by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 33 | Contents | Chapter 35

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


El Tell: the Site of Ai—The Pass of BethhoronThe Valley of AjalonThe Defeat and Pursuit of the AmoritesThe Bethel of To-day—Bethel and Shechem as Holy PlacesStriking TentThe Tent-Life of the HebrewsVillage Life now and in Christ's DayTravelling Expenses in PalestineAin HaramiyehTraces of the Crusaders—The ScarabæusSeilun (Shiloh)The National Sanctuary of Israel—A Parallel with Roman HistoryThe Prevalence of Ophthalmia

The ride from Michmash to Bethel was, as usual, only to be done at a slow walk, the horses picking their steps, at one time over smooth sheets of rock, at another over heaps of boulders; now up a steep rough hill; then down its farther side, with the occasional delight of level ground in the stony bottom of a valley. I bade farewell to the village with regret, for it had for the moment lighted up long-dead centuries, from the days of Joshua to those of the Maccabees—one of whom, Jonathan, had his home in it for years (1 Macc. ix. 73). The track lay nearly north. We followed the old Roman road, now traceable only here and there, and presently skirted an isolated hill, two miles from Bethel, which lay north-west from us. The broad, flat top was surmounted by a great mound, such as might mark the ruins of some ancient fortress. It was the site of Ai (Josh 7:2ff), "The Heap," now called "El Tell," which has the same meaning; the huge mound being the cairn raised over the burnt and desolate city by Joshua. The capture of this stronghold by that chieftain was the turning-point in the Hebrew invasion. Jericho having fallen, the way was opened for the conquest of the mountain country above it. Spies were accordingly sent up the Wadys Kelt and Suweinit—which are dry in the hot summer weather—past Michmash, to Ai, and on receiving their report a strong force climbed the same defile, with its towering crags and rough footing. But, just as the first attempt of the Israelites forty years before at Hormah, on the southern side of the country, to force their way through opposition, had been disastrously repulsed, so here at Ai a strong position enabled the inhabitants to repel the invasion of Joshua, and to hurl his force back "from before the gate," in sad confusion, many of his men being killed by their pursuers as they fled down the steep wadys by which they had ascended. Achan's death in the valley of Achor—that part of the Wady Kelt where it opens on the plains of the Jordan—followed, and then came the second attempt. They felt that they must not fail again, and be sent back once more for forty years to the Wilderness, as after Hormah. An ambush was laid by night in the valley between Ai and Bethel, on the north, while Joshua drew up the rest of his men, in sight of the town, on the north side of the ravine of Deir Diwan. From this, however, they presently descended into the flat bottom of the wady, as if from faintheartedness they proposed once more to retreat. Deceived by the stratagem, the King of Ai left his stronghold and rushed down to destroy his enemies as they fled to Michmash, but when he was fairly out of the fortress, and away far down the slopes, Joshua, who had remained behind on some eminence where his men in ambush could see him, gave the signal by uplifting his spear, and forthwith the city was taken by a rush, and set on fire; the pillars of smoke serving to stay the pretended flight down the pass, and place the men of Ai between the forces in rear and in front; every man of them perishing in the massacre that followed.

The rout of the Philistines at Michmash after the great deed of Jonathan and his armour-bearer was followed by a heady flight up the very track by which we had come—that of the first invaders—past Bethel, through the wood, now long vanished, where Jonathan, almost spent, rekindled his spirit with the wild honey dropping from the trees to the ground (1 Sam 14:25,26). Thence the rush of men swept on across the plain from which rises Gibeon, and away down the pass of Bethhoron, to the wide corn-land of Ajalon, the gate to their own land—the maritime plain.

