Wherever we come upon traces of the Knights of St. John, there a door opens for us into romance; the very name suggests valor and courtesy and charity. Every town in the East that is so fortunate as to have any memorials of them, whatever its other historic associations, obtains an additional and special fame from its connection with this heroic order. The city of Acre recalls the memory of their useless prowess in the last struggle of the Christians to retain a foothold in Palestine; the name of the Knights of Rhodes brings before every traveler, who has seen it, the picturesque city in which the armorial insignia of this order have for him a more living interest than any antiquities of the Grecian Rose; the island fortress at the gate of the Levant owes all the interest we feel in it to the Knights of Malta; and even the city of David and of the Messiah has an added lustre as the birthplace of the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem.
From the eleventh century to the fifteenth, they are the chief figures who in that whirlwind of war contested the possession of the Levant with the Saracens and the Turks. In the forefront of every battle was seen their burnished mail, in the gloomy rear of every retreat were heard their voices of constancy and of courage; wherever there were crowns to be cracked, or wounds to be bound up, or broken hearts to be ministered to, there were the Knights of St. John, soldiers, priests, servants, laying aside the gown for the coat of mail if need be, or exchanging the cuirass for the white cross on the breast. Originally a charitable order, dwelling in the Hospital of St. John to minister to the pilgrims to Jerusalem, and composed of young soldiers of Godfrey, who took the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, they resumed their arms upon the pressure of infidel hostility, and subsequently divided the order into three classes: soldiers, priests, and servants. They speedily acquired great power and wealth; their palaces, their fortifications, their churches, are even in their ruins the admiration and wonder of our age. The purity of the order was in time somewhat sullied by luxury, but their valor never suffered the slightest eclipse; whether the field they contested was lost or won, their bravery always got new honor from it.
Nearly opposite the court of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is the green field of Muristan, the site of the palace, church, and hospital of the Knights of St. John. The field was, on an average, twenty-five feet above the surrounding streets, and a portion of it was known to rest upon vaults. This plot of ground was given to the Prussian government, and its agents have been making excavations there; these were going on at the time of our visit. The disclosures are of great architectural and historical interest. The entrance through a peculiar Gothic gateway leads into a court. Here the first excavations were made several years ago, and disclosed some splendid remains: the apse of the costly church, cloisters, fine windows and arches of the best Gothic style. Beyond, the diggings have brought to light some of the features of the palace and hospital; an excavation of twenty-five feet reaches down to the arches of the sub-structure, which rest upon pillars from forty to fifty feet high. This gives us some notion of the magnificent group of buildings that once occupied this square, and also of the industry of nature as an entomber, since some four centuries have sufliced her to bury these ruins so far beneath the soil, that peasants plowed over the palaces of the knights without a suspicion of what lay beneath.
In one corner of this field stands a slender minaret, marking the spot where the great Omar once said his prayers; four centuries after this, Saladin is said to have made his military head-quarters in the then deserted palace of the Knights of St. John. There is no spot in Jerusalem where one touches more springs of romance than in this field of Muristan.
Perhaps the most interesting and doleful walk one can take near Jerusalem is that into the Valley of Kidron and through Aceldama, round to the Jaffa Gate, traversing “the whole valley of the dead bodies, and of the ashes,” in the cheerful words of Jeremiah.
We picked our way through the filthy streets and on the slippery cobble-stones, — over which it seems dangerous to ride and is nearly impossible to walk, — out through St. Stephen’s Gate. Near the gate, inside, we turned into an alley and climbed a heap of rubbish to see a pool, which the guide insisted upon calling Bethesda, although it is Birket Israil. Having seen many of these pools, I did not expect much, but I was still disappointed. We saw merely a hole in the ground, which is void of all appearance of ever having been even damp. The fact is, we have come to Jerusalem too late; we ought to have been here about two thousand years ago.
The slope of the hill outside the gate is covered with the turbaned tombs of Moslems; we passed under the walls and through this cemetery into the deep valley below, crossing the bed of the brook near the tombs of Absalom, Jehoshaphat, St. James, and Zacharias. These all seem to be of Roman construction; but that called Absalom’s is so firmly believed to be his that for centuries every Jew who has passed it has cast a stone at it, and these pebbles of hate partially cover it. We also added to the heap, but I do not know why, for it is nearly impossible to hate any one who has been dead so long.
The most interesting phenomenon in the valley is the Fountain of the Virgin, or the Fountain of Accused Women, as it used to be called. The Moslem tradition is that it was a test of the unfaithfulness of women; those who drank of it and were guilty, died; those who were innocent received no harm. The Virgin Mary herself, being accused, accepted this test, drank of the water, and proved her chastity. Since then the fountain has borne her name. The fountain, or well, is in the side-hill, under the rocks of Ophel, and the water springs up in an artificial cave. We descended some sixteen steps to a long chamber, arched with ancient masonry; we passed through that and descended fourteen steps more into a grotto, where we saw the water flowing in and escaping by a subterranean passage. About this fountain were lounging groups of Moslem idlers, mostly women and children. Not far off a Moslem was saying his prayers, prostrating himself before a prayer-niche. We had difficulty in making our way down the steps, so encumbered were they with women. Several of them sat upon the lowest steps in the damp cavern, gossiping, filling their water-skins, or paddling about with naked feet.
