by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books

 

Chapter 40 | Contents | Chapter 42


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 41—HAIFA AND ACRE
A Druse Village—A Carmelite MonasteryHaifaThe Road to AcreThe Kishon and the BelusAcre and its Fortifications—Its HistoryIts Trade—The CemeteryThe "Eye of a Needle"

On the way to Haifa charming valleys lie behind the hills which one sees from Esdraelon, some of them darkened by the black tents of Arabs who roam thither to pasture their flocks. In the rich hollows thousands of people could hide themselves from foes in the plain, who would not suspect the existence of such asylums if they did not penetrate the upper hills. One can understand, therefore, how Jehovah could say, through Amos, of the idolaters of the Ten Tribes, "Though they hide themselves on the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence" (Amos 9:3). Olive-groves occur here and there, and charcoal-burners find abundant material for their craft. The Druse village of Esfia stands on the top of the highest point of the Carmel range, at an altitude of over 1,700 feet from the sea, above the rich vegetation of the valleys, and amidst thorny growths and sheets of rock such as are common in other mountainous districts. The villagers, or their fathers, were implicated in the massacre of Christians in Lebanon nearly fifty years ago, and sought a home on this spot, beyond the reach of the local government. Active and industrious, they have large herds of cattle and asses, and great flocks of sheep and goats.

From Esfia northwards, towards the sea, the path lay along a high table-land, unbroken by valleys, and covered with rough growths, which after a time give place to great numbers of clumps of firs. It must have been from his having passed through some such place that Isaiah could use the image he employs of the fear into which Ahaz fell on hearing of an alliance against him by the Ten Tribes and Syria—"his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind" (7:2)—for the rustle of the branches in the soft air is a sound very seldom heard elsewhere in Palestine. Rich slopes appeared again after a time, with flocks of sheep and goats, tended in some cases by girls with sunburnt faces. Wild beasts—hyænas, leopards, wild cats, and other creatures equally fierce—are found in this district, but we saw none. The hills are less fertile towards the west, where the bare stony soil offers support to nothing better than thorns and brambles, though occasionally rich valleys were to be seen. Population, it may be said, there is none, though frequent ruins show that it has been very different in former ages.

The high dome of the Carmelite monastery, on the extreme north-west point of the range, overlooking the sea, is a landmark from great distances. The building is extensive and imposing, standing grandly at a height of more than 500 feet above the waves which break continually underneath. The inside of the cloister is in keeping with its stately exterior: high, airy, wide passages; broad, slowly-ascending stairs; simple but tastefully fitted-up chambers, with perfect cleanliness everywhere, are its characteristics. Besides the church, richly ornamented, there is a library, with much else; and the whole establishment is bright and new, having been put into perfect repair in recent years by the French Government.

The path from this lofty retreat to Haifa descends gently, crossing at the bottom a rich plain, on which a German colony has settled. Haifa itself lies at the south angle of the Bay of Acre, with only a narrow strip between it and the towering wall of Carmel. Here and there a palm rises, and there are many olives and fruit-trees of all kinds, with numerous gardens. Russia, ever mindful of her pilgrims, has built a large hospice for them, and there is also a fine Roman Catholic school. Steamers call at this port, but the harbour has long ago been silted up by sand, and by the mud brought from the mouths of the Nile. Hence, only boats can come near the land, and even from them passengers have to be carried an the backs of the boatmen for more than fifty paces. The streets of the town are filthy and wretched beyond description.

The road to Acre is along the sea-shore, close to the restless waters which run up the smooth beach in ceaseless play. A broad belt of yellow sand separates the blue of the sea from the green of the plain, a sky azure as the ocean stretching over land and water alike. Timbers of wrecks lie on the sand or stick up out of it, showing how dangerous the coast must be in a gale from the west. About two miles from Haifa the Kishon enters the sea—that is, when it can, for a ground current runs strongly against the river-mouth, raising a bar which chokes the stream so quickly that in very dry seasons no visible channel is left, and what water there is filters through the sands. In ordinary times, however, there is a mouth, with a bar across it a little way out in the sea, the water reaching to a horse's knees, but after the rains it is somewhat deeper even at this place; and for some miles inland the depth increases to from six to fourteen feet.

