by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books

 

Chapter 1 | Contents | Chapter 3


The Holy Land and the Bible
A Book of Scripture Illustrations gathered in Palestine

Cunningham Geikie D.D.

With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
Special Edition

(1887)

CHAPTER 2—LYDDA—RAMLEH

The Finest Fountain in Palestine—The Water SupplyIbn Ibrak—Beit Dejan—Kefr AnaEl-Yehudiyeh—RantiehLyddaIts Associations with St. GeorgeThe Road to RamlehAncient Crusading ChurchThe White TowerWhy the Hebrews Failed to Keep the Lowlands

If you like an "omnibus," with its load of passengers, you can drive each day from Joppa to Jerusalem, but I prefer going on horseback. One can stop when he likes, and can escape the din of a light-hearted set of tourists "doing" the country in a very mechanical way.

The road to Lydda, now called Ludd, leaves Joppa at the north-east corner of the town and runs south-east, along a broad, sandy road, through gardens fenced with prickly pear, which extend nearly two miles back from the sea. On the left, half a mile out, in one of the gardens, is a good-sized pool, a pleasant sight in this thirsty land, and a little farther on, at a fork of the road, stands a noble fountain, called after a governor of Joppa who died about the beginning of this century, and left this fine memorial of his kindly nature. It is built of white stone, with an arched recess in the middle, before which, on a line with the walls, is a wide trough, at which some poor donkeys, heavily laden as usual, were slaking their thirst. A wall a little broader than the recess extends on each side of this, with a rounded shaft at each corner, surmounted by a sugar-loafed dome, the sides running back so as to form a parallelogram. In each end is a blank arch, for ornament; and in the front, on each side of the archway, about eight feet up, two long, narrow, arched window-spaces. A number of sugar-loaf domes above complete the ornaments of the structure, which is the finest of its kind in Palestine. The walls are about twenty feet high, the centre cupola perhaps twelve feet higher. Inside lies the generous founder, for the building is at once a fountain and a tomb.

No public gift is more appreciated in the East than a fountain, erected in the belief that kindness shown by us in this world will not be forgotten in the next, and hence there is not a town of any size which does not boast of at least one. One at Joppa, which I had forgotten to mention, stands near the old site of the city gate: eight pointed arches, resting on columns rising on a paved square, amidst a thoroughly Oriental surrounding of squalid stalls and dark cells, miscalled shops, some plane-trees growing beside it. At the roadside, in different parts, one often comes on a low plastered cube with an opening in front, and water within, placed there, each day, by women returning from the well, that passers-by may be refreshed by it.

The water supply of Palestine, except in favoured districts, has in all ages been limited, and of course there has never been any such provision as there is with us for bringing it to each house. Hence, as in Jerusalem at this time, at least one cistern is formed under each dwelling, to collect the rain-water from the roof. A well in the inner court of a house was in ancient times, as it is still, a mark of wealth (2 Sam 17:18; Jer 38:6; Isa 36:16; Prov 5:15), though it might be only a gathering of rain-water—not a spring. Mesa, of Moab, in the famous stone on which he caused his memorial of victory to be engraved, tells us that he had ordered every house-holder in Korcha Dibon to make a cistern in his own dwelling; and this custom, thus followed in all ages with private houses, has also been that of the whole open country. The ground everywhere is, as it were, honeycombed with ancient cisterns, many, no doubt, dating from the time of the old Canaanites, before Moses, for their wells, or cisterns (Deut 6:11), are spoken of by him, and in a later day by the Levites, at Ezra's great fast (Neh 9:25). These reservoirs must sometimes have been of great size, for in the well or cistern made by King Asa at Mizpeh there was room for seventy corpses (Jer 41:9). Even in the very region through which we are passing—the fringe of low hills and the rolling plain of Sharon, stretching from Joppa, north—King Uzziah had to expend much labour in securing sufficient water for his numerous flocks. We read that "he built towers in the pasture country [for his shepherds and flocks] and hewed out many cisterns; for he had much cattle, both in the Shephelah [the low hills sloping to the plains] and in the Mishor" [the smooth grassy pasture-land, free from rocks and stones] (2 Chron 26:10). Their shape is often that of huge bottles, narrowed at the neck to keep the water cool. Stones were generally laid round the mouth, which itself was covered with a great stone, requiring no little strength to push or roll aside. Thus several men were required to move the one which covered the cistern belonging to Laban (Gen 29:3). In some places, as we shall see, these cisterns are carefully hewn out of the rock, but they are sometimes walled with blocks of stones, and in all the cases they are coated with waterproof cement. Springs rise to the surface only in a few localities in Palestine; indeed, in the south there may be said to be none. In Jerusalem there is but one, although there are at least four wells of living water, more or less sewage-poisoned. Bethlehem, even in Jerome's day, was mainly dependent on cisterns,* and the two fortresses, Jotapata and Masada, had only rain-cisterns.**

