by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books

 

Chapter 26 | Contents | Chapter 28


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 27—STILL ROUND JERUSALEM
The "Potters' Gate"—Pottery in the East; Scripture Allusions to itThe Wall of Jerusalem near St. Stephen's GateTombs of the KingsTombs of the JudgesDefilement from SepulchresThe Climate of Jerusalem; The Seasons in PalestineThe Desert Storm-Wind

 

As I returned from Bethany I left the mountain road at this point and guided my beast down the steep bridle path that leads to the village of Siloam, reaching the valley at the north end of it, after a descent in some parts steep and unpleasant. The position of the Potters' Gate, to which Jeremiah "went down" from his house on Mount Zion (Jer 18:2, 19:1), and saw "the vessel marred in the hand of the potter," and where, after this, he bought a potter's earthen bottle, has been thought by some to have been over against Siloam, the water of which was favourable to the trades of potters, tanners, and fullers, and has attracted them to this spot in almost all ages. In our version, the gate is called the "eastern," but it ought to be "the potsherd" or "Potters' Gate." There appears, however, to have once been a gate at the south-west of the city, near the Sultan's Pool, and it is striking to find that the heaps of rubbish in that part, below the walls, consist largely of fragments of very ancient pottery, as if thrown out in early ages at the gate where the potters had their works.

It is very interesting to watch the art of these clever craftsmen in any of the cities of the East. I have stood beside them in Asia Minor, in Cairo, and in different towns of Palestine, and have never wearied of noticing the illustrations of Scripture metaphors and language they unconsciously supplied. Nothing could be more rude than their workshops: indeed, no stable in England is half so wretched as some of them. A coarse wooden bench, behind which the potter sits at his wheel—a thick disc of wood, from the centre of which stands up an axle, surmounted by another small disc; both turning horizontally when the lower one is put into swift revolution by the foot. On the upper wooden circle he throws down from a heap lying on his bench a lump of clay duly softened beforehand; the circle is made to spin round; he shapes the clay into a low sugarloaf cone with both hands, makes a hole in the top of the whirling mass with his thumb, and opens it till he can put his left hand inside; sprinkles it, as needed, with water, from a vessel beside him; a small piece of wood in his right hand smoothing the outside as it turns, while the other hand smooths and shapes the inside: both hands assisting to give whatever shape is desired to the whole. One is reminded of the words of Jeremiah, as he looks on, "O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as the potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hands, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel" (Jer 18:6). Often, from some defect in the lump, or from some misadventure, there is a failure: the clay has been made too thin, or there is some other fault. The vessel is then abruptly marred, by squeezing the mass together again into a cone; and beginning afresh, the potter makes it, perhaps, into something quite different. So it was in the case of the prophet. "The vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it" (Jer 18:4). It is to this that Isaiah also refers, when he asks, "Shall the clay say to him that fashioneth it, What makest thou? or thy work, He hath no hands?" (Isa 45:9, 29:16). So, also, St. Paul demands, "Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?" (Rom 9:20,21).

The pottery of the East, as I have before remarked, is amazingly brittle, even when the vessel is large and seems strong. None of it is now glazed, for the art of glazing appears to be lost among Eastern potters, and this may increase its fragility. No one who has speculated in delicate cups or bottles, or small jars of red or black clay, at any great pottery centre in Syria or Palestine, can have failed to realise how readily it goes to pieces. I have before remarked that a momentary forgetfulness in putting it down too quickly, frequently causes "the pitcher to be broken at the fountain" (Eccl 12:6), so that the poor peasant girl who came to draw water has to go disconsolate home, without her supply. There is much greater force, therefore, in Isaiah's words than there would be if Eastern pottery were as strong as ours, when he threatens Judah that God "shall break it as the breaking of the potter's vessel that is broken in pieces: He shall not spare, so that there shall not be found in the bursting of it a sherd to take fire from the hearth, or to take water withal out of the pit" (Isa 30:14). Even the largest jar is shivered by a comparatively slight blow, and hence, when destruction is intentional, the ruin is very complete. The image of the Psalmist is thus very terrible when he says that the Lord will "dash his enemies in pieces like a potter's vessel" (Psa 2:9).