The plain of Acre was in the territory of Asher, though Acre itself was left to the Phœnicians, for the Jew hated the sea, and his love of commerce is a quality developed late in his history. On such a sweep of rich land Asher indeed "dipped his foot in oil," and could say that "his bread was fat, and that his land yielded royal dainties" (Deut 33:24; Gen 49:20). As we neared the town, the river Belus, about two feet deep, and broader than the Kishon, flowed into the sea. Here great fisheries for the purple-dye sea-snail were established, and here the creature is still to be found. It is also said that glass was discovered at the Belus by the accidental vitrification of sand under the heat of a fire. Can "the treasures hid in the sands," of which Moses speaks, refer to this (Deut 33:19)? There is only one gate into Acre, close to the sea-shore. Passing through this and traversing a few streets, we reach the bazaar, which is partly covered with an awning of mats, and partly with stone arches, for the sake of coolness. The ramparts are double on the land side, and though in parts shattered, are on the whole in tolerably good condition, the moat outside still showing how strong a place it must once have been. Two hundred and thirty cannon, a number of them captured by Sir Sidney Smith when on their way to Napoleon's army, look out in every direction from the portholes, but all are old and badly mounted. The port in which fleets lay in the time of the Crusades is now little more than a yard and a half deep where there is most water, so that only small boats can enter.

Acre is a miserable town, containing hardly any antiquities; but it is very ancient, for it is spoken of in Judges, where we are told that in Joshua's time the Israelites, never skilled in siege-work, found it too strong for them to take (1:31). In the Persian era its fortified haven made it an important basis of operations against Egypt, from a Greek ruler of which, at a later date, it took the name of Ptolemais, mentioned in the chronicles of the Maccabees.* But to Christians it is most famous as the place at which St. Paul landed when he went up to Jerusalem for the last time, saluting the brethren then in the town, and staying with them a day (Acts 21:7). In the time of the Crusaders, Acre flourished, though less when they first held it for eighty years, before it was wrested from them by Saladin in 1189, than after its recapture, as the prize of a two years' siege, by Cœur de Lion in 1191. From that date it remained for exactly a hundred years the centre of Christian power in the Holy Land. The court of the kings, and the seat of the Patriarchate, were here; and by their names the streets indicated that men of many nationalities came to this great mart, for they were called after Pisa, Rome, Genoa, Venice, Florence, and Paris. The story of its splendour is told in the Roman chronicles of the Crusades, but it fell in 1291 before the attack of Sultan Ashrab, and was burned to the ground. Nor was any attempt made to rebuild it till a little over a hundred years ago, so that it is essentially a modern town. The population is about 8,000, of whom three-fourths are Mahommedans; and the staple business is the exportation of corn brought from the Hauran, of which from 200 to 300 shiploads are sent away each year.

* 1 Macc. v. 15, x. 1, xii. 45.
The importance of this trade may be realised almost any morning by watching the long trains of camels laden with grain waiting for entrance into the town, their number requiring them to take their turn. The prophet's picture of the prosperity of Judah under the Messiah—"The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come" (Isa 60:6)—must have been suggested by a sight like that now presented at the gates of Acre. The camels are in hundreds, and the caravans seem endless. All these had passed over the road behind Nazareth, and must have been seen, in part, by any villager who chanced to be in that direction; so that contact with the great outer world, enlarging the sympathies and expanding the ideas of the otherwise secluded hill-population, must be constant. So it was in an even greater degree in the time of our Lord, for the life of Palestine was then far more vigorous than it is now; and thus the Son of Mary, although living in the quiet town behind the plain, must have been familiar with scenes which spoke of a greater world than the Jewish, and of other races of men, with equal claim to His gracious pity.

As one goes east the landscape rises and falls in gentle swellings, from which glimpses of the town and sea once and again offer themselves. Long trains of camels returning home, after delivering their loads, stalked solemnly on in single file, or two abreast; the empty grain-bags laid across their humps. The cord with which these bags are sewn is more like rope than thread, and indeed is often used as such, so that the needle employed must be something, prodigious. Was it in reference to this that the proverb arose about the impossibility of a camel going through the eye of a needle (Mark 10:25)? It is at least certain that the explanation which supposes the needle's eye to be a name given to a small side passage at city gates is not trustworthy, as there are no such small side arches in the East.

 

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