by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books

 

Chapter 51 | Contents | Chapter 53


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 52—BEIROUT
From Shtora to Beirout—Animals in the EastAt Beirout—Mixture of East and WestThe American Presbyterian MissionsOrphanagesA Trip to the Dog River: A Series of Ancient InscriptionsA Curious Feminine DecorationA Visit to the Dead River

To Beirout from Shtora—whither we travelled back in the toy omnibus in which we had come—is precisely like the journey from Damascus to Shtora: a long ascent of one side of a great mountain-chain, and then a descent on the other side. The French road is magnificent, and is kept in splendid repair. Hours of climbing steep heights, zig-zagged to make them easier; of galloping along the table-land thus gained, and then of climbing another ascent, filled the one half of the journey, and all this was exactly reversed in the second half. Near Shtora, the hill-sides are very generally terraced; flat-roofed villages clinging to the steep mountains, often very picturesquely. Long trains of waggons, filled with goods, met us, toiling on from Beirout to Damascus, with four horses to drag them up the hills. This is a wonderful improvement on the Oriental system of camels, mules, and asses, laden as heavily as they can bear, jogging on at two miles an hour; but that primitive mode is still used even on this line of travel, for we passed several long jingling processions of these unfortunate beasts. They seemed, however, to keep off the French highway, as I noticed them always making their way, as they best could, over tracks up and down the hill-sides near our road, but never on it, thus saving the tolls.

The country, as it slopes towards Beirout, is beautiful. After being almost amid the snow on the mountain-tops, you gradually find yourself descending towards comfortable villages, wide orchards, vineyards, and broad pastures, covered by great herds of cattle and flocks of sheep and goats. Streams rush down from the hills at many places, on their noisy way to the valley, often far below. At the highest point of the journey, where the horizon is widest, the scene was magnificent. Hermon and its satellites rose to the south-east, bearing up the heavens, all their summits covered, low down, with dazzling white. Far beneath us, beyond the multitudinous hills that sank in giant steps to the lower levels, were green plains, with a silver river winding through them. To the north, snow-covered peaks rivalled the grandeur of those of Hermon in the south.

The stations by the roadside are used as khans, at which the drivers of freight-mules, camels, or asses rest at night. One of these was very full, many guests happening to come at one time, with the result, curious to notice in connection with the story of our Saviour's birth, that many of them had to sleep with the horses, mules, or other beasts, the inn being full (Luke 2:7). How is it that the four-footed burden-bearers of the East are so strong on such miserable food? The loads they carry are enormous, yet their only recompense is some "teben," or broken straw, with an occasional handful of barley. Nevertheless, they are not particularly thin. Perhaps the chance meals in rare grassy parts help to make them strong, or at least to give them a better look. The cattle, however, that are left to graze on whatever the hills afford, are in most places very wretched; nor does their condition improve when the hot sun has withered the pastures, and they are left to draw sustenance from the universal "teben." That it was the same in Bible times is shown from the prophet's poetical anticipation of the Messianic Kingdom, as marked by the lion eating "teben" like the ox (Isa 11:7).

It was intensely interesting to watch the change of scenery as the diligence trundled or galloped on. The broad valley of the Bekaa and the snowy glory of Hermon after a time gave place to waste mountain precipices, profound gorges, glens, and clefts. At last, a turn of the road gave us a glimpse of the sea and of Beirout. From this point the road wound for some distance along a ledge cut for it high up on a mountain-ridge south of a mighty valley, into which it was half alarming, and quite entrancing, to look down. The north wall of the hills beyond rose, precipitously, to the snow-level, and above it. Numerous villages dotted the broad hollow below, or clung to the slopes, which were mantled with dark pine-woods, now seen by us for the first time in Syria. Pasture and grain fields enamelled the floor of the valley, through which wended a broad river. Thousands of mulberry-trees, all kept to a moderate height, but very leafy, showed that we had come into the region of the renowned silk industry of Lebanon. Even here fanaticism raged in the great outbreak of 1860, which is still the most interesting subject of conversation in these parts. Whole villages were destroyed, after their populations had been hewn down or driven out.

