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Byeways in Palestine, by James Finn
The Project Gutenberg eBook, Byeways in Palestine, by James Finn
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Title: Byeways in Palestine
Author: James Finn
Release Date: July 18, 2007 [eBook #22097]
Language: English
Character set encoding: ISO-646-US (US-ASCII)
This ebook was transcribed from the 1868 James Nisbet and Co. edition by Les Bowler.
“The land, which we passed through to search it, is an exceeding good land.”—NUMB. xiv. 7.
London, 1867.
To His Excellency Right Hon. Francis Lord Napier,K.T., etc. etc. etc., Governor of the Presidency of Madras, This little Volume is inscribed, in grateful acknowledgment of kindness received in Jerusalem and elsewhere,
These papers on “Byeways in Palestine” are compiled from notes of certain journeys made during many years’ residence in that country; omitting the journeys made upon beaten roads, and through the principal towns, for the mere reason that they were such.
Just what met the eye and ear was jotted down and is now revised after a lapse of time, without indulging much in meditation or reflection; these are rather suggested by the occurrences, that they may be followed out by the reader. Inasmuch, however, as the incidents relate to out-of-the-way places, and various seasons of the year, they may be found to contain an interest peculiar to themselves, and the account of them may not interfere with any other book on Palestine.
I may state that, not being a professed investigator, I carried with me no scientific instruments, except sometimes a common thermometer: I had no
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leisure for making excavations, for taking angles with a theodolite, or attending to the delicate care of any kind of barometer, being employed on my proper business.
Riding by night or by day, in the heat of Syrian summer, or through snows and piercing winds of winter on the mountains, I enjoyed the pure climate for its own sake. Moreover, I lived among the people, holding intercourse with peasants in villages, with Bedaween in deserts, and with Turkish governors in towns, or dignified Druses in the Lebanon, and slept in native dwellings of all qualities, as well as in convents of different sects: in the open air at the foot of a tree, or in a village mosque—in a cavern by the highway side, or beneath cliffs near the Dead Sea: although more commonly within my own tent, accompanied by native servants with a small canteen.
Sad cogitations would arise while traversing, hour after hour, the neglected soil, or passing by desolated villages which bear names of immense antiquity, and which stand as memorials of miraculous events which took place for our instruction and for that of all succeeding ages; and then, even while looking forward to a better time to come, the heart would sigh as the expression was uttered, “How long?”
These notices will show that the land is one of remarkable fertility wherever cultivated, even in a slight degree—witness the vast wheat-plains of the south; and is one of extreme beauty—witness the green hill-country of the north; although such qualities are by no means confined to those districts. Thus it is not necessary, it is not just, that believers in the Bible, in order to hold fast their confidence in its predictions for the future, should rush into the extreme of pronouncing the Holy Land to be cursed in its present capabilities. It is verily and indeed cursed in its government and in its want of population; but still the soil is that of “a land which the Lord thy God careth for.” There is a deep meaning in the words, “The earth is the Lord’s,” when applied to that peculiar country; for it is a reserved property, an estate in abeyance, and not even in a subordinate sense can it be the fief of the men whom it eats up. (Numb. xiii. 32, and Ezek. xxxvi. 13, 14.) I have seen enough to convince me that astonishing will be the amount of its produce, and the rapidity also, when the obstacles now existing are removed.
With respect to antiquarian researches, let me express my deep interest in the works now undertaken under the Palestine Exploration Fund. My happiness, while residing in the country, would have been much augmented had such operations been at that time,i.e., between 1846 and 1863, commenced in Jerusalem or elsewhere in the Holy Land.
J. F.
The frontispiece picture to this volume represents the relic of a small Roman Temple, situated on the eastern edge of the Plain of Sharon, near the line of
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hills, between the two villages Awali and M’zeera’a.
It is quadrangular in form, with a door and portico on its north front.
The portico is supported by two round columns of Corinthian order, and two pilasters of the same at the extremities. The columns are of small dimensions, the shafts not exceeding nine feet in length; yet in these the canon is observed which obtains in the larger proportions found in classic lands, namely, that the diameter is somewhat extended near the half elevation from the ground. The capitals are of the best design.
