by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books

 

Chapter 6 | Contents | Chapter 8


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 7—ASHDOD—MEJDEL

Ashdod—A Plague of Sand—Dagon and DerketoThe History of AshdodThe Capture of the ArkDagon's DefeatVotive Offerings—An Unwelcome OfferThe Sycamore: Its Fruit and its WoodWandering ArabsEl-MejdelThe Olive: Its AntiquityHow it is PropagatedThe Gathering of the BerriesDifferent Methods of Expressing the OilThe Country beyond Mejdel—A Generous Arab GirlThe Mole-Rat—Poverty of the Hebrew LanguageNalia and BurberahHarvest on the Plains and in the MountainsThe Threshing-FloorTreading out the Corn—A Wheeled Threshing-Sledge—Tearing Prisoners of War to PiecesWinnowingScriptural Images taken from the Threshing-FloorA Mistranslated PassageThe Oriental Mode of SwimmingSubterranean StorehousesDiminished Fertility

Ashdod, now Esdud, one of the five cities of the Philistines, is only a village, with a very few stone houses (the rest being of mud), one storey high, enclosed in small courts with mud walls. Doors are as a rule a superfluity in Palestine; or at best are represented by ghosts of what may, perhaps, have once been doors. The "town" rises on the slopes of a low swell, itself commanded by one somewhat higher, formerly the site of the castle, but now covered with gardens hedged with tall prickly pear; impenetrable, but hideous, and taking up a great deal of room. This hedge grows over a thick wall of stone, regularly cut and well dressed, beneath which, the peasants aver, they have seen several courses of an ancient wall, of great cut stones. There are, indeed, below and round Ashdod, a number of walls, some of them relics of its old glory. The soil is a half-consolidated sand, light, of course, but fertile; but how long it will remain even as good as at present is a question, since the moving sand-dunes from the sea-coast, two miles and a half off, have come almost to the village, and advance year by year. It is already, indeed, a pitiful sight to notice olives and fig-trees half buried; their owners striving hard, season after season, to shovel away the sand from their trunks, till they stand, in some cases, almost in pits, which would close over them if the efforts to save them were intermitted even for a short time.

In the court before the village mosque lies one last trace of the long past—an ancient sarcophagus, seven feet long, and broad in proportion; its side adorned with sculptured garlands, from which hang bunches of grapes, the emblems of the Promised Land. Long ago some rich Hebrew, doubtless, lay in it; his friends thinking he was safely housed till the last morning. But here stands the coffin—empty for ages! South of the mosque are the ruins of a great mediæval khan, seventy-three steps long on the side, but not so broad; the wall seven feet thick, but not very high. Inside there is an open court, in Arab style, with long galleries, arcades, chambers, and magazines, for a traffic not now existing. Some broken granite pillars lie on the ground, and a marble column serves as threshold at the doorway. The discovery of the passage to India round the Cape of Good Hope destroyed the old overland trade from the East, and the Palestine towns on the caravan route fell with it. Beyond this comparatively modern ruin is a large marsh, from the overflowing of the wadys during the winter; so much water being left behind as still to show itself even as late as April. The water supply of the village is obtained from rain-ponds with mud banks, and a well to the east, from which a camel was drawing up water by the help of a water-wheel. Near it there are a few date-palms and some small figs, and beyond them a small grove of remarkably fine olives. The villagers resemble the Egyptian peasantry, both in dress and appearance, much more than they do their Palestine fellow-countrymen; why, who can accurately tell?

Ashdod was one of the towns inhabited by the remnant of the gigantic Anakim, in the days of Joshua (11:22), and gloried in a great temple of Dagon, whose worship had here its head-quarters. This god, half man and half fish (1 Sam 5:4; see margin), was the national god of the Philistines; Derketo, a counterpart of Astarte (1 Sam 31:10), or Ashtaroth, being his female complement, with Ascalon for her chief seat. Dagon, however, was a purely Assyrio-Babylonian deity; the Nineveh marbles showing both the name and the fish-man, as described in the Book of Samuel. This union of the human figure and that of a fish apparently arose from the natural association, in a maritime population, of the idea of fecundity with the finny tribes, Dagon being a symbol of the reproductive power of nature, and having been originally worshiped on the shores of the Persian Gulf, from which, through Chaldæa, the Philistines received the cultus, apparently from the Phœnicians, who came from the Persian Gulf by way of Babylonia.

Ashdod was assigned to the tribe of Judah (Josh 15:46), but it never came into their possession, and even so late as the time of Nehemiah it was ranked among the cities hostile to Israel (Amos 1:8; Neh 4:7). Lying on the great military road between Syria and Egypt, it was an important strategical post from the earliest times. Uzziah took and kept it for a short time (2 Chron 26:6), breaking down its walls to prevent its revolt. In the year BC 711, about fifty years after Uzziah's death (BC 758), Sargon of Assyria sent his "tartan," or field-marshal, against the city, which was speedily taken, with the miserable fate of having its population led off to Assyria, some victims of war from the East being settled in their room; the town was rebuilt to receive them, and incorporated into the Assyrian Empire under an imperial governor. The king, Jaman, had fled, with his wife, his sons, and his daughters, to the Ethiopian King* in Upper Egypt, but that dignitary handed him back to the Assyrians; the words of Isaiah being terribly fulfilled, "They shall be dismayed and ashamed because of Ethiopia, their expectation, of Egypt, their glory" (Isa 20:5 [RV]), or boast. Poor Jaman's treasures were carried off; and his palace burned down; he himself bound hand and foot with iron chains and sent to Assyria.**

* Oppert says "Lybia." Lenormant fancies it was to a petty prince in the Delta that the poor king fled.

