalled to them in every page of a book
descriptive of the desert. The land throughout has ominously much in
common with its desolate neighbour--so much so as to suggest a territory
rescued from the desert and kept from reverting only by strenuous

Many things go to confirm this impression. The winds that blow from east
or south have crossed the sand before they reach the mountains. When
they are cool, they are pure and fresh, unbreathed before, “virgin air.”
The evening breeze of Syria is “the respiration of the desert” after its
breathless heat of day. When the wind is hot, it is terrible as only
wind can be that comes off burning sand. The _shirky_, or sirocco,
interprets the desert in a fashion which the traveller is not likely to
forget. We rode against it half the length of the Plain of Esdraelon,
when the thermometer registered 104° in the shade, until the steel of
our coloured eye-glasses became so hot that we were glad to remove them,
and endure the glare by preference.

The plant-life of the desert has its counterpart in the land. Loti
describes it with his usual vividness. There is the furze dusted with
fine sand; there are the strange sand-flowers of yellow or violet
colours, the spikes shot out of the soil without leafage, the balls of
thorn which wound the feet, the occasional palm-tree, the white edible
manna plant. And there is the exquisite scent of these after rain, so
strong that one might think a jar of perfume had been broken at the tent
door--a perfume in which one distinguishes the scents of resin, lemon,
geranium, and myrrh. All this the Palestine traveller seems to
recognise; in that curious but familiar flora, and that pungent aromatic
smell, we have the intrusion of the desert again.

The colour of the land has already been described, and here again we
have the touch of the wilderness. The colouring is no doubt partly due
to the quality of the air, dry and crisp as nothing but those miles of
sand could make it. Having absolutely no concerns of its own, as wooded
or grassy lands have, the desert abandons itself to the sun. It takes
and gives the sunlight wholly, making itself a mere reflector for the
light and heat. “Everything in this desert is of one colour--a tawny
yellow. The rocks, the partridges, the camels, the foxes, the ibex, are
all of this shade.”[3] Yet this absolutely neutral region, just because
of its neutrality, catches the sunrise and the sunset in a brilliance
that is all its own, and deepens its shadows to liquid depths of indigo
and violet. In this we see the extreme and untempered form of that
interplay of faint background with intense foreground which is the
characteristic feature of the colour-scheme of Syria.

It is the same as regards form. The two towers of Mar Saba are among the
most impressive of all the Syrian spectacles. Pitilessly unsuggestive,
they are the most unhomely things one ever saw, like the mere skeletons
of habitations. But part of this impression comes from the shape of the
surrounding hills. Ranged in a wide semicircle, their fronts eaten out
with land-slips and torrents, they are polished and smooth like gigantic
sculptures. In some parts the regularity of their cones and tables
suggests the work of purposeless but mighty builders. In other parts the
rocks are twisted as if by tormentors, or tumbled in utter confusion.
This too, as we shall see, has its modified counterpart in the land.

If the desert has thus produced a strong physical effect upon the land,
its moral effects are even more apparent. We have seen how to the
dwellers west of Jordan it was at once an abiding enemy and an ancient
home. Shut out from it by the huge trench of the Jordan valley and the
barricade of the eastern mountains, the Syrian still feels enough of the
desert’s fiery touch to fear it as an enemy. Its wind blasts his crops
and its heat drives him from his valleys to the hill country for the
breath of life. Every traveller speaks of the “positive weight” of heat
that makes men bend low in their saddles. Others besides the Persians
are constrained, as Kinglake puts it, to bow down before the sun, whose
“fierce will” is most terribly felt in those tracts of the land which
the desert has claimed for its own. In the desert there are the same
conditions which are to be found in the land, only in extreme forms and
without mitigation. It is the place of tempests, fires, and reptiles.
These visit the land at times, but they abide in that weird country into
whose distances the Syrian may peer from most of his mountain tops.
There, too, abide those dark and occult powers of evil in which every
Eastern man believes. The magic of the desert--its treacherous mirage,
its genii (by no means difficult to imagine in the forms of sandy
whirlwinds whose march is strewn with corpses), and its infinite
unexplored possibilities of terror--all this is very real to the native
imagination. Its inhabitants, too, are uncanny to think of. The true
Arabian, whom perhaps they may have met on a journey, with his
jade-handled jewelled sword and his shrunken skin; the lunatics who have
wandered to its congenial wildness; the anchorites and ascetics whom,
like the scapegoat of ancient times, sin has driven forth to its
unwalled prison-house,--all these fill in for Syrians the ghastly
picture, and its tales of wars and massacres add the last touch of

Nothing proves and exemplifies all this more strikingly than the
apparently unreasonable view of the fertility, beauty, and general
perfection of Palestine which its inhabitants have always cherished.
Visitors from the West are often disappointed, and as they move from
place to place their wonder grows as they recall the Biblical
descriptions of the land flowing with milk and honey. Allowing for the
many centuries of misrule and deterioration, it still remains obvious
that Palestine never can have been that dreamland of natural delight
which piety has imagined. But the inhabitant views it, as Dr. Smith has
pointed out, not in contrast with the West, but in contrast with the
desert. We have to remember how “its eastern forests, its immense
wheat-fields, its streams, the oases round its perennial fountains, the
pride of Jordan, impress the immigrant nomad.” This contrast exaggerates
all his blessings in a heat of appreciation. Coming in from the desert,
a man sees trees and fountains not as they are in themselves, but as
they are in contrast with burning sand: he welcomes them as the gift of
God’s grace. The sound of wind among the leaves or of flowing water is
to him truly the speech of a god.[4] To many a wayfarer the poorest
outskirts of the Syrian land have meant salvation from imminent death,
and so appreciation enlarges to optimism, and the very barrenness of the
desert becomes a challenge to hope and faith. Streams will break forth
there, as in his happy experience they have already broken forth, until
the whole barren waste shall blossom as the rose. It is by such hope and
faith that the tribes of Palestine have lived. There is a magnificent
indomitableness in the spectacle of Jews after two thousand years of
exile still celebrating their vintage festival in the slums of great
cities, or in the “squalid quarter of some bleak northern town where
there is never a sun that can at any rate ripen grapes.” One seems to
find the key to this in that tradition of the Arabs that certain ruins
near the Dead Sea are the remains of ancient vineyards. The Syrian land
can never be seen but as a miracle of life and beauty rescued from the
desert, and that appreciation becomes the incentive for a larger hope.

Yet it is not as an enemy, however wonderfully conquered or strenuously
held at bay, that the desert appeals most to the Syrian. As he looks
eastward to the hills of Moab and dreams of what lies beyond them, there
is perhaps more of wistfulness than of terror in his heart. The
melancholy note of his music, heard by every camp-fire in the long
evenings, is infinitely suggestive as well as pathetic. Where was that
note learned if not in black tents pitched in the boundless waste, where
man’s littleness, in contrast with the great powers of Nature, oppressed
him into prone fatalism, or revealed to him the infinite refuge and
comfort of the Everlasting Arms? He whose fathers have sung such songs
will not satisfy his soul with the bustle of towns. He will need the
desert for retreat, that his confused mind may calm itself down to order
and find new revelations of truth. And when the Syrian retreats to the
desert he seems rather to be going home than abroad. David and Elijah,
Paul and Mohammed, for various reasons, but with the same urgency,
betook themselves to the solitude. Jesus Christ himself was driven of
the Spirit into the wilderness. If temptation waited them there, and the
sense of exile and desertion, it was there also that angels ministered
to them; and ancient prophecies were fulfilled in those “streams of
spiritual originality which broke forth in the deserts of moral routine”
of their times. To their spirit, and to the spirit of all dwellers in
the land, the desert is not enemy only, it is home.

This fact is abundantly borne out by many traits of character which are
the survivals of a desert ancestry. There is nothing in Syria which can
explain the fact that the most skilful dragoman cannot understand a map,
nor guide you to your destination by geographical directions. On unknown
ground a Syrian is of little use as guide. On one occasion some of us
set out on a journey of five or six miles in Hauran under the guidance
of an excellent lad who started with the air of a Napoleon Bonaparte.
His directions were to go straight from Muzerib to Sheikh Miskin--two
stations on the railway south of Damascus, between which the railway
line runs in a wide curve. Our route was the bow-string, while the line
was the bent bow. For a little way he boldly marched forward, but soon
began to edge towards the rails, and finally lost his head altogether,
crossed the line, and set out on a route whose only apparent destination
was Persia! This was too much for us, and we mutinied and reversed the
direction, arriving at Sheikh Miskin in less than an hour, with our
guide under a cloud. There could not have been a better illustration of
a Syrian’s helplessness on ground without familiar landmarks. He finds
his way partly by a nomad instinct, very difficult to account for;
partly by the habit of noticing minute features of the road which
entirely escape the ordinary observer. A story is told of a thief in a
certain town in Palestine who entered a house and stole nothing. He
simply went out and claimed the house before the judge. When the case
came to trial, the thief challenged the owner to tell how many steps
were in the stair, how many panes of glass in the windows and a long
catalogue of other such


The village of Nazareth shows out white in the dip between the hills.]

details. This the owner could not do, and when the thief gave the
numbers correctly, the house was at once given to him as its obvious
possessor. The tale at once recalls the Arab of our childhood who
described the route of the strayed camel.

The Syrian character is nothing if not complex, a mass of paradox whose
contradictory elements it seems hopeless to attempt to reconcile. The
politest and the most ruffianly of men, the most effusively frank and
the most impenetrably wary, the most silent and the most voluble, the
gayest in laughter and the most melancholy in song, is the Syrian. He
will bully you so long as he has the majority, and he will beg for the
privilege of tying your shoe’s latchet if the majority is with you. He
will row a boat or drive a donkey under a noonday sun with a violence
which threatens apoplexy; he will suddenly subside into a repose which
no surrounding bustle can disturb. The captain of the _Rob Roy_ tells
how in the Huleh region a native boy running alongside pointed his long
gun at him at least twenty times with the cry of _bakhshish_, so close
that he once knocked the barrel aside with his paddle; and yet in the
tent that evening this same youngster “was my greatest favourite from
his lively laugh and eyes like diamonds, and his quick perception of all
I explained.” In a note on page 39 an adventure of our own is told which
illustrates sufficiently the rapidity of change in the mood of the
native. He is a civilised barbarian, a scrupulous fraud, an aged little
child. No doubt so complex a character is traceable to many causes, but
in the main it is the work of the desert. There the extreme
conditions--the long hunger and the occasional surfeit, the great
silence and the shrill speech in which that silence unburdens itself,
the demand for desperate exertion and the long deep rest--these call
forth the most opposite qualities, each in exaggerated degree.

Perhaps the most important contributions of the desert to the Syrian
character have been two. There is a certain hardiness and strenuous
carelessness of comfort, which produces a rather bleak impression on
European travellers, but which nevertheless has counted for a great deal
in national life. It has told in opposite ways. Judea’s success has been
undoubtedly due to the fact that it had to be fought for against such
bitter odds. On the other hand, this same independence of fate has led
the nation to settle down in a too easy contentment. Defeat, and even
oppression, sit more lightly on people who are indifferent to
circumstances; and if the artificial demands for luxury have been the
ruin of some nations, they have been the saving of others, keeping alive
in them their vigour and whetting their ambition. The other contribution
is the instinctive kindliness and hospitality which are well known as
characteristic of the desert tribes. Where life is so precarious, it
inevitably comes to be regarded as an inviolable trust by the man on
whose mercy it is cast. Accordingly the wandering Arab has but to draw
in the sand a circle round his laden camel in order to secure every
scrap of his possessions from robbery; and the bitterest enemies are
sure of safety so long as they abide in each other’s tents. A little
incident which occurred to ourselves brought home to us vividly the real
kindliness of the Eastern sense of guest-right. It was in Damascus, and
after nightfall. Some of us, wishing to see how the city amused itself,
set out for a ramble through the streets. It was only nine o’clock, yet
everything was shut up and the bazaars and thoroughfares silent and
deserted. At last we found a little café still doing business at the end
of the high black vault of a bazaar. Seats were placed in the open air
in front of it, while from within came the rattle of dice and the voices
of one or two gamblers. Sitting down on the outside bench, we asked for
coffee, which was immediately brought. A stylishly dressed Moslem, in an
indescribable flow of robes, took his seat silently opposite us and sat
smoking his nargileh. When we rose to go we found that he had paid for
us all, and when we would have thanked him he would have none of it,
satisfied with the consciousness of having shewn hospitality to
strangers sojourning in his land. We could not help wondering how long
our friend might have continued making the circuit of London restaurants
before a similar experience would have fallen his way! There is a tale
of a scoundrel who acts as guide to English travellers, and presents to
each of them a certificate from a former victim, which invariably makes
them laugh. The writing is, “I was a stranger and ye took me in.” It was
pleasing to find that this testimony need not always be ironical.


     One of the horses had been stolen in the night. It was the last on
     the line, and beyond it Harun was sleeping on the ground. At 11.30
     all was right, but by 12.30 it had disappeared. By 1 A.M. the
     village had been roused, and the head men were coming in to the
     camp offering us one of their mares in compensation. The mares,
     which were wretched skeletons of beasts, were refused, and the
     horse demanded. Nothing could persuade them to bring him back, or
     to acknowledge any cognisance of him whatever. They said that
     passing robbers had taken him, and begged us not to report the
     affair. Our dragoman, however, took another view. He wrote a
     letter, long and circumstantial, describing us as “Hawajas”
     (merchants, gentlemen), travelling for information under tescera
     from the Sultan. The touch of genius in the letter was its
     insistence upon the seriousness of this affair on the ground that
     we were travelling under three flags, the Union Jack, the Turkish
     flag, and the Stars and Stripes. This letter was sent, by one of
     our men on horseback, to the Kaimakham, governor of the district,
     at a place some distance from where we were. The Kaimakham passed
     him on to the Mudir at another village, a person of terrible
     reputation, of whom everybody in the neighbourhood was afraid. The
     upshot of it all was that Mohammed, the messenger, returned to camp
     accompanied by two soldiers, powerful and intelligent young
     fellows, but savage-looking and rather ragged. The taller of the
     two, named Nimr (the leopard), was armed with bayonet, rifle, and
     revolver, while a double belt of cartridges added to the effect.
     His orders were to take the thirteen leading men of Banias in
     irons, and march them off “shoulder-tight” to prison at Mejdel.
     During the day a great meeting was held in the dragoman’s tent, the
     soldiers on one side, the “leading men” on the other. One of the
     latter protested that this was unfair--they had expected the
     dragoman to grow cooler, but although he had been hot at first, he
     was getting hotter instead of cooler. The reply was--(may it be
     forgiven!)--that he had meant to get cooler, but the Hawajas were
     getting hotter steadily, owing to the three flags aforesaid. After
     a long parley it was arranged that they should send to another
     village for a horse worth £20, the value of the stolen one. They
     stoutly maintained that a stranger, and none of themselves, had
     committed the robbery, and that it was a bitter day when the
     Hawajas had pitched their tents among them. Nimr the soldier sat
     frowning and beating the ground savagely with a stick between his
     wide open legs. He repeated several times, with gusto, the
     aphorism, “Better to touch fire and scorpions than the property of
     Hawajas,” to which the rueful answer of the Sheikh was that it
     _would_ be better! All was gloom, and when at last a messenger was
     sent off to procure a horse worth £20, the grandees went to their
     houses with the air of men doomed. Next morning the horse was
     brought, and was to be seen at the end of the line kicking and
     biting viciously. Its worth was only £15, but the balance was
     condoned. We expected that this would draw forth gratitude and even
     some gladness; but instead it brought them all to tears, and drew
     from them many assurances of the miserable poverty of their
     condition, and the inevitable ruin that awaited them if we actually
     accepted this horse which they had brought. To these pleadings the
     dragoman was deaf, insisting that we must now at least let things
     take their course. When they saw that this was the final position
     of affairs, they ceased from wailing. Within five minutes our own
     original horse was led into the camp, and their new one removed!
     Their game had been played to its very last turn, and having failed
     was laid aside. During the rest of our sojourn there these same men
     lingered in the camp, manifesting neither regret nor shame, but
     smoking, chatting, and laughing with our company in the highest
     possible good-humour.



Every writer about Palestine speaks of the smallness and concentration
of the land, yet these take the best informed by surprise. It is “the
least of all lands” indeed, when one thinks how much has happened in it.
Leaving Jaffa at 10 A.M., the steamer reaches Beyrout at 6 P.M. The
passengers in that short sail have seen the whole of Palestine. National
life there is a miniature rather than a picture. In a stretch of country
equal to that between Aberdeen and Dundee you cover the whole central
ground of the Bible, from the Sea of Galilee to Jerusalem. In a ride
equal to the distance from London to Windsor there may be seen enough to
interpret many centuries of the world’s supreme history. The Dead Sea is
but 50 miles from the Mediterranean, the Sea of Galilee about 25 miles;
while the distance in miles between the two seas is only 55. Yet in that
little land there is every kind of soil, from mere sand and broken
limestone to rich red and chocolate loam. It is a mountainous country
throughout, and its inhabitants are a race of Highlanders. So numerous
are its mountain spurs that you may pass up and down the centre of the
country for scores of miles, and yet never catch sight of the sea,
though you constantly feel it in the breeze. Everything is there--the
gorge, the wide sweeping valley, the great plain, the rolling tableland.
It is, indeed, a land in miniature, the _multum in parvo_ of lands. Its
history and religion, like its natural features, are crushed together
and compact. The epigram is the only form of speech that can express it.

This idea of smallness and compression, however, is by no means the only
possible view which may be taken. All depends on what it is with which
one compares Palestine. Thinking of it as a field of history, one
inevitably has other fields in mind. If we think of Britain, Palestine
is but the size of Wales; if of France and Germany, it is the equivalent
of Alsace. But a more primitive point of view is gained when you regard
it as a reclaimed tract of the desert. Just as Egypt is a huge
river-meadow, and Venice a glorified harbour in the sea, so Syria is the
largest oasis in the world. Its whole geographical character is that of
desert, more or less modified by water. The sculptured hills are here,
the rock and the shingle and the sand. Dry up its rivers and arrest its
rainfall, and you will have a continuation of the peninsula of Sinai,
except that instead of granite it will be of limestone. It is this, as
we have seen, that has led its inhabitants to regard it with a rare
appreciation, an extraordinary sense of its preciousness, and a
tendency to exaggerate both its beauty and its fertility.

Nothing illustrates this loving appreciation of their land better than
the play of imagination which has created the place-names of Palestine.
Hebrews, Arabs, and Crusaders vie with each other in the poetic beauty
of their nomenclature. It is a little land, but there is much witchery
in it. For its inhabitants it _lives_ personified, and its masses of
mountain scenery are often named from parts of the human body. There are
“the shoulder,” “the side,” “the thigh,” “the rib,” “the back.” The
“head” of Pisgah looks down upon the “face” of the wilderness.[5] There
is a “hollow hearth”--homeliest of names to a Semite. In other names
poetry has reached its utmost of epigrammatic beauty--“the dance of the
whirls,” “the star of the wind,” “the diamond of the desert.” Yet sacred
and beautiful as its scenery was to Israel, she had a dearer bond with
her land than that. She was kept from nature-worship by a spiritual
faith which created such names as “Bethel” (the house of God), and many
others of similar significance. These claim the land in all its length
and breadth for the God of Israel. Every green spot was for the Semites
the dwelling-place of some divinity; this whole oasis of hers was for
Israel the house of her God of peace and blessing. To the ancient Greek
“God was the view”; to the Hebrew, God was the inhabitant of the
view--He Himself was Righteousness. And because the land was
His--rescued by Him from the desert with His waters, and given to the
people in His love--it was tenfold more dear to them. Down every vista
which shewed them a land that was very far off, their eyes caught sight
also of some vision of the King in His beauty; every high hill was a
veritable mountain of the Lord’s house.

Let us try to get, as it were, a bird’s-eye view of this fascinating
country, noticing in their right perspective and significance its
outstanding natural features. Dr. Smith’s _Historical Geography_ has
perhaps rendered no service higher than the aid towards this which is
afforded by its epitome and map (pp. 49, 50, 51). These divide Palestine
into five parallel strips running north and south. Cutting across these
strips in a straight line westwards from the desert to the sea, we first
traverse the range of the eastern mountains; then dip to the immense
gulf of the Jordan valley, far below the Mediterranean level; then climb
by precipitous ascents to the summit of the central range; then descend
through the foot-hills; and finally land on the maritime plain. To grasp
thoroughly the lie of these five longitudinal regions is the first
necessity for understanding the geography of Palestine. Its general
impression is one of extraordinary brokenness of contour, and Zangwill
points out the important fact that a land with so much hill surface has
in reality a very much larger superficial area than that estimated by
multiplying its length by its breadth.

By far the most remarkable feature in the whole


territory is the Jordan valley. Rising from springs at the western roots
of Hermon, high above sea level, it sinks by rapid stages till at the
Dead Sea it reaches bottom nearly 1300 feet below the Mediterranean.
Down its extraordinary gully flows the one great river of Palestine.
There are other perennial streams, but none to compare with Jordan
either for volume or for associations. It is this mass of flowing water
which stands as the heart and soul of the Syrian oasis. Its mighty
stream has overcome the desert, and claimed the western land for
greenness and for life. It is this huge cleft that has isolated the Holy
Land for the purposes of its God.

The only clear opening from the Jordan to the Mediterranean is the Plain
of Esdraelon. Standing on Jordan’s bank below Bethshan and looking
westward, you see before you a valley whose farther end shows nothing
but sky. Many streams cut their way down its slopes beside a green
morass, and hold in their embrace the ruins of a strong city. You must
follow them up westwards for some ten miles before you reach sea level,
and soon after that you cross the watershed in a wide valley with
mountains rising to north and south. Jezreel stands above you on a
protruding tongue of high cultivated land to the south. At a level of
about 200 feet above the sea, you suddenly emerge upon a great
triangular plain, with Carmel at its apex, 15 miles to the west. This is
the Plain of Esdraelon. The one really large level space in Syria, its
rich soil, even surface, and plentiful water-supply make it a famous
piece of cultivated ground. But it is also the natural battlefield of
the East, and its chief associations are not with agriculture but with

Esdraelon, however, is but an incident in the geographical fact of
Syria, though an important and large incident. It is but the largest of
those open spaces into which Syrian valleys swell out. There are three
or four of them in the Jordan valley, and several of smaller size are
scattered here and there throughout the country. The really essential
feature of the land--that, indeed, which historically _is_ the land--is
the mountain range that sweeps from Lebanon to Hebron and beyond. It was
on the mountains that Israel lived. The Plain of Esdraelon, being the
ganglion of the natural main routes of traffic and of war, was but a
doubtful possession, precariously held at best, and often changing
owners. The strong city of Bethshan at the eastern mouth of its main
valley was held by Israel’s enemies during almost the whole of her
history; and, until a year or two ago, the Arabs made yearly raids upon
the Plain. Again, the sea-coast was largely in the hands of enemies;
while the Jordan valley, with its insupportable heat and malaria, was
thinly peopled, and its population swiftly degenerated from national as
well as from moral loyalties. Thus he who would know the Holy Land must,
in every sense of the words, “lift up his eyes unto the hills.”

It was our good fortune to have this view at its very best for our first
sight of Palestine. We should have landed at Jaffa, but a rather
doubtful case of plague at Alexandria inflicted a two days’ quarantine
on all ships coming out of Egypt. So we looked at Jaffa from under the
yellow flag, and sailed off in the morning sunlight northward to
Beyrout. All day long we lay on deck, with maps spread out before us.
The quarantine had cost us the sight of the Greek Easter ceremony at
Jerusalem, but it gave us in exchange the rare experience of a daylight
sail along the Syrian coast. The day was marvellously clear, and every
object on the shore was seen in photographic outline, while the various
distances were preserved in fading colours, back to the thin
transparency against the sky which stood for the furthest mountain
ranges. The shore was barren: a low belt of tawny sand, broken by dark
olive-green scrub, and very desolate. One solitary house was all we saw
for the first two hours, and in another place a column of smoke,
apparently rising from some invisible camp. Beyond this the foot-hills
east of the plain were seen, lifting towards the great central ridge of
the mountain range. Though broken here and there by an occasional point,
or overlooked by a peak that rose very high beyond, the crest of the
range was remarkably level, with wavy outline. Until we passed Carmel it
shewed as a unity--“the _mountain_” of Ephraim and Judah. North from
that there was a bolder sky-line, much nearer to the sea, which led on
eventually to the magnificent heights of Lebanon, beautiful as they are

Let us suppose ourselves to land at Beyrout and journey from north to
south well inland. At first we climb eastwards among bold bare hills, in
whose recesses mulberry gardens nestle and on whose heights innumerable
villages perch. Cedars are conspicuous by their absence, but there are
plenty of humbler trees. Soon we come to realise the large-scale meaning
and contour of the district. We have been crossing Lebanon, whose
highest peaks have revealed themselves now and then far to the north.
Some twenty miles from the coast we find ourselves in the valley of the
Litany (Leontes). This whole region is easily understood. It consists of
the magnificent ranges of Lebanon and Antilebanon and the spacious
valley between them, running in ample curves parallel with the shore.

Mighty though these are, however, it is neither of them that has
received the name of Jebel-es-Sheikh--“the patriarch of mountains.” That
honour is reserved for Hermon, the range and summit which Antilebanon
thrusts south from it into Galilee, just opposite Damascus. It is
happily named “the sheikh.” Go where you will in Palestine, Hermon seems
to lie at the end of some vista or other. For many miles around it,
Hermon commands everything. Its mass tilts the plain and sends out
innumerable spurs of rich and fertile land; its snow shines far and
gives character to the view; its eastern waters redeem the wilderness
through many a mile of Hauran; and from its western roots spring all the
fountains of the Jordan. This is the king of Syria, by whose beneficent
might the desert has become oasis.

While the southern continuation of Hermon holds up the high tableland of
Bashan and runs it on into the mountains of Gilead and Moab east of
Jordan, the thrust of Lebanon into Western Galilee ends curiously in a
succession of hills divided by valleys running east and west, like great
waves of mountain rolling south to break along the northern edge of the
Plain of Esdraelon. There is a quiet regularity about these Galilean
Highlands, which gives the impression of a region made to plan. The
eastern end of Esdraelon is blocked by the group of Tabor and “Little
Hermon,” while the feature of the western end is the long lonely ridge
of Carmel.

Crossing the plain we enter Samaria, whose deep rounded valleys, rich in
corn, send their sweeping curves in all directions. Here there is
neither the dominant north-and-south trend of Lebanon, nor the
horizontal ripple of Galilee, but an intricate network of curving
valleys, which leave the mountains everywhere more individual and
distinct, and which frequently expand into wide meadows or fields. Yet
the general rise of the region is from west, sloping up to east. The
watershed is perhaps 10 to 15 miles from Jordan, while it is more than
30 miles from the sea. But Jordan here is well-nigh 1000 feet below
sea-level, so that the eastern slope is immensely steeper than the

As we enter Judea, we find the land, as it were, gathering itself up on
almost continuous heights. The lesser valleys are shallow, and the
hilltops swell from the lofty plateau in colossal domes or cupolas. So
high is the general level that when we come to Jerusalem we look in vain
for the mountains we had understood to be round about her. No peaks
cleave the sky--only smooth and gentle hills, which have never been in
any way her defence, but have made excellent platforms for the
siege-engines of her enemies, and have grown wood for the crosses of her
inhabitants. The lateral gorges of Judea, both east and west, cut into
her high tableland in angular zigzags, and as you descend these in
either direction you realise what is really meant by “the mountains
round about Jerusalem.” She does not see them, lying secure upon the
height to which they have exalted her. But he who approaches her must
come by their gorges, where for many miles his sky will be but a strip
seen between sheer heights of cliff and scaur.[6] The rugged sharpness
of outline reaches its climax on the eastern side, where the range,
split in the wildest gorges, falls in fragmentary masses between their
mouths down to the Jordan valley. Nothing in the land has a more bare
and savage grandeur than the square-chiselled mountain blocks of
Quarantana, seen from below at Jericho in black angular silhouette
against the sunset. South of Jerusalem the Kidron gorge, cleaving the
intruding desert, exaggerates the wildness of the north, but as you
climb past Bethlehem to Hebron you are in a region liker to Samaria,
with its deeper and more rounded valleys and its richer pasture and
cultivation. South of Hebron the range spreads fanwise and gradually
sinks to the desert.

The most impressive memories of the land, so far as its form and
contour go, are two--the gorges cleft through the Judean mountain, and
certain isolated conical hills thrown up from the Samaritan valleys.
Judea is mountain, emphasised by gorge; Samaria is valley, diversified
by hill. The gorges are uncompromising. When we read, for instance, the
third verse of the seventh chapter of Joshua, we think of an ordinary
march--“The men went up and viewed Ai. And they returned to Joshua, and
said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three
thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour
thither.” But he who has himself “gone up” from Jericho to Ai puts
feeling into his reading of the words “to labour thither.” That is the
only way of going up. The recollection is of several hours of
precipitous riding, with beasts stumbling and riders pitched ahead. When
the climb is over you turn aside to the south, and view the gully of
Michmash along whose northern edge you have scrambled inland. It looks
not like a valley, but a crack in rocks, hundreds of feet deep. The
valley of Achor, next to the south of Michmash, presents an almost more
dramatic appearance as you view its entrance from the Jordan foot-hills.
It gapes on the plain, like the open mouth of some petrified monster.

The isolated hills of the northern territory are in their way as
memorable as the gorges of the south. In Judea you cannot see the
mountains for “the mountain.” The whole land is one great elevated
range, and the noticeable features of the district are the gorges that
cut across it. Samaria, on the other hand, is a place of valleys and of
plains, and its mountains are seen as mountains. This fact finds its
most striking instance in certain “Gilgals,” or isolated cones standing
free in the midst of plain, or cut off by circular valleys round their
bases. The most perfect of these is that which bears the name of Gilgal,
rising detached in the wide valley to the south-east of Jacob’s Well.[7]
It is in shape an almost perfect cone, whose gradual curve renders it
very easy of ascent. The Hill of Samaria itself is another such
“Gilgal,” the centre of a splendid circular panorama of hills. Sanur, in
the country of Judith and Holophernes, is a third, on a smaller scale,
but with even wider panorama. North of Esdraelon, again a long ripple of
mountains sweeps round at least one such Gilgal, leaving Sepphoris
isolated on the peak of it. And Tabor itself might plausibly be counted
in this class--Tabor the irrelevant, whose cone seems always to be
peeping over the shoulder of some lower ridge, unlike any other
landmark, commanding all the views eastward from the heights of
Nazareth. These curious cones are in Palestine to some extent what the
Righi is in Switzerland. With the exception of Tabor, they are but
lesser heights; yet they give the widest mountain views, and seem to
shape the land into a succession of circles, of which their summits are
the centre-points.

The mountains of Israel are the characteristic features of her history
as of her geography. In every part of Syria they are the companions of
the journey. Great


The lofty mountain in the extreme distance is Mount Hermon.]

distant masses, or near crests of them, seem to accompany you as you
move. And as you travel through the history of the land it is in the
same companionship. The Jordan valley lies along the western side of the
mountain range, a place of luxury and temptation. But Israel abides on
the hills, sending down to it only the most degenerate of her children.
It is a very striking fact that Jesus was tempted to sin for bread on
the mountain almost within sight of Jericho, where the Herodians were
sinning with surfeits of wine and rich meats. All that is truest to
Israel and most characteristic of her at her best is on the hills. They
are the places of her war and of her worship. The Gilgals have almost
all stood siege. All, or at least the most of them, have been fortified.
On some of them the rude remains of ancient sacred circles, or the
decayed steps of altars cut in the rock, may still be traced. Her
enemies found by bitter experience that “her gods are gods of the
hills.” Her ark had its abode on the tableland at Shiloh or on the hill
of Zion. Its history on the low ground was but a story of calamity; it
had to be sent up again to Kirjath-Jearim among the hills. Yet the
heights of Israel stand for more than this blend of war and worship;
they were her home. All her greater towns nestle among them somewhere;
most of them stand on the summits, or just below them. It was a race of
Highlanders that gave us our Bible--men whose home was on the heights.

Her wars, indeed, were everywhere, for it is a blood-drenched land.
Many of her battles were fought at the edge of the mountain-land, on the
kopjes that run along the southern border of Esdraelon, or among the
foot-hills near the mouth of the western gorges. There, or on the great
plain, she met her invaders. But the heights were the scenes of battles
in the last resort, and the gorges are associated with the advance and
retreat of armed hosts, the rush of the invader and the headlong retreat
of armies that had been surprised and routed from above.

Meanwhile, in the middle spaces, she fought her continuous battle with
the desert and the sun for her daily bread. It is said that in Malta,
where every possible spot is cultivated, the earth has been all
imported, and that the Knights of Malta allowed no vessel to enter the
harbour without paying dues in soil. The denuded hill-sides of
Palestine, with their ruined heaps of stones that once built up terraces
for cultivation, tell a similar story. On some hillsides the remains of
sixty or even eighty such terraces may still be traced. In many places
the valleys are rich in an altogether superfluous depth of fertile soil.
But this did not suffice the inhabitants, and they built up the terraces
along the southward slopes, in many places quite to the walls of their
mountain villages. On not a few of these slopes labour must have
actually created land, and men’s hearts grown strong within them as they
changed the rocks into gardens and the slopes of shingle into harvest



Keeping in mind our view of Palestine as an oasis, we naturally turn at
once to the thought of the waters that have retrieved it from the
desert. By far the most conspicuous of these is the Jordan, flowing down
a long course to its deep-dug grave in the Dead Sea. At whatever point
we approach that great valley the eye is inevitably led along it
northward to the white Hermon, whose great “breastplate” shines over all
the land. That mountain, and the Lebanons of which it is the southern
outpost, are the real makers of Palestine.

There was a beautiful poetry of Hermon which from earliest times made it
a sacrament of sweet thoughts to Israel. Perhaps the sweetest thought it
gave her was that of dew. In every part of that land of clear skies, a
heavy dew lies upon the ground at sunrise. Poetic feeling, undertaking
the work of science, interpreted this dew as Hermon’s gift, so that “the
dew that descended on the mountains of Zion” was “the dew of Hermon”
(Psalm cxxxiii. 3). The meteorology is faulty, but the larger idea is
true. The cool and glistening snow-field, more than a hundred miles
away from Zion, does indeed send out and receive again the waters that
refresh the land in an endless round. “The Abana dies in the marsh of
Ateibeh, yielding its spirit to the sun, as Jordan dies in the Dead Sea,
and, rising into clouds again, both of them wafted to the snow-peaks
where they were born, they pour down their old waters in a current ever
new, in that circuit of life and death which God has ordained for

So conspicuous are these two rivers that we almost need to remind
ourselves that they are not the only waters of Israel. There are several
perennial streams in Syria, of which something will be said presently;
but the list of these by no means exhausts the stores of water in the
land. Great stretches of the country are apparently waterless,
especially in the south, and yet water is almost everywhere,
underground. In many parts the soil and surface-rock are soft, lying on
a hard bed-rock at various depths below. Accordingly we find that one of
the most mysterious and characteristic features of the south country is
its underground waters.[9] Springs and streamlets find their way through
fissures or filter through porous stone to the harder rock below, and
flow along subterranean channels there. Zangwill quotes an older
authority for the somewhat startling statement that “the entire plain of
Sharon seems to cover a vast subterranean river, and this inexhaustible
source of wealth underlies the whole territory of the Philistines.”
Putting the ear to any crack in the sunburnt clay of the surface, in
certain parts, one may hear the subdued growl and murmur of the waters
underneath. Trees flourish in places where there is no water apparent,
their roots bathing in unseen streams, and drawing life and freshness
from them. One can well understand the feelings of awe with which
primitive people regarded these mysterious nether springs. They did not
connect them with the idea of rain from above, as modern science does,
but believed that they had forced their way up from “the Great Deep,”
which was supposed to underlie the earth, and into which the roots of
the mountains were thrust far down like gigantic anchors of the world.
Some of the rivers of Damascus are also underground, “and may often be
seen and heard through holes in the surface.”[10] Jerusalem is a
waterless city, whose famous pools are tanks for rain-water. Its one
spring is that strange intermittent one which overflows from the Well of
the Virgin through Hezekiah’s aqueduct to the Pool of Siloam. Yet there
are legends that beneath the sacred rock which the mosque of Omar covers
there is a subterranean torrent; and that the rushing of hidden waters
has been heard at times below the massive stones of the Damascus Gate of
the city.