The Pass of Bethhoron, that is, "The House of Caves," has a famous history in the wars of Israel. Beginning about twelve miles south-west from Bethel, it runs slightly north-west, for nearly two miles, down towards the plains, opening at the foot of the hills on the broad expanse of Ajalon, whence the lowlands can be easily reached. There is another pass up the hills from the sea-coast, beginning at Latron, about fifteen miles east of Jerusalem. Latron lies eight hundred feet above the sea, and was once the seat of a crusading fortress, known as "The Castle of the Penitent Thief";* and the track winds up towards the Holy City between rounded hills and deep open valleys. But in ancient times that of Bethhoron was most in use. The wadys which run down from the mountains to the sea in the west are very different from those on the other side of the country, which lead from the high lands to the Jordan. Rounded hills and an open landscape take the place of the tremendous gorges of the eastern slope; but though there are these differences, the fact that travel is pent up in one narrow hollow, on the west as well as on the east, has in all ages made both sides almost equally perilous in a military sense. A broad, undulating expanse of corn-growing land forms the valley of "Ajalon," or the "Gazelles," still recognised in the name of one of its villages, "Talo." In those old days-the country seems to have abounded in game, for not only "gazelles," but their natural enemies as well, must have been numerous, since this locality had villages known, respectively, as Shaal-bim, "Foxes" or "Jackals," and Zeboim, "Hyaenas." Rising gradually, in slow ridges, from an elevation of about nine hundred feet above the sea, this charming open landscape climbs nearly four hundred feet higher, through a steadily narrowing valley to the lower Bethhoron. This lies more than seven hundred feet below Upper Bethhoron, two miles off, at the head of the ravine. There is no gorge or dark glen, with high walls of rock; rounded hills, bulging up like huge bubbles, with side valleys between, line the track, presenting little difficulty of ascent at hardly any point. The lower village stands on a swell, almost at the foot of the mountains; a path, thick with stones, leading past it, across some level ground, to the foot of the pass. From this point the ascent is very rough; at times over wide sheets of bare rocks; at others up steps rudely hacked out of the rock. It takes an hour to get to the upper village, and, by such a road, one feels that the ascent of an invader, in the face of brave resistance, would be as arduous as flight downwards from the mountains, before victorious pursuers, would be hopelessly disastrous.

* Castellum Boni Latronis.
In all ages the two Bethhorons seem to have been strongly fortified; remains of a castle still crown the hill at the lower village;* the foundations of some post mark the middle of the ascent, and other ruins guard the top. Looking down from the upper village, one sees the track first winding down the hill as an open path, then round the side of the swell below, with a gentle slope above and beneath; and only after leaving a broad open valley, dotted with olives, below this, does it enter on its course towards the sea, twisting hither and thither, like a stream, till the last bend of the hills conceals its entrance on the wide expanse of Ajalon. Beyond these hills, however, the eye ranges over the plains and the belt of yellow barren sand at the shore, to the deep blue sea, reaching inimitably away. Behind, between the top of the pass and Gibeon, lies a country almost as difficult: wild and rocky mountains, where the paths are scarcely worthy of the name, and cannot be threaded without a guide.
* Nether Bethhorou was fortified by Solomon (1 Kings 9:17).
It was across this track, and through Bethhoron, that the defeated alliance of the chiefs of Southern Palestine fled before Joshua, in his next great battle after the taking of Ai. He had marched to Ebal and Gerizim after that town had been destroyed, the headquarters of the Hebrews still remaining, however, at Gilgal in the Jordan plain. There two deputations, in succession, came to him from Gibeon; the first overreaching him into an alliance with them; the second announcing that a great league of the kings of the Negeb and the sea plains were assailing their town for having made peace with the Hebrews. An appeal for instant aid was urged and at once heard (Josh 10). The peril, indeed, was quite as great for the invaders as for the people of Gibeon. Joshua had the fine military virtue of swift as well as wise decision, supported by splendid energy. A forced march up the Wady Kelt, with its grey, mountain-high cliffs, through the Wady Suweinit, past Geba and Ramah, brought him in one night to the more open but still mountainous track in which Gibeon stood, perched on its lofty hill, more than 2,500 feet above the sea, and some hundreds of feet above the surrounding country. The sudden appearance of his force at sunrise, where the night before all had been security, with no dream of this counter-attack, at once threw the "Amorite" host into the wild panic of a surprise. The remembrance of Jericho and Ai, with the exterminating massacres that followed; the ominous vigour which had made this surprise possible; the haughty bearing of a force confident of victory, and, withal, the terrible shout with which it rushed to battle, at once decided the day. "Not a man could stand before" the Hebrews, still in the full flood of their first enthusiasm and spirit. Through the defiles leading westward; up the steep ascent to Bethhoron the higher; then down the back of the ridge to Bethhoron the lower, the flight was ever faster and more confused. To add to the misery of the rout, one of the terrible storms that from time to time sweep over the hills of Palestine burst on the dismayed fugitives; great hailstones smiting them as they fled down the pass (Josh 10:11).