The well, like many others in Syria, is intermittent and irregular in its rising and falling; sometimes it is dry, and then suddenly it bubbles up and is full again. Some scholars think this is the Pool Bethesda of the New Testament; others think that Bethesda was Siloam, which is below this well and fed by it, and would exhibit the same irregular rising and falling. This intermittent character St. John attributed to an angel who came down and troubled the water; the Moslems, with the same superstition, say that it is caused by a dragon, who sleeps therein and checks the stream when he wakes.
On our way to the Pool of Siloam we passed the village of Siloam, which is inhabited by about a thousand Moslems, — a nest of stone huts and caves clinging to the side-hill, and exactly the gray color of its stones. The occupation of the inhabitants appears to be begging, and hunting for old copper coins, mites, and other pieces of Jewish money. These relics they pressed upon us with the utmost urgency. It was easier to satisfy the beggars than the traders, who sallied out upon us like hungry wolves from their caves. There is a great choice of disagreeable places in the East, but I cannot now think of any that I should not prefer as a residence to Siloam.
The Pool of Siloam, magnified in my infant mind as “Siloam’s shady rill,” is an unattractive sink-hole of dirty water, surrounded by modern masonry. The valley here is very stony. Just below we came to Solomon’s Garden, an arid spot, with patches of stone walls, struggling to be a vegetable garden, and somewhat green with lettuce and Jerusalem artichokes. I have no doubt it was quite another thing when Solomon and some of his wives used to walk here in the cool of the day, and even when Shallum, the son of Col-hozeh, set up “the wall of the Pool of Siloah by the king’s garden.”
We continued on, down to Joab’s Well, passing on the way Isaiah’s Tree, a decrepit sycamore propped up by a stone pillar, where that prophet was sawn asunder. There is no end to the cheerful associations of the valley. The Well of Joab, a hundred and twenty-five feet deep, and walled and arched with fine masonry, has a great appearance of antiquity. We plucked maiden-hair from its crevices, and read the Old Testament references. Near it is a square pool fed by its water. Some little distance below this, the waters of all these wells, pools, drains, sinks, or whatever they are, reappear, bursting up through a basin of sand and pebbles, as clear as crystal, and run brawling off down the valley under a grove of large olive-trees—a scene rural and inviting.
I suppose it would be possible to trace the whole system of underground water ways and cisterns, from Solomon’s Pool, which sends its water into town by an aqueduct near the Jaffa Gate, to Hezekiah’s Pool, to the cisterns under the Haram, and so out to the Virgin’s Well, the Pool of Siloam, and the final gush of sweet water below. This valley drains, probably artificially as well as naturally, the whole city, for no sewers exist in the latter.
We turned back from this sparkling brook, which speedily sinks into the ground again, absorbed by the thirsty part of the valley called Tophet, and went up the Valley of Hinnom, passing under the dark and frowning ledges of Aceldama, honey-combed with tombs. In this “field of blood” a grim stone structure forms the front of a natural cave, which is the charnel-house where the dead were cast pell-mell, in the belief that the salts in the earth would speedily consume them. The path we travel is rugged, steep, and incredibly stony. The whole of this region is inexpressibly desolate, worn-out, pale, uncanny. The height above this rocky terrace, stuffed with the dead, is the Hill of Evil Counsel, where the Jews took counsel against Jesus; and to add the last touch of an harmonious picture, just above this Potter’s Field stands the accursed tree upon which Judas hanged himself, raising its gaunt branches against the twilight sky, a very gallows-tree to the imagination. It has borne no fruit since Iscariot. Towards dusk, sometimes, as you stand on the wall by Zion Gate, you almost fancy you can see him dangling there. It is of no use to tell me that the seed that raised this tree could not have sprouted till a thousand years after Judas was crumbled into dust; one must have faith in something.
This savage gorge, for the Valley of Hinnom is little more than that in its narrowest part, has few associations that are not horrible. Here Solomon set up the images (“the groves,” or the graven images), and the temples for the lascivious rites of Ashtoreth or the human sacrifices to Moloch. Here the Jews, the kings and successors of Solomon, with a few exceptions, and save an occasional spasmodic sacrifice to Jehovah when calamity made them fear him, practiced all the abominations of idolatry in use in that age. The Jews had always been more or less addicted to the worship of the god of Ammon, but Solomon first formally established it in Hinnom. Jeremiah writes of it historically, “They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire.” This Moloch was as ingenious a piece of cruelty as ever tried the faith of heretics in later times, and, since it was purely a means of human sacrifice, and not a means of grace (as Inquisitorial tortures were supposed to be), its use is conclusive proof of the savage barbarity of the people who delighted in it. Moloch was the monstrous brass image of a man with the head of an ox. It was hollow, and the interior contained a furnace by which the statue was made red-hot. Children—the offerings to the god—were then placed in its glowing arms, and drums were beaten to drown their cries. It is painful to recall these things, but the traveler should always endeavor to obtain the historical flavor of the place he visits.