** Sargon's Annals, passim.

The Assyrians having strongly fortified Ashdod, its capture was a more difficult task for the next invader, Psammetichus (BC 666-612 [Brugsch]), who besieged it, as Herodotus (ii. 157) informs us, for no less than twenty-nine years, and finally, on taking it, left only "a remnant" of its population in the town (Jer 25:20). Destroyed once more by the Maccabees, in the second century before Christ, it lay in ruins till restored by the Romans, two or three generations later (BC 55), and was finally given to Herod's sister, Salome, at her brother's death.* It was at Ashdod, then called by the Greek name Azotus, that Philip was found, after baptising the Ethiopian eunuch—the only mention of it in the New Testament. I must not, however, forget the striking episode of the triumphal entrance of the sacred ark of the Hebrews to the old Philistine city after the battle of Ebenezer. To capture the gods of any people was supposed, in antiquity, to deprive their worshippers of the divine protection hitherto vouchsafed them, for local gods were powerless outside their own land. But as the Hebrews had no idols, the sacred ark, which they evidently regarded as securing the presence of their God, appeared a full equivalent. With this in their hands, the Philistines thought they need fear Israel no longer; they had cut off the source of Divine aid; the Hebrews lay at their mercy, helpless without a God. Priests in their vestments, choirs in their singing robes, players on instruments, in high festival adornment, maidens with their timbrels and graceful dance, the king and his court in their bravest array, went out, we may be sure, through the city gates to meet the fighting men returning with spoil so glorious. The hill, now so quiet under its mantling olives, must have echoed with the shouts of the populace as the ark was borne up to the great temple of Dagon, who had shown himself so much greater than Jehovah by the victory his people had gained, through his help, over the worshippers of the Hebrew God.
* Jos. Ant., xiv. 5, 3; xvii. 8, 1; Bell. Jud., i. 7, 7.
But we know the sequel; the fallen dishonour of the god of Ashdod on the morrow, prostrate on the earth before the ark, as if to do it homage; the still deeper shame of the following day; the human head and hands of the upper half of the idol cut off and laid on the threshold, as if to profane it, and for ever bar entrance; only the ignominious "fishy-part" left! (1 Sam 5:4; margin) The cry arose to take the ark to Gath at the foot of the mountains, on the other side of the plain; so off it went, on a rude cart which dragged it thither, across wadys, and round the low hills, and through wide corn-lands. But Gath soon found cause to dread the ominous trophy. The citizens demanded that it should be sent to Ekron, eleven miles to the north, to let that city try what it could do with it. There, also, it was soon a terror. For seven months it wrought woe in the land. Once more the cry arose to send it off, but this time cows, instead of oxen, were yoked to the cart which bore it, and their calves kept at home, that the will of the Philistine gods respecting it might be judged from the action of the dumb creatures that were to bear it away. If the milky mothers turned back to their calves, it would be a sign that the ark was yet to stay in the Philistine plain; if they kept on their way up into the hills to the land of the Hebrews, it would be a proof that the gods wished it to be restored to its own people. But the kine went straight south from Ekron, lowing for their calves as they went, yet never turning from their steady advance along the road to the great Wady Surar—the valley of Elah, the steep pass to the Hebrew country in the mountains—never stopping till they had dragged their awful burden far up to the rounded hill 900 feet above the sea, on which stands Bethshemesh, distant at least fifteen miles from Ekron.

The images of the mice and emerods by which the Philistines had been plagued, sent with the ark by the sufferers as votive offerings to propitiate the Hebrew God whom they had offended, are the first of the kind recorded. Other ancient nations, however, were in the habit of hanging up in the temples of their gods small "images" of diseased parts of the body which had been healed, in answer to prayer as they believed, and also small models of whatever had caused them danger or suffering, now averted by the same heavenly aid—a practice still observed in Greek and Roman Catholic churches where silver models of eyes, arms, or legs, indicate cures supposed to have been effected by the intercession of particular saints, and small models of ships show deliverance from peril at sea.* That the Hebrews hung up the votive offerings of the Philistines in the new Tabernacle raised at Gibeon, or Nob, after the destruction of the original "Tent of Meeting" at Shiloh by the Philistines, we have, however, no proof, though gifts offered to the Temple seem in later days to have been displayed on its walls.