Meanwhile, Joshua had taken his stand at the head of the pass, with its long windings between the rounded hills beneath him; the broad, heaving plain of Ajalon beyond its southern end, and the blue waters of the sea apparently close behind, telling of the nearness of safety from further pursuit. Lofty bills concealed Gibeon, at his back, but the sun was still high above them (Josh 10:13) on its course to the west, and the pale disc of the moon, then in its third quarter,* showed white and faint through the hailstorm. Darkness, it was to be feared, would come all too soon and stop the pursuit; the foe would escape to the lowlands, and the victory come short of being decisive and final. It was felt by Joshua, above all in his host, to be a supreme moment in the story of Israel, and, as a quotation in Scripture from an ancient record of the heroic deeds of the Tribes—the Book of Jasher—informs us, the excitement found utterance with him, as it always does with men of such puritan spirit, in an appeal to God. "Sun," cried he, doubtless lifting up his hand to the great orb, "stand thou still upon Gibeon, and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ajalon." "And the sun stood still and the moon stayed, until the people had avenged themselves upon their enemies."

* Conder, Pal. Fund Reports, 1881, 258.
From Ai the way to Bethel is over stony hills. Bethel itself is one of the most desolate-looking places I ever saw. Long round hills of bare grey stone, russet spots of thorns and coarse herbage rising in their cracks, and poor specks of ploughing among the stones, where there was any surface to be stirred; a small valley with an old tank, in the dry bottom of which our tents were raised; a wretched village on the crest of one of the broad-backed earth-waves or rocky bubbles of hills; the cabins rudely built of stone filled in with mud, though there are two or three better houses of two storeys; rough stone-fences, with some fig-trees; spots of lentils and grain in one of the valleys, the side of which was nothing but weather-worn stone; sheets and shelves of rock everywhere, unrelieved by any trees; a few poor vines above the village; a high, square, low-domed building, rising on the top of the hill on which the village stands; some ancient tombs on the sides of the neighbouring valleys,—such is Bethel. No wonder the patriarch had to use a stone for his pillow when he lay out on one of the hills around; it would be hard to find anything else, even now.

The Hebrew word Makorn, constantly translated "place" by the Authorised Version,* in Genesis, in connection with Bethel, appears to have been employed specially for a sanctuary of the Canaanites, as when we read, "Ye shall utterly destroy all the places wherein the nations which ye shall possess served their gods" (Deut 12:2); and in this sense it is used in the Talmud of the shrines regarded as lawful for Israel before the Temple was built. It is, moreover identical with the Arabic "Mukam," or "Standing-place," the name given to a holy shrine or consecrated spot, so that in all ages the word has had the same special application, universally understood in the East. Jacob, on seeking his night's rest, would naturally avail himself of the protection, ghostly and bodily, of such a local shrine, as an Arab now takes up his quarters, if possible, beside a Mahommedan Mukam. Such a "place" he would at once find in the altar which his grandfather Abraham had built between Bethel and Ai, and he would lie down under its shadow without the fear of being injured, in the belief that the God of his fathers would there look on him with favour. The spot was then beside a town called Luz, and got its name of Bethel from the wondrous incidents associated with it in Jacob's history. Till that time only a "place," it was henceforth a "House of God."

* Genesis 28:11 (three times), 16,17, 19, 35:7, 14.
The view around, before darkness fell, consisted, probably, only of grey rounded hill-tops, for Bethel is shut in by hills on the west, north, and east, although on the south the heights and valleys of Benjamin can be seen almost to Jerusalem. There is only one spot whence you can look into the valley of the Jordan—that on which the ruins of an ancient church now stand, above the village; the fact that it commands this view fixing it beyond question as the spot on which Abraham and Lot must have stood when they looked over the country, and Lot's choice fell on the rich oasis of Sodom (Gen 13:3,10,15). On these hills, then and long after more or less wooded (2 Kings 2:23,24), at least with the scrubby growth of a "yaar," Abraham pastured his flocks, which could nibble the stalks growing in the thousand seams of the rocks. Before I went to bed I came out to look up at the sky, which was bright with innumerable stars, just as Abraham did well-nigh four thousand years ago (Gen 13:14-18, 15:5), when the voice in his soul directed him to look up to their multitude and their overpowering glory, as a pledge on the part of the Almighty to bless him and his posterity.

