by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.
Notes on Revelation Online Books
Chapter 46 | Contents | Chapter 48
Cunningham Geikie D.D.
With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
There could hardly be a more beautiful place than the Lake of Merom, or El-Huleh. The rich plains, here brown with tilth, there bright with crops, yonder stretching out in succulent pastures dotted with flocks; the blue lake sleeping beneath the hills, long reed-beds bending their feathery tops in the soft air, silver streams netting the landscape; the waters full of water-fowl, the trees vocal with birds, the flowers humming with bees; the native hamlet, the Arab camp, the herdsman afield, the ploughs, drawn by ox, or ass, or camel, slowly moving over the lea; the flat-headed black buffalo delighting himself in the pools and the soft marshy coolness; the whole canopied by a sky of crystal clearness and infinite height,—make up a landscape of exceeding beauty.
In a field—or rather belt, for there are no separate fields—on the right, twelve yoke of buffaloes—that is, black, flat-headed oxen—were ploughing the land for sowing maize, reminding one of Elisha's twelve yoke, which he left to follow Elijah (1 Kings 19:19). Eight asses, laden with reed mats, poles, and household stuff, pattered slowly by. The mother of the family walked at their side, bearing a great bundle of long reeds on her head; the father, a grown son, and a child rode on asses; mean-spirited creatures that they were, to let the woman trudge along, laden, while they journeyed at their ease.
A little further on a man passed with a long goad in his hand, and on my asking him to let me see it, kindly handed it to me. On one end there was a small spud, or spade, to clear the coulter from earth when ploughing; at the other a sharp iron point stuck out, with short iron chains in loops below it: the prick to urge on the cattle; the chains to startle them into activity by the sudden noise when they were rattled. This is the goad against which it was foolish for the ox to kick: an implement so familiar to St. Paul from daily observation, that it could be used as a figure by our Lord in the heavenly vision (Acts 9:5).
We now passed into the charming gorge of the river Hasbany: the aggregate of many tributaries, rushing in a bright, musical stream towards El-Huleh. Green slopes below fine crags, a fringe of oleanders over the glittering stream, and the glorious sky overhead, made a lovely picture. We rested at the bridge El-Ghajar, in the middle of the day, for refreshment, amidst a paradise of waters and verdure. The bridge, dating from Roman times, has gradually disappeared, till only a single row of the keystones of the arch remains, and before long this, too, will have fallen. The strong buttresses are still in good repair, showing what the whole bridge must once have been; but decay has marked Palestine for its own, and the mock government of the barbarian Turk makes not the slightest attempt at improvement. The Hasbany is much the longest branch of the Jordan, flowing from the distant glens of Lebanon, but, besides it, there are the Leddan, which is by far the largest, and the Banias, which is the most beautiful. There is also another stream of good size, which flows from the plain of Ijon, north-west of Dan, and helps to fill the channel of the Jordan.
Towards Dan, on the slopes above the bridge over the Hasbany, I noticed a circle of stones: the first I had seen in Palestine. There are hundreds of such stone monuments in Moab, and not a few elsewhere: the memorials of sun-worship, the primitive faith of the land. On each of the larger stones was a pile of small ones, and rags tied to the bushes around fluttered in the breeze. The piles of small stones were crowned in many cases with bits of pottery: votive offerings, I presume, of the simple peasant or Arab to the divinity supposed by his fathers to haunt the spot, and still half believed in by himself.
Tell-el-Kadi—"the Mound of the Judge," Kadi, like Dan, meaning a judge—is the site of the once famous place, at first known as Laish, which was for ages renowned as the northern ecclesiastical capital of the Ten Tribes. From the Hasbany it is reached by crossing a delightful rolling country, rich in grass and more ambitious verdure. The "tell" is a great mound 330 paces long, 270 broad, and from thirty to thirty-eight feet above the plain around. On the top is a Moslem tomb, under a fine oak. Water abounds on every hand, but the most copious stream is on the west of the mound, amidst a thicket of oleanders. This thicket covers the rough sides of a stony slope, strewn with masses of basalt. Making your way down through the bushes, you come presently on a large pool, about fifty paces across: the outburst of the Jordan from the earth: at its very birth full as a river. This amazing fountain is twice as large a stream as that of Banias, and three times as large as that of the Hasbany, and forms, with these, the sacred river Jordan, after they all unite in Lake Huleh.
