by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 17 | Contents | Chapter 19

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

Cunningham Geikie D.D.

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


The Frank Mountain and its Connection with Herod—View from the SummitDavid's WanderingsConcerning LocustsTheir Place in the Mosaic LawKhureitun and the Cave of AdullamSt. Chariton; Hermits and Monks in Ancient TimesThe Wady KhureitunThe Great CavernTekoaIts Associations with Amos and the MaccabeesThe Region Round About"The Swellings of Jordan"The Wady Urtas Again; Another View of the Great Pools


In the valley of Urtas, and on the hills, flocks of sheep and goats, mingled together, were feeding, as Laban's flocks used to do long ago under the care of Jacob (Gen 30:35); the sheep, of course, all broad-tailed; that is, with a great mass of fat, in the middle of which the tail runs down like a dividing line, projecting from it at the lower end. There were also a few camels, and some cattle, so that on these apparently barren hill-sides there was nourishment for even the larger animals. The gardens ceased before the pasturage began; the gravelly soil soon drinking up the sweet rivulet which had been brawling over the pebbles and stones.

Tekoa, and also the Frank Mountain, where Herod the Great was buried, could both be visited better from Urtas than from any other point. It is a steady climb from the bottom of the wady to the table-land above; the track leading to the right, and the pleasant companionship of one of the old aqueducts, still supplying Jerusalem, brightens part of the journey. At one place a spring pours out through two mouths under a canopy, its waters in part supplying Bethlehem; water-carriers were filling their skins at it, and carrying them to the town. This stream, no doubt, was once connected with the aqueduct that led from Solomon's Pools to the forecourts of the Temple at Jerusalem. The aqueduct is still perfect for some distance; its bed measures about a foot deep and the same in width, with a covering of flat stones, which, however, was gone in some places, giving man and beast a highly-prized opportunity of quenching their thirst. The conduit was, in fact, exactly like that which I had seen on the north side of the Pools, and from which I had drunk; indeed, it was a continuation of it.

The hills between Urtas and El-Fureidis—a diminutive of the Arabic word for Paradise—are very desolate and scorched, but had once been carefully terraced and cultivated. The mountain honoured by Herod as the site of his fortress rises steep and round—300 or 400 feet above the plain—like the cone of a volcano from which the top has been cut away. Yet it is only 190 feet higher than the village of Urtas, so that if the road had ascended for part of the way, there must have been a descent for the rest of it—the beginning of the slope towards the Jordan. This isolated height, Josephus tells us, Herod raised still higher, or, at least, filled up and trimmed to suit his design, erecting on the flat space at the top a great Roman castle, with rounded towers, and providing within it a magnificent palace for himself. The fortress was reached by a wonderful stairway of hewn stone, 200 steps high. At the foot of the hill other grand palaces were built for himself and his friends, and the whole plain around was covered with houses, forming a large town in the Italian style, with all the advantages of Western civilisation and refinement, the castle protecting the whole.

The name of "the Little Paradise," which the place still bears, may have arisen from the beauty of the gardens, no less than of the town, for, as I have said, Herod brought a plentiful stream from the Pools of Solomon, to irrigate the soil and supply every want of the community, in an age when public and private baths were considered a first necessity of life. He had defended himself bravely against the Parthians at this spot, when pursued by Antigonus, and had been forced to flee from Masada, where his brother Joseph had command, and to seek refuge, first in Egypt and then in Rome. On his triumphant return, however, he resolved to fortify a spot not only dear to him from the memory of his escape from great peril, but also of high importance as commanding the gorges towards the Dead Sea. Here, also, he was at last buried with great pomp, his body being carried to its last resting-place from Jericho, to which he had gone very shortly before his death from the warm baths of Callirhoe, on the other side of the Dead Sea.