Continuing our walks among the antiquities of Jerusalem, we went out of the Damascus Gate, a noble battlemented structure, through which runs the great northern highway to Samaria and Damascus. The road, however, is a mere path over ledges and through loose stones, fit only for donkeys. If Rehoboam went this way in his chariot to visit Jeroboam in Samaria, there must have existed then a better road, or else the king endured hard pounding for the sake of the dignity of his conveyance. As soon as we left the gate we encountered hills of stones and paths of the roughest description. There are several rock tombs on this side of the city, but we entered only one, that called by some the Tombs of the Kings, and by others, with more reason, the Tomb of Helena, a heathen convert to Judaism, who built this sepulchre for herself early in the first century. The tomb, excavated entirely in the solid rock, is a spacious affair, having a large court and ornamented vestibule and many chambers, extending far into the rock, and a singular net-work of narrow passages and recesses for the deposit of the dead. It had one device that is worthy of the ancient Egyptians. The entrance was closed by a heavy square stone, so hung that it would yield to pressure from without, but would swing to its place by its own weight, and fitted so closely that it could not be moved from the inside. If any thief entered the tomb and left this slab unsecured, he would be instantly caught in the trap and become a permanent occupant. Large as the tomb is, its execution is mean compared with the rock tombs of Egypt; but the exterior stone of the court, from its exposure in this damp and variable climate, appears older than Egyptian work which has been uncovered three times as long.
At the tomb we encountered a dozen students from the Latin convent, fine-looking fellows in long blue-black gowns, red caps, and red sashes. They sat upon the grass, on the brink of the excavation, stringing rosaries and singing student songs, with evident enjoyment of the hour’s freedom from the school; they not only made a picturesque appearance, but they impressed us also as a Jerusalem group which was neither sinful nor dirty. Beyond this tomb we noticed a handsome modern dwelling-house; you see others on various eminences outside the city, and we noted them as the most encouraging sign of prosperity about Jerusalem.
We returned over the hill and by the city wall, passing the Cave of Jeremiah and the door in the wall that opens into the stone quarries of Solomon. These quarries underlie a considerable portion of the city, and furnished the stone for its ancient buildings. I will not impose upon you a description of them; for it would be unfair to send you into disagreeable places that I did not explore myself.
The so-called Grotto of Jeremiah is a natural cavern in the rocky hill, vast in extent, I think thirty feet high and a hundred feet long by seventy broad—as big as a church. The tradition is that Jeremiah lived here, and lamented. In front of the cave are cut stones and pieces of polished columns built into walls and seats; these fragments seem to indicate the former existence here of a Roman temple. The cave is occupied by an old dervish, who has a house in a rock near by, and uses the cavern as a cool retreat and a stable for his donkey. His rocky home is shared by his wife and family. He said that it was better to live alone, apart from the world and its snares. He however finds the reputation of Jeremiah profitable, selling admission to the cave at a franc a head, and, judging by the women and children about him, he seemed to have family enough not to be lonely.
The sojourner in Jerusalem who does not care for antiquities can always entertain himself by a study of the pilgrims who throng the city at this season. We hear more of the pilgrimage to Mecca than of that to Jerusalem; but I think the latter is the more remarkable phenomenon of our modern life; I believe it equals the former, which is usually overrated, in numbers, and it certainly equals it in zeal and surpasses it in the variety of nationalities represented. The pilgrims of the cross increase yearly; to supply their wants, to minister to their credulity, to traffic on their faith, is the great business of the Holy City. Few, I imagine, who are not in Palestine in the spring, have any idea of the extent of this vast yearly movement of Christian people upon the Holy Land, or of the simple zeal which characterizes it. If it were in any way obstructed or hindered, we should have a repetition of the Crusades, on a vaster scale and gathered from a broader area than the wildest pilgrimage of the holy war. The driblets of travel from America and from Western Europe are as nothing in the crowds thronging to Jerusalem from Ethiopia to Siberia, from the Baltic to the Ural Mountains. Already for a year before the Easter season have they been on foot, slowly pushing their way across great steppes, through snows and over rivers, crossing deserts and traversing unfriendly countries; the old, the infirm, women as well as men, their faces set towards Jerusalem. No common curiosity moves this mass, from Ethiopia, from Egypt, from Russia, from European Turkey, from Asia Minor, from the banks of the Tagus and the Araxes; it is a true pilgrimage of faith, the one event in a life of dull monotony and sordid cares, the one ecstasy of poetry in an existence of poverty and ignorance.
We spent a morning in the Russian Hospice, which occupies the hill to the northwest of the city. It is a fine pile of buildings, the most conspicuous of which, on account of its dome, is the church, a large edifice with a showy exterior, but of no treat merit or interest. We were shown some holy pictures which are set in frames encrusted with diamonds, emeralds, rubies, and other precious gems, the offerings of rich devotees, and displaying their wealth rather than their taste.
