by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.
Notes on Revelation Online Books
Chapter 12 | Contents | Chapter 14
Cunningham Geikie D.D.
With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
I started from Gaza to Hebron early in March, with three horses, three donkeys, and four men, the donkeys carrying two tents and other requisites. Of the four men, the first was a black from the Soudan, but he could not tell his birthplace. A red fez; a loose old cloth jacket reaching to his thighs, the elbows showing themselves prominently through the short sleeves; a striped black-and-white petticoat of mixed cotton and wool, and cotton drawers, encased his tall thin figure, which terminated in bare legs, and ancient leather slippers with no backs. He had married in Gaza, was perhaps five-and-twenty, and laughed pleasantly all the time. Hamet, the second donkey-man, who was also young, wore a white cotton skull-cap, with red worsted-work setting it off at the edges; a wide blue cotton jacket reaching to his thighs, with a triangle of striped cotton, edged with red, for an ornament, down the back; a striped cotton petticoat, over a blue one, coming down to his knees; his legs and feet rejoicing in freedom. The third, Redwan, hardly a man, but very manly, had a blue cotton gaberdine with sleeves, and over it a sleeveless, close-fitting, old brown-and-white woollen "abba"; a woollen skull-cap, with a handkerchief tied round it, to make it a turban; his brown legs and feet were naked. The fourth, Hajji Iesa"Pilgrim Jesus"! a middle-aged man, who had earned his title of "Hajji" by having been at Mecca, wore a dirty white turban, a white thick cotton sack over his shirt and down to his calves, and a leathern girdle or belt round his waist to keep his clothes together, his legs and feet being bare.
A fifth person joined our cavalcade, to take advantage of our company, a tall, thin man, on a donkey so small that his feet just escaped the ground. He was a colporteur, employed in selling Bibles and Testaments over the country, and he proposed to go with us as far as Beit Jibrin. Of light-brown complexion, with a long face and long Syrian nose, but a pleasant-looking man, with his great black eyes, he was decked out in a fez; a striped blue-and-white cotton sleeved sack, reaching to his calves; white cotton trousers; stockings; and elastic-side boots past their best. At the sides of his microscopic ass, underneath him, were two small saddle-bags of old carpet, so far gone that I feared he might distribute part of his stock of the Scriptures on the road instead of among the population. A thick stick in his hand, and a red sash, with a revolver in it, round his waist, finished his outward presentment. The missionary at Gaza, my worthy friend, Mr. Saphir, accompanied me as guide and companion. The hire of a horse and three asses, and of the men who came with us, was £3 13s. 4d. (twenty-one Medjidich) for eight days. We had two tents, one belonging to Mr. Saphir, the other rented from its owner at Gaza for sixpence a day! These wonderful prices, of course, were those of private owners, not of "Tourists' Agencies." At Jerusalem, or Joppa, to hire from an "Agency" a traveller's tent, and a common one for the men, with the attendants and beasts, would have cost from four to five pounds a day.
Out, then, and awaypast the Tomb of Samson, a place of pilgrimage for the Moslem; then under the long avenues of ancient olive-trees, the glory of Gaza, towards Beit Hanun. On the roadside sat a counterpart of blind Bartimæus, turbaned, cross-legged, in a blue gaberdine with short sleeves, a stick by his side, his hand out for charity. Blindness is a terribly prevalent curse in the Eastthe desert alone excepted, for a blind Bedouin is rare. In Egypt, it has been said, one person in twenty is affected in his eyes, and the lowest estimate gives one blind in the hundred, while in England and Norway the proportion is only one in a thousand. It is impossible, indeed, to come upon any number of men, either in Palestine or on the Nile, without finding some of them sightless.
The causes of this prevalence of blindness are not the heat, nor even the dust, so much as the rapid changes of temperature between day and night, which are greatest on the sea-coast, the special seat of this melancholy evil. The inflammation thus occasioned would not, however, lead to a great deal of blindness elsewhere, the neglect of any attempt to check the trouble is the real explanation; and this arises partly from laziness and stupidity, but much more from superstitious prejudices against medical treatment. It is most pitiful to see numbers of children with ulcers on the cornea eating away the sight, without any attempt being made to cure the evil. Wherever you halt, the blind come round you with the other children; and it is no wonder that when the fame of our Lord as the "opener of the eyes" spread abroad, numbers of all ages who were thus afflicted assembled to ask His gracious assistance (Luke 7:21; John 5:3). It would seem, indeed, from the more frequent mention of blindness in the New Testament than in the Old, as though blindness had increased in the course of ages, though the law of Moses curses "him that maketh the blind to wander out of the way," or "puts a stumbling-block before him" (Lev 19:14; Deut 27:18). But I had almost forgotten one great local cause of blindness, which every one visiting the East must have noticed, the spread of eye disease through the medium of flies. These pests carry infection on their feet and proboscis from one child to another, numbers of them lighting on the corner of the eye, and never apparently being driven off. Mothers, in fact, allow them to cling in half-dozens round the eyes of their babies, to ward off the "evil eye"; and it is sad to see the young creatures so habituated to what would torture Western children, as never to resent it, even by a twitch of the cheek.
