by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 50 | Contents | Chapter 52

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


From Damascus in a Diligence—ShtoraThe Great TempleTemple of the SunVaults of the Great TempleA Third TempleThe QuarriesThe Slow Spread of ChristianityAinitaThe Remains of the Cedars of Lebanon

The diligence from Damascus to the coast started at half-past four in the morning, long before daylight. The journey for five hours was up and down the long slopes of Lebanon, which rose and fell in seemingly endless succession. How far the road, is above the sea at its highest point, I do not know, but it certainly climbs thousands of feet. Six horses, or horses and mules, dragged us upwards, very rarely ceasing to trot at a good rate. It was curious, as the day went on, to see European agency at various points—watering-carts, rollers to crush the stones on the road into smoothness, and wheelbarrows to carry material hither or thither. The stations were well built of stone, but there was no provision for refreshment. The driver faced the cold in a fur coat and manifold wrappings; and his assistant, at his side, covered his head with a "kefiyeh" and placidly slept, snug in coat over coat.

Our goal, on the way to Baalbek, was Shtora, a small village in the magnificent plain that runs up between the two chains of Lebanon. At a small station-house at the roadside, a Montenegrin host offered refreshments prepared by his wife, a Greek; and to make the spot still more cosmopolitan, our fellow-guests were a German and his wife from Constantinople, where they were in business.

The Bekaa, or "the Cleft," as the broad valley on the edge of which Shtora lies, close under the western hills, is called, is a broad plain, known anciently as Cœle-Syria, or "Hollow Syria." In ages long past every part of this magnificent sweep of country, and far up the mountains on each side of it, was richly cultivated; and it is still at many parts green with crops, or rich with vineyards and gardens, though the population is not sufficient to use more than a small space of its wide surface. The road to Baalbek, simply a track with no artificial improvement, runs to the north along the foot of the hills, some of which, on both sides, rise into magnificent mountains. Our conveyance was a wretched affair, with seats of American cloth, so narrow and smooth that it was almost impossible to keep one's seat on them, and the two sides so close together that they could only have been occupied by passengers fitting their knees into each other, like the teeth of two combs.

It was afternoon before we drew up at Baalbek, after stopping a short distance from it to look at a circular "weli," or place of prayer, with polished red granite columns carried off from the ancient temple. No interest attaches to this confused theft from antiquity. "The Victoria Hotel," at which we rested, is clean and comfortable enough when you get into your bed-room, but the entrance is like that of a stable-yard. Clean beds and good plain fare, however, left no ground for complaint, especially as the charges were moderate. We were at last at Heliopolis, or Baalbek, famous from the remotest ages for its temples, as one sees in the tract on "The Syrian Goddess," attributed to Lucian. Lofty pillars, proclaiming its situation, are seen from a great distance, standing on higher ground than the plain. The great ruins are to the west of the present village of Baalbek, close to the foot of the eastern hills. Their special glory seems to lie in the fact that Grecian art has here, in a way quite unique, imitated the colossal scale of the monuments of ancient Egypt, and yet has impressed on the whole the stamp of free, all-constraining genius. Rows of pillars, of huge girth and height, tower upwards in consummate elegance of proportion, seeming slender and graceful in their loftiness, and bearing Corinthian capitals, exquisitely carved, which look delicate as those of Greece. Yet two men cannot make their arms meet round the columns, and the capitals are more than seven feet across. With the mouldings below, the colonnade rises to the height of seventy-six feet. The ruins extend over a vast space, which is well-nigh covered with fragments of huge pillars, or even whole ones, gigantic architraves and plinths, each carved with the most elaborate finish, and great hewn stones. Earthquakes have borne the chief part in bringing about this destruction, but barbarism also has lent its hand. Great holes are to be seen in many pillars, where the natives have cut out the clamps which held the different stones together; the iron and lead being of supreme value in their eyes. The pillars would be wonderful even if they rested on a natural surface, but it is still more astonishing to find that the whole series of temples is built on an artificial platform, so high that the colossal archways and substructures beneath of themselves excite admiration.

