by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 41 | Contents | Chapter 43

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


Roman Roads—Damun—Kabul—Tell Jefat: The Fortress of JotapataEl-Buttauf—Yielding a HundredfoldSeffurieh (Sepphoris)Kefr Kenna (Cana?)—An Audacious LegendThe Khan Et TujjarHow Time is Reckoned—The Piety of the Lip—Cursing as an ArtThe "Horns of Hattin" and the Sermon on the MountDecline and Fall of Christian Rule in PalestineSolitude"Clear Shining" after Rain

One old Roman road from Acre ran south-east over the hills, past Sepphoris, to the ford of the Jordan, immediately south of the Lake of Galilee. Another led to Nazareth, and then turned south to Esdraelon. Nothing, indeed, is more astonishing than the close network of roads which covered the whole country once, under the Romans, as seen in the great map of Palestine published by the Palestine Survey. Instead of such a well-maintained and admirable system of intercommunication in every direction as obtained in the days of our Lord, only paths over the plains, and rude, frightful tracks up the valleys are to be seen to-day. It is, in fact, impossible to conceive a country in which travelling could be more laborious: a proof of this being the fact I have already mentioned, that distance is measured by the rate at which a horse or other animal walks in an hour: three miles, at most, being reckoned an hour's journey. East of Acre there are many well-travelled paths over the plain, which is about seven miles broad, to Damun, the first village at the foot of the hills beyond. To supply water for the numerous caravans, numbers of wells have been dug, some of them very deep. Over many of the shafts rise stone domes, with a square tank in front, and a trough into which water flows. Women were busy at some of these, washing their linen by beating it with a wooden club, not, I should think, a great help to its durability. The land, like that of Esdraelon, is by no means generally tilled, but in some places, strange to say, even the roads had been ploughed up, so that when the sower goes forth some of his seed must needs fall on the wayside and be trodden under foot (Matt 13:4; Luke 8:5).

Damun, though itself a poor place, is nicely situated among groves of olives. About two miles south-east of it lies a village, the name of which, Kabul, is interesting from its being thought to recall an incident in the history of Solomon's reign. Hiram of Tyre had most generously provided cedar and cypress wood for the Temple on Mount Moriah and the palace on Zion, as well as a large quantity of gold for ornamenting both, and for all this Solomon made over to him the very shabby return of "twenty cities in the land of Galilee" (1 Kings 9:11), which, it is to be presumed, were peopled mostly by the heathen Canaanites, and were of very little value to Solomon. They were not in this district, but seem to have lain in the northern part of the territory of Naphtali, on the boundaries of Tyre, and owed the name Kabul, given by Hiram to them as a whole, to their worthlessness in his eyes. Indeed, the Second Book of Chronicles seems to show that Hiram gave them back again to their donor (2 Chron 8:2), refusing to accept them.

The country to the south of Kabul is very barren on both sides of the valleys into which it is broken up. The first patches of grain that we saw after leaving Kabul were in the neighbourhood of Kankab, four miles to the south-east. This hamlet lies at the west end of a narrow valley in which a fine spring has created a little oasis of fertility. Two miles over the hills to the east is Tell Jefat, where once stood the fortress of Jotapata, which Josephus, who was a Jewish general as well as a historian, long defended against Vespasian, capitulating at last for want of water. The ruins of a castle still stand on the high precipitous hill which rises 500 or 600 feet above the valley. It is burrowed with cisterns throughout, and the traces of a wall round the summit are yet visible. Little more than a mile south-east, over rough hills, you reach a ruined site still known by the native Christians as "Cana of Galilee," possibly the spot where the marriage took place recorded by St. John (2:1-11). Here is the wreck of a large village, with the remains of a wall of large stones which once enclosed it; but all is now silent and desolate. A mile further south, the broad plain of El-Buttauf came in sight—a spacious green sea, here sinking into gentle hollows, there rising in soft swells; the ruined dome of the Mahommedan tomb on the hill-top behind Nazareth being visible on the south.

El-Buttauf is dependent for its fertility on the rains which in their season pour down from the hills that surround it on all sides, and turn its eastern end for part of the year into a marsh. If the heavens be unpropitious, the soil becomes hard as a stone, and there is no harvest. Joel describes such a state of things in his day (1:10-17). The harvest perished, the vine withered, the fig wilted, and all the trees of the field with it; the seed shrivelled below the clods, the threshing-floors were empty, the barns were broken down, for the corn had come to nothing. Descending from the hills where the villages are hid in security, the sower literally "goes forth to sow" (Matt 13:3), sometimes miles from his home, not seldom with his gun slung over his back, to protect himself against Arabs. The yield of a hundred-fold spoken of by our Lord in the parable is never secured from wheat or barley, though some other kinds of grain, such as maize, are said to yield even more. In the best years the yield of wheat or barley is only about thirty-fold. Can it be that the same mode of reckoning crops was in use in our Master's time as prevails now? Perhaps the explanation is to be found in the assumption that a third of the crop will be eaten by the birds, and a second third by mice and insects, so that if thirty-three-fold be secured by the cultivator he tells you that his land has produced a hundred-fold.