We passed Beit Hanun, with its dirty mud hovels and its rain-pond, round which a crowd of ragged children were playing, some naked boys swimming and paddling in it, and the village matrons filling their jars from it for household uses. A little farther on we met some people going to Gazaone, a soldier, returning from the army, a dagger and pistols in his belt. As he went by the ruffian broke out in curses at us as Christians, but he reckoned without his host, for in a moment my fiery little missionary friend, who knows Arabic as he does English, rode up to him, his riding-stick uplifted, and asked him how he dared to insult strangers, ending by telling him that he was only fit to fight women, not men! I did not know all this till afterwards; but the fellow was cowed, and went off as meekly as a lamb.
The broad plain, or rather rolling land, through which we passed, was here and there green with lentils or barley, elsewhere ploughed for summer crops, but in large parts wild and untilled, offering pasture for flocks of sheep and goats and herds of cattle. The little village of Nejid, at the foot of a little side-bay in the low hills of the Shephelah, on our right, was the first we passed after leaving Beit Hanun. Numbers of camels, cattle, and calves fed on the green recess before the houses, which were built only of unburnt bricks of black earth. A number of peasants who had put out their right eye or mutilated their thumb, in order to escape the hated conscription for the Turkish army, were met on one occasion by a traveller at this place. Some of the people were now enjoying a meal, in the open air, sitting on mats woven of straw or palm-leaves; and it was noticeable that all had taken off their shoes, as was evidently the custom among the Hebrews in Bible times, since they were told to keep on their sandals at the Passover supper as a thing unusual (Exo 12:11). One or two of the houses were larger than the rest, the best one being built in a succession of rooms round a large square court, of course unpaved; each separate room with a door for itself. The flat roof rested on rough poles, covered with corn-stalks and branches, over which layers of earth had been trodden and rolled, till the whole was solid. Great corn-bins, made, like the house itself, of mud, leaned against the walls of the rooms, so that the whole was, no doubt, very like the simple chambers in which the peasant-king, Ishbosheth, was taking his midday sleep when he was murdered (2 Sam 4:5,6). Two Mahommedans near found it was one of their hours of prayer, and having spread their "abbas" on the ground, they turned their faces to Mecca and began their fervent devotions. In these, the words "Allah is great" were repeated eight times, and then they kneeled down and touched the ground with their foreheads. It must have been much the same with the ancient Israelites, for the word "Selah," which so often stands at the end of a verse, means simply "Bow," thus giving directions to the supplicant in this particular (Hitzig, Psa 3:2).
The people are very friendly, and, as a rule, very honest, for I was told of a case where a traveller having paid for some bread which was not yet baked, and having left before he got it, the son of the house road after him for five or six miles, to give him the piastre's (2 1/2d.) worth he should have had before. A mile north of Nejid we passed through Simsim, which lies pleasantly on a low hill, amidst trees. Large herds of cattle and flocks of sheep grazed here and there in the little valleys among the hills, or on the slopes. Was it in this rich district that "King Uzziah hewed out many cisterns in the wilderness, for he had much cattle; both on the Shephelah or low hill-land, and in the Mishor," or smooth plains, free from rocks, from which the Shephelah rises? (2 Chron 26:10 [Heb.]) The sun shone very hot from a cloudless sky, though it was only the beginning of March, and the peasants were eagerly awaiting the latter rains, which in the East are necessary, before the long heat of summer, to fill out the ears of the corn, and swell the fruit, and thus have always been held so specially precious that in Proverbs we read of the favour of a king being "as a cloud of the latter rain" (Prov 16:15). Thus, also, Job describes the fervour with which his words had been listened to in the days of his prosperity by saying that his hearers opened their mouths wide for them, as for the latter rain. (Job 29:23). If this supreme blessing fail, the earth becomes like copper for hardness, under a sun which shines down as a sphere of molten iron (Lev 26:19); and the result is that there is little or no harvest. Most justly, the Hebrews regarded such a calamity as punishment for their sins, and raised their cries to Him "who waters the furrows and moistens the ridges of the field, making it soft with showers, and blessing its fruit" (Psa 65:9). One could realise on broad, treeless uplands, without brooks or springs, the yearning earnestness of the Psalmist after God when he says, "My soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee, in a dry and thirsty land where no water is" (Psa 63:1).