The portico of the great temple is at the east end of the ruins, and must have been approached by flights of steps, as its floor is nearly twenty feet above the orchards below. It is thirty-six feet in width, and had, originally, twelve columns before it; the bases remaining of two of them record that the temple was erected by Antoninus Pius, who reigned from A.D. 138 to A.D. 161, and by Julia Domna, the wife of the Emperor Septimius Severus, who was married to him about A.D. 175, and ended her days in A.D. 217 by starving herself to death! A poor exit for one who had been empress of the world for more than forty years! Passing through this portico, you enter a six-sided court, sixty-five yards long and about eighty-three yards wide, more or less in ruin. From this you pass into the great court of the temple, 147 yards long and 123 yards wide, its walls elaborately ornamented, though in an inferior style to some other parts, having been built later. Chambers open at many points—once the cells of priests and the storehouses of the sanctuary; all richly ornamented. Before these stood rows of pillars, some of them of syenite, but all, or nearly all, long since fallen, their wreck lying about or buried in the deep rubbish. Beyond this great court, which of course was never roofed, stood the chief temple; but of this little now remains. The six huge columns, seen long before reaching Baalbek, are, indeed, all that is left of it. Nineteen such pillars once rose on each side of the temple, and ten at each end, many of them still lying around in melancholy ruin. The sanctuary they surrounded stood on a basement fifty feet above the surrounding plain, but even its shape can no longer be traced.

Distinct from the great edifice, another temple, smaller in size but wonderful in its architecture, stands a little to the south-east, the far-famed Temple of the Sun. It has no court, and rises from a platform of its own, ascended in old times by a staircase from the plain below. Like the larger ruin, it was once surrounded by fine pillars, fifteen on each side, and eight at each end, but only a few remains of these survive. A gorgeous ceiling of carved stone once united this grand arcade, all round, with the temple; but it is, of course, gone, although its beauty may be imagined from huge fragments strewn on the ground. The great gateway is famous as one of the most beautiful remains of antiquity. Door-posts and lintel, alike, are huge monoliths, carved elaborately with the most charming skill. Overhead, a gigantic mass from the centre of the lintel, fractured by its own enormous weight or by lightning as long ago as 1659, hung down, till lately, as if about to fall, nothing holding it in its place save a slight bulge at its upper side; but this Damocles' sword has now, after more than 200 years, been supported by an unsightly shaft of masonry, built by the Turks, under pressure from the late Sir Richard Burton, once our consul at Damascus. A great pillar at each side of this gateway contained a winding stair, by which to reach the top of the building, but one of the two flights is now gone, and the other is partially in ruins.

The open area inside is no less elaborately ornamented than the magnificent entrance, twelve fluted Corinthian pillars adorning the sides, while the spaces between them are set off with finely-carved niches, originally filled with statues. At the far end was once the Holy of Holies, which had been roofed over with great stones, two immense pillars supporting the heavy weight, as seen by their fragments still lying about. Three arches had reached across as a screen, and between the pillars had risen a stone dais, the base from which these arches sprang, four or five feet high, and carved with figures playing instruments. A statue twelve feet high, now in Constantinople, stood on this dais. Round the bends of the niches and blind windows on the walls are wreaths of fruits; here grapes, there acorns, yonder figs; but it is striking to notice that some of the window-like niches have never been finished, the carving to complete them not having been added. Arches, from the wall, bend over towards those which faced the spectators—perhaps to bear up a gallery for some special purpose; and beneath the dais are four chambers, built for what ends I know not. How grand the whole must have been, may be judged from the fact that the Corinthian capital of one fallen pillar measures nearly seventeen feet in circumference.

The vaults beneath the great temple seem to me almost as wonderful as the marvellous structure above them. The temple, with its throngs of worshippers, rested with all its incalculable weight on a series of substructions, through which one wanders as through the stone arches of huge bazaars, which branch out in every direction. Indeed, the seen bore but a modest proportion to the unseen, just as in the great Temple of Jerusalem. Nor is the size of the stones in the outer enclosing wall, which shut in all the magnificence of Baalbek, less amazing. At one place this wall is ten feet thick, and contains nine stones, each about thirty feet long. These, however, seem nothing compared to three others in the western wall—perhaps the largest stones ever used in building. One is sixty-four feet long, and the shortest of the three is sixty-two feet, while each is about thirteen feet high, and probably as many feet thick, and these vast masses are fitted so exactly to each other that it is easy to overlook the place where they join. Indeed, it is difficult to thrust a penknife-blade between them. How were such masses separated from the rock of the quarry? How were they dragged to their present site? And, above all, how were they lifted to the top of substructions nineteen feet high, and then laid down in position as neatly as if they had been ordinary blocks? Who did it, and when? The engineers of antiquity, with no steam-power to help them, must have been wondrously clever. We are so accustomed to think ourselves, and the present generation all over the world, more advanced than the ancients, that it is well to have our pride abated by such miracles as this at Baalbek.

