by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 2 | Contents | Chapter 4

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



The Rose of Sharon and the Lily of the Valley—Peasants PloughingBeit NebalaMidieh—The Home of the MaccabeesThe Turtle-DoveNature in the BibleTibnehA Remarkable Rock-Tomb—Is Joshua Buried Here?Trees in the Holy Land—"Yaar"Roman Road to AntipatrisEl-Yehudiyeh—What Houses are Built of in PalestineRainy RoofsAntipatris"Preparing the Way"Kefr Saba—GilgalZeita—The "Club-bearers"

A modern paved road, in very bad repair, leads through Ramleh, from Joppa to Jerusalem, but the ancient road between these cities runs through Lydda; only a broad track, however, without traces of antiquities, being visible as you cross the plain. From Lydda, north, runs an old Roman road through the heart of the country; a side track branching off to Cæsarea. Along this, as has already been said (see ante, p. 31), St. Paul probably travelled when led to the presence of Felix, the procurator, or governor, of Judæa. Following this course, a short ride brought me through Lydda, which you leave by a Saracenic bridge over a wady, or water-course, dry except after heavy rains. The ground was firm, not like the deep sand through which one has to pass outside Joppa. Sharon spread in soft undulations far and near, with the low hills of the Shephelah on the left at a short distance, fertile stretches of barley and wheat now, in spring, casting a shimmer of green over the landscape, and alternating with breadths of what, in England, would be called pasturage.

Red and yellow flowers—anemones, tulips, and the narcissus, among other blossoms—abounded. The joyful peasant maiden could say to-day, as of old, "I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys" (Song 2:1). What flowers were meant in this verse it is not easy to tell. The Rose of Sharon is thought by Sir George Grove, I know not why, to have been the "tall and graceful squill,"* while others have advocated the claims of the cistus, or rock rose, but this is found rather in the hills than on the plains. The rose, indeed, is not mentioned till the date of the Apocryphal books, having been brought from Persia late in Jewish history.** Tristram and Houghton *** think it was the narcissus, a bulb of which Orientals are passionately fond.^ While it is in flower it is sold everywhere in the streets, and may be seen in the hands of very many, both men and women, who carry it about to enjoy its perfume.

* Dict. of Bible: art. "Sharon."

** Ecclus. xxiv. 14; xxxix. 13; l. 8.

*** Dict. of Bible: art. "Rose."

^ Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 476.

Dr. Thomson thinks a beautiful variety of the marsh mallow, which grows into a stout bush and bears thousands of beautiful flowers, is the "lily" of Scripture. It certainly is found often among thorns, and abounds on Sharon, so that it would, at least in this, suit the comparison that follows the mention of the Rose of Sharon—"As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters" (Song 2:2). But it hardly meets the conditions implied in other tests, for it is compared with the lips of the Beloved, and therefore, it is to be presumed, was red (Song 5:13; Hosea 14:5). It grew quickly, and from the locality in which our Lord contrasted its "glory" with that of Solomon, it should be found abundantly in Galilee. The species mentioned by Dr. Thomson, however, though very beautiful, is dark purple and white in its flower, nor, indeed, is it a lily at all, but an iris. There are, in fact, few true lilies in Palestine, nor is it necessary to suppose that a true lily was intended, for the name Shusan—translated "lily" in Scripture—is used to this day of any bright-coloured flower at all like the lily: such, for example, as the tulip, anemone, or ranunculus. Dr. Tristram, therefore, fixes on the scarlet anemone, which colours the ground all over Palestine in spring, as the flower intended, especially as the name Shusan is applied to it among others.* Captain Conder thinks the blue iris is meant, while the large yellow water-lily of the Huleh is mentioned by Dean Stanley, only, however, to be set aside.**
* Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 464; so, Van Lennep, Bible Lands, p. 166.