The doorway is formed by a very bold and deep moulding, and in the upright side-posts is found the same arrangement for holding a stone bar in confining the door, as is to be seen in some sepulchres about Jerusalem, namely, a curved groove increasing in depth of incision as it descends.
The whole edifice bears the same warm tinge of yellow that all those of good quality acquire from age in that pure climate.
The roof has been repaired, and the walls in some parts patched up.
On the southern wall, internally, the Moslems have set up a Kebleh niche for indicating the direction of prayer.
The peasants call this building the “Boorj,” or “Tower.”
Near adjoining it are remains of ancient foundations: one quite circular and of small diameter.
There is also by the road-side, not far off, a rocky grotto, supplied with water by channels from the hills.
My sketches of this interesting relic date from 1848 and 1859, and, as far as I am aware, no other traveller had seen it until lately, when the members of the Palestine Exploration Expedition visited and took a photograph of it, which is now published.
J. F.
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We were a dozen Englishmen, including three clergymen, undertaking the above journey accompanied by the large train of servants, interpreters, and muleteers usually required for travelling in the East. And it was on Wednesday, the 9th day of May 1855, that we started. This was considered almost late in the season for such an enterprise. The weather was hot, chiefly produced by a strong shirocco wind at the time; and, in crossing over the shoulder of the Mount of Olives, we found the country people beginning their harvest at Bethany.
We were of course escorted by a party of Arab guides, partly villagers of either Abu DisorSelwan, (Siloam,) and partly of those Ghawârineh Arabs not deserving the appellation of Bedaween, who live around and about Jericho. These people, of both classes, form a partnership for convoy of travellers to the Jordan under arrangements made at the consulate. Without them it would be impossible either to find the way to Jericho and the river, or to pass along the deserted road, for there are always out-lookers about the tops of the hills to give notice that you are without an escort, and you would consequently still find that travellers may “fall among thieves” between Jerusalem and Jericho; besides that, on descending to the plain of Jericho you would certainly become the prey of other Arabs of real tribes, ever passing about there—including most probably the ’Adwân, to whose hospitality, however, we were now about to commit ourselves. To all this must be added, that no other Arabs dare undertake to convoy travellers upon that road; the Taámra to the south have long felt their exclusion from it to be a great grievance, as the gains derived from the employment of escorting Europeans are very alluring.
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We had with us a deputed commissioner from the ’Adwân, namely, Shaikh Fendi, a brother of Shaikh ’Abdu’l ’Azeez. He was delighted with the refreshment of eating a cucumber, when we rested by the wayside to eat oranges—the delicious produce of Jaffa.
Passing theFountain of the Apostles, (so called,) we jogged along a plain road till we reached a booth for selling cups of coffee, at the divergence of the road Nebi Moosa, (the reputed sepulchre of the prophet Moses, according to the Mohammedans,) then up an ascent still namedTela’at ed Dum, which is [3] certainly the ancient Adummim, (Joshua xv. 7)—probably so called from broad bands ofredamong the strata of the rocks. Here there are also curious wavy lines of brown flint, undulating on a large scale among the limestone cliffs. This phenomenon is principally to be seen near the ruined and deserted Khan, or eastern lodging-place, situated at about half the distance of our journey. The name isKhatroon.
As we proceeded, our escort, mostly on foot, went on singing merrily, and occasionally bringing us tufts of scented wild plants found in crevices by the roadside. Then we came to long remains of an ancient water conduit, leading to ruins of a small convent. In a few minutes after the latter, we found ourselves looking down a fearfully deep precipice of rocks on our left hand, with a stream flowing at the bottom, apparently very narrow indeed, and the sound of it scarcely audible. This is the brookKelt, by some supposed to be theCherithof Elijah’s history. Suddenly we were on the brow of a deep descent, with the Ghôr, or Jericho plain, and the Dead Sea spread out below. In going down, we had upon our left hand considerable fragments of ancient masonry, containing lines of Roman reticulated brickwork.