Beirout stands on the north-west point of a broad, hilly cape, rising in a long bank over pleasant hollows and broad plains, all seeming to be one great wood, here of dark pines, yonder of bright green mulberry-trees; hundreds of lofty palms rising, from point to point, above the sea of verdure; the whole making a picture even more beautiful than the palm-groves of Egypt. The road, as we reached the level by which the town is approached, became at last alive with pedestrians, male and female, in picturesque dresses; riders on horses, asses, and mules; trains of camels, with their heads high in the air, and huge loads on their humps; gigs, carts, waggons, and carriages, some with liveried drivers. Many coffee-houses, in thoroughly Eastern style, invited the wayfarer; others had their Oriental features set off by a strange intermingling of Western innovations—pompous names for the establishment, among the rest. I was glad, however, when I at last found myself in the "Hotel de 1'Orient," a fine house by the seashore, where every comfort was supplied at the modest charge of ten francs a day, a third less than if we had had tourist coupons. The large dining-room was paved with marble; the windows looked out on the sea and the mountains north of the town, a view indescribably beautiful; the bed-rooms were delightfully clean and comfortable.

Beirout does not seem to be mentioned in the Bible, for the Berothai of which we read (2 Sam 8:8; Eze 42:16) is not generally believed to be identical with it, though some have thought it is. The name may have come from the numerous "Beeroth," or wells, of the neighbourhood, but this also is only a conjecture. The town had not, like Tyre and Sidon, a great name in remote antiquity, but comes gloomily enough into notice under Herod Agrippa, who, besides building baths and theatres in it, sought to please the populace by giving an exhibition of gladiators, with their cruel combats. Here also, as at Cæsarea Philippi, Titus made bands of Jewish prisoners, after the fall of Jerusalem, engage in mortal strife with each other, to grace a holiday. Silk has long been a special local industry, the Byzantines being supplied with it from Beirout and Tyre. Hence the great plantations of mulberries and the skilful cultivation of the silkworm are a feature of the district reaching back for many ages, though of late years greatly developed beyond its condition in the last century. The Crusaders once held Beirout, as they did the whole land south, as far as Gaza, until the disastrous battle of Hattin forced them to yield it to the Saracen.

The town slopes gently upwards from the narrow beach, but in itself has no special attractions. Nature, however, more than makes amends. The wonderful mountains which shut it in at a distance, on every side, and the great azure ocean, between them, give it charms that never fail to please. In summer the richer inhabitants betake themselves to the hills, but in spring the climate is delightful. Indeed, even in winter, when there is much rain, flowers of all kinds flourish abundantly.

The streets of Beirout are almost European, though Oriental characteristics are not wanting, for there are some narrow bazaars through which it is not easy to wind one's self amidst the throng. Others are broad, with Western shops, but there are filthy caravanserais as well as elegant hotels. Barbers shave their patrons in the open air, but there are others of the profession who follow it in the seclusion of shops, on the walls of which all kinds of European advertisements may be read. One establishment, indeed, boasted in a tablet that "its proprietor has cut the hair of princes"! In the streets the confusion of tongues makes a miniature Babel, every native of any position speaking several languages.

The American Presbyterian Missions at Beirout have a world-wide fame. Begun more than fifty years ago, by men who now sleep in the quiet churchyard in the centre of their field of work, they have been quietly and efficiently continued, till Beirout has become a light to widely distant regions. Feeling that education, in the truest sense religious, from its resting on the knowledge of the Scriptures, was essential to any permanent results, they early began to use the printing-press to supply Arabic school books, and also to disseminate Christian knowledge. Year by year their primers, geographies, and other elementary school books of all kinds, have spread more widely, until they are now used in all missionary schools wherever Arabic is spoken. I met with them at the cataracts of the Nile; and, as I have already said, they are conned by dusky scholars on the Euphrates, and you find them at the Pillars of Hercules. Gradually, moreover, an Arabic Christian periodical literature has sprung up. The Leaflet, a weekly illustrated paper of four square pages, costing four shillings a year, circulates to the extent of 800 copies, while The Morning Star, a child's paper, illustrated, and published monthly, at fourpence a year for the twelve numbers, has a sale of 4,000 copies, every missionary school in Syria, Palestine, and Egypt taking some. That they can be sold so cheaply is due to the assistance of the London Religious Tract Society, which thus does good work where one might not suspect its presence. There are, besides, text-books in Arabic, for students at the Missionary College; but the greatest triumph is the Arabic Bible, translated by one of the missionaries, and used, far and near, through the Arabic-speaking world.