** Sinai and Palestine, p. 422.

But whatever the case with the lily, there seems no likelihood of agreement as to the "Rose of Sharon." The Hebrew word translated "rose" comes from two roots, meaning "sour" and "bulb," and is used also, in the ancient Syriac version, for an autumnal flower springing from a poisonous bulb, and of a white and violet colour, perhaps the meadow saffron.* On the other hand, the old Jewish commentaries translate the word by "the narcissus," which is not only of the lily tribe, but very common, as we have seen, in spring, on the plain of Sharon. Roses are not found in Palestine, though they flourish on the cool heights of Hermon, 6,000 feet above the sea. It is not without weight, moreover, that the word used for "rose" in Scripture is still used by the peasantry, with slight variation, for the narcissus.**
* Gesenius, Zu Jes., xxxv. 1. The roots given in the text appear in the last edition of Gesenius' Lexicon. Capt. Conder gives another, but it is the root of only half of the word.

** See Capt. Conder, Pal. Fund Rep., 1878, p. 46.

As we rode on, many peasants were ploughing, with the plough in one hand, and in the other a long wooden goad, the sharp iron point of which was used to urge forward the lean, small oxen. It was no use for them to kick against it (Acts 26:14); their only safety was to hurry on. The plough used was so light that it could be carried on the shoulder; indeed, asses passed carrying two ploughs and much besides. A rough upright of wood, with a second piece fixed horizontally at the bottom, to hold the flat spear-head-like coulter, formed the whole implement, which could only make furrows a few inches deep. Ravens and wild doves flew hither and thither. Herds of sheep were feeding on the thin pasture, but cattle were rare. The sheep had great broad tails, and thus seemed to be the same breed as that reared by the ancient Jews, for we read that the tail of their variety was burned by the priests on the altar, in thank-offerings. "The whole rump [or tail] shall be taken off, hard by the backbone, and the priest shall burn it upon the altar" (Lev 3:9,11). On the roofs of many of the mud houses grass had sprung up plentifully, thanks to the winter rain, but in the increasing heat it was doomed to "wither before it grew up" (Psa 129:5; 2 Kings 19:26; Isa 37:27). On every side the landscape was delightful. "The winter was past, the rain over and gone; the flowers were appearing on the earth; the time of the singing of birds had come, and the voice of the turtle was heard in the land; the fig-tree was putting forth her green figs, and the vines, now in bloom, gave a good smell" (Song 2:11-13). Not that song-birds were to be heard, except the lark, there was not enough woodland for them; nor that the turtle was to be heard on the plain, or the fragrance of vineyards inhaled. These were the attractions of rare and isolated spots, beside the villages, on the hill-slopes. The plain itself is silent, and shows very little life of any kind.

Tibneh, perhaps the burial-place of Joshua, lies among the mountains north-east of Lydda, and as I could never be nearer to it, the heads of our horses had been turned in its direction. At three miles from Lydda we reached the hills, the village of Beit Nebala, probably the Neballat of Nehemiah (11:34), lying at the foot of slopes surrounded by wide stretches of olive-trees. The sea, thirteen miles due west, was only 250 feet below us, so slowly does the land rise thus far. Small valleys, each a watercourse after rains, converged in all directions on Beit Nebala, and a mile from it we passed an underground cistern. Two miles farther, still ascending between hill-sides beautiful with olives, we passed Kibieh, a very small hamlet, 840 feet above the sea, perhaps the site of Gibbethon of Dan. Still rising, the road turns to the south-east, at the small village of Shukba, but, after about a mile, mounts again, up Wady Artabbah, amidst thousands of olive and other fruit-trees on every slope, but especially on those towards the south-east.