The road from Nazareth to Tiberias, which was left by the Romans in good condition ages ago, but for which time has done its worst since, runs to the north-east, round the long bare hills, which here and there are brightened by olives and fig-trees. Seffurieh, the ancient Sepphoris, stands on a hill to the left, and deserves a visit as the capital of Galilee before Herod Antipas transferred that honour to his newly-built city, Tiberias. Several broad caravan-tracks leading to the Jordan have to be crossed on the way. Asses with great loads of grass were creeping up the slope, occasionally showing only one ear, for a barbarous custom allows a peasant to cut off the ear of any ass he finds trespassing on his grain-patch. Seffurieh is a large and prosperous village, though the latter expression must not be understood in a Western sense, for most of the houses are very wretched. It stands on the top of a hill nearly 800 feet above the sea, and several hundred feet above the valleys and plain. East of the hill are some rock-cut tombs of an unusual form, being simply shallow graves, cut in the surface, and covered with stone lids. Remains of an aqueduct show that in ancient times the town was supplied with water brought from higher ground, at great expenditure of labour, for the part still remaining has involved cutting trenches in the rocks, and building conduits over hollows. A huge reservoir, like a cavern, had also been quarried out in the rock, to guard against accidental failure of the water-supply; its height varying from eight to twenty feet, and its breadth from eight to fifteen; while it has been traced westwards, through long-accumulated wreckage, for 580 feet. Low mud hovels have been built against what remains of the church of St. Anne, a relic of the Crusaders; and there is a large ruin called a castle, but it appears to be of recent date, though probably the successor of some much more ancient fortress. The view from the roof is interesting. To the north lies the village of Kefr Menda; east of this, if its claim be admitted, "Cana of Galilee." To the south-east is the tomb on the hill behind Nazareth, and just below you are the hovels and houses of Seffurieh itself. In the time of Josephus, Sepphoris was the largest town of Galilee, and, after the destruction of Jerusalem, continued to be the headquarters of the Jewish people till the fourth century, the Sanhedrim having its seat here. Christian tradition alleges that the Virgin spent her childhood in Sepphoris, but of this there is no proof. The platform on which the citadel once rose is covered with thick grass.

Kefr Kenna, or Cana, lies on high ground,* but not on a hill. An ancient sarcophagus close to the village, beside a small square tank which is fed from a spring, serves very well as a trough. A broad lane of prickly pear led to the group of houses which perhaps represents the New Testament Cana. There may be, possibly, 150 inhabitants, but no one can envy them their huts of mud and stone, with dunghills at every corner. Huge mud ovens, like great beehives, stood at the sides of some of the houses, and on a little shelf on the outside of one hut I noticed an American petroleum tin, which had been used the year before as a flower-pot. It stood beside the one small window, as if someone fond of flowers had put it there, to get a sight, now and then, of something green and beautiful. In one house a worthy Moslem was squatting on the ground among a number of children, all with slates on which verses of the Koran had been written, which they repeated together. It was the village school; perhaps like that at Nazareth eighteen hundred years ago. A small Franciscan church of white stone within a nice railed wall, with a beautiful garden at the side, had over its doorway these startling words in Latin, "Here Jesus Christ from water made wine." Some large jars are shown inside as actually those used in the miracle, but such mock relics, however believed in by the simple monks, do the faith of other people more harm than good.

* 889 feet above the sea.
The road from this place onwards to Tiberias led north-east over the plain of El-Buttauf, which must have been familiar ground to our Lord. Patches of thistles were to be seen at different points, and in some parts the stones had been cleared from ploughed land and thrown into the road (Isa 5:2), to the great discomfort of travellers, for they were of all sizes and in great quantity.

The low heights on the left gradually swelled up to hills, one of which is over 1,700 feet above the sea, and basalt showed itself widely, for this whole region was at one time volcanic. Fragments of lava strewed the ground thickly in every direction; the limestone disappearing. Wild camomile and white anemones seemed respectively the most common plant and flower. Some small flat-roofed villages looked down from the round tops of low heights, but the population, as everywhere else, was very sparse; not enough to till more than a small portion of the arable soil. Over some hills to the south lay the great Khan Et Tujjar, where a market is held each Sunday, the position affording special facilities as the route of the caravan trade between Cairo and Damascus passes by it. Two castles were built here in past ages, for the protection of the market-people; the one on the left of the road—a great square of hewn stones, with towers at the four corners—being in tolerably good preservation.