On the mound, two great oaks, wide-branching, overlook a plateau covered with venerable ruins, now fallen to such utter decay as to be mere isolated stones and wreck. This, I should think, is the site of the citadel of Dan. Round the whole plateau, moreover, are mounds which appear to be the remains of the ancient walls, and, indeed, at many points in the circuit stones are still in their original positions. Patches of grain had been sown where crowded streets once extended, but the ground was too stony for a great crop. It was too early to distinguish, either here or elsewhere, any tares that might be springing amid the grain, but there must have been abundance of them, for the Arab "zawan," which is just the New Testament "tare," abounds everywhere, and is a great trouble to the peasant. Before it comes into ear it is very like wheat, and hence is often left till the harvest, lest "while men pluck up the tares, they should root up also the wheat with them" (Matt 13:25-30). Sometimes, indeed, the stalks are pulled up while the grain is still green; the women I saw weeding the fields in Samaria were probably thus employed, though it is a very doubtful policy to attempt a separation of the weed from the corn thus early. After the "zawan" has come into ear, however, anyone can tell it from the wheat; but its presence is a sore distress to the husbandman from its noxious qualities, should any of its seed mix with the grain. It was a most hateful malignity, therefore, for an enemy to sow tares in the grain-patches; involving in any case immense labour and anxiety, and threatening the ruin of the crop, for darnel or "zawan" left after threshing makes the wheat poisonous, causing dizziness, vomiting, and even convulsions. The whole of the inmates of the Sheffield workhouse, some years ago, unwittingly illustrated this by a universal sickness, which was traced to the presence of this seed in their food.
Dan and its neighbourhood are famous in Bible story. Near it took place the surprise of Chedorlaomer and his allies by Abraham, with his retainers and confederates, when Lot and his family were rescued from slavery. Of the second great battle-scene of the district—the defeat of Jabin by Joshua—I have already spoken; a third strange episode in the local history was the seizure of Laish by the foragers from the narrow limits of Dan, on the slopes above the Philistine plain, when the name was changed to that of the victorious tribe. Laish was a colony of Phoenicians from Sidon, who were busied, like their mother city, in the pursuit of gain, "dwelling carelessly, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure" (Judg 18:27-29). Wholly unprepared, it fell an easy prey to the six hundred warriors from Samson's country; but that did not save it; the town was burned to the ground, after every creature in it had been put to the sword. Foolish enough, one would think; for the destruction of the place was so much loss of capital and labour, that needed to be at once expended anew, and the poor citizens would have been useful at least as slaves. But antiquity knew no kindness beyond the limits of a tribe and its allies. Strangers were enemies, to be killed like wild beasts. The world has made some progress since those days, thank God!
A little to the west lies the village of Abil—known, in David's time, as Abel-beth-Maachah—on a hill on the east side of the Derdarah, one of the tributaries of the Jordan. Here it was that the embers of a revolt headed by one Sheba, a Benjamite, were stamped out by Joab, after the latter had, on his march north, basely murdered his rival Amasa, David's nephew, at the great stone in Gibeon, leaving him wallowing in his blood "in the midst of the highway," and striding on with the spurted blood of his victim all over him, from his girdle to his sandals (2 Sam 20:10; 1Kings 2:5). The rams were already battering the town walls when a shrewd woman from the top of the battlements proposed to buy peace by throwing over the head of the rebel. This done, the assailants retired.
About seven miles to the north-west stands Khian, once a village in Naphtali, which was seized by Benhadad, and whose inhabitants were led off to Assyria by Tiglath Pileser, or Pul (2 Chron 16:41; 1 Kings 15:20). A few miles south-west of Khian, perched on a cliff of the river Litany, 2,343 feet above the sea, and close to the hamlet of Arnun, which is embowered among trees, is the great Crusaders' castle of Belfort. The rock sinks precipitously on three sides, allowing approach only on the fourth. Strong in its position, this imposing fortress was rendered still more so by a ditch round it hewn in the living rock, although on the east it needed no artificial protection whatever. This castle was the bulwark of the Crusaders' kingdom in the north. There had been another on the same site ages before their strong defences rose, for lines of chiselled stones, speaking of ancient masonry, are seen on the walls. A caravan-track from Damascus to Sidon passes close to the fortress on the east bank of the river; used, doubtless, for thousands of years as a settled route of trade. Hence it is very probable that the Sidonians themselves had a castle on the site of Belfort, to protect the road by which their wealth came to them. To-day, however, all is deserted, unless, indeed, when some goatherd and his charge at times seek rest in halls once sacred to the Knights of the Temple.
The view from the gigantic ruins is very striking. A sheer precipice of 1,500 feet in depth overlooks the Litany, which drives its foaming waters through a narrow passage in the hills. Eagles have their nests in great numbers on the ledges overhanging the terrible abyss. As they wheel round, to the real danger of anyone standing on the edge of such awful depths, the picture of Deuteronomy rises naturally to the mind: "As an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, beareth them on her wings, so the Lord alone did lead you" (32:11) Nor can one forget the striking words of Isaiah, "They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles" (40:31) The opposite bank of the river is not so steep, but rises in a fairly well-cultivated slope, with a few small villages scattered over the landscape. Further to the east rises the ever-magnificent Hermon: its snow crown glittering in the bright spring sun. In the north the huge masses of Lebanon seem to bear up the sky, while to the west stretches out a gently undulating table-land.
Chapter 46 | Contents | Chapter 48
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