These underground waters have given to Palestine a still more
interesting feature at the points where her greatest rivers rise. This
is the sudden emergence of full-bodied streams from the ground. These
rivers have, so to speak, no infancy. Their springs are not little toy
fountains with trickling rivulets. They bound into the world full-grown,
with a rush and fury which is perhaps unparalleled in any other land.
This inspiring and suggestive phenomenon has not been without its effect
on the national thought and imagination. In the midst of one of the most
gloriously forceful passages of Isaiah (chap. xxxv.) the vigour and
impetuousness of the prophecy finds its climax in the sudden leap of
waters which “break out” in the wilderness, and which are described in
the same breath as the first glad leap of the restored lame man, leaping
“as an hart.” When Moses in his blessing of the tribes speaks of Dan
“leaping from Bashan,” he refers to that wonderful spot where Jordan, in
the tribe of Dan, leaps up from below Hermon. Matthew Arnold, had he
chanced to think of it, might have seen in his delight in full and
rushing streams another link connecting him with the Hebrew race with
which he so quaintly claims affinity.

The south country keeps its rivers for the most part below ground,
though even there considerable streams suddenly break out. Conder
describes deep blue pools of fresh water near Antipatris which “well up
close beneath the hillock surrounded by tall canes and willows, rushes
and grass.”[11] Yet the greatest outbursts are in the north. One
traveller describes a river-source in Lebanon as an abyss of seething
black waters, into which he rolled large stones, only to see them
presently reappear, flung up like corks from the depths. At one of its
sources the Abana bursts from the masonry of some ancient temples “a
pure and copious river, rushing into light at once as if free.”

It is at Hermon that we find the true centre of the water supply of
Palestine. Parts of it are under snow all the year round, and it gives
off some thirty streams flowing in every direction. Not one of these
streams reaches the Mediterranean. They flow forth only to evaporate
sooner or later in some inland morass or sea, and to return in vapour
that will be condensed again by the snows of Hermon. Conder describes
one of these in the north, whose water “rushes out suddenly with a
roaring noise from a cavern” in winter, and transforms the plain below
into a lake. But the great work of Hermon is the Jordan, two of whose
three sources leap up from its roots. The most striking of these is that
of Banias, which Jewish tradition names as one of the three springs of
Palestine which “remained not closed up after the Flood.” On the crest
of a spur of Hermon stands the ruined castle of Subeibeh, one of the
noblest ruins in the world. From the castle you descend 1400 feet to the
village of Banias, the ancient Caesarea Philippi. The descent, over
basalt boulders whose interstices are filled for the most part with
thorn-bushes, is said in the guide-books to be practicable for horses.
One wonders how long the horses are supposed to survive the journey! The
view across and down the Jordan valley is indescribably grand. Near the
foot the path curves round the top of a precipice and doubles back on a
lower level to a white-washed Mohammedan weli, or praying-house. Just
below, as you look down from the weli, a large cavern is seen, with
niches beautifully carved in the rocks beside it. On one of these niches
is the inscription “To Pan and the Nymphs,” and on another the names
“Augustus and Augustina.” Here, most likely on the site of a prehistoric
holy place of the Semites, stood the Roman temple which Herod built in
honour of Augustus. Nor is it wonderful that these and so many other
faiths have counted this a sacred place; for Jordan used to pour forth
from that cavern, clear and full-bodied. Now the old cave-channel is
choked up with debris, and Jordan forces its way to light in many
smaller fountains among the stones and earth of the open space below,
which is coloured by long trails of slime. Within a few yards the
streams unite in a rich green pool, with reeds and luxuriant
water-growth. The second source of Jordan is even more impressive. It is
at Tell-el-Kadi, some two miles west from Banias. On the western side of
this Tell, on which there are traces and ruins of an ancient city, there
is a thicket of rank undergrowth, from beneath whose lowest branches and
creepers the river suddenly appears, spreads immediately into a wide
pool, and within a hundred yards is racing violently south in foaming
rapids. The pool was reported to be bottomless, but the irrepressible
little canoe _Rob Roy_ was launched upon its boiling waters, and the
depth proved to be but five feet!

Jordan is a river worth much study, interesting from


The well is in the upper part of the Garden of Gethsemane.]

every point of view--geographical, historical, religious.[12] Changing
in colour, as the floods wash down their various soils to it, it tumbles
and rushes south through a stretch of some 137 miles without a single
cascade till it sweeps, with strong and level current, into the Dead
Sea. At Banias its height above the Mediterranean is about 1000 feet,
but the extraordinary valley is chiselled on a running slope down to the
depths of the earth. Clouds have been seen sweeping above its bed 500
feet below the level of the ocean. The Dead Sea level is 1290 feet below
the Mediterranean; its bottom, at the deepest part, is as deep again.
Spanned by a few bridges, of which only one or two are now entire, the
river’s course is for the most part through solitudes without
inhabitants, or tenanted but by a few half-savage people. The valley is
alternately wide and narrow, swelling out in five broad expanses, of
which the two northern are lakes, and the other three are plains. From
Banias to the last confluence of the different head-streams is a
distance of some seven miles through green land. Soon after that point
the river loses itself in a vast forest of impenetrable papyrus canes
growing in shallow water, from which it emerges in a little lake or
clear space half a mile lower. Then it flows, a solemn and glassy
stream, for some three miles and a half down a sharp-edged lane whose
perpendicular banks are tall papyrus canes, till it glides silently out,
a hundred feet in breadth, into Lake Huleh. From Huleh to the Sea of
Galilee is ten miles, along the greater part of which the river tears
through a narrow gorge. Emerging clear and broad from the Sea of Galilee
it soon begins its innumerable windings. A few streams flow into it
perennially from east and west, and countless torrents after rain. In
the north it quickens a poisonous soil into rank vegetation, and spreads
its superfluous waters on steaming swamps, full of malaria. Opposite
Shechem its clay is good for moulding, and the mounds which break the
level are for the most part apparently the remains of old brickfields or
brass foundries. As it descends to the broadest of its plains at Jericho
the valley falls into three distinct levels. From the hills a flat
expanse of desolation spreads towards the river, till it falls in steep
banks of 150 to 200 feet to the lower level of the “trench” down which
the river flows in flood. Finally, in the centre of this lies the
ordinary channel, at whose banks the trees and undergrowth seem to
crouch and kneel over the sullen brown stream.

There are other perennial rivers in Syria, but their courses are short.
The Litany (Leontes) rises between the Lebanons a short distance north
of the highest springs of Jordan. For many miles the two flow in
parallel courses, divided only by the little ridge of Jebel-es-Zoar. But
before Jordan has passed its new springs at Banias, the Litany has swept
to the west in a sharp right angle, to pour itself into the ocean north
of Tyre. It is a fine stream, yellow with rich loam, but its bed is in
the sharp angle of valleys whose sides remind one of the Screes of
Wastwater. Its descent is so rapid that even if there were meadows in
the bottoms of its gorges, it would hurry past them to pour its treasure
of water and of soil alike into the thankless sea. The Abana, rising in
the same region as the springs of the other two, has a course of only
some fifty miles. Kishon, which waters the Plain of Esdraelon, is
certainly the most generous in the matter of cultivated fields, but it
is also the most treacherous. Its fords are never certain, for great
masses of sand and mud are shifted to and fro in the most unaccountable
manner. The rest of the perennial rivers are either tributaries of the
Jordan, companions of the Abana in its eastern course, or streams from
Carmel or the central mountain range, whose short course to the
Mediterranean is of little account.

As we think of these rivers flowing through a land which so sorely needs
their help, we cannot but feel oppressed by a sense of waste that is
almost tragic. There is no boat plying on any of them. Most are, indeed,
far too rapid for that, but not everywhere. The guide-book speaks of a
steamer plying on the lower reaches of Jordan; and the local story of
oppression there--every district has its particular grievance--is of two
boats that had been brought for the service of the monastery, and then
confiscated by Government. The only boats of any kind we saw on fresh
water between Hebron and Damascus were two on the Sea of Galilee, manned
by Syrians in red jerseys, on which the magic letters were inscribed,
“COOK.” In the old days it must have been very different. There is
mention of a ferry-boat on the Jordan in 2 Sam. xix. 18, and in Christ’s
time there must have been a considerable fishing fleet on the lake. The
trireme on the coins of Gadara reminds us of Roman vessels which sailed
there for warlike purposes, and here and there you find a valley dammed
across its breadth for the construction of an artificial lake, on which
a _naumachia_ or naval fight might add piquancy to the games. There is
an island in the Dead Sea itself on which what are supposed to be ruins
of a landing-stage are still visible, showing that long ago even these
uncanny waters were not without their sailors. There used to be a
wrecked boat in the Ateibeh marsh from which three men had been drowned.
The wreck of another boat was still visible some years ago under the
surface of Lake Huleh. These wrecks are but too truthfully symbolic of
the fate of men’s attempts to utilise the waters of Israel. The Abana,
indeed, is utilised. Never was river so wholly taken possession of by a
city as Abana by Damascus. She flows into it--right into the heart of
it--and disappears underground; she is led captive into a thousand
fountains in public streets and the courts of private houses; she is
sent in a thousand little channels to irrigate the gardens which
surround it. All the more pitiful is her ending in that wild and haunted
morass of Ateibeh, where she yields up her waters to the desert and the

The fate of Jordan seems still more tragic. In the far north his waters
are indeed utilised to some small extent for irrigation, but for the
vastly longer part of his course he does nothing but flee through the
wilderness to the bitter sea in the south. Dr. Ross has strikingly
summed up Jordan’s career in the words: “So, in a valley which is
thirsting for water, the Jordan rushes along to an inglorious end.” Yet
that is only one aspect of the matter. Jordan gave Israel her last story
of Elijah and her first of Christ’s ministry. Neither association is of
the kindly sort which a nation’s sentiment usually gathers round its
rivers. There is, as it were, the glitter of fire from the prophet’s
departure for ever lending to these brown waters a sort of unearthly
grandeur. Those fiery horses which bathed their feet here take the place
of the gentle memories of generations of lovers or little children. Yet
that is true to the spirit of the river. To Israel it stood for a very
forceful and practical fact. Their first crossing of Jordan began their
national life in Palestine and cut them off from the desert. So, to the
end, the Jordan stood for this to them, and that was much. Jordan
created no great city as Abana created Damascus; but it streamed down
the side of the east, flinging, as it were, a great arm round the land,
claiming it from the desert, and proclaiming this to be oasis and the
home of men. Disraeli characteristically writes: “All the great things
have been done by the little nations. It is the Jordan and the Ilyssus
that have civilised the modern races.” And truly it is the Jordan that
is in great part responsible for the Hebrew share in that
civilisation--not by his material gifts, indeed, which were ever
ungenerously given and carelessly gathered, but by his sentiment of
isolation and aloofness from the rest of the Eastern world, to which we
owe much that is best in our inheritance from Israel.

For the homelier uses and gentler thoughts of Israel’s waters we must
turn to the lesser fountains and streams. There is, it is true, much
disillusionment for the sentimentalist even here. Remembering the sweet
music in which they have been sung--the “Song of the Well” (“Spring up,
O Well, sing ye unto it!”) or the “gently flowing waters” of the 23rd
Psalm--one expects the perfection of purity and freshness. Early
tradition has pictured the angel Gabriel meeting with Mary at the
village spring of Nazareth; nor is that the only Syrian fountain by
which the footsteps of angels have been traced. All the more trying is
the reality. Hideously tattooed women squat by the sweetest springs,
fling filthy garments into them, and beat them with stones till the
stream flows brown below them; or they toil wearily a mile or two away
from their villages to fill the heavy water-pots, beasts of burden
rather than mothers in Israel. Of cleanliness the natives have not the
remotest idea. We used to see them filling their vessels from a stream
where our horses were being washed down after their day’s ride, and they
seemed on principle to choose a spot just below that where the horse was
standing. Often the water seemed calculated to assuage hunger rather
than thirst. The natives drank it freely when it was mere mud in
solution; and even when it was clear, the glass bottles on the table
sometimes presented the appearance of lively and well-stocked aquariums.
Our squeamishness was unintelligible even to our camp-servants, who
drank in defiance large draughts of the water we refused. The landmarks
of the hot journey are the pools where one may bathe, and the first
sight of Elisha’s Fountain and the Well of Harod is refreshing to
remember still. But one touch of the bottom mud sufficed to bring to the
surface a gas which sent us posthaste to our stores of quinine--and yet
the deliciousness of the plunge was worth the risk!

The spell of the fountains remains in spite of all, and no traveller
wonders that the ancient men revered them as sacred places. Israel
exulted in the forcefulness of her larger rivers, but hardly knew their
kindlier resources. Her affection was kept for those wells and
streamlets which flowed past her doors and made glad her cities. It is a
land of dried-up torrent-beds, and no river made glad any City of God
except at the seasons when God had filled it with His rain. In such a
land a wayside well like Jacob’s counts for more than our Western
imagination can realise. Property in water was an older institution than
property in land. These wayside wells and “sealed fountains” refreshed
men from time immemorial in the very presence of their enemies. They
were the choicest riches of their owners. The journey from south to
north leads one ever more frequently in among such springs, but many
towns of the south are built at places where there is abundance of
them. Hebron has twelve little fountains; Gaza fifteen. In Samaria they
burst forth in every valley, and the vale of Nablus is a net-work of
rivulets, springing, it is said, from no fewer than eighty sources. In
Galilee they are still more abundant. At Khan Minyeh, supposed by many
to be the site of the ancient Capernaum, the ruins are mostly those of
aqueducts, and springs break forth and stream in little rivers

The beauty and refreshing coolness of such fountains is very great. The
dripping walls of the Khan Minyeh aqueducts are covered with magnificent
bunches of maidenhair, whose fronds were the broadest we had ever seen.
The Well of Harod, close by the stream where Gideon tested his soldiers,
is one of the loveliest spots imaginable. There is a little cave, where
the pebbles shine up blue through the shallow water; ferns grow in its
crannies, and at the side a clear spring, two feet broad and five inches
deep, splashes into the pool from a recess entirely hidden by hanging
maidenhair. Nor is the natural beauty of these springs their only charm.
When one remembers the days of old through which they flowed, and the
men who stooped to drink of them so along ago, all that was most sacred
and most heroic to one’s childhood lives again, and speaks to the heart.
Ay! and to the conscience too; for these were the springs that gave to
Bible men their metaphors of a fountain opened for sin and for
uncleanness; this is the land in which it sprang up and from which it
has flowed forth with cleansing and refreshment for the whole earth.


The road at the left of the picture is the main road to the north from



Nothing could better illustrate the completeness of the change through
which Israel passed when she exchanged a nomadic for a settled life than
the great importance which the idea of _the city_ has in the Bible.
Kinglake describes the Jordan as “a boundary between the people living
under roofs and the tented tribes that wander on the farther side.” The
very name of “city,” applied to these grotesque little hamlets, shews
how seriously they took themselves, and compels an amused respect for so
mighty a little self-importance, for a “King” of that time might be
compared with a chairman of parish council to-day. The idea of the city
became more and more part of the religion of Israel as Jerusalem rose to
religious as well as civil importance. To them God was a city-dweller,
and there is an eastern saying about lonely wanderers journeying
homeless towards the sunset, that they are “going to God’s gate.”

The changing history of the land has passed it through many phases, and
no doubt there are far wider differences between the centuries in
respect of men’s dwellings than in respect of those natural features of
the land which we have been studying in the preceding pages. This
chapter will describe present conditions. And yet in spite of changes
the aspect of things must be pretty much what it always was. Men
gathered into cities on some strongly fortified hill for purposes of
war, or around some holy place for worship, or in some fertile valley
for safe agriculture; and the sites thus chosen are retained for the
most part. With the exception of the wandering tents, which are
occasionally seen throughout the land, there is hardly a solitary
dwelling in Palestine which is not a ruin. And the want of good roads,
together with the uncertain government, seems still to keep the village
communities more apart than they are in most countries. Each village has
a character and a reputation of its own, and cherishes views regarding
its neighbours which it is not slow to impart either to them or to
foreigners. The colour of these townships divides them into the three
classes of our title. Damascus and Beyrout are beyond the scope of the
present description--Damascus, the greyest city in the world so far as
age is concerned; and Beyrout, the over-grown white town upon which the
ends of the world are come, leaving it little individual character of
its own. Keeping to the south of these, we have the clearly marked
division, with little overlapping. A brown village may indeed have a
white church or mosque gleaming from its bosom, and the walls of some
towns besides Jerusalem are grey; yet in the main it is a land of brown
villages, white towns, and one grey city.

       *       *       *       *       *

The villages are very brown--“dust-coloured,” as they have been happily
called. Seen from a distance they generally look inviting, but it takes
the traveller no long time to believe that a near approach will
certainly disillusionise him. They have many sorts of charm in the
distance. Some of them are set up on the edge of a hill, and these seen
from below present all the appearance of fortification, their flat roofs
and perpendicular sides giving them an angular and military aspect.
Others are surrounded by neatly walled and cultivated olive-yards which
give the promise of a well-conditioned village. In the rare instances
where trees are planted among the dwellings, the flat brown roofs seem
to nestle among the branches in delightful contentment and restfulness.
Where trees are absent there is generally a high cactus hedge, serving
as an enclosing wall, which sets the village in a pleasant green. Even
those hamlets which have about them no green of any kind are not
uninviting, especially if they are built on a hill-slope. There is a
peculiar formality and neatness given by irregular piles of flat-roofed
buildings overlapping each other at different levels. But as you
approach, all is disillusionment. The trees seem to detach themselves
and stand apart in the untidy paths. The cactus hedge is repulsive, with
its spiked pulpy masses and its bare and straggling roots. The brown
walls seem to decay before your eyes, and the village seen from within
its own street changes to a succession of ruinous heaps of débris, with
excavations into the mud of the hillside. If, as at Nain, there be a
white-walled church or mosque in the place, it seems to stand alone in a
long moraine of ruins. An acrid smell hangs upon the air, for the fuel
is dried cakes of dung. These are plastered over the walls of low ovens
into which the mud seems to swell in great blisters by the street-side.
In some of these ovens crowds of filthy children and tattooed women are
sitting, while the men loiter in idle rows along the house walls. When
suddenly you say to yourself that this is Shunem, or this Nain, or
Magdala, the disappointment is complete.

In some places the houses are built of stones gathered from the ancient
ruins of the neighbourhood (Colonel Conder believes that in hardly any
instance are the stones fresh quarried). Other houses consist simply of
four walls of mud, with a roof of the same material laid upon branches
set across. A small stone roller may be seen lying somewhere on the
roof, for in heat the mud cracks and needs to be rolled now and then to
keep the rain from leaking through. The sheikh, or headman of the
village, has a better house--often the one respectable habitation in the
place, but suggestive of a ruined tower at that. It is a two-storeyed
building, whose great feature is the public hall, or reception-room,
where local matters are discussed and strangers interviewed. There is no
glass in the windows, and the strong sunlight deepens the gloom of the
interiors to a rich brown darkness with points of high light and
colour. The shade is precious in these sun-smitten places, and Conder
narrates an incident which often recurs to mind in them. It was in the
cave of the Holy House at Nazareth, the reputed home of Jesus in His
boyhood. The visitor “observed to the monk that it was dark for a
dwelling-house, but he answered very simply, ‘The Lord had no need of
much light.’” The rooms are almost bare of furniture, a bed and a few
water-jars in a corner being sometimes the only objects visible. In some
of them the floor space is divided into two levels, half the room being
a platform two or three feet higher than the other half. On this
platform the family lives, while the cattle occupy the lower part; and
along the edge of the platform there are hollows in its floor, which
serve as mangers for the beasts. No doubt it was in such a manger that
Jesus was laid in Bethlehem.

The inhabitants of these villages are the Fellahin, of whom Conder has
given so interesting a description.[13] He recognises in them a people
of almost unmixed ancient stock. Distinct from Bedawin and from Turks,
they are the “modern Canaanites,” probably descendants of the original
inhabitants whom Israel displaced. These were never quite exterminated;
and although there have no doubt been many minor instances of the
absorption of other breeds, yet in the main they remain very much as
they were when they talked with Jesus in Aramaic, or even as they were
in days much earlier than His. A slight enrichment to their lives has
been made by each of the invaders, and reminiscences of Israel, Rome,
the early Christians, the Crusaders, may be found blended with their
Mohammedanism. But they are conservative to the last degree, and any
radical change seems an impossibility among them. Many things contribute
to this conservatism, among which perhaps the chief is the tradition of
intermarriage between the inhabitants of the same village. Another
factor is their extraordinary ignorance, combined with a pride no less
remarkable. It would be difficult to find anywhere men so self-satisfied
on such small capital of merit. A third cause of their immovableness is
to be found in the usury and oppression by which they are held down; and
even their local self-government--that _imperium in imperio_ which
prevails under the larger oppression of the Turk--keeps up, so far as it
is allowed, the ancestral ways and thoughts. In one respect this
conservatism of theirs is a gain to the world: it has preserved among
them those habits of speech and manner with which the Bible has made us
all so familiar; and it is to them, with all their faults, that we owe
much of the “sacramental value” of Palestine travel.

As for their faults, no doubt they are many, but it is not for the
passing stranger to attempt an estimate of their character. The most
obvious lapses are sins of speech, and one always has the impression
that the interpreter is toning down as he translates. One can see that
property is insecure, and life by no means so sacred as in the West. One
incident brought this home to us vividly. Some of our party had been
detained on an exploring excursion till after dark. When we asked a
group of natives what could have become of them, the answer was more
significant than reassuring, for they pointed with their fingers
vertically downwards! It was not so bad as that, however, for we soon
heard revolver shots, and answered them. We fired into a field, aiming
at a large stack of corn to prevent accidents. Conceive our horror when
a silent figure in flowing robes rose from the centre of the stack! He
was spending the night there to keep his property from thieves. For the
rest, it is their laziness that strikes one most forcibly. Their
agriculture is as leisurely as it is primitive. They sit while reaping,
and thresh by standing upon boards studded with flints, which oxen draw
over the threshing-floors. Their ploughs are but iron-shod sticks which
scratch the surface of the field. In outlandish districts they are
described as mere savages, but we saw little to justify such a
criticism. They are uncompromisingly dirty everywhere, yet their food is
simple, and they appear in the main to be healthy enough. At first one’s
impression of them is of universal gloom, sulky and contemptuous; but
the mood soon changes if you stay among them for a little time, and the
knit brows relax to a smiling childishness.

       *       *       *       *       *

Of white towns, with a population between 3000 and 3500, there are about
a dozen in Palestine, of which, excluding Damascus and Beyrout, the best
known are Haifa and Acre, Tyre and Sidon, Tiberias, Jenin, Nablus,
Bethlehem, Hebron, Gaza, Jaffa. They shine from far as you approach
them. Some, like Jenin, gleam most picturesquely from among palm trees;
others, like Nazareth seen from Jezreel, shew like stars of white in
high mountain valleys; and yet others, like Bethshan, appear “like white
islands in the mouth of an estuary.” The nearer view of Nazareth, when
the hill has been climbed and the town suddenly reveals itself, is one
of rare beauty. You are looking down into an oval hollow full of clean
and bright houses. Many cypress trees and spreading figs enrich the
prospect, and the whole picture is most pleasing. Bethlehem, again, has
a picturesqueness that is all its own. Approaching it from the south,
the track turns sharply into a valley whose end is entirely blocked by a
lofty hill, covered along its whole length with shining white masonry
set far up against the sky. It looks trim and newly finished; and one
hardly knows whether to be delighted or vexed that Bethlehem should be
so workmanlike a place.

But it is the sea-coast towns which are the most characteristic of their
class. Tyre is a surprisingly living and wide-awake place still, and the
name recalls ever some vista of blue sea with ships seen through the
white arches or rich foliage that decorate the town’s western front.
Jaffa is still more surprising. It is usual to embark at Port Said late
in the evening, and when you wake in the morning and find the steamer at
anchor, the first sight of Palestine that greets you is Jaffa, framed in
the brass circle of the port-hole--a very perfect and brilliant little
picture. The town is set well up, a conical


hill of sparkling colour, backed, as we first saw it, by cloudless
Syrian sky, into which it ran its two minarets. It was larger than we
had imagined, and much loftier, with a very bold and gaily tilted
edge-line--a city set on its hill, and with a mighty consciousness of
being so set, like Coventry Patmore’s old English cottage. Dark-leaved
trees, red roofs, and occasional jewel-like points of green, where
copper cupolas have been weathered, light up the picture into one of the
most ideal of its kind.

Within, the white towns shew a strange mixture of splendour and of
sordidness. The streets are aggressively irregular, and the whole
impresses one as at once ancient and unfinished. The wider spaces are
full of colour and of noise, and the houses which surround them are a
patchwork of all manner of buildings, with smaller structures leaning
against their sides, and gaudy awnings of ragged edge protecting
doorways from the sun. Where the street narrows, it is filled with
crowds of men, women, and children, and laden donkeys pushing them aside
as they pass along. There are lanes, also, in deep shadow, with
buttresses and long archways converting them into high and narrow
tunnels. The shopkeepers in these lanes sit behind their piles of
merchandise and converse in shrill voices with neighbours on the other
side, not six feet away. The whole appearance of the town is that of
close-huddled dwellings, which have squeezed themselves into as little
space as possible, and have been forced to expand upwards for want of
lateral room.

These towns are the mingling-places of Syria--crucibles of its national
life, in which new and composite races are being molten. One or two of
them, like Nablus and Hebron, are inhabited chiefly by a fanatical
Moslem population, and in these life stagnates. But the others are open
to the world. In the past, long before the modern stream of travellers
came, this process was going on. In very early times the towns were
recruited by the neighbouring Canaanites and Arabs. They were, as they
still are, so insanitary that if it were not for such additions their
population would soon die out. In Christ’s time the Greek and Roman
world poured itself into them; then came the long train of Christian
pilgrims; after that the Crusader hosts. Each of these, and many other
incursions, have helped to mix the race of townsfolk. In Bethlehem and
elsewhere there are many descendants of the Crusaders, whose fair hair
and complexion tells its own tale. But the mingling of races has gone on
with quite a new rapidity during the last few decades. Trade and travel
have combined to force the West upon the East. Circassians, Kurds,
Turks, Jews, Africans, Cypriotes have settled there. Travellers who have
twice visited the land, with an interval of some years between their
visits, are struck by the sudden and sweeping change. Even the passing
visitor cannot fail to perceive it. The villagers remain apart,
intermarrying within the village or with neighbouring Fellahin. The
townspeople bring their brides from other towns, and sometimes from
other nations. Many kinds of imported goods are exposed for sale in the
bazaars. There are parts of Damascus where nothing is sold that was not
made in Europe. The habits of the West are also invading towns.
Intoxicating liquors are freely sold, and in Nazareth there are now no
fewer than seventeen public-houses. “Paris fashions”--probably
belated--are ousting the ancient customs. Tattooing is quite out of
fashion among the women of the towns, and knives and forks have
penetrated native houses even in Hebron. The traveller comes into
contact with the townspeople far less fully than with the villagers. In
the towns everybody is minding some business or other of his own, and
the stranger meets with the residenter merely as buyer with seller. Once
only did we see the interior of a town house, and that visit confirmed
the impression of a new and composite life very remarkably. It was in
Tyre. An agreeable native, who had brought some curiosities for sale,
invited us to go home with him and inspect his stock. The house was in a
narrow street, but the rooms were large. His wife sat near the window
smoking a nargileh, her eyebrows painted black, and her face heavily
powdered and rouged. The room was crowded with furniture. There were a
sofa and two European beds with mosquito curtains; a new English
wardrobe of carved walnut, with a large mirror; a kitchen dresser
covered with dinner dishes of the customary European kind. Dry-goods
boxes were drawn forth from under the beds and the sofa, and pasteboard
boxes from drawers and shelves, all filled with the most indescribable
medley of curiosities from rifled tombs. Bracelets, tear-bottles,
ear-rings came to light in rapid succession. Finally, a square foot of
lead-work appeared--part of a leaden winding-sheet which had recently
been torn off an ancient corpse in a sarcophagus--a heavy shroud, finely
ornamented with deep-moulded garlands and figures. Our hosts were
good-humoured and pleasant people, who conducted the conversation in
some five different languages, and appeared to combine in themselves and
their properties several centuries of human life.

       *       *       *       *       *

The grey city of Jerusalem stands unique among the towns of Palestine.
With the brown villages it has nothing in common. The immense variety of
its buildings, with their domes, flat terraces, minarets, and sloping
roofs, distinguishes it at once from the rectangular masses of the
villages. As if on purpose to emphasise the contrast, one of these
villages has set itself right opposite the city across a narrow valley.
Looking from the southern wall of the Haram enclosure, this village of
Siloam is seen sprawling along the opposite hillside, a mere drift of
square hovels seen across some fields of artichokes. Nothing could
appear more miserable; inferiority is confessed in every line of it.

More might be said for the description of Jerusalem as the largest of
the white towns. It is, like them, a centre where races mingle; indeed
it is _the_ centre of such mingling. All roads lead to it from north,
south, east, and west; and when one suddenly comes upon one of those old
Roman roads which make for Jerusalem with such purposeful and grim
directness over the Judean mountains, one realises that this has been
the centre and mingling-place of nationalities for many centuries. Yet
on the spot an obvious distinction is felt at once. There are two
Jerusalems: the old one within the walls, and a new one spreading on the
open ground to the west and north. This “new Levantine city side by side
with the old Oriental city” is quite a modern place. When Stanley wrote
his _Sinai and Palestine_ it was unsafe to inhabit houses outside the
walls. Now such houses are clustered together to the west in a city
which is actually larger than the enclosed one, and whose rows of shops
are hardly distinguishable from those of Western Europe. A strange
medley its buildings are! The best sites are occupied by the great
Russian Cathedral and Hospice, white-walled and leaden-roofed. Beyond
these, embedded in Jewish “colonies,” are the European consulates, with
a Syrian Orphanage and an English Agricultural Settlement farther up the
slope. The Tombs of the Kings lie to the north, in all their desolation,
and the still more desolate Mound of Ashes which is supposed by some to
be a relic of Temple sacrifices; but these are next neighbours to the
Dominican monastery, the Bishop’s house, and the house of that curious
body of Americans known as the “Overcomers”; while on the hill, not a
mile above them, is an English villa. All this and much else pours
itself into the city and mingles in the streets with the very composite
life already dwelling there. Just at the foot of the hill which Gordon
identified as Calvary, while Turkish bugles were blowing from the fort,
we saw two Syrians engaged in rough horseplay, a party of Americans and
English riding, some tonsured and cowled monks on foot, and a travelling
showman with an ape clinging to him in terror of a tormenting crowd of
Jews and Mohammedans; while poor women, unconscious of any part in so
strange a tableau, were returning to the city with full waterpots on
their heads.

Yet in Jerusalem all this makes a different impression from that of
other towns. The mingling of races here is but, as it were, the surface
appearance of a far more wonderful fact. From the days of Solomon,
Israel centralised her life in Jerusalem. On that hill the mountainland
seems to gather itself as in a natural centre, typical and
representative of the whole. There the nation centred its life also, in
“the mountain throne, and the mountain sanctuary of God.” Jeroboam’s
attempt to decentralise cost the nation dear; but in spite of that
attempt the centralisation took effect, and made her the most composite
of cities from the first. All ends of the earth meet here as in a focus.
Laden camels of the Arameans from the far East are making for the city,
and ships flying like a cloud of homing doves to their windows are
bearing precious freights to her port. History and religion are
compressed within the walls. On the spot no one can forget the ancient
geography which regarded Jerusalem as the centre of the earth, with Hell
vertically below, and the island of Purgatory its antipodes, and
Heaven’s centre overhead. In the Church of the Holy Sepulchre they shew
a flattened ball in a little hollow place as the centre of the world. As
in some other cases of faulty science, an imaginative mind may discover
here a happy truth beneath the error. The composite life of Jerusalem
without the walls is but of yesterday, that within the walls is hoary
with age.

We have called it “a grey city,” and even in respect of colour this is a
true name. Not that there is any one colour of Jerusalem. In the varying
lights of sunrise, noon, afternoon, and evening, its colour changes. At
one time it hangs, airy and dreamlike, over the steep bank of the Valley
of Jehoshaphat; at another time it seems to sit solid on its rock, every
roof and battlement picked out in photographic clearness; again, in the
twilight of evening, all is sombre with rich purple shadows. There are
spots of colour, too, which break its monotonous dull hue. The Mosque of
Omar, with its faint metallic greenish colour, stands in contrast to
everything, and makes a background of the city for its isolated beauty.
There is another dome, that of the Synagogue of the Ashkenazim, whose
colour is a lustrous blue-green, shining over the city almost
luminously. White minarets and spires are seen here and there, and a few
red-tiled roofs have found place within the walls. Several spots are
softened by the foliage of trees, and the pools, whose edges are formed
of picturesque and irregular house-sides, catch and intensify the
colours in their rich reflections. Yet, in spite of all that, Jerusalem
is grey. The walls are grey with a touch of orange in it. The houses,
massed and huddled close within, are grey with a touch of blue. They are
built roughly, the stones divided by broad seams of mortar, and most of
them in their humble way conform to the fashion set by the Mosque of
Omar and the Holy Sepulchre, and are domed. But the domes of ordinary
houses are far from shapely, and suggest the fancy that the scorching
sun has blistered the flat roofs.

By far the best view of Jerusalem is that which is seen from the Mount
of Olives, as one approaches the city by the hill-road from Bethany. Her
environs are of interest from many associations--there, on the Mount of
Offence, Solomon offered sacrifices to idols; yonder, on the hill of
Scopus, the main body of Titus’ troops was posted; here, near where we
stand, is the place of the agony in Gethsemane. For many days one might
go round about the city, every day gaining new knowledge of its story.
But what the first eye-shot gives is this: a sharp angle formed by the
two valleys of Jehoshaphat and Hinnom; steep banks rising from their
bottoms to the walls, which they overlap in an irregular and wavy line;
within the walls, glancing back from the angle which they form above the
junction of the valleys, the eye runs up a gradually rising expanse of
close-packed building, which is continued more sparsely in the long
rolling slope beyond, to the ridge of Scopus in the north, and to the
distant sweep of long level mountain-line in the west. It is as if the
whole city had slidden down and

[Illustration: JOPPA FROM THE SEA.]

been caught by that great angle of wall just before it precipitated
itself into the gorges.