* In Herod. i. 105 there is a story about a disease inflicted on the women of Scythia for robbing the temple of Derketo at Ascalon, wonderfully like the plague of emerods on the Philistines—doubtless a distorted tradition of it. Diod. Sic. (i. 22) tells us that models of the missing members of Osiris were hung up and worshiped in the Egyptian temples. Rosenmuller (A. und N. Morgenland, iii. 77) has a very interesting article on this subject. A tablet representing a shipwreck was hung in the temples of Isis and Neptune by those saved from the sea. Models of diseased limbs, &c., are hung up in the temples of India by pilgrims who have journeyed to these sanctuaries to pray for the cure of ailments affecting the parts thus represented. This has been the custom from the immemorial past. Eyes, feet, and hands, in metal, once hung up in Grecian temples, have been found. Juvenal (Sat., x. 55) alludes to the custom as familiar in Rome. See also Horat. Car. I. 6, 13-16, where the clothes of the persons saved are hung up, as well as a picture of the ship.
Passing a little beyond the town to the shade of a large sycamore, close to the ruins of the old khan, we were glad to halt for mid-day refreshment. There was nice grass round the trunk, open tilled ground on one side, and the road, with hedges of prickly pear ten feet high, on the other. A number of the villagers soon gathered round us, entering into the friendliest conversation with my companion, to whom Arabic was familiar. One of them, taking off his wide camels'-hair "abba," spread it, like a broad sheet, on the ground, as a seat; but we fortunately had shawls and coats of our own, and thus, while acknowledging very sincerely the politeness, were able to escape a possible danger not very pleasant to think of. A little girl was sent for water by our friends, and brought it in one of the small brown unglazed pitchers of the country. Courtesy satisfied, all withdrew a short distance and sat down on the ground, the usual resting-place of an Oriental, to look on without rudeness, and, no doubt, to talk about us. Meanwhile we were left in peace to enjoy our lunch—bread, oranges, hard-boiled eggs, and the remains of a chicken—the usual fare in Palestine.

The sycamore under which we sat in delightful shade was a good specimen of a tree very common in Palestine, but only on the lowlands of the coast, the Jordan valley, and Lower Galilee. The old name of Haifa, indeed, was Sykaminon, in allusion to the abundance of sycamores in its neighbourhood. The tree grows also in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem and Tekoa (1 Kings 10:27), and in Egypt it is very common: a circumstance which has led to the opinion that it must have been introduced in ancient times from that country to the Holy Land. It grows from forty to fifty feet high, with a thick gnarled stem, and numerous strong limbs, which, at a short distance from the ground, strike out horizontally, instead of upwards, as with most other trees; so that Zaccheus, at Jericho, when he wished to see our Lord, could easily climb into a vantage-place on a stout branch. Nothing, indeed, is more common than to find the children of a village amusing themselves by getting up for sport into the branches of any sycamore growing near. Its broad crown, often twenty paces across, makes it an admirable shade-tree; many persons being able to enjoy, at the same time, the delicious coolness of its branches. For this reason it was planted, in Christ's day, along much-frequent roads (Luke 17:6, 19:4): a practice to which Zaccheus was indebted for the opportunity of which he availed himself.

The fruit of the sycamore grows in clusters on the trunk and the wood of the great branches; not on twigs like the ordinary fig. Striped with clouded white and green, and shaped like the fig, it is more woody, less sweet, and otherwise less pleasant to the taste, nor has it the small seeds in its flesh which we see in the fig. To make the fruit agreeable it needs to be cut open, some days before it is ripe, that part of the bitter juice may run out, and the rest undergo a saccharine fermentation, to sweeten the whole. Only the poorest make this cutting an employment, so that when Amos speaks of it as being his calling, he wishes to indicate the lowliness of his social position (7:14). The first harvest is gathered about the beginning of June, and from that time till the beginning of winter the tree continues to show both blossoms and fruit, ripe and unripe, so that it is gathered repeatedly in the same season.

The light, but tough and almost imperishable wood of the sycamore caused it to be largely used as building material by the Hebrews, though it was far less prized than the wood of the cedar. That it must have been very plentiful in ancient times is shown by the fact that, to prove the splendour of Solomon's times, he is recorded to have made cedars as the sycamore-trees of the lowlands for abundance (1 Kings 10:27; 2 Chron 1:15, 9:27). In the same way, the haughty people of Samaria boasted that though the enemy had cut down the sycamores, they would build with cedars (Isa 9:10). Still, in the general poverty of native timber, the sycamore was of great value to the Hebrews, so that it is natural to read of David's appointing an overseer to take charge of his olive and sycamore woods in the maritime plain (1 Chron 27:28).

The track south of Ashdod skirts the edge of the sand-hills, but on the inland side the mountains of Judah rise, ten or twelve miles off, beyond a rolling country, half arable and half pasture. Asses laden with bags of wool passed us on the way from Gaza to Joppa; one or two, also, with great loads of a broom-like plant, used to make ropes for water-wheels or wells. The plough was busy in all directions; and where the light soil invited flocks and herds, the slopes of the low hills were often enlivened by them. But they belonged to wandering tent Arabs, not to the peasantry round; for, just as in Abraham's day, these sons of the desert roam through the land as they please, feeding their flocks on the open hill-sides. Our parting at Ashdod had been quite a scene. Venerable greybeards and younger men, all with fine figures and picturesque dress, came to the road and waited till the horses were yoked; bidding us, at last, a friendly farewell, with Western shaking of hands.

As we advanced, the patches of cultivated land increased till as many as twenty ploughs could be seen going at the same time, each drawn by a camel or by small, lean oxen. It reminded one of Elisha, "who was ploughing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he with the twelfth" (1 Kings 19:19), which means that there were twelve ploughs at work, the twelfth being guided by the prophet himself. Green hills rose in succession, with herds of hundreds of cattle on them, all still the property of Arabs, whose black tents were often to be seen in the distance. These nomadic Ishmaelites are in fact immensely rich, according to Eastern ideas; their wealth, like that of the patriarchs, whom they much resemble in their mode of life, consisting of flocks and herds. The plain was seamed, from time to time, with the dry stony beds of winter torrents, in which no water ever flows except after rains. The town of Hamaweh, surrounded by a wide border of gardens, soon came in sight; the white blossom of almond-trees rising like a snowy cloud above the cactus-hedges, which stretched onwards till they joined those of the larger town, El-Mejdel.