* Hieron. on Amos, iv. 7.

** Jos. Ant., xiv. 14, 6.

The fountain of Abu Nabat, which has led to this digression, is known by the name of the Tomb of Tabitha or Dorcas, but there is no weight in the tradition which thus distinguishes it. Close to it, among the orchards stretching to the north, M. Clermont-Ganneau was fortunate enough to discover, in 1874, the ancient cemetery of Joppa, containing many rock-hewn tombs, all long since empty. Lamps and vases of terra-cotta, and stones with inscriptions, are constantly found in its limits by the peasantry, to whom the larger blocks are quite a treasure for building purposes.

Branching off to the south-east, through the grounds of the Jewish Agricultural Colony, the road passes the first of a series of four guard-houses on the nine miles between Joppa and Ramleh—a sad evidence of the insecurity of the land under Turkish rule. On the left hand is Yazur, a small mud village standing amidst gardens, and said to have once had a church. The telegraph wire to Jerusalem runs alongside the road, on the right. Behind Yazur, about a mile north-east, lies a similar village, called Ibn Ibrak, thought to be Bene Berka, of the tribe of Dan (Josh 19:46). Near this, during winter, rain-water stands in pools at different points. Slanting to the left, beyond Yazur, the road leads on towards Lydda, passing on the way, amidst olive-trees round and near it, the village of Beit Dejan, the Beth Dagon of the tribe of Judah (Josh 15:41), famous, as the name implies, in the days of the Philistines for the local worship of their great fish-god Dagon. That people would seem, therefore, at some time, to have occupied the lowlands as far north as this. A mile and a half farther off, to the north, still on the plain, is Kefr Ana, that is, the village of Ana, a name thought by Robinson* to show that the triangle of plain between Joppa, Lydda, and a clump of low hills rising to the east of Joppa, like an island in the level round them, was the part known in Scripture as the Plain of Ono (1 Chron 8:12; Neh 6:2), but also, apparently, as "the Craftsmen's Plain" (Neh 11:35; 1 Chron 4:14). Ono itself was a Benjamite town, somewhere near Lydda, and always mentioned in connection with it, so that Ana would suit in this particular, though there is the difficulty that the Talmud says Ono was three miles from Lydda, whereas this place is five. But the site of the present village may have changed to this extent in the troubled history of the country. Two shallow basins, hollowed out in the rock, not built, receive the winter rains, and there are several wells, from which a few gardens on one side of the village are irrigated. You go nowhere in Palestine without meeting ruins, and here, beside the wells, ancient shafts of pillars speak of glory passed away.

* Bib. Res. App., pp. 120, 121.
A mile beyond Ono, or Ana, still to the north-east, is another collection of mud huts—the village of El-Yehudiyeh, thought by Robinson to be Jehud of Dan (Josh 19:45). It is twice the size of Ana, having a population of from 800 to 1,000, and it boasts of some gardens on its north side. Midway between it and Ana, moreover, there is a tract of gardens, about half a mile broad, and extending more than a mile, to the foot of the isolated low hills on the north. A rain-pond, surrounded by palms, lies a little south of the village, within mud-banks renewed each winter. The patriarch Judah is said by the Samaritans to have been buried here. Two miles still further, in the same line as El-Yehudiyeh, the village of Rantieh, a very small place, was visible—a spot noticeable from its having been thought by Dr. Robinson to be the site of Arimathæa" is only a variation of Ha Rama, "the Height," famous as the birthplace, home, and burial-place of the prophet Samuel (1 Sam 1:19, 7:17, 25:1), and it is thither, rather than to Rantieh, we must look for the home of the illustrious disciple who craved and obtained the body of our Lord from Pilate. About a mile beyond Rantieh the slopes of the hills begin, their base covered with extensive olive-orchards.