To see the grey city rightly, and feel how grey it is, you must view it
across these gorges. The more distant environs are detached from the
city. They are cultivated in patches, and dotted with modern buildings
of various degrees of irrelevance. But these are mere accidents, which
the place seems to ignore. The gorges themselves are part and parcel of
the city, and they stand for the overflow of her sad and desolate
spirit. Their sides are banks of rubbish--the wreckage and débris of a
score of sieges, the accumulation of three thousand years. You look from
the lower pool of Siloam in the valley of Hinnom, up a long dreary slope
of dark grey rubbish, down which a horrible black stream of liquid filth
trickles, tainting the air with its stench. Far off above you stands the
wall, which in old days enclosed the pool. Here the city seems to have
shrunk northwards, as if in some horror of conscience. The Field of
Blood and the Hill of Evil Counsel are just across the gorge to the
south. The valleys are full of tombs, those on the city side for the
most part Mohammedan, while the lower slopes of Olivet are paved with
the flat tombstones of Jews.

What a stretch of history unrolls itself to the imagination of him who
lingers on the sight of Jerusalem! The boundaries seem to dwindle, till
that which stands there is the old grey battle-beaten fortress of the
Jebusites, the last post held by her enemies against Israel. David
conquers it, and the procession of priests and people bring up to its
gate the ark, for the celebration of whose entrance tradition has
claimed the 24th Psalm. A new city rises, and falls, and rises again,
through more than twenty sieges and rebuildings. Assyrians, Babylonians,
Romans, Moslems, Crusaders batter at its gates. The level of the streets
rises through the centuries, till now the traveller walks on a pavement
thirty or forty feet above the floor of the ancient city. To discover
the old foundations, the explorers of our time have sunk shafts which at
some parts of the wall touch bottom 120 feet below the present surface.
Far below the slighter masonry of the present wall, with its
battlemented Turkish work, lie the huge stones of early days, some of
which bear still the marks of Phœnician masons.[14]

The gates, of course, are modern, though in some of them there are
immense stones of very ancient date, whose rustic work the Turkish
builders have cut away, and scored the flat surface with imitation seams
to make them match the small square stones of the building above. Yet
the positions of the ancient gates are not difficult to fix, and modern
ones do duty for some of them. Others are built up with solid masonry,
notably the double-arched “Gate Beautiful,” which was thus closed
because of a tradition that Messiah would return and enter the city by
it. It was from this gate that in olden times the man went forth with
the scapegoat that was to bear the sins of the people to the wilderness.
The interior (which, however, dates from the seventh century) is a rich
and beautiful piece of architecture, with massive monolithic pillars
supporting heavy arches, and an elaborately decorative entablature
cornicing the walls. It is a dreary little place, with its litter of
débris and its flights of bats; and its dead wall, pierced only with
loophole windows, now affords neither entrance for Christ nor exit for
sin. What memories crowd the mind of the beholder as he looks upon these
gates! Here, seven centuries ago, went out the weeping company of the
inhabitants, when Saladin took the city. There, eleven centuries
earlier, the Jews set fire to the Roman siege-engine, the flames were
blown back upon the fortifications, and the wall fell and made an
entrance for the legions. That was near the Jaffa Gate. Here again, by
the Damascus Gate, if Gordon’s theory be the correct one, the Saviour
passed to Calvary; and there may be stones there on which the cross
struck, as Simon the Cyrenian staggered out under its weight.

It is indeed a strange city, a city of grey religion, in which three
faiths cherish their most hallowed memories of days far past. But “far
past” is written on every memory. That Beautiful Gate has indeed shut
out Christ, and shut in all manner of sin unforgiven. The land, as has
been already said, seems still inhabited by Christ, but He has forsaken
Jerusalem; it is almost impossible to feel any sense of His presence
there. This is a city of grey history, whose age and decrepitude force
themselves upon every visitor. It has been well described as having
still “the appearance of a gigantic fortress.” But it is a weird
fortress, with an air of petrified gallantry about it, and an infinite
loneliness and desolation. No river flows near to soften the landscape.
A fierce sun beats down in summer there upon “a city of stone in a land
of iron with a sky of brass.” But for the sound of bugles, whose calls
seem always to shock one with their savage liveliness, it might be a
fossil city. Built for eternity, setting the pattern for that “New
Jerusalem” which has been the Utopia of so many devout souls, it seems a
sarcasm on the great promise, a city “with a great future behind it.”
What has this relic to do with a blessed future for mankind--this rugged
bareness of stone, this contempt for beauty, this pitiful sordidness of
detail? History and religion seem to mourn together here, and one sees
in every remembrance of it those two weeping figures, the most
significant of all, for its secular and religious life--Titus, who
“gazed upon Jerusalem from Scopus the day before its destruction, and
wept for the sake of the beautiful city”; and Jesus Christ who, when
things were ripening for Titus, foresaw the coming of the legions as He
looked upon Jerusalem from Olivet, “and when He was come near He beheld
the city and wept over it.”



Since the days of the ancient Canaanites Palestine has been often
invaded. The composite life of the towns we have already noted. The
history of Palestine shows how composite the life of the whole land has
become. Its central position among the nations is known to every one. To
the south, shut off by but a strip of desert, are Egypt and Africa; to
the east lie Arabia, Persia, and the farther Asiatic continent; easily
accessible on the north are Asia Minor, Turkey, and Russia; while ships
almost daily arrive which unite it on the west with Europe and America.
Yet one day’s ride along any of its chief highways will do more to show
the traveller what that central position practically means, than all his
study of it in books and on maps. For in one day’s ride he may meet
Kurds, Circassians, Arabs, Syrians, Turks, Cypriotes, Greeks, Russians,
Egyptians, Nubians, Austrians, French, Germans, English, and Americans.
In a mission school in Damascus were found some little dark-eyed Syrian
children speaking English with an unmistakable Australian accent. They
had been born and brought up in Queensland.

It is in Hauran that this mixture of races is most forcibly thrust upon
one’s notice. In the villages south of Damascus, the crowd which gathers
round the tents is sure to contain several smiling negroes, some of
them branded on the cheeks; Circassians, with sickle-shaped nose and
thin lips, sharp-featured and small-limbed men with an untamable
expression on their bitter faces; Arabs, darker of complexion, and more
languid of eye; and Turkish soldiers, thin and smallpox bitten. There
are to be found the Jew, sneering complacently at the inferior world;
the fanatical Moslem, who will break the water-bottle your lips have
touched; the Druse, who objects to coffee and tobacco, and to whom you
hesitate to say “Good morning,” lest he may have conscientious scruples
about that; and the cross-bred ruffian, who has no scruples about
anything. Everything helps to strengthen the impression. In Damascus it
seems always to be Sunday with one or other portion of the population,
and a different set of shutters are up each day for nearly half the
week. The railway, it might be supposed, must have blended the life of
the composite East, but it only serves to emphasise the compositeness.
In one of the Hauran stations we had some hours to wait. We spread our
rugs in the shadow of the station-house, with a Turkish officer, an Arab
soldier, and a long line of camels to watch till lunch was ready. When
the time came, the hall of the booking-office was cleared of passengers
of a dozen different nationalities, and our lunch was spread on the
floor, just in front of the ticket-window! The train came at last, an
hour late, drawn by a rather blasé-looking engine. Then began that babel
of tongues which shows how nations meet in the East. All the world
seemed to have sent its representatives to that train--its wealth to
the white-cushioned first-class; its middle-class to the bare boards of
the second; its poverty to the cattle-trucks dignified by the name of
third,--while behind the carriages came two waggons loaded with grain,
their owner perched high on one, and a baby’s cradle on the other.

All this phantasmagoria of the present helps one to realise better the
extraordinary history of the past. For thousands of years the flow of
manifold human life through Syria has been continuous. At the mouth of
the Dog River, whose valley has from time immemorial served as a main
passage from the sea to the East for armies, there is, cut in smoothed
faces of the solid rock, the most remarkable collection of inscriptions
in the world. The Assyrian slab shows still the familiar bearded figure
of the monarch with his air of strength untempered by compassion. The
Egyptian slab records its invasion in hieroglyphics. The Greek, Roman,
and French stones tell their similar tale. Throughout the land the same
thing repeats itself. In Hauran we found a fine Egyptian hieroglyphic
embedded in the mud-and-rubble interior wall of a private courtyard, an
altar of the time of Titus lying exposed on a hillside, and many
Graeco-Roman inscriptions built into the walls of houses.[15] The five
names which we have selected from so great a number of invaders are
those whose mark upon the land has been deepest and most permanent.



Every traveller is impressed by the very meagre remains of a material
kind which Israel has left for curious eyes. In a museum at Jerusalem
many of these have been gathered--fragments of pottery and glass, coins,
and other relics,--but the total number of them is surprisingly small.
There are, of course, those huge stones to which reference has been
already made, cut in a style which experts used to regard as distinctive
enough to enable them to identify it as Jewish work.[16] But
inscriptions are extremely rare. Phœnicia and Israel seem to have
purposely avoided the habit of Assyrian and Egyptian kings, who wrote
upon everything they built. There is, of course, the Moabite stone,
whose characters are closely allied to Hebrew writing. But with that
exception there is hardly any certain Hebrew inscription extant except
one. That is indeed a writing of romantic fame. There is a tunnel known
as Hezekiah’s Aqueduct, connecting the Fountain of the Virgin with the
Pool of Siloam at Jerusalem. Its length is rather more than the third of
a mile; its


Two of the circular towers and wall which defended the ancient Tiberias
are seen in the foreground.]

height varies from five or six feet to one foot four inches. Its course
bends in a wide sweep which adds greatly to the distance, and is said to
have been taken in order to avoid tombs. There are a number of _culs de
sac_, where the workmen had evidently lost their way. The flow of water
is intermittent, so that Sir Charles Warren and his friends took their
lives in their hands when they first explored it. Their mouths were
often under water, “and a breath of air could only be obtained by
twisting their faces up. To keep a light burning, to take measurements,
and make observations under these circumstances was a work of no little
difficulty; and yet, after crawling through mud and water for four
hours, the honour of finding the inscription was reserved for a naked
urchin of the town, who, some years after, announced that he had seen
writing on the wall, whereupon Professor Sayce, and Herr Schick, and Dr.
Guthe plunge naked into the muddy tunnel with acid solutions, and
blotting-paper, and everything necessary to make squeezes, and emerge
shivering and triumphant with the most interesting Hebrew inscription
that has ever been found in Palestine.”[17] The inscription describes
the meeting of the two parties of miners, who, like the engineers of
modern tunnels, began to bore simultaneously at opposite ends.

Failing any wealth of such material remains, we must seek for Israel in
the human life of the land. Jews are there in abundance, gathered, for
the most part, within their four holy cities of Jerusalem, Tiberias,
Hebron, and Safed. In Hebron they are a persecuted minority; in Safed
they form about half the population; in Jerusalem, where there are more
than seventy synagogues, it was estimated in 1898 that out of the 60,000
inhabitants 41,000 were Jews, nearly six times the number of the
Mohammedans; while in Tiberias also they form about two-thirds of the
population. Besides the Jews resident in these cities there are others
both in the older colonies and in the new settlements of the Zionist
movement, which have been created by the generosity of Jewish
millionaires. Reports differ as to the success of these interesting
experiments, and the knowledge of them which can be obtained from a
passing visit is a quite inadequate ground for forming any judgment. Mr.
Zangwill eloquently pleads for the restoration of the land to its
ancient people; Colonel Conder assures us that the Jew is incapable of
becoming a thoroughly successful agriculturist, though as a shopkeeper,
a money-changer, or, in some cases, as a craftsman, he prospers in his
native land. Certain it is that Jews are gathering to it from Russia,
Poland, Germany, Spain, Arabia, and many other countries, with what
ultimate result the future alone can shew.

It would be unfair and misleading to take the present Jewish population
of Syria as the representative of ancient Israel. It still perpetuates,
indeed, the sects of Pharisees and Sadducees, and it still holds aloof
from the surrounding population with that independence and tenacity
which has marked Israel from of old. Crucified by Romans, butchered and
tortured by Crusaders, oppressed and driven forth by Moslems, this
marvellous people lives yet and will live on. In Europe the lot of the
Jew has been and still is a bitter one. In Syria to-day the lowest and
most insulting term of abuse among the Fellahin is to call each other
Jews. Yet the spirit of the people is not broken by oppression, as is
the spirit of the Fellahin. The Jew takes what comes and says little;
but he believes in himself, his past and his future, with a faith
indomitable as it is daring. Still it must be confessed that the Jew of
Palestine is generally repulsive. Mark Twain’s description of them as he
saw them at Tiberias is hardly overdrawn--“long-nosed, lanky,
dyspeptic-looking ghouls with the indescribable hats on, and a long curl
dangling down in front of each ear.” The hats are circular black felt
plates, giving to their wearers a peculiar air of conscious rectitude
and semi-clerical superiority; the curls are grown for the convenience
of the archangel in the resurrection! The younger men and lads of
Tiberias impress one as the most unpleasant-looking of all the
inhabitants of the land. They are so neurotic and effeminate, and at the
same time so monstrously supercilious. The Jewish quarters are famous
for their excessive dirt. In the visitors’ book of the hotel at
Tiberias, Captain MacGregor wrote “that the _Rob Roy_ and myself had
stopped there two nights, and that the canoe was not devoured.” This is
not encouraging, and in part it is the result of mistaken methods. Many
of these Jews are subsidised, and a subsidised religion is inevitably
degrading. A man who receives an income for no other service to his kind
than that he is a Jew is not likely to do credit to his ancestors.

In the Samaritans we have better representatives of the ancient days. No
people in the land have a more pathetic quaintness about them than these
few survivors of antiquity who are still met with in the streets of
Nablus. They preserve the old type of features, for their blood has been
unmixed for more than 2000 years. But they are fast dying out, and only
a remnant of less than 200 individuals is now alive. Difficult of
access, reserved, mysterious, they are the ghosts of ancient Israel, who
seem to haunt rather than to enjoy their former heritage.

In the manners and customs of Syria a still more interesting memorial of
Israel is found. Many of these were not peculiar to Israel, nor was she
the first to cherish them. They are the forms of the general Semitic
stock, of which she was but one people. But the words and ways of Israel
are the only form of Semitic life with which the world is familiar, and
every student of the Bible finds in these the greatest source both of
devout and of scientific interest. In the towns and in Jerusalem there
is still much to remind one of the life so matchlessly delineated in
Scripture. Lean and mangy dogs still sniff around Lazarus at the very
door of Dives. The windows of houses generally face the interior courts,
and the outer walls are blank, so that every door opened after nightfall
contrasts the vivid light of the interior with the “outer darkness” of
the street. Still more in the country, among the Fellahin and the
wandering Arabs, does one seem to live in Bible times. The gipsy-like
Bedawin west of Jordan are certainly degraded by change of nomadic
habits and by contact with the villagers; yet there is enough of their
desert heredity in them to interpret many of the patriarchal stories.
The Arab sitting at noon-day in the shaded edge of his tent, or walking
at eventide in the fields where it is pitched, is the true son of
Abraham and Isaac. When you know him better you will not improbably
recognise Jacob also. Except for tobacco, gunpowder, and coffee, he
lives much as Israel lived in those days of wandering to which her
writings love to trace back her origin. Even these modern innovations
hardly break the continuity. The Arab smokes with such enthusiasm that
it is difficult to imagine his fathers without their chibouk; and his
brass-bound gun might be the heirloom of countless generations. Of the
Fellah and his descent, and his conservatism of the past, we have
already written.

So it comes to pass that he who journeys intelligently through Palestine
reads the history of Israel ever afterwards with a quite new interest.
The Bible is incomparably the best guide-book to Syria; and you seem to
journey through its chapters as you move from place to place. Here is
the fig tree planted in the vineyard; there, the tower guarding the
wine-press. Unmuzzled oxen are trampling the corn on the
threshing-floor, from whence the wind drives the chaff in a glistening
cloud. Women are still coming from the city to draw water, and grinding
in couples at the mill. We saw the prodigal son, drinking and singing at
Beyrout; and the owner of the waggonloads of corn we noted in Hauran had
kept them from the last year on the chance of a drought, which would
raise their prices in the market--he was the rich man of the prophets
who was grinding the faces of the poor. Under the walls of Jezreel a
curious coincidence brought back vividly to mind the tragic fate of
Jezebel. It was there that we first saw people with painted eyes and
faces; and there a horse lay dead with a pack of dogs at work upon the
body. Next morning, as we parted, nothing was left but the skeleton and
the hoofs. The people whom you meet are talking in Bible language. When
they repeat the familiar words of Scripture they are not quoting texts,
but transacting business in their ordinary way. We were told of a
shepherd near Hebron who, when asked why the sheepfolds there had no
doors, answered quite simply, “I am the door.” He meant that at night,
when the sheep were gathered within the circular stone wall of the
enclosure, he lay down in its open entrance to sleep, so that no sheep
might stray from its shelter without wakening him, and no ravenous beast
might enter but across his body. In the north, an American was
endeavouring to persuade a stalwart Syrian lad to try his fortunes in
Chicago. The boy evidently felt the temptation, but he turned smilingly
towards the middle-aged man at his side, and, pointing to him, answered,
“Suffer me first to bury my father.”

But of all our experiences there was one which recalled the ancient life
most vividly, and on that account it may be related here. We had camped
over night near the village of Tell-es-Shihab in Hauran. In the morning
we mounted our horses amid a crowd of villagers, and started for the
village. The men protested loudly, and when we told them we were going
only to search for inscriptions, they assured us that there were none.
In spite of their opposition we rode on, followed by a tumultuous
chorus. A chance remark led finally to an invitation from the headman of
the village to his _menzil_, or reception hall. It was the mention of
the name of Dr. Torrance, of the Tiberias Medical Mission, who, on one
of his journeys, had cured this sheikh of an illness. At the door our
host met us, and most courteously invited us to enter, bowing and
touching our palms with his. The hall was dark, with the great stone
arch characteristic of Hauran architecture spanning its centre. Smoke
had coloured the arch and the rafters a rich dark brown, from whose
shadow swallows flitted continually out into the sunshine and back
again. We were seated on mats, spread with little squares of rich carpet
round three sides of a hollow place in the floor, where a fire of
charcoal burned, surrounded by parrot-beaked coffeepots. This was the
hearth of hospitality, whose fire is never suffered to go out; near it
stood the great stone mortar, in which a black slave was crushing
coffeebeans. The coffee, deliciously flavoured with some cunning herb or
other, was passed round. But the conversation which followed was the
memorable part of that entertainment. In the shadow at the back the
young men who had been admitted sat in silence. The old men, elders of
the village community, sat in a row on stone benches right and left of
the door. The sheikh made many apologies for not having called upon us
at the tents--he had thought we were merchantmen going to buy silk at
Damascus. Then followed endless over-valuation of each other, and
flattery concerning our respective parents and relations. “How long
would we stay under his roof? surely at least till to-morrow or next
day? No, one of us had to catch a steamer at Beyrout? But any steamer
would wait for so great a general,” etc. Until finally our leader came
to the delicate subject of inscriptions, and was made free of the town,
and immediately guided to the Egyptian slab mentioned on p. 87. It was a
perfect specimen of intercourse with Arabs, and it dazed us with its
ancient spell. There is no possibility of hurry. You must despatch your
business by way of a discussion of things in general. Compliments were
as rife and as conventional as those of Abraham and the children of Heth
at Kirjath-Arba, and they were received and given without any pretence
of taking them seriously. The elders sat silently leaning upon their
staves, except now and then, when one of them would slowly rise and
expatiate upon something the sheikh had said--perhaps about camels or
the grain crop--beginning his interruption almost literally in the words
of Job’s friends:--“Hearken to me, I also will shew mine opinion. I will
answer also on my part, I also will shew mine opinion.


The remains of the ancient city are on the olive-clad hill to the

For I am full of matter, the spirit within me constraineth me.”
Altogether it was a scene of the unadulterated East--just such a scene
as might have been witnessed any time these three thousand years.

       *       *       *       *       *

The great memorial of Israel is her religion. To her it was given to
know the Eternal God and to pass on that knowledge to all the nations of
the world. Among the many impressions given by a journey through
Palestine, none is so important and none so strong as this, that the
land was eminently suited for that one purpose and for that alone. She
tried many similar experiments, but they all failed utterly. The
luxurious orientalism of Solomon, the democratic revolt of Jeroboam, the
military ambitions of Baasha, and the attempt at commercial supremacy
which Omri made--each of these was an imitation of one or other of the
contemporary nations. For Israel they were alike impossible. Their
successive failures proclaim her a peculiar people, set in a peculiar
place for a peculiar purpose. For them, as Renan says, “to act like
men”--_i.e._ like all the rest of the world--was a sort of degradation.
All other experiments in greatness failed; their greatness lay solely in
the knowledge of the Lord.



Nothing strikes one more than the contrast in Palestine between the
vanishing of Hebrew buildings and the permanence of Roman ones. You have
come here to a land which you know to have been for many years under
Roman government, but which still to your imagination is Oriental, with
here and there a Roman touch. You find, among the very ancient
buildings, hardly a remaining trace of anything that is not Roman; and
of Roman work you find an amount which probably astonishes you. Before
you have long left Jaffa, some part or other of one of the old Roman
roads making for Jerusalem will be seen. Not long afterwards Bether
comes in sight--that terrible little valley where the blood ran so deep
when the siege ended and the Jews’ last hope was broken. So you move on
from point to point of Roman story until, as you climb the steep ascent
from the Jordan valley to Gadara, you realise that it was when encamped
just here that Vespasian heard the news of Nero’s death and was
proclaimed emperor by his legion.

The Roman work in Palestine seems to exaggerate its peculiar
characteristics, so that here one notices these more distinctly than in
any other land. A Roman tower in Switzerland, a Roman road in
Scotland--certainly they are Roman, but they are not removed from all
things Swiss or Scotch by so vast an interval as that which divides
Roman from native work in Palestine. It is indeed an invasion of arms,
this Roman life--an intrusion of what is, first and last, alien to the
spirit of the place. The traveller to-day, to whom the very dust of this
land is dear, inevitably feels about the Roman relics an air of
obtrusive and uncomprehending indifference. They “cared for none of
these things,” or, if they did care a little now and then and try to
understand, they did it clumsily and unnaturally. Rome’s policy was that
of wide toleration, but her spirit was absolutely unaccommodating. She
might allow her provinces to govern themselves and to worship pretty
much as they chose, but she herself, in her officials and their works,
stood aloof from them and was Rome still. This is to be seen in
Palestine in all its good and in all its bad aspects. In those
solidly-constructed bridges and mighty aqueducts and imperishable
causeways there is the very embodiment of the Roman _virtus_ and
_gravitas_, that output of manhood which never trifled nor spared
itself, that solemn, business-like reality which is so full of purpose.
In this hard _reality_ of Rome there is not only purpose but
pitilessness of force to accomplish what is planned. Every Roman road
you chance upon seems to be feeling its way with an unerring instinct
towards Jerusalem or some other goal, and you know that it will arrive.
Just as impressive, on the other hand, is the sense of Rome’s
limitations. Her works disclose her seeing a certain length, and you
know beyond all doubt that she will get there. But there are very
obvious and very clearly defined limits to the length she ever sees or
will go. The work of Greece is far beyond the furthest reach of Roman
work--the glad spring, the grace of conscious strength that is beautiful
as well as strong, the restfulness withal of perfect harmony that is
thinking of more than merely utilitarian values; of these Rome knows not
the secret. Beside the flight of Greek art she is pedestrian; to the
Greek artist she plays at best but the part of Roman artisan. Forceful,
massive, successful up to its highest desire, the Roman work is finished
and perfect. And it has attained finish and perfection on a lower level
than that of any nation that ever yet dreamed dreams or “looked beyond
the world for truth and beauty.”

Not that there are no other traces of Rome in Syria beyond the stones of
Roman ruins. In many place-names Latin is discernible, and the country
is full of inscriptions of all sorts. A still more permanent mark was
left by that invasion of Roman spirit which, for a time, claimed Israel
for Rome. Rome came to Syria next in succession to the invasion of
Alexander the Great. After his death the Macedonian power remained in
the East, and the seductive spirit of Greek humanism became the rival of
the old Puritan Hebraism of the nation. It was this that led to the Wars
of the Maccabees, who fought for the sterner against the more genial
spirit. As in the days of English Cromwell, the Puritan was invincible
while he remained true to his faith--that singularly effective blend of
patriotism with religious belief which has made itself felt in so many
national histories. The triumph of Hebraism lasted for about a century,
and then came Pompey in 63 B.C. to Jerusalem. Hellenism regained its
ascendency and the Greek cities of Palestine their freedom. About a
quarter of a century later the figure of Herod the Great appears as a
critical factor in the history of Palestine. An Idumean and a Sadducee,
he had neither patriotism nor religion to check his ambition. The path
of glory and of easy advancement, then, was by way of Rome, and there
was much in Herod that found Rome congenial. As a young man he had made
his name by clearing out a notorious band of robbers from the valley
which led down the great road from the Mediterranean to the Sea of
Galilee at Capernaum. This “Vale of Doves” is flanked by precipices
pierced with many caves, in which the robbers lived. Josephus tells us
how Herod fell upon the device of letting down cages with the bravest
of his soldiers. These men, lowered by ropes from the edge of the cliff,
sprang upon the robbers in their cave’s mouth, and when they retreated
within, smoked them out with fires like vermin. The man who contrived
and carried out that design was not unworthy of the title “Great” from
the Roman point of view. He became the centre and the champion of the
new Hellenism, which was really the worship of Rome, touched as Rome was
with the Greek culture she had conquered and envied and sought in vain
to acquire. Rome was clumsily Greek at this time, and Herod was clumsily
Roman. Certainly he would have been a Roman if he could. He was prepared
to go any length to serve his end. At the Banias springs of Jordan he
built a temple to Augustus. Samaria and Cæsarea, his Roman cities, must
have cost him a fabulous sum to build.

Of the actual architectural remains of Rome in Palestine, the smallest
are perhaps the most impressive. Here and there, from south to north,
you come upon tesseræ, the remains of inlaid mosaic floors of the
ancient houses. Sometimes it is single little cubes that turn up among
the gravel of the sea-shore or shine from the newly-ploughed furrow. At
other times broken fragments of a hand-breadth’s size may be found, with
enough variety of colour to suggest the beginning of a pattern. But here
and there you may find whole floors of elaborately designed mosaic, with
concentric circles of various colour and size, with large-scale
pictures, or, as in one case at least, with an ancient map--one of the
most ancient in the world. On many a spot of Palestine you ride over
ground whose stones are capitals of carved pillars, and whose layers of
caked earth disclose fragments of ancient mosaic floors.

The Roman roads are still frequently met with in Palestine, and these,
perhaps more than any other of their works, help the imagination to
realise the old life in its magnificence of power. Whether the causeway
lies bare to the weather across a mountain, or whether it cuts its track
along the sheer cliff of a gorge, there is the same uncompromising
purpose and capacity in it--the stride of the road, that seems to be
aware of whither it is going and the reason for its going there. In the
cities of the Decapolis and others there is generally one straight line
of Roman causeway--the “Street called Straight,” which is by no means
peculiar to Damascus. It was a Roman hobby, this of straightness, and
one of the most characteristic of Roman hobbies. The roads went, so far
as that was possible, up hill and down dale in a direct line from place
to place; and in the cities at least one columned street did the same.
The milestones which may still be found occasionally seem to heighten
the human interest, though that is considerably damped when we realise
that none of these roads date from the early Roman days in Syria. The
paths our Saviour walked on were but tracks, not unlike those which
modern travellers follow.

But the bridges are older, and in some places they are used for traffic
to-day, spanning Jordan and Leontes. There is little causeway at the
ends of them--their one business in these old days was to do the
difficult and needful task of crossing water. Once across, the traveller
might find his path or make it for himself. Parapets are not provided on
the old bridges, and the surface is a flight of broad and shallow steps.
If you walk unwarily and are drowned in the torrent below, that is no
concern of these resolute but unluxurious bridge-builders. Their
business is simply to span the stream. So effectively and
conscientiously have they done this, that even when time and floods have
broken the bridge, you may see the half of it still standing: the huge
pier of stone and of mortar almost harder than stone stands at the side,
and the actual arch is still flung across the water, wedged into an
almost unbreakable strength by its keystone, while all the surface
building above the arch has long been washed away. Such a ruin may be
seen to-day on the coast some miles to the north of Tyre. It was in her
fight with water, either for it in aqueducts or against it in quays and
bridges, that Rome seems to have put out her utmost strength of masonry.
Along the coasts both of the Mediterranean and of the Sea of Galilee,
submerged stones and fragments of building may be seen, which bear
testimony to this; and at Taricheæ, where a large fish-curing trade had
to be provided for, there are remains of a dam and quay where Jordan
swept round in a circle, affording a great length of water-frontage. But
perhaps the most noticeable monuments of Rome in this dry and thirsty
land are the


aqueducts, sections of which still stand in many parts. In the
neighbourhood of Jericho, Laurence Oliphant counted nine different
aqueducts. At Khan Minyeh, believed by some to be the site of Capernaum,
there is a bewildering mass of water-building of many sorts. A
Wasserthurm still stands, whose walls are 12 feet in thickness, and in
all directions water is carried at various levels in channels which run
along the top of mighty banks of masonry. Great stone water-pipes, with
rim and hollow for fitting to the next pipes tightly, lie scattered in
all directions, peeping up through the long grass and ferns, or hiding
among the roots of the thorn trees. Elsewhere are to be seen longer
stretches of aqueduct, whose architects have been able to turn strength
into beauty in a very wonderful fashion. Roman building at its best
relies on the one principle of constructive truth. It never aims at
being pretty; it never fails in being _right_ for the purpose it is
meant to serve. From the point of view of beauty this may often have
produced harsh, material, and heavy work--and indeed that is part of
what we have already referred to as the limitation of Roman achievement.
But the highest beauty is, after all, a matter far more of truth than of
ornament, and there are many remains of Roman work in which such high
beauty has been unconsciously attained. They built to accomplish some
definite practical purpose, and for that end they built thoroughly and
well. The result is the beauty which comes like a crown upon honest work
beyond the design of the workers--a beauty of wholeness, adequacy,
truth, which is perhaps not so far removed from the Hebrew idea of the
“beauty of holiness” as careless observers might be disposed to think.
This is seen in many a fragment of the Roman aqueducts. These irregular,
three-tiered clusters of variously sized and shaped arches, carrying the
stone or concrete channel across a gorge, have a real beauty of their
own; and the long stretches of single or double tiers that take up the
channel where it emerges from a mountain-tunnel, lead it high and secure
across the treacherous ooze of a marsh, throw their level line on high
bridges over ravines, and at last end in the tumbled ruins of a city
whose pools and fountains they filled long ago--these have an
indisputable beauty of workmanship and design, as well as an infinite
pathos of sentiment.

Next in impressiveness to these monuments are the remains of the Greek
amphitheatres of the Roman period. Whether it be that the massiveness of
the stones has been too much for the lazy builders who have constructed
their modern dwellings out of stolen fragments of ruins; or whether, in
its irony, history has attached to these monuments of Rome’s attempt to
amuse the world some special sacredness, it would be difficult to say.
Certain it is that these in many places remain, sunk in the natural
hollow of a hill as in a socket, while all traces of the city which once
surrounded them have disappeared. They have been often described, both
as they are found in Syria and elsewhere; and the stage arrangements,
the underground passages, and the whole design of them does not
materially differ from those of other countries. One feature in the
Syrian theatres appears with special distinctness. When the play was
going on, an awning may be supposed to have been spread horizontally
over the roof, to shade spectators and actors from the sun. Between the
edge of this awning and the flat top rim of the stage buildings, there
would be a blank space left, as it were, like a framed and draped
picture. The sites were so chosen that this space was filled up with
some commandingly beautiful vista--in the north generally a view of
Hermon. Hauran boasts many such theatres in the cities of the Decapolis.
In cities which were first Greek and then Roman, such as these, it may
be difficult to determine the exact date of a particular building. If
the Romans built these theatres, they closely imitated the older Grecian
work. They certainly built the theatre and hippodrome of Cæsarea, in
which latter the goal-post is still to be seen, an immense granite
stone, which has seen life in its day.

The theatres have, as a rule, survived the fortresses and the temples.
Rome undertook many things. She would worship, govern, educate, amuse.
Is it not significant that her wreck looks so like a gigantic
playground, as if in those degenerate days of her conquest the Empire
was already finding in the motto “il faut s’amuser” her rule of life?
After all, it is his chief interest that is the immortal thing about any
man or nation. Yet this may be an unjust and fanciful estimate. Relics
of Roman temples and fortresses also remain. A statue of Jupiter has had
its resurrection from the sands of Gaza, and a monument in honour of
Jupiter Serapis now bears a Roman inscription near the Zion Gate of
Jerusalem. Near springs and the fountain-heads of rivers especially, the
ruins of Roman shrines to the Genius of the fountain are found, as at
Banias. Fortresses too, where Roman garrisons used to be located, can
still be traced, in a ring or an oblong trail of loose stones. Such
ruins crown the height of Tabor, the summit of Gerizim, and many another
hill. But these shew little trace of their former meaning. Here and
there the acropolis of a Greek or Roman town may retain its ancient
embankment, built on the steep slope of the hill, as if shoring up the
plateau above where the temple once stood. Elsewhere, some parts of the
curtain wall of a crusader castle may be blocks of Roman fortification
left _in situ_. But the greater part of the Roman building must be
looked for in the walls of village houses, where the contrast between
such fragments and their surroundings is as grotesque as it is pitiful.
The Gadarenes have built into their walls whatever lay nearest them.
Coffins and tombstones, capitals and columns, even altars themselves,
are there, “stopping holes to keep the wind away”; it is exactly what
“imperial Cæsar” has come to in Gadara.

When Roman power decayed, the signs of its decadence were manifest in
the departure from old severity into an efflorescence of ornament and a
magnificence of mere size out of all proportion to the constructive
meaning of the work. In Baalbek, Rome has left us a monument of such
decadence. The elaborated detail is foreign to the grand simplicity of
the old Roman style, and the exaggerated size is but boastfulness. “The
Romans had seen the huge Jewish stones at Jerusalem” (as Dr. Merrill
explained the matter to us) “and began at Baalbek to work on a bigger
scale, the Barnums of the ancient world, whose ambition was to run the
biggest show on earth. By and by they got tired of that, and left it
off; it was not their line, after all.” “The line” of Rome was a very
straight and simple one. With immense power and a great and single
purpose, she went straight forward, and did what she meant to do. Hers
was a rough simplicity which never failed. Strange that, with so mighty
a resource, she should have ever gone out of her line to attempt any
other work than her own! When men or nations discover their limitations,
and rashly make up their mind no longer to stay within them, their
ambition has already begun to foreshadow their downfall.

