The Comparative Geography of Palestine and the Sinaitic Peninsula

BY CARL RITTER. Translated and adapted to the use of Biblical Students by WILLIAM L. GAGE. New York: D. Appleton & Co. 1866. 4 vols.
AMERICAN critics have found fault with Mr. Gage, as it seems to us somewhat too strongly, for certain features of this work. He has been blamed for adapting it “ to the use of Biblical students,” as though thereby he must necessarily tamper with scientific accuracy of statement,—for too much condensation, and for too little, — for omitting Ritter’s maps, — and for certain incongruities of figures and measurement. It has also been said, that the book itself, being fifteen years old, is already antiquated, and that many recent works, not mentioned by Ritter, or at least not adequately used, have modified our knowledge of Palestine since his day. But, after all, these critics have ended by saying that the work is a good and useful one, and by awarding credit to Mr. Gage for his fidelity, industry, and accuracy in his part of the work. So that, perhaps, the fault-finding was thrown in only as a necessary part of the duty of the reviewer; for fault-finding is, ex officio, his expected function. A judge ought always to be seated above the criminal, and every author before his reviewer is only a culprit. The author may have given years to the study of the subject to which his reviewer has only given hours. But what of that? The position of the reviewer is to look down, and his tone must always be de haut en bas.
We do not, ourselves, profess to know as much of the geography of Palestine as Professor Ritter, probably not as much as Mr. Gage. Were it not for the sharp-eyed critics, we should have wholly missed the important verification of the surface-level of Lake Huleh. We have in past years studied our “Palästina,” by Von Raumer, and followed the careful Dr. Robinson with gratitude through his laborious researches. But we must confess that we are grateful for these volumes, even though they have no maps, and cannot but think it honorable in Mr. Gage to prefer to publish the book with none, rather than with poor ones. We see no harm in adapting the work to the use of Biblical students, by abridging or omitting the topics which have no bearing on the Bible history. No one else is obliged to purchase it, and the warning is given beforehand.
These four volumes contain a vast amount of interesting and important matter concerning Sinai and Palestine. The journals of travellers of all times are laid under contribution, and you are allowed often to form your own judgments from the primitive narratives. You are like one sitting in a court and hearing a host of witnesses examined and cross-examined by able counsel, and then listening to the summing up of a learned judge. It is easy to see how much more vivid such descriptions must be than a dry résumé without these accompanying pièces justificatifs.
The first of the four volumes concerns the peninsula of Mount Sinai. It gives the history of all the travels in that region, and the chief works concerning it from the earliest time; the routes to Mount Sinai; the voyages of Hiram and Solomon through the Red Sea to India ; an interesting discussion of the name Ophir ; the different groups of mountains in this region; the Bedouin tribes of the peninsula, and of Arabia Petræa ; and a full account of Petra, the monolithic city of Edom.
The second volume begins with a comparative view of Syria, and a review of the authorities on the geography of Palestine. Then follows an account of the Land of Canaan and its inhabitants before the conquest by the Israelites, and of tire tribes outside of Palestine who remained hostile to the Israelites. We next have an account of the great depression of the Jordan Valley, the river and its basin. Chapters on the sources of the Jordan, the Sea of Galilee, the caravan road to Damascus, and the river to the Dead Sea, and an account of the travellers who have surveyed the region, follow, —with an Appendix, in which is contained a discussion of the site of Capernaum, and Tobler’s full list of works on Palestine.
Vol. III. contains chapters on the Mouth of the Jordan ; the Dead Sea ; the Division among the Ten Tribes; an account of Judæa, Samaria, and Galilee; the routes through the Land; and several scientific essays.
Vol. IV. gives a full account of Jerusalem, ancient, mediæval, and modern ; a discussion of the holy places; an account of the inhabitants ; the region around Jerusalem ; the roads to and from the city ; Samaria ; and Galilee;—concluding with an index of subjects, and another of texts.
On the whole, we must express our gratitude to Mr. Gage for his labor of love, in thus giving us the results of the studies of his friend and master on this important theme. Students of the Bible and of Syrian geography can nowhere else find the matters treated so fully and conscientiously and exhaustively discussed as here.
As the principal objection made to the translation of Mr. Gage is that it omits Ritter’s maps, it is proper to state that Professor Kiepert declared them to be worthless ; that the publisher declined an offer to sell five hundred sets, lying on his hands, to the Clarks of Edinburgh, because he could not conscientiously recommend them. Inasmuch as good Bible maps of Palestine are to be had everywhere, and as Robinson’s are sold by themselves in a little volume, the student does not seem to have much reason to complain.
The past quarter of a century has not added much to our knowledge of Palestine. Stanley, Bonor, Stewart, Lynch, Tobler, Barclay, De Saulcy, Sepp, Tristam, Porter, Wetystein, the Due de Luyner, and others, have travelled and written, but the mysteries remain mysteries still.