The latter place is the capital of the district in which it stands, and boasts a population of 1,500 inhabitants. A small mosque with a tall minaret is its only prominent public building, and the houses are nearly all built of mud, like those of the other towns of the plain; a very few of stone being the exception. Deep wells, some of them with the water 120 feet below the surface, provide the means of irrigating the gardens. Camels or oxen raise the fertilising stream by "Persian wheels," or sakiyehs, like those in other places; the various heads of families providing the animals in turn, as the wells are public property. A large rain-pond lies to the east of the village, and a far-stretching cemetery on the west. There is a great market held in Mejdel every Friday—the Mahommedan Sunday—attracting buyers and sellers from all parts of the plain.

The olive plantations on all sides of the town were very fine. Looking old, however young, so broken and gnarled is their bark, so twisted their short stems; often hollow; often as if covered only with a lace-work of bark; the light greyish-green of their small pointed leaves so faded, with their white under-sides showing in every breath of wind—they are like no other tree that I know. Olive-growing is largely followed in the southern parts of the plain. From Mejdel onwards these trees cover the slopes of the low hills and the rich plains, making them one vast orchard, for they are not higher than fruit-trees, and are mostly narrower in their round of foliage than ordinary fruit-trees with us. Casting less shade than our apple or pear trees, and standing wider apart, the broad groves of them, with the soft green underneath, made the whole landscape at times look as lovely and rich as an English park. If Hosea had in his thoughts such a scene as this south of Mejdel he might well say of Israel, when restored to Divine favour, that its "beauty would be as the olive-tree" (14:6), just as Jeremiah, at a later date, was to compare its early glory with that of a green olive-tree, fair and of goodly fruit (11:16). Nor could David more vividly, according to Hebrew ideas, picture his future prosperity when delivered from his enemies, than by the thought that he would be like one of the green olive-trees which grew in the open court before the House of God—the Tabernacle he had raised in Jerusalem (Psa 52:8).

The olive was cultivated in Palestine long before the Hebrew invasion, for "olive-trees which thou plantedst not" (Deut 6:11) are enumerated among the good things on which they entered, and it must have been widely cultivated throughout Bible times, from the frequent allusions to it. It is, in fact, and must always have been, in Palestine, as characteristic a feature of the landscape as the date-palm is in Egypt. On the long stretches of bare, stony hill-sides the olive is often the only tree that enlivens the monotony of desolation. Moses and Job hardly used a figure when they spoke of "oil out of the flinty rock" (Deut 32:13; Job 29:6), for olives flourish best on sandy or stony soil, and it is because the Philistine plain consists so largely of consolidated sand that they grow on it so luxuriantly. In ancient times the country must have been dotted everywhere with olive-groves. "Thou shalt have olive-trees," says Moses, "throughout all thy coasts" (Deut 28:40). Asher, on its hills, behind Tyre, and southwards to Kartha, on the coast, below Acre, was to "dip his foot in oil," as it overflowed from the presses (Deut 23:24). Joel promised that, if the people turned to their God, "the fats should overflow with oil" (2:24). The olive harvest was, in fact, as important to the Hebrew peasant as that of the vine or of corn; the three being often mentioned together as the staples of the national prosperity (Deut 28:40, 7:13, 11:14, 12:17; Joel 1:10, 2:19,24; 1 Chron 27:28; 2 Chron 32:28). It was even so important an element in the royal revenue that David had officers over his stores of oil and his olive-woods. More indeed was raised than could be used for home consumption, whether for cooking, light, worship, or for anointing the person, and hence it was largely exported to Egypt and Phœnicia (Hosea 12:1; 1 Kings 5:12; Ezra 3:7; Eze 27:17).* "Judah and the land of Israel," says Ezekiel, "traded in thy markets"—those of Tyre—wheat from the Hauran, spices or millet,** and honey, and oil, and the resin of the pistachio-tree.***

* "Minnith" was in the Hauran.

** "Pannag" is thus variously understood.

*** Riehm. This resin was used largely as a salve for wounds, while oil from the leaves, bark, and black berries of the tree, was a noted medicine for both external and internal use.

The olive is propagated from shoots or cuttings, which, after they have taken root, are grafted, since otherwise they would grow up "wild olives," and bear inferior fruit. Sometimes, however, a "good" olive from some cause ceases to bear, and in this case a shoot of wild olive—that is, one of the shoots from those which spring up round the trunk—is grafted into the barren tree, with the result that the sap of the good olive turns this wild shoot into a good branch, bearing fruit such as the parent stem should have borne. It is to this practice that St. Paul alludes when he says of the Gentiles, "If some of the branches were broken off, and thou, being a wild olive, wast grafted in among them, and didst become partaker with them of the root and of the fatness of the olive-tree" (Rom 11:17 [RV]); and, further, "If thou wast cut out of the olive-tree that is wild by nature, and wast grafted, contrary to nature, into a good olive-tree." He refers to the barrenness of the Jewish Church as the olive of God's own choice, and the grafting on it of the Gentiles, hitherto a wild olive, but, now, through this grafting, made to yield fruit, though only from the root and sap of the old noble stem. By the "olive-tree wild by nature" can only be meant the shoots that spring up wild and worthless from the root. There is no wild olive apart from these.