About five miles nearly south of Shukba, across hills rich in olives, we pass the village of Midieh, famous in its day, for it seems beyond question to stand on the site of the ancient Modin,* the birthplace of the illustrious brotherhood of Maccabees, and the place where they were buried. Soba, a village lying on a lofty conical hill, west of Jerusalem, twenty-five miles from the sea, and more than fifteen from Lydda, was at one time supposed to be entitled to this double honour; but it meets none of the requirements of the known position of Modin, which may be said also of Latrun, on the road from Ramleh to Jerusalem, a village thought at a later time to have been the Maccabæan cradle.** So long ago as the fifteenth century, indeed, it was accepted as the "Town of the Maccabees" by the Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem, and a "Church of the Maccabæan Brothers" was built near it even earlier. In the year 1866, however, a German traveller proposed the small mountain village of Midieh as the true site, and its claims have been very generally recognised from that time. It lies six miles east of Lydda, on the top of a hill, separated from the hills around, on three sides, by valleys. Some mud and stone houses, with a population of about 150 persons in all, their water supplied by rain-cisterns; a small olive-grove below the village, on the north; a high conical knoll swelling up from the top of the hill, with traces of ruins, and a small Mahommedan shrine, with a few trees round it; the sides of the knoll sloping as if artificially cut, and showing some rock-hewn tombs; a rain-tank farther down the slope, with cisterns above it—make up the place. On a height over against it lie three mounds of ruins and a number of tombs, but these do not correspond to the requirements of the Maccabæan sepulchre. Guerin, however, found ruins which appear to be those of the famous burial-place, on the top of a hill close to the village, on the north side. Rising more than 700 feet above the plain below, the hill commands a view of the sea, which is one condition required of the true site (1 Macc 13:29). The foundation walls of a great rectangular building were, moreover, discovered by digging, with cells for burial inside, hewn in the native rock, some bones being found in them! A German architect, Mauss, has even made out the burial-spaces in these tombs as exactly seven, the number in the Maccabæan sepulchre. Sockets hewn in the rock show, still further, the spots on which pyramids connected with the original structure, mentioned in the First Book of the Maccabees, rested, and there are even fragments of them lying around.

* Schenkel, Bib. Lex., iv. 233; Riehm, p. 1019; 1 Macc 2:1.

** Dr. Porter in Kitto's Cyclop. Bib. Lit.: art. "Modin." Land and Book, p. 535. Robinson, Pal., iii. 30, thinks that Latrun may possibly be Modin.

This, then, apparently beyond question, is the spot on which Simon, the last survivor of the glorious brotherhood, raised a grand tomb over the bodies of his father, mother, and four brothers, reserving a space in it for himself—the seventh. A pyramid richly carved was reared for each of them, on an under-structure of squared polished stone, other great obelisks, covered with carved emblems of the naval and military triumphs of the family, adorning the whole above.* Never heroes deserved more truly a grand memorial. Their story still thrills the heart, for valour and genius must ever command the homage of mankind.
* 1 Macc 13:27-30. Guerin, Descr. de la Palestine: Samarie, ii. 55-64, 404-426. The identification is questioned by the Palestine Surveyors, who think the monument is Christian, dating from the fourth or fifth century.
The olive-groves on the way to Tibneh must be favourite haunts of the turtle-dove, which comes with the spring (Song 2:11,12), but had not reached Palestine when I was in this neighbourhood. Later on, they are found everywhere, and pour out their plaintive cooings in every garden, grove, and wooded hill, from sunrise to sunset; the time of their arrival being so regular that the prophet could speak of it as known to everyone (Jer 8:7). The turtle-dove is more numerous in the Holy Land than anywhere else, and thus, as well as the "dove," naturally became a source of Scripture metaphor. It is mentioned more than fifty times in the Bible. Alone among birds it could be offered on the altar (Lev 1:14, 15:14,29, 14:22; Num 6:10). Two turtle-doves, or two young pigeons, were enjoined as the offering at the purification of the leper, and they were accepted by the law, from the poor, as a burnt-offering, or sin-offering, in other cases. The Nazarite who had accidentally defiled himself was to be thus purified, and so also were women after the birth of a child (Lev 5:7, 12:8) if they could not give anything more costly. The offering of the Virgin in the Temple, after the birth of our Lord, was on this ground mentioned by the Evangelist as a sign of her poverty (Luke 2:24). A turtle-dove and a young pigeon were among the offerings in the sacrifices of Abraham, so early had these birds been accepted as a symbol of purity. "Turtle-dove" was, indeed, a term of endearment, as when David cries to God, "O deliver not the soul of thy turtle-dove unto the multitude of the wicked" (Psa 74:19). Many of the passages, however, usually supposed to refer to the turtle-dove are rather to be applied to doves or pigeons at large. I have quoted all the texts specially naming it; elsewhere "doves" includes the many varieties of pigeon found in Palestine, especially the common pigeons of the towns or villages, which, like all their kind, except the turtle-dove, never migrate. Every house, except perhaps the very poorest, has its pigeons. A detached dovecot of mud or brick, roofed over, with wide-mouthed earthen pots inside, as nesting-boxes, is a special mark of wealth; but even the humble peasant has one on a small scale, in his little yard, or even in his house, against the inner wall, the birds flying out and in through the house-door. It was natural, therefore, for our Lord, amidst such familiarity with birds so guileless, to warn His apostles to be "harmless as doves" (Matt 10:16; "guileless," as opposed to the serpent, is rather the meaning).