An Oriental can realise this as we cannot. The ground about ancient Memphis, as I have said, is largely composed of bits of pottery, and the quantity round some of the ruined cities of Bashan is equally wonderful. It might be raked out in heaps from many of the mounds in different parts of the country on which towns or villages formerly stood. Wherever deep excavations are made round any city, the wreck of its past is found to consist, in great part, of broken pottery. Still, when accident has caused the breaking of a large vessel, there are naturally some fragments comparatively large, and these are still of some use. A hollow piece serves as a cup in which to lift water from the spring, either to drink or to fill a jar. But Judah is to be destroyed so utterly that it will be like the wreck of a potter's vessel, of which no sherd is left for the humble use. Nothing is more common, moreover, than for neighbours to borrow a few lighted coals in a hollow potsherd from each other, to kindle their fire, or for a poor man to come, in the evening, to the baker's oven with his lowly fire-pan and get from it a few glowing embers, to boil his tin of coffee, or heat his simple food. But Judah would perish so completely that it would be like the shivered atoms of a vessel no piece of which could "take fire from the hearth." Jeremiah's symbolical acts, however, gain still another illustration from Eastern habits. He was commanded "to go forth into the Valley of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potters' Gate," and break the bottle in the sight of the men that went with him, and say, "Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter's vessel, that cannot be made whole again" (Jer 19:2,10,11). The unchanging East would understand this to-day as vividly as in the time of the prophet, for it is still the custom to dash down a piece of pottery when one desires to show the ruin he wishes to overtake the object of his fierce anger. Running up to him, he hurls it to the ground, as a scenic imprecation of like ruin on him and his.

The ride up the slope of Moriah, over the hundred feet of rubbish under which the natural rock is buried, is by a bridle path, in places uncomfortably steep, but you get to the top at last, near the south-east corner of the Temple area. Riding slowly along to St. Stephen's Gate, one is greatly impressed by the size of the stones and the strength of the wall. It is from ten to fifteen feet thick, and about forty feet high at this place, though, at others, where the rock is high, it is only twenty-five feet above it. This eastern side is especially venerable; rows of immense stones, beautifully cut and set, running along a short distance above the ground, and, of course, for a great depth below it. The effect of the walls altogether, as they now stand, is very picturesque. To form a conception of the appearance of Jerusalem, seen from without, one has to imagine a circuit of nearly two and a half miles of fortifications, yellow with age, and looking stronger, perhaps, than in a military sense they really are; their outline broken by salient angles and square towers, surmounted by battlements and pierced with loopholes.

North of the city are some grand old tombs, which interested me greatly. The most famous of these, known popularly as the Tombs of the Kings, lie about half a mile straight north from the Damascus Gate, past the great northern olive-grove, a few yards east of the road to Nablus, the ancient Shechem. The rocks in the valley leading to them are full of ordinary sepulchres. A slope, thirty-two feet wide, cut in the solid rock, leads down eighteen feet to a great court, also hewn out of the rock to the size of more than ninety feet long and nearly ninety feet broad (92 2/3 by 87, Robinson's measurement). Originally, the floor of this great excavation must have been considerably lower, as there is a deep bed of rubbish over it. The sides are perpendicular, and hewn smooth. Before reaching the incline, however, to enter this great open hall, as I may call it, you go down a flight of broad, high steps, cut in the rock, and pass across a large, square ante-chamber, between which and the great hall below, the rock has been left four and a half feet thick, to serve as a wall, where not cut away to allow of the incline. As you turn to the west, the portico of the tombs faces you—a chamber thirty-nine feet long, seventeen wide, and fifteen high, with a richly ornamented front, once adorned with four pillars, two of which are gone, while the other two are broken down. The rock above is beautifully sculptured in the later Roman style, with wreaths, fruit, and foliage, which extend across the whole breadth, and hang down the sides.

The entrance to the tombs is on the south side of this portico, and was intensely interesting from the fact that beside the entrance stood a great round stone, which was intended to be rolled forward, as a door, to close it; such a stone as might have been "rolled away from the door of the sepulchre" (Mark 16:3). Lighting candles, and going inside, we found that one chamber led to another—four in all, each branching off into numerous tombs, so that there is space, in the whole, for a large number of burials; the excavations extending about seventy-five feet from north to south, and fifty from east to west, all in the depth of the hill and independent of the great outer courts. Mr. Fergusson* thinks that this wonderful mausoleum was that of Herod the Great, contrary to the generally accepted belief that he was buried at the Frank Mountain; but it seems more probable that it is the tomb of Queen Helena of Adiabene, which, according to Josephus, was situated here. Having embraced Judaism in her own country, a province of what had been the original kingdom of Assyria, she came to Jerusalem in AD 48, with her son Izates, after the death of her husband. Ultimately returning home, her body was brought back to Jerusalem for burial. The fact that Izates had twenty-four sons perhaps accounts for the extent of the tomb.