The establishment has one building for the accommodation of rich pilgrims, and a larger one set apart for peasants. The hospice lodges, free of charge, all the Russian pilgrims. The exterior court was full of them. They were sunning themselves, but not inclined to lay aside their hot furs and heavy woolens. We passed into the interior, entering room after room occupied by the pilgrims, who regarded our intrusion with good-natured indifference, or frankly returned our curiosity. Some of the rooms were large, furnished with broad divans about the sides, which served for beds and lounging places, and were occupied by both sexes. The women, rosy-cheeked, light-haired, broad, honest-looking creatures, were mending their clothes; the men were snoozing on the divans, flat on their hacks, presenting to the spectator the bottoms of their monstrous shoes, which had soles eight inches broad; a side of leather would be needed for a pair. In these not very savory rooms they cook, eat, and sleep. Here stood their stoves; here hung their pilgrim knapsacks; here were their kits of shoe-maker’s tools, for mending their foot-gear, which they had tugged thousands of miles; here were household effects that made their march appear more like an emigration than a pilgrimage; here were the staring pictures of St. George and the Dragon, and of other saints, the beads and the other relics, which they had bought in Jerusalem.
Although all these pilgrims owed allegiance to the Czar, they represented a considerable variety of races. They came from Archangel, from Tobolsk, from the banks of the Ural, from Kurland; they had found their way along the Danube, the Dnieper, the Don. I spoke with a group of men and women who had walked over two thousand miles before they reached Odessa and took ship for Jaffa. There were among them Cossacks, wild and untidy, light-haired barbarians from the Caucasus, dark-skinned men and women from Moscow, representatives from the remotest provinces of great Russia; for the most part simple, rude, clumsy, honest boors. In an interior court we found men and women seated on the sunny flagging, busily occupied in arranging and packing the souvenirs of their visit. There was rosemary spread out to dry; there were little round cakes of blessed bread stamped with the image of the Saviour; there were branches of palm, crowns of thorns, and stalks of cane cut at the Jordan; there were tin cases of Jordan water; there were long strips of cotton cloth stamped in black with various insignia of death, to serve at home for coffin-covers; there were skull-caps in red, yellow, and white, also stamped with holy images, to be put on the heads of the dead. I could not but in mind follow these people to their distant homes, and think of the pride with which they would show these trophies of their pilgrimage; how the rude neighbors would handle with awe a stick cut on the banks of the Jordan, or eat with faith a bit of the holy bread. How sacred, in those homes of frost and snow, will not these mementos of a land of sun, of a land so sacred, become. I can see the wooden chest in the cabin where the rosemary will be treasured, keeping sweet, against the day of need, the caps and the shrouds.
These people will need to make a good many more pilgrimages, and perhaps to quit their morose land altogether, before they can fairly rank among the civilized of the earth. They were a thick-set, padded-legged, short-bodied, unintelligent lot. The faces of many of them were worn, as if storm-beaten, and some kept their eyes half closed, as if they were long used to face the sleet and blasts of winter; and I noticed that it gave their faces a very different expression from that produced by the habit the Egyptians have of drawing the eyelids close together on account of the glare of the sun.
We took donkeys one lovely morning, and rode from the Jaffa Gate around the walls on our way to the Mount of Olives. The Jerusalem donkey is a good enough donkey, but he won’t go. He is ridden with a halter, and never so elegantly caparisoned as his more genteel brother in Cairo. In order to get him along at all, it needs one man to pull the halter and another to follow behind with a stick; the donkey then moves by inches, — if he is in the humor. The animal that I rode stopped at once, when he perceived that his driver was absent. No persuasions of mine, such as kicks and whacks of a heavy stick, could move him on; he would turn out of the road, put his head against the wall, and pretend to go to sleep. You would not suppose it possible for a beast to exhibit so much contempt for a man.
On the high ground outside the wall were pitched the tents of travelers, making a very pretty effect amid the olive-trees and the gray rocks. Now and then an Arab horseman came charging down the road, or a Turkish official cantered by; women, veiled, clad in white balloon robes that covered them from head to foot, flitted along in the sunshine, mere white appearances of women, to whom it was impossible to attribute any such errand as going to market; they seem always to be going to or returning from the cemetery.
Our way lay down the rough path and the winding road to the bottom of the Valley of Jehoshaphat. Leaving the Garden of Gethsemane on our right, we climbed up the rugged, stony, steep path to the summit of the hill. There are a few olive-trees on the way, enough to hinder the view where the stone walls would permit us to see anything; importunate begging Moslems beset us; all along the route we encountered shabbiness and squalor. The rural sweetness and peace that we associate with this dear mount appear to have been worn away centuries ago. We did not expect too much, but we were not prepared for such a shabby show-place. If we could sweep away all the filthy habitations and hideous buildings on the hill, and leave it to nature, or, indeed, convert the surface into a well-ordered garden, the spot would be one of the most attractive in the world.
We hoped that when we reached the summit we should come into an open, green, and shady place, free from the disagreeable presence of human greed and all the artificiality that interposed itself between us and the sentiment of the place. But the traveler need not expect that in Palestine. Everything is staked out and made a show of. Arrived at the summit, we could see little or nothing; it is crowned with the dilapidated Chapel of the Ascension. We entered a dirty court, where the custodian and his family and his animals live, and from thence were admitted to the church. In the pavement is shown the footprint of our ascending Lord, although the Ascension was made at Bethany. We paid the custodian for permission to see this manufactured scene of the Ascension. The best point of view to be had here is the old tower of the deserted convent, or the narrow passage to it on the wall, or the top of the minaret near the church. There is no place on wall or tower where one can sit; there is no place anywhere here to sit down, and in peace and quiet enjoy the magnificent prospect, and meditate on the most momentous event in human history. We snatched the view in the midst of annoyances. The most minute features of it are known to every one who reads. The portion of it I did not seem to have been long familiar with is that to the east, comprising the Jordan valley, the mountains of Moab, and the Dead Sea.