The tree has a long life. For ten years it bears no fruit, and it is not till its fortieth year that it reaches its highest productiveness. In spring the blossoms shoot out in clusters among the leaves, but the harvest does not come till October, when the dark-green, oval berries, somewhat larger than a cherry, are ready for gathering. This is done by women and boys, who climb into the trees and shake them, or stand beneath and beat the branches with a long pole, but there are always a few left in the topmost branches, and these are the perquisite of gleaners. It seems as if we still lived, in this respect, in the days of Moses and the prophets. "When thou beatest thine olive tree," says Moses (Deut 24:20), "thou shalt not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow." "Gleaning grapes shall be in it," says Isaiah (17:6, 24:13), "as the shaking of an olive-tree: two or three berries in the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in the outer—most fruitful—branches thereof." The poor olive-gleaner may still be seen every year gathering what he can after the trees have been stripped by their owners.

This harvest-time is one of general gladness, as may well be supposed. Some berries fall, by the wind or from other causes, before the general crop is ripe, but they must lie there, guarded by watchmen, till a proclamation is made by the governor that all the trees are to be picked. This is to allow the tax-gatherer to be on the spot to demand his toll; for the Turk foolishly taxes each tree, thus discouraging as much as possible the increase of plantations. The gleanings left, after all efforts, are a boon to the very poor, who manage to gather enough to keep their lamp alight through the winter and to cook their simple fare.

The shoots springing up from the root of each tree long ago furnished a pleasant simile to the Psalmist. "Thy children," says he, "shall be like olive plants round thy table" (Psa 128:3); that is, they will cluster round it as these suckers cling round the root from which they spring.

It is a striking illustration of the smallness of the population in Palestine that thousands of olive-trees are left uncared for, to be swallowed up by an undergrowth of thorns and weeds. The tax on each tree is, no doubt, in part the cause of this state of things. Fear of its being increased paralyses industry.

In ancient times the gathered olives were either pressed, or trodden by the feet, in an olive vat (Micah 6:15). The finest oil, however, was that which flowed from the berries when they were merely beaten, not from those that were pressed, and hence it was expressly required for religious services (Exo 27:20, 29:40; Lev 24:2). It is also the "fresh oil" of which David speaks (Psa 92:10). An oil-vat at the foot of the Mount of Olives gave its name to the garden of Gethsemane. Remains of such vats, hewn in the rocks, are found in places where there is now no longer any trace of the olive—as, for instance, in the country south of Hebron; so that the tree formerly grew over a wider region than at present. Along with the vats in which the berries were trodden, presses and even mills were used after a time, the oil being so imperfectly separated by the feet that that custom is now quite discontinued.

Without cultivation the olive soon ceases to yield. Hence the soil underneath it is ploughed each spring, or oftener, so as to admit the air to the roots, and no crop is sown, as under other fruit-trees. The earth, moreover, is drawn round the tree to keep it moist, but neither manuring nor pruning is practised. A full crop is gathered only each second year, from what cause I do not know. One strange fact in connection with this was told me. We are accustomed to regard locusts as only a curse, but it is said that they often prove the reverse, since their greedy jaws virtually prune the trees, and thus double the harvest of the next year.

The mills used in obtaining the oil are of two kinds; the one, worked by hand, consisting simply of a heavy stone wheel, which is rolled over the berries thrown into a stone basin. When crushed, they are taken out as pulp, and put into straw baskets, which are then placed in a screw-press and squeezed. The oil thus obtained is of excellent quality, though inferior, as has been said, to the "beaten." A third quality is obtained by subjecting the already pressed pulp to a second squeezing. The other mill is a hollow cylinder, with iron rods projecting at its lower end. It stands upright, and turns on a round framework of stone, the iron rods beating the olives to pulp as they are thrown in. After this maceration they are put under a beam heavily weighted at the end, and thus, one would think, the last possible yield of oil is obtained. But there is still a little left, and a second pressing, after the already sorely squeezed pulp has been heated, secures this final portion.

Beyond Mejdel the country was beautiful. Olive-groves and softly-green fields of barley varied the light-brown of the ploughed land, or the roughness of tracts which there was no one to till. Over these tracts, tufts of large lily-like plants grew in great abundance; great numbers of the bulbs, mostly squills, lying at the roadside, where the light ploughs had torn them out of the patches of soil taken for cultivation. Bands of white limestone cropped up here and there, as the road climbed the low swells; larks sang in the air, or perched on some clod, or ran ahead of us on the track, before taking wing—for there are fifteen species of lark in Palestine; a string of camels kept us in mind of the East, as they stalked on, laden with huge boxes of "hundel," a kind of root used for mysterious combinations by the drug merchants. A low cemented whitewashed structure, like a miniature saint's tomb, with an opening breast-high on one side, stood by the road—a drinking fountain, filled daily by the kindness of women passing with their water-jars, to supply the wayfarer with a cup of cold water, than which no gift is more precious in this dry and thirsty land. Kindness of heart, thank God, is limited to no race or country. The experience of Canon Tristram, in one instance, is that of every traveller in any hot climate. Thirsting exceedingly, he asked a drink from a young Arab girl who had her tall water-jar on her shoulder, having just filled it. In a moment it was set down for the freest use. A small present for her courtesy seemed natural, but she would not take it. Tears filled her eyes; she would have no bakshish; she gave the water freely, for the sake of her dear mother, recently dead, and for charity and the love of God! So saying, she kissed the hands of the party, and they passed on—anyone can imagine with what thoughts. So, beyond doubt, it sometimes happened with our blessed Lord and His band of disciples, as they journeyed over the hot, white hills of Galilee or Judæa; the giver who put her water-jar at their service for the love of the Master, in nowise losing her reward (Matt 10:42; Mark 9:41).