Shechem alone of Palestine towns is mentioned earlier than Bethel, Abraham's visit to it, as he went to Egypt, and on his return from the Nile, introducing it to Sacred Story (Gen 12:8,9, 13:3). The altar he had built on his first sojourn on these hills was the point to which he came back; and even if Jacob did not know its history, it would be his natural halting-place, for the altar of so great a "prince" as Abraham would doubtless be regarded as a religious centre in the district. That it continued to be a holy place to Israel seems implied by the statement that in the days of the Judges "the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God," or rather, as in the Hebrew, "to Bethel," as if the Tabernacle were then there,* and by the notice in Samuel of "three men going up to God, to Bethel" (1 Sam 10:3). It was thus, next to Shechem, the oldest sanctuary of the nation, so that Jeroboam introduced no innovation when he honoured it as a holy place, though it was a bold stroke to set up its ancient name against the fresh honours of the central Temple, recently built at Jerusalem, and, above all, a step wholly unprincipled, since it was designed to debase the national faith by consecrating, as an object of worship, a duplicate of the golden calf which had been so great an offence to Jehovah at Sinai (1 Kings 12:28). From this idolatry sprang the contemptuous name Bethaven, "House of Nothingness"—that is, of idols—applied to Bethel by the later prophets, the contraction of which, after a time, into Bethan may have led to the present name Beitin, which has been in use for at least seven hundred years. It is strange to think that one of the great schools of the prophets nourished at Bethel, while the rival temple, with its calf deity, was in its glory (2 Kings 2:3). Still stranger is it that this great seat of corrupt religion was left standing by Jehu, when he rooted out the worship of Baal from Israel (2 Kings 10:28). But if it was spared then, the prophets Amos and Hosea, at a later day, fiercely assailed it, as also did Jeremiah at Jerusalem (Amos 3:14, 4:4, 5:5; Jer 48:13; Hos 4:15, 5:8, 10:5,15). It was left to Josiah, however, to destroy it, and to defile its altars by burning on them the bones of dead men, taken from the rock tombs down in the valley (2 Kings 23:15).

* So also in the Septuagint, but the Vulgate inserts the words " which is in Shiloh " (Judg 20:18) Josephns thinks Bethel is meant (Ant. v. 2,10).
In the earlier part of this century Bethel seems to have been entirely uninhabited, and even now its miserable hovels have not a population, in all, of more than four hundred souls. A few poor gardens, fenced with stone walls, show the struggle of man with nature. But the great past is still kept from oblivion by fine squared stones seen in the walls of the tumbledown huts, and especially in the great tank in which we found camping-ground, for it covers the whole breadth of the little valley, and reminds one by its length of the Sultan's Pool at Jerusalem.

To prepare for starting on our way farther north was each morning a surprisingly brief affair. The tents were scarcely left standing till we had finished an early breakfast, and, once begun, the process of tying up and packing on the mules was a matter of a few minutes. I often thought of the aptness of the Bible figures in which tents and tent life are introduced, and was more impressed by them each day. Hezekiah's words, "My [fleshly] home is broken up, and removed from me as a shepherd's tent" (Isa 38:12), rose forcibly in the mind when I saw the tent which was over me one moment levelled with the ground the next, and in a few minutes stowed on the back of a pack-mule, to be carried off. When it had been removed, no trace remained of its ever having been there. The metaphor that follows was not less vivid, when one remembered the weavers at Gaza and elsewhere—"I have rolled up my life as a weaver rolls up his web when it is finished; God will cut me off from life as the weaver cuts off his work from the loom." How sublime are the words in which Isaiah speaks of God as the Being "that stretcheth out the heavens like [the] fine cloth [of a Sultan's pavilion], and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in" (40:22).

It is curious, by the way, to notice how the early tent-life of the Hebrews impressed itself on their habits of thought and speech, even to the last. But they still used tents largely in Samuel's day (1 Sam 4:10; 2 Sam 17:17, 19:8; 2 Chron 25:22), and even later, and Zechariah speaks, at the close of the Kingdom, of the Lord saving "the tent" of Judah (12:7). The nation, in fact, never wholly gave up tent life, especially in the hot months, and the tribes beyond the Jordan never adopted any other. To this very day, even in the crowded courts of London, the Jew, if it be possible, raises a tent during the week of the Feast of Tabernacles, in remembrance of the early history of his race.