A third very beautiful temple, smaller than the two others, and well preserved, stands on the outskirts of the present village. Passing between dry stone walls enclosing gardens and orchards, and stepping over running brooks which keep all things brightly green, you enter a quiet spot, beautiful with flowing water and fruit-trees. Here is a semi-circular structure, with eight fine pillars outside; between these are niches, with shell tops; wreaths of foliage hang down above, but the whole is now slowly decaying. What god was worshipped here? The great temples, we know, occupied the place of older ones sacred to Baal, the sun-god, for the Greek name of Baalbek was Heliopolis, "the City of the Sun," but it is a matter of doubt to whom this miniature sanctuary was dedicated.

A quarter of an hour's walk to the south-east of the village brings you to the ancient quarries, where is another colossal block, probably intended to be built, like the other huge masses, into the outer wall of the Acropolis. The only thing I have seen to be compared with it is the vast obelisk in the quarries of Assouan, lying just as its hewers and polishers left it, unfinished, thousands of years ago. The Baalbek stone is seventy-one feet long, fourteen feet high, and thirteen feet wide, with a weight of about 1,500 tons. The rock above and around it has been cut away, so that it stands in a wide, open space—a broad level yard, in which you wander round it at your will. The huge mass has never been quite detached from the parent rock below. It lies in an inclined position, one end considerably higher than the other; and it will lie, till the general conflagration, unless broken up by the manikins of these later ages, for who, now, could think of moving it?

A short walk to the village, with a line of telegraph posts for company, and I was once more at the hotel. The posts ran past the great ruins! This, however, was only one illustration of the confusion of new and old in such a place. In the sitting-room the stove bore the name of a Glasgow firm; the cane-chairs, of bent wood, were from Vienna; the marble top of the table was from Italy; the carpets from Persia; the curtains from England; the lamps from Germany; and the covering of the sofa, or divan, along the wall, was from Damascus. Nor was the modern world represented only by furniture and the telegraph. The American Mission school, taught by a Syrian educated at the American College at Beirout, had thirty children, and in winter has fifty; the Roman Catholic school had about seventy boys and fifty or sixty girls; and a school of the British Syrian School Society, taught by a dear bright old lady, had 150 children of all ages—many of them Mahommedan girls. Women, the mistress told me, came to learn to sew and cut out; some, also, to the Bible class and to prayers. A Bible-woman reads in their houses among them, and, as I well believe, "does real good, though she never gets any of them to become Christians."

These wondrous temples of Baalbek raise strange thoughts. Built, as we have seen, in the second half of the second century after our Lord's birth—that is, after from a hundred to a hundred and fifty years of apostolic and missionary effort—they show that heathenism was then still so triumphant within two hundred miles of Jerusalem, and within one hundred miles of Christ's own city, Capernaum, as to be able to raise temples of such magnificence that their ruins even now excite the astonishment of the world. The lavish wealth expended on local temples in a spot of the empire practically as far from its centre, Rome, as Canada is from London, excites amazement. How rich must the country around have been, to furnish means for such outlay; how unspeakably different from its present condition of exhaustion and decay! How slow, on the other hand, must have been the spread of Christianity, even in its native district, when public opinion remained so uninfluenced by it after a considerable time, measured by generations, as to raise these mighty fanes in honour of the ancient gods, whom the new faith came to supersede! To expect a rapid conversion of heathen countries now, is clearly unreasonable. The spread of leaven, to which our Lord compared His doctrine, is quiet and gradual. A change in the hereditary creed of a nation can only be brought about by slow and unperceived degrees, like the silent progress of the shadow on the dial, from dawn to distant noon.