Such an allusion vividly reminds us of one great characteristic of the Bible. It is not the production of cloistered ascetics, but breathes in every page a joyous or meditative intercourse with Nature and mankind. The fields, the hills, the highway, the valleys, the varying details of country scenes and occupations, are interspersed among pictures of life from the crowded haunts of men. The sower and the seed; the birds of the air; the foxes; the hen and its brood; the lilies and roses; the voice of the turtle; the fragrance of the orchard; the blossom of the almond or vine; the swift deer; the strong eagle; the twittering sparrow; the lonely pelican; the stork returning with spring; planting, pruning, digging, and harvesting; the hiring of labourers; the toil of the fisherman; the playing of children; the sound of the mill; the lord and his servants; the merchantman; the courtier in silken robes; and a thousand other notices of life and nature, utilised to teach the highest lessons, give the sacred writings a perennial freshness and universal interest.

The ruins of Tibneh cover the slopes and crest of a hill surrounded on the north and east by a deep ravine. On the south the hill sinks, in terraces, to a valley formerly covered in part with houses, and marked by a magnificent evergreen oak, one of the finest in Palestine. Following this valley, the last slopes of a hill facing Tibneh are before us; their rocky sides revealing several tombs, the remains of an ancient necropolis. On the top of the height is a small Mussulman village, with several ancient cisterns, and a number of finely-cut stones of ancient masonry built into the modern houses.

The tombs have been hewn out, at different levels, on the northern slopes of the hill, eight being more noticeable than the rest. One, however, is much the most remarkable. Its oblong vestibule, cut in the rock, is supported by four pillars: two, at the side, half separated from the hill; the others, in the centre, entirely so. They have no capitals, and are ornamented at their tops only by a few simple mouldings. Immediately behind them, the face of the rock, forming the front wall of the tomb, is pierced by no fewer than 288 small openings, in eight rows; some square, others triangular, but most half-circles, made in former days as recesses in which to place a burning lamp, in honour of the illustrious dead. At the right of this frontage of rock is the low and narrow entrance to the tomb, leading into a chamber, in the walls of which are fourteen excavations for as many occupants. On the south, facing the door, a broader entrance, cut through the rock, leads to the innermost chamber—the place of honour—and in this there is only a hollow for one corpse. It must have been the last resting-place of the chief of the pale assembly here gathered in their last home; the outer graves being those of his family.

Such a tomb must evidently have been designed for a very illustrious personage: the niches for lamps outside show, moreover, that it was recognised as such by long-past generations. "No one," writes Guerin, "who was not an object of public veneration can be fancied as held in so much honour, and who could this be but Joshua, at what is, seemingly, beyond doubt, Timnath-Serah?" (24:26; M. Guerin goes into details of the identification).