There are three words in Hebrew for the rains of different seasons, and these, very strikingly, are all found in one verse of Hosea (Hosea 6:3). "He will come unto us as the heavy winter rain ("geshem"), as the latter rain ("malkosh") and the former rain ("yoreh" or "moreh") upon the earth"come, that is, in fulness of blessing, like the triple rainfall that covers the earth with corn. In Joel, also, the three occur together. "He will cause to come down for you the heavy winter rain ("geshem"), the early rain ("yoreh" or "moreh"), and the latter rain ("malkosh"), as in former times, and the floors shall be full of wheat" (Joel 2:23). The translation of the beautiful description of spring in Song of Songs (2:11) is not true to nature, in either the Revised Version or the Authorised, for the flowers appear on the earth, and the time of the singing of the birds comes, at least six weeks before the rain is over and gone. It is when the heavy winter rain ("geshem") ceases, and the warm spring weather begins, that the flowers appear, the birds sing, and the voice of the turtle is heard, but it is precisely during this time that, at intervals, the latter rain ("malkosh") falls. It is of the heavy winter rain ("geshem") that Genesis speaks in the story of the Flood, as continuing for forty days and forty nights, though rains alone would not have caused that awful catastrophe. In the same heavy winter storms ("geshem") the people assembled by Ezra to take action respecting the mixed marriages which had prevailed, "sat in the street of the house of God, trembling because of this matter, and for the greatest rain," so that, at last, they represented to the authorities that it was "a time of much rain, and we are not able to stand without," and on this ground, among others, were allowed to go home (Ezra 10:9,13).
The first or early rain moistens the land, fitting it for the reception of seed, and is thus the signal for the commencement of ploughing. It generally begins in October or November, falling at intervals till December. The plentiful winter rains which soak the earth, fill the cisterns and pools, and replenish the springs, come, also at intervals, from the middle of December to March. The latter, or spring rain, which fills out the ears of corn, and enables it to withstand the drought before harvest, lasts, with bright days between, from the middle of March till the rains finally cease in April or May. From that time till the first rain of the late autumn, the sky is usually cloudless, and vegetation depends on the fertilising night mist, the "dew" of our Bible, borne over the land from the Mediterranean during the night.
At Bureir, 230 feet above the sea, and about twelve miles in a straight line from Gaza, we halted, at one o'clock, for refreshment. The mud houses were built in clumps, if I may so speak, with a large open space between them, in which there was an old square wall round a large and deep well, with marble pillars from some ancient building, now wholly vanished, laid alongside, as a step up to the water, or a rest for water-pitchers, one of the pillars being hollowed out to form a trough. Mounds of grain, thickly covered with kneaded mud bricks, to keep out the rain and the vermin, rose here and there, and small herds of cattle dotted the pasture outside the village. A large mud-banked water-pond, with very muddy-looking contents, supplied the wants of the households, at least to some extent. Close to the houses was an underground cistern inside a wall of round stones, but it was now broken and disused. This abandonment of such water-pits is inevitable, if the cement with which they are lined give way. They are, then, "broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jer 2:13). It is wonderful what a number of these subterranean reservoirs there are in the Holy Land. In Upper Galilee they honeycomb the ground in some places, and we have seen how they abound even so far south as below Beersheba. They are either hewn in the native rock or dug in the earth, and then built up with masonry; but the rock is often porous, so that the water passes through it and leaves them dry and useless for their original purpose. Narrowed at the top, so as to resemble a huge bottle, they are terrible prisons, if one fall into them, as sometimes happens, for it is impossible to get out unaided. It was in such a dungeon that Joseph was put, at Dothan, where cisterns are still to be seenhis prison, perhaps, among them; and it was in another that Jeremiah sat, amid the mire, in Jerusalem. Some are so large, as at Ramleh, that the roof is supported by pillars. The mouth is now, as of old, covered by one or more stone slabs, with a hole left in the middle for a rope, though when not wanted this hole also is closed with a heavy stone. Anciently, also, as now, full cisterns were often concealed by a covering of earth over the mouth, so that no one but their owner could find them. So, the Spouse, in Song of Songs, was "a fountain sealed" to all but him whom her soul loved: she was his alone (4:12).