* Dict. of the Bible: art. "Tombs."

About a mile to the north-west of this wonderful burial-place are the traditional Tombs of the Judges, the true history of which is quite unknown: the name having been given, apparently, from the fact that the number of receptacles for bodies corresponds roughly with the reputed number of those composing the so-called Great Synagogue, which is said to have consisted of seventy members, though its ever having existed at all is now called in question. The tombs have at least an historical value, besides being interesting in themselves, as showing the wealth and prosperity of Jerusalem before it finally rose against Rome. As in the tomb of Helena, there is a portico in front of them, but the ornamentation is quite different. From this porch a door opens into a chamber about twenty feet long and eight high, cut in the rock; its sides hewn into receptacles for the dead, one over the other, while side openings lead to other chambers, the walls of which are hollowed into narrow, deep recesses, into which bodies could be thrust, with the feet pointing, from all sides, to the central open space. There are three entrances, all from the west, to three different tombs, which, in all, provide places for about sixty corpses.

Another striking tomb lies in the rocks east of the Nablus road, some distance from the Tombs of the Judges, which, by the way, are called by the Jews "The Tomb of the Seventy," for the reason mentioned in the previous paragraph. This other tomb is held in still greater honour as the traditional resting-place of Simon the Just, one of the most famous successors of Ezra, and high priest for forty years; a greatly venerated Jewish worthy, whose praise is the subject of a beautiful passage of Jesus the son of Sirach: "Simon, the high priest, the son of Onias, in his life fortified the house of the Lord, and in his days repaired the Temple. By him was the foundation wall of the Temple raised to double its former height, and the lofty rampart of the wall restored round it. In his days the cistern was hewn out, which in its size was like the brazen sea. He cared for the people, to keep them from calamity, and fortified the city with a wall.

"How gloriously did he shine forth when the people were round him, when he came forth from behind the curtain of the Holy of Holies! He was like the morning star shining through the clouds; like the moon at the full! As the sun shies back from the Temple of the Most High, as the glorious rainbow shines between the showers! As the blooming rose in the days of spring, as lilies beside the springs of water, as the branches of the frankincense tree in the days of summer, as glowing incense in the censer, as a vessel of beaten gold, set with all manner of precious stones, as a fair olive-tree budding forth fruit, and as a cypress-tree growing up even to the clouds!"*

* Ecclus 1:1-10. The English version is amended in this quotation.

The tomb is cut into the rock, but a wall has been built in recent times across the entrance to the porch, an iron door, however, with a small barred window at the side of it, giving access. The front of the tomb is carefully whitewashed, just as, in old times, the sepulchres were "whited" (Matt 23:27), to prevent passers-by coming near them and being defiled. Any one who was thus rendered unclean had to remain so for seven days, and had to go through a tedious and expensive purification, while, if it happened as he was going up to a feast, it disqualified him from taking part in it (Num 19:11). Nor was this all: to refuse to purify oneself was followed by being "cut off from Israel." The Jews with their children visit this reputed tomb of Simon on the thirty-third day after the Passover—a day sacred to his memory, and when inside, light wicks which float in a basin of oil in honour of him. Charity is dispensed by them on this occasion in a strange way. Many cut or shave off part of their hair and of that of their children, or even the whole of it, and give away as much silver as the hair weighs! The origin of this strange custom I do not know, but it is always connected with a vow. Like everything Jewish, it is very ancient, since Paul is mentioned as "having shorn his head in Cenchrea: for he had made a vow" (Acts 18:18); and the four men in Jerusalem mentioned in the Acts as having a vow were required, as part of it, to shave their heads (Acts 21:23,24). Perhaps the practice arose from some association with the vow of the Nazarites, who were required to shave their heads if they came near a dead body (Num 6:6,9,18). This would account for the usage in those who visit the tomb of Simon, but, of course, it does not explain it in the cases quoted in the Acts.