The pathos of seeing anything which evidently was once so competent and
so strong, now so absolutely dead as Rome is, is heightened almost to
weeping, in those places where the little and everyday memorials of her
former life are commonest. It is not the gigantic monoliths, but the
little tesseræ, not the fallen columns, but the broken jar-handles, that
touch the heart most. Between Tyre and Sidon the rider passes over
fields every stone of which is a fragment of some marble slab or
curiously-carved piece of masonry. His horse is overturning the remains
of Ornithopolis, “the city of the bird,” in these ploughed fields. But
it is at Samaria that the emotion is most irresistible. Where the “fat
valley” opens to the westward, a conical hill, slightly oval and with
flattened top now clad with an orchard, nestles in and yet lies apart
from the bend of the mountains of Ephraim. It was this hill that Omri
bought from Shomer for the heavy price of two talents of silver. It was
here that the city rose--the inferior houses (if we may reconstruct the
probable past) of white brick, with rafters of sycamore; the grander
ones of hewn stone and cedar--while the royal palace overtopped them
all. A broad wall with terraced top encircled it, and the city lay
there, “a vast luxurious couch, in which its nobles rested securely,
‘propped and cushioned up on both sides as in the cherished corner of a
rich divan.’” It was Ahab’s capital too, and after the varying fortunes
of centuries it was granted to Herod the Great by Augustus, who
immediately called it by the Greek name of the emperor, Sebaste, and
proceeded to rebuild it in a style of unheard-of magnificence. A
hippodrome appeared in the hollow, a temple on the hill. Round the
summit he ran a flat terrace with double colonnade of monolithic pillars
about 16 feet in height, with palaces and massive gateways. From our
camp on the threshing-floor, quite near the circuit of pillars--for many
of them are still standing, and the bases of almost all may be seen in
the ground--we crossed to within the ring of the colonnade. The ground
was ploughed here even along the faces of the artificial terrace-banks,
which still preserve their sheer angle, clean and steep as of old. The
furrows were literally sown with fragments of broken pottery and
tesseræ. We crossed to a squared and heavy mass of fallen stones and
carved pillars lying slantwise against walls still strong in ruin, which
bears the name of Herod’s daughter’s palace; and then along the
colonnade to the great piles of masonry which guard the gate that looks
toward Cæsarea. Two massive towers are there, partly in ruins and soon
to be wholly so, for the cactus hedge is busy with its roots among the
stones, and is making its way through cracks to the very heart of the
towers. We sat there watching the sun sink into the sea, and thought of
all those faded splendours and crimes that make this spot so famous
among the tragic places of the world. It was the home of Jezebel, it was
the slaughter-house of Mariamne, both of whom must often have watched
the sunset from that gate. The ambitions of the ancient kings, the pride
and wealth and cruelty of Herod, the beauty and the misery of passionate
women, dead these many centuries--all seemed to people the place with
ghosts, as the twilight deepened. We turned to go back, and found
ourselves accompanied by the man who farms the hill--a tall, friendly,
and gracious man in long flowing robes. He held the hand of his little
five-year-old girl, a dark-eyed, sweet-faced child, dressed in a red
cloak crossed with blue and yellow stripes. Her hair was short, in
clustering curls of glossy black, with a blue bead cunningly inwoven
among them to keep off the evil eye. She had her free hand entwined by
all its fingers in the wool of a pet lamb, which she steered along
sideways vigorously. How dead the mighty Herod and all the Roman glory
seemed in contrast with this simple picture of the eternal life of home!

    Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
        Long ago;
    Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
        Struck them tame;
    And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
        Bought and sold.
    Now,--the single little turret that remains
        On the plains,
    By the caper over-rooted, by the gourd
    While the patching houseleek’s head of blossom winks
        Through the chinks--
    Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
        Sprang sublime,
    And a burning ring all round, the chariots traced
        As they raced,
    And the monarch and his minions and his dames
        Viewed the games.

           *       *       *       *       *

    Oh heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
        Earth’s returns
    For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
        Shut them in,
    With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
        Love is best.[18]

It is not, however, merely with the chill of that which has been long
dead that Rome affects us in Syria;


it is with the living interest which attaches to all that touched
Christ, and entered in any way into Christianity. It is a far-reaching
generalisation which reminds us that “the great civilisations have
always risen in the meeting-places of ideas.”[19] Historically it is
true that the times of greatest international struggle have been times
of heightened vitality, when the mingling nations were ready to receive
and to impart much, and to send forth a new spirit upon the world.
Nothing could be more providentially apposite, from this point of view,
than that Jesus should have been born “amid the fever of the
establishment of the Roman power in Judea.” He kept aloof, indeed, from
the Herodian people who lived delicately in kings’ houses, and from all
the Greek and Græco-Roman life of his day. Yet, as Dr. Smith has shown
us memorably, Jesus was no quiet rustic dreaming dreams and seeing
visions far from the life of men. He lived and died in close touch with
all that Rome, Greece, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Arabia had to show. Not for
the first time, nor for the last, did He see, in His temptation, “the
kingdoms of the world and the glory of them.” As this realisation
becomes more and more distinct, a new force is added to the contention
that His Gospel is the Gospel for the world. It was thought out and
first preached amid the throng of commerce, and while the din of battle
was as yet hardly silent.

This contact of Jesus Christ with Rome, which under Paul’s hand was to
become the messenger and instrument of His kingdom, is vividly
associated with two hill-tops in Palestine. One of them is that height
near Nazareth, some ten minutes distant from the village well, the
description of whose outlook closes the chapter on Galilee in the
_Historical Geography_ with the well-known passage about the boyhood of
Jesus. There, while He faced seawards, lay on the left hand below Him
the wine-coloured, battle-soaked plain of Jezreel, with squadrons of the
Roman army marching east and west along it; while on the right hand the
Sepphoris Road ran ribbon-like along the ranges, with its constant
stream of merchandise. The other hill-top is that known as “Gordon’s
Calvary” at Jerusalem--a low and rounded hillock just outside the
Damascus Gate. If this be indeed the site of Calvary, Christ was
crucified on a wedge of ground between a military and a commercial road;
and “they that passed by wagging their heads” may have been soldiers
from the Tower as well as merchants from the Northern Gate.

Certain it is, at least, that Rome was about His cradle and His grave.
The earliest narratives of His earthly career bring Him to Bethlehem to
a Roman taxation; the latest story delivers Him to a Roman judge, to
Roman soldiers, and to a Roman cross.



From the invasion of warlike Rome we turn to that “Peace and her huge
invasion” which came to the Holy Land during the later days of the Roman
Empire. Before the time of Constantine the Church in Syria had grown and
spread with such startling vitality and promise of even more abundant
life as to bring down upon her the cruelty of persecutions. In the north
the Christian communities were mainly Gentile, in the south Jewish
Christians. They must have been intellectually as well as spiritually
vigorous, for the curious speculations and mystic dreams of the Gnostics
had already, in the second century, gained footing in Syrian

With Constantine (324-337) Roman persecution ceased for ever. The Jews
were permitted to return to Jerusalem, and the construction of the
written Talmud began its career of three centuries. Julian, the last
emperor on the throne before the Empire divided into east and west, had
apostatised from the Christian faith before his ascension, and in 361
he attempted the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem as a strength to
Judaism against Christianity. But the Galilean had conquered, and it was
the day of Christ. The recognition of Christianity as the religion of
the State began a new era, which ran on for a thousand years in the
Eastern Empire, until the siege of Constantinople changed the face of
Europe in 1453. The words of Dante will often recur to the student of
early Christian days in Palestine:--

    Ah! Constantine, what evil came as child
    Not of thy change of creed, but of the dower
    Of which the first rich father thee beguiled.

The reference is to the legend of “The Donation of Constantine,” by
which he transferred Rome and the states of the Church to the Papal See.
Christianity in Syria has run a strange career.

Up to the time of Constantine the Church was at bay, fighting a
desperate battle against the Pagan world. At Cæsarea especially, but in
many another Roman town besides, native Syrians were forced underground
into caves and catacombs, or brought to the death in the public games.
Many records of this period survive. At Sidon, searching about among the
tombs which Renan has recently explored, we came upon a broken marble
slab--evidently the lintel of a church raised in memory of a local
massacre of Christians--with the word MARTURION inscribed on it. The
martyr monuments of Syria are wonderfully full of peace, hope, and
assurance. Like Marius the Epicurean you feel, when first you come upon
them, that for the first time you are seeing the wonderful spectacle of
_those who believe_. You understand his impression of every form of
human sorrow assuaged--desire, and the fulfilment of desire working on
the very faces of the aged, and the young men obviously persons who had
faced life and were glad. And the same wistful sense of a sure word of
revelation comes upon the beholder as that which appealed to him. Surely
here the earth was for once not forsaken of the higher powers, but
visited and spoken to and loved!

After Constantine the pilgrim takes the place of foremost interest,
which the martyr previously held. From 451, when an independent
patriarchate was established at Jerusalem, pilgrimages became very
frequent; and a century later there were hospices with 3000 beds in them
within Jerusalem, while trade of many sorts flourished by their aid. In
the oldest itineraries there are very curious accounts of these
pilgrimages; but two, which Colonel Conder gives, are especially quaint
and interesting. They refer to later pilgrimages, but are appropriate
enough to earlier ones. The first one is from Saewulf, giving an account
of his landing at Jaffa: “From his sins, or from the badness of the
ship,” he was almost wrecked, and his companions were drowned before his
eyes. The other is Sir John Maundeville’s--most fascinating, if most
unscrupulous, of travellers: “Two miles from Jerusalem is Mount Joy, a
very fair and delicious place. There Samuel the prophet lies in a fair
tomb; and it is called Mount Joy because it gives joy to pilgrims’
hearts, for from that place men first see Jerusalem.”

From the first, pilgrimage seems to have had its moral disadvantages and
special temptations. The Turkish proverb runs, “If your friend has made
the pilgrimage once, distrust him--if he has made the pilgrimage twice,
cut him dead.” And it would seem that the Christian pilgrim is not
altogether in a position to throw stones at his Moslem brother. Apart
from any sins to which the freedom of travel in a far land may be
supposed to tempt poor human nature, there are some which are _par
excellence_ pilgrim sins. Thus we find in the seventeenth century the
Armenian patriarch complaining that the seat in the Chapel of St. Helena
in which he used to sit had been so hacked to pieces by relic-hunting
pilgrims that he was “frequently obliged to renew it.” The case was all
the harder because it was not from its association with the patriarch,
but because St. Helena had sat in it, that it was so much in request! If
Mark Twain be a true reporter, there are pilgrims who have inherited
that particular kind of moral frailty with remarkable fidelity to the
manners of their predecessors. Then again, the pilgrimages, which
everywhere stimulated trade, created an amazing amount of fraud in the
sale of false relics and other such traffic. Dr. Conan Doyle’s picture
of the pilgrim in France, who takes a nail from the box of a blacksmith
and sells it to unsuspecting soldiers as one of those which were driven
into the wood of the true Cross, is drawn from the life. Even on the
sacred spots themselves the simplicity of pilgrims has always been a
temptation to custodians. A tale is told of some one who, only a year or
two ago, dropped by accident a Bible down the dry shaft of Jacob’s Well.
The Bible was reclaimed within a few days, but when brought up it was a
mere mass of pulp. A large party of pilgrims had visited the place in
the interval, and had professed a strong desire to drink water from the
famous well. A small stream, conveniently diverted to the well mouth,
had enabled the priest in charge to gratify their desire by draughts of
water drawn from the depths before their eyes.

The pilgrim is still extant. For well-nigh two thousand years he has
come and gone, a tourist who has always had an immense commercial value
for the Holy Land. The levy made on pilgrims at the gate of Jerusalem
was one of the principal causes of the Crusades, and it is hardly more
than a hundred years since a heavy tax was imposed upon every pilgrim
when he reached the gate of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The
greater part of those who come now are Russians. Jaffa is full of them,
but they are to be seen in long caravans of pedestrians, with a donkey
or two bearing all their scanty luggage, as far north as Samaria and
Galilee. The men are typical Russian peasants, in the blouses and caps
that are so familiar. Their long hair may be fair or dark, but it is
always matted and coarse. The women, with their good, weather-beaten
faces, are uncommonly like old-fashioned peasant women from the northern
Scottish countrysides. Their head-dress is a simple kerchief, and their
hands grasp a rude pilgrim staff polished with much wear. The privations
of such pilgrimages must be very great. They involve the expenditure of
a lifetime’s savings, and a journey in many cases of at least six
months. Most of this is done on foot, and largely by people who are
growing old. There is no nation that could send forth such multitudes
except “rough but believing Russia.” The belief is everything. They are
very poor people, and very ignorant and simple. Yet many whose minds’
conflict seems only to grow sterner in this land of contradictions, may
own without shame to a touch of something like envy as they see the
exaltation of their childish faith. They encompass the walls of
Jerusalem to the strains of Psalms, and march triumphantly to the sand
south of Jaffa for shells to authenticate their travels, such as those
which appear on the coats-of-arms of some European families, telling of
former pilgrimages. Mere children in intellect, the gleam in their eyes
tells that in their own pathetic way they have entered here into a
veritable kingdom of heaven.

The objects of pilgrimage are somewhat gruesome in


their way. A favourite ambition used to be that of measuring the “stone
of anointing” in the Holy Sepulchre, in order to have the pilgrim’s own
winding-sheet made the same length. The great goal, however, is the
Jordan, whose banks at the period after Constantine used to be paved
with marble. In the old time a wooden cross was erected in mid-stream,
and the waters were blessed by a priest, after which the pilgrims
tumbled in with such haste that numbers of them were drowned. Here, too,
the winding-sheet is in evidence. Besides the flask of Jordan water
which they fill, they dip their own winding-sheets and those of friends
at home who have been unable to come in person, but have sent these pale
substitutes. It was not our good fortune to see the merry band of
pilgrims at the Jordan, though we met scattered groups of Russians in
many places. One other pilgrim we saw, and he accompanied us through
several days’ march northward. He was a jet-black Abyssinian--a lonely
and silent figure clad from head to foot in a loose robe of pure white
sackcloth. He went with us to Nazareth, the destination of his
pilgrimage. His only word in common with us was “Christianus,” and he
always bowed and crossed himself when he said it. All day long he walked
in silence in our company. He asked for nothing, but ate the meat he
received in singleness of heart, and sat apart watching the loading and
unloading of the baggage with the eyes of a great child.

While so many Christians paid a passing visit to Palestine in the early
days, there were some who came to stay. It was the time of the rise of
monastic institutions, which first appear in the beginning of the fourth
century. Their history from the first is peculiarly associated with
Syria, into which they spread almost immediately after their start in
Egypt. Some of the most famous of the early recluses, including even St.
Symeon Stylites himself, were of Syrian origin.[20] These ascetics were
the natural successors of the martyrs. The first hints of them are given
during the time of earlier martyrdoms, for it is recorded that
Christians as early as the Decian persecutions fled to the wilderness
and led a life there which was soon to become popular beyond all
possibility of forecast.

It was not, however, until Constantine’s favour had secularised the
Church, or at least had made easy that life which hitherto had been so
dangerous, that the reaction set in which gave monasticism its great
hold on the world. This is generally explained as a matter solely of
protest against growing worldliness, or a development of that curious
kind of “other-worldliness” which finds in asceticism the surest means
of attaining earthly fame and heavenly reward. No doubt both these
elements are true. In the early ascetics there was a self-denial
prompted by the purest desire for escape from the defiling society of
their time into the spiritual cleanness of the faith, and from its hard
and coarse materialism into the delicate ideality and refinement of
Christian thought and feeling. It was also, on the other hand, a refuge
and an outlet for much of the inefficiency and moral worthlessness of
the time, which found in its freedom from social restraint and its wide
leisure things exactly to their own taste. But behind all this there is
another fact which is really the most significant of all. Monasticism
was “the compensation for martyrdom.” Readers of the letters of Ignatius
are familiar with that mania for martyrdom which during persecuting
times took possession of so many in the Church. In abnormal and extreme
conditions such as these, certain minds grow hysterical and lose their
perspective and sense of proportion altogether. In such minds a morbid
and passionate delight in pain develops into a sort of lust--a
_religiosa cupiditas_--for suffering torture, just as in the persecutors
cruelty becomes a lust for inflicting it. So asceticism offered itself
when martyrdom could no longer be had--“a voluntary martyrdom, a gradual
self-destruction, a sort of religious suicide.”[21]

The new ideal passed through several successive phases. From an
unorganised and individual way of life within the Church, it developed
first into anchoretism about the beginning of the fourth century. In
barren and solitary places, where life at best was precarious and
physical enjoyment impossible, every cave and den had its tenant. On
Mount Sinai one hermit is said to have lived for fifty years in absolute
solitude, silence, and nakedness. As you ride down the terrific gorges
from Mar Saba to the Dead Sea, you pass along precipitous hillsides and
rock-faces which appear literally riddled with small caves and holes in
the rock and sand. These, which now serve for a covert from the heat for
passing shepherds, or for the lairs of jackals, were once populated by
hermits. Saint Saba is said to have collected the bones of no fewer than
10,000 solitary dwellers in this district, who had fallen victims to the
Carismians. And in many parts of Syria even now, a hillside which during
the day has seemed barren of all human habitation, is unexpectedly
illuminated with hermits’ lights--those “hands praying to God”--in the
dark. The enthusiasm with which this dreary life has filled some of its
devotees may be realised in the following lines from an epistle of St.
Jerome:--“O desert, where the flowers of Christ are blooming! O
solitude, where the stones for the new Jerusalem are prepared! O
retreat, which rejoices in the friendship of God! What doest thou in the
world, my brother, with thy soul greater than the world? How long wilt
thou remain in the shadow of roofs, and in the smoky dungeon of cities?
Believe me, I see here more of the light.”[22]

It was in cloister life, however--at first in smaller communities and
then on the large scale of many cloisters gathered under a common
rule--that early Christianity reached its full development. Besides the
native establishments, there was, in the first centuries after
Constantine, a cloud of religieux, flying like homing doves across the
sea to alight and quietly settle down on holy soil. These
establishments had many faults. They perpetuated little sectarian
differences and exaggerated them into quite ridiculous importance. The
very lamps that hang in the oldest churches are denominational, and are
divided with a childish arithmetic among rival sects. The insistence of
these on their respective rights is such that a guard of armed Moslem
soldiers has to be kept perpetually on the spot to keep the peace. Yet
there is a splendid dash of courage in this part of Church History,
which cannot possibly have been all in vain. It must have been an
exciting life in some of the outpost stations in these old days. “It is
true,” says Warburton of one monastery, “the monks were occasionally
massacred by the Saracens, Turks, and Carismians, but their martyrdom
only gave fresh interest to the spot in the eyes of their successors.”
No doubt these establishments drained the world of some of its best
manhood, and diverted much greatly needed energy from family life and
state loyalties; yet, on the other hand, these were the soldiers of the
Cross who then fought the paganism of the world and conquered it.

Monastic establishments still remain, and supply much-needed inns to
many thousands of poor travellers in Syria. They vary by very wide
degrees of difference from one another. By far the worst place we saw in
Palestine--one of the worst perhaps that could be seen anywhere--is the
convent of Mar Saba near the Dead Sea. Coming out on the high ridge of
the Judean mountain country, we caught a glimpse of two towers, which
we have already described,[23] square and blind, and so pitilessly
unsuggestive that they seemed, as it were, built into the desert, or
part of its fantastic offspring. They were the most unhomely buildings
we had ever seen, and they are the nearest point to which women are
allowed to approach the monastery, lady travellers being accommodated
with cells there if they have not tents. By and by we passed between
them, down a road so steep as to be practically a stairway, on every
step of which loathsomely dirty beggars sat plying their trade. In the
courtyard to which this entrance led were two monks, fat and
stupid-looking, who brought out strings of beads, rosaries, and crosses
of their own manufacture for sale. Having, apparently, absolutely
nothing to do, the making of these things may be taken for sign of
enterprise and commercial genius, but as time is evidently valueless,
they sell their work very cheap. To the right is a rock, hollowed out
into a chamber or broad gallery, which is sacred as having been the
shrine of Saint Saba’s devotions. The entrance is violently coloured in
washes of blue and white paint, so crude and aggressive that it quite
robs the pictures in the interior of their horror, and prepares you to
look with unclouded eye upon the skulls which fill the grilled recesses.
One of these skulls is set in front, to receive the kisses of devout
pilgrims. It is deeply worn and polished. When it has actually been worn
through to a hole it will be replaced, as others have been before it.
Across the courtyard you follow narrow stairs and galleries that run
irregularly along the edge of a precipice; for the monastery has affixed
itself to the face of a cliff four hundred feet high. It clings there,
supported by huge flying buttresses that spring from the depths below in
a fashion which, as one writer says, remind you of pictures of
Belshazzar’s feast. The cells of the monks, little disconnected
“lean-to” sheds or caves, have the Greek cross upon their doors, and the
often-repeated inscription, “O Christ, abide with us!” Here and there
are a few plants in pots, or a feeble attempt at rearing vegetables in
little garden patches which fill in any foot of level among the
many-cornered buildings; while in one cranny grows the solitary
date-palm which Saint Saba planted more than 1300 years ago. At every
few yards you pause to look over a low balustrade into the gorge, which
here is a sort of yellow-ochre gulf, with all the horror but none of the
rich depth of colouring that belongs to frightful abysses. Over these
walls the monks throw meat to the jackals which come and fight for it
below. Occasionally, as we passed, a face was visible at a window,
generally either wizened and dried up, or with a white, neurotic
appearance that was almost more repulsive. Everywhere dirt reigned
supreme--unspeakable filth in open drains and putrid litter. In one
place, where the smell was sickening, a monk was lying asleep by the
side of a broken drain, covered with flies in great black masses on his
face and arms. In another place an abominable-looking dish of food,
fly-blown and disgusting, was pushed with a spoon in it half through a
hole broken in the bottom of a cell door. And everywhere throughout this
palace of disgust was to be read the prayer, “O Christ, abide with us!”

That was the worst. Mar Saba is a sort of combination of prison and
asylum, where lunatics are kept under the charge of monks condemned to
this place for heresy or immorality. Other monasteries we saw, of a very
different kind. Our tents precluded the necessity for our making any of
these our home for the night, but in many cases it would have been very
pleasant to do so. On the top of Tabor, at Tell Hum on the Sea of
Galilee, and in other places, we were received and entertained with the
most cordial and generous hospitality. The clean and spacious
guest-chambers are open to all comers. They are adorned with photographs
of various sorts, and often contain a cabinet of rare local curiosities.
The brothers in charge of these establishments were fine genial men,
courageously facing the risks of fever in deadly spots, or varying their
hospitable labours on the heights by long seasons of study (for some of
them are distinguished scholars); but always ready to meet a stranger as
a friend, and to chat with him in French or German, over a pipe of
Western tobacco, about the great world from which they had gone so far.

In all these ways the many-sided life of the old Christian days lingers
and may still be seen. But it


     From the barracks near the site of the Tower of Antonia. The north
     porch of the Dome of the Rock is towards the spectator; to the left
     is the Dome of the Chain; to the right, in the middle distance, is
     the Mosque of El Aksa.

lingers more impressively in the most ancient of the churches which date
from this period. There is in Palestine an astonishing number of ruins
of old Christian churches, many of them dating back, at least so far as
their foundations go, to the Byzantine period. There are many modern
churches, but they are not as a rule impressive. Even when, as in the
Russian church at Gethsemane, the building is in itself rich and costly,
it is so irrelevant as to rouse a feeling of rebellion.

Most of the ancient churches have utterly vanished, like that roofless
basilica which Constantine built on the supposed scene of the Ascension
on the Mount of Olives. In other cases they are mere heaps of ruin, like
the remaining fragments of the Church of Jacob’s Well, which was built
about the middle of the fourth century, and has been several times
rebuilt since then. This church takes most travellers by surprise. They
go expecting an out-door scene, with all the harvest breeze of the
Scripture story on it. They find a newly built white wall, glaring in
the sunshine. Through a gate in this wall they are admitted by certain
broken-down-looking persons in the greenish-black garments of the Greek
clergy. Within the gate, a few steps bring them to the edge of a sort of
oblong pit full of masonry. It is the nave of the old church, and the
splendidly carved pillars of its white stone show how beautiful it must
have been. A door in the sunk side-wall opens upon a groined vault newly
rebuilt. In the dim light you can discern in the centre a rough stone
altar, with candles and lamps and a couple of execrable pictures of
Christ and the woman of Sychar. On the ground before the altar is a flat
stone perforated with a hole two feet in diameter. This is the cover of
the well, and a second clerical person, badly marked with smallpox, lets
down a twist of lighted candles by a long rope, while a little green
lamp of silver hangs above, dripping oil steadily down the well. Surely
this is the infatuation of reverence! If there is any memory of Jesus
which is essentially of the open air, it is this incident of the Well of
Samaria. Yet reverence must build its dark chamber, and proceed to
illuminate with candles the spot where Jesus sat and saw the miles and
miles of waving fields, white already to harvest. No doubt the church
dates from the fourth century; but what right had even the ancients to
build a church here, to keep men busy with their sectarianism on the
very spot where they and all the world were told that the hour was come
when neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem would the Father be
worshipped, but in spirit and in truth?

There are, however, two great churches of this ancient time which waken
feelings very different from these; they have been for centuries the
centres of Christian interest and devotion in the land, covering, as
they are supposed to do, the sites of the birth and death of Jesus
Christ. In some respects they are alike. The outsides of them are
huddled and packed together, a heterogeneous mass of apparently
unrelated buildings. The insides are not, like the houses, Rembrandt
studies in intense light and shadow. By some skilful arrangement, the
sunlight seems to be caught and diffused in a pale luminous twilight
that sinks gradually to darkness in chapels and recesses, and blends
with the light of many lamps and candles not unpleasingly. The Church of
the Holy Sepulchre is the gift of St. Helena, mother of Constantine, and
was consecrated by her in A.D. 336. Tradition relates how, at the age of
seventy-nine, she made her pilgrimage to Jerusalem, was baptized in
Jordan, discovered the true Cross, and built the church upon the spot of
its discovery. Our guide-book tells us of an ante-chamber “where
Oriental Christians are in the habit of removing their shoes, though we
need not follow their example.” Yet the Crusaders entered it barefooted,
though with songs of praise, a thousand years ago; and the impulse of
most Christians, however little they may be disposed to believe in the
identity of the sacred sites within, will be to share the veneration of
the Easterns. Not that what we see now is the original building. That
was a rotunda and a basilica, the former quite other than the present
rotunda, as we know from the fact that it formed the model for the
Mosque of Omar. It has suffered many things from assault, from decay,
from fire, and from rebuilding. In the twelfth century the whole group
of detached shrines and monuments was included for the first time in one
huge and complicated building. Probably no such patchwork in stone is to
be seen elsewhere in the world. Yet each rebuilding found many of the
older materials ready for its use, and incorporated them in the newer
work. Thus the columns at the eastern door are supposed to have come
from some ancient pagan temple, and the present foundations of the
pillars belong to the old rotunda. The capitals of many pillars are
Byzantine, while the pink limestone column which is embedded in the wall
to the right of the eastern entrance is also very ancient.

It is a strange conglomeration of imaginary associations and real value
of material. The atmosphere is at times dreadful enough within to
justify that daring little touch of realism in the French bas-relief
over the door, where some of the spectators at the raising of Lazarus
are holding their noses with their hands! The chapel of the Empress
adjoins the altar of the Penitent Thief; Adam and Abraham jostle each
other for standing ground under the sacred roof; the stone of anointing
has been “often changed” according to the guide-book, and the column of
scourging “judging from the narratives of different pilgrims, must
frequently have changed its colour and its size”--yet pilgrims poke a
stick at it and kiss the part that has touched the stone to-day. Every
incident of the world’s great tragedy is commemorated there, from the
footprint of Jesus to the silver socket in the rock where His Cross was
erected. Futile enough all this, and even wearisome. But the worship of
fifteen hundred years is neither futile nor wearisome. And that worship
seems to detach itself from the legends and find its embodiment in the
marvels of precious stone that are gathered there. As one sees the slabs
of costly stone with which the rock is overlaid--the ruddy yellow slab
of the “anointing,” the red and white polished limestone of the central
shrine, the green serpentine and the black basalt--one remembers the
tomb which the Roman bishop ordered in St. Praxed’s, with its
“peach-blossom marble,” its lump of _lapis lazuli_, “blue as a vein o’er
the Madonna’s breast,” and its block of jasper, “pure green as a
pistachio-nut.” But there is a difference. The stones of the Holy
Sepulchre were given in love: they are the tribute of many souls whose
adoration was the noblest feature of their times.

The Church of the Holy Nativity at Bethlehem is a simpler and, to many
minds, a more impressive structure. It consists of a broad nave,
entirely screened off from what lies beyond, with two rounded transepts
and a rounded apse behind the screen--this trefoil-shaped inner building
being the church proper. One of the transepts is the property of the
Armenians; the other, together with the great altar in the apse, belongs
to the Greeks. Below the great altar-rail (“in the breast of God,” in
Dante’s language) is the cave of the Nativity, with steps leading down
to it from either transept. A Mohammedan soldier stands at the bottom to
keep the peace between Christians. The transepts and apse are ablaze
with lamps and hangings. Below, the “manger” is overlaid with coloured
marble, and the rock is entirely covered with yellow silk cloth, on
which are stamped the insignia of the Franciscans--an arm of Christ
crossed with an arm of St. Francis, both shewing the print of nails in
the palms of their hands. All this, and the air of raree-show that
exhibits so many spots where somebody or other stood, destroy any
lingering credulity of which a man may still find himself capable; they
make one rather ashamed, and glad to escape. But the nave is mighty in
its simplicity, and no less mighty in its wealth of historical
association. It is a great severe oblong basilica, with four rows of
massive pillars giving double aisles. Old glass and old mosaics add
their appropriate wealth of sombre beauty. The rafters, replacing
Constantine’s beams of cedar from Lebanon, are the gift of Philip of
Burgundy. Lead for the roof was sent by Edward IV. of England. Most
impressive of all is the old plain font of polished stone, with its
Greek inscription--not, like so many such inscriptions, a record of the
donor’s name, but a prayer for God’s blessing upon those who gave
it--“whose names are known to Thee only.” Opinions differ as to the
plausibility of the claim to the site of our Lord’s nativity; but this
church was built by Constantine, and the Vulgate was written in it by
Jerome. And since that time the feet of countless millions of
worshippers have trodden its stone pavement--a consecration in itself
worth many traditional sanctities.

In this chapter we have sought to gather the most obvious survivals of
that old Christian invasion of Palestine which followed next after the
Roman. Almost inevitably we find ourselves quarrelling with the
legendary lore that has stultified so many venerable buildings and
associations. Yet in its legends too the early Church survives, and some
of them embody eternal truths in forms of rare beauty. Take three of the
legends of the Holy Sepulchre by way of example. They show the spot
where the one-eyed soldier Longinus, who pierced the side of Christ,
received back the lost eyesight at the touch of a drop of the blood.
There, too, is the cleft in the rock through which blood flowed from the
Cross down into the tomb of Adam, whose corpse came to life at once. And
there, on Easter Eve, the sham miracle of the “Holy Fire” has been
enacted annually for at least a thousand years. Who can miss the
underlying truth beneath these legends? They are, for all but the
ignorant and the gross, symbols of the eternal healing and quickening
power that the love and sacrifice of Christ exert on humanity and even
on His enemies. The torch-bearers, who kindle their fires at the blaze
on Easter Eve, and speed thence to Bethlehem and other towns to light
from it the candles waiting on many altars, tell their own exhilarating
lesson. Two other legends may be mentioned, which the Western world owes
to the Syrian Church--those of St. George and St. Christopher. St.
George, who was a Roman soldier under Diocletian, was martyred in A.D.
303. His memory, mixed up with the Greek myth of Perseus and Andromeda,
and with Crusader stories of Richard Cœur de Lion, stands for the
victory of faith over paganism. St. Christopher would only follow the
strongest, and finding that his master the devil was afraid of Christ,
renounced his service and set out to seek Him who was strongest of all.
The point of the story is that, after seeking Christ far and wide, he
found Him while he was performing the humble task of carrying passengers
across a river. It is characteristic of the pilgrim point of view that
legend has fixed this scene not by some homely German stream but at the
fords of Jordan, where he is said to have carried the infant Christ
across upon his shoulder. Even of such legends no wise man will speak
with scorn. They, too, are monuments of that conquest of Christ which
gives its meaning and its glory to the Christian invasion.




Mohammedanism is the religion which is everywhere in evidence in the
East to-day. From the smart Turkish officer who drops in to smoke a
cigarette with you in the tent after dinner, and discusses European
politics in excellent French, down to the beggar who beseeches you in
the name of Allah for a pipeful of tobacco or the end of your cigar,
your acquaintance in Syria is Moslem. From the consecration of the
Church of the Holy Sepulchre to the Moslem capture of Jerusalem was
exactly three hundred years. When, in 637, Jerusalem fell, Damascus had
already fallen, and Antioch was to follow next year--all within sixteen
years of the beginning of the Mohammedan era. The conquest was
inevitable. First Persia and then the scattered tribes of pagan Arabs
had proved too much for the Byzantine empire in Syria. Then the man
appeared who understood his opportunity. The Eastern world was in
confusion. Heathens constituted the ruling race, the Jews were scattered
in their dispersion, and the Christians torn into many fragmentary
heretical sects. It was the moment for a great union of scattered
forces. The Arabs were united by the new faith in God, for which they
abandoned their paganism with a marvellous willingness. The bond of
union with Christians and Jews was the common ancestry in Abraham by
which Mohammed hoped to rally and unite the Syrian world. One sharp
battle at the Yarmuk threw Syria open to his advance, and the crisis of
the faith was past.

Mohammed has been declared an impostor, who from first to last won his
way by cleverness without faith; he has been idealised as a hero and
prince of heroes in the religious world. Dean Milman, perhaps, is wisest
when he says, “To the question whether Mohammed was hero, sage,
impostor, or fanatic ... the best reply is the reverential phrase of
Islam: ‘God knows.’” One thing is certain, viz., that he founded a
religion which proved itself capable of wakening response from the
Semitic East with a swiftness and a completeness never elsewhere known.
It would be a matter of rather serious consequences to affirm that such
sweeping success is possible without any vestige of honest faith on the
part of its own prophet.