As we rode on towards Lydda, the landscape, dotted with these villages, presented in a gradually receding sweep the great physical divisions of the country in this part. First came the broad plain, undulating in low waves towards the hills on the east. These rise in fertile slopes to a height of about 500 feet above the sea, and constitute the second district, known in the Bible as the Shephelah,* or "Low Lands," a region of soft white limestone hills, with broad ribbons of brown quartz running through them here and there. The wide straths leading up to the mountains, which form the third district, are especially fertile, the valleys waving with corn and the hill-sides covered with olive-trees, which flourish better in this district than in any other. Villages also are most frequent in this middle region, where there was some security on account of its elevation above the plain; and springs are found here and there, with wells of all dates. In former times the Shephelah must have been densely populated, for the Palestine Fund Surveyors sometimes discovered in it as many as three ancient sites within two square miles.

* The following are the texts in which it occurs, and its readings in the AV:—VALE, VALLEY, or VALLEYS: Deut 1:7; Josh 9:1, 10:40, 11:2,16, 12:8, 15:33; Judg 1:9; 1 Kings 10:27; 2 Chron 1:15. LOW PLAINS: 1 Chron 27:28; 2 Chron 9:27. LOW COUNTRY: 2 Chron 26:10, 28:18. PLAIN: Jer 17:26; Oba 19: Zech 7:7.
But we must hurry on towards Lydda, for its wide gardens now lie before us as we cross the low spur on which stand the mud hovels of another village, with a nice sprinkling of olive-trees about it, on the slope to the south. For more than a mile before we reach the town, the road is skirted with orchards and gardens surrounding it on all sides except the east, which is close to the hills. Most of these gardens have wells of their own, which accounts for their vigour and fruitfulness.

Lydda is famous as the reputed place of the birth and burial of the patron saint of England—St. George. He is said to have suffered martyrdom in Nicomedia, the capital of ancient Bithynia, from which his remains were, it is averred, carried to his native town, where his head is still thought to lie below the altar of the church consecrated to him. That he was a real personage there can be no doubt, and that he did noble service in his day can hardly be questioned, from the earliness of his fame, and the honour in which he has always been held by both the Eastern and the Western Church. But it is a lesson on the vanity of human greatness to find that, like so many heroes famous in their day, he is now no more than a name to the world at large. A fine church, which dates from about AD 1150, still exists in Lydda, with a crypt containing what is called St. George's Tomb. One arch is still complete, and the side of a larger one, but the outer smoothed stones have either fallen, or been carried off from the wall connecting these shattered remains of what must once have been a splendid building. The nave and north aisle have, however, been partly rebuilt, and are used as a Greek church, two lines of columns having been restored. The rest of the site is used as the court of a mosque! When perfect, the total length of the church was 150 feet, and it was 79 feet broad. A chapel of St. James, standing to the south of the church, is now the mosque, the court of which covers, moreover, two-thirds of the whole site. But, compared with the splendid building of the Crusaders, the Mahommedan sanctuary is rude and squalid in the extreme—a fit contrast between the creeds they respectively represent. How much may lie buried under the ruins! Twenty years ago thirty coffins and a fine sarcophagus were discovered by some chance digging, but all the bodies were headless!* The church is at the south-west of the town, and is built of pale yellow stone, from quarries on the way to Jerusalem.

* Pal. Memoirs, ii. 268.
The population of Lydda in 1851, the date of the last report, was 1,345, but with the villages of the district round, united with it in official arrangements, it was 4,400. Its present squalor and decay are a sad contrast to its former prosperity, of which one is often reminded by the remains of fine buildings still seen among its miserable mud hovels. There used to be large soap factories, but they are no longer in existence.