Everywhere, the country outside the town gardens lay unfenced; here, in wild scanty pasture; at another part, broken up into patches of ploughed land, or green with spring crops. What seemed mole-hills were to be seen everywhere, but it appears that they were the mounds of a kind of mole-rat, not of the true mole, which is not found in Palestine; the mole-rat taking its place. This is the creature called a weasel in the English Bible (Lev 11:29). Unlike our mole, it delights in the ruins scattered so widely over the land; the cavities in them, doubtless, supplying ready-made spots for its nest. It is twice the size of our mole, with no external eyes, and with only faint traces, within, of the rudimentary organ; no apparent ears, but, like the mole, with great internal organs of hearing; a strong bare snout, and large gnawing teeth; its colour, a pale slate; its feet, short and provided with strong nails; its tail, only rudimentary. Isaiah, in his prophecy of the idols being thrown to the moles and to the bats (2:20), uses a different word, but its meaning, "thrower up of the soil," fixes its application. It is a curious illustration of the poverty of the Hebrew language, and the consequent difficulty of quite accurate translation, that a word rendered once in our version, "the mole" (Lev 11:30), is given a "swan" in the two other cases in which it is used (Lev 11:18; Deut 14:16), the context forming the only clue to its meaning, which, in these two cases, seems to point to its being some bird. Nor do scholars help one very much, for they render it, variously, pelican, horned owl, water-hen, or sea-swallow.

Still other villages!—Nalia and Burberah, embowered in orchards and olive-grounds, which stretch unbroken for four miles south of Mejdel; those of Nalia half-way across the sand-dunes, which must have been kept back from them by infinite labour. West of the Nalia orchards and groves these sand-dunes stretch little more than a mile inland; immediately south of the town they run three miles into the land; the gardens jutting out into them like verdant peninsulas. At Burberah, a mile to the south, the dunes cover a breadth of three miles. On the east of the village, green barley-fields stretched away as far as the eye could reach, hemming round a sea of gardens hedged with the prickly pear, and beautiful with the grey and green of olive-trees, figs, pomegranates, and almonds; the last in all the glory of their white blossom. Vineyards, also fenced, varied the bounteous prospect, and olive-trees, in open groves, clothed the slopes, almost in thousands. Very different would be the landscape a few months later. The olive-groves would then be dull with dust, the mulberry-leaves gone—as food for sheep, no silkworms being cultivated in this part—the soil parched and dry, the very stubble withered to tinder; the sky brass, the earth iron; trees and villages seeming to quiver in the hot air.

Harvest is over on the plains before it begins in the mountains, so that the peasants of Philistia go off to gather the crops of the highlands after their own are secured. The sickle is still in use for reaping, as it was in Bible times; the reaper gathering the grain into his left arm as he cuts it (Psa 129:7; Isa 17:5). Following him comes the binder, who makes up into large bundles—not as with us into sheaves—the little heaps of the reaper (Jer 9:22; Psa 129:7; Gen 37:7). During his toil, the peasant refreshes himself with a poor meal of roasted wheat, and pieces of bread dipped in vinegar and water (1 Sam 17:17; Ruth 2:14), just as they did of old. The bundles of cut grain are carried on asses or sometimes on camels* to the open-air threshing-floor, near the village; one of the huge bundles, nearly as large as the camel itself, being hung on each side of the patient beast, in a rough netting of rope, as he kneels to receive them. Rising and bearing them off, he once more kneels at the threshing-floor, to have them removed, returning forthwith to the reapers to repeat the same round. The harvest in Palestine lasts for weeks; one kind of grain ripening before another, and different levels having a different time for reaping. In the plain of Philistia it begins in April and ends in June, but on the deep-sunk and hot plains of the Jordan the barley harvest begins at the end of March, and the wheat two or three weeks later. In the mountains it is later, as I have said, than on the sea-coast. Garden fruits and grapes ripen before the autumn, but maize, melons, olives, and dates, not till autumn has commenced. It was the same in ancient times. The harvest began legally on the second day of the Passover week, the 16th of Nisan, the month when the grain came to the ear, which corresponded to our April. From that time harvest continued for seven weeks, till the feast of Pentecost (Exo 23:16; Lev 23:10; Deut 16:9; Jos. Ant., iii. 10,5). Barley came first, then wheat (Ruth 1:22, 2:23; 2 Sam 21:9; Gen 29:14; Judg 15:1; 1 Sam 6:13, 12:17), which in the Jordan valley is all reaped, in ordinary years, by the middle of May.

* Carts were also used anciently. (Amos 2:13)
The threshing-floor is always chosen on as exposed and high a spot as can be had, to catch the wind for winnowing; flat spaces on hill-tops being selected in some cases, as in that of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Sam 24:18). The ground is prepared by being beaten and trampled smooth and hard. Heaps of grain laid in circles, with the heads inwards, are piled on the threshing-floor, which is guarded during the night by a watchman in a slight watch-hut on the floor, unless, as in the instance of Boaz, the owner himself sleeps on the sheaves (Ruth 3:7). Like Ruth, the poor gleaner is content to beat out her few armfuls with a stick (2:17). But though need of secrecy forced Gideon to use the flail in the hollow of the wine-press (Judg 6:11), it is no longer in general use in Palestine; only legumes like fitches, or herbs like cummin, being now beaten, as indeed was the general case in the days of Isaiah (28:27).