The tomb shows marks of the highest antiquity, for it is similar to those made by the Canaanites before the arrival of the Hebrews in their country. Still more, the Abbe Richard states that in 1870 he found in the soil of its different sepulchral chambers numbers of flint knives, in agreement with the record that those used at the first circumcision at Gilgal were buried with Joshua.*

* Sept. Josh xxi. 42; xxiv. 30. Guerin, Descr. de la Palestine: Samarie, ii. 100-102. Riehm, Bib. Lex.: art. "Tibneh." A high authority, who disputes Guerin's conclusions, writes:—"The oldest Jewish tombs have no porches like that of Tibneh. It probably dates about the second century BC. Of Canaanite tombs nothing is known. There is reason to suppose the Canaanites did not bury, but burned, their dead."
The identification of this spot with the tomb of Joshua is however disputed by Captain Conder, of the Palestine Survey,* who regards the village of Kefr Haris, nine miles from Nablus, as the true site. We shall visit it at a later period, and leave its description till then. But it is at least striking to find that, besides the similarity of "Tibneh" and "Timnath," there is a village, about three miles to the east, called Kefr Ishua—Joshua's village—while a great oak tree, near the tomb, is called Sheikh et Teim—"the Chief [who was] the Servant of God."
* Pal. Fund Reports, 1878, p. 22.
That a solitary tree, of a height so moderate to Western notions as forty feet, should be thus famous, is due, apart from local traditions, to the entire absence of lofty trees in Western Palestine. The country may once have been wooded, as the region beyond Jordan now is, but, if so, its glory has long departed. The present comparatively waterless condition of the land marked it ages ago, for even before the invasion of the Hebrews wells and underground cisterns are both mentioned. The latter, indeed, are spoken of more than sixty times in the Old Testament,* and we meet with the word for a "well"** twenty-five times in the Pentateuch. Of the two words, on the other hand, used for "woods," the one much the more frequently found means, rather, the low thorny brushwood or scrub which covers many rocky and barren spots in the uplands of Palestine, known in Bible times as the "yaar." Such places are still called "waar" by the peasantry; the old name thus remaining almost unchanged. A traveller wishing to take a course which would lead him into ground so difficult, is warned from attempting it by the assurance that "waar" is before him, and happy is he if he accept the warning and avoid the tangle of gnarled undergrowth, often armed with spines or prickles, and made more formidable by the chaos of loose rocks and stones amidst which it grows. It was in a "yaar" that Jonathan found the wild honey (1 Sam 14:25-27) oozing from some rocky cleft where the bees had stored it (Deut 32:13; Psa 81:16), for the dry recesses of the limestone rocks of Palestine everywhere offer fitting places for laying up the comb. The battle in which Absalom was overthrown took place in the "yaar" of Ephraim (2 Sam 18:6,8) [East of Jordan]), and it is not difficult to imagine how, in such a stony, thorny labyrinth as a "yaar" presents, "the wood devoured more people that day than the sword" (2 Sam 18:6,8). True, there was at least one tree high enough to catch the hair of the false-hearted prince as he rode under it on his mule, but it is spoken of, each time it is mentioned, as "the" oak, as if it alone rose above the stunted jungle around. God threatens to make the vineyards and fig orchards of apostate Israel into a "yaar" (Hosea 2:12), and Micah foretells that "Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house [of God] as the hilly yaar" (3:12; Jer 26:18)—a tangle of wilderness brakes.
* See the word rw&b@—the equivalent of cistern.

** r)'b@:—"beer."

Still, roots of trees which must have been of a goodly size are found, here and there, even in such stony, stunted, brush-forests, useful now only for charcoal-burning. But I question if ever there was much forest, in our sense, west of the Jordan since the historical period. The other word translated "wood" in Scripture ("horesh") does not help us, for it comes from a root which may refer either to cutting down, or to being entangled or interwoven, which suits a thicket rather than an open forest. It is noteworthy that no trees are spoken of as obtained by Solomon from Palestine, but that cedar and cypress from Lebanon, and sandal-wood from the East, were imported from Phœnicia, or by its help (1 Kings 5:15; 2 Chron 2:8-18). In any case, the crowded population of Israel, hemmed up in the narrow limits of the hills, soon cleared away whatever wood there was, leaving the slopes free for the terrace cultivation necessary under their circumstances.