Arabia found Islam a religion after her own heart. The conquest of the
Arabian mind, and that sudden transference of religious and political
loyalties which changed it from chaos into cosmos, is little short of
miraculous. In the words of one of the severest critics of Islam: “In
A.D. 570, Abdullah, the son of Abd el Muttalib, a Mecca merchant, went
on a trading trip from Mecca to Medina and died there; the same year his
wife, Amina, gave birth to a boy, named Mohammed, at Mecca. One hundred
years later the name of this Arab lad, joined to that of the Almighty,
was called out from ten thousand mosques five times daily, from Muscat
to Morocco, and his new religion was sweeping everything before it in
three continents.”[24] In many ways the new religion was congenial to
Arabia. “Although it made a most vigorous effort to conquer the world,
it is, after all, a religion of the desert, of the tent, and the
caravan, and is confined to nomad and savage or half-civilised nations,
chiefly Arabs, Persians, and Turks. It never made an impression on
Europe except by brute force; it is only encamped, not really
domesticated, in Constantinople, and when it must withdraw from Europe
it will leave no trace behind.”[25] It gave the heathen Arabs, in
exchange for their precarious dependence on incalculable and wayward
gods, the sublime conception of “Islam,” the absolute surrender to the
One God, whom it declared to be Almighty, All-Wise, and All-Merciful.
For the rest, its secret was simplicity. It drove straight for its
object, sacrificing art, appetite, the purity of home life, the
spirituality of religious imagination, and some of the accepted
moralities of conscience. What was left was a creed and standard,
somewhat impoverished truly, but workable and uncompromising. A thousand
difficult questions were avoided, and one of those forces set in play
before whose rough simplicity finer and more delicate things are swept

Mohammedanism meets the traveller at every turn in Syria. Now and then a
dervish is encountered--the extremest sort of Moslem. It would seem
difficult to develop a mystic school within the pale of so clear-cut a
faith as Mohammedanism; yet it has been done. But the Mohammedan
dervishes escape from this despised material world by the vulgar process
of hypnotising themselves by the repetition of the word “Allah” or “Hu,”
or by whirling in circles until they are stupefied. This they call the
ecstatic state, and when they have reached it they are said to perform
many violent tricks, stabbing their flesh or eating broken glass,
without appearing to feel pain. In Syria they are by no means impressive
in appearance. Here and there you meet one, with hair crimped in long
thin pointed wisps, and sticking out in a wiry fashion from his head in
all directions. The dazed and rather weak look in the eyes is suggestive
of a strayed reveller rather than a holy man, but the people hold them
in great reverence.

Another occasional freak of Mohammedanism is the religious procession,
which is conducted on the principle of a rival show to the Christian
fêtes. It starts on Good Friday from Jerusalem to visit the tomb of
Moses--a late fiction, somewhat daring in its contradiction to the old
belief that the tomb of Moses was known to no man. It is amusingly
described by witnesses, but appears to be rather a poor affair on the

These extravagances apart, one is never out of sight of Mohammedan
religion for an hour of travel in Syria. The worship, like old idolatry,
seems to have claimed every high hill and every green tree for its own.
It has settled itself, in the very seat of old Judaism, on the sacred
area of the temple. Almost every one of the prominent hills of Palestine
is crowned with a little building, domed and whitewashed, opening in a
porch in front, and containing a single empty chamber. This is the weli
(_i.e._ monument, not necessarily tomb) of a Mohammedan saint. What the
terms of canonisation may be, it is perhaps best not to inquire too
minutely. Many of these departed saints are said to have been prophets,
but the discoverer of coffee has his monument in Mocha, to which great
processions come, and there is more than one weli in Palestine
commemorative of a dead robber chief. Not the less sacred are they to
the Mohammedans. In various parts of the country we were puzzled by
little piles of stones, gathered and arranged in considerable numbers on
the tops of long ascents or passes, and bearing a curious resemblance to
the cairns which in certain districts of the west of Scotland mark the
spots at which funeral processions have halted to change the
coffin-bearers. The explanation of these little piles is very simple.
When a Mohammedan comes to the hill-top, and looking around him sees a
weli shining in the distance, he offers up a prayer, and drops a stone
there, to call the attention of the next comer, that he also may look
and pray. Very picturesque and quaint these little holy houses are;
serving, like the hermit’s tower of old in Western lands, for landmarks
as well as for shrines--the white light-houses of the inland.

It is not at the white tombs only that the Moslem prays. Five times a
day, at the call from the mosque, he is summoned to his devotions.
Often, indeed, it is inconvenient to worship at some of these hours, and
it is permissible to say the prayer five times in succession in the
evening, when there is most leisure. Sometimes he carries with him his
rosary, to help his memory with the ninety-nine beautiful names of
Allah, and in railway trains or steamers wealthy gentlemen are to be
seen cherishing a string of amber beads which appear more like the
property of young girls than of grown men. To perform his devotions the
Syrian goes to a fountain, when that is possible, as it is part of the
ritual to wash the hands before praying; but the Arab, spreading his
carpet in the shade of his camel, far away upon the desert, where no
water is to be had but the precious drops in his leathern bottle, is
permitted to wash his hands and lips with sand instead. That which
impresses every spectator is the extraordinary faculty for abstraction
which is manifested. The Moslem seems to have at command the power of
annihilating the world around him, and entering the unseen. His eyes are
open, but you may pass within a yard of them and they will not seem to
see you. They are fixed on the far distance, as if, over the Southern
edge of the world, the man saw the Holy City towards which he bows, with
its Kaaba and its black stone. He might be crystal-gazing, or watching
the horizon for a sail at sea. People may be dancing and singing by his
side, but he does not see them nor hear. Bathing once in the waters of
Elisha’s fountain at Jericho we had a memorable instance of this. We
found the pool empty and the walls undergoing repair. A lad who had
charge of the place was persuaded in the usual fashion to let down the
door of a sluice and so allow the pool to fill, greatly to the detriment
of the newly mortared wall. When we had stripped, the owner of the place
appeared, and we rose to the surface from a dive to hear a controversy
going on, with violent gesture and apoplectic fury, which marks a high
point in our register of vituperation. The water seemed on the whole to
be the safest place, and we kept to it until suddenly we perceived that
a great silence had fallen on the landscape. Looking anxiously to see
what had happened, we found the owner on his knees, praying by his own
spring. We dressed without delay, and had to pass in front of him to
reach the tents, but he never seemed to know that we had passed.

The muezzin, or call to prayer from the minaret, is one of the most
affecting of all Eastern sounds. Men are chosen for this office with
singularly mellow and rich voices; they intone, with a very musical
little cadence in a minor key, the first chapter of the Koran, and
sometimes other prayers. At the great Mosque of Damascus, a solitary
reciter calls from the slender minaret, and is answered from the balcony
of the broader one across the court by twenty voices in unison. While
the waves of rich sound float out over the city, and are caught and
faintly echoed from scores of other minarets, one remembers how that
voice has rolled forth already over innumerable villages from Bengal
westwards, and men have paused from their labour to pray according to
their lights.

Islam is usually supposed to have been the “Ishmaelite in church
history,” with hand against every man from the first. Really, when it
was Arabian, as it remained for four centuries, it was very tolerant,
and the Christian pilgrims, priests, and monks were little disturbed.
But in 1086 the Seljuk chiefs of wandering Turkish tribes came into
possession, and the days of suspicion and that heavy cruelty which is
characteristic of the stupid began. There were massacres of monks on
Carmel and elsewhere then, and such a state of general tyranny and
oppression that the cry reached the West, and the Crusades began. The
Crusades, as they dragged their slow length along, did not tend to
better understandings; and after Saladin’s conquest of Jerusalem, we
read that the walls and pavement of the Mosque of Omar had to be
purified with copious showers of water distilled from the fragrant roses
of Damascus. The relations between Moslem and Christian in the land
to-day are happier, and the intercourse of increasing trade and travel
is breaking down old partitions here as elsewhere. Yet little love is
lost between the professors of the rival faiths even now. Dr. Andrew
Thomson relates how, in recent years, “it had been observed that at a
particular period of the day the shadow of the great Mosque of Omar fell
upon a certain Christian burying-ground. Even the honour of


     The dome on the right is that of the Mosque of El Aksa, and that on
     the left is the Mosque of Omar. Between these domes, and just below
     the principal group of cypresses, is the “Wailing Place.” The hills
     in the background are the Mount of Olives.

blessing conveyed by so sacred a shadow was grudged. The public
authorities in Jerusalem were strongly urged to have the Christian
cemetery removed to some more distant place, and it required all the
combined influence of the European consulates to prevent a scandalous
order to this effect from being issued.” The Ordnance Survey party was
on several occasions attacked, and even fired upon. In fanatical Moslem
cities like Hebron and Nablus, travellers have to conduct themselves
with the utmost discretion, and even then will probably be stoned with
more or less effect according to the courage and the marksmanship of the
thrower. The Christians return the animosity with a kind of impatient
ridicule, which seems to indicate a lack of refined piety on their part.
Our camp-waiters were Christians, and they used to give us very freely
their opinions on the theological differences between them and the
Mohammedans. There would be a reverent if somewhat startling account of
the Holy Trinity, and then, in scornful contrast: “Mohammedans only
One,--and Mohammed all the rest!” The scorn is hardly to be wondered at
when one remembers the intellectual level of the powers that be. This is
forced upon one’s notice by countless tales of the custom-house and
censorship officials. A map of ancient Palestine was objected to because
“there were no maps in those days!” An engineer, telegraphing about a
pump, was arrested because the message read: “One hundred revolutions!”
In certain Bibles the text was erased, “Jesus Christ came into the world
to save sinners”; and it was directed that the word “Christians” should
be substituted, as there were no sinners in the Turkish empire! After a
certain amount of that regime, one would no doubt put new meaning into
the prayer which invokes God’s mercy “upon all Turks,” as well as on
infidels and heretics!

In spite of all this there is a good deal of interchange between the two
faiths, or at least of borrowing on the part of Islam from Christian
tradition. So many points have the two in common, that a theory has been
broached on which Mohammed appears only as the Judaiser (as it were) of
later days, who saw the difficulty that Christians had in working with
general principles, and set himself to simplify the situation by
reducing Christianity to a stereotyped system. Carlyle distinctly calls
Islam “a kind of Christianity.” However this may be, there is no
question as to the immense amount which Syrian Mohammedanism borrows
from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. Countless tombs and other
monuments are dedicated to Joshua and other Old Testament worthies.
This, of course, may be due to the fact that many Moslem saints have
borne the old names, and as time went on their memories came to be
confused with those of their more famous namesakes. Samson’s exploits
especially have appealed to the Mohammedan imagination, and he appears
under the _incognito_ of “Ismân Aly,” among many other names. St. George
is a very popular saint for Moslem worship. It startles us still more to
find that in the great fire at Damascus numbers of Moslems threw
themselves into the flames in the attempt to rescue the head of John
the Baptist; while a copy of the Koran--one of the original four
copies--which lay below the relic, was forgotten and destroyed.

The most extensive and curious point of contact between the two
religions is found in those mosques which were formerly built as
Christian churches, and then appropriated by the conquerors. The Grand
Mosque of Damascus is a conspicuous case in point. It is built on the
site of a pagan temple, part of whose hoary front still stands, a
magnificent fragment of ancient heavy masonry and carving now brown and
grey with age. On the ruins of the temple rose the Christian church of
St. John the Baptist, whose date is about the beginning of the fifth
century. After the Mohammedan conquest the church became a mosque, and
fabulous sums were spent on its decoration. It has twice been destroyed
by fire, and is now being restored after the last of these
destructions.[26] The restoration has a very brand-new appearance, yet
it is magnificent with its wealth of marble and of other costly stone.
The Mosque of Samaria, conspicuous from a distance by its minaret is
another Christian church reconstructed for Mohammedan worship. There was
a sixth-century basilica here, but the present mosque is built out of
the material of the Crusader church which replaced that. The severity
and bareness of its stone walls and pillars are relieved only by one
touch of colour--the flags and the lovely green pillars of the pulpit.
The wall at the pulpit’s side has been recessed into a mihrab or niche,
which points towards Mecca and so gives the worshipper his bearings. In
the crypt, where the Crusaders believed they had the tomb of John the
Baptist, large slabs of polished marble attest the former wealth of
decoration, and these slabs are of peculiar interest because of one
curious little fact. It was customary to carve on Christian buildings
the sign of the Cross--a Maltese cross, set within a circle. Such a
cross may be distinctly seen on one of the stones close to the embedded
pillar at the south door of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. On the
marble slabs of the crypt in Samaria these encircled crosses are to be
seen; but the Mohammedans have chipped away the uprights of them,
leaving only the meaningless horizontal bar bisecting the circle, and
the obvious mark of the chisel in their rough workmanship leaves the
uprights also faintly visible. Perhaps the most interesting case of all
is the Mosque el Aksa, close to the Mosque of Omar, within the temple
area. This is that “far-off place of prayer” which Mohammed counted
among the most holy shrines in the world. Founded by Justinian as a
Christian basilica, it was converted into a mosque by Omar, and adorned
with unheard-of lavishness by Abd el Melik, who overlaid its doors with
gold and silver plates. Since then it has passed through many
adventures. Widened to efface some suggestion of cruciform shape, its
breadth became unmanageable, and six rows of pillars support the roof.
The roof has fallen in, and earthquakes have broken the building more
than once, so that most of the masonry is comparatively modern, the
great arches of the structure which supports the dome being “anchored”
by wooden beams which throw horizontal bridges from capital to capital
in Arab fashion. The green-and-gold mosaic with which the interior of
the dome and the upper portion of the adjacent masonry is covered,
cannot be very old, though their dim and antique beauty is worthy of the
older art. The pulpit, richly inlaid with Aleppo work of ivory and
mother-of-pearl, was Saladin’s gift seven hundred years ago. But that
which most of all attracts the eye and fascinates the imagination is the
aspect of the pillars, whose variegated colours are peculiarly rich and
harmonious. Up to a certain height they are polished to the shining
point by the garments of worshippers rubbing against them as they pass;
above that they are smooth, unpolished stone. The capitals, and some at
least of the columns, are very ancient, and may have stood in the
original basilica.

The Mosque of Omar is not, strictly speaking, a mosque at all. The
mosque is El Aksa, and the more famous building is but a glorified
praying-station of the nature of a weli in its court. It stands near the
centre of a wide open space, practically the only such space in
Jerusalem, which occupies one-sixth part of the whole area of the city
within the walls. The enclosure is partly artificial, supported on vast
substructures of vaulted building which raise the enclosed ground to a
general level. The mosque is set up on a platform ten feet higher than
this level.

Its history has been a strange one. Behind the time of its erection lies
all the story of the Temple, whose sacred ark Jewish tradition affirms
to have been concealed here by Jeremiah. But that rock, whose red
outcrop breaks through the floor of the mosque, leads us back to a
dimmer past, and to the story of Abraham’s sacrifice upon Moriah, whose
site this is said to be. Various theories have been advocated as to the
place which the rock held in the arrangements of the Jewish temple. The
Jews of to-day have a legend that on it somewhere the Unspeakable Name
is written, and they explain the miracles of Jesus by the supposition
that He had succeeded in deciphering it. We, too, for whom its chief
interest and pathos lie in the fact that Christ came hither to worship,
and in the things that befell Him here, may accept the meaning at least
of that curious legend. For His own words were that He had declared to
men the name of His Father, and that declaration has truly revealed to
mankind the hidden meaning of their holiest things.

It was in 680 A.D. that the first Mohammedan sanctuary was erected on
the temple area, but the date of the present building is two hundred
years later. It struck us as a curious fact a year ago in Damascus that
the burnt mosque was being rebuilt almost entirely by Christian masons.
Still more surprising is it to learn that the Mosque of Omar was built
by Byzantine architects and modelled on the Rotunda of the Holy
Sepulchre. Two hundred years later the Crusaders entered Jerusalem, and,
according to the dreadful story, “the carnage in the Mosque of Omar
swept away the bodies of thousands in a deluge of human blood.”[27]
Mistaking the Mosque for the veritable Temple of Solomon, they founded
there the Society of the Knights Templars, on whose armorial bearings
the dome appears. They converted the building into “Templum Domini,” and
planted a large gilded cross upon the summit of it. Traces of their
invasion still remain in the cutting of the rock to suit their altar,
and in the great wrought-iron enclosing screen. For almost a century the
Templum Domini remained in Christian hands, until 1187, when Saladin
conquered Jerusalem. His generosity and gentleness contrasted strangely
with the “loathsome triumph” of the Crusaders; but the first destination
of the triumphal march was the mosque, from whose dome the Cross was
hurled to the ground, and for two days dragged about the streets. From
that time the mosque has been one of the most exclusive places in the
world. Till recent years no Christian was permitted to enter it, and
Jews avoid it, lest they should unwittingly tread upon the ground of the
ancient Holy of Holies.

The first impressions of the Mosque of Omar are very pleasing. There is
a barbaric splendour in its rich colouring and metallic glitter when
seen from a short distance, while the more distant view of it is one of
rare soft beauty. Its wide courts, too, give it a fresh and open-air
character which is very refreshing after the stifling dark heat and
closeness of the Holy Sepulchre. Above all it impresses one with its
grand simplicity. The sharp-edge angles of the octagon are taken in at
a glance; the rock within is bare rock, and infinitely more impressive
than the silk and marble in which rock masquerades at Bethlehem. The
great number of its pillars, screens, reading-stands, and other
furniture, leaves little open room, and it feels rather a crowded than a
spacious place for worship. Yet, on the other hand, you are not wearied
with the complex symbolism of many of the ancient churches. The meaning
of this may be poorer, but at least it is plain. This means just a
perfectly shapely and highly coloured octagon, where men have worshipped
God for a thousand years in the least complicated way in which worship
has been done. Thus the mosque is typical of the faith and the policy
that created it. “I do not believe,” says Disraeli’s _Tancred_, “that
anything great is ever effected by management.... You require something
more vigorous and more simple.... You must act like Moses and Mohammed.”

On the other hand, the enthusiasm for Mohammedan simplicity is sorely
tried when the first moment of almost awestruck feeling ends with the
advance of the guide. He is to shew you the wonders of the mosque, and
the torrent of mingled absurdity and superstition by which you find
yourself swept on is very trying to the would-be admirer of the faith
and its monument. First of all, there are the relics--the footprint of
Mohammed, and the hairs of his beard; the praying-places of Abraham and
Elijah and other “very fine, high-class people,” as our dragoman


     From the barracks near the site of the Tower of Antonia. Above the
     domed building in the right foreground rises Mount Zion. The rosy
     hills to the left are the mountains of Judea.

them to us; the round hole where the rock let Mohammed through when he
ascended to heaven, the hollow place in the roof of the cavern where it
rose to let him stand erect to pray, the tongue with which it spoke, and
the mark of the angel Gabriel’s finger when it had to be held down from
following him in his ascension. Still more disenchanting is the knot of
underground superstitions that desecrate the holy place, and rob it of
its freshness and healthy simplicity, like snakes in the garden. The
wild imagination of the East has pictured to itself the regions which
lie underneath this sanctuary in its own grim way. In spite of a very
obvious pillar, and a bit of white-washed wall to be seen in the cavern,
the rock is supposed to hover unsupported over the abyss. Beneath is
“the well of souls,” where the dead assemble twice weekly to pray. Some
think of these departed ones as those who wait for the Resurrection, but
a darker fancy holds that the gates of hell are here. The worshipper
feels the souls of the dead flitting about him, and prays with the cries
of the lost in his ears. Even the open spaces of the court are haunted
by unclean legends, and seem to be heavy with the odour of graveyard
mould. Here, at St. George’s dome, with the two red granite pillars in
front of it, is the place where Solomon tormented the demons; there, by
the eastern wall, is the throne whereon he sat when dead, the corpse
leaning on his staff to cheat them, until worms gnawed the staff
through, the body fell forward, and the demons found out the trick.

In common decency, any place that lays claim to sacredness must have
something to say to worshippers regarding conduct; but the ethics of the
Mosque of Omar are a match for its impostures, alike in gruesomeness and
in impudence. They are all of the nature of magic tests, by which souls
are to be tried for their eternal fate. The little arcades at the top of
the steps of the platform are called “Balances” because the scales of
judgment are to be suspended there on the Great Day. The Dome of the
Chain owes its name to the circumstance that there a golden chain hung
at David’s place of judgment, which had to be grasped by witnesses and
dropped a link when a lie was told. A place in the outer wall is shown
from which a wire will be suspended on the Day of Judgment, whose other
end will be made fast on the Mount of Olives. Christ will sit on the
wall and Mohammed on the mount. Over this wire must all men find their
way, but only the good will cross, the wicked falling into the valley
beneath. In the El Aksa Mosque a couple of pillars stand very near each
other, so worn that they are perceptibly thinned. The space between them
bulges, in which a piece of spiked iron-work is now inserted. These were
another test for the final award--he who could squeeze himself through
the aperture, and he alone, had found the true “narrow way” to heaven.

Frauds such as these force upon every visitor the question how far the
Mohammedans themselves believe them. The utter want of earnestness, or
anything that to a Western mind bears the resemblance of reality, is
painfully evident in the attendants who guide you through the mosque.
You are forced to respect its sacredness by purchasing the loan of
slippers to cover your boots, and you feel rather like one entering a
circus than a place of worship, when you have been transformed into an
illuminated caricature by means of one yellow and another red slipper.
Your guide, who wears the appearance of a convict in clericals, greatly
enjoys your picturesqueness, and makes haste to conduct you to a certain
jasper slab into which Mohammed drove nineteen nails of gold (which
look, however, indistinguishable from iron). A nail comes out at the end
of every epoch, and when all are gone the end of the world will come.
One day the devil destroyed all but three and a half of them, when the
Angel Gabriel, caught napping for once, stopped the mischief just in
time. Here you are invited to lay any coins you may chance to have about
you, and assured that if the coin be silver you will save your soul by
giving it. As the coins are tabled, the whole body of assistant clergy
assembles to count the collection.

All this, and much else, is but the inevitable outcome of a worship that
gathers round a stone. It is a petrified worship, hard and dead as its
sacred rock. Nothing could be more pathetic than a window in El Aksa
almost darkened with little rags of clothing hung there by poor folk who
come to pray for their sick friends. If Syrian Christianity is corrupt,
it is at least not so pitiless as Syrian Mohammedanism. The very aspect
and situation of the rival shrines is symbolic. The mosque does not
really love men, whether it really believes in God or not. It sits apart
in its wide enclosure, while the Church of the Sepulchre is huddled
indistinguishably into the thickest pressure of the life of men and
women in the city. The church seems, by its rugged and broken outline,
to sympathise with the shattered fortunes of the life around it; it is
grey and ruinous-looking, as if it had borne man’s sorrows and carried
them. The mosque, with all its beauty, seems to sit there like some
great sleek sphinx, watching everything, but sharing little and loving
none of the misery around it. In this city of ruins there is something
repellent about its smooth and self-complacent finish. No, the mosque
does not really love men; whether it really believes in itself and its
miracles or not is another of the many Mohammedan things which God only



To tell even in barest outline the long story of the Crusades would be a
task as impossible as it would be thankless. The magic of Sir Walter
Scott’s _Talisman_ is happily not yet dead, and in some degree the
Crusader still lives as an actual and human figure in our imagination.
Many Christians who had come as pilgrims had settled in the land as its
inhabitants, and for four centuries after the Arabian conquest these
continued both their trade and their worship under the tolerably mild
Mohammedan rule. In the eleventh century all was changed by the Saracen
invasion. Pilgrims were extortionately taxed at the gates of Jerusalem;
their lives were imperilled, their persons and their devotions insulted.
The old commerce, which had grown to considerable proportions, was
ruined, and pilgrimage, from being a lucrative and pleasant service,
became an almost certain martyrdom.

It was this state of affairs which sent Peter the Hermit through Europe
on his great campaign in 1093, and those extraordinary wars that raged
in Syria through two centuries bore the complex character of the
motives which had prompted them. From the departure of that motley
rabble which followed the Hermit to the East in the first Crusade, down
to the pitiful expedition of French children who started 30,000 strong
from Vendôme in 1212, there stretches perhaps the most picturesque
period in all history.[28]

The mass of paradox and contradiction which that period presents is no
less striking. It was an invasion by the West, whose purpose was to
rehabilitate an Eastern faith. It was a religious war carried on by the
jealousies and ambitions of rival nations. It was the occasion of some
of the most statesmanlike government that the world has seen, and it was
accompanied from first to last by frequent outbursts of treachery,
massacre, and lust. It was the most airy dream and at the same time the
most effective practical force of its time. It was the expression of the
most ascetic severity and the most reckless luxury. Utterly futile,
commercially and socially disastrous, often wholly irreligious, it was
yet everywhere a massive and purposeful conception, in which the
determination and forcefulness of the West thrust their iron wedge clean
to the centre of this sleepy land. Its high idealism, curiously alloyed
with grosser elements both sensual and brutal, was yet able to preserve
through all the genuine spiritual fire of chivalry and of faith.

Our task is simply to ascertain what all this stands for in the history
of Palestine, and what it has left behind it there as its memorial. In
two words, it stands for the contact of the East and West, and for their
separateness. Into Europe the Crusades brought much from the East. It
was due to them more than to all other causes that there was so immense
an increase of Eastern merchandise in Western markets--not of Jerusalem
relics only, but of Damascus ware and of Persian and even Indian produce
from beyond the great rivers. Their influence on architecture, too, is a
well-known fact of Western history. The Mosque of Omar rose on at least
three European sites, and the plan of many another piece of Byzantine
building and Arabesque decoration was brought home by the Crusaders from
the wars. Into the East, again, the Crusades brought much from the West.
From north to south of Palestine one meets with the remains and
memorials of that invasion. Theirs are the footprints most visible
throughout the land. Everything in Syria has felt the touch of them and
retained its mark. At every turn one finds something recognisable and
homely to Western ears and eyes--the name of a castle, the chiselling of
a stone, the moulding of metal--they are strangely familiar as they are
met so far away from home. Yet they survive as wreckage, and as wreckage
only. He who hopes to westernise the East is attempting a task in which
all must fail, whether they be soldiers or priests, missionaries or
statesmen. The ancient Eastern life has long ago flowed back over the
relics of the Western occupation of Syria.

The surviving traces are of many kinds. There are the descendants of
Crusaders, sprung of intermarriages with Eastern women, and still
preserving a distinctively European type in little suggestive details of
feature or of hair. Names such as Belfort, Belvoir, Mirabel,
Blanchegarde, or Sinjil (St. Giles), coming without apology next to the
Hebrew and Arabic names of villages in Palestine, strike one with very
much the same shock as old Scottish place-names do, alternating with
incorporated aboriginal ones, on the railway stations of the Australian
bush. Relics like the sword and spurs of Godfrey de Bouillon may, like
most other relics, be discounted, but not so the wonderful masonry of
castles and of churches which everywhere overawes the man accustomed to
modern walls. Winding our way with tight rein along the narrow and
crooked streets of Tyre, we suddenly plunged into the darkness and foul
air of the Bazaar. At the other end of it, emerging under a Gothic
archway, we found ourselves in the courtyard of a khan, a very dirty and
unpleasant place. Seeing nothing but unclean stables, we imagined that
our horses were to be put up here and perhaps fed, and we pitied them.
Then, to our astonishment, we discovered that this was the old Crusader
Church, where these broken and discoloured arches had once echoed the
hymns and prayers of European chivalry; and that somewhere among them
lay the bones of the great emperor so famous in


history and legend--“Der alte Barbarossa, der Kaiser Friederich.” Not
less affecting in its way was the discovery of a little patch of
snapdragon flowers on the ruined walls of Belfort Castle. We were
informed that the plant is not elsewhere found in Syria, and the
likelihood is that some Crusader’s lady brought it from the garden of a
far-off French or English home.

The Crusader was at once the dreamer, the worshipper, and the fighter of
the Middle Age. The knight was not indeed the sort of man whom at first
sight we would suspect of dreaming. Could we see him riding down the
street to-day, we should probably be reminded of some village blacksmith
on a Clydesdale horse. Yet he had been dreaming dreams and seeing
visions. He was a gentleman and a man of feeling, though he had his own
rough ways of shewing it. Part of what had set him dreaming was the
instinct of travel and the literature of travel which in those days was
so quaint and picturesque. No doubt this travel literature was largely
due to pilgrims, but there were others then who could play no tune but
“Over the hills and far away.” Travellers’ half-remembered and
exaggerated adventures conspired with the fantastic imaginings of the
untravelled rustic to create that magic land beyond the horizon where
giants, monsters, and devils had their home. All the wistfulness, the
dream, and the desire of the ancient days are there. The chroniclers of
the time before the Norman Conquest are the most fascinating of
geographers, and the singers of Arthurian romance in the later days of
the Crusades arrived at a geography which was an utter bewilderment,
the result of ages of vague travel and rumours from the Syrian seat of
war. Babylon and Wales and places with names wholly unpronounceable are
in sublime confusion, and the geography in general is that of
Thackeray’s Little Billee, who saw from his mast-head “Jerusalem and
Madagascar and South Amerikee.”

Jerusalem always came first. “The Crusades,” as Sidonia says in
_Tancred_, “renovated the spiritual hold which Asia has always had upon
the North.” The spell of the East had come upon the West, and in that
there lay a reason for the Crusades deeper than any commercial or even
military attraction. The West was waiting for it. Behind the British men
of the twelfth century lay a heredity of patriotic legend connected
largely with the battle of Christianity against Paganism under Arthur.
There lay the foundation of much that was best in the crusading
enthusiasm. On their own soil they had followed the King and fought
under him for Christ. But to satisfy the hearts of these rough men it
needed more than all such practical life could yield them, even when
that life was so exciting as it was then. There is an infinite pathos in
the dream that was coming to clearness through those years. Discontented
with the glories even of Arthur’s court, longing for a spiritual
something which might give to chivalry its finest meaning, they sought
the Holy Grail. Until, well on in the twelfth century, the shadowy
figures of Walter Map and Robert de Borron formulate the romance,[29]
we see it growing out of old pagan legends baptized by Christian
missionaries and blended with Bible stories. It emerges at last in the
romances of the French Trouvères, the summit and flower of all past
idealisms, the spiritual secret and gist of life, and the chief end of
noble men. This is all well known to those who interest themselves in
that spiritual search which is the main business of choice souls in all
ages, and which in that age took literary form in the Grail Quest. But
to us it is specially interesting to note that the century whose later
years received the Trouvère legend from Chrétien de Troyes began with an
event but for which that legend would never have assumed the form in
which it appeared. In 1101 Cæssarea was besieged and taken by Baldwin I.
“It yielded a rich booty. Among other prizes was found a hexagonal vase
of green crystal, supposed to have been used at the administration of
the sacrament, and now preserved in Paris. This vase plays an important
part in mediæval poetry as the Holy Grail.” The visionary aspect of the
Crusades is that which continually obtrudes itself as one reads their
history. Tasso’s _Gerusalemme Liberata_ is full of it. Even so rough and
boisterous a hero as Richard is obviously a dreamer also. Nothing in all
this history is more striking than that fateful day when, after marching
to within seven leagues of Jerusalem, Richard commanded his army to
halt, and courted their murmurs during a month’s unaccountable
inaction. Performing unheard-of feats of valour in minor sallies, he
could only weep when he beheld the towers of the Holy City, and after
routing Saladin’s army in a great battle at Joppa, negotiated a truce
and wandered off to shipwreck and imprisonment, commending the Holy Land
to God, and praying that it might be granted him to return again and
recover it.[30]

As worshippers, the Crusaders are famous figures in the Holy Land. It is
hard to reconcile the tales of wild debauchery which followed almost all
their victories, with the obviously genuine religious enthusiasm that
swept the hosts down weeping on their knees when they caught first sight
of Jerusalem. Yet the worship was sincere, and there were pure and
gentle spirits among them whom victory did not demoralise. They are
always, indeed, armed worshippers--at first a religious soldiery,
afterwards a military priesthood, as Stebbing puts it. This composite
character is well brought out in the two orders of knights, the
Hospitallers and the Templars. The former, working for the sick in the
Holy City, wore a black robe with a white cross upon the breast of it,
but when there was fighting to be done they covered this with a surcoat
of scarlet on which a silver cross was embroidered. They lived simply,
contenting themselves with such lodging and fare as were offered them,
and they were bound to keep themselves provided with a light which must
always be kept burning while they slept. The Templars pledged
themselves in even stricter vows, and were warrior-priests in the most
literal sense of the term. On the summit of Mount Tabor there is the
ruin of a Crusader church, whose broken walls still enclose the sacred
space where once men worshipped. Spacious and strongly built, the ruin
has a severe grandeur of its own. In the chancel an altar has been
rebuilt, and an upturned Corinthian capital set upon it, in the centre
of which is fixed a heavy iron cross. That iron cross seems to sum up in
its grave symbolism the very spirit of the Crusades. Many of their
churches were reconstructions of older Christian edifices, and most of
them have been transmuted into mosques, so that their ecclesiastical
architecture still remaining is as composite as their character and
their enterprise. Yet enough remains of what is distinctively their own
to show at once the massive strength and the decorative beauty of their
buildings. Its strength is that of men who were accustomed to build
fortresses; the buttressed walls are of immense thickness, and the
mortar is sometimes harder than the stone. Its beauty has been defaced
by the mutilation of much fine work, but from what is left we know how
well they carved; and there is a certain high solemnity about their
arches and columns which tells of men whose minds were large, strong,
and real.

One curious fact, to which Conder often directs attention, is constantly
perplexing the traveller. Their identifications of sacred sites are
those of men whose enthusiasm far exceeded their knowledge. Had they
taken time to consult the Scriptures, or to read them with any
thoughtfulness, countless errors would have been avoided. But the
soldier instinct is very far from the critical, and they were impatient
to find the sites they wished to see. Anything was sufficient for a
clue. The name Jibrin suggested “Gabriel,” and a great church arose in
honour of the Archangel. Athlit was near the sea-shore, and the
Crusaders who lived there found Tyre and Capernaum in its immediate
neighbourhood. For reasons equally cogent, Shiloh was brought within a
mile or two of Jerusalem, Shechem became Sychar, and the heights of Ebal
and Gerizim were recognised as the Dan and Bethel of Jeroboam’s calves.
Most curious of all, the little hill of Jebel Duhy, on whose summit you
look down across the valley from the top of Tabor, was named Hermon, for
no other reason than that a psalm places the two together in its promise
that “Tabor and Hermon shall rejoice in Thy name.” Altogether, these
worshippers were in too great haste. “Crusading topography is more
remarkable than reliable.”

Great as the Crusaders were in dream and in worship, it is their
fighting that remains for ever most impressive and most characteristic.
Of no men in history is the verse truer, in spite of all their

    Know that the men of great renown
      Were men of simple needs:
    Bare to the Lord they laid them down
      And slept on mighty deeds.

Looked at from a distance, the Crusades very generally wear the aspect
of a stream of vivid colour--a spectacular progress of Europe through a
corner of Asia, whose main feature is its brilliant picturesqueness. On
the spot the quality in them which is by far the most impressive is
their stern reality and fighting weight. The Crusader was doubtless one
who in his time played many parts, but whatever else he was, no one who
has seen the remains of his work will question that he was at least “a
first-class fighting man.” The figure of Richard, as it is preserved for
us in the records of the older historians, may be more or less
apocryphal, but it is at least true enough to crusading ideals, which
must have found many an actual realisation in these strong and fearless
soldiers of the Cross. We read of amazing captures of booty; of single
combats in which “the King at one blow severs the head, right shoulder
and arm of his opponent from the rest of his body”; of a conflict in
which only one Christian perished, while “the Turks lost seven hundred
men and above fifteen hundred horses.” At Joppa the king leaps out of
his ship before it can reach land, and rushes on the enemy. Three days
later he and his knights are surprised and have to fight half-naked,
some in their shirts and some even barefoot; yet they win. At another
time we see Richard plunging alone into the midst of the hostile army,
and fighting until Saladin’s brother sends him a gift of two Arab
war-horses to enable him to fight it out. Altogether such a hero was he,
that the Moslems asserted “that even the horses bristled their manes at
the name of Richard.” No wonder if in the popular imagination he became
for England hardly distinguishable from that St. George who had already
been identified with Perseus, who on these same sands had fought the
dragon for Andromeda.