It was now evening; a breeze, but not a cool one, blowing; and we left aside for this time the pretty camping station of Elisha’s Fountain, because we had business to transact at the village of Er-Rihha, (or Jericho.) There accordingly our tents were pitched; and in a circle at our doors were attentive listeners to a narration of the events of Lieut. Molyneux’s Expedition on the Jordan and Dead Sea in 1847.
Thermometer after sunset, inside the tent, at 89° Fahrenheit. Sleep very much disturbed by small black sandflies and ants.
Thursday, 10thThe scene around us.—Thermometer at 76° before sunrise. was animated and diversified; but several of us had been accustomed to Oriental affairs—some for a good many years; and some were even familiar with the particular localities and customs of this district. Others were young in age, and fresh to the country; expressing their wonderment at finding themselves so near to scenes read of from infancy—scarcely believing that they had at length approached near to
 “That bituminous lake Where Sodom stood,”
and filled with joyous expectation at the visit so soon to be made to the Jordan, and beyond it. Some were quoting Scripture; some quoting poetry; and others taking particular notice of the wild Arabs, who were by this time increasing in number about us,—their spears, their mares, their guttural language, and not
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less the barren desert scene before us, being objects of romantic interest.
At length all the tents and luggage were loaded on the mules, and ten men of the village were hired for helping to convey our property across the river; and we went forward over the strange plain which is neither desert sand, as in Africa, nor wilderness of creeping plants and flowers, as on the way to Petra, but a puzzling, though monotonous succession of low eminences,—of a nature something like rotten chalk ground, if there be such a thing in existence, —between which eminences we had to wind our way, until we reached the border of tamarisk-trees, large reeds, willow, aspen, etc., that fringes the river; invisible till one reaches close upon it.
At the bathing (or baptism) place of the Greeks, northwards from that of the Latins, to which English travellers are usually conducted, we had to cross, by [5] swimming as we could. King David, on his return from exile, had a ferry-boat to carry over his household, but we had none. Probably, on his escaping from Absalom, he crossed as we did.
The middle part of the river was still too deep for mere fording. Horses and men had to swim; so the gentlemen sat still on their saddles, with their feet put up on the necks of their horses, which were led by naked swimming Arabs in the water holding the bridles, one on each side.
Baggage was carried over mostly on the animals; but had to be previously adjusted and tightened, so as to be least liable to get wetted. Small parcels were carried over on the heads of the swimmers. These all carried their own clothes in that manner. One of the luggage mules fell with his load in the middle of the stream. It was altogether a lively scene. Our Arabs were much darker over the whole body than I had expected to find them; and the ’Adwân have long plaits of hair hanging on the shoulders when thekefieh, or coloured head-dress, is removed. The horses and beasts of burden were often restive in mid-current, and provoked a good deal of merriment. Some of the neighbouring camps having herds of cattle, sent them to drink and to cool themselves in the river, as the heat of the day increased. Their drivers urged them in, and then enjoyed the fun of keeping them there by swimming round and round them. One cow was very nearly lost, however, being carried away rapidly and helplessly in the direction of the Dead Sea, but she was recovered. The Jericho people returned home, several of them charged with parting letters addressed to friends in Jerusalem; and we were left reposing, literally reposing, on the eastern bank,—the English chatting happily; the Arabs smoking or sleeping under shade of trees; pigeons cooing among the thick covert, and a Jordan nightingale soothing us occasionally, with sometimes a hawk or an eagle darting along the sky; while the world-renowned river rolled before our eyes.
“Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum.”
The novelty of the scenes, and the brilliancy of the atmosphere, as well the vivacity of the recent transactions in “passing over Jordan,” had their duly buoyant effect upon youthful persons,—who were, however, not forgetful of past events in these places belonging to sacred history.
The baggage went on; but, as the appointed halting-place was only about two
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hours distant, we remained enjoying ourselves as we were during most of the day.