A second well, with a water-wheel, shows Bureir to be exceptionally favoured, one result being that there is a garden south of the village while some palms and tamarisks shoot up among the houses. The slopes near showed, in one direction, rich brown ploughed land, as far as the eye could reach, camels and oxen being still busy adding to the tillage. A great flock of white sheep, belonging to tent Arabs, passed on its way to pasture; and in the circle of the landscape, besides the ploughed land and that which lay wild, thousands of acres were beautiful with the first green of barley and wheat. Spreading a mat below a rough cactus-hedge which gave some shadow, we sat down on the grassy edge of the road opposite the rain-tank, and comforted ourselves with some bread and hard eggs, washed down by a draught of delicious "leben," or sour goats' milk, brought by the Hajji from one of the houses. Some of the villagers were enjoying their midday rest in the shadow of a mud wall on the other side of the open village "green," which, however, was only dusty earth, their heads resting peacefully on stones for pillows, the thick windings of their turbans saving them from feeling the hardness. Just so, doubtless, was it that Jacob slept at Bethel (Gen 28:11). His turban would help him to forget the stone, and, like the poor fellows before me, it would be nothing new for him to sleep in his clothes, for it is an Oriental custom to do so. All through Palestine the men in attendance on our tents lay down at night in the clothes they always wore, and I have no doubt they looked on me as supremely foolish for undressing. Among the ancient Hebrews a neighbour's raiment was not to be taken in pledge, or, at least, was to be given back by sunset, as that in which he slept (Exo 22:27; Deut 24:13). A palm-leaf mat spread on the floor serves for a bed among the poor, or they lie on the bare earth; but, in the better houses, beds are made up on the divan, or seat, which runs along the wall in the best room: a framework of laths of palm, or a solid bank of clay, covered with cushions. Some rich houses have bedsteads, but they are not common. At Beit Jibrin I got thick quilted coverlets, of silk on the one side, in the sheikh's house; but whether they were to cover me, or for me to lie upon, I do not know. I used them for both purposes, as I had to stretch myself on the hard plaster floor.
The broad open plain, insensibly rising to the hills, opened to a great width as we approached Falujeh, in the afternoon. Unenclosed, it offered tempting pasture-ground to the gazelles which abounded in the uplands, and kindly allowed me a sight of a small flock of them as I rode on. Graceful and fleet, they lent themselves readily to metaphor among the old Israelites, ever so attentive to the natural objects around them. The Arab word "gazelle" is not met with in our Bible, but there is no doubt that when "roebuck" occurs, the name of this graceful antelope should have been used. It was no use to chase themthe swiftest horse was left hopelessly behind. The Hebrews knew the creature well, and Solomon had it as one of the viands on his luxurious tables (1 Kings 4:23). Asahel's fleetness is compared to that for which it is famous: "He was as light of foot as a gazelle in the open" (2 Sam 2:18). The men of Gad who swam the Jordan when it was in flood, to join David, are said to have had faces like lions, and to have been as swift as the gazelles on the mountains (1 Chron 12:8). Babylon is called by Isaiah "the gazelle of kingdoms" (13:19) for its beauty; and, indeed, this comparison was a common one in the mouths of the prophets (Eze 20:6,15, 25:9; Dan 8:9, 11:16, 41 [Heb.]). "My beloved," says Sulamith, in the Song of Songs, "is like a gazelle, leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills" (2:8,9). Five times does she introduce this graceful creature in her song of love (2:7,9,17, 3:5, 8:14). It is the commonest of all the large game in Palestine, and, in the south, is sometimes met with in herds of nearly a hundred. Nor is it found only in the lonelier parts. Dr. Tristram saw a little troop feeding on the Mount of Olives, close to Jerusalem.*
* Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 130.The village boys were at play in the open centre of Falujehbusy making dirt pies, and striving at a game of ball, just as Jerusalem, in old times, was full of boys and girls playing in the streets (Zech 8:5). It is a moderate-sized place, with a rain-pond and two fine wells, at which one always sees women busy drawing water; and there was the usual sprinkling of idlers lying in the sun. It stands on flat ground, and there is a patch of garden on one side; but the people, as everywhere else, seem generally very poor. The flocks and herds, as I have said, belong, as a rule, to the Arabs, and the Government grinds the face of the peasantry with arbitrary taxation till they have barely a subsistence left. I am afraid, however, that it was very little better in Bible times, for there are no fewer than ten words for the poor in the Old Testament, and these occur, in all, about 260 times, while fives words, besides, refer to poverty in some way. In Deuteronomy we are told that "the poor shall never cease out of the land" (15:11); and now the traveller finds it difficult to believe that there are any who are not poor beyond what Western people can imagine. The depopulation of the land, also, strikes the traveller very much as he passes through it. He frequently comes across an extensive landscape, in which he can only discern, here and there, a small village consisting of a few wretched mud huts.