Lying 2,500 feet above the sea, Jerusalem has a climate in some respects very different from what might be expected so far to the south, but characteristic, more or less, of the whole of the ancient territory of Israel west of the Jordan, from the fact that it, too, lay high above the sea-level.

Rain is mentioned in the Old Testament more than ninety times, but incidental notices show that the seasons in their vicissitudes of moisture and dryness have been the same in all ages. It is still as rare as in the days of Samuel that there should be thunder and rain in the wheat harvest, and the occurrence would be as disturbing to the minds of the peasants now as when the great prophet foretold it (1 Sam 12:18). It would, moreover, be as appalling a calamity in our day as it was in that of Ahab, that there should be no dew nor rain during three years and a half (1 Kings 17:1; James 5:17). Great storms of wind and rain, like that through which Elijah ran before the chariot of the king to Jezreel (1 Kings 18:45,46), still burst on the land in the rainy season, and those who have then to be abroad may sometimes be seen, in their cotton clothes, "trembling for the great rain" like the people gathered to hear the law in the days of Ezra (Ezra 10:9).

One half of the year, in Palestine, is well-nigh cloudless sunshine; the other half is more or less rainy; the result of observations continued for twenty-two years* showing that the average number of days on which rain falls in the moist season is 188; or, roughly speaking, half of the 365 days of the whole year. In some years, however, wet days may be comparatively few, while in others there may be even a hundred more than this minimum. It does not rain every day for any length of time, in any part of the year, intervals of fine weather occurring, with rare exceptions, after a day or two of moisture. Whole weeks, indeed, may pass without a shower at the time when rains are most expected, and these bright days or weeks, in winter and early spring, are among the most delightful in the year. There are, nevertheless, continuous periods of rain, but they seldom last more than seven or eight days, though in rare cases it rains and snows for thirteen or fourteen days together. The rainy season, as I have had occasion to say elsewhere, divides itself into three stages: first, the early rain, which moistens the land after the heat of summer, and fits it for ploughing and sowing; then, the abundant winter rains, which soak the ground, fill the pools and cisterns, and replenish the springs; and last of all, the latter, or spring rain, which swells the growing ears, and pours a supply of moisture down to their roots, enabling them to withstand the dry heat of summer. Between each of these rains, however, there is a bright and joyful interval, often of considerable length, so that in some years one may travel over all the land in February or March without suspecting that the latter rains have yet to fall.

* Pal. Explor. Fund Report, 1883, p. 8 ff.

Snow covers the streets of Jerusalem two winters in three, but it generally comes in small quantities, and soon disappears. Yet there are sometimes very snowy winters. That of 1879, for example, left behind it seventeen inches of snow, even where there was no drift, and the strange spectacle of snow lying unmelted for two or three weeks was seen in the hollows on the hillsides. Thousands of years have wrought no change in this aspect of the winter months, for Benaiah, one of David's mighty men, "slew a lion in the midst of a pit, in the time of snow" (2 Sam 23:20); and it is noted in Proverbs as one of the virtues of the good wife that "she is not afraid of snow" (31:21).

The time of the beginning of the autumn or winter rains is very uncertain, October, in some years, being more or less rainy, while in others no rain falls till November. The time of the cessation of the spring or "latter" rains is equally doubtful: varying, in different seasons, from the end of April to the end of May. There is sometimes, moreover, an interval of several weeks, occasionally as many as five, between the first rains of October and the heavy winter rains in December; a passing shower or two in the long succession of bright days alone asserting the rights of the season. So, also, the latter rains sometimes virtually end in the middle of April, with perhaps only three or four rainy days for a month or more afterwards, when the last grateful spring shower makes way for the waterless months of summer. The harvest, of course, depends entirely on the rainfall; but, while too little moisture is fatal, too much is almost as hurtful. The peasant looks forward with most confidence to abundant crops when plentiful winter showers fall on a large number of days, without any long break of fine weather, and when there is a copious fall of rain in spring.