From Bethel we took the road to Shiloh, which is represented by the village of Seilun. Bireh, the ancient Beeroth, lay about two miles to the south-west, over the hills—a rambling hamlet of stone houses, all indescribably miserable. Its name, "Springs" or "Wells," speaks of a plentiful supply of water, still justified by a fine spring. Once a town of the Gibeonites, it was assigned to Benjamin, and has the doubtful honour of being the place from which came the two murderers of Ishbosheth (Josh 9:17, 18:25; 2 Sam 4:2). Still the first halting-place on the way from Jerusalem to Nazareth, it was fancied that Mary and Joseph had wandered back from it to the Temple, in search of Mary's missing Son. But it is quite as probable that His absence was noticed before the caravan reached Beeroth, as all such mixed companies halt at a comparatively short distance from their place of starting, to see, before they go farther, that everything is right and no one left behind. The village boasts the ruins of a fine mediaeval church, showing three apses; in its roofless area corn is grown.

To the east of Bethel, on a high hill four miles off, rose Rimmon, the place to which the remnant of the Benjamites fled from the infuriated tribes after the outrage on the Levite and his wife (Judg 20:47. See ante, pp. 662-63), and a mile beyond it, on a high hill, shone Ophrah, now El Taiyebeh. Three miles north of Bethel, on the old Roman road, now undistinguishable as such, stood Yabrud, on a hill to the left of the track. One of the houses which we entered was so full of smoke that we had to make a hasty retreat, only to find that others seemed even worse. A smouldering fire of thorns burnt slowly against the walls, and as there was neither window nor chimney, the smoke had to make its way out as it best could, by the door, which stood open, though it was too chilly to make so much ventilation agreeable. It was in such houses that the woman who had lost a piece of silver needed to light a lamp even by day, and to turn the whole house upside down, to find her treasure (Luke 15:8). One can imagine the simplicity of village life in Christ's day from that of the present. The father of the household sat on the ground, barefooted and turbaned, with a patched cotton shirt, and a sheepskin outside in for coat, feeding the poor blaze with fresh thorns. To cook some eggs, the mother of the family broke them into her solitary iron pan, put a piece of butter to them, and held them over the fire, which, being only of thorns, needed constant replenishing. The Wise Man must often have seen such poor fuel before he said so tellingly—"As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool; this also is vanity!" (Eccl 7:6) A small clay oil-lamp stood on a projecting stone, and sticks jutted out in one corner, for the hens and pigeons of the establishment to roost upon. The floor was higher in one part than in another; the former being the place where the mats were laid for the sleeping accommodation of the human part of the household; the latter, the night-quarters of its four-footed members. The lamp kindled, all the household lies down on the floor to sleep, but not, as with us, till morning, for the cocks begin crowing three or four hours before daylight, to the disturbance of anyone not accustomed to them. It is to this early crowing that our Lord alludes when He says, "Watch ye, therefore: for ye know not when the master of the house cometh, at even, or at midnight, or at the cockcrowing, or in the morning" (Mark 13:35). The smallness of the lamp creates another disturbance of slumber, for the housewife rises when she thinks it nearly burnt out, at midnight, or perhaps at two in the morning, and, after replenishing it with oil, begins her day's work, by sitting down on the ground to grind the corn needed for the approaching meals, and he must be a sound sleeper who is not roused by the rough music of the millstones. It was such a woman whom King Lemuel praised—"She riseth while it is yet night: her candle goeth not out by night" (Prov 31:15,18).

The weather continued beautiful as we journeyed on through this garden of Palestine, amidst thousands of fig-trees on the lower slopes and in the valleys, with olives over them, higher and higher up the hills, which were now bare only at the top. Fields of soft green stretched out under the shade of the orchards, which at one spot reached up the terraced sides of nine different hills, and across the valleys between them. The road, however, was very stony and rough, so that though we enjoyed the view, it is a question if the horses and mules were as pleased with their part of the journey. We had with us, in all, five men, and ten mules and horses; the five attendants being a dragoman, a cook, the owner of the beasts, and two men to take care of them. The beasts consisted of three horses and seven mules. Labour is cheap in Palestine, and so is horse hire. Thus I found afterwards, at Damascus, that the hire of a horse was three francs a day for a tour in the Hauran, that sum including a man to take care of it, and the horse's keep.* Hotel accommodation is equally low, for no one who is not in the hands of a tourists' agent is in any place charged more than seven or eight shillings a day, even where coupons are five or six shillings dearer.