Close to the village were some Arab tents, to which we turned, my friend proposing that we should visit them. They were of black camels'-hair cloth, which is quite soft like coarse wool. A rude frame of short poles had been raised, in a very rickety way, and over this had been stretched the tent-cover, hanging down to the ground at the back and ends, and leaving the front open; the cloth which, at the will of the occupants, closed this part also, in storms or at other times, being thrown back on the roof. In shape, this strange dwelling was exactly like an open shed. The earth was its only floor. A small fire of wood smouldered in the centre, the smoke finding its own way out. In one cornerthe rightwas a pile of dried stalks, &c., for fuel; in the other were some armsguns, pistols, and swordshung from the poles, which, by the way, were not all of the same height or length, so that the back of the tent seemed broken. A carpet was brought from the women's apartment, which was simply a third of the tent, divided from the rest by a hanging cloth, and concealed in part by the curtain being let down in front. Just such must have been his mother Sarah's tent, into which Isaac brought Rebekah (Gen 24:67). There were in all ten men in or about the tent: one was lying all his length on his back, on the ground, fast asleep in his clothesa saddle his pillow; a black slave, with a gaudy "kefiyeh," was as much at home as any one, and was treated, apparently, on the same footing as the rest; the others were standing, sitting, or lounging about. Coffee-berries were presently brought out, and having been put into a rude stone mortar, were brayed with a piece of wood for a pestle, just as at times, only on a larger scale, wheat is crushed. It reminded me of the words in the Proverbs: "Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him" (Prov 27:22). The operation was carried out on the ground, for there was neither table, chair, nor stool. It appeared that these Arabs belonged to the tribe a member of which had committed the recent murder in Gaza, of which I have spoken (see p. 148), and that they had pitched their tents close to the village in order to have what protection it afforded against a sudden attack from the tribe of the victim. All their flocks and herds were with them, so that they might enjoy the security yielded by the village street. A small cup of coffee, profuse salaams, and a very formal leave-taking, ended the visit, and we remounted our horses for Beit Jibrin.
The Arabs are, as a race, very ignorant and childish. None of them know how old they are, nor can they tell how long ago it may have been since any event in their history occurred, unless they chance to remember the number of harvests between then and now. As we rode slowly on I enjoyed some stories about them, gathered from the wide experience of my friend. A Bedouin, who lived with him in Gaza for a time, came one morning, radiant of countenance. "What has happened?" "Oh, my wife has a son!" By night, however, his happiness had passed into sadness. "What has happened?" "Ah, the boy has turned out to be a girl!" His wife's mother had been so frightened lest he should divorce her daughter for having a girl, that she had pretended it was a son. In another case a husband, anxious to be the father of a son, solemnly vowed that he would divorce his wife if she had a girl. Unfortunately, she had twin daughters. The poor fellow, however, really loved his wife, and racked his brains to get out of his oath. At last he solved the difficulty. "I said I would divorce her if she had a daughter, but not if she had two"; and so he kept her. How forcibly such incidents remind one of the words of Jeremiah: "Cursed be the man who brought tidings to thy father, saying, A man child is born unto thee; making him very glad" (Jer 20:15); or those of our Lord: "A woman hath sorrow, but as soon as she is delivered of the child she remembereth the sorrow no more, for joy that a man is born into the world" (John 16:21). Indeed, so proud is a husband of a son, that he is henceforth known only as "the father of Mahomet," or whatever be the name given to the child. We may from this imagine the eagerness with which Abraham and Sarah longed for an heir to their great possessions, and how great the trial of the patriarch's faith must have been when he was asked to offer as a sacrifice, with his own hand, the child at last given to him.
On one occasion, my friend and a German savant, travelling in Palestine, came to an Arab encampment, at which they were hospitably received. The German, however, took the notion of photographing the sons of the desert, and proceeded to get ready his apparatus. Knowing the ignorance and superstition of the race, his companion was alarmed, and begged him to desist, since the Bedouins might think he was working a charm for their hurt, in which case they would have no scruple in cutting their throats. Luckily the sheikh's son got them out of the dilemma. "Oh," said he, "that is a 'far-see-er'"the Arab name for a telescope. "You will be able to look through it and see the mosques at Gaza"which, by the way, was far below the horizon. Out the whole camp sallied, and sat down, looking at what was going on, so that an excellent photograph was obtained. This achieved, the company were invited to look through the camera. After a time the young wiseacre, who had been at Gaza and Joppa, where he had seen a telescope, came up, with no little fear, and putting his eye to the glass, shouted that he not only saw the mosques, but the muezzin on them, calling the faithful to prayers. Nor did he afterwards flinch. At Gaza he maintained to the governor, when that dignitary called at the house of my friend, that he could recognise the muezzin, for when he looked through the glass he saw his face!