Where there are no threshing-sledges, oxen are still employed to tread out the grain, over which they walk, round and round, as it lies in huge mounds on the floor, just as I have seen horses driven round on it in Southern Russia. The kindly requirement of the old Mosaic law, "Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn" (Deut 25:4), has happily outlived the changes of race in the land, and is still nearly always observed, though here and there a peasant is found who ties up the mouth of the poor creatures that tread out his grain. Generally, however, threshing-sledges are employed to separate the corn from the straw. The commonest of these is a solid wooden sledge, consisting only of a set of thick boards, bolted together by cross-bands, and bent up at the front, to let it pass easily over the straw. In the bottom of the planks are fixed numerous rows of sharp stones, to facilitate the threshing, and also to cut up the straw into the "teben" used for fodder. Oxen yoked to this are driven round over the heaps of grain and straw; a man, with a large wooden fork, turning over the heap as the sledge passes, till the grain is entirely separated and the straw sufficiently broken into small pieces. The "teben," with which a great deal of grain is necessarily mixed, is then thrown into the centre of the floor, where it gradually rises to a huge mound. The chaff and the grain are next swept into a separate heap, to be winnowed when all the harvest is threshed. To make the sledge heavier, the driver usually stands on it, or, as the time is one of general enjoyment, one may see it covered with laughing children, enjoying the slow ride round and round. It was such "threshing instruments" that Araunah presented to David, along with the oxen and the implements of the threshing-floor, that he might have at once a sacrifice and the wood to consume it (2 Sam 24:22). The word in Hebrew is "morag," and it is still retained in the form of "mowrej," or, in some parts of the country, "norag," so that there is no doubt as to the "instrument" Araunah was using. When Isaiah paints Israel on its return from captivity as "a new sharp morag having teeth," he refers to the same threshing-sledge as is used to-day, and it is to this that Job compares Leviathan when he says that "his underparts are like sharp potsherds; he spreadeth, as it were, a threshing-wain upon the mire."*

* Job 41:30 (RV). The three texts quoted are the only ones in which "morag" occurs in the Old Testament.
A more complicated form of threshing-machine, known as a threshing-waggon, is used in some places, consisting of a frame like that of a harrow, with three revolving axles set in it like so many wheels, provided with projecting iron teeth, a chair being fixed over them for the driver, who is protected by their being covered with a wooden case on the side next him. Such a wheeled threshing-sledge was already in use in the days of Isaiah, and even drawn by horses, for the prophet tells us that "fitches are not threshed with a sharp morag; neither is the wheel of a threshing-waggon rolled over the cummin. Bread-corn is threshed out, but yet one does not keep on threshing it for ever, nor does he crush it [the kernel] small with the wheel of his threshing-waggon or with his horses" [which drag the waggon] (28:27). In Proverbs we are further told that "a wise king winnoweth away the wicked, and bringeth the threshing-wheel over him," an allusion to the dreadful custom of condemning prisoners of war, when especially hated, to be cut into small pieces by driving over them a threshing-waggon, or threshing-sledge, with its rows of iron spikes or sharp stones, till their flesh was torn off in morsels. This was apparently the hideous fate assigned by David to some of the Ammonite prisoners taken after the capture of Rabbah (2 Sam 12:31), and, indeed, seems to have been usual in war in those ages, for the Syrians boasted that they had destroyed Israel till they were like the dust caused by threshing—into pieces so small had they cut the prisoners who suffered their fury. Syria indeed appears to have been specially given to this dreadful savagery, for Amos tells us that Damascus—that is, the King of Syria—would suffer the fierce vengeance of Jehovah for having "threshed the people of Gilead with the sharp iron teeth of threshing-waggons" (1:3). Thank God, infamous though war is still, it does not stoop to this.

To winnow the grain is severe work, and, as such, is left to the men. It is mostly done, just as in the days of Ruth, in the evening and during the night, when the night wind is blowing (3:2). The cool breeze which in the summer months comes from the sea in a gentle air in the morning, grows stronger towards sunset, and blows till about ten o'clock, causing the "cool of the day," or, as it is in the Hebrew, "the wind of the day," in which Jehovah walked in Eden (Gen 3:8); the time till which the Beloved was to feed his flocks among the lilies, when the darkness would leave him free to seek her whom his soul loved, in the pleasant hours when the air was cooled by the night wind.* Too strong a wind, however, is avoided, as Jeremiah shows was the custom in his day—"A dry [hot] wind [will blow] from the bare places of the wilderness...not to fan nor to cleanse, but a stronger wind" (Jer 4:11). "Winnow not with every wind," had, indeed, become a proverb as long ago as the days of the Son of Sirach.** The chaff, grain, and "teben," which have gradually been gathered into a great central mound, are thrown up against the wind with a wooden fork sometimes of two prongs, but more commonly with five or six; the broken straw being carefully preserved to throw into the centre, while the chaff is allowed to blow away. A sieve is also used now, generally by women: a light, half-oval wooden frame, about a yard across, with a coarse hair or palm-fibre bottom; the winnower holding it by the round side and tossing up the grain from it against the wind (Amos 9:9). Two winnowings are necessary: the first to separate the "teben" and the chaff; the second to sift out the unthreshed ears and pieces of earth mixed with the grain. The fork, or shovel—for sometimes a wooden shovel is used, like half of a small barrel-lid, the round side towards the handle—finally separates the grain completely, so that it is ready to be put into the garner.