A steep ascent of ten minutes, on foot, brings one to the top of the hill, where the flat surface of the ground forms a space about 750 feet round. The whole of this is enclosed by the ruins of a circular fortress of hewn stones, with four massive round towers, standing, one at each of the cardinal points. Inside, the ground slopes to a hollow in the centre, as if the walls had been built on an artificial mound. There are no escarpments on the hill, as on that of Samaria, for though there are remains of terraces round the lower part of it, they have evidently been rather for cultivation than for defence. The tradition of the locality is that Herod was buried at the foot of the hill, beside the great public reservoir; and a mound, which may one day repay a search, stands now in the centre of a long-dried pool. After the fall of Jerusalem, the Roman general took Herodium without resistance, and with this incident it passes from history. Since then, however, the legend arose from which it got its present name in Western Europe—the Frank Mountain—the Crusaders being fabled to have held it against the Saracens for forty years after Jerusalem had been wrested from them. But, as Irby and Mangles remark,* "the place is too small ever to have contained half the number of men which would have been requisite to make any stand in such a country; and the ruins, though they might be those of a spot once defended by the Franks, appear to have had an earlier origin, as the architecture seems to be Roman."

* Travels, p. 340.

The view from the top is very wide towards the north, but less so towards the south and west. The Mount of Olives stands out as if close at hand, and on each side of it the eye notes hill beyond hill, each a venerable site. To the east and south the landscape is especially interesting, as that of the region consecrated by the story of David and St. John the Baptist. To the south stretches a desolate succession of earth-waves, sinking towards both south and east; their colour dark grey; their outline relieved by no tree or verdure, for the sparse growth to be seen here and there is dried up till it is brown, instead of green. Ruins on the hills add artificial to natural desolation, and the sense of this is deepened by the knowledge that these ridges of forbidding barrenness are, in many cases, the walls of yawning ravines, into whose depths the sunshine falls only in a passing gleam, as it crosses the narrow opening above. To the east, the same desert loneliness and lifeless silence prevails, till the eye rests on the blue waters of the Dead Sea, 3,000 feet below where you stand. Near you, the long undulations of rock, broken into countless gorges and small valleys, are like nothing so much as rudely crumpled, coarse, dark greyish-brown paper. You have immediately before you the home of the viper, the locust, the wild bee, the fox, the jackal, the partridge, and the wild goat; it is a region which has for ages been shunned by man. Beyond this foreground, still looking eastwards, light, pinkish-yellow hills succeed, ridge beyond ridge, sinking ever lower and lower, till through their clefts the Dead Sea carries the eye across its deep blue to the light red or purple mountains of Moab, rising some hundreds of feet above the hills on this side, and seamed into wide ravines by the torrents of innumerable winters.

Over this wild, inhospitable region, David wandered when a shepherd, for no landscape in Palestine is so rocky or barren as not to afford pasture to wandering flocks of sheep and goats, either on the slopes or in the ravines. Here, also, he lived with his 400 outlaws, when hunted like a partridge by Saul; hiding in the caves so numerous in every ravine, or in one or other of the countless valleys or gorges which cut up the face of the country into so tangled a network or labyrinth that the whole district has been a favourite haunt, in all ages, of those who, from any cause, desired security from the interference of the outside world. Here, also, St. John the Baptist spent long years of solitary musing on the things of God, till his soul kindled into irresistible ardour, which drove him forth among men to plead with them to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. During the hot months it is a land of scorpions, lizards, and snakes, so that his experience readily supplied him with a comparison for his wicked contemporaries, whom he denounced as "a generation of vipers" (Matt 3:1,5-7; Luke 3:3,7). Wild bees make their combs in the hollows of the limestone rocks; the aromatic thymes, mints, and other labiate plants, sprinkled over the face of the wilderness, furnishing them with honey, which is more plentiful in the wilderness of Judæa than in any other part of Palestine. They thus provided for him a main article of his diet, while in one wady or another, or in some cleft, there was always water enough to quench his thirst. Locusts, the other article of his food, are never wanting in this region, and, indeed, are to this day eaten by the Arabs in the south-east of Judæa, the very district where John lived; by those of the Jordan valley; and by some tribes in Gilead.