The College is a fine building, a little way out of Beirout, standing in its own grounds. There is also a Medical School, the aggregate number of students being, if I remember rightly, about 200 in the two establishments. As a rule, I was informed, missionaries do not know their salaries till they are on the ground, remuneration being treated as altogether a secondary consideration, since they come for the sake of their Master, not of the pay. "If they were men of the world," said President Bliss, "they might think about salary; as Christian soldiers, they are not on the same footing." Candidates for the dignity of village schoolmaster have to spend three years in the preparatory school at the College, and four years in the College itself, before being thought fit for the office, though in the more simple village schools teachers are employed who have been trained in one of the "High Schools" for three years. The number of village schools connected with the Mission is 118, with 5,180 pupils.

The results of a carefully systematic missionary system are very encouraging. An Arabic-speaking congregation of from 450 to 500 meets every Sunday in its own church, and there is a Sunday-school of 350 young people, all of them taught in Arabic by native teachers. The congregation were originally members of the Greek Church, Maronites, Druses, and Roman Catholics, while the Sunday-school children include quite a number of nationalities. At Damascus the Arabic-speaking congregation numbers about 125, and the Sunday-school 150, a great increase in the last few years in that most bigoted city. Work among Mahommedans, as I have said more than once, is next to impossible, for if a man were to turn Christian he would have to flee. There is, hence, no progress made in gathering congregations from among them.

"Zoar," the orphanage at Beirout, is very interesting. The house was hired in 1860, after the massacre, for widows, orphans, and the sick, but it has gradually become simply a hospital and an orphanage; the former under the care of the Grerman Protestant Knights of St. John, who support it, Protestant sisters acting as the nurses. The number of orphans exceeds 130, but twice as many could be got, if there were room and money. There is also a boarding and day school, but in all the establishment there are no servants, the orphans doing the whole of the work. There are eight sisters in the orphanage, eight in the boarding school, and five in the hospital. The wonderful intermixture of races in Beirout shows itself in an institution like this; children of eighteen nations and seventeen different forms of religion receiving their Bible lessons together in the same school. There are English, Scotch, Americans, Germans, Russians, Austrians, Swiss, Italians, Spaniards, Greeks, Turks, Syrians, Bulgarians, Egyptians, Poles, Dutch, Hungarians, and Danes, among the girls, and they belong to the following medley of communions: Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Calvinistic, Zwinglian, Russian, Orthodox Greek, Romish Greek, Roman Catholics, Baptists, Quakers, Wesleyans, German Templars, Maronites, Jews, Mahommedans, and sometimes Druses. The good-natured sister, however, told me that "there were no quarrels, unless the Greek girls begin against the Quakers and such sects." The buildings are wonderfully clean, and everything is splendidly managed. Besides these, there are other missionary schools—those of Mrs. Watson, that of Miss Taylor, and those of the Syrian School Society—so that another generation must see great results. The Roman Catholics, also, are very active, and have great educational establishments.

A very pleasant trip to the Dog River, to see the Assyrian inscriptions on the rocks there, varied my stay at Beirout. A large party assembled to make a holiday of the little journey, and very delightful it was. Passing to the north, a long row of the humble work-cells of silk-weavers lined the street at the edge of the town, the looms being worked from the floor in a very primitive fashion. Vast plantations of grafted mulberry-trees for the silkworms stretched away on both sides as soon as we were clear of the houses; none of the trees, I was told, were over twenty years old, silk-culture having greatly extended during that time. Cactus-hedges and stone walls alternated as fences, and water was everywhere abundant. The eggs of the silkworm are brought from the islands of the Mediterranean at twenty shillings an ounce, but this would not be necessary if proper care were taken. The people sit up night and day with the worms while they are growing, to give them a constant supply o£ fresh leaves; but, strange to say, with all this watchfulness over the insect, the trees are left without the pruning and care needed to make them thoroughly good.