It was perhaps by the Roman road to Lydda that St. Paul was brought from Jerusalem on his way to Cæsarea, AD 58;* but there had been a Christian community there long before he passed through as a prisoner, for St. Peter "came down to the saints that were at Lydda," and healed the paralytic Æneas (Acts 9:32), and he went from it to Joppa, at the invitation of the Christians in that town, when the generous-hearted Dorcas fell sick and died (Acts 9:38), soon after the conversion of St. Paul, about the year AD 35, nearly six years after the crucifixion of our Lord.

* Riehm, art. Paulus.
The ride from Lydda to Ramleh is through orchards of olives, pomegranates, apricots, almonds, and other fruit-trees, with mulberries and sycamores varying the picture. The two places are a little more than two miles apart, Ramleh lying to the south-west; but the two oases of verdure round them, so striking in the great treeless plain, almost meet. In the spring every open space glows with scarlet anemones, intermixed with clouds of ranunculus, saffron, and other wild flowers, tall reeds of long grass fringing every moist hollow. Its name, Ramleh—"the Sandy"—indicates the character of the soil on which it stands; but though sandy, it is fertile. To the south indeed, towards Ekron, the sand is deep, and makes cultivation difficult, but even there olive-yards and gardens flourish, thanks to irrigation from the numerous wells. Both Ramleh and Lydda are embayed among the low hills of the Shephelah on all sides but the north, Ramleh standing on the east side of a broad, low swell. Though the larger place of the two, it has no such charm of antiquity as its neighbour, since it was founded only in the eighth century, when Lydda had been temporarily destroyed. Many large vaulted cisterns and other remains, on all sides except the south, where the hills are close, show that it must once have been much larger than it is; but it could never have supported a very large community, the only water supply being derived from wells and from rain-tanks. Some of these, of great size, but now useless, still show their age by inscriptions on them in Cufic, or early Arabic.

The town has a somewhat imposing mosque, but its chief attractions are two ruins: an ancient Crusading church, long ago turned into a Moslem sanctuary, and a lofty tower known as the White Mosque. The former, still in comparatively good repair, with what was apparently its original roof, is no less than 150 feet long and 75 feet broad, almost the same size as the Church of St. George at Lydda; but the whole interior has been whitewashed, so that the fine carving of the pillars is in great part concealed. That two churches of such size and splendour should have been built by the Crusaders so near each other is a triumph of Western energy at once emphatic and eloquent. What men they must have been who raised them in such a land, and in such an age, far from the aides of civilisation! The one at Ramleh is perhaps the finest and best-preserved memorial of Crusading architecture in Palestine.

In a large enclosure, about 300 feet one way and 280 the other, stands the White Tower, 26 feet square at its base, and 120 feet high, a marvel of beautiful masonry. It is said to be the minaret of a great mosque, now destroyed; but it looks much more like the gigantic square tower of a ruined church. Yet we have the weighty opinion of the officers of the Palestine Survey that the details show the whole edifice to have been built by Arab workmen, from the designs of a European architect. It seems to date from about the year AD 1300. In the enclosure south of the tower are four huge vaults, lighted from above, all dry and perfect, the two largest 80 feet from north to south and a little less from east to west; the other two not much smaller. One of the four is full of stones, the memorials of pilgrims who each add one to the huge mass. The vaults are all about 25 feet deep, their roofs being supported by rows of stone columns. Along the east and south of the enclosure are remains of an arcade or colonnade, and traces of chambers for the officials of the mosque are visible on the west side. The past history of the spot is, however, unknown. Tall slender buttresses rise at the four corners to more than half the height of the tower, which narrows in size above them in its two succeeding storeys, a staircase of 126 steps winding inside the otherwise solid masonry to the gallery at the top. The huge mass has doubtless often been roughly shaken by earthquakes, but it stands unrent as yet. A succession of windows of various shapes, but all with pointed arches, relieves the four sides, and opens magnificent views in every direction as you ascend. At one time a round tower and balcony for a muezzin disfigured the summit, but they have now disappeared. Standing on ground 352 feet above the sea, and rising 120 feet higher, the gallery enables one to look out from a height of nearly 500 feet on the panorama around.