*The charge made by the Tourist Office for myself and a companion was three pounds ten a day, which was exceptionally cheap, thanks to a local friend. Five pounds a day is the ordinary charge.
In less than two miles after passing Yabrud we reached the Spring of the Robbers—Ain Haramiyeh—a most picturesque spot water trickling freely from the foot of a wall of rock, covered with delightful green of all shades, while the steep hill above is terraced and planted with olives. The valley is contracted at this part into a mere lane. Some have fancied it to be the valley of Baca, through which pilgrims were wont to pass on the way to Jerusalem (Psa 84:6), but this is based on a mistake, for Baca must have been some barren glen, which the joy anticipated by those about to appear before God in Zion made as beautiful in their eyes as if it were "a place of springs," and as if "the early rain had covered it with blessings."

The narrow pass of Ain Haramiyeh is one of the wildest parts of the road between Nablus and Jerusalem. A great hill rises about eleven hundred feet above the pass on the right, very steep, but terraced in some parts, bare cliffs of horizontal limestone jutting out in bands round it at others. But this lofty summit is dwarfed by another, a mile to the south—Tell Asur— two hundred feet higher.* A ruined Crusading fort looks down from the top of the lower hill, built as a look-out by the mail-clad warriors of the Christian kingdom of Palestine. The summit of the higher commands a magnificent view; the white cloud of snow on Mount Hermon, far away to the north, being clearly visible from it. The grandeur of the Crusading period is not to be realised except by visiting the East; most of us forget, indeed, that Christian princes reigned for two centuries in the Holy Land. Every part of the country bears witness to the gigantic energy of the Western nations—great forts, churches, hostelries, and cloisters, built as if to last for ever, still remaining wherever one turns, to witness to the mighty enthusiasm which so long animated Christendom. Even at this secluded spot, besides the stronghold on the hill to the right, an old Crusading fortress, known as Baldwin's Tower, its name derived from that of one of the Latin kings of Jerusalem, crowns the top of a hill, six hundred feet above the pass and about a mile to the south; it, and its neighbour to the right, standing as grim sentinels to watch the road from the north in the old troublous times. Three miles north of this, the road brought us by a steep ascent to the village of Sinjil, which is only a variation of the name of the Count de Saint-Gilles, who rested here on his way to Jerusalem during the first Crusade. A little over two miles to the west, on a height a little lower than that of Sinjil, gleamed the houses of an Ephraimitish Gilgal, now Jiljilieh, probably the place from which Elijah set out with Elisha on the way to the Jordan, just before the great prophet was taken up into heaven (2 Kings 2:1).

3,318 feet above the sea.
We were now close to Shiloh—the modern Seilun—to reach which we turned off and went along the side of the hill, to avoid passing near the village of Turmus Aya, the inhabitants of which have a bad reputation as thieves, or worse. We had camped for the night on the hill near Sinjil, and were on our road betimes, but while the tents were packing, numbers of women and children gathered to look for any scraps, so poor are the people, even in this part of the land. On the roadside I was interested by noticing a scarabæus beetle, the very creature so common on the sculptures of Egypt, rolling before it a ball of moist cow-dung, in which its eggs were to be secreted. It is a broad, strong creature, with a shovel-like head, but its whole length is not much over an inch, while the ball it pushes before it is half as much more in diameter. How it contrives to dig a hole large enough to bury this egg-ball is hard to imagine, yet the feat is less wonderful than that of our own common burying beetles, who play the sexton even to the bodies of little birds, sinking them into the earth and covering them in a very short time. Among the Egyptians the scarabæus was a symbol of the sun and of creation, apparently because its ball is round and life comes from it.

The ruins of Shiloh stand on a low hill covered all over with a deep bed of loose stones, beside the poor modern village. An oak, though of course not like those of England for size, gave dignity to the spot, and threw a shadow over a small, half-ruined Mahommedan mosque. Not higher than fifteen or twenty feet, the inner space had once been vaulted. Two chambers, supported on short pillars, with a prayer-niche to the south, filled up the thirty-seven feet of its length. Part of it was evidently very old; the rest spoke of different dates, and of materials gathered from various sources. The flat lintel over the doorway bore signs by its ornaments of having formerly done service in an ancient synagogue, or rock tomb. A stair led up, inside, to the roof, which was overgrown with rank weeds, among which were many bright flowers. The walls were, in parts, not less than four feet thick; elsewhere, only half as thick. This strange place may have been originally a Jewish masonry tomb: certainly it cannot have been a Christian church.

