by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books


Chapter 54 | Contents

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




Chapter 54 | Contents

After a journey over Palestine in every direction it is natural to contrast the present with the past. That the land was once very much more fruitful than it is now admits of no doubt. But could it at any time have been fertile, as a whole, according to Western ideas? It could, but only where water was plentiful. The plain of the Jordan, that of Shechem, Esdraelon, and similar-level spaces, easily irrigated by springs breaking out at the foot of the neighbouring hills, must, in all ages, have been exceedingly rich, and so must any other parts where the vital necessity, moisture, could be readily obtained. Round Cæsarea-Philippi, and at Dan, or along the valley of the Huleh, or in the little plain of Gennesaret, the country must always have been like the garden of the Lord. But it was different with the hills which cover so much of the land. Where springs sparkled down them, there would be abundance, but everywhere else the collection of rain-water in wells must have been the one resource for summer irrigation. That Palestine, in such districts, has always been waterless, is shown by the thousands of rain-pits dug in ancient times, and still remaining. The stores gathered in these might water the terraces painfully made along the hill-sides, but only after hard and constant labour; nor would they suffice if not supplemented by copious rains in autumn and spring. Drought would, indeed, cut off all hope, for in that case, the rain-pits would be empty.

The hills of Southern Palestine, moreover, are incredibly barren; like a brain-coral, as I have said, with its numberless seams fretting the bulges of grey limestone. Industry, in a warm climate, does wonders with vegetation, if there be water; but to terrace these stony hills must have been infinitely harder work than to clear a far larger space of "bush" in Canada, and open rich virgin soil to the sun. Terraces, moreover, could only offer narrow banks for culture along the rounded slopes, and there must have been large districts in which no terracing could have repaid the husbandman, amidst such a bare and awful wilderness of rock. The amazing stoniness of the soil in very many parts, also, must have limited fruitfulness, for it seems as if stones had been rained down over most of Palestine. I have been in many countries, but I never saw anything similar, except perhaps in Nova Scotia or Dartmoor.

I cannot, therefore, suppose that even in its best ages the Promised Land was one of which, as a whole, a Western people would have thought much, however fertile it might be in parts. The praise of it in the Bible must, I apprehend, be understood by an Oriental standard, which regards any country as a paradise where, even in parts, there are living springs and green plains. There is immeasurably more beauty and fertility in an English county like Kent than in all Palestine, including its best spots. Indeed, Kent is too large for a fair comparison. Its sixty-five miles of width, and forty of depth from north to south, give it too great an advantage, against so small a country as Palestine, which is only 140 miles from Dan to Beersheba, and does not average anything like forty miles in its breadth.

The future of Palestine no one can foresee. That any considerable number of Jews will ever return to it is most improbable. The Hebrew does not take kindly to agriculture. His delight is in trade, as a middleman, very seldom as a producer. Money-lenders, also, by instinct, from the wealthy financiers of London to the trembling Jew of Southern Russia, the race everywhere live by their head much more than by their hands. Their advantages among the busy populations of civilised countries are too much to their taste to permit of their ever gathering in any numbers on the stony hills of the Holy Land. Indeed, those in Palestine are, as a rule, quite miserable, drawing their sustenance largely from their brethren elsewhere, though the country virtually lies open to their industry, if they would turn to the plough. The Jew may have a deep traditional love for Jerusalem, but he prefers to edit papers, to fill professorial chairs, to finance, and to trade, where he can thus employ himself, to sweltering for his daily bread on the thirsty uplands of Judæa. Nor is this a modern feature of the Hebrew nationality. For ages before Christ, the Dispersion—that is, the Jews in foreign countries—far outnumbered those in the fatherland; and it is not to be forgotten that when permission was given to return from Babylon to Judæa, only a very small number were willing to leave the rich plains and commercial advantages of the region of the Euphrates.

The future of the land, it appears to me, belongs to the hardy fellahin, if ever Divine mercy deliver it from the baleful presence of the Turk, who has been rightly called "the Scourge of God," and bring it under the life-giving protection of some Christian Power.


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