Baalbek stands nearly 4,000 feet above the sea, but it is a long and weary climb of nine hours to what remains of the great cedar wood which once clothed the upper slopes of Lebanon. It lies slightly to the north-west, across the Bekaa, which, at Baalbek, forms the water-shed between the headwaters of the Litany flowing to the south-west, and the Orontes making its way to the north-east. Riblah, where Nebuchadnezzar had his headquarters during the campaign against Jerusalem, is in this upper valley, on the Orontes, about forty miles beyond Baalbek: the armies of Assyria and Babylon coming down from the north (Isa 14:31, 41:25; Jer 4:6, 6:22, 10:22, 50:9,41, 51:48) by this route. To this place were brought Zedekiah, King of Judaea, and his sons, and afterwards some of the most important prisoners; the king to be blinded; the others to be put to death, probably by impaling, which is the usual form of punishment seen on the Assyrian monuments, though flaying alive is sometimes to be noticed (Jer 39:5,6, 52:9,10,26,27; 2 Kings 25:6,20,21). Here also Pharaoh Necho waited, after his victory over the Babylonians at Carchemish, and from this point he summoned Jehoahaz to his presence, from Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:33). Riblah was almost the farthest northern limit of David's empire, during the short time of Jewish greatness (2 Sam 8:10); Lake Hums, near which stood Kadesh, the sacred city of Hamath, and once the capital of the Hittites, being only ten or twelve miles north of it.* Hamath seems to have continued subject to Solomon (1 Kings 4:21-24; 2 Chron 8:4), who built "store cities" in it, but after his death it appears to have regained its independence. Jeroboam II., indeed, "recovered" the district of "Hamath" (2 Kings 14:28), but he apparently destroyed the capital, as Amos speaks of it as lying desolate (6:2).

* Respecting Kadesh on the Orontes, see Palestine Fund Reports, 1881, pp. 163, 218; 1882, p. 253.
After crossing the plain, the path from Baalbek to the cedars leads over the sides of the mountains; heights and valleys succeed each other, with little to notice except the roughness of the road and the magnificence of the view. The village of Ainita, or "Spring-town," lies ia a gap on the hills; and, to justify its name, some streams flow past, from the melted snows of the upper heights. Though 5,000 feet above the sea, it is sheltered from the cold by high walls of mountain, but there is nothing attractive about it. Dwarf oaks and mountain junipers are, indeed, almost the only growth that one sees on the way to it, or in its neighbourhood. From this point the road is much steeper, with less vegetation, and leads over what is the snow-bed in winter, though goats feed here when the first patches of ground are left bare of the melted snow. From the top of Jebel Makmel, about 8,500 feet above the sea, the most glorious view presents itself: on the south, Mount Hermon, rising in snow-capped grandeur, with mountains hardly lower surrounding it on every side; a little to the north, the highest summit of Lebanon, over 10,000 feet above the Mediterranean, lifts its awful head, the picture of sublimity. Far below, to the south, the great valley of Cœle-Syria, the Bekaa, stretches out in rich green—a plain worthy of the grandeur of the mountains which enclose it on both sides.

From this point begins the descent to the cedars. Viewed from Jebel Makmel, they seem only a speck of green, beyond the beds of snow lying on the way to them: 2,500 feet of winding paths, down the slopes of the giant hills, must be descended before the shoulder of Lebanon, 6,300 feet above the sea, on which they grow, is reached. The ground which they cover, though varying in its slope, is the top of a height of white limestone, on which the decaying cones and fronds have formed a dark-coloured soil. The oldest trees are about nine in number, and the whole grove includes about 350 cedars, large and small. Unfortunately, however, no care is taken of them, goats being allowed to eat the young shoots, and monks and visitors alike using their branches for fuel. A Maronite chapel stands among them, and a festival which is held yearly helps greatly in the destruction, many fires being then kindled. Of course there are countless names cut in the bark—as if any one were the better for such vandalism! The oldest trees are of great age, one of them being forty feet in circumference, but even to it no respect is paid, branches being ruthlessly broken off when wanted for any purpose, however trifling.

In Bible times the cedar forests were the ideal of sylvan grandeur, for there is no other tree in Palestine to be compared to the cedar for size. It was natural, therefore, for Ezekiel to picture the Assyrian, so dreaded in his day, as "a cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature, and his top among the thick clouds. The waters made him great, the deep nourished him, with her rivers running round about his plantation, and sent out her little rivers unto all the trees of the field. Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long, because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth. All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young" (Eze 31:3-6).


Chapter 50 | Contents | Chapter 52


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