Although this mount is consecrated by the frequent presence of Christ, who so often crossed it in going to and from Bethany, and retired here to meditate and to commune with his loved followers, everything that the traveler at present encounters on its summit is out of sympathy with his memory. We escaped from the beggars and the showmen, climbed some stone walls, and in a rough field near the brow of the hill, in a position neither comfortable nor private, but the best that we found, read the chief events in the life of Christ connected with this mount, the triumphal entry, and the last scenes transacted on yonder hill. And we endeavored to make the divine man live again, who so often and so sorrowfully regarded the then shining city of Zion from this height.
To the south of the church and a little down the hill is the so-called site of the giving of the Lord’s Prayer. I do not know on what authority it is thus named. A chapel is built to mark the spot, and a considerable space is inclosed before it, in which are other objects of interest, and these were shown to us by a pleasant-spoken lady, who is connected with the convent, and has faith equal to the demands of her position. We first entered a subterranean vaulted room, with twelve rough half-pillars on each side, called the room where the apostles composed the creed. We then passed into the chapel. Upon the four walls of its arcade is written, in great characters, the Lord’s Prayer in thirty-two languages; among them the “Canadian.”
In a little side chapel is the tomb of Aurelia de Bossa, Princesse de la Tour d’Auvergne, Duchesse de Bouillon, the lady whose munificence established this chapel and executed the prayer in so many tongues. Upon the side of the tomb this fact of her benevolence is announced, and the expectation is also expressed, in French, that “God will overwhelm her with blessing forever and ever for her good deed.” Stretched upon the sarcophagus is a beautiful marble effigy of the princess; the figure is lovely, the face is sweet and seraphic, and it is a perfect likeness of her ladyship.
I do not speak at random. I happen to know that it is a perfect likeness, for a few minutes after I saw it, I met her in the corridor, in a semi-nunlike costume, with a heavy cross hanging by a long gold chain at her side. About her forehead was bound a barbarous frontlet composed of some two hundred gold coins, and ornaments not unlike those worn by the ladies of the ancient Egyptians. This incongruity of costume made me hesitate whether to recognize in this dazzling vision of womanhood a priestess of Astarte or of Christ. At the farther door, Aurelia de Bossa, Princesse de la Tour d’Auvergne, Duchesse de Bouillon, stopped and blew shrilly a silver whistle which hung at her girdle, to call her straying poodle, or to summon a servant. In the rear of the chapel this lady lives in a very pretty house, and near it she was building a convent for Carmelite nuns. I cannot but regard her as the most fortunate of her sex. She enjoys not only this life, but, at the same time, all the posthumous reputation that a lovely tomb and a record of her munificence engraved thereon can give. We sometimes hear of, but we seldom see, a person, in these degenerate days, living in this world as if already in the other.
We went on over the hill to Bethany; we had climbed up by the path on which David fled from Absalom, and we were to return by the road of the Triumphal Entry. All along the ridge we enjoyed a magnificent panorama: a blue piece of the Dead Sea, the Jordan plain extending far up towards Hermon with the green ribbon of the river winding through it, and the long, even range of the Moab hills, blue in the distance. The prospect was almost Swiss in its character, but it is a mass of bare hills, with scarcely a tree except in the immediate foreground, and so naked and desolate as to make the heart ache; it would be entirely desolate but for the deep blue of the sky and an atmosphere that bathes all the great sweep of peaks and plains in color.
Bethany is a squalid hamlet clinging to the rocky hill-side, with only one redeeming feature about it—the prospect. A few wretched one-story huts of stone, and a miserable handful of Moslems, occupy this favorite home and resting-place of our Lord. Close at hand, by the roadside, cut in the rock and reached by a steep descent of twenty-six steps, is the damp and doubtful tomb of Lazarus, down into which any one may go for half a franc paid to the Moslem guardian. The house of Mary and Martha is exhibited among the big rocks and fragments of walls; upon older foundations loose walls are laid, rudely and recently patched up with cut stones in fragments, and pieces of Roman columns. The house of Simon the leper, overlooking the whole, is a mere heap of ruins. It does not matter, however, that all these dwellings are modern; this is Bethany, and when we get away from its present wretchedness we remember only that we have seen the very place that Christ loved.
We returned along the highway of the Entry slowly, pausing to identify the points of that memorable progress, up to the crest where Jerusalem broke upon the sight of the Lord, and whence the procession, coming round the curve of the hill, would have the full view of the city. He who rides that way to-day has a grand prospect. One finds Jerusalem most poetic when seen from Olivet, and Olivet most lovely when seen from the distance of the city walls.