Turning to the north, the eye wanders over the cemetery of Ramleh, with its plaster headstones and lowly mounds, scattered without order, and too often in decay—the orchards and cactus-hedges beyond, and then the town of Lydda, with its flat roofs in varied outline, and the high campanile-like minaret, with the ruined aisle of St. George's Church, close by a broad pool. On the further side, edged to the north with reeds and trees, there stretches out the whole length of the plain of Sharon, as far as Carmel, and, from west to east, its whole breadth, from the sea-shore sand-hills to the mountains of Judæa and Samaria. The landscape thus displayed includes by far the largest sweep of open country in Palestine, reaching from the cliffs of Carmel to the wells of Beersheba. Rolling uplands diversify the surface throughout, great breadths of waving pasture or arable land stretching between the low heights which break and beautify the whole. Perennial streams cleave their way to the sea; villages, always picturesque, however wretched, rise on the slopes; in some places there is still a sprinkling of oak; everywhere there are ruins. The red or black tilth, the green or yellow grain, the light-brown uplands, the tawny fringe of sand along the shore, the blue sea, the purple mountains to the east, all seen through the transparent air, make up a scene never to be forgotten.

Such a view as this explains why the Jews could not permanently gain possession of these rich lowlands, but had to content themselves with the comparatively barren hills. The nations of ancient Palestine were strong in iron chariots; the Jews were infantry soldiers, without horses till the days of Solomon. Jabin, the Canaanite potentate in the north of the land, boasted of 900 chariots (Judg 4:3) in the early days of the Judges, and centuries later the King of Damascus explained a defeat by saying that the Hebrew gods "are gods of the mountains, and therefore they are stronger than we; but let us fight against them in the plains, and surely we shall be stronger than they" (1 Kings 20:25). Roads fit for wheels are even yet unknown in the old Jewish territory. You can only travel at the rate of your horse's walk over the stony tracks through the hills, everywhere in a state of Nature. It was on a Roman highway that the Ethiopian eunuch travelled to Gaza, and though there were chariots of the sun in Jerusalem in the times of the Hebrew kings, they were only used for local religious pageants close to the city. Solomon, indeed, had 1,400 chariots, but they were, doubtless, more for show than use, except on the short stretches of road he is said to have made to some distance from the capital. There was, in fact, no plain on which they could be freely used, either for war or for travelling, except Esdraelon, where we find Jehu and Ahab driving in theirs (1 Kings 18:44; 2 Kings 9:16).

An Egyptian papyrus, dating from the fourteenth century before Christ—that is from about the time of Joshua—gives an account of the journey of an officer of the Pharaoh—a "Mohar"—sent in his chariot through Palestine upon official business. As long as he kept to the plains, he tells us, he could move freely, but when he ascended to the hills the tracks were rocky and overgrown with prickly-pear, trees, and bushes, and disaster followed disaster. His "limbs were knocked up, his bones broken, his strength gone, so that for very weariness he fell asleep." He had to cross streams by difficult fords; to descend ravines "two thousand cubits deep," full of rocks and rolling stones, with no apparent passage; on one side a precipice, on the other the mountain. His chariot-pole was broken, his chariot injured, his horses refused to go, and at last his chariot was broken to pieces, and could only be repaired by getting the services of different "workmen in wood, and metals, and leather."* Such as the roads were then they still continue, and they must have been the same, in the hills, during Bible times, for the fact of Solomon having made travelling easy by better roads in the vicinity of Jerusalem, would not have been mentioned had intercommunication generally been even passably good.** To face the iron chariots of the plains was impossible for the Hebrew militia. "The Lord was with Judah; and he drave out the inhabitants of the mountain; but could not drive out the inhabitants of the valley [or plain] because they had chariots of iron" (Judg 1:19; Josh 17:16). In his mountain campaign at Ai and Gibeon, Joshua had only footmen to resist. On the plains of Merom, in the north, horses and chariots, "very many," appeared for the first time on the scene. A sudden surprise, like that of Deborah when she fell upon Sisera, neutralised this advantage of the enemy, but it was ordered that the horses should be houghed and the chariots burned, to prevent, in future, the peril of such a force as had thus been so wonderfully overcome.

* Records of the Past, ii. 109-116.

** Jos. Ant., viii. 7, 4. The roads of Josephus seem to have been made of basalt, the contrast of which with the white hills would be striking.

 

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