A Roman road by which possibly St. Paul was taken to Antipatris, on his way to Cæsarea, runs through Tibneh, and offers the easiest route to Sharon, though it is rough enough in its present condition. Olives and fir-trees dot the slopes on the way to Abud, a village 1,240 feet above the sea; but the route grows more wild and desolate as you advance. In six miles the descent is about 700 feet, through a region now very lonely, but marked from point to point with the ruins of ancient towns or villages. It was well to have even the rough track of the old road, for the wady north of us has only a footpath by which to descend a depth of 1,000 feet.

As we emerged on the plain, the mud village of El-Yehudiyeh—perhaps Jehud of Dan (Josh 19:45)—with a rain-pond and a few palm-trees, lay to the south. Were houses built of as perishable materials, and as meanly, in ancient times in Palestine? The Jews had learned sun-brick-making in Egypt, and would naturally follow in their new country the modes familiar to them on the Nile. Damascus is, even now, mainly built of sun-dried brick, made with chopped straw, which reminds one of the brick-fields of Egypt. Wood is used along with this humble material, but stone very rarely. Perhaps ancient Jewish towns and villages, in the same way, may have had more wood used in their construction than would be possible at present, when building-timber is practically unknown in the country; but neither wood nor mud bricks have elements of permanence. The "tells," or mounds, which mark the site of old Jewish communities, have, moreover, precisely the appearance of similar mounds now forming around, or, one might say, beneath, existing mud-brick villages in India and Egypt. The constant decay of the frail cubes and the pulverising of those spoilt in the making, gradually, in the lapse of generations, raise the whole site of the place so much that, if abandoned, it would very soon be the counterpart of the "tells" of the Palestine lowlands. It is striking to notice that such mementos of long-vanished hamlets, villages, or towns, occur invariably near some spring or running water, or where wells are easily sunk, and also on plains where clay is found, or alluvial earth. In digging into them, moreover, they are found to consist of sun-dried bricks. It is probable, therefore, that the Hebrews, on taking possession of the country, were glad to build towns and villages of the material at once cheapest and most easily obtained, in the place of some of the towns and hamlets of the Canaanites which had been utterly destroyed; but it is quite as likely that the Canaanites themselves, as a rule, lived in houses of sun-dried bricks, since we find "tells" spoken of in Joshua, if Captain Conder's translation be correct.*

* The word is "Geliloth." It occurs in Joshua 13:2, 22:10,11. But I cannot trace the grounds on which the translation "tells" is based.
Sun-dried bricks are made in the spring, by mixing chopped straw with wet mud or clay. This compound is then put into rude frames, about ten inches broad and three inches across, which, when filled, are left in the sun to dry. Houses of such materials need to be often repaired. The walls crumble, and the roofs, which are only layers of mud over a framework of brush, thorns, or reeds, supported by a crooked beam or two, leak badly. A stone roller is, therefore, constantly brought into requisition to close any crack or fill up any hole. If neglected for a single winter the roof would be full of holes before spring, and then the unprotected walls, soaked with the rain, would bulge out and fall into ruin. As in the days of Ecclesiastes, "By slothfulness the roof sinketh in; and through idleness of the hands the house leaketh" (10:18 [RV]). There is no mortar of any kind to give strength, so that the only safety is in keeping the building watertight by continual oversight. Ezekiel must often have seen similar houses sunk into shapeless heaps for want of this precaution, for a single heavy rain-storm may beat them down, and hence he cries out, "Say unto them who daub it with untempered mortar, that it shall fall. There shall be an overflowing shower, and ye, O great hail-stones, shall come down, and a stormy wind shall rend it" (13:11).