Locusts multiply sometimes, as every one knows, into vast swarms, and betake themselves from the wilderness of Judæa to the cultivated parts of the country. Canon Tristram came on such an invading host at the banks of the Jordan, in 1865-6. "The swarms, then in a larva or wingless state," he tells us, "marched steadily up the trees which fringed the river, denuding them of every strip of foliage, and even of the tender bark, not sparing the resinous tamarisk. As they stripped the twigs they marched onwards, pushed by the hordes behind, and fell by myriads into the rapid stream, where they were at once eaten in thousands by the fish."* The Rev. Canon Holland also gives us a vivid description of a visitation of locusts which he encountered. "On April 5th, when we were encamped at the fort of Jebel Musa (Mount Sinai)," he says, "the locusts were first seen by us. A light breeze from the north-west was blowing, and they came up, in its face, from the south-east, flying steadily against it, many of them at a great height. They soon increased in number, and as their glazed wings glanced in the sun, they had the appearance of a snow-storm. Many settled on the ground, which was soon, in many places, quite yellow with them, and every blade of green soon disappeared. For two days the flight passed over our heads, undiminished in numbers. They did not appear to be able to fly much against the wind, their wings being blown across if they got their tail to leeward, and then they came spinning down to the ground; when they alighted they always faced the wind. On the third morning the flight had diminished much in numbers, but many were still passing over, and as we walked along clouds of them rose before us. They were difficult to catch, except in the early morning, when they seemed benumbed with cold, before the sun had risen. We found them all over the peninsula, wherever we went."

*Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 314.

"In vain," says the same writer, "The Arabs in charge of the convent gardens beat iron pans, and shouted, and brushed them away from the beds, with palm-leaves; they swarmed in, till every green thing was eaten."

In Palestine locusts, by means of their ovipositors, lay their eggs, before the rainy season begins, in holes and cracks of the earth; and these, if they have escaped their numerous enemies, are hatched in spring, to the number of one hundred or more for each mother-locust. In April and May the insects are as large as flies, and cover the earth with a black, moving mass of larvæ, such as Canon Tristram describes, even more hurtful than the full-grown insect. In two months they are four times as large as in May, and, having rapidly grown to the size of the common grasshopper, march on in a straight line, crawling at first, but afterwards leaping, as they get older; their path like the Garden of Eden before them, and behind them like a desolate wilderness (Joel 2:3). It is as if "a fire devoured" everything green as they advanced; and their track, when they have passed, is as if utterly burned up (Joel 2:3). Fields of standing wheat and barley, vineyards, mulberry orchards, groves of olive, fig, and other trees, are in a few hours stripped of every green blade and leaf, the very bark being often destroyed, so that, as Joel says, "the twigs are made white" (Deut 28:38,39,42; Psa 78:46; Joel 1:7). They cover the face of the ground, as of old, during the Plagues of Egypt, so that the earth is hidden by them (Exo 10:5), and, as Canon Holland says, they sweep on in such numbers that they take days to pass. In 1881 250 tons of locusts were destroyed by the English in Cyprus, each ton containing over 90,000,000 of these pests. When they fly, the light shines like a yellow haze through the swarm. Quiet at night, they weigh down the bushes and hedges till the sun revives them, and then they set forward again on their awful progress (Nahum 3:17). They have no king, as the Book of Proverbs tell us (Prov 30:27), "yet they go forth, all of them," as in an ordered march. Nothing turns them aside. As in the Egyptian plague, "they fill the houses" of rich and poor alike (Exo 10:6; Joel 2:9); "they run up any wall that opposes them, they climb up upon the houses, they enter in at the windows," so that in many cases, as at Nazareth in 1865, the inhabitants have to give up their dwellings to them. Impelled by blind instinct, they do not even seek to avoid any pool or stream in their path, but walk or leap steadily on, and are either entirely swept away or gradually form a bridge over which those behind may cross in safety. The dead bodies, in such cases, often cause a pestilence, as in the visitation mentioned in Joel (Joel 2:20).