The grandeur of crusading warfare lingers in the mighty ruins of their
castles. Nothing could surpass the impressiveness of these castles, seen
on hill-tops from below, combing the sky with the sharp broken teeth of
their ruined towers, or rearing a black “mailed head of menace” against
the stars. Many of them are on the sites of older fortresses, and
actually stand on Jewish or Roman foundations. By far the most imposing
of such castles is that of Banias, which crowns that spur of Hermon at
which “Dan leaped from Bashan” long ago. It must have been capable of
quartering a small army, and the quantity of broken vessels confirms the
impression. Cisterns, vaulted and groined archways, mosaic floors,
dungeons, and every other luxury of their European homes had been
imported hither.

The Crusaders ran a line of fortresses along that western edge of the
Jordan valley where Israel, as we saw, failed to protect the mouths of
her gorges. Belvoir, “the Star of the Wind,” guards from its lofty
promontory the passes immediately south of the Sea of Galilee. Bethshan
itself, where the Canaanites lingered to the standing shame of Israel,
shows the well-preserved remains of a crusader bridge and fortress. Not
less striking is the sea-board line of castles. Not only in such old
localities as Tyre and Sidon, Cæsarea and Joppa, did fortresses arise,
but on at least two quite new sites--those of Athlit and Acre.


Athlit is unmentioned in Scripture, and only the eye of seafaring
soldiers could have discovered how its little crease in the long
straight line of coast might be utilised for defence. Acre is “the Key
to Syria”; but it was left for the Crusaders to discover that fact.

Yet with all this might and purpose and strategic instinct manifest in
every mile of Syria, failure is written broad across the land in these
ruins. At two points the sense of it becomes especially acute. One is
the battlefield below the very mountain which tradition has assigned to
the preaching of the Sermon on the Mount. The horrors of that field were
such that even yet it is impossible to look without shuddering upon the
flattened top of Hattin, where the black basalt stands out from the
green slopes below. The Crusaders were rushed into the open plain, near
which Saladin’s cavalry were waiting for them, and they met his assault
unfed, unrested, and without even water to quench their thirst.
Throughout a long hot day they perished round the banner of the Cross, a
final element of horror being added when the Saracens set fire to the
scrub, and unhorsed knights were roasted alive in their armour. That was
the decisive battle of the Crusades, and Saladin marched after it
straight upon Jerusalem.

The other point at which the failure of the Crusades has set up its
monument is at their own Athlit. The creation of their genius, and for
solidity and massive strength perhaps the most characteristic ruin in
Syria, it is also the saddest thing of all they have left for a
memorial. Near its rocks King Louis IX. of France--most unfortunate and
yet most saintly of all crusading kings--was shipwrecked. Here, too, at
the end of the thirteenth century, the Knights Templars made their last
retreat after the fall of Acre, and it was from its castle that they
departed--the last to abandon the last Crusade. Seen from the sea, the
compact and rounded promontory of Athlit presents the appearance of a
clenched fist menacing and defiant. Its history grimly corroborates the
imagination that here through centuries of decay the land as it were
gathers itself together, and thrusts out this grim headland in perpetual
defiance of the Western world.

The Crusades stand for more in Palestine than it is easy to realise. The
comprehensiveness of their historical significance is by no means
exhausted when we have stated it in such paradoxes as those with which
our chapter began. They were indeed the greatest sham and at the same
time the greatest reality of Syrian history, but they were far more than
that. They were heirs to all the past of the country, and they did much
to perpetuate that past and to carry it on into the time to come. Even
from the Moslem life they wrestled with, they borrowed something. They,
and the chivalry which they fostered, are the most spectacular part of
Western history, and give a dash of brilliant colour to the grey life of
the Middle Ages. That brilliance is in part the splendour of the East.
The Crusader has borrowed from the Saracen at least a scarf for his

It is chiefly as builders that the Crusaders remain in Syria exposed to
modern eyes, and in their building they have perpetuated and utilised
the other three invasions. From the first Christians they took over
their churches and rebuilt them, retaining something and adding more.
From the older Jewish architects they had almost as great an
inheritance. There seems no incongruity in the heavy stone mangers and
far-driven iron rings which they fixed in the walls of those tremendous
vaults on which the Temple area rests; and it is by a not unnatural
transference that tradition has given to these the name of Solomon’s
Stables. Solomon’s vaults they may have been, but as stables they were
of crusading origin. Their own building is a rough imitation of the
drafted stones of the Jews. The rustic work is much the same, only
rougher, but the plain chiselling is very far from the minute fineness
of the older workmanship. Altogether, they were fighters first and
builders second. Like the men of Nehemiah’s time, “every one with one of
his hands wrought in the work, and with the other hand held a weapon....
Every one had his sword girded by his side, and so builded.” Nor did
they fail to utilise the work of Roman builders. At Cæsarea there is the
most striking instance of this, and one of the most suggestive facts in
the whole story of the Crusaders. Cæsarea was the most Roman of all
Syrian towns. Built as the seaport for Sebaste by Herod, it was the part
of Syria which travellers and governors sailing from Italy first
sighted, and it was designed to give them the impression of a land
Romanised. Herod’s delight in pillars is attested by the colonnades of
Sebaste, and the wealth of shaft and capital which marks the ruins of
all his cities. But in Cæsarea he seems to have excelled himself. The
Roman mole which forms the northern side of the harbour “is composed of
some sixty or seventy prostrate columns lying side by side in the water
like rows of stranded logs.”[31] On the long promontory south of the
mole stands the Crusader Castle, notable for the circumstance that the
Crusaders built hundreds of lighter and shorter columns into their walls
to thorough-bind them, so that, in Oliphant’s exact and graphic words,
“the butts project like rows of cannon from the side of a man-of-war.”
Which thing is for an allegory; and one of the most eloquent of all
sermons in stone it is. Rome did more for Christianity than all its
friends, while she was as yet its enemy. Without her courts of justice
Paul would have had short shrift from his countrymen. Her roads and her
citizenship gave to the first missionaries of the Cross their exit upon
the world and their opportunity. Her laws gave them not protection only,
but a groundwork for much that entered into that theology which
conquered the thought of the world. Paul appealed unto Cæsar, and he
wrote to the Romans his gospel expressed in the forms with which they
were most familiar. And it was at Cæsarea that he made his appeal, doing
in flesh and blood what his disciples a thousand years later did in
stone--thorough-binding the walls of the building of Christian faith
with Roman columns.



In the first and second parts of this book we have been collecting
impressions of the Land and its Invaders. It remains for us in the third
part to gather these together into something which may enable us to
realise more clearly the general meaning and quality of the spirit of
Syria. In the main two things must be noted, and the first of them is
religious. Whatever else Palestine may be, she is certainly a land with
a God. The meaning of Syria is disclosed in her Israelite and Christian
periods, whose great fact and characteristic process is the revelation
of God to men on earth. All her other invasions have to reckon with that
fact. Some of them were bitterly hostile to it, but they were powerless
to efface it. Others were indifferent, entering Syria for ends of their
own; but history shews them bent over to God’s purposes and
unconsciously made the instruments of working out His will. That will
brought Israel to her land, isolated her there, hemmed her in, bore her
and carried her in everlasting arms on through her centuries, finally
was incarnate in her life. For Jesus Christ was a Syrian, and we must
orientalise our thoughts of Him before we can rightly understand the
Christian revelation.

Not less clear is the second impression, which is that of the
unfinishedness and imperfection of all things Syrian. It is a place of
wreckage, new and old. But the peculiarity of that wreckage is that it
was always there, more or less. None of the ideals of the land were ever
quite realised. It was never completely conquered by the Israelites,
their ambition stopping short and their energy flagging before their
task was done. It was never completely cultivated, or made to yield its
full harvest of natural wealth. In countless small things this
incompleteness is evident. The contrast between the beauty of the
distant view and the disorder and slovenliness of the near has been
already noted. The post-office in Damascus is a quite good post-office,
so far as letters and telegrams go. But you inquire for these in a hall
which looks like a very dirty stable-yard with a very dirty fountain in
the middle of it, furnished with little rough-sawn wooden boxes for
private letters, such as no self-respecting grocer would pack with
oranges. Even the tombs, about which so much sacredness is supposed to
gather, are the untidiest of sepulchres. You may see a large and
expensive tombstone, shining white in the distance, with all the air of
aristocratic self-importance which man’s pride can lend to death; but
when you approach, it is railed off with bamboo and barbed wire which
might have been picked off a rubbish-heap. There are good roads in
places, but they lead to nowhere. Generally they collapse into mere
watercourses after a few miles, or they run on in a squared and measured
lane of sharp boulders down which no horse can walk. Nor is this
incompleteness a peculiarity of Turkish administration. Probably nothing
in Palestine is older than the landmarks which divide the fields. From
generation to generation these have been held sacred, laws against their
removal having been in force among the ancient Canaanites before the
conquest by Israel. So sacred are they that even murderers and thieves
will seldom dare to tamper with them. Yet through all the long past the
landmarks are said to have remained as the first men laid them
down--mere inconspicuous heaps of little stones, the easiest things in
the world to remove.

When we take the unfinishedness of the land along with the revelation
and consider them together, we can hardly fail to gain a lesson of
far-reaching meaning. The great incompleteness of Syria--the thing in
which her life has been most lamentably unfinished--was her response to
the revelation of her God. She never was at pains to understand it; she
never fully opened her heart to its new progress, nor felt her high
destiny as the bearer of good tidings to the world. She never seriously
set herself to obey its plainest ethical demands. The wreckage is her
price paid for the neglect. No man nor nation can finish any task to
perfection, who has not done justice to such revelation of God as his
heart and conscience have received. It is truth to the inward light that
keeps us from losing heart and enables us to feel that energy and
patience to the end are worth our while. Right dealing with revelation
is the secret of all efficient performance. The combination in
Palestine of such revelation and such defect in strenuous action shows
us a land that has just missed the most amazing destiny on earth.

It is in the remembrance of these thoughts that the chapters of this
part should be read. The Shadow of Death has fallen because these men
could not escape their knowledge of some greatness in death, more moving
than anything life had to show. The spectral is but a degenerate and
perverse form of their sense of God. The Cross gives its ethical
significance to the burden and sorrow of the land. Resurrection shows
signs even now that God has not yet done with Syria. But first, before
we treat these aspects of her spirit, let us look at it on its brighter
side--the smile and song of the land.




One easily forgets, among the many sorrows of the Holy Land, that there
is any lighter side to the picture there. Yet such a side there is, and
always has been. Nature is not always severe, nor the spirit of man
melancholy, in the East. Both nature and man are sometimes found in
lighter vein here as elsewhere. Stevenson’s most charming good word for
the world he always defended so gallantly, is specially applicable to
the Syrian part of it.--“It is a shaggy world, and yet studded with
gardens; where the salt and tumbling sea receives rivers running from
among reeds and lilies.” Syria has always known the value of her
gardens, and felt the sweet enchantment of her reeds and lilies. Was not
her first story told of a garden where four such rivers flowed, and her
noblest sermon that whose text was “the lilies of the field” and “the
birds of the air”? What pleasantness of open nature there is in these
two latter expressions! What sense of field-breadth and sky-space, in
which the Preacher had room for breathing and for delight! Every
Israelite, sitting under his vine and fig tree, or going forth to
meditate in the fields at evening, knew this charm. From of old the
inhabitants have taken delight in exchanging roofs for bowers in their
fields and gardens, or for booths, built with green branches on their
house-roofs. Many a sweet vista is seen in Palestine framed in trellised
vines or in passion-flower swinging over a roofed fountain or a garden
house. The mountains were often bare and unhomely, for at no time can
any but a minor part of them have been cultivated; yet even the
wind-swept heights were inhabited by health and hope and gladness, and
when a shepherd passed by, or the reapers shouted in the harvest-fields,
the heart of the men of Israel sang aloud. In the words of the 65th
Psalm this exhilaration and childlike glee finds its most perfect
expression; we quote them in that old Scottish rhymed version which has
so singularly caught their spirit:--

    They drop upon the pastures wide,
      That do in deserts lie;
    The little hills on ev’ry side
      Rejoice right pleasantly.

    With flocks the pastures clothed be,
      The vales with corn are clad;
    And now they shout and sing to thee,
      For thou hast made them glad.

Similarly the Jordan, usually thought of with a certain gloom, and
rendered still more dismal by its persistent allegorical association
with death, is by no means so melancholy as it is supposed to be. Its
rise, indeed, was from a black cave, where ancient pagan worship erected
its shrines, seeing life issue there from the abyss of death. Its course
leads it far down, like the dark stream of classic fable, below the
surface of the earth and ocean. Yet there is no sense of all that as
one looks at it from any point in its course. The trees of Syria are
generally disappointing. For the most part solitary, or undersized where
there is a wood, many of them are decaying, and most of them are dull in
colour. But the vegetation of the Jordan is a bright exception. Even at
its lowest point, when it is hurrying over the last miles to the Dead
Sea, it flows through that rich boscage known as the “Swellings” or the
“Pride” of Jordan, where pilgrims cut their staves. It is to this part
of its course that the words in _Tancred_ apply most exactly, “The
beauty and abundance of the Promised Land may still be found ... ever by
the rushing waters of the bowery Jordan.” Warburton, describing the same
scene in early morning, speaks of the awakening of birds and beasts
there, and then the sunrise, adding, “I lingered long upon that
mountain’s brow, and thought that, so far from deserving all the dismal
epithets that had been bestowed upon it, I had not seen so cheerful or
attractive a scene in Palestine.”

The scents of the East add to the delightfulness of Nature on her
pleasant side. There are plenty of abominable smells there, but these
are in the towns and villages. The open country is continually
surprising and refreshing its travellers with new perfume. That this is
fully appreciated by the natives, no reader of the Bible can forget.
There we have the scent of spices and of wine; of the field, of water,
and of Lebanon; of budding vines, mandrakes, apples; of ointment, of
incense, and of raiment. In such references we see the East inhaling the
fragrance of the land with an almost passionate delight. It is all
there still. The scent of the desert after rain has been already
referred to, but the same aromatic perfume may be enjoyed by climbing
the hills above Beyrout, where every ground-plant seems to breathe forth
spices. Again, there are the blossoming trees, the heavy perfume of
orange-flower, and the simple fragrance of roses. Best of all, there is
the clean smell of ripe grain in the cornfields, and the fresh, briny
exhilaration of breezes from the sea.

Such is the lighter side of Nature; and man is not by any means so far
out of touch with it as is often supposed. The severity of material
conditions and of historical experience has not been able quite to
suppress man’s gaiety. It is well that this has been so, for here
certainly the words of the Scots song are true enough: “Werena my heart
licht, I wad dee.” With so much of the darker powers of the universe
pressing hard upon them, one trembles to imagine what the spirit of
Syria would have been without those inexhaustible stores of gaiety that
break forth sometimes like her great river from the very darkness of the
abyss. Her laughter is not that of progressive lands looking to the
future in the great joy of an intelligent hope. It is rather a part of
her inalienable childhood, whose fresh sweetness and virginity have
somehow been permitted to remain through all her sorrows. Renan
describes the heroes of the Bible as “always young, healthy, and strong,
scarcely at all superstitious, passionate, simple, and grand.” There is
still some inheritance of such life, perpetually young and even
childish, in the Holy Land.

The first appearance of an Eastern is grave and solemn, with an element
of contempt in it rather trying to the would-be jester or too familiar
stranger. But this is not wholly due to any weight of gloom pressing on
his heart. It has, with singular ingenuity, been traced to quite minor
and apparently insignificant causes, such as the wearing of flowing
robes by the men and the burden-bearing of the women. There can be no
doubt that both clothes and burdens exercise a powerful influence on
character; and it may well be the case that the management of their
garment has taught dignity to the men, while the carrying of heavy
waterpots has helped to make the women graceful and erect. There is also
the instinct of self-defence, and the constant remembrance of danger.
Every Eastern, however prosperous, impresses one with the idea that his
table is spread for him in the presence of his enemies. This leads
him--especially if he be an Arab--to assume a show of superiority and a
bullying swagger, which seem to the uninitiated quite impervious to any
thought of fun. But the mask is easily laid aside, and the gravest and
most contemptuous Syrian will suddenly collapse into harsh laughter or
forget himself in childish interest.

It would be wonderful if it were otherwise. The East is full of
provocatives to mirth--not merely such as seem ridiculous to a stranger
because they are foreign, but things grotesque in themselves. Take the
one instance of the camel. Much has been written about him from many
points of view, but justice has never yet been done to the camel as a
humorous person. Yet he is the most humorous of all the inhabitants of
the East. Beside him, with his sardonic pleasantry, the monkey is a
mountebank and the donkey but a solemn little ass. He has been described
as “the tall, simple, smiling camel”; but on closer acquaintance he
turns out to be hardly so simple as he might be taken for, and if he
smiles, he is generally smiling at you. The camels you meet in Syria are
carrying barley with the air of kings, and regarding their human
companions with, at best, a sentiment of contemptuous tolerance. The
lower lip of a camel is one of the most expressive features in the whole
repertoire of natural history. The humours of this animal reached for us
their climax at Sheikh Miskin, while we were waiting for the Damascus
train. A camel had been persuaded to kneel in order to receive its load
of long poles brought by the railway. It was roaring steadily, in a
fiendish and yet conscientious manner. Ten men were loading it, of whom
one stood upon its near fore-leg, two fastened the poles upon its back,
and the remaining seven looked on and made remarks. The beast waited
until the poles were all but fixed--ten of them or so. Then it indulged
in a shake, which sent them rolling in all directions. Finally it was
loaded, with two of the sticks on one side and one on the other, their
ends projecting far out behind and in front. It rose, nearly ruining a
well-dressed Arab who had somehow got in among it. Just then the train
arrived and the camel fled incontinently, sidewise like a crab,
spreading the fear of death in man and beast for many yards around, and
dragging a terrified driver, who hung on to its head-rope, across
towards the distant east. A loaded camel behaving in this fashion is a
deadlier weapon than a loaded gun.

Now the native wit always appeared to us to have modelled itself on
camel drollery of this sort. It is generally personal, and its essential
function is to hit somebody. It lacks freshness, and has a certain
suggestion of a clown with “crow’s feet” under his eyes. Sometimes
indeed a Syrian indulges in jokes at his own expense, but more
frequently his facetiousness is at the expense of others, and it is
tolerably direct. The habit of nicknames lends itself to Oriental wit,
the lean man being described familiarly as “Father of Bones,” and the
stout man as “Full Moon of Religion.” Passing through a village some
distance off the usual route of travellers, we were surrounded with
villagers who asked the dragoman why we had come. “To take away your
country!” was the answer, and it was met with peals of laughter. Another
witticism which was immensely appreciated was the remark to some farmers
who were suffering from drought that we in England had stolen their rain
and it had made many people sick there. A boatman on the Sea of Galilee
was being chaffed unmercifully upon the fact that he had once tried to
commit suicide. He appealed, smiling, to one of the passengers as “My
Father,” and pled that he had been mad when he did that. A
fellow-boatman rebuked him for calling the gentleman “father of a
lunatic,” and the whole crew was dissolved in laughter, the victim
himself heartily joining in the chorus. In Damascus we found a time-worn
Joe Miller in the shout of the nosegay-seller--a very musical cry, which
the guide-book translates “Appease your mother-in-law,” _i.e._ by
presenting her with a bouquet.

From of old pleasure has been apt to degenerate in the luxurious East,
and the fun of Syrians shows abundant traces of such degeneration. Many
unpleasant elements mingle with it. One of the recognised forces in
Eastern life is _humbug_--barefaced bluff and transparent pretence,
which is apparently seen through and yet retains its potency. The
lengths to which this method may go are almost incredible, and cases are
on record of interpreters who have volubly translated a long English
address and afterwards confessed that they did not know a word of the
English language. At times, also, high spirits leads to savagery. The
men who were in charge of our animals were kind and even affectionate to
them, but their moods changed unaccountably. Your donkey-driver,
trotting behind his donkey, will sometimes encourage it with yelling
which would fill any animal less philosophical with the fear of instant
extermination, and he jocularly throws rocks at it until you stop him.
Worst of all, the Syrian humour constantly tends towards indecency of
the most bestial type. The song with which a musical donkey-boy relieves
the monotony of the journey is sometimes quite untranslatable. The
“body-dances,” which form the staple


entertainment provided by wandering Arabs, are often pantomimic, and
their crude realism is unspeakably disgusting.

Yet there is a very innocent and cheerful vein in the human nature of
Syria. At times it is irrelevant and trying. The camp guards, _e.g._ who
are hired from the nearest village to watch the sleeping tents, are apt
to beguile the hours of darkness in a manner hardly conducive to repose.
In most of our camps they were silent figures, flitting about in an
almost ghostly fashion, with perfectly noiseless footsteps. But
MacGregor complains of having had to pay his Egyptian guards “for
sleeping very loud to keep away the robbers.” Our difficulties were not
exactly the same as his, but in some places the guards kept singing as
they paced to and fro, and shouted cheerily to one another along the
whole length of the encampment, or whistled incessantly, and
occasionally fired guns to prove their vigilance. There is a sense of
spontaneity and heartiness about the mirth of the East which throws into
strong contrast its subtler and more gloomy characteristics.
Irresponsible and gay, Syrians seem to be grown-up children, and they
retain the ways of childhood. We rarely saw children playing games, but
bands of full-grown men were seen at times playing schoolboys’ field
games with much shouting. Everybody in the cities appears to be either
selling or eating sweetmeats. Sport is rare, but men go forth with guns
to shoot little birds like sparrows. One of the most curious sights of
Damascus is that of shopkeepers and artisans who go about the streets
followed by pet lambs instead of dogs, the wool of these strange little
creatures being dyed in brilliant spots of blue or pink.

The kindliness of the East is as genuine and as pleasing as that of any
land in the West. It is not in evidence indeed when there is nothing to
call it forth. As you pass through the country, the villagers and
townsfolk regard you with indifference if not with scorn. But one must
remember the universal _acting_ of the East--its devotion to
appearances, and its very curious ideas as to which appearances are most
becoming. With that in mind, the indifference and the scorn become less
alarming. You may find the whole spirit of the situation suddenly change
to one of the kindliest. A traveller who has fallen victim to one of the
malarial fevers which are so common in Syria at certain periods, will
never forget the tenderness with which his camp-servants come about his
tent inquiring, “Ente mabsut?” (Are you happy, or well?). When he
returns the inquiry the answer is, “Ente mabsut, ana mabsut” (If you are
happy, I am happy). At Sidon we had just arrived and had the tents
pitched in the open space next the burying-ground. It was Thursday, and
the graves were crowded with visitors--Mohammedan women in black, white,
or light-coloured robes. They did not seem very sad, even beside the
most recent graves, but gossiped and enjoyed their half-holiday,
disappearing before sunset silently, like a flock of pigeons to their
dovecots. The spectacle was theatrical and almost unearthly. It was
difficult to persuade oneself that these flitting figures were really
women at all; they seemed rather to be animated bits of landscape. Just
while we were watching this, and feeling all its dreamy remoteness from
human life as we had ever known it, two new figures appeared. They were
the gardener of a neighbouring garden and his young daughter Wurda
(Rhoda, Rose). She was five years of age, a tiny vision of black eyes
and hair, the hair being arranged in two pigtails down her back. She
brought a little bunch of roses for each of us, and as she gave them
kissed our hands with as sweet a shyness as any child anywhere could
have done. The incident, like that on the hill of Samaria, lingers on
the memory, and bears witness to a world of gentleness and kindliness
such as we had little dreamed of. Altogether there are abundant signs
that in ancient days there must have been much of that Syrian life
described by one scholar as “gay and bright, festive and musical--the
very home of songs and dances.” It is pleasant to know that although the
fortunes of the land have saddened her so terribly, there still remains
something at least of her former gaiety.

Even the religion of Syria has its lighter side. Every student of the
Bible knows how much there was of rejoicing and fresh childlike
revelling in the situation, in the worship of ancient Israel. It is
peculiarly interesting to find that in the Semitic worship before and
apart from the invasion of Israel, so kindly and friendly a relation
subsisted between man and his gods. “The circle into which a man was
born was not simply a group of kinsfolk and fellow-citizens, but
embraced also certain divine beings, the gods of the family and of the
state, which to the ancient mind were as much a part of the particular
community with which they stood connected as the human members of the
social circle.”[32] Accordingly it would appear that among these ancient
Semites the conception of sacrifice was by no means so gloomy as it came
to be later, when the moral tragedy of life was more clearly realised.
The idea was that of “communion with the deity in a sacrificial meal of
holy food.” They “go on eating and drinking and rejoicing before their
god with the assurance that he and they are on the best of jovial good
terms.... Ancient religion assumes that through the help of the gods
life is so happy and satisfactory that ordinary acts of worship are all
brightness and hilarity, expressing no other idea than that the
worshippers are well content with themselves and with their divine

Of course the severer truth and cleaner conscience which Israel’s
revelation brought her gradually deepened the shadows on her religious
life. She substituted duty for happiness, the beauty of holiness for the
mere _joie de vivre_, and the tragic blessedness of forgiveness for the
careless pleasures of life. Yet to the end she retained and insisted on
the gladness of religion. The duty of joy was a command and not merely
an epigram for Israel. Dante himself was not more explicit in his
condemnation of perverse sullenness than was he who wrote, “Because
thou servedst not the Lord thy God with joyfulness, and with gladness of
heart, for the abundance of all things: therefore shalt thou serve thine

It is surely a very striking fact that the spots which all travellers
select as those in which the gladness of the land dwells most freely
still are Nazareth and Bethlehem. For beauty of feature and of dress,
and for their general air of pleasant and light-hearted gaiety, these
are the acknowledged centres. It was of Bethlehem that we felt this most
true. Its name, signifying “House of Bread,” is significant of plenty
and of comfort. Its associations, even apart from the song of angels
there, are sweet and gracious. While approaching it, you look across a
pleasant and lightsome landscape to the dim blue mountains of Moab, and
remember how Ruth looked across these very fields, when the reapers of
Boaz were working in them, to her distant home in those mountains. Here
it was that King David in his boyhood played and tended the flocks of
his father, and it was the water of that sweet well for which he longed
in the days of his adversity. These and a hundred other memories prepare
the traveller for a place of gracious and kindly sweetness.



We now turn sharply to the other side of things, and it must be apparent
to every one that we are passing from the smaller to the vastly greater
element in the spirit of Syria. The text in Deuteronomy which we
quoted[35] shows us joy commanded at the sword’s point, as if the nation
were unwilling and unlikely to obey easily the happy command. Even when
Jesus Christ repeats the injunction in His great words, “Rejoice and be
exceeding glad,” it is a defiant gladness He enjoins. The context shows
that the rejoicing is that of persecuted and slandered men. A recent
writer has bitterly described our march through life in the words: “We
uphold our wayward steps with the promises and the commandments for
crutches, but on either side of us trudge the shadow Death and the
bacchanal Sex.”[36] The words sound profane to Western ears, but they
are not untrue of the spirit of Syria. It is of “the shadow Death” that
the present chapter treats.

As primitive religion decayed and men lost their sense of kinship and
their easy and friendly relations with the old gods, they were left
alone with death, which everywhere stared them in the face and claimed
them for its own. Next to God, death is the most impressive fact in
human experience, with sin for its sting. When old and defective views
of God are passing away, two courses are open to men. As death closes in
upon them, and they feel its grasp upon their unprotected souls, they
may appeal from it to God, and find Him revealing Himself, with eternal
life for them in the knowledge of Him. This was what the noblest of
Israel’s thinkers did, and the growing revelation of the Bible was their
reward. God showed Himself to them in ever-increasing clearness, until
one and another and another of them found that the hand that grasped
them was “not Death but Love.” But another course is open. They may
enthrone death in place of the broken gods--“Death is king, and vivat
rex!” They may “say to corruption, Thou art my father; to the worm, Thou
art my mother, and my sister.” Then the emphasis of thought will fall on
the grave, and all men’s imaginations will grow morbid.

The tombs of the Holy Land are of many patterns. In his _Haifa_,
Laurence Oliphant describes several different kinds of them, from the
cave-sepulchres, or the underground galleries, to the little wayside
graves or narrow holes driven into rock which seem such tightly-fitting
homes for the dead. There are, of course, the modern graves sacred to
the wives and children of missionaries who have laid down their lives
in the loving service of Christ and man. Buckle the historian sleeps in
the Christian burying-ground at Damascus, and Henriette Renan was laid
to rest in Byblus. These graves and others dear to the Western world
are, as graves have been since Abraham’s day, symbols of the strangers’
inheritance and lot in the Holy Land. From these, back to the tombs of
hoariest antiquity, the country is bound by an unbroken chain of death.
Through all the centuries the dead have been thrust upon the notice of
the living in a fashion so obtrusive as to make this the most obvious
impression of the land. Most of the graves are those of persons now
unknown and quite forgotten. Small and great, common men and heroes, are
alike conspicuous in death. Each of the invaders has left his memorial,
and the sites of ancient cities are traced by help of their

Moslem tombs are everywhere. Most of them are oblong structures of rude
but solid masonry erected over shallow graves. In some cases a painted
tarbush (fez-cap) marks the head and a little upright stone the feet. A
slight hollow is often cut in the flat top for birds to drink from.
Tombs are clustered among their iris-flowers beside the walls of
villages. They have crept up to the very summit of the hill which Gordon
identifies as Calvary. They have encroached on the palace of Herod’s
daughter at Samaria. They crowd the ground outside the built-up “Gate
Beautiful” at Jerusalem. There is, to our feelings, a certain indecency
in this promiscuous invasion of the grave: Mohammedans seem


     From a garden on the opposite hill.

to bury their dead anywhere. The Crusaders have left fewer memorials of
themselves in the shape of tombs than one might have expected.
Barbarossa’s tomb we have already visited. For the rest, their memorials
are mostly those great buildings whose ruins stand to this day. Early
Christianity, too, has left its tombs--catacombs and single graves,
especially in the southern part of the coast, and eastwards in Hauran.
People of importance have sometimes more than one tomb, like St. George,
who is buried both in Lydda and Damascus. But the graves of humbler
Christians are more precious than these, for their inscriptions remain,
breathing forth the faith and peace with which Christ had blessed the
world. Such memorials of victory over death are inextinguishable lamps
hung in the sepulchres of Syria. And these lamps are kindled at the
Great Light. Never was symbolism more appropriate than that of the Holy
Fire in the Church of the Sepulchre. The very heart and soul of Syria is
a tomb--the reputed grave of Jesus Christ. To this day the chief pilgrim
song repeats with exultant reiteration the words, “This is the tomb of
Christ.” It is a song which has never been silent in the land. In the
Crusader camps a herald closed the day with the loud cry, “Lord, succour
the Holy Sepulchre”; and the sentinels passed the word from post to
post, “Remember the Holy Sepulchre.”

It is not, however, the victory over death that impresses one as the
spirit of Syria. It is death itself, unconquered, mysterious, and dark.
Its Christian tombs are few and far between compared with the countless
multitude of sepulchres where there is no lamp alight. Most common and
most impressive of these are the Roman and Greek graves. The sands of
Tyre and Sidon are strewn with sarcophagi. Here a man’s magnificently
carved stone coffin serves for a drinking-trough, there a little child’s
stands alone and desolate near a river mouth. In Sidon the ancient
cemetery is on a scale whose rifled grandeur speaks volumes concerning
the vanity of earthly greatness. At Gadara, the eastward road is a
miniature Appian Way: hollow to the tread of horses as they cross the
excavated rock, and adorned with sarcophagi carved with crowns and
garlands, but bearing inscriptions without hope in them. Farther north,
on the eastern slopes of Hermon, we found a far older monument near one
of the Druse villages. We were crossing a little brook, when we noticed
that the bridge consisted of two huge monolithic slabs of limestone,
which, on examination, appeared to be the lids of ancient sarcophagi.
The carving on the ends was obviously intended to represent figures of
cherubim or some such winged creatures. The heads were gone, but the
plumage of the wings was very perfectly preserved. No one in the
locality knew anything about their origin. Their general appearance
seemed to connect them with the far East.

The Jewish tombs are those which impress the imagination most with the
bitterness of death in Syria. They are so sad, with their antique
solemnity--so severely simple and unadorned. Where there is carving it
is almost always of Roman or Christian workmanship. A few stones with
such symbols as the seven-branched candlestick engraved on them are the
only unquestionable remains of ornamental Jewish work. Few of the Jewish
sepulchres have escaped appropriation by Gentiles. The more famous of
them have been appropriated by the Mohammedans, and early Christian
tradition is responsible for many other indentifications. The saints and
heroes of Israel, claimed also by Mohammedans and Christians, have
achieved a kind of funereal immortality which makes the whole land seem
one vast graveyard. Every prospect is dotted with tombs. The tomb of
Jonas shines white from its hill-top north of Hebron, that of Samuel
north of Jerusalem, while Joseph’s tomb commands the view where the Vale
of Shechem opens on the wider valley of Makhnah. None of them, however,
is at all so impressive as the tomb of Rachel, where a modern house and
dome cover a rough block of stone worn smooth with the kisses of
centuries of Jewish women. The wailing, as we saw it there, is a
memorable custom. The women were mostly elderly or aged, but they were
weeping real tears and wailing bitterly as they kissed the stone. It is
an old story that consecrates that rough stone, but how eternal is its
human pathos: “And they journeyed from Bethel; and there was but a
little way to come to Ephrath: and Rachel travailed, and she had hard
labour.... And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which
is Bethlehem.”[37]

The earlier fashion of Jewish work seems to have been the “pigeon-hole,”
in which the corpse was thrust into a little tunnel six feet long driven
at right angles to the rock face. Later, troughs were excavated to fit
the body along the line of the rock. In some instances these graves,
especially the former kind, are found in detached groups in wayside
rocks, whose perpendicular faces front the open air. For the most part
they are grouped in larger numbers within natural caves or subterranean
excavations, whose low doorway is blocked by a large circular stone
running in a groove. A later example of such a cave is that which is
shewn as the “new tomb” of Joseph of Arimathea, close to Gordon’s
Calvary. A few specimens of another sort, built of masonry without
cement, are to be found in Galilee.[38] Nothing could be gloomier than
the constantly repeated ruins of ancient Jewish graves in Syria. No
day’s journey is without them. They meet you casually, as it were, at
every turning. They are not, indeed, quite dark like the pagan tombs;
but the twilight, in which the hope of immortality just broke the
darkness for ancient Israel, is grey and cheerless, and the contribution
of Jewish graves to the spirit of Syria is a very sombre one.

The typical spot for this side of the spirit of Syria is the town of

The lanes and the dark bazaar are filthy and foul-smelling. The mosque
is an impressive building, suggestive of military rather than devotional
ideas. The Tomb of Abraham, which it covers, is one of the sights which
only a very few Christian eyes have seen. It is permitted to none but
Mohammedans to approach nearer the entrance to it than the seventh step
of the lane, or staircase, alongside its eastern wall. There is a hole
in that wall which is supposed to communicate with the cave below. Jews
write letters to Abraham, and place them in this hole, to tell him how
badly they are being treated by the Moslems. But the Moslem boys are
said to know that the hole has no great depth, and to collect these
letters and burn them before Abraham has seen them. The tomb is the very
heart and black centre of the Shadow of Death in Palestine.