A rain-soaked roof is only too well known in Palestine, and has given rise to more than one proverb of great antiquity. "A continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman," the Book of Proverbs tells us, "are alike" (27:15). In my own case, at Tiberias, the rain fell through the tent on me in great drops; there was no protection from it. Rest was impossible; the annoyance made the whole night miserable. Could there be a better comparison for a brawling woman than this perpetual splash, splash, when one wished above all things to be quiet? "He that would hold her in," continues the text, "tries to hold in the wind," an impossible task in the draughty houses of the East,whatever one may do to shut it out. Or we may render the words, "which it is idle to hope one can close up in his hand," for she is like "one whose right hand seizes soft fat, which slips through his fingers" (Prov 27:15 [Hitzig and Nowack]).

The language of Proverbs, and the mention of "houses of clay" by Job, show how old mud-brick dwellings are in Palestine. Other Scriptural allusions refer to a further evil too often connected with them. Ezekiel dug a hole through the soft wall of his house as a sign to the people, and carried out through it the bundle he was to take with him in his symbolic pilgrimage (12:5), and this easy excavation through the side of a dwelling-place is often taken advantage of by thieves, who "in the dark, dig through houses, and steal" (Job 24:16; Matt 6:19 [Greek]).

The site of Antipatris, after long misconception, has, within the last few years, been definitely fixed at Ras-el-Ain, on the great Roman road which once stretched from Cæsarea to Jerusalem. It was formerly identified with the village of Kefr Saba, some miles farther north, on the plain, but a careful measurement of the known distance of Antipatris from various points has shown that a mistake had been made in the identification, and that the exact fulfillment by Ras-el-Ain of all the requirements leaves no question as to its superior and, indeed, incontestable claims. We know, for example, that Antipatris, apart from the question of its distance from various places, was on the Roman road, was surrounded by a river, and lay close to a hilly ridge; but this is not the case with Kefr Saba. No Roman road leads to it from the hills; it has no river, but only a couple of wells and the rain-water which collects in two hollows during the winter; and no trees or ruins of a town exist. Ras-el-Ain, on the contrary, besides being on the precise spot which known data require, stands beside the noble springs of the river Aujeh, which is a perennial stream. The Roman road from Tibneh, down the steep hills, runs direct to it. There is a large mound covered with heaps of stone, old foundations, broken columns, and chiselled blocks, half buried amidst the weeds and flowers which always grow up among ruins. The spring which bursts out from under this mound is one of the largest in all Palestine, and forms, at once, quite a river flowing off towards the sea: no doubt that which Josephus mentions as surrounding the town.* The hills which, he says, are near, rise at little more than a mile to the east, and though there are now no trees to meet another detail of his notice of the place, it would be impossible to imagine a spot on the plain more likely to have been covered with them in former times.** Herod the Great had, in fact, built Antipatris, named after his father, Antipater, close to the finest springs in the district, as he had rebuilt Jericho, beside the great fountain of the circle of the Jordan. Josephus, indeed, says that it stood at "Capharsaba," but this, it appears, was the name of the district in which Ras-el-Ain is found.

* Jos., Ant., xvi. 5, 2; Bell. Jud., i. 21, 9.

** See Pal. Fund Repts., 1874, pp. 185, 193; Pal. Memoir, ii. 260-2.

A mediæval castle, the Mirabel of the Crusaders, stands on a great mound at Ras-el-Ain, which measures 1,000 feet east and west, and 950 from north to south. Only the shell of the fortress, however, remains, though the outer walls are very perfect. Beneath, the springs, welling up at different points, but chiefly on the north, form dark blue pools, fringed by willows, rushes, and canes; a fine stream flowing from them with a somewhat rapid current, while the moisture covers the plain with grass, especially to the south, for several hundred yards. About a mile south is the Wady Lejja, which, although only showing pools here and there in summer, bears a strong tributary to the Aujeh in the rainy months; the two uniting about three miles beyond Ras-el-Ain.