Three-quarters of an hour's ride brought us to the bridge which crosses the Beirout river—a stream of considerable size in winter and spring, when swollen by the rains or melting snows from the mountains, and still strong in current when I crossed it. The left side of the road, towards the bridge, is a sandy plain, stretching back some miles to the hills, and well watered. Small white houses dot it pleasantly, with gardens and orchards round them, supplying fruit and vegetables to the town. The men who work the ground live in huts made of tall grass, laid over a framework of sticks: frail houses, certainly, but good enough in such a climate, while the weather is dry. Beyond the bridge a lane edged with prickly pear led to the shore of the bay, to reach which another small stream had to be crossed, after which came a third— the Dead River—a little way up the sands. The track next led to the edge of the mountains which close in the Bay of Beirout on the north. We advanced round a projecting headland, our course lying along the remains of a Roman road which doubles this wild rocky cape, with a precipice on the one side down to the sea, while on the other steep cliffs rise up to the table-land above.

On the land side of this old military road portions of the rock have been smoothed into tablets by successive conquerors or invaders, whose passing has been duly recorded on them in sculptured characters by their obedient slaves. There is a second road a little higher up the cliffs, but running parallel with the lower, and some of the inscriptions are on the one, some on the other. The first tablet in the series is a memorial left by Esarhaddon, the third and faithful son of Sennacherib, who reigned from B.C. 681 to B.C. 668, and marched along this pass in the years B.C. 672—1. A revolt of Phoenicia, a state tributary to him, had broken out, in aid of Tirhakah the Ethiopian, then reigning over Egypt—the diplomacy of the Nile having succeeded in stirring up a confederacy of Palestine against Nineveh, as it did so often in the days of the prophets. Esarhaddon was victorious, and not only crushed Tirhakah, but crossed the sea to Cyprus, whence he returned, perhaps to Tyre, and marched back to the Euphrates laden with spoil. The tablet shows a full-length life-size figure of the victor in his royal robes, and records the leading incidents of his campaign in cuneiform characters. There he stands in rich embroidery, his royal staff in one hand, the other on his sword—sadly weathered by exposure for 2,600 years, but still looking out faintly from the stone, on which, at each side and underneath, the sculptor has recorded in strange arrow-head combinations the glories of his lord. Little more than a foot from this is a square-headed tablet, over six feet high, cut by order of Rameses II., the Pharaoh of the Hebrew oppression seven centuries earlier, as a votive offering to Ptha, the god of Memphis, then in its glory, to celebrate the great king's triumphant advance thus far against his powerful enemies, the Hittites. Esarhaddon, the conqueror of Memphis, had noted this, and evidently cut his inscription at its side in silent irony, for the ancient power of Egypt had now veiled its head to that of Nineveh.

Next comes a round-headed Assyrian tablet, cut by Sennacherib, on his invasion of Palestine in B.C. 702: that campaign in which his army was destroyed, as we read in the Bible. The great king stands before us, with his high tiara and long staff of majesty, little thinking of the humiliation awaiting him, or the death he was to die at the hand of his sons, twenty years later, in Nineveh. After this, we have another square-headed tablet of Rameses II., dedicated to the sun-god Ra. It is much the best-preserved of the various Egyptian tablets, but even in it there are only traces of the hieroglyphics which once covered it. From the others they have been entirely effaced by time. In the upper part of this, Rameses stands in adoration before a seated deity: even the Pharaoh admitting that there were higher beings than himself, though he, also, claimed kindred with the gods. Passing this, we come to an inscription left by Shalmaneser II., of Nineveh, in the year B.C. 860, when he marched to the shores of "the Sea of the West," and here raised an image of himself, as his records tell us, after receiving the homage of the kings of Phoenicia. The figure is still quite perfect, even to the elaborate ornaments of the robes; indeed, it has often been copied as a portrait. Next comes another Assyrian tablet, round-headed as usual, glorifying the majesty of Sultan Assurnazirpal, the father of Shalmaneser II., who had just closed a victorious march through Syria, in which he had received tribute from the different local states. "This image of his majesty," he tells us, he erected over against the Great Sea, offering sacrifices and libations to his gods for the favour shown him. This was about the year B.C. 860.