At the foot of the descent we turned and entered the inclosure of the Garden of Gethsemane. Three stone-wall inclosures here claim to be the real garden; one is owned by the Greeks, another by the Armenians, the third by the Latins. We chose the last, as it is the largest and pleasantest; perhaps the garden, which was certainly in this vicinity, once included them all. After some delay we were admitted by a small door in the wall, and taken charge of by a Latin monk, whose young and sweet face was not out of sympathy with the place. The garden contains a few aged olive-trees, and some small plots of earth, fenced about and secured by locked gates, in which flowers grow. The guardian gave us some falling roses, and did what he could to relieve the scene of its artificial appearance; around the wall, inside, are the twelve stations of the Passion, in the usual tawdry style.
But the birds sang sweetly in the garden, the flowers of spring were blooming, and, hemmed in by the high wall, we had some moments of solemn peace, broken only by the sound of a Moslem darabooka drum throbbing near at hand. Desecrated as this spot is, and made cheap by the petty creations of superstition, one cannot but feel the awful significance of the place, and the weight of history crowding upon him, where battles raged for a thousand years, and where the greatest victory of all was won when Christ commanded Peter to put up his sword. Near here Titus formed his columns which stormed the walls and captured the heroic city after its houses, and all this valley itself, were filled with Jewish dead; but all this is as nothing to the event of that awful night when the servants of the high-priest led away the unresisting Lord.
It is this event, and not any other, that puts an immeasurable gulf between this and all other cities, and perhaps this difference is more felt the farther one is from Jerusalem. The visitor expects too much; he is unreasonably impatient of the contrast between the mean appearance of the theatre and the great events that have been enacted on it; perhaps he is not prepared for the ignorance, the cupidity, the credulity, the audacious impostures under Christian names, on the spot where Christianity was born.
When one has exhausted the stock sights of Jerusalem, it is probably the dullest, least entertaining city of the Orient; I mean, in itself, for its pilgrims and its religious fetes, in the spring of the year, offer always some novelties to the sight-seer; and, besides, there is a certain melancholy pleasure to be derived from roaming about outside the walls, enveloped in a historic illusion that colors and clothes the nakedness of the landscape.
The chief business of the city and the region seems to be the manufacture of religious playthings for the large children who come here. If there is any factory of relics here I did not see it. Nor do I know whether the true cross has still the power of growing, which it had in the fourth century, to renew itself under the constant demand for pieces of it. I did not go to see the place where the tree grew of which it was made; the exact spot is shown in a Greek convent about a mile and a half west of the city. The tree is said to have been planted by Abraham and Noah. This is evidently an error; it may have been planted by Adam and watered by Noah.
There is not much trade in antiquities in the city; the shops offer little to tempt the curiosity hunter. Copper coins of the Roman period abound, and are constantly turned up in the fields outside the city, most of them battered and defaced beyond recognition. Jewish mites are plenty enough, but the silver shekel would be rare if the ingenious Jews did not keep counterfeits on hand. The tourist is waited on at his hotel by a few patient and sleek sharks with cases of cheap jewelry and doubtful antiques, and if he seeks the shops of the gold and silver bazars he will find little more. I will not say that he will not now and then pick up a piece of old pottery that has made the journey from Central Asia, or chance upon a singular stone with a talismanic inscription. The hope that he may do so carries the traveler through a great many Eastern slums. The chief shops, however, are those of trinkets manufactured for the pilgrims, of olive wood, ivory, bone, camels’ teeth, and all manner of nuts and seeds. There are more than fifty sorts of beads, strung for profane use or arranged for rosaries, and some of them have pathetic names, like “Job’s tears.” Jerusalem is entitled to be called the City of Beads.
There is considerable activity in Jewish objects that are old and rather unclean; and I think I discovered something like an attempt to make a “corner” in phylacteries, that is, in old ones, for the new are made in excess of the demand. If a person desires to carry home a phylactery to exhibit to his Sunday-school, in illustration of the religion of the Jews, he wants one that has been a long time in use. I do not suppose it possible that the education of any other person is as deficient as mine was in the matter of these ornamental aids in worship. But if there is one, this description is for him: the phylactery, common size, is a leathern box about an inch and a half square, with two narrow straps of leather, about three feet long, sewed to the bottom corners. The box contains a parchment roll of sacred writing. When the worshiper performs his devotions in the synagogue, he binds one of the phylacteries about his left arm and the other about his head, so that the little box has something of the appearance of a leathern horn sprouting out of his forehead. Phylacteries are worn only in the synagogue, and in this respect differ from the greasy leathern talismans of the Nubians, which contain scraps from the Koran, and are never taken off. Whatever significance the phylactery once had to the Jew it seems now to have lost, since he is willing to make it an article of merchandise. Perhaps it is poverty that compels him also to sell his ancient scriptures; parchment rolls of favorite books, such as Esther, that are some centuries old, are occasionally to be bought, and new rolls, deceitfully doctored into an appearance of antiquity, are offered freely.
A few years ago the antiquarian world was put into a ferment by what was called the “Shœpira collection,” a large quantity of clay pottery, — gods, votive offerings, images, jars and other vessels, — with inscriptions in unknown characters, which was said to have been dug up in the land of Moab, beyond the Jordan, and was expected to throw great light upon certain passages of Jewish history, and especially upon the religion of the heathen who occupied Palestine at the time of the conquest. The collection was sent to Berlin; some eminent German sacans pronounced it genuine; nearly all the English scholars branded it as an impudent imposture. Two collections of the articles have been sent to Berlin, where they are stored out of sight of the public generally, and Mr. Shœpira has made a third collection, which he still retains.