The peasantry and the Bedouins have little love for each otheras little as the lamb and the wolf. The Bedouin, in fact, speaks with the greatest contempt of the fellah, and a marriage between the two races is very rare. The desert which surrounds Palestine to the east and south is the true home of the tent tribes; but the temptation to seek better pasture lures small encampments to roam over all the outlying parts of the settled land. Thus we find them in many parts of the plains of Philistia and Sharon, and on the hills of the Shephelah. Old sites appear to have a special charm for these fragments of once-powerful tribes. The vales of Sharon are one of their favourite haunts; but on the plains they have learned to use the plough and pay taxes, which, of course, degrades them in the eyes of their brethren of the desert. They do not, however, live in houses, but in tents, and look on the dwellers in the mud cottages as infinitely beneath them. As of old, when the Midianites overran the best of the land, the desert tribes are constantly on the look-out for a chance to invade the country in force, and are only kept back by the presence of Turkish soldiery. When war calls these away, the wave of barbarism at once advances; the commons of the villages are overrun, and blackmail is extorted wherever possible. It is not many years since the whole plain of Esdraelon was covered with the tents of the Eastern Arabs from the desert, who had come to harry the land, and even hold it, if possible, and who were only driven back by a strong Turkish force.
It is striking to see how exactly modern Arab life illustrates that of the patriarchal age. In passing an Arab encampment you may see some elder of the tribe sitting, as Abraham did, in the shade of the open side of his tent, in the heat of the day (Gen 18:2-12), and you may very possibly be entreated by him to take advantage of the coolness he is enjoying, and may get water poured over your feet, if you accept the invitation; some quickly-cooked meal being presently ordered to be set before you. The same grave courtesy at meeting will be seen now as then; the slave will pour the water on your feet from much the same kind of long-spouted copper vessel, as you hold them over a metal basin of a pattern that has not, perhaps, changed for millenniums. The sheikh will hurry to his wife in "the woman's tent" (Gen 18:6 [Heb.]), and tell her, as the queen of the encampment, to "make ready, quickly, some measures of fine meal," that is, the finest and purest she has; and she will, herself, take her kneading-trough and prepare the dough, while some slave-girl kindles a fire of grass or stalks, on which to lay the iron plate for baking. Or the mistress may, perhaps, prefer to light the fire over a small bed of stones and heat them, so that her thin cakes may be baked upon them after the fire is swept off, just as the cake of Elijah was "baken on the hot stones" (1 Kings 19:6 [Heb.]); or in her haste she may cover them with the hot ashes, to quicken the baking, as the Hebrew text seems to imply was done by Sarah. It would, indeed, take very little time, in any case, to prepare such thin "scones" as Arabs still use.
You could hardly expect, however, that the same honour would be done you as was shown to guests so illustrious as those of Abraham. An Arab very rarely kills a calf, as the patriarch did; it needs a great occasion to call for such an unusual liberality. You may count on a chicken, or a male kidfor female kinds are carefully preserved; but a calf is only for some very eminent guest. Repentant Israel could not more earnestly promise fervent gratitude for the forgiveness they implored than by saying they would render the calves of their lips (Hosea 14:2; lit. bullocks)the best they could givethe most thankful and heartfelt acknowledgments. Nor could the father of the prodigal son better show the yearning love he felt towards his restored child than by calling aloud to kill even the fatted calf, to greet his return (Luke 15:23). If special guests arrive, an Arab sheikh will even now kill a calf, as Abraham did, in their honour; himself, like the patriarch, running to the herd to fetch it. The same rapidity in dressing it will be shown: the fowl, the kid, or part of the calf which you have just seen alive, will be served up in, perhaps, half an hour. It has always been the rule, as in the time of St. Peter, that killing and eating (Acts 10:13) follow each other without any considerable interval. You still, like the guests of Abraham (Gen 18:8; for "butter," read as in text), get curdled milk or "leben," with milk fresh from the goat as the beverage at your meal, and you still sit on the floor and dip your hand into a common dish (Matt 26:23; Mark 14:20; John 13:26), set in the middle, between all the company, using pieces of your thin bread for spoons, to raise to the mouth the gravy of the stew, or, it may be, the mixture of meat and rice. Abraham's tent was always, when possible, pitched under the shade of a tree, just as the tents of the Arabs are now, where trees can be found. At Shechem and at Hebron (Gen 12:6, 13:18; for "plain," read "oak") he sought the shadow of an oak; at Beersheba he planted a tamarisk-grove, to get shade as soon as the plants had grown (Gen 21:33). And just as Abraham "stood by" his guests under the tree, and waited on them, so the sheikh, your entertainer, stands beside you to-day; his wife, like Sarah, close at hand, but hidden behind the curtain of the women's part of the tent, watching all that is going on.