The lowest temperature noticed in Jerusalem during twenty-one years was on the 20th of January, 1864, when the mercury sank seven degrees below freezing, but it occasionally reaches the freezing point in February and October also, and once it did so even in April. You may count on five or six frosty nights in the course of a winter, but the sun melts the thin ice before noon, except in places out of its reach, though on the open hills the temperature must necessarily be lower than in the city. The heat of a brazier is hence often very agreeable during the months in which, after the heat of a Palestine summer, the register thus drops once and again to the verge of freezing, and for days together the air is most disagreeably cold. It was in such biting weather that Jehoaikim sat in the winter house—that part of the Palace of David on Zion which faced south—in the ninth, or cold month, Kislew (corresponding near to our December), glad of the heat of a charcoal fire in a brazier in the middle of the chamber, the windows of which, it must be remembered, had no glass—when he cut up the roll of Jeremiah's prophecy with the scribe's knife, and burnt it (Jer 36:22,23). It was in this cold month, also, that the people sat trembling for cold in the great rain, when gathered at the summons of Ezra (10:9); and it was in the next or tenth moth—our January—that Esther was first brought before King Ahasuerus, both of them, no doubt, arrayed in the richest winter costume of Persia (Esth 2:16).

The wind plays a great part in the comfort of the population in Palestine, and in the returns of the soil, for the north wind is cold, the south warm, the east dry, and the west moist. Winds, lighter or stronger, from some point of the north seem to be the most common, for they blow, perhaps only in a zephyr, on almost half the days of the year (182 days): creating the cold in winter, but in summer bringing chills which are much dreaded by the lightly dressed natives, especially those of the maritime plain, as producing sore throats, fevers, and dysenteries. "Cold cometh out of the north" (Job 37:9); but so does "fair weather" (Job 37:22), for "the north wind driveth away rain" (Prov 25:23): a characteristic recognised in its native name, "the heavenly," apparently from the glorious blue sky which marks it.

A few calm days in summer, with no wind, is sufficient to make the heat very unpleasant in Jerusalem. The air becomes dry, and almost as destitute of ozone as a sirocco. A delightful mitigation of this state of things is usually found, however, in a strong west wind from the sea, blowing over the city in the afternoon. The Hebrews distinguished winds only as blowing from the four cardinal points, and hence when we read, "Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south, and blow upon my garden" (Song 4:16), the north-west or south-west wind is meant, since it rarely blows directly from the north or the south. This wind, from some point of the west, is felt at Joppa as early as nine or ten in the morning, but, as becomes the East, it travels leisurely, reaching Jerusalem, generally, only about two or three in the afternoon; sometimes, indeed, not till much later. Subsiding after sunset, it soon rises again, and continues for most of the night, bathing and renewing the parched face of nature with the refreshing vapours it has brought from the ocean, and constituting "the dew" of the sacred writings. Should it not reach the hills, as sometimes happens, Jerusalem suffers greatly, but near the sea its moist coolness is a daily visitor. When the weather is very hot on the hills, and this relief fails, the languor and oppression become almost insupportable.

Easterly winds are common all round the year, but are especially frequent in the latter half of May and of October, and most unusual in summer. Dry, stimulating, and very agreeable, during the cold months, if not too strong, they are dreaded in the hot months from their suffocating heat and dryness, and from the haze and sand which at times come with them. In the summer they are known as the sirocco (lit. "south-east wind"), which, when intense, is a veritable calamity. It dries the throat, bringing on catarrh and bronchial affections; while its lack of ozone makes one unwilling to work with either mind or body; it creates violent headache and oppression of the chest, causes general restlessness and depression of spirits, sleepless nights or bad dreams, thirst, quickened pulse, burning heat in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, and sometimes even fever. Such effects are vividly painted in the story of Jonah, whose spirit this overpowering wind so utterly broke for the time that he thought it better to die than to live (Jonah 4:8). Man and beast alike feel weak and sick while it blows. Furniture dries and cracks, paper curls up, vegetation withers. Though it is usually gentle, it at times comes in fierce storms, laden with the fine sand of the eastern or south-eastern desert and waterless regions over which it has passed; blinding and paining those who encounter it, and raising the temperature to over 100o Fahrenheit, so that it burns the skin like the dry air of an oven. I myself have felt it painfully oppressive, although I never had to endure its more severe effects. In a violent sirocco the sky is veiled in yellow obscurity, through which the sun, shorn of its beams, looks like a smoking ball of fire, while dancing pillars of sand raised by whirlwinds, and looking from afar like pillars of smoke, often mark it, and threaten at times to overwhelm both man and beast. The terrible imagery of the prophet Joel presents these phenomena heightened to suit the great crisis he foretells, for the heavens in such a storm seem to show "blood and fire and pillars of smoke" (Joel 2:30; Acts 2:19). How the east wind dries up the springs and fountains; how it withers the flowers, and turns the tinder-like leaves to dust, so that they disappear; how it destroys the bloom of nature as with a fiery stream, and takes away the hope of harvest when it sweeps over a field before the time of ripening; how it scorches the vineyard, and shrivels the grape in the cluster; and how, after it has passed away, the dew and rain, at times, refresh and revivify the thirsty earth, is painted by the Hebrew poets and prophets with the force of personal observation (Gen 41:6-23; Psa 103:16; Job 27:21; Isa 40:7, 27:8; Eze 17:10, 19:12; Hosea 13:15; Eccl 43:21).