When they have acquired wings, which they do in June, or the beginning of July,* they naturally betake themselves to the air, through which they pass like a cloud (Joel 2:5,10; Rev 9:9), with a noise which no one can forget who has once heard it (Joel 2:5).

* Wetzstein (Delitzsch, Hohl. u. Pred., p. 446) says that as a rule the locusts are seen creeping about in Syria in the middle of March, and develop so quickly that they begin to reproduce by the middle of April.

By the Mosaic Law locusts were reckoned "clean," so that St. John the Baptist, a strict Jew, could lawfully eat them. Winged creatures that go on four legs were forbidden, but the Hebrews might eat such as had two legs rising above the four feet, for the purpose of leaping. "Even these of them ye may eat, the locust after his kind, and the bald locust after his kind, and the chargol [another kind of locust] after his kind, and the grasshopper after his kind" (Lev 11:20,22). There are no fewer than nine words in the Bible for the locust in its different stages, or in its different varieties: some of these words, however, are incorrectly translated in our English version. Thus the "beetle" in Leviticus 11* is a kind of locust, and so is the "grasshopper" in the same verse. The "palmer-worm" (Joel 1:4, &c.) is, perhaps, the migratory locust in its larva state, and so, apparently, are the "cankerworm"** and the "caterpillar" (Psa 78:46).

* Leviticus 11:22. The word occurs only this once, and so also does "the bald locust" in this verse.

** Joel 1:4, &c. This is also translated "caterpillar" (Psa 105:34, &c.).

When these terrible destroyers visit a district, great fires are lighted to keep them from the fields or gardens; ditches are dug, into which they walk, and in which they can be destroyed; and birds follow and feed on them greedily. They are often finally banished, for the season, by a continuance of cold rainy weather, with moist air, which is fatal both to the eggs in the ground and to the insects in their various stages. The wind, also, is not unfrequently a deliverer. Flying swarms are powerless against it, becoming an image of helplessness used by the Psalmist when he says, "I am tossed up and down as the locust" (Psa 109:23). Hence they are often carried into the sea, or into rivers, as in the case of the locust plague on the Nile, or the visitation in Joel (Exo 10:19; Joel 2:20).

That David should have roamed as shepherd and outlaw over the region south of the Frank Mountain, led, in the age of the Crusades, to the belief that the Cave of Khureitun, in a wady about a mile south of the site of Herodium, was no other than the famous Cave of Adullam, which, however, as we have seen, has been discovered further to the west (see ante, p. 97). The ride to Khureitun carries us deeper into the utter barrenness of the wilderness of Judæa, unrelieved by a tree or a shrub; almost the only visible life being the few tufts of dwarf plants, with the thousands of white snails which feed on them. The whole country is found to be ploughed by the rains of millenniums into countless gorges running in all directions: occasionally mere precipitous gaps in the soft chalky marl; sometimes white valleys, divided from each other only by towering walls of rock; but altogether a bewildering labyrinth, across which no direct travel is possible.

Khureitun is said to have received its name from a hermit of the fourth century, St. Chariton, who took up his abode in this valley as an anchorite, in gratitude for his escape from robbers while travelling through it. It was a wild place in which to choose a home, but in those days of ascetic piety the more savage a locality the greater its attractions. Already, in the time of Christ, there were, perhaps, 4,000 such anchorites in Palestine, living in colonies, however; not alone. They had, perhaps, borrowed their idea of an isolated life, devoted to the strict observation of Rabbinical precepts, from the Therapeutæ of Egypt, although the East has always favoured such a form of religious zeal. We hear of one Judas who lived as a hermit somewhere in Judæa, about 110 years before Christ, and from his day they multiplied, till after the fall of Jerusalem they were to be found everywhere, but especially to the east.