Among our novel friends is an Arab hero namedGublân, as they pronounce it here, (but it is really the Turkish wordKaplân, meaningTiger,) and his uncle, old ’Abdu’l ’Azeez. About three years before, Gublân had been attacked by Government soldiers at Jericho. He made a feigned retreat, and, leading them into the thickets of Neb’k trees, suddenly wheeled round and killed six of them. The humbled Government force retired, and the dead were buried, by having a mound of earth piled over them. Of course, such an incident was never reported to the Sublime Invincible Porte at Constantinople; but it was a curious coincidence, that this very morning, amid our circle before the tents, after breakfast and close to that mound, we had Gublân, ’Abdu’l ’Azeez, and the Turkish Aga of the present time, all peaceably smoking pipes together in our company.
Among our gentlemen we had a man of fortune and literary attainments, who had been in Algiers, and now amused himself with dispensing with servants or interpreters—speaking some Arabic. He brought but very light luggage. This he placed upon a donkey, and drove it himself—wearing Algerine town costume. The Bedaween, however, as I need scarcely say, did not mistake him for an Oriental.
Moving forward in the afternoon, we were passing over thePlains of Moab, “on this [east] side Jordan by Jericho”—where Balaam, son of Beor, saw, from the heights above, all Israel encamped, and cried out, “How goodly are thy tents, O Jacob! and thy tabernacles, O Israel! As the valleys are they spread forth, as gardens by the river’s side, as the trees of lign-aloes which the Lord hath planted, and as cedar-trees beside the waters. . . . Blessed is he that blesseth thee, and cursed is he that curseth thee,” (Num. xxii. I, and xxiv. 5, 6, 9.) This territory is also called theLand of Moab, where the second covenant was made with the people by the ministry of Moses—the one “beside the covenant which he made with them in Horeb.”
Our ride was a gradual ascent; and after some time we were met by young ’Ali, the favourite son of the principal Shaikh Dëâb, (Wolf,) with a small but chosen escort, sent on by his father to welcome us. We saw a good deal of corn land, and people reaping their harvest. This belongs to two or three scattered villages about there, under the immediate protection of the Dëâb ’Adwân. The Arabs, however, in this part of the world, do condescend to countenance and even to profit by agriculture, for they buy slaves to sow and reap for them.
In two hours and a half from the Jordan we came to our halting-place, at a spot calledCuferain, (“two villages”)—the Kiriathaim of Jer. xlviii. 23—at the foot of the mountain, with a strong stream of water rushing past us. No sign, however, of habitations: only, at a little distance to the south, were ruins of a village called Er Ram, (a very common name in Palestine; but this is not Ramoth-Gilead;) and at half an hour to the north was an inhabited village calledNimrin, from which the stream flowed to us.—See Jer. xlviii. 34: “The waters of Nimrin shall be desolate.”
We had a refreshing breeze from the north which is justly counted a luxury in summer time. The shaikhs came and had coffee with me. They said that on
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the high summits we shall have cooler temperature than in Jerusalem, which is very probable.
After dinner I sat at my tent-door, by the rivulet side, looking southwards over the Dead Sea, and to the west over the line of the promised land of Canaan, which I had never before had an opportunity of seeing in that manner, although the well-known verse had been often repeated in England—
“Oh could I stand where Moses stood,  And view the landscape o’er, Not Death’s cold stream nor Jordan’s flood  Should fright me from the shore.”
I then read over to myself in Arabic, the Psalms for the evening service —namely, liii., liv., and lv.
About sunset there was an alarm that a lad who had accompanied us as a servant from Jerusalem was missing ever since we left the Jordan. Horse-men were sent in every direction in search of him. It was afterwards discovered that he had returned to Jericho.
At about a hundred yards south of us was a valley calledSe’eer, (its brook, however, comes down from the north)—abounding in fine rosy oleander shrubs.
During the night the water near us seemed alive with croaking frogs. Last night we had the sand-flies to keep us awake.
Friday, 11thMy earliest looks were.—Thermometer 66° before sunrise. towards Canaan, “that goodly land”—“the hills, from which cometh my help.” How keen must have been the feeling of his state of exile when David was driven to this side the river!