Passing on, another Assyrian tablet, this time square-headed, meets us, only five feet high and half as broad, but of venerable antiquity, for it dates from the reign of Tiglath Pileser I., who was in his glory about 1,100 years before Christ, and carried the early Assyrian Empire to its highest power. This great warrior, after overcoming the Hittites at Carchemish and in Syria, marched along the coast to this part from the north, amusing himself as he did so by venturing into a "ship of the people of Arvad," in which he "rode upon the sea," and "slew a porpoise"—a deed grand enough to be commemorated in his annals. One aim he had in his advance to Beirout was, he informs us, to cut down cedars to decorate the temples of Nineveh: so early had the fame of these trees spread over Western Asia. This king was succeeded by others in whose hands Assyria for a time grew so much weaker, that David was able to found an empire extending from the sea to the Euphrates, which he could not have done had Assyria retained its vigour. A companion tablet to this one is also Assyrian, but half a century older, and very inferior to the later monuments in its execution. The figures are low and squat, and the details of decoration of the hair, beard, and dress, are given with far less care than in the later Assyrian tablets. The last inscription was originally Egyptian, dating from the remote days of Rameses II., when Moses was still young: this and the two others I have already noticed of the same king being votive offerings to the gods, in gratitude for the victories which, as he fancied, they had enabled him to gain over the Hittites and Syrians. Luckily, this tablet was examined by Dr. Lepsius in 1845, while still as perfect as its great age allowed. Since then, in 1861, the French General of Division sent to prevent the Druses in Lebanon from continuing to massacre the Christians thought fit to obliterate what remained of the inscription of the ancient Pharaoh and substitute a French one telling of the presence of the force sent by that evanescent dignitary the Emperor Napoleon III. This is cut into a bed of stucco and yellow paint—fit material for such a record.

These are not, however, the only inscriptions in this great gallery of old-world memories. The very intelligent Danish Consul at Beirout has discovered another, higher up the crags, left by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, who twice invaded Egypt, and in one of his campaigns, as we know, carried off the Jews from Jerusalem. I saw the "squeeze" of the inscription, which is of great size, and still legible in part; but, unfortunately, it gives no historical details, simply praising the wine of Helbon, a village on the east side of the great valley of Hollow Syria, still famous for its vintage. That such a series of chronicles should be visible from almost a single point is very striking. What sights this pass had seen! The bare-limbed archers and spearmen of the haughty Pharaoh, with their shields and battle-axes, as we see them on the monuments; the long squadrons of Egyptian chariots and cavalry; proud warriors, their eyes flashing with high hopes; the music of their bands floating far out over the sea; their flags and banners fluttering in the air—now all turned, these thousands of years, to pale ghosts in the silence of eternity! Past this spot their prancing chariot-horses had borne the great Sesostris—for by that name Rameses II. was known to the Greeks—Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Sardanapalus, and Nebuchadnezzar, clad in royal majesty, with their great men in all their bravery, before and behind, and their long myriads of warriors! "Captains and rulers, clothed in blue, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon horses—clothed most gorgeously, with girdles on their loins, and dyed attire of passing splendour, great lords and renowned,"—leading on, as they rode in their glittering armour, long hosts of chariots, and warriors from many lands, with buckler and spear and helmet (Eze 23:6,12,23,24), full of life and eager for the foe!