Mr. Shœpira is a Hebrew antiquarian and bookseller, of somewhat eccentric manners, but an enthusiast. He makes the impression of a man who believes in his discoveries, and it is generally thought in Jerusalem that if his collection is a forgery, he himself is imposed on. The account which he gives of the places where the images and utensils were found is anything but clear or definite. We are required to believe that they have been dug up in caves at night and by stealth, and at the peril of the lives of the discoverers, and that it is not safe to visit these caves in the day-time on account of the Bedouins. The fresh-baked appearance of some of the articles is admitted, and it is said that it was necessary to roast them to prevent their crumbling when. exposed to the air. Our theory in regard to these singular objects is that a few of those first shown were actually discovered, and that all the remainder have been made in imitation of them. Of the characters (or alphabet) of the inscriptions, Mr. Shœpira says he has determined twenty-three; sixteen of these are Phœnician, and the others, his critics say, are meaningless. All the objects are exceedingly rude and devoid of the slightest art; the images are many of them indecent; the jars are clumsy in shape, but the inscriptions are put on with some skill. The figures are supposed to have been votive offerings, and the jars either memorial or sepulchral urns.
The hideous collection appeared to me sui generis, although some of the images resemble the rudest of those called Phœnician which General di Cesnola unearthed in Cyprus. Without merit, they seem to belong to a rude age rather than to be the inartistic product of this age. That is, supposing them to be forgeries, I cannot see how these figures could be conceived by a modern man, who was capable of inventing a fraud of this sort. He would have devised something better, at least something less simple, something that would have somewhere betrayed a little modern knowledge and feeling. All the objects have the same barbarous tone, a kind of character that is distinct from their rudeness, and the same images and designs are repeated over and over again. This gives color to the theory that a few genuine pieces of Moabite pottery were found, which gave the idea for a large manufacture of them. And yet, there are people who see these things, and visit all the holy places, and then go away and lament that there are no manufactories in Jerusalem!
Jerusalem attracts while it repels; and both it and all Palestine exercise a spell out of all proportion to the consideration they had in the ancient world. The student of the mere facts of history, especially if his studies were made in Jerusalem itself, would be at a loss to account for the place that the Holy City occupies in the thought of the modern world, and the importance attached to the history of the handful of people who made themselves a home in this rocky country. The Hebrew nation itself, during the little time it was a nation, did not play a part in Oriental affairs at all commensurate with its posthumous reputation. It was not one of the great kingdoms of antiquity, and in that theatre of war and conquest which spread from Ethiopia to the Caspian Sea, it was scarcely an appreciable force in the great drama.
The country the Hebrews occupied was small; they never conquered or occupied the whole of the Promised Land, which extended from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arabian plain, from Hamath to Sinai. Their territory in actual possession reached only from Dan to Beersheba. The coast they never subdued; the Philistines, who came from Crete and grew to be a great people in the plain, held the lower portion of Palestine on the sea, and the Phœnicians the upper. Except during a brief period in their history, the Jews were confined to the hill country. Only during the latter part of the reign of David and two thirds of that of Solomon did the Jewish kingdom take on the proportions of a great state. David extended the Israelitish power from the Gulf of Akaba to the Euphrates; Damascus paid him tribute; he occupied the cities of his old enemies, the Philistines, but the kingdom of Tyre, still in the possession of Hiram, marked the limit of Jewish sway in that direction. This period of territorial consequence was indeed brief. Before Solomon was in his grave, the conquests bequeathed to him by his father began to slip from his hand. The life of the Israelites as a united nation, as anything but discordant and warring tribes, after the death of Joshua, is all included in the reigns of David and Solomon—perhaps sixty or seventy years.
The Israelites were essentially high-landers. Some one has noticed their resemblance to the Scotch Highlanders in modes of warfare. In fighting, they aimed to occupy the heights. They descended into the plain reluctantly; they made occasional forays into the low-lands, but their hills were their strength, as the Psalmist said; and they found security among their crags and secluded glens from the agitations which shook the great empires of the Eastern world. Invasions, retreats, pursuits, the advance of devouring hosts or the flight of panic-stricken masses, for a long time passed by their ridge of country on either side, along the Mediterranean or through the land of Moab. They were out of the track of Oriental commerce as well as of war. So removed were they from participation in the stirring affairs of their era that they seem even to have escaped the omnivorous Egyptian conquerors. For a long period conquest passed them by, and it was not till their accumulation of wealth tempted the avarice of the great Asiatic powers that they were involved in the conflicts which finally destroyed them. The small kingdom of Judah, long after that of Israel had been utterly swept away, owed its continuance of life to its very defensible position. Solomon left Jerusalem a strong city, well supplied with water, and capable of sustaining a long siege, while the rugged country around it offered little comfort to a besieging army.