Abraham's encampment must have consisted of a great many tents, with a population of from 2,000 to 3,000 persons, young and old, since there were 318 young men trained to arms, belonging, by birth, to the patriarch's tribe, and the number of his male and female slaves, bought, or born to slave parents, seems to have been large (Gen 12:5; for "gotten" read "bought"; 12:16, 13:5,8, 14:14). He would doubtless, therefore, arrange his camp in some special form, for the protection of his flocks, which must have been very great; most probably in a circle, as large Arab encampments are pitched now, that the herds and flocks may be driven into the central space at night. The Arabs call such camps "dowars," and they are mentioned in the Old Testament under the name of Hazerim, or Hazeroth, though these words are also applied to villages in the usual sense. In many cases, however, they must mean Arab tent encampments, as where we read of the "towns" of the sons of Ishmael, and their "castles," which should really be, their "tent-villages and encampments" (Gen 25:16). "The Avim," a race of aboriginal inhabitants in Palestine, are said to have dwelt in Hazerim, even to Gaza (Deut 2:23); and we read of the Hazerim that "Kedar [an Arab tribe] doth inhabit" (Isa 42:11).
An Arab tent has no furniture, as I have said, in the men's part; the part sacred to the women is the larder, kitchen, and store-house. A copper pot or two, kettles and frying-pans; wooden bowls, for milking the flocks and herds, water-jars and skin bottles, a pair or two of handmill-stones, and a wooden mortar, constitute the principal household property. The skin bottles, indeed, are a special domestic treasure, as they serve all purposes. Milk, as we have seen, is churned in them, by pressing and wringing them, a custom to which Proverbs alludes when it says, "Surely the churning [wringing] of milk bringeth forth butter, and the wringing of the nose bringeth forth blood" (Prov 30:33). These skin bottles are of all sizes, according as they are made from the skin of kids, he-goats, cattle, or camels. When a goat or other animal is killed, its feet and head are cut off, for Orientals never eat a beast's head, and the skin is drawn off without opening the body. The holes where the legs were are duly sewed up, when the skin has been dried or rudely tanned with acacia-bark; the neck being left as the mouth. I have seen huge "bottles" made of an ox-skin; two of them, full of oil, a load for a camel. The outside is laboriously soaked with grease, to keep them soft, and to make them hold their liquid contents. One meets with them constantly in the East. The water-seller carries a huge skin on his back, the mouth below one arm, ready for opening. Milk, water, everything by turns, is carried in them. Hung up in the smoky tent, they get dry, and black with soot: a fit image of a mourner, with face darkened and saddened by affliction or fasting. Hence it was natural for the Psalmist, in a time of great sorrow, to cry out that he was become "like a bottle in the smoke" (Psa 119:83).
These bottles have been in use from the earliest times, for Hagar went away with her son from his father's tents bearing a skin of water on her shoulder (Gen 21:14). And the Gibeonites overreached the plain soldier Joshua, and passed themselves off as ambassadors from some far-away nation, by appearing before him with old sacks on their asses, looking as if worn out in carrying provender from a distant country; with old wine-skins, shrivelled in the sun, rent, patched, and bound up; with dry and mouldy bread in their wallets; and wearing ragged clothes and old clouted sandals (Josh 9:4). When a skin bottle gets old and rends, the hole is covered with a patch, or sewed together, or even closed by inserting a flat piece of wood; but care must be taken, if it is not ere long to trouble the heart of its owner. An old wine-skin naturally becomes thin and tender, and is unfit to stand the violent fermentation of new wine. Hence, as our Lord says, "Men do not put new wine into old bottles, else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish; but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved" (Matt 9:17). But, at the best, skin bottles are poor substitutes for those of more solid materials. When exposed to the sun on a journey, they must be constantly greased, else the water in them will soon evaporate; and their contents so often turn bad that one name for them comes from this fact.* It is a curious illustration of the Oriental character of Bible imagery that these strange-looking things supply Job with a metaphor for the clouds, when he asks, "Who can empty out the skin bottles of heaven?" (Job 38:37 [Heb.]).