The crown of the low hill was specially interesting, for it is covered with very old low walls, divided as though into the basements of many chambers of different sizes. Some of the stones were hewn, others unhewn, and some of these latter were very large. The outline of the whole was an irregular square of, say, about eighty feet, with projections on two sides; the walls being everywhere very thick. Could it be that these were the stone foundations on which, as we know, the ancient Tabernacle was raised? Had the pillars in the mosque near at hand been taken from these ruins? Were those low walls within remains of the chambers where Eli and Samuel had once lived? Were those rock-hewn sepulchres we had seen in the small valley to the east the ancient resting-places of the family of the ill-fated high priest?

No spot in Central Palestine could be more secluded than this early sanctuary; nothing more featureless than the landscape around; so featureless, indeed, the landscape, and so secluded the spot, that from the time of St. Jerome till its re-discovery by Dr. Robinson in 1838, the very site of Shiloh was forgotten and unknown. The Philistines seem to have destroyed the whole place after the defeat of Eli's sons and the loss of the Ark, though the coverings of the Tabernacle were saved and carried to Nob, where they continued for a time.

Before its glory was thus eclipsed, this place was evidently as near an approach to a national sanctuary as Israel then had. "Behold," we are told, "there is a feast of the Lord in Shiloh yearly, in a place which is on the north of Bethel, on the east of the highway that goeth up from Bethel to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah" (Judg 21:19). This annual gathering of young and old to the religious festival honoured by all the tribes reminds us of a strange incident of ancient life enacted in this quiet centre. There were great dances of the Jewish maidens, it appears, at this festivity, the fairest of the land trooping to the scene of so much gladness, and joining in it decked in their best holiday attire. The vineyards then covering the slopes and plain were thick with foliage at the time, though leaving open spaces on which the bright-eyed girls disported themselves to the sound of the timbrel and the clapping of hands, as one sees done among Eastern peasant women to-day. Suddenly, however, on this occasion, by pre-arrangement, from the green covert of the vines there sprang out a host of young men, who each seized a maiden and hurried her off to the south to the hills of Benjamin—sadly in want of the fair sex since the dreadful massacre of the tribe by united Israel, after the crime against the Levite and his wife (see ante p. 663). "The children of Benjamin," we are told, "took them wives, according to the number of them that danced, whom they caught"; some, perhaps, not sorry to find homes of their own, even thus strangely. A part of the plain to the south of the village is still called "The Meadow of the Feast," perhaps a reminiscence of the old festival, unless, indeed, this took place beside the fountain east of the village.

A number of men and boys gathered round us while we were examining the ruins, their clothing only a blue shirt, with a thin strip of leather round the waist to keep it close to the body, and make the upper part into a kind of bag, the "bosom" (Isa 65:6,7; Jer 32:18; Luke 6:38; Psa 79:12; Prov 17:23, 21:14), in which the peasant stows away what we put in our pockets. The number of blind or half-blind among them was most pitiable. Acute inflammation of the eye is allowed to go on from stage to stage, till the whole organ is destroyed by ulceration. My companion, a doctor in the army, examined two or three boys, and found that a slight ailment which, in more favoured lands, might have been cured at once by a simple "wash," had been neglected till the sight was gone. One can understand why blindness is mentioned in Scripture about sixty times, from noticing its prevalence in any knot of peasants, all over Palestine. The sight of any gathering of either sex, shows how natural it is to find it said that our Lord, at a single place, "gave sight to many blind," and that "a great multitude of blind" lay at the side of the pool in Jerusalem; and it helps one at once to understand, also, how it came to be specially given forth, centuries before, that the Messiah would give recovery of sight to the blind (Luke 4:18, 7:21; John 5:3). Of course the requests for backshish were continuous; but the poor creatures were quite prepared, it seemed, to give as well as to receive, for on my repeating the word, and holding out my hand as if I wanted something, a boy, in all simplicity, put his hand inside the breast of his shirt and pulled out some shrivelled figs to give to me. It was all he had, but it was at my service. I need hardly say that personal cleanliness was not carried to excess at Shiloh, more than elsewhere in Palestine. Washing the face well would probably have saved some of the peasants from blindness, but they have no soap, I presume, and undoubtedly no towels; while as to water, a bath at rare intervals in the village pond or fountain seems the utmost of which anyone thinks.


Chapter 33 | Contents | Chapter 35


Notes on Revelation | Judeo-Christian Research

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