With such modes of thought prevailing among numbers of the intensely religious, it is not to be wondered at that there were ascetics in the Christian Church from the first, or that it is related of St. James, the brother of our Lord, that throughout his life he followed the self-denying rules of the Nazarites. In the persecution under Decius—in the middle of the third century—multitudes fled to the deserts and mountains to escape the storm; imitating the example of St. John the Baptist and others of Christ's day, and adding seclusion from the world, for the purposes of religious meditation, to the mortified life then much in favour. Before long this new form of self-sacrifice became almost a craze, so that the deserts bordering on Egypt, and those in or near Palestine, abounded with hermits or monks; the hermits living each in a separate cell, and passing a solitary life; the monks, as members of a settlement who lived in common.* The caves which abound in Palestine were used in early ages as dwellings; some parts of the country, as we have seen, showing this rude mode of life even now. They were not, however, very largely employed for this purpose by the Jews, though a cave, used as a store-house or manger, was often connected with the dwelling. They were mostly reserved for tombs, as may be seen from the shelves for the dead hewn out in their sides. There was very little land that was not rocky; burial-grounds were unknown, and every one could so easily obtain some cave in which to lay his dead, that the cases of Rachel and Joseph are the only one in which we read of another form of sepulture. But this habit had in great measure ceased when the Jews were driven from their native land, and the caves, so far as shepherds had not appropriated them for folds, were free to hermits who might choose to make them a dreary home. Hence St. Chariton lived and died in the cave now long known by his name.

* Bingham, Christ. Ant, iii. 50.

The Wady Khureitun, though comparatively broad towards the north, soon shrinks into a narrow gorge, which might almost be called a fissure in the hills; its sides towering in precipices several hundred feet high. The layers of rock are perfectly level, and have been weathered and worn at the edges till a steep slope of fragments has covered up their face to a good height; their broad bands running along, above, like the walls of terraces. High up, on the southern side, stands a ruined tower, once square, and above and below it are the hovels of the village of Khureitun, which cling to a slope so steep and so entirely unprotected that it is a wonder any one can live there. That young children, at least, do not roll down the abyss at the very doors of the cabins, shows that they must be able to hold on like flies. The mouth of the cave is beyond the village, and considerably lower; the latter standing on the top of the cliff; the former opening from its face. There is no approach to the cave, except by a narrow ledge, from which you look down to the bottom of the gorge, far below; and to make matters worse a great rock, turned on edge, almost bars you from finally reaching it. This must be got over as it best can, and then, at last, a narrow, low, dark passage winds in tediously, with small caves on each side, till the great cave is reached.

You then find yourself in a huge cavern, deep in the hill, 120 feet long and forty feet wide, rising in great natural arches. Woe to the traveller who has not taken the precaution to bring lanterns to protect his lights, for the bats which make this dark vacuity their home, scared by the brightness, dash wildly hither and thither, in thousands, driving against your face, especially against the candles, if they are bare; in that case they are inevitably extinguished in a few moments. From the central cave numerous passages branch out in all directions, to be crossed, very soon, by others at right angles, the whole forming a labyrinth never hitherto fully explored. One of the galleries is 100 feet long, and all are about four feet high, and three feet wide—partly natural, partly artificial—and all on one level. There is, however, in some of the smaller caves, a sloping passage which leads to a series of chambers underneath. Niches are found in many of the inner caverns, and fragments of stone coffins, and funeral urns, show that they have been used as resting-places for the dead, as well as for cells of the living. The air is pure and good.

This vast system of caverns and passages was, doubtless, originally formed by water absorbing the carbonic acid gas in the limestone, and thus setting free the particles of the rock, so that the entire hill was gradually hollowed out into these strange natural excavations. They could never have been used by David and his men as their stronghold, if only on account of the dampness and the want of light. They swarm, moreover, with scorpions during the hot months; and as to bats, they seem the head-quarters of the tribe for this district.