The bronze gates of Shalmaneser II., now in the British Museum, offer a representation of the imposing ceremonial connected with the dedication of such tablets as those of the Dog River. Priests in a group sacrifice before a statue of the Great King, erected on the shores of Lake Van. They stand at a portable altar, planted before the statue, clad in sacrificial robes, no doubt chanting some appropriate litany, while their attendants cast into the sea portions of the sheep and other victims slain as offerings to the gods. Amidst grand military display, such rites were one day witnessed before each tablet I had seen. The narrow road was widened in front of each tablet, to leave fitting space to honour the lineaments of the Mighty Ruler; but these once sacred platforms are now encumbered with wreckage from the hill above.

About half a mile from the mouth of the Dog River is a last tablet, to commemorate the cutting of what was then a lower line of road round the cape, by Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, one of the noblest men of the ancient world, a great emperor, but also a great man, valuing truth and goodness above his imperial purple. The inscription tells us that the "Imperator, Cæesar, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Pius, the illustrious august one, [worthily surnamed] Parthicus, Britannicus, and Germanicus, the High Priest [of Rome], opened this road; the mountains overhanging the river Lycus having been cut away to make it." So he, also, was here, perhaps when he went on to Jerusalem, with the squalor and abominations of which he was so disgusted that he contrasted the sordid Sarmatians, and Marcomanni, and Quadi, beyond the Danube, with the Jewish population, to the disadvantage of the posterity of Jacob. The tablet dates from a little before the year A.D. 180, when he died. A shorter inscription, nearer to the sea, and a little way further on, breathes the loyal prayer of some Roman for one whom all men so deeply honoured:—"Unconquered Imperator, Antoninus Pius, illustrious august one, reign for many years!" But he had soon to exchange his glory for a shroud!

It is from these hills of Lebanon, stretching away, height over height, from the Dog River, that the ladies come down, who formerly wore long horns of metal to hold up their veils. I was not fortunate enough to see any. This strange ornament was worn by ladies of different races, but especially among the Druses, who live on the southern parts of the Lebanon range. At first these horns seem to have been of very moderate size, some, which are worn in out-of-the-way parts even now, being only a few inches long, and made of pasteboard, or even pottery. By degrees, however, they not only grew longer, but were made of more costly material; the poorest of tin, others of silver, and some even of gold. But the fashion is dying out. The "horns" so often mentioned in Scripture must not be supposed to be the same as this singular head-decoration, which, in all probability, was unknown to the Jews. That the horn is the natural symbol of strength in the lower animals early caused it to be used as an emblem of power in any sense. "All the horns of the wicked will I cut off," says God, "but the horns of the righteous shall be exalted" (Psa 75:10). "The ten horns" in Daniel are "ten kings" (8:20-24). To "defile one's horn in the dust" (Job 16:15) was, hence, equivalent to being tried by adversity and humiliation. In Habakkuk the strange expression—"he had horns coming out of his hand" (3:4), should be read "rays of light from his side." The "horns of the altar" were projections of metal, so called from their shape, used for binding sacrifices on the altar, as where the Psalm says, "bind the sacrifice with cords to the horns of the altar" (118:27).

I paid an interesting visit with President Bliss to some caves up the Dead Kiver, which is nearer Beirout than the Dog River. The stream flows strong and full, springs bursting up with great force at various points in its bed. A scramble along rough paths led to a wild gorge, beautiful with trees of many kinds; and in this romantic spot lay the first cave. Masses of breccia covered the floor, and huge stalactites hung down from the roof, but as we had no hammers we could do nothing to discover prehistoric remains. These, however, have been abundantly found in this cave and others in the vicinity, and carry us back to a very remote age indeed, perhaps that of the primæval inhabitants of the region. Numerous flints, worked into scrapers and knives, have been recovered in the very cave I visited; and in others, worked flints, and numerous fragments of the bones of deer, goats, cattle, and horses, have been found. How far back these take us I leave others to determine. One thing they enforce: the innumerable multitude of the dead! What ages, long-forgotten, have strewn the earth with the wrecks of humanity, as the autumn of each year covers it with the fallen leaves of summer!

 

Chapter 51 | Contents | Chapter 53

 

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