Before breakfast I bathed in the Se’eer, among bushes of oleander and the strong-scentedghar—a purple-spiked flower always found adjoining to or in water-beds. Then read my Arabic Psalms as usual.
Before starting, young ’Ali and his party asked us all for presents, and got none. We gave answer unanimously that we meant to give presents to his father when we should see him. Strange how depraved the Arab mind becomes on this matter of asking for gifts wherever European travellers are found!—so different from the customs of ancient times, and it is not found in districts off the common tracks of resort.
Our road lay up the hills, constantly growing more steep and precipitous, and occasionally winding between large rocks, which were often overgrown with honeysuckle in full luxuriance. The Arabs scrambled like wild animals over the rocks, and brought down very long streamers of honeysuckle, Luwâyeh, as they call it, which they wound round and round the necks of our horses, and generally got piastres for doing so. About two-thirds of the distance up the ascent we rested, in order to relieve the animals, or to sketch views, or enjoy the glorious scenery that lay extended below us—comprising the Dead Sea, the line of the river trees, Jericho, the woods of Elisha’s Fountain, and the hills towards Jerusalem. The Bedaween have eyes like eagles; and some
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avouched that they could see the Mount of Olives, and the minaret upon its summit. They indicated to us the positions of Es-Salt and of Heshbân.
We had now almost attained a botanical region resembling that of the Jerusalem elevation, instead of the Indian vegetation upon the Jordan plain; only there wasret’m(the juniper of 1 Kings xix. 4) to be found, with pods in seed at that season; but we had also our long accustomed terebinth and arbutus, with honeysuckle and pink ground-convolvulus. The rocks were variegated with streaks of pink, purple, orange, and yellow, as at Khatroon, on the Jerusalem road. Partridges were clucking among the bushes; and the bells on the necks of our mules lulled us with their sweet chime, as the animals strolled browsing around in the gay sunshine.
When we moved forward once more, it was along paths of short zigzags between cliffs, so that our procession was constantly broken into small pieces. At length we lost sight of the Ghôr and the Dead Sea; and after some time traversing miles of red and white cistus, red everlasting, and fragrant thyme and sage, with occasional terebinth-trees festooned with honeysuckle, we came upon a district covered with millions, or billions, or probably trillions, of locusts, not fully grown, and only taking short flights; but they greatly annoyed our horses. My choice Arab, being at that time ridden by my servant, fairly bolted away with fright for a considerable distance.
At length we halted at a small spring oozing from the soil of the field. The place was calledHheker Zaboot—a pretty place, and cuckoos on the trees around us; only the locusts were troublesome.
’Abdu’l ’Azeez proposed that instead of going at once to Ammon, we should make a detour by Heshbon and Elealeh, on the way to his encampment. To this we all assented.
During the ride forward the old shaikh kept close to me, narrating incidents of his life,—such as his last year’s losses by the Beni Sukh’r, who plundered him of all his flocks and herds, horses, tents, and even most of his clothing,—then described the march of Ibrahim Pasha’s army in their disastrous attempt upon Kerak: also some of the valiant achievements of his kinsman Gublân; and then proceeding to witticism, gave me his etymological origin of the name of Hhesbâ n—namely, that, on the subsiding of the great deluge, the first object that Noah perceived was that castle, perched as it is upon a lofty peak; whereupon he exclaimed,Hhus’n bân—“a castle appears!” I wish I could recollect more of his tales.
After passing through romantic scenery of rocks and evergreen trees, at a sudden turn of the road we came to large flocks and herds drinking, or couched beside a copious stream of water gushing from near the foot of a rocky hill. This they called’Ain Hhesbân; and told us that the Egyptian army above alluded to, twenty thousand in number, passed the night there before arriving at Kerak. To many of them it was their last night on earth.
There were remains of large masonry lying about, and the scene was truly beautiful—to which the bells of the goats and cows added a charming musical effect.
I asked an Arab, who was bathing in a pool, where he had come from, and he
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