It is interesting to notice how exactly the Bible form of reckoning time prevails in the East even now. The hours of the day are numbered from the first to the twelfth, just as of old. It is still "the third hour," or "the sixth," or "the ninth"; and the day begins from sunset, as when the Book of Grenesis was written (1:5). Part of a day is also reckoned in ordinary conversation as a day, so that if anything happened the day before yesterday it would be said to be the third day since it took place: a computation just like that of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, when speaking of the crucifixion of our Lord (Luke 24:21). It was striking also to hear the religious tone of ordinary discourse, even among those who do not go much beyond words. Salutations are most devout in their invocations of blessing, and every turn of a transaction or narrative, whatever its nature, is interlarded with appeals to God. Religion in fact has become widely separated from morality, as it was in antiquity, and as it still is in too many countries besides. The old Assyrians speak as devoutly in their inscriptions as any saint in Scripture; the warriors in Homer do nothing without bringing in their favourite god; and even Jezebel, when she threatened the life of Elijah, mechanically invoked a curse on herself from her gods, should she turn from her purpose (1 Kings 19:2). Pious talk is nowhere so prevalent as in the East, the most hardened scoundrel flavouring his speech with it as freely as saints like Abraham or Isaac do in the Old Testament. As to cursing, it is at home among Orientals: they seem to have a natural genius for it. St. Peter only acted as might have been expected from a Jew, and especially a Jewish fisherman, in beginning to curse and swear when asked if he had not been with Christ (Matt 26:74). Orientals could still, I suppose, justly claim to be the most proficient of cursers. They swear by their head, by their life, by heaven, by everything. More than once a man has stopped as he passed me, to invoke the most varied and ingenious curses on the infidel. The maledictory Psalms are in strict keeping with Oriental usage.

Passing the village of Lubieh, standing over 900 feet above the sea, amidst a forest of olives and fig-trees, our road lay straight north towards "the Horns of Hattin," apparently the scene of our Lord's Sermon on the Mount. This famous spot is reached by a long gentle slope of pasture-land, on which a great herd of black and brown cattle, small and poor, was feeding. Daisies, white and red anemones, the phlox, the iris, the wild mustard, grey and dry thistles, blue hyacinths, and yellow-flowered clover, coloured the open field, which was the counterpart of some unfenced upland common in England. Molehills, or what very much resembled them, abounded, and black swifts darted hither and thither after insects. Limestone cropped out at the bottom of the ascent, but was exchanged for basalt as we got higher up. Gradually the slope sank to a level, green with wheat, which, however, was sadly mixed with yellow mustard weed. The top, reached by climbing a short, rough slope, proved to be a great crater-like space with a slightly hollow floor, set in a frame of rough crags, which inside, at the two ends, rose in a wilderness of stone; outside it swelled into high grassy knolls, "the Horns of Hattin." Thousands could stand or sit in the huge circle, though it would be a rough gathering-place, for the whole surface is strewn with boulders and fragments of black basalt, as if they had been rained on the earth in a terrific shower. Hattin is the name of a small village on the ridge below. The "Horns" rise only sixty feet above the ground at their base, but 110 other heights are visible in this direction from the Lake of Galilee, which lies three or four miles off in its deeply-sunk bed. It is only since the Crusades that this spot has been assigned to the Sermon on the Mount, but the position is so strikingly in keeping with the intimations of the Gospel narrative as to give great probability to the choice. It is, however, possible that the "level place" where the multitude assembled, and to which our Lord came down, was the plain just below the "Horns" (Luke 6:17). Easy of access alike to the peasants in the hills and the fishermen on the shore, no point could have been a better centre to which to draw both classes. All the other heights are only members of a continuous chain; at this point, alone, one can speak of "the mountain" as an eminence detached from others, and standing out from lower ground. The descent to the lake is by a long, easy slope.

It was in this neighbourhood that the Christian kingdom of Jerusalem met its death-blow at the hands of the Saracen Sultan, Saladin, in 1187, in the great battle of Hattin. The Crusaders, worn almost to exhaustion, but still loyally gathered round their king, were no longer able to withstand the fierce attacks of an enemy inspired by a certainty of winning in the unequal struggle. For two days the wild strife raged over these slopes between Hattin and Lubieh, three miles south-west, but at last Saladin gained his most splendid victory, bringing to the ground at one blow the Christian rule in Palestine, which had been built up by such a vast sacrifice of life and treasure. The wanderer in this wondrously lonely part may, undisturbed, call up in all its living reality the terrible tumult of battle which once raged over these heights and hollows, and he may well sigh that the result should have been what it was. But the Christian kingdom had brought upon itself its destruction. That it perished must be recognised as the judgment of a righteous Providence, for it had become corrupt, and unworthy of its high mission. Yet who can remain unaffected by the memory of so many brave men in such extremity as that of the Christian army here? The Crusaders had held the Holy Land for nearly a century, but they had been weakened by feuds and dissensions of every kind; they had gloried in breaking faith with unbelievers; they had refused the rights of property to any but Christians; they had decayed in discipline, till every petty leader made little wars against his brethren or his neighbours ; they had been governed by rulers without ability or principle; they had sunk into gross immorality as a class; they were not united by any common principle of cohesion, but bore themselves rather as independent adventurers; and, finally, they were, to a large extent, physically enervated by the climate and by their own imprudence or vices.