* "Hameth," from "hamath," to be spoiled, foul, rancid, as water, butter, &c.As the reader has already seen, the dress of the Bedouins is simple. A long shirt, sometimes white, generally blue, reaches to the ankles, and is kept to the person by a leathern strap or girdle round the waist. As it is partly open above this, a great pocket is thus formed, down to the girdle; and in this pocket is stowed whatever the wearer wishes to carry easily. As, moreover, the dress is very loose, he can easily pull it far enough through the girdle to make an overhanging bag in which to carry grain or anything else he chooses. It is to this that our Saviour refers when He says, "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they give into your bosom. For with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you withal" (Luke 6:38; Matt 7:2; Mark 4:24). These words, by the way, need the explanation as to the "measure," &c., which the custom still prevalent in the East affords. When grain is bought after harvest, for winter use, it is delivered in sacks, and the quantity in these is always tested by a professional measurer. Sitting down on the ground, of course cross-legged, this functionary shovels the wheat or barley into the measure, which is called a "timneh," using his hands to do so. When it is quite full, he shakes the "timneh" smartly, that the grain may settle; then fills it to the brim again, and twists it half round, with a swift jerk, as it lies on the ground, repeating both processes till it is once more full to the top. This done, he presses the contents with his hands, to fill up any still vacant space, till at last, when it will hold no more, he raises a cone on the top, stopping when it begins to run over at the sides; and this only is thought to be good measure. A skilful measurer can thus make the "timneh" hold nearly twelve pounds more than it would if simply filled at once, without shaking or pressing.
Among the Arabs neither men nor women wear drawers, and by the villagers among whom they move, they are ridiculed as "going naked." But if we may judge from the strictness of the command that the priests should wear drawers, this seems to have been the practice among the Hebrews also. No priests were to enter the tabernacle without linen drawers, "lest they die" (Exo 28:42,43). When on a journey, or engaged in shepherding, the Arab generally wears an "abba," loosely hung on his shoulders, and this is commonly his only covering by night (Exo 22:26,27). During the burning heat, moreover, it often serves to give welcome shade, when spread out on the top of sticks. A bright silk or cotton kerchief (the "kefiyeh"), square, but folded crosswise, is used to cover the head, and, with a double turn of soft camels'-hair rope round it to keep it in its place, as already described, is the best possible head-gear for such a climate. Many have skull-caps below, but not a few use the "kefiyeh" only. The feet are generally bare, unless a pair of red leather slippers can be stolen from some traveller, or bought in a border town. These are literally made of the same "rams' skins, dyed red," that were used as one of the coverings of the tabernacle (Exo 26:14). There is no pretence of fitting, and it must be quite an art to keep them on, as they have no backs, and are generally much too large. The poorer Arabs often make themselves sandals of camels' skin mere soles, secured by thongs passed round the ankle; just such substitutes for shoes as were worn by the ancient Hebrews (Exo 3:5; Deut 25:9, 29:5; Josh 5:15; Ruth 5:7,8; 1 Kings 2:5). Very poor Arabs, howeverand they are manyhave only one article of clothing, the loose blue-and-white cotton shirt, generally the worse for wear.
Arabs, are, as all know, divided into tribes, which, like the Scotch clans, take their names from their earliest head. As there are in North Britain, Macgregors and Macdonaldsthat is, sons of Gregor or of Donaldthere are, in the desert, Beni Shammar, the sons of Shammar, and many other tribes similarly called after their first ancestor. The aristocratic families of a tribe marry only in a very limited circle, to keep their wealth and influence in as few hands as possible. But the blue-blooded husbands make up for this by marrying several wives, leaving the supreme rank for the one of purest descent, who has the honour of giving out the provisions of the household, and of preparing the meals for her husband and his guests, a prerogative which was ceded as a matter of course to Sarah, when Abraham entertained the angels, and was proudly accepted by her. If the husband, as is sometimes done, accept from a childless wife the gift of one of her female slaves, as a wife of inferior rank, in the hope that the latter may have a child whom her mistress may adopt, the child, until adopted and formally declared free, is, like its mother, a slave, and the property of the wife, and can be sold or driven out as she pleases, the husband, according to Arab custom, being helpless. Hagar and Ishmael were in this way the slaves of Sarah, and she was within her right when she demanded the expulsion of both from the encampment (Gen 21:10).
The authority of a father is supreme in the desert household. The life and property of all its members are in his hand, though he may rarely exercise his stern prerogatives. By this immemorial family law Abraham was free to kill his son Isaac, and, had he actually done so, would have felt no sense of guilt, for Isaac was his to kill, if he thought good. The same frightful usage extended, moreover, to neighbouring races, for the King of Moab, in the exercise of his right, offered his eldest son on the town wall as a burnt-offering, to obtain the favour of his god; and even two Jewish kings, Ahaz and Manasseh, caused, not one child, but several, "to pass through the fire" that is, burnt them alive, as a sacrifice to Moloch (2 Chron 28:3, 33:6). But this was in distinct contravention of the law of Moses (Lev 18:21; Deut 18:10). It was not, however, till almost the last days of the Jewish kingdom that Josiah finally "defiled Topheth, in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch" (2 Kings 23:10).
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