* Song 2:17. This is the true reading of the words, "Till the day dawn."

** Ecclus. v. 9.

Images taken from the threshing-floor are frequent in Scripture. "The wicked," says Job, "are as teben before the wind, and as chaff that the storm carrieth away" (Job 21:18; Isa 41:15,16; Psa 1:4, 35:5), and this terrible figure is often repeated. As in our Lord's day, the chaff and broken straw unavoidably left on the ground, after every care in winnowing and gathering, are burnt, at once to get rid of them and to fertilise the soil by the ashes, a practice that throws a terrible light on the Baptist's words (Matt 3:12 [RV]; Luke 3:17): "Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly cleanse His threshing-floor, and He will gather the wheat into the garner, but the chaff He will burn up with an unquenchable fire." Sometimes, indeed, the stubble in the fields is burnt, for the same reasons, as Isaiah must have seen before he wrote the verse, "As the tongue of fire devoureth the stubble, and as the dry grass sinketh down in the flame, so their root shall be as rottenness, and their blossom shall go up as dust" (5:24 [RV]).

Another passage in the same prophet, alluding in part to the threshing-floor, has often been misunderstood, and, indeed, is mistranslated in the Revised Version (Isa 25:10)—"Moab shall be trodden down under Him [Jehovah], even as straw is trodden down for the dunghill." The Revised Version reads: "even as straw is trodden down in the water of the dunghill"—that is, in the pool of liquid manure connected with a dunghill in our ideas. But there is no such thing in Palestine as a dunghill, and there is no reason to think there ever was. Gardens are manured chiefly with goats' dung; and in some parts the dung of pigeons, obtained from dove-cots and pigeon-towers in the neighbourhood, is used for cucumbers and melons. No manure requiring to be carried is ever used in the grain-fields of pastures. Even the abundant manure accumulated in the cattle-sheds during winter is left undisturbed till the rains wash it away, unless there be gardens at hand. The Hebrew word "madmenah," translated "dunghill," is the name of a town in Moab, famous, no doubt, for its threshing-floors, but also for the huge mound of all uncleanness—the town dust-heap (Jer 48:2)—found in every Eastern town; "madmenah" being the word for this Oriental characteristic. Jeremiah uses it in its short form, "Madmen," for the Moabitish town, but there was also a Benjamite place of the same name (Isa 10:31) a little way north of Jerusalem. Isaiah's meaning, therefore, is that Moab will be trodden down by Jehovah as the "teben" is trodden to fragments on the threshing-floors of Madmenah.*

* A various reading of the Hebrew would make the sense of the passage "by the waters" of Madmenah. "Madmen" occurs in Jer 48:2; "Madmenah," Isa 10:31, "Madmannah," Josh 15:31; 1 Chron 2:49.
The words that follow, "And He [Jehovah] shall spread forth His hands in the midst thereof, as he that swimmeth spreadeth forth his hands to swim," need, for their right understanding, that one should have seen Orientals swimming. They never "spread forth" their hands as with us, but strike the water with one hand after the other, from above, beating it down, as it were, and passing triumphantly over it. So would Jehovah do with Moab—He would "lay low his pride" (Isa 25:10).

When the grain is finally winnowed, sifted, and thrown up into a great heap, the owner often takes up his quarters on it for the night, to watch it till, on the morrow, he can get it carried to his underground cistern or storehouse, in bags on his beasts, for there are no wheeled vehicles now in Palestine, though there were in antiquity.* It is a curious sight to watch the poor donkeys, with their loads of grain, marching along so meekly, or the gaunt camels swaying forwards under their huge bags or baskets. The country is full of underground cisterns, formerly used to store grain; their mouths being carefully hidden with a layer of soil to prevent discovery by a robber or an enemy. It was of such granaries that the men of Shiloh spoke in pleading for their lives with the murderous Ishmael: "Slay us not, for we have treasures in the field, of wheat, and of barley, and of oil, and of honey" (Jer 41:8). Such subterranean storehouses are still very numerous in some parts. Tristram found nearly fifty of them, each about six feet deep, in one village on the Dead Sea, from which a foray of Arabs had plundered the millet, wheat, barley, and indigo, previously hidden away in them.**

* 1 Sam 6:7; 2 Sam 6:3; 1 Chron 13:7; Amos 2:13. In the Pentateuch the same word is used nine times, and is always translated "waggons"; referring to those brought from Egypt, or used there.

** Land of Israel, p. 337.

The yield of grain in ancient times in Palestine must have been large, since we find a surplus not needed by the home population exported to Phœnicia; Middle and North Palestine and the districts east of the Jordan especially maintaining this outward trade (1 Kings 5:9,11; Eze 27:17; Ezra 3:7; Acts 12:20). The usual return seems to have been about thirty-fold, although sometimes it reached a hundred (Gen 26:12; Matt 13:8). At the present day, however, wheat yields only twelve to sixteen-fold, though barley often yields fifty, and dhourra gives a return, not seldom, of from a hundred-and-fifty to two-hundred-fold.

 

Chapter 6 | Contents | Chapter 8

 

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