In this storm-wind of the desert, Israel beheld an illustration of the awful power of Jehovah (Isa 40:7; Hosea 13:15), and thought of it as the very "breath" of His anger. Its swift and utter withering of grass and flowers, so that they disappear before it like the stubble it burns up (Isa 40:7; Psa 103:16; Job 21:18; Jer 13:24), is constantly used by the sacred writers to illustrate the sudden disappearance of man from his wonted place, when he dies. Recognising in the sirocco the most irresistible force of the air in motion, the Israelite, moreover, gave the name to any violent wind, from whatever quarter. Thus, speaking of the great ships which of old made a port of Eziongeber, at the head of the gulf of Akaba (1 Kings 22:48,49), the Psalmist says, "Thou breakest the ships of Tarshish with an east wind" (Psa 48:7)—though the storms that wreck shipping there come from the north. In the same way, the wind which blows back the Red Sea at Suez is from the north, but is called an east or sirocco wind in Exodus (14:21). It is striking to notice, from the various metaphorical uses of the phenomena of this terrible wind, how closely the sacred writers watched nature, and studied its moral analogies. In Job passionate violence of speech is compared to a man filled with the east wind (15:2). Ephraim is said to "feed on wind and follow after the east wind" (Hosea 12:1), in reference to the lying and deceit of her relations with Egypt and Assyria; seeking advantages from them which, on the one hand, would be empty as the wind, and, on the other, would be as impossible to secure as it would be to follow and overtake the swiftly passing gusts of the sirocco.

As I have said, the east wind is rare in summer, seldom blowing more than two or three days in a month, but it is much more frequent in winter, and then, strangely, brings with it cold so penetrating that the thinly dressed natives sometimes die from its effects. It is frequent also in spring, shrivelling up the young vegetation if it be long continued, and thus destroying the hope of a good year. The whirlwinds which sometimes accompany a sirocco seem to rise from the encounter of the east wind with an air-current from the west, and often scatter the grain lying in summer on the threshing-floor or in the swathe, unless it be kept down by stones.

October, November, and nearly the whole of December, are very mild and agreeable in Palestine, and any rain falling in these months revives the soil, after the scorching of the summer heat, and refreshes man and beast, creating, in fact, a temporary spring. The weather begins to be unpleasant about the end of December, but the winter, with its cold, storms, rain, and snow, only commences in January, continuing, with fine days interspersed, till February, when bright weather becomes more frequent, and sometimes lasts for weeks. About the end of the month, however, a second winter begins, with heavy rains, the cold and stormy days and nights being keenly felt by the population, since their houses give little protection against such an evil. For old people, especially, this after-winter is particularly dangerous, the rough weather that has preceded having already lessened their powers of resistance. It lasts, generally, about a week—from the 25th of February to the 3rd of March—and this interval is called in Syria and Palestine "the death-days of old folks." It closes the season in which the over-ripe fruit is shaken from the tree of life, a time lasting in all, one may say, from thirty-five to forty days. During these the almond-tree blossoms and the grasshopper creeps out, thus apparently giving us the correct translation of the words in our version, "The almond-tree shall flourish and the grasshopper shall be a burden" (Eccl 12:5).* The blossoming of the almond, however, may not only be taken as marking the days most fatal to old age, but as itself a beautiful emblem of the end of life, for the white flowers completely cover the tree, at the foot of which they presently fall like a shower of snow.

* Wetzstein gives multiplied proofs of the time at which the almond blossoms and the grasshopper appear: Delitzsch's Koheleth, p. 446.

Chapter 26 | Contents | Chapter 28

 

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