There is no part of man’s faith in which it is more necessary to be
thoroughgoing than in his thoughts about immortality. Egypt and Greece
furnish examples of great significance here. Egypt held an elaborate
doctrine of the future life, and it dominated all her thought concerning
this life. Men built their tombs and kings their pyramids as the most
important of their life’s achievements. The earthly house of the
Egyptian was but an inn where he spent a little time in passing; his
tomb was his eternal house and real home. Thus the tombs were glorified
copies of the dwelling-houses, either of the present, or more often of a
former generation.[39] Greece, on the other hand, did not believe in a
life beyond the grave. Her funeral celebrations were full of
lamentation, and her inscriptions sound sad enough to us. But it was a
principle with Greece and Rome to decorate tombs exclusively with glad
symbols such as sculptured flowers and even dances.[40] The point to be
observed about these is that neither of them was morbid. Morbidness
appears to avoid a robust faith or a frank scepticism,[41] and to cling
about the thought which is neither sure of one thing nor another.

Israel’s position in regard to the belief in immortality is extremely
difficult to define. It was obviously with her a thing of gradual
development, as her revelation opened its broadening light upon life’s
problems. He would be a bold critic who would sum up the situation of
Isaiah’s time as Renan does in the statement, “not looking beyond the
world for reward and punishment,” the Hebrew life “has a heroic tension,
a sustained cry, an unceasing attention to the events of the world.”
Everything goes to shew that long before the faith in immortality had
grasped the imagination and the belief of the people in general it had
been revealed to chosen spirits. As for the others, it had been working
its way among them, occupying their minds in speculation, and leading
them, as it were, among the shades of the nether world. There was
something in the genius of the nation which rendered this interest in
death quite inevitable. The natural bearing of the people has a strange
solemnity about it, which finds constant expression in pose and
gesture, and often strikes the stranger with sudden vividness. Women may
be often seen, especially when clad in thin white garments on holidays,
who might stand just as you see them as models for monumental sculpture.
Along with all its activities, there is a distinct sympathy with death
in the genius of Israel.

This phenomenon is, of course, due to very complex causes. It is a
deep-rooted Semitic instinct, which seems to be not altogether unlike
that of the Egyptian feeling to the tomb as the real home. Some parts of
Arabia are very rich in sacred tombs and spots of holy ground, and
pilgrimages are made to these both by Moslems and by Jews. Long strings
of mules, laden with coffins, wend their way to such sacred places as
Nejf, and thousands of corpses are sent thither even from India.[42] Old
tombstones are held in peculiar veneration by the more devout Arabs. The
well-known reverence with which the Syrian Jews regard the tombs of
their ancestors may be in part explained on the ground of patriotic
loyalty. Such scenes as those which may be witnessed at the tomb of
Rachel, remind us that a sense of the pathos of human life and its
mortality is also developed strongly and enters as a very real factor
into the spirit of Syria.[43] Nor can there be any doubt that a certain
moral or didactic use of death is also characteristic of the East, such
as is expressed in the sententious rhymes of old graveyards in this
country. The reader will recall the famous instance of this, which Sir
Walter Scott has made familiar--the shroud which served for the banner
of Saladin, with its inscription, “Saladin must die.”[44]

If, however, such elements have entered into earlier thoughts of death,
it is to be feared that Palestine of the present day has little of them
left. The great light of Christ illuminated the sepulchres of Christian
Syria; but with the Mohammedan conquest darkness fell again, and all the
morbid fascination of the grave reasserted itself. There is little
reverence for the ordinary man’s place of burial now, whether it be of
ancient or of recent date. Dr. Merrill tells how he has found Arabs
actually stealing graves, i.e. clearing out old ones to make room for a
newly-deceased body, on the plea that “the dead man who was buried there
could not possibly want his grave any longer.”[45] On many a hillside
the rock tombs are rent and split, like pictures from Dante’s _Inferno_,
where they have been blasted open with gunpowder in the search for
treasure; and sometimes parties of natives may be seen prowling about a
hillside on that business. The find may consist of glass bracelets,
which have to be taken from the bone of a baby’s arm, or gold earrings
beside the skull whose face was once fair; but they excite no emotion
except that of money values. Laurence Oliphant had difficulty in
restraining the natives who searched with him from smashing the cinerary
urns they found, on


This gate, which was walled up by the Arabs after the conquest of
Jerusalem, forms a tower projecting from the Eastern Wall of the Temple
Area. The tombs in the foreground are part of the great Mohammedan
Cemetery extending along the Eastern Wall of Jerusalem.]

the plea that “they are so very old that they are not worth anything.”

With the decay of reverence for the dead, however, there seems to have
been a recrudescence of that morbid and charnel-house interest in death
which marks the spirit of the land. At times one is shocked by the
apparently total indifference displayed--houses being built close to the
mouths of graves or even, it is said, upon the roofs of them. Yet any
one who has seen a festival at a holy tomb, whether Jewish or
Mohammedan, must have realised the strong attraction by which death and
the grave draw men. A curious instance of this is that of the “Jews’
Burning” at Tiberias.

Tiberias has been a Jewish centre since the time of Vespasian. Before
that time, Jews avoided the city, because in building it Herod had
disturbed a burial-place. To-day, by a strange coincidence, it is a tomb
that gives it its special popularity for the Jews--the grave of the
famous Rabbi Meir. Conveniently near the tomb there are large baths,
whose warm and sulphurous water is considered highly medicinal. At this
tomb a curious spectacle may be seen on the second day of May each year.
Jewish pilgrims from near and far assemble, bringing with them their
oldest garments, which are immersed in a great cauldron of oil, and then
piled up and burned. The honour of setting fire to the pile is sold to
the highest bidder, and the sum paid reaches £15 or more.

The same fascination of death, seen as it were past a byplay of
irreverence and grotesqueness, is felt in the burial customs as they are
seen to-day. At the Moslem funerals we saw there was no appearance of
mourning. The men were dressed in gay colours, and they trotted along
behind the corpse talking and gesticulating with an apparent gusto. It
may have been the unusual appearance of the thing which impressed
strangers more powerfully than natives; but to us it seemed that the
realism of death was here in more crude and aggressive consciousness
than in Western funerals. The corpse lay on a board, shoulder-high, with
a gorgeous crimson and purple pall covering his body and limbs instead
of a coffin. The head, wrapped tight in a napkin, rested on a pillow,
and the features of the face stood prominently out against the sky. The
man seemed, in an altogether gruesome way, to be _attending_ his own
funeral, and to be thrusting the fact of his presence on the spectators.

This may be subjective criticism, and it is always unfair to judge the
burial-customs of other peoples without intimate knowledge of their
origin and inner meaning. In one respect, however, it is certain enough
that the Shadow of Death rests upon the land of Syria. That is Fatalism.
We have all heard of the fatalism of the East; and strange stones have
become familiar, of soldiers selling cartridges to their enemies, of
villagers refusing to drain the swamp that was decimating them by its
malaria, or even to desist from poisoning their own springs with foul
water. “It is Allah!” ends all questioning and checks all energy. Yet
the constant recurrence of living instances of fatalism shocks the
traveller, however well he was prepared for them. A traveller asked a
Mohammedan in Damascus what they had done to the workman who upset his
brazier and burned the great mosque. “Oh nothing,” said he, “what should
we do?” “I should have thought you might have killed him.” “No,” he
replied; “in the West you say when such things happen, ‘It is the
devil’; in the East we say, ‘It is God!’” Still more impressive was a
conversation with one of the camp-servants during a long ride near
Jezreel. He had told the pathetic story of his life--how they had lived
comfortably till the father died, leaving no money; then came work,
begun too early and with no providence and little hope of success, until
it had come to be “eat, drink, sleep, then again, eat, drink,
sleep--then die and sleep, no more eat nor drink.” The Syrian character
of the present day has been well expressed on its negative side in three
traits. These are, want of concentration, want of will-power, and an
absolute want of the sense of sin. Of sin they literally do not
understand the meaning, the substitute for conscience being a dread of
the opinion of friends and of the public. They do not think about the
problem of evil as in any sense a practical problem. “The Lord said unto
Ahriman, I know why I have made thee, but thou knowest not”--that is
their philosophy of the moral mystery of things. Conder sums up the
situation in striking words: “Christian villages thrive and grow, while
the Moslem ones fall into decay; and this difference, though due perhaps
in part to the foreign protection which the native Christians enjoy, is
yet unmistakably connected with the listlessness of those who believe
that no exertions of their own can make them richer or better, that an
iron destiny decides all things, without reference to any personal
quality higher than that of submission to fate, and that God will help
those who have lost the will to help themselves.”[46]

The spirit of Syria is darkened by a shadow of death that has grown not
only familiar but congenial, as darkness does to all who choose it
rather than the light. Strange that Syria should thus have “made a
covenant with death,” she from whom shone forth once the Light of the
World. But that was long ago. These many centuries this has been one of
that sad multitude of nations and of individuals who have sent forth a
spirit that has inspired and moved the world, and who yet themselves sit
desolate and listless.



THE shadow of death is always haunted. A strong and pure faith peoples
it with angels, and is accompanied through its darkness by that Good
Shepherd whose rod and staff comfort the soul. When the faith is neither
strong nor pure, and when those who sit in darkness have been disloyal
to their faith, it is haunted by spectres, and its darkness becomes
poisonous. The fascination of the marvellous passes into “what French
writers call the _macabre_--that species of almost insane preoccupation
with our mouldering flesh, that luxury of disgust in gazing on
corruption.”[47] This unclean spectral element is a very real part of
the spirit of Syria.

The spell of the East is proverbial, and it is a more literal fact than
is sometimes realised. Even such a commonsense Englishman as the captain
of the _Rob Roy_ confesses to a nameless fear that came upon him in the
solitudes of the upper Jordan.[48] There is a well-known passage in
Eothen, where Kinglake describes the calculating merchant, the
inquisitive traveller, the wakeful post-captain all coming under the
spell of Asia.[49] The warmth and strangeness of the land may have
something to do with it; but the associations and the prevalent tone of
thought have more. Every one feels it whose imagination and heart are in
the least measure open to spiritual impressions.

To analyse it or to specify the causes which have produced it were an
impossible task. Three things have to do with it very specially. There
is the habit of the Eastern mind in dealing with matters of fact. Truth
is not to the Oriental the primary moral necessity which it is to the
West. Vividness and forcefulness of presentation count for at least as
much. The Arab story-teller is said to close his enumeration of various
legends with the sacramental formula, “God knows best where the truth
lies,”--the truth being a matter of God’s responsibility, while to man
is committed only responsibility for being interesting. Again, in the
East, terror is a recognised force between man and man; and the great
forces of nature and the more occult forces of magic are recognised and
taken as part of the natural order. Religion also has had her share in
the “Great Asian Mystery.” This land is, to most devout persons,
altogether isolated and apart, as the place of a divine revelation such
as no other part of earth has known. There is a passage in
_Pseudo-Aristeas_ where, describing his supposed embassy to Jerusalem,
he gazes at the constant waving of the veil in the Temple, which
screened from his view the holiest things of Israel. As it rippled and
swung in the wind it seemed to tantalise the gazer with the
never-fulfilled promise of a glimpse into the secret place.[50] The
wistful sense of mystery in that letter gives a hint which is of
extraordinary significance on this subject.

The geographical formation of the land and its strange colouring lend
themselves to the spectral and the uncanny. The Dead Sea presents the
most sinister landscape in the world. The opening paragraphs of Scott’s
_Talisman_, founded upon the description of Josephus, are certainly
overdrawn, yet in truth everything conspires to produce a sense of
ghostliness by these unearthly shores. A ring of “scalded hills”
encircles them, and a perpetual haze lies upon their waters. Their soil
is nitrous and their springs sulphurous. Blocks of asphalt lie among
their shingle; and fish, dead and salted, are cast up by the waves.
There is little life visible about them, whether of man or beast or
bird. Here and there the tempting Apple of Sodom grows, to appearance
the most luscious of fruits, but so dry that its core is combustible and
is used as tinder by the Arabs. A few feet above the summer level of the
sea runs an unbroken line of drift-wood washed down by winter floods and
left white and sparkling with crusted salt.

Yet it was not the Dead Sea that seemed to us most unearthly, but that
more famous lake of which one thinks so differently. It would be a
curious and instructive task to collect the various impressions which
the Sea of Galilee has made upon travellers. Romance and piety conspire
to furnish many of its visitors with a predisposition to find it
surpassingly beautiful; and not a little could be quoted which owes most
of its touches to the imagination of the writer. A natural rebellion
against this has led to no less exaggerated expressions of
disappointment, and to accusations of ugliness which are simply untrue.
The fact is that ordinary canons of description are of no avail here.
The Sea of Galilee, even so far as natural appearance goes, must be
judged by itself.

Journeying to it from Tabor, you ride across a rather characterless
tract of country. A jackal, a stray Circassian horseman, a low black
tent of the Bedawin, are the only signs of life. Suddenly the track,
sweeping up over the farther side of a shallow and rudely cultivated
valley, lands you on an unexpected edge, from which the ground falls
sheer away before you into the basin of the lake. This is not scenery;
it is tinted sculpture, it is jewel-work on a gigantic scale. The rosy
flush of sunset was on it when we caught the first glimpse. At our feet
lay a great flesh-coloured cup full of blue liquor; or rather the whole
seemed some lapidary’s quaint fancy in pink marble and blue-stone. There
was no translucency, but an aggressive opaqueness, in sea and shore
alike. The dry atmosphere showed everything in sharpest outline,
clear-cut and broken-edged. There was no shading or variety of colour,
but a strong and unsoftened contrast. To be

[Illustration: THE TOMB OF RACHEL.

On the road from Jerusalem to Hebron. It is stated in the 35th chapter
of Genesis that Rachel died and was buried in the way to Hebron

quite accurate, there was one break--a splash of white, with the green
suggestion of trees and grass, lying on the water’s edge directly
beneath us--Tiberias.

When, next day, we sailed upon the lake, coasting along the western
shore from north to south, we found ourselves again as far removed from
anything we had seen or experienced before. A casual glance showed utter
and abject desolation, and a silence that might be heard oppressed the
spirit. As the eye grew more accustomed, villages were discerned. But
what villages! With the same exception of Tiberias, they were brown
slabs of flat-roofed cubical hovels--let into the slope of the shore or
the foot-hills. And as we skirted closer along the beach, we descried
everywhere traces of ruined architecture. It appeared to form a
continuous ring of towers; columns broken and tumbled, but showing
elaborately carved capitals; aqueducts and retaining walls; fragments of
all sorts, and apparently of widely different styles of architecture.
Foliage is scanty, save for the thorn-trees and bamboo canes in which
the carved stones are often half buried. Here and there a plantation of
orchard trees hides a trim little German garden. At Tiberias a few palm
trees lend their graceful suggestion of the Far East.

All this impresses one in a quite unique way. You try to reconstruct the
past--rebuild the castles and synagogues and palaces, and imagine the
life that sent forth its fleets upon the lake in the days of Jesus. Or
you more daringly attempt the future landscape, and imagine these
hillsides as scientific cultivation and the withdrawal of oppressive
government may yet make them. But from it all you are driven back upon
the extraordinary present--petrified, uncanny, spectral--a part of the
earth on which some spell has fallen, and over which some ghostly
influence broods, silencing the daylight, and whispering in the
darkness. If, however, this sense of the ghostly be intenser here than
elsewhere, it is but an exaggeration of the spirit of the whole land.

Nature in Syria seems always to have something of the supernatural about
her. Not only in the petrifactions of the Lejja and the silent stone
cities east of Jordan is this the case. The whole country offers you
stones when you ask for trees, and that mere fact of its stoniness is
enough to lend it the air of another world. As an indirect consequence
trees, when they are found, assume a factitious importance, and a
supernatural significance either for good or evil. Some of the fairest
plants of Syria are treacherous as they are fair. One of our company, in
gathering sprays of a peculiarly lovely creeper, somewhat resembling a
white passion-flower, had his hand wounded with invisible but virulent
needles which caused it to swell and gave great pain. The green spots,
where grass and trees abound, tempt the unwary to drink and rest in
them. But they are the most dangerous places in the land, and some of
them are deadly from malaria. On the other hand, a tree in a treeless
country is an object of preciousness inconceivable by any who have not
come upon it from the wilderness. In the distance it beckons the
traveller with the promise of shade and water. Arrived beneath its
branches, life takes on a new aspect; kindly voices are heard in the
rustle of its leaves, and gracious gifts seen in its shadow and its
fruit. It is said that our fleur-de-lis pattern, often supposed to
represent the flower of the lily or the iris, is really an Eastern
symbol. The central stem is the sacred date-palm, while the side-lines
and the horizontal band stand for ox-horns tied to the stem to avert the
evil eye. It is no wonder if by the ancient Semites trees were regarded
as demoniac beings, or as growing from the body of a buried god.[51]
Such traditions are no longer to be found in their ancient forms, but
they linger in a vague sense of the holiness of conspicuous trees, which
may be seen covered with rags of clothing hung on them by natives. A
like play of imagination has from time immemorial haunted the
pools--especially those whose dark waters made them seem
bottomless--with holy or unholy mystery. Still more terrible is the
superstitious dread with which the natives regard undrained morasses.
The Serbonian Bog on the south coast has from of old been regarded with
special fear, owing to its treacherous appearance of sound earth. The
marsh in which the Abana loses itself shares with the Serbonian Bog its
grim distinction, chiefly on account of its deep black wells, which the
natives take to be man-devouring whirlpools.

In her grander and more impressive features, Nature is in Syria
constantly suggestive of the play of occult powers. Earthquake has left
its mark in many a split rampart and broken tower, and that of itself
is enough to give a peculiarly ghostly tinge to the spirit of any land.
The unspeakable loneliness of the desert has its own magic--a melancholy
spell which has no parallel in other lands. In the desert, too, the sky
conspires with the earth in its bewitchment. The mirage has power to
arrest and overawe the spirit with something of the same sense of
helplessness as that felt in earthquake. In the one case earth, in the
other heaven, are turning ordinary procedure upside down, and the
bewildered mortal knows not what is to come next upon him. The writer
has had experience of both, though with an interval of several years
between them. The mirage he saw to the east of the Great Haj Road in
Hauran. For some time the rocky hills of the Lejja had been the horizon,
shimmering dimly through the heat-haze. Suddenly, on looking up, he was
amazed to find that the hills had disappeared, and in their place had
come a long string of camels on the sky-line, with an island, a lake,
and a grove of palm-trees floating in the air above them. The sudden
apparition recalled on the instant a day in the Antipodes when he felt,
though at a great distance, the tremble of the New Zealand earthquakes.
Either experience is unearthly enough to explain many superstitions.

In most lands the sea would have yielded a larger crop of unearthly
imaginations than has been the case in Palestine. For reasons which have
been already stated, Israel kept out of touch with the ocean. Yet, all
the more on that account, it is the case that almost every thought she
has of the sea is fearsome. Its immensity bewilders her with the
unhomely distances of the world, and the four winds strive savagely upon
it. The roar and surge of the shore are all she needs to remember in
order to impress herself with its terror. Now and then she thinks of the
Great Deep, and of its horrible inhabitants--leviathan unwieldily
sporting there, and other nameless monsters bred of the slime and ooze,
and the dead men who are waiting to float up from their places to the
Great Judgment, when their time shall come.

Mention of the Great Deep reminds us of yet another prolific source of
the spectral element in Syrian thought. It was but natural that the
sound of underground rivers and their explanation by the theory of a
world founded on bottomless floods (the “waters underneath the earth”),
should have given to the whole land an air of possession by ghostly
powers. It may have been that same phenomenon which drew down the
imagination of Syria to the subterranean regions, or it may also have
been to some extent the hereditary greed of buried treasure, which every
nation whose buildings have been often overturned is likely to acquire.
Whatever be its explanation, the fact is certain that the underground
element is one which counts for much in the spirit of Syria. Alike in
Christian and in pre-Christian times there seems to have been a most
unwholesome dread of fresh air blowing about holy things. Sacred caves
and pits were among the most characteristic properties of ancient
Semitic religion.[52] As for Christian tradition, it seems positively to
dread the open air. The Nativity in Bethlehem and the Agony in
Gethsemane have each their cave assigned to them, and many another site
has a cave either discovered or actually constructed for its
commemoration. Nature and history have combined to encourage the
underground tendency. Palestine is remarkable for the number and size of
its natural caverns, and it is not slow to add its imaginative touch to
the length of them, connecting distant towns with supposed subterranean
passages. These caves have been used as dwelling-places from very
ancient times. The strange cities of Edom and of Bashan are well known
to all as wonders. And not in these places only, but in many other parts
of the land, men have dwelt beneath the ground. In times of invasion,
for the solitude of hermit life, and in the terrors of persecution,
caves have offered natural places of refuge and of hiding, which have in
many cases been greatly enlarged by excavation. Besides those caverns
whose interest lies in the memory of ancient inhabitants, there are some
of an interest whose terror is not yet departed. These are the
cave-dwellings of lunatics, who in former times often chose the dead for
company and inhabited tombs. Now, in some places they are chained in
black recesses of mountain caverns, where their life must be horrible
indeed. There are also one or two caves in Syria which end in sudden
perpendicular shafts of great depth, where adulteresses are said to meet
their fate. Such modern instances may have reinforced the natural
fascination of the occult which subterranean places offer. But there is
something congenial to it in the spirit of Syria quite apart from these.

If the natural features of Syria thus tempt men towards the ghastly side
of things, her history suggests plenty of material for superstition to
work upon. If the legend were true that no dew nor rain would moisten
the spot where a man had been murdered, Syria would be no longer an
oasis, but the driest of deserts. In a spiritual sense the legend is
truer than it seems. When, in his _Laughing Mill_, Julian Hawthorne
works out the idea of a mystic sympathy in Nature with crimes that have
been done by man, he is reminding us of something which every one of
sensitive spirit has more or less clearly felt. In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s
subtler tales the same idea is worked out in a fashion still more
convincing. There are times and places when it is difficult to resist
the conviction that the material world, in its dumb, unconscious way, is
yet burdened with the weight of man’s evil deeds. In Syria one can
almost hear “the groaning and travailing of the whole creation.” It
seems to be a land waiting the hour of its release, and meanwhile
shrouded in deeper mystery than any other land. Something has happened
here, you feel, which never happened elsewhere; something is going to
happen here again, when the time shall come.

Nothing could better attest this fact than the extraordinary wealth of
legend in Syria. Fragments of Bible story, changed and often distorted
by those who have retold them, are met with every day. Sometimes a story
has passed from Jews to Christians and from Christians to Mohammedans,
increasing steadily in marvellousness and decreasing in verisimilitude
as it passed. Samson, Goliath, and the prophet Jonah are notable cases
in point. A Mohammedan weli marks the spot where the latter was thrown
ashore; but the inventors of this legend have been inconsiderate. The
weli stands at the bend of a shallow sandy beach, where the whale must
either have itself come ashore to deposit the prophet, or have projected
him a distance of at least a hundred yards. A very curious instance of a
similar kind is that of the fall of Jericho as narrated in Joshua vi.
Conder gives two legends, both of which are obviously elaborated forms
of that account. One of these is a Samaritan story of iron walls, and
the other a Mohammedan one of a city of brass whose walls fell after
Aly, the son-in-law of Mohammed, had ridden seven times round them.[53]
Still more curious is a legend related by the same author, which looks
like a Mohammedan version of the Wandering Jew. It tells how, at Abila,
Cain was allowed to lay down the corpse of his brother Abel after
carrying it for a hundred years. The whole story of the Herods has
infested the region of their crimes with the ghosts of their victims. In
Samaria the murdered Mariamne still seems to dwell in her honey, and
Herod and his servants to call her by name and force the pretence that


The upper portion of the picture to the left is the Hill of Offence,
with the village of Siloam on its lower slopes.]

she is yet alive. The land is sick with ancient crimes whose blood
“crieth from the ground.”

The religions of the land seem to be in league with the powers of
darkness for the propagation of magic lore. It is an extraordinary fact
that Syria has sent forth to the ends of the earth a religion that is
the Eternal Word of God to mankind, and yet herself has reverted to the
religious conceptions of ancient Semitic paganism. One of the most
fundamental of these conceptions was that of a religion whose essential
element is not belief but ritual.[54] While in the West the free play of
reason has tested and interpreted Israel’s faith, and discovered in it
the unique revelation of the living God to man, the worshippers in the
Holy Land itself seem to treat that same faith wholly as a department of
magic lore. Certain rites have to be performed, no matter how
unintelligently, and that is all. All creeds alike share the blame of
this. Druse and Samaritan, Jew, Christian, and Mohammedan vie with one
another to-day in the poor ambition of making the religion of Jehovah
contemptible in the eyes of thinking men who investigate it as it is
practised on its native soil.

Much of the magic of the East is decadent or decayed religion. On rare
occasions a marriage superstition may be met with, such as the
foretelling of marriage destinies by tying green twigs with one
hand,[55] which appears to be the creation of pure romance. But the
great majority of those superstitions which hold the Eastern mind in
bondage are evidently relics of pagan thought incorporated now in
Jewish, Christian, or Moslem creeds, and absorbing all the interest of
those who believe in them. If a Mohammedan saint’s bones flew through
the air from Damascus to Mount Ebal, the Christians can match the
miracle and more, for was not the very house of the Virgin carried off
by angels from Nazareth to Loreto lest the Moslems should desecrate it?
Magic dominates the mind of the East and explains everything there to
this day. Every inscribed stone runs the chance either of being honoured
by a place in the wall of a dwelling or of being heated with fire and
split with water, according to the sort of magic it is supposed to
represent. It is difficult to realise that the men you converse with are
actually living in the world of Tasso’s _Gerusalemme Liberata_, where a
dealer in black art, by his incantation,

              unbinds the demons of the deep to do
    Deeds without name, or chains them in his cell,
    And makes e’en Pluto pale upon the throne of hell.

Yet such is undoubtedly the case. Even the saddle-bags you buy at
Jerusalem--those gorgeous labyrinths of shells and tassels--have a blue
bead concealed somewhere in them to return the stare of any evil eye
that may look upon your horse. To avert the same danger you will see
little boys dressed in girls’ clothes, and specially pretty children
kept dirty and untidy. Lest the dreaded eye should blight the fortunes
of a newborn babe the Jewish Rabbis sometimes hang up the 121st Psalm
on the wall over mother and child. Magic is as useful a substitute for
science as it is for religion. It explains any phenomenon and clears up
any mystery without the trouble of investigation. All great buildings
must have been built by enchantment, so what is the use of speculating
as to their architecture? Western civilisation is, no doubt, a
remarkable affair, but it never occurs to an unsophisticated Syrian that
it is a matter for energetic emulation. The Frank has only been lucky
enough to learn the proper spell. It is easy to see how Syria, with such
views as these, is doomed at once to moral and intellectual stagnation.

The vivid mind of the East is fertile in poetic imagination. Restless
and quick itself, it cannot conceive the Universe otherwise than as
living around it. Everything is alive and aware. All inanimate things
are personified; or, to speak more accurately, they are inhabited by
spiritual beings. Natural phenomena express the purposes of minds hidden
behind them. Every dangerous or adverse experience is regarded as the
work of malice. Human life is beset with ambushed spiritual enemies. The
advantage which their invisibility gives to these over the human
combatants would be enough to put fighting out of the question, were it
not that so many of the spirits are of feeble intelligence and may be
hoodwinked; while all of them have other spirits for their enemies who
may be enlisted on man’s side against them. These spirits are of many
kinds, but they may be classed in two groups, according to their
connection with natural phenomena or with death.

Chief of the former group are the angels, good and bad; and the jinn, or
genii, whom Islam took over from the ancient paganism of Arabia. The
angels are God’s attendants, and have some functions entirely
independent of natural phenomena. Thus the two stones which mark a
Moslem’s grave show the stations of the angels who are to examine him;
and the tuft of hair on his shaven head is (like the Jewish sidelocks)
to enable the Angel Gabriel to bear the man to heaven. Yet the angels
are in many instances personified parts of nature, guardians of the
land, spirits of wind or fire or water, who are obviously the
descendants and the heirs of the ancient local gods.[56] Thus the wicked
angels are supposed to have descended on Mount Hermon, and to have sworn
their oaths there--a belief which adds considerably to the importance of
the great mountain in Syrian estimation. The jinn are the demons of the
desert, lordly and terrible to all who have not the charm which masters
them, obedient as little children to those who have it. They are the
inhabitants of those whirling sandstorms which sweep across the waste.
Some superstitions of this kind may be connected with the former dangers
from wild beasts, which used to haunt the jungles of lower Jordan and
swarm up to the inland territories after an invasion had depopulated
them. Even now there may be seen in Palestine an occasional wolf or
leopard, to say nothing of the jackals which every traveller is sure to
see. Some of the fauna of Palestine are in themselves so strange as to
suggest unearthly affinities. The jerboa, for instance, the jumping
mouse of the desert, merits Browning’s description of him, when in
_Saul_ he says, “there are none such as he for a wonder, half bird and
half mouse.” The lizards, too, seem anything but ordinary respectable
law-abiding animals as they twinkle to and fro among the ruins of old
buildings. It is said that Mohammed refused to eat lizards, considering
that they were the metamorphosed spirits of Israelites.

The spirits that haunt sepulchres are either ghosts of the dead or
ghouls that prey upon their flesh. It is this class of apparition which
appears to have the strongest fascination for the Syrian mind; and its
graveyard lore is the natural sequel to the morbid interest in death
which formed the subject of our preceding chapter. Conder, whose book
gives much interesting information on this whole subject, found it
difficult to keep any Arabs about him at Fusâil, a few miles north of
Jericho, because of their fear of a ghoul in the ruins, who might chance
to desire a change of food were he to see them there. The dead appear to
have undergone a change for the worse in dying. The utmost caution and
politeness are required to prevent their ghosts from doing harm to the
visitors at their tombs, even in the case of men who, while in the body,
were hospitable and friendly persons. Some localities are regarded as
peculiarly dangerous, among which is the reputed site of the stoning of
Stephen and (according to Gordon) of Calvary, near Jerusalem. An Arab
writer of the Middle Ages advises the traveller not to pass that haunted
spot at night.[57]

If, under ordinary conditions, life in Syria is overshadowed and
haunted, the dread becomes far greater when disease has come. The
explanation of disease is the same easy one as that which has deadened
science and distorted religion--magic again. Even when the true cause of
illness has been guessed, it has to be explained in ghostly language.
When plague has broken out in a locality the Jewish Rabbis make the
neighbours of the stricken house empty all jars and vessels, saying that
“the angel of death wipes his sword in liquids.” The malaria of swamps
is set down to the same cause, and it is probable that many of that
mixed multitude who are to be seen sitting chin deep in the hot
sulphur-springs of Gadara or Tiberias regard their cure as due to some
local spirit who happens to be benevolently inclined. In the
neighbourhood of the tomb of a Mohammedan saint, every accident or
ailment is regarded as the work of the dead man. Indeed the main idea of
Syrian medical science is that all or most sickness is possession by
demons, and a common cure is to bore or burn holes in the patient’s
flesh, by which the evil spirit may escape. The treatment of lunacy is
perhaps the saddest case in point. Until Mr. Waldmeyer built his asylum
at Beyrout, there was but one mode of treatment. At certain monasteries
there are caves in which the insane are chained below huge stones, with
hardly space for movement, and are kept there for days in hunger and
filth, in order to drive out the devil. The test for devil-possession is
somewhat crude. The patient is shewn a cross. If he turns from it and
refuses to look he is possessed; if he shews no aversion to it he is
only unwell and is allowed to go. In the Beyrout asylum we were told
that no case of lunacy had been discovered which in any way differed
from the European types of the same disease. The record of cures there,
under the same treatment as that which is practised in the West, is a
most encouraging and hopeful one.

It is true that the bright spirit of the East with its rapid changes and
its unquenchable sparkle of gaiety, has mitigated the horror and
oppressiveness of the spectral there. There are times when one would
almost fancy that the whole of their superstition was a pretence which
was never meant to be taken seriously. In Damascus, and probably
elsewhere, you may buy little rag-dolls supposed to resemble camels.
They are made of bones, covered with patches of many-coloured cloth, and
tricked out with tinsel and strings of beads. We bought two of these
from a young girl in “the street called Straight” for half a franc, and
bore them through the city with a crowd of idlers following us. We
learned afterwards that these were cunning devices to cheat the ghosts.
When you are very sick or in danger you vow a camel to your saint or
friendly spirit--this is how you pay your vow. Poking fun at Hades in
this fashion might seem a dangerous game, and one hardly to be
recommended while any lingering belief in the reality of ghosts
remained. Yet such is Syrian character. This sort of thing persists
along with a deep horror of the other world. The words of Job are not in
the least out of date in Palestine to-day: “Fear came upon me, and
trembling, which made all my bones to shake. Then a spirit passed before
my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not
discern the form thereof; an image was before mine eyes: there was
silence, and I heard a voice.”[58] The horror is all the deeper because
it appears to be seldom brought to clear statement. The spectral world
is undefined, and it has, therefore, all the added power of the unknown,
whose play upon the imagination is so much more strong and subtle than
that of any clear conception, however ghastly.

In this chapter no attempt has been made to distinguish between the
superstitions of Jews, Christians, and Mohammedans in Palestine. As a
matter of fact, there is little to choose between them, and they have
much in common. It is true that every nation has some outlook or other
upon the world of spirits. But each has its own way of regarding the
apparitions; and the kind of spectre which a land believes in is no bad
indication of the tone of the land’s thought and character. About the
fairy-lore of Teutonic nations there is a child-like simplicity and
purity which make


The upper portion of the picture to the left is the Hill of Offence,
with the village of Siloam on its lower slopes.]

that lore wholly refreshing and precious. The nymphs and Pan, whose
ancient monuments we have seen in ancient Palestine, were graceful. But
the spectral element in modern Palestine appears to be almost wholly
morbid and unclean,--the further decadence of a land that has made its
covenant with death. The life a Syrian peasant leads to-day is haunted
by ghostly terrors; it is a life led by leave of the dead, or by a
systematic cunning which plays off one malign spirit against another, or
succeeds in winning a point or two against the grave for the player. It
is a view of life than which surely none can be at once more impudent
and more melancholy.



It is a sad view of the spirit of Syria which the last chapters have
offered, yet it is but too true. We must linger yet a little longer
listening to “the sob of the land” before we turn to that which is at
once the explanation and the hope of relief for its long sorrow. Apart
altogether from the ghostly elements in this land of ruins, the mere
melancholy is persistent and depressing as one moves from place to
place. The gloom is so ominous, as to be at times suggestive of a
supernatural curse that broods upon everything with its depressing
weight. The khans outside of villages are in ruins; so are the bridges
over streams, and the castles on the hills. Amid such scenery it is
natural to remember the defeats rather than the glories of the past, and
the national history seems to be one long record of misfortune. In the
modern conditions of life in Palestine the long story of tears and blood
seems to be continued in the haggard desolation of its present.