In this condition Saladin—the Kurd—burst on them with 50,000 horse and a vast army of infantry, and forced them to hush up their miserable feuds. The battle at Hattin was fought in July, a time when the sky is cloudless, and the heat overpowering. The streams and fountains were running dry, the cisterns were low, the ground was parched. At first the advantage of position was with the Christians, for they were encamped at the fountain below Sepphoris, where water could be had; but the king, Guy of Lusignan, unwisely marched towards Tiberias to meet the enemy, before whom that city had already fallen. The Saracens were drawn up at Hattin, and were assailed by the Crusaders at sunrise; a relic of the true cross raised on a hillock seeming to the assailants a pledge of victory. But their fierce war-cries and desperate bravery were unavailing against the overwhelming numbers of Saladin's force, and at last they had to flee. A few knights cut their way out, and escaped to Acre, but the king, after retreating to the hills with the relic of the cross, was taken prisoner, with many of his followers, who had repeatedly repulsed the attacks of the enemy. Some of the knights were sold into slavery, others were executed, while one who had been by a breach of faith the immediate cause of the war was put to death by Saladin himself. Beirout, Acre, Cæsarea, and Joppa, opened their gates to the conqueror as the first results of his victory; Tyre alone, by the heroism of its governor, was saved; Ascalon soon yielded, and finally Jerusalem; the prisoners everywhere being reduced to slavery. Thus calamitous was the close of the Christian kingdom of Palestine.

It was afternoon when we were at Hattin, and the sun, now bending to the west, shone from a sky threatening rain. For the time, however, his splendour rested upon the landscape. Far below, to the east, lay the glittering waters of that lake on whose waves the feet of our Lord had pressed as on firm ground. A soft west wind breathed around us. The slopes near were green with grass or rising barley, chequered with black patches of ploughed land. On the south-west rose the huge cone of Tabor, lovely with boscage. To the north the mountains of Safed towered up in majesty, and beyond them, mingling earth with the upper sky, shone the majestic snow-crowned summit of Hermon. Across the lake the hills seemed to form a table-land, cut into ravines by the rains of ages, and sinking to the waters, here gently, there in steep precipices, but everywhere barren and treeless. No signs of human habitation were visible; no huts or houses to mirror themselves in the smooth water; no woods or meadows, though the light and shade, in such pure air, created picturesque tints which gave beauty even to the desolation. Silence and loneliness reigned, for Tiberias was out of sight below the slopes, and one was free to give the imagination full play amidst those holy fields

"Over whose acres walked those blessed feet
Which, eighteen hundred years ago, were nailed.
For our advantage, on the bitter cross."
Descending towards the south-east, we soon turned into a rich valley, nearly all ploughed, and came on half a dozen men, shepherds and peasants, in charge of a herd of cattle. They each had on an "abba" of canvas, with a "kefiyeh" over the head. One was carrying a plough on his shoulders, another had a gun, and all had thick staves or clubs—a sign of the insecurity of the neighbourhood. The wind had by this time gone round to the north-west, and the sky grew dark over the lake, now evidently roughened by a rainstorm, perhaps like that which once broke over the boat when our Lord lay asleep (Mark 4:37). A rainbow presently showed that the rain was passing away, but, unfortunately, the clouds were coming straight towards us, and the road, rough and down-hill, prevented our hurrying. A deep wide glen opened as we rode on, its whole space pleasantly green, and enlivened with large flocks of goats, kids, sheep, and lambs, in one case with a little bare-headed boy, stick in hand, as shepherd. A number of Damascus mules, on their way home without loads, were feeding on the slopes. The ownership of the flocks was presently shown by the sight of two groups of black tents of Bedouins, for these ill-conditioned ruffians own nearly all the cattle, sheep, or goats, one sees, leaving the peasant only what he can keep them from stealing, and what crops he can guard. While still among the hills the rain broke over us, and there was no shelter; but at last, before we reached Tiberias, there was the "clear shining after" it, and the "mown," or at least thirsty grass, washed and brightened, gleamed in the sun.


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