Rest after toil is sweet. The descent from Tibneh had been most fatiguing. A Roman road may have been very nice in its day, but after 1,600 or 1,700 years' use, without repair, its condition is distressing enough. Had we been grandees it might have been made somewhat better for us, for it is still the custom, as it was in antiquity, to "prepare the way," to "cast up a highway and clear away the stones" (Isa 40:3,4, 49:11, 57:14, 62:10; Mal 3:1), in anticipation of the passage of any great personage. When one of the Russian Grand Dukes was travelling in the Holy Land lately, the so-called road between Jerusalem and Nablus, a distance of forty miles, usually rough beyond description, was repaired throughout. The stones were gathered out, the sides built up where they had given way, and earth strewn on the bare sheets of rock, over which, till then, the traveller had the greatest difficulty in passing safely. When Consul Rich was travelling through Koordistan, ten or fifteen peasants accompanied him, to act as pioneers in repairing bridges, and smoothing rough places. We can understand from such customs the language of the prophet respecting the triumphal return of the exiles from Babylon, under the guidance of God Himself as their Leader—"Prepare ye the way of Jehovah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain."

Kefr Saba—that is, the village Saba—lies nearly six miles north of Ras-el-Ain, about half a mile to the west of the Roman road, from which it looks very picturesque; palm-trees rising here and there, and olive-grounds and orchards stretching north and west of it. It stands on a swell of the plain, but, though nine miles from the sea, is only 168 feet above it. Its houses are of mud and small stones, with square rain-pools of mud bricks. Its wells lie to the east. There are said to be 800 inhabitants. On one of the spurs to the east of the road, and about as far from it as Kefr Saba, but 170 feet higher above the sea, lies Kalkilieh, the ancient Galgula or Gilgal, a long straggling village, with cisterns to the north, and a rain-pool south-west of it. The road runs nearly straight north, at the foot of the hills, which are frequently dotted with villages, almost undistinguishable from the soil around, because of the leaden colour of the mud huts. Olive-groves clothe many of the slopes, but there are more ruins than villages, and for one olive grown there is room for a hundred. Dry channels, worn by the winter torrents from the hills, were numerous, some deep, others comparatively shallow. About a mile off on the left hand, hills, about 300 feet high, rose for a part of the way; then, about six miles north of Kefr Saba, the plain broadened out to a wide sweep. A large part of it lay uncultivated, the only ground under the plough belonging to the people in the villages on the hills to the right, where they are safer than they would be on the lowlands. The labour of going to these distant patches of barley or wheat is nothing compared to the danger of plundering Arabs, which is escaped by living in the uplands. Thus the peasant has still to "go forth" to sow, often to a great distance form his home (Matt 13:3). The breadth of soil tilled depends, each year, on the tranquillity of the country.

Zeita, a considerable village, lying 370 feet above the sea, on the edge of the hills, marks a change in the character of the plain. Groups of fine springs burst from the ground about four miles to the west, and form wide marshy streams, dear to the buffalo; long grass fringing them, and the soft mud offering the coolness in which that creature delights. Two perennial streams, the Iskanderuneh and the Mefjir, are fed from these springs. The hills are of soft white lime, like chalk; but a harder rock, stopping the percolation of surface water, lies below. Caves, tombs, and cisterns, in the rock, are frequent. As the track approached the line of Cæsarea it descended once more to the plains, passing between the hills and a region of oak forest. Here the slopes and plain are alike covered with fine trees, growing rather thinly; but it is not a comfortable region for travellers, as it is the haunt of a tribe of Arabs, known as the "Club-bearers," very poor and equally unscrupulous. The white narcissus was to be seen everywhere, but it was too early for the blue iris, which by some authorities has been identified, as we have seen, with the lily of the valley. To the south the trees were thicker than farther north; the scenery everywhere, however, being very charming.


Chapter 2 | Contents | Chapter 4


Notes on Revelation | Judeo-Christian Research

This online book is original to this site.
This online book has been edited.

1997-2006 NOR/JCR