The ruins of Tekoa lie two miles to the south-west, on the top of a hill, about 2,600 feet above the sea. Leaving the gorge of Khureitun, you gradually climb to the plateau of the wilderness, over which, by a track now rising, now sinking, Tekoa is easily reached. Its ruins, which cover the broad top of a gently-sloping hill over an area of four or five acres, consist chiefly of the foundations of houses, once of squared stones, some of them bevelled in the Jewish style. The wreck of a large square castle rises high above all; and there are also some remains of a Greek church, with several fragments of columns once supporting its roof, and, what is more touching, a baptismal font of rose-coloured limestone, which might easily be taken for marble. Numerous cisterns have been hewn out of the rock, and there is a running spring within a short distance.

This was the spot to which Joab sent for the "wise woman" who should inveigle David to recall his worthless son, Absalom (2 Sam 14:2; 2 Chron 11:6, 20:20; Amos 1:1; 1 Macc 9:33). An open village in these earlier days, it was afterwards fortified by Rehoboam, in his anxiety to keep at least the fragment of his father's empire still left him after the defection of the Ten Tribes; and here, in the closing years of the Northern Kingdom, was born the Prophet Amos. That he was a shepherd may be easily realised, for this district is now the territory of a tribe of Arabs whose flocks of sheep and goats are often driven over the seemingly bare hills around, and manage to pick herbage enough to keep them in good condition, though English sheep, I fear, would starve on such pasture. A belt of table-land surrounds Tekoa upon most sides, and is to some extent ploughed and sown; a few patches of grain reappearing each spring. It was to the wilderness stretching away to the west, or rather to the broad hollow lying below it, in that direction—the best pasture-ground near—that Jehoshaphat led forth his fighting men, headed by a chorus of Levites, and found his enemies fled, having quarrelled amongst themselves. It was hither, also, after the death of their magnificent brother Judas Maccabæus, that Jonathan, Simon, and John, fled from Bacchides, the Syrian general before whom Judas had fallen (BC 159). The unfortunate John, however, was taken prisoner, and all his band were carried off, by a force of Ammonites from Medeba,* across the Jordan. He had been sent by his brother to the south of the Dead Sea, to make friendly arrangements with the Nabathæns, when he and his company were thus cut off.

* This is Grimm's emendation, and it seems just.

But while Simon and Jonathan still lay round this very Tekoa, they had a romantic and terrible revenge. Word came to them that a grand marriage had been arranged between the Ammonite leader's daughter and some great man west of the Jordan, and that the bride was being led from Medeba, with a splendid retinue, befitting "the daughter of one of the great princes of Canaan." "Therefore they remembered John, their brother, and went up [from the valley] and hid themselves under cover of the mountains," to await their prey. And now, as "they lifted up their eyes, and looked, behold, there was much ado," and a long train of camels and other beasts, laden with all that would show the rank and wealth of the bride; "and the bridegroom came forth, and his friends and brethren, to meet them, with timbrels and instruments of music, and many weapons"; and no doubt they had a glad time, as the two parties saluted each other, and joined in one grand cavalcade, to lead the bride home. But meanwhile Jonathan lay in ambush near the path by which they were advancing, and when he had fairly caught them, he called up his men, and set on the procession so fiercely that "many fell down dead, and the rest fled into the mountain, and Jonathan took all their spoils." "Thus was the marriage turned into mourning, and the noise of their melody into lamentation" (1 Macc 9:35-41). The merry laughter, the clattering, humming timbrels, the marriage songs, the bridegroom and his well-horsed companions, full of life, and proud of themselves and of the bride, as they pace along under a sky unspecked by cloud; the coy delight of the bride and her maids that the hour and the man have at last arrived, and then, Fate, in the shape of Jonathan and his band, springing with wild cries from behind every rock, and death around instead of the hope that had danced before them—what a strange and tragic story!