Two things especially must send this impression home even to the most
casual observer, viz. the heartlessness of toil and the prevalence of
disease. In every country much must always depend on the spirit in which
men labour. Where the walls of its cities rise to music, as the old glad
legends told of Troy and Thebes, there is hope and promise; but here
there is no song to help men’s toil. It is hard and joyless, with little
promise and less hope. With the death of these self-respect also dies;
and work, without incentives to anything which might tempt ambition,
remains merely as a hard necessity and a curse.

Next to its heartless toil the uncured sickness of the land contributes
to the deep sadness of its spirit. Disease seems to stare you everywhere
in the face. Superstition and fatalism combined have blocked all
progress in medical science. The people are naturally healthy; and their
strong constitutions, kept firm by plain living, yield to medical
treatment in a marvellous way. But when any serious accident has
happened, or any dangerous disease infected them, they are utterly
helpless, and things take their course. The medicinal springs form an
exception to this rule, and seem to be the one real healing agency in
the country. Their bluish waters bubble with sulphuretted hydrogen, and
smell abominably, but they cure sicknesses of some kinds. For other
diseases there is no native cure. Those which are most in evidence are
ulcers and inflammatory diseases of the eyes. The natives appear to be
immune so far as malaria is concerned; but a peculiar kind of decline is
not uncommon, in which the emaciation is so great as to reduce the
patient to the appearance of a skeleton, with great lustrous eyes. It
need hardly be said that the characteristic disease of Syria is leprosy.
The first object which attracts the eye after you arrive at the railway
station of Jerusalem is an immense leper hospital. In a case which
created some sensation lately in the south of England, it turned out
that a fraudulent Syrian had been raising money for a non-existent
hospital at Tirzah, which was to accommodate eleven thousand lepers. Of
course the figure was a monstrous one, but the fact that it was invented
shews how terrible a scourge this is. It is a curious circumstance that
the inhabitants of towns do not contract leprosy. It appears in
villages, and the sufferers are at once driven out, to wander to the
larger towns, outside of which they settle in communities or beg by the
wayside. The view of the north-east end of Jerusalem from the Mount of
Olives shews a roadside which is always dotted with these pitiable folk.
For many travellers this is the road of their first journey from the
city, leading over Olivet to Bethany, and they are not likely to forget
that ride. Lepers, in all stages of hideous decay, line the roadside;
real or sham paralytics sprawl and shake in the middle of the path, so
that the horses have actually to pick their way among the bodies of
them. The epileptics appear to be frauds. Their faces are covered, but
they see what is going on well enough to stop shaking when the horses
have passed. The leprosy is all too real. Arms covered with putrid
sores, hands from which the fingers have one after another fallen off,
and husky voices begging from throats already half eaten out--these
cannot be imitated.

As to the causes of Syrian disease, and leprosy in particular, there
seems to be much obscurity. Perhaps the word that comes nearest to an
explanation is uncleanness, and the promise of “a fountain opened for
sin and for uncleanness” may have a physical as well as a spiritual
significance. The land is incredibly contaminated with filth, as the
following quotation shews: “Sir Charles Warren tells us that the soil in
which he made some of his excavations was so saturated with disease
germs that his workmen were often attacked with fever, especially if
they had any sore or scratch on their hands.”[59] It would be hard to
find words more significant than these.

For this state of matters, and for its continuance from generation to
generation, many reasons may be given. The usual explanation of the
whole is the government, with its soldiers and its taxation. The wild
notes of Turkish bugle-calls answering each other across Jerusalem sound
harsh, and as it were blasphemous, and further travel deepens the
resentment rather than removes it. When, behind all the present evils,
one remembers the past, with its massacres and all its other iniquities,
one’s heart grows hot. One Syrian, after narrating a specially
aggravated case of oppression, asked us if we knew “the story of the
prophets Ananias and Sapphira.” We said we had heard it; and he added,
“Ah, in _those_ days God punished at once; now, _God waits_!” Dr.
Thomson somewhere quotes a proverb to the effect that, “Wherever the
hoof of a Turkish horse rests it leaves barrenness behind it”; and all
that is seen in Syria tends to prove that saying but too true. Every
possible experiment in misgovernment seems to have been made here.
Frequent change of governors, underpayment of officials, conscription of
the most ruinous sort, bribery, cruelty, fanaticism, laziness,
sensuality, and stupidity--all are to be seen open and without pretence
at concealment.

Yet in the interest of truth it ought to be remembered that there is
another side to the story. The incident of the horse at Banias[60] made
one understand how a Turk might answer his critics, with some show of
reason, that this was the only sort of government these people could
understand. Of course it might be again replied that it was oppression
that had brought this about. Yet it is perfectly clear that Syrian
character is very far from that of martyred innocence. From whatever
causes it has come about, the fact is certain that in many respects the
moral sense of Palestine is as depraved as that of her oppressors. Her
worst enemy is her own wickedness.

Thus many elements enter into the desolation of the Holy Land, and make
it a place of decaying body and of shiftless spirit, but of all these
elements the ethical is supreme. The very look of the country suggests
this. It is not merely stony; as has been cleverly said, it seems to
have been _stoned_--stoned to death for its sins. The loose boulders of
Judea, and the scattered ruins of old vineyard terraces and village
walls, present all the appearance of flung missiles. This view of the
case is acknowledged freely by the inhabitants themselves, in whose
thoughts judgment has a prominent place. The buried cities of Sodom and
Gomorrah are favourite subjects of reflection with disciples of all the
creeds. A somewhat similar story is told of the Lake of Phiala, a
volcanic mountain lake south of Hermon. Tradition tells of a village
submerged below its waters “to punish the inhabitants for their
inhospitable treatment of travellers,” and there are many other stories
of judgment in the country. Yet the judgment always falls upon some one
else than the narrator of the story, who would not insult your
intelligence by supposing that you thought _him_ in need of judgment.
Even in the familiar quotations from the litany chanted by the Jews at
their Wailing-Place, the confession of sin is conspicuous by its
absence. There is sore mourning over the departed glories of the land,
but the only sins confessed are those of priests and kings long dead. To
all creeds alike the essential element in religion seems to be ritual
performance, and the ideal life is accordingly not one of ethical
character but of formal correctness. And yet in the midst of all this
self-righteous complacency, any one can see that every part of the land
is being judged and is bearing the punishment of sin. Jericho, squatting
sordidly amid the ruins of its ancient Hellenism, looked down upon by
the severe and barren mountain where Jesus hungered, is a monument of
the reality of ethical distinctions as hard and practical facts. They
may be ignored, but they must be reckoned with in the end.

Of the ethical significance of the fate of Palestine there cannot be a
moment’s doubt. It is here that the love and care of God have been met
and foiled by the sin and carelessness of man. In regard to its whole
moral and social life, there is one overmastering conviction which grows
upon the traveller from day to day. That conviction is, that it is a
land which requires and demands righteousness. Nature and man are in
close touch, and each depends upon the other. It is not a desert, where
no amount of labour can produce result; nor is it a luxuriant tropical
country whose fruits fall ripe and untoiled for into man’s hand. It
demands labour, but it answers to it. The least effort of man to be a
man and do his human work meets with immediate and generous response.
Neglected plains and valleys, once rich, are now a wilderness; the most
unpromising hillsides, where terracing and irrigation


These tombs are opn the eastern side of the alley facing the East Wall
of the Temple Area.]

have kept the human side of the compact, are fertile. The labour would
indeed require to be hard and unremitting. Many of the streams are so
deep sunk in their channels that extraordinary enterprise would be
needed to raise their waters for irrigation or to conduct them from
higher levels in long conduits. Yet every remaining arch of an old
aqueduct, and every watermill whose wheel thuds round in its heavy way,
shew that such enterprise is possible. Each of those grooved and
checkered valleys where men with their naked feet open and close the
little gates of clay, and water the fat crops of onion and tomato, shews
how sure is the reward of enterprise. Similarly the terracing reminds us
that soil is as precious as water. Both must be laboured for and fought
for. It is the desert that naturally claims the land and sets the normal
point of view for its inhabitants. Syria is an oasis by the grace of God
and the toil of man.

This alone would suffice to make Palestine an ideal training-ground for
a nation to learn righteousness. The whole theory of Providence which
dominates the earlier Old Testament, and lingers on in popular belief
through the New, is apparent on every mile of these valleys. That theory
was that even in the present life the sin of man will be immediately
punished by adversity, and his righteousness rewarded by prosperity. It
was a theory which had to be abandoned, and the whole marvellous story
of Job shews us the process of the nation’s discarding it. To us it
seems wonderful that it should have been able to survive at all in face
of the inexplicable and at times apparently irrational facts of all
human experience. But the fact that in Syria nature’s rewards and
punishments are so certain and so immediate goes far to explain both its
origin and its persistence.

Such thoughts as these regarding Syria inevitably lead towards one goal.
There is but one symbol in the world which expresses all that depth of
pain which we have found in the history of this sorely-tried land, and
at the same time forces on even the most thoughtless its moral
significance. That symbol is the Cross of Christ. It is still to be seen
very frequently in Syria, generally in its Greek form ([Illustration:
cross]). In this form it is more impressive than in the other. The
oblique lower bar represents a board nailed across the shaft for the
feet of the sufferer to rest on. The realistic effect of this is
surprising, for it brings home to one’s imagination in a quite new way
the terrible fact that men have actually been crucified.

The later history and legend of the cross in Palestine is one of
singular and tragic interest. First of all there is the preposterous
story of St. Helena’s dream--the miraculous discovery of the three
crosses, and the miracle of healing which enabled her to distinguish the
cross of Christ from those of the robbers. Since then the sacred wood
has been tossed about from hand to hand, hunted for, bargained for
sinned for, died for. Its presence in their army comforted the Crusaders
in their misery; the sight of it in the hands of the Saracens filled
them with despair. The restoration of it was among the chief demands
conceded by Saladin when he surrendered Acre to Richard; and when he
failed to deliver it, hostages to the number of 2700 were slaughtered in
sight of the Saracen camp. All through the Crusades it was the badge of
self-devotion to the holy wars, and a strange tale is told of an
occasion on which Louis IX., presenting robes to his courtiers according
to an ancient custom, had crosses secretly embroidered on them, so that
the wearers found themselves committed unawares to the Crusade.

For 1500 years that symbol pointed to the site which the buildings of
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre cover. Godfrey was buried there, and
many a devout soul regarded it as the holiest of holy places. In the
middle of the nineteenth century the question of its authenticity was
raised; and General Gordon, who spent part of the last year before he
went to Khartoum, in Jerusalem, championed the identification of the
hill of Jeremiah’s Grotto, just outside the Damascus Gate, with Calvary.
His point of view was a strange one. It was suggested by the words
“place of a skull,” from which he developed the idea of the Holy City as
the body of the bride of Christ, this hill being the head, Zion the
pleura, and so on. The theory, so far as it regards Calvary, has
appealed to many competent judges who were very far from adopting the
mystical and emblematic views of Gordon. The hill is an old quarry,
within which Jeremiah is supposed by tradition to have written his
Lamentations. It is quite a little hill, whose short and scanty grass
was burnt up with drought when we saw it, leaving a surface of loose
sandy soil. A man crucified here would have the Mount of Olives in his
eyes behind some roof-lines of the city. By a curious coincidence a
rock-hewn tomb, with a groove running in front of the face of it for a
great stone which would close its entrance, has been discovered close
by. It is a grave with only one loculus in it, and it is temptingly like
one’s idea of the Garden Tomb of Joseph; but it is said to be
undoubtedly of later date than the death of Jesus. From one point in the
road, somewhat nearer the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the hollows and caves
of the hill, which here breaks along its length into a small precipice,
bear a striking resemblance to a chapfallen skull. Not that the features
can be examined in anything like accurate detail. But in the evening,
while the sun sets over Jerusalem and the shadows slowly deepen, the
resemblance is sufficient to strike one who had not heard that this was
the place so named. Many arguments have been urged for this new site.
Its proximity to an ancient Jewish cemetery is in favour of the
probability that Joseph’s tomb was there. It was close to the public
highway, as Calvary undoubtedly was. It is also significant that the
gate now known as the Damascus Gate was formerly called St. Stephen’s
Gate; and tradition affirmed that through it St. Stephen was led forth
to his martyrdom. It is probable that the martyrdom took place on the
public execution-ground, where, in the natural course of events, Jesus
and the robbers would also have been crucified. Finally, and most
important, recent explorations have discovered, in various parts of the
city, huge Jewish stones which are believed by advocates of this theory
to be those of the wall which stood there in the time of Christ. By
completing the line of these stones a wall is reconstructed which
encloses the traditional Church of the Holy Sepulchre, while it leaves
Gordon’s site still outside. To get the Holy Sepulchre outside this
wall, as we know the place of the crucifixion was, it would be necessary
to imagine a sharp angular recess in the wall pointing inwards, with
Calvary filling the space within the arms of the angle. It matters
little where the spot was. Yet it would be interesting if the north side
of the city should ultimately claim Him from the west--Nazareth, as it
were, from Rome. The garden and the new grave belong to an English
committee of trustees endowed in 1901. It would indeed be a striking
thing if, after all the idolatry of sites which the vision of St. Helena
started, the real hill and garden where the world’s great tragedy was
enacted should prove to have gone past Roman and Greek worshippers both,
and to have been committed to the hands of Protestants.[61]

No one who has stood upon that hill of Golgotha and thought of the
wondrous past can have failed to perceive a mystical and dark connection
between the crime which has rendered Jerusalem so famous, and all that
deathly and spectral fate which has befallen the spirit of Syria. As we
stand amid the deepening shadows of sunset on the spot where Christ was
crucified, a change seems to come, as the blood-red sky crimsons the
minarets and domes. It is no longer Christ that hangs upon the Cross,
but Palestine. No other land would have crucified Him. Had He come to
Greece He might have been neglected or ridiculed, but certainly not
crucified. For that it needed a religion as bitterly earnest, and at the
same time as morally decayed, as Judaism was then. And that same moral
and spiritual condition which set up the Cross for Jesus, has finished
its course by crucifying the nation that murdered Him. Most literally
this happened in the days when Titus used up all the trees near
Jerusalem to make crosses for Jews. But in Sir John Mandeville’s time
the legend had expanded to this, that at the Crucifixion all the trees
in the world withered and died. Certainly a blight came upon the land of
Palestine. It has sometimes been asserted that the nation which
crucified Jesus Christ can never again rise to national prosperity or
greatness. The forces at work in history are far too subtle and complex
to allow any one to say with assurance what the future may or may not
have in store for a race. But this at least is evident, that meanwhile
the Cross has marked this region for its own; the land is everywhere on
its Cross, and the obvious cause of this is the want of righteousness,
both in oppressors and oppressed. It is a land that cries aloud for
righteousness in its agony.



In regard to the future of Palestine the outlook of different writers
varies perhaps as much as upon any similar question that could be named.
Every one is familiar with the Utopian dreams which optimistic
constructors of programmes cherish regarding it. On the other hand,
grave and thoughtful writers have sometimes felt the misery of its
present state so heavily as to abandon all hope for the future, and to
acknowledge the most discouraging views as to the possibilities before
the land. Apart from sentiment, or from some favourite method of
interpreting prophecy, the reasons for such pessimism are mainly two.
One is the change of climate, which appears from many indications to be
an unquestionable fact. The other is the destruction of terraces, and
the consequent washing away of soil from the higher regions of the
country. These are serious considerations, which cannot be ignored. If
this view be the correct one, the only permanent continuance of Syria
will be as a symbol of judgment, a kind of Lot’s-wife pillar among the
peoples, a sermon in stone upon the ethical principles which govern the
fortunes of nations. The land will remain as a proverb, but will never
again be a home.

Yet neither these nor any other such forebodings seem to the ordinary
observer quite to be justified. If the climate has changed, may not that
be due to causes that can be remedied? By proper drainage of swamps and
planting of trees, it would seem perfectly possible to modify climatic
conditions to an extent at least sufficient to allow the hope of
prosperous agriculture and pleasant habitation. As to the terraces, if
they have been constructed once they may be reconstructed with hope of
result. There are tracts even in the desert itself where traces of
former cultivation may still be seen. If the uncivilised or
semi-barbarous tribes of the ancient time built up the land until
handfuls of corn waved on the tops of mountains, surely it is not too
much to expect that men armed with all the skill and appliance of modern
engineering may yet repeat the process. The instance of Malta has been
already cited; and, apart from that it is a very dusty world, and soil
accumulates as if by magic where man provides for it a place to rest on.

It seems rash in one little qualified for the task to pronounce judgment
of any sort on the future of Palestine, yet the conviction that all is
not over with the land grows stronger, rather than weaker, with
reflection. Renan speaks of “the little kingdom of Israel, which was in
the highest degree creative, but did not know how to crown its edifice.”
Put in another


The mountain above the city to the north, with mosque and minaret on its
summit, is the point from which the Crusaders had their first view of

form, this means that the Holy Land is a land of prophecies unfulfilled
or half-fulfilled. But each such prophecy was an inspiration, by which
the highest men saw possibilities for the nation, whose conditions the
lower men failed to realise or to fulfil. Yet the possibilities were
there, as to a great extent they still are there, and, as Coningsby puts
it, “the East is a career.” As to what those possibilities and that
career may actually be, the past history of the land may guide our
speculation. Here, as elsewhere, the lines of hope for the future are
pointed out by the failures of the past. The failure has been due to bad
morality and disloyalty to religious faith; the hope of success lies in
ethical and religious regeneration.

When we sought for an explanation of the misery of Palestine we were
thrown back on the ethical aspect of the case. Had the land been
faithful to her high calling her story would have been very different.
Never was a country honoured with so lofty a trust as hers; never did a
country so often betray her trust. This was the despair of her ancient
lawgiver, and the burden of her later prophets. When Christ came to her,
she knew no better thing to do with Him than to break His heart and to
crucify Him on Calvary. Within the century Jerusalem was crucified in
turn; and soon a Christian Syria took the place of the perished Judaism.
That in its turn decayed. Its creed became artificial, its spirit
effeminate, and its morality corrupt. The spirit of Christianity had
sunk so low in Palestine before the Mussulman occupation as to manifest
its zeal by using every effort to defile that part of the Temple area
which they regarded as the Jewish Holy of Holies. The young faith of
Islam, fresh and vigorous, and not as yet embittered, made an easy
conquest of the effete religion, which has lived since then on
sufferance, lamenting its sufferings, but never realising its desert of
them. To this day the Christian travelling in Syria is oppressed by the
sense of its desertion. Christ has forsaken the desolate shores of the
Sea of Galilee. He walks no more in the streets of Jerusalem. It is the
old story--“They besought Him that He would depart out of their coasts,
and He entered into a ship, and passed over and came unto His own city.”

Yet somehow it is impossible to believe that He has gone from the land
of His earthly home for ever. An incident which occurred to us in
Damascus dwells in our memory with prophetic significance. We had
visited the Great Mosque, which rose upon the ruins of an ancient
Christian church. The original walls were not entirely demolished, and
among the parts built into the new structure was a beautiful gate on
whose lintel may still be deciphered the Greek inscription, “Thy
kingdom, O Christ, is an everlasting kingdom, and Thy dominion endureth
throughout all generations.” To see this inscription we climbed a ladder
in the Jewellers’ Bazaar. At the height of some fifteen feet we stepped
upon a ledge of rather precarious masonry, and after a short scramble
along this came to the lintel, half concealed by a rubble wall running
diagonally across it. A stranger was with us, a devout Christian from a
town far south of Damascus. In the whole city nothing moved him so
deeply as this stone, and he exclaimed, “It was the Christians’
fault--they were so rough, so rude, so ignorant--it was done by the wish
of God--_but He will have it again_.” And He _will_ have it again,
sooner or later! When Omar heard that Mohammed was dead he would not
believe it, but proclaimed in the Mosque of Medina, “The Prophet has
only swooned away!” But Mohammed had died, and it is his dead hand that
has held the land these thirteen centuries. Christ, being raised from
the dead, dieth no more; and the future of the land lies with Christ. To
the Western world He has fulfilled His tremendous claim, “I am the
resurrection and the life,” not only in the hope of immortality, but in
the spring and impulse which His faith has given to national ideals. It
is impossible not to hope for a fulfilment of the promise to the land
where it was first spoken. Looking down from Tabor upon the hill of
Dûhy, one has sight of Endor to the east, while Shunem lies just round
the western slope, and between them is the village of Nain. It is as if
that hill were a sanctuary from Death, where the grave could not hold
its own. Palestine holds in trust for the world those empty graves, and
one grave above all others from which He Himself came forth. Surely she,
too, will rise, by His grace, in a faith and character purer than those
which she has lost.

It would be impossible, within our present limits, to say anything of
the political or national outlook of Syria, or of the many schemes and
agencies which are dealing with such problems. The impression made by
Christian missions, however, must have a word of record before we close
these notes of travel. We have already described at considerable length
the sadness of Palestine. As you journey from place to place the
impression deepens. Sores, exposed and fly-blown, intrude themselves
into the memory of many a wayside and city street. The dirt and stench
of the houses make the sunshine terrible. After weeks of travel the
feeling of a sick land has deepened upon you until it has become an
oppression weighing daily upon your heart. Suddenly you emerge in a
mission-station, and an indescribable feeling of relief possesses you.
There is at last a sound of joy and health. These are the spots of
brightness in a very grey landscape, little centres of life in a land
where so much is morbid. The visiting of sacred places would be the most
selfish of religious sentimentalities if it were done without a painful
sense of helplessness against the misery that surrounds them. The only
thing that turns pity into hope in Palestine is the mission-work that is
being done there. No one can see that work without being filled with an
altogether new enthusiasm for missions. Across the sea, one believes in
them as a part of Christian duty and custom. On the spot, one thanks God
for them as almost unearthly revelations of “sweetness and cleanness,
abundance, power to bless, and Christian love in that loveless land.”

The names of Christian missionaries are imperial names in Syria. It is,
indeed, an empire of hearts, and


The road in the foreground, stretching across the plain, is that from
Jerusalem to Jericho.]

its coming is not with observation. But of its reality and power there
can be no question even now, and its sway is extending year by year. To
those whose Syrian travels have given them the vivid imagination, vivid
almost as memory, of the real fact of Christ in the past, this fact of
Christ in the present is as welcome as it is evident. They feel, and the
East too is feeling, that the Great Healer still goes about the land
doing good. The future, whatever its political course may be, is
religiously full of hope. It may take time--God only knows how long it
will take. The ancient miracles of Christ did not reveal the Healer to
the world in a day. Yet quietly and out of sight, the East is learning
that Christ is indeed the Healer of mankind. It does not as yet confess
this, even to itself. But the hearts of many sufferers know it, and
every Christian knows that certainly “He will have it again.”


Abana, 52, 59, 60

Achor, 47

Acre, 169

Agriculture, 71

Amphitheatres, 107

Angels, 220

Antipatris, 54

Aqueducts, 104

Arabia, Arab, 22, 29, 93 f., 149, 181, 198, 199

Aramaic, 69

Asceticism, 122

Athlit, 169

Baalbek, 108

Banias, 55, 168

Barbarossa, 161

Bashan, 44

Beautiful Gate, 83, 192

Bethel, 8, 102

Bether, 98

Bethlehem, 25, 46, 72, 74, 189, 214, 253

Bethshan, 41, 42, 72, 169

Beyrout, 66

Bible illustrations, 92, 93, 94

Booths, 178

Bridges, 57, 104

Burdens, 181

Cæsarea, 102, 163, 172

Calvary, site of, 78, 83, 114, 196, 222, 235, 236, 276

Capernaum, 64, 101, 105

Carpets, 16

Castles, 168

Caves, 214

Character, Syrian, 15, 33, 62, 232 f.

Children, 111, 187, 218, 231

Christianity, early, 115 f.

Church of the Holy Sepulchre, 79, 131, 150, 151, 156, 193, 235

Church of the Nativity, 133 f.

Churches, 129, 146, 160, 165, 171

Cities, 22, 65 f.

Clothes, 17, 181

Coast, 43

Colour, 7 f.

Commerce, 75, 78, 157, 159

Constantine, 115, 116

Cross, the, 147, 234 f.

Crusaders, 74, 157 f., 192

Damascus, 12, 13, 21, 35, 53, 60, 66, 75,
     85, 137, 143, 146, 174, 185, 191, 193, 223, 241

Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, 53, 83

Dan, 54

Dead Sea, 11, 25, 37, 41, 51, 57, 60, 207

Death, 76, 190 f.

Dervishes, 140

Desert, 12, 14, 15, 20 f.

Detail, observation of, 32

Dew, 51

Disease, 222, 223, 227 f., 244 f.

Dog River, 54, 86

Earthquake, 212

East of Jordan, 22

El Aksa, 147 f.

Elijah, 61

Elisha’s Fountain, 143

Esdraelon, 9, 22, 26, 41, 42, 49, 59

Evil eye, 218

Fanaticism, 188

Fatalism, 201, 202

Fauna, 12, 220, 221

Feasts, 188, 201

Fellahin, 22, 69

Flora, 12, 67, 161, 207, 209, 210, 211

Future, 239 f.

Gadara, 60, 98, 108, 194

Galilee, 9, 45

Games, 185

Gardens, 177

Gaza, 64

Genii, 220

Geography, 32, 161

Gethsemane, 214

Ghosts, 190

Gideon, 64

Gilgals, 47 f.

Glass, 16

Gorges, 47

Great Deep, 53, 213

Greece, 100, 113, 197

Harod, Well of, 64

Hattin, 169

Hauran, 85

Hebron, 9, 46, 64, 74, 75, 90, 196

Hermits, 123

Hermon, 9, 11, 41, 44, 51, 54, 55, 220

Herods, 56, 101, 110, 171

Hezekiah’s aqueduct, 53, 88

Holy Fire, 133, 193

Holy Grail, 162

Hospitality, 35

Houses, 16, 67, 75

Huleh, Lake, 58, 60

Humour, 183

Immortality, 197, 198

Inscriptions, 87

Irrigation, 9, 233

Israelites, 88 f.

Jacob’s dream, 5

Jacob’s Well, 13, 48, 63, 119, 129

Jaffa, 72

Jehoshaphat, Valley of, 79

Jericho, 26, 49, 105, 227, 232

Jeroboam, 78

Jerusalem, 45 f., 53, 65 f., 76 f., 149, 228

Jesus Christ, 4, 5, 10, 31, 46, 49, 69, 84, 113, 114,
     150, 173, 177, 204, 242, 243, 245

Jews, 30, 88 f., 195, 201

Jezreel, 41

Job, 96, 224, 233

John the Baptist, 146, 147

Jordan, 13, 23, 28, 40, 41, 42, 44, 49, 51, 55 f., 65, 121, 178

Joy, 188

Judea, 8, 9, 24, 34, 45 f., 47

Khan Minyeh, 64, 105

Kidron, 25, 46, 63

Knights, 151, 164, 170

Landmarks, 175

Lebanon, 44 f., 51

Legends, 62, 69, 103, 134 f., 150, 153

Leontes, 44, 58

Leprosy, 228

Lunacy, 222

Maccabees, 100

Magic, 3, 29, 154, 205, 217 f.

Mar Saba, 25, 27, 123, 125 f.

Martyrs, 116, 123

Medicinal springs, 201, 222, 227

Melancholy, 31

Michmash, 47

Miracle, 3, 4

Mirage, 212

Missions, 95

Mohammedanism, 2, 74, 137 f., 142, 242

Monastic establishments, 122

Morasses, 211

Mosaics, 102, 168

Mosques, 146

Mosque of Omar, 53, 79, 80, 131, 144, 149 f., 159

Mount of Olives, 154

Mountains, 40 f., 49

Muezzin, 143

Music, 31 f.

Mystery, 206

Nablus, 64, 74, 92

Nain, 68

Names of places, 39, 160

Nazareth, 48, 62, 69, 72, 114, 189, 218

Oppression, 229

Past, the, 2

Paul, St., 172

Persecutions, 116

Phœnicia, 10

Pilgrimages, 117 f.

Pools, 211

Prayer, 142

Providence, 233

Quarantana, 5, 46, 49

Rachel, 195

Railway, 86, 182

Relics, 2, 119, 152, 160

Religion of Israel, 39, 65, 97 f., 173 f., 187

Revelation, 97 f.

Richard Cœur de Lion, 163, 167

Rivers, 51 f.

Roads, 77, 99 f., 174

Rib Roy canoe, 57, 91

Romans, 56, 77, 83, 98 f., 107, 108, 113

Russians, 119 f.

Safed, 90

St. Christopher, 135

St. George, 134, 168, 193

Samaria, 9, 45, 47, 48, 102, 110, 146

Samaritans, 92

Sanur, 48

Scents, 179

Sea, 21, 24, 78, 212, 213

Sea of Galilee, 11, 15, 37, 58, 59, 208, 209, 210

Shirky, 26

Siloam, 53, 76, 81, 88

Sites, identification of, 165

Smallness of the land, 37

Solomon, 78, 153

Spectral, the, 205 f.

Springs, 54

Stones, Jewish, 82

Straight Street, 103

Sun, 14, 16, 28

Synagogues, 79

Tabor, 45, 48, 128, 165

Tattoo, 18, 75

Tell Hum, 128

Tents, 22 f.

Terraces, 50, 240

Terror, 206

Tiberias, 90, 91, 201, 209

Titus, 84

Tobacco, 93

Toil, 227

Tombs, 81, 140, 174, 186, 191

Towns, 65 f., 71

Travel, 2, 161

Trees, 67, 210, 211

Truth, 206

Tyre, 10, 72, 75, 160

Underground waters, 52, 213

Unfinishedness, 174

Villages, 11, 15, 65 f.

War, 49, 50

Welis, 141

Wells, 62

Zionists, 90



 [1] _Eothen_, ch. xxiii.

 [2] The natives have at last borrowed the sloping red-tiled roofs from
 the Franks who introduced them. Cf. a letter written by Professor G.
 A. Smith to the _Spectator_, October 1891.

 [3] _Tent Work_, p. 54.

 [4] Cf. _The Semites_, Robertson Smith, chaps. iii. and v.

 [5] For these and other instances cf. _Historical Geography_, p. 52,
 and Appendix I.

 [6] Cf. _The Least of all Lands_, Principal Miller, ch. 1.

 [7] Cf. p. 15.

 [8] _The Rob Roy on the Jordan_, p. 129.

 [9] Cf. _The Semites_, Robertson Smith, p. 97.

 [10] _Rob Roy_, p. 102.

 [11] _Tent Work_, p. 120.

 [12] The _Rob Roy_ has contributed gallantly to its exploration. To
 her captain’s book this chapter is under many obligations.

 [13] _Tent Work_, chaps. xx., xxi.

 [14] They are cut with a cross-chiselled margin, and rough outstanding
 rustic work in the centre. Their size and weight are enormous. One
 writer, whose sense of humour is hardly equal to his knowledge of
 Scripture, in describing them is carried away into the statement that
 “the Jewish architects, taught by their Phœnician neighbours, bestowed
 special care upon the corners of their great buildings. They show a
 finish, a solidity, and choice of material superior to other parts....
 And how beautifully expressive is the language of the Psalmist, ‘our
 daughters are corner-stones, polished after the similitude of a
 palace’--one of the corner-stones of this angle weighs over a hundred

 [15] For an account of these and others cf. Palestine Exploration
 Fund, Quarterly Statement, October 1901.

 [16] See, however, Professor G. A. Smith’s _Jerusalem_, vol. i. pp.
 189, 190.

 [17] _Haifa_, Laurence Oliphant, pp. 317, 318.

 [18] “Love among the Ruins,” Robert Browning.

 [19] _The Dawn of Art_, Martin Conway, pp. 58-76.

 [20] St. Symeon was a shepherd from the borderland between Cilicia and

 [21] Cf. Schaff’s _Church History, Nicene and Post-Nicene Period_,
 chap. iv.

 [22] St. Jerome, Ep. xiv.

 [23] Cf. pp. 27, 30.

 [24] _Arabia, the Cradle of Islam_, Zwemer, p. 179.

 [25] _Mediæval Christianity_, Schaff, p. 150.

 [26] Written in 1904.

 [27] _The Crusades_, Cox, p. 72.

 [28] _The Crusades_, Cox, p. 215. Of these children only 5000
 crossed the Mediterranean. They were sold, when they landed, in the
 slave-markets of Alexandria and Algiers.

 [29] Map has the credit of introducing the Grail story into Arthurian
 romance; Borron of adding the early part which traced it to Joseph of

 [30] Cf. _Chivalry and Crusades_, Stebbing, vol. ii. chaps. iv. and v.

 [31] _Haifa_, Laurence Oliphant, p. 189.

 [32] _The Semites_, Robertson Smith, p. 29.

 [33] _Ibid._ pp. 244, 257.

 [34] Deut. xxviii. 47, 48.

 [35] Deut. xxviii. 47, 48.

 [36] _Robert Browning_, William Sharp, p. 203.

 [37] Gen. xxxv. 16, 19.

 [38] _Haifa_, pp. 270-272; _Tent Work_, p. 85.

 [39] Cf. _The Dawn of Art_, Martin Conway, p. 95, etc.; _Some Aspects
 of the Greek Genius_, Professor Butcher, p. 30.

 [40] Cf. _Rationalism in Europe_, Leckie, ii. 197.

 [41] Cf. the sprightly figure of Glaucon in Plato’s _Republic_, B,
 x, § 9: “Do you know,” says Socrates, “that our soul is immortal and
 never dies?” “By Jove, I do not,” replies Glaucon. “Are you prepared
 to prove that it is?”

 [42] _Arabia, the Cradle of Islam_, Zwemer, xiii.

 [43] The rags which are hung on trees or fences near certain tombs
 suggest the medicinal value of holy places, which attracts men to them
 from selfish interests.

 [44] _Talisman_, xxviii.

 [45] _East of the Jordan_, Dr. Merrill, p. 496.

 [46] _Tent Work_, p. 314.

 [47] _Marius the Epicurean_, Walter Pater, i. 44.

 [48] _Rob Roy on the Jordan_, p. 260.

 [49] _Eothen_, ch. viii.

 [50] Cf. _Geschichte des Jüdischen Volkes_, Schürer, ii. 819, 820.

 [51] Cf. _The Semites_, W. Robertson Smith, iii. v.

 [52] Cf. _The Semites_, W. Robertson Smith, pp. 197, etc.

 [53] _Tent Work_, pp. 68, 204.

 [54] Cf. _The Semites_, Robertson Smith, pp. 16, 17.

 [55] _East of the Jordan_, Merrill, p. 193.

 [56] The early Christian belief that the gods of paganism were demons
 has died hard, if indeed it be quite dead. The “weird horsemen” who
 in windy nights are to be heard galloping down lonely valleys lead us
 back to that interesting custom by which a horse was actually provided
 in some of the temples of the Syrian Herakles, to that the god might
 ride forth at night.

 [57] _Haifa_, Laurence Oliphant, p. 300.

 [58] Job iv. 14-16.

 [59] _The Cradle of Christianity_, D. M. Ross, p. 60.

 [60] See p. 36.

 [61] Professor G. A. Smith, in his chapter on “The Walls of
 Jerusalem,” has given the results of an exhaustive study of the
 most recent research on this subject, and his conclusion is that
 “on our present data it is hopeless to decide between the rival and
 contradictory arguments.”--_Jerusalem_, vol. i. p. 249.

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