For a short time David made the name of Israel a power in the world, and Solomon, inheriting his reputation, added the triumphs of commerce to those of conquest. By a judicious heathen alliance with Hiram of Tyre he was able to build vessels on the Red Sea and man them with Phœnician sailors, for voyages to India and Ceylon; and he was admitted by Hiram to a partnership in his trading adventures to the Pillars of Hercules. But these are only episodes in the Jewish career; the nation’s part in Oriental history is comparatively insignificant until the days of their great calamities. How much attention its heroism and suffering attracted at that time we do not know.
Though the Israelites during their occupation of the hill-country of Palestine were not concerned in the great dynastic struggles of the Orient, they were not, however, at peace. Either the tribes were fighting among themselves or they were involved in sanguinary fights with the petty heathen chiefs about them. We get a lively picture of the habits of the time in a sentence in the second hook of Samuel: “And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah.” It was a pretty custom. In that season when birds pair and build their nests, when the sap mounts in the trees and travelers long to go into far countries, kings felt a noble impulse in their veins to go out and fight other kings. But this primitive simplicity was mingled with shocking barbarity; David once put his captives under the saw, and there is nothing to show that the Israelites were more moved by sentiments of pity and compassion than their heathen neighbors. There was occasionally, however, a grim humor in their cruelty. When Judah captured King Adoni-bezek, in Bezek, he cut off his great toes and his thumbs. Adoni-bezek, who could appreciate a good thing, accepted the mutilation in the spirit in which it was offered, and said that he had himself served seventy kings in that fashion; “threescore and ten kings, having their thumbs and great toes cut off, gathered their meat under my table.”
From the death of Joshua to the fall of Samaria, the history of the Jews is largely a history of civil war. From about seven hundred years before Christ, Palestine was essentially a satrapy of the Assyrian kings, as it was later to become one of the small provinces of the Roman empire. At the time when Sennacherib was waiting before Jerusalem for Hezekiah to purchase his withdrawal by stripping the gold from the doors of the Temple, the foundations of a city were laid on the banks of the Tiber which was to extend its sway over the known world, to whose dominion the utmost power of Jerusalem was only a petty sovereignty, and which was destined to rival Jerusalem itself as the spiritual capital of the earth.
If we do not find in the military power or territorial consequence of the Jews an explanation of their influence in the modern world, still less do we find it in any faithfulness to a spiritual religion, the knowledge of which was their chief distinction among the tribes about them. Their lapses from the worship of Jehovah were so frequent, and of such long duration, that their returns to the worship of the true God seem little more than breaks in their practice of idolatry. And these spasmodic returns were due to calamities, and fears of worse judgments. Solomon sanctioned by national authority gross idolatries which had been long practiced. At his death, ten of the tribes seceded from the dominion of Judah and set up a kingdom in which idolatry was made and remained the state religion, until the ten tribes vanished from the theatre of history. The kingdom of Israel, in order to emphasize its separation from that of Judah, set up the worship of Jehovah in the image of a golden calf. Against this state religion of image-worship the prophets seem to have thought it in vain to protest; they contented themselves with battling against the more gross and licentious idolatries of Baal and Ashtoreth; and Israel always continued the idol-worship established by Jeroboam. The worship of Jehovah was the state religion of the little kingdom of Judah, but during the period of its existence, before the Captivity, I think that only four of its kings were not idolaters. The people were constantly falling away into the heathenish practices of their neighbors.
If neither territorial consequence nor religious steadfastness gave the Jews rank among the great nations of antiquity, they would equally fail of the consideration they now enjoy but for one thing, and that is, after all, the chief and enduring product of any nationality; we mean, of course, its literature. It is by that, that the little kingdoms of Judah and Israel hold their sway over the world. It is that which invests ancient Jerusalem with its charm and dignity. Not what the Jews did, but the songs of their poets, the warnings and lamentations of their prophets, the touching tales of their story-tellers, draw us to Jerusalem by the most powerful influences that affect the human mind. And most of this unequaled literature is the product of seasons of turbulence, passion, and insecurity. Except the Proverbs and Song of Solomon, and such pieces as the poem of Job and the story of Ruth, which seem to be the outcome of literary leisure, the Hebrew writings were all the offspring of exciting periods. David composed his Psalms—the most marvelous interpreters of every human aspiration, exaltation, want, and sorrow—with his sword in his hand; and the prophets always appear to ride upon a whirlwind. The power of Jerusalem over the world is as truly a literary one as that of Athens is one of art. That literature was unknown to the ancients, or unappreciated: otherwise contemporary history would have considered its creators of more consequence than it did.
We speak, we have been speaking, of the Jerusalem before our era, and of the interest it has independent of the great event which is, after all, its chief claim to immortal estimation. It becomes sacred ground to us because there, in Bethlehem, Christ was born; because here—not in these streets, but upon this soil—he walked and talked and taught and ministered; because upon Olivet, yonder, he often sat with his disciples, and here, somewhere, — it matters not where, — he suffered death and conquered death.
This is the scene of these transcendent events. We say it to ourselves while we stand here. We can clearly conceive it when we are at a distance. But with the actual Jerusalem of to-day before our eyes, its naked desolation, its superstition, its squalor, its vivid contrast to what we conceive should be the City of our King, we find it easier to feel that Christ was born in New England than in Judea.
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