The country between Tekoa, El-Fureidis, and Mar Saba, which is six or eight miles off to the north-east, towards the Dead Sea, is sacred to different encampments of Arabs, who pitch their tents as the wants of their flocks require. There are several of these encampments in the district, each with clearly-defined limits of territory, and all much alike. Twenty to thirty long black tents, open in front and sloping downwards at the back, are set up close together, each containing two apartments; the one for the woman and children, the other for the men. When you approach you find yourself announced by the loud voices of the hateful dogs, whose barking presently brings out young and old to see the stranger; the children in the most wretched pretence of dress, or without any at all. Now and then a full-armed sheikh on horseback is met, waking a disagreeable feeling as he passes, with his long spear, and his black eyes shining out from his dark face: as wild as Ishmael. North-east from El-Fureidis the country is less bare than to the east or south; sometimes, indeed, even pleasant to the eye. Fields here and there run down the slopes, and peasants are ploughing with oxen and asses. Flowers deck the sides of the path; grasshoppers and other insects chirp and leap or fly about. The grasshopper and locust tribes are among the few bright things one meets, for they are of all colours—scarlet, crimson, bright blue, dark blue, yellow, white, green, and brown, as they well may be if the Rabbis be correct in asserting that there are no fewer than 800 varieties of them. Where the hills permit a wide view, the landscape shows a varied outline, but in this part it is neither precipitous nor wild; the ridges stretching away in soft hues, and the valleys nowhere sinking to great depths. Trees are not to be seen.

The district as a whole between Mar Saba and Urtas is, however, very desolate, the first village seen from a distance being Tekoa, to the south. Three thousand years ago, the valleys and heights may have been more alive with population, but they cannot at any time have been thickly inhabited. Here, as elsewhere in this region, the son of Jesse, strong and brave, led his flocks in his youth. Lions came up to the hills from the "swellings of Jordan" (Jer 49:19, 50:44, 12:5; "Pride," in R.V.), that is, from the reeds and thickets of its lower course, as, indeed, they did till a few centuries ago; filling the wild gorges of the Kedron with their terrible roar. Perhaps it was among these very hills that there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb out of the flock, and the lad "went after him, and smote him, and delivered it out of his mouth"; and when the fierce creature rose against his assailant, he "caught him by his beard, and smote him, and slew him" (1 Sam 17:34 [R.V.]). Yonder, perhaps, on these bare slopes, David wandered before his sheep and goats, sleeping at night in some cave or under some rock, or even in the open, after gathering thorns and kindling a fire to keep off wild beasts; his drink, water from a cleft in the rocks, or from a small pool left in the torrent-bed; his food, some dried figs and bread, stowed in his scrip, or in the bosom of his tunic, the favourite pocket of the common people even now. Here, it may be, morning and night, as his charge came out of some cave used as a fold, or went into it, he made them pass one by one under his shepherd's staff, counting them, lest even one stray lamb should be wanting; and here, alone with his flock, the silent hills, the shining skies, his own soul, and God, he may often have taken up the harp he had invented, and composed to its notes some of those Psalms which have been the joy of a hundred generations, and are still so unspeakably dear to the heart (Lev 27:32; Jer 33:13; Isa 32:2; 1 Sam 16:18; Amos 6:5).

The way to Bethlehem led through Wady Urtas again, and gave another opportunity for seeing the great Pools, from the eastern side. Exquisitely green patches of wheat and barley were growing in the little valley below; their brightness specially attractive because of the desolation on both sides. It is, indeed, a strange characteristic of Palestine that utter barrenness and rich fertility are almost everywhere seen side by side; the limit of moisture drawing a sharp line between them. I noticed overflow ducts in the top of the pool, and conduits to lead off the water, when there was too much. That on the north side, next the old castle, in which the spring was flowing, was of old red pottery pipe, half an inch thick, lying in a square frame of stonework covered with small flat slabs, some of which, as I have said, were missing.

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