Holy Land – The Lebanons

Before writing of the Holy Land, I shall devote an article to the week which we spent among the Lebanons. While the trip from Bey-rout to Baalbek and Damascus is included in the advertisement of Palestine tours, the places visited are not so intimately connected with .Bible history as those of Judea and Galilee.

Beyrout, the seaport for this section of Syria, has the best harbor to be found on the east coast of the Mediterranean, and the city is naturally a place of considerable size and importance. The population is estimated at about one hundred and ‘fifty thousand, and the residence portion covers the foothills of the Lebanon range. The principal’ industry is the production of raw silk, the mulberry groves extending as far as the eye can reach.

The road from Beyrout to Baalbek climbs over the Lebanon range, reaching in one place an altitude of about six thousand feet. The view is one of rare beauty—the winding shore of the Mediterranean, the terraced mountain sides and the snow clad peaks combining to form an impressive picture. The far-famed cedars of Lebanon, some of them sixteen feet in diameter, still crown the higher summits, but few of them are visible from the train. A well built carriage road follows the same general course as the railroad, but the latter now monopolizes the traffic. The main line of the railroad runs to Damascus, but in the Beka, as the valley of the Leontes is called at this point, a branch has been built to Baalbek, where a wonderful temple once stood.

The city of Baalbek was founded so long ago that history does not record its beginning. Arab tradition peoples this district with the earliest of the Bible characters. The tower of Babel has been located at Baalbek by one tradition, while another has Gain building a fortress there as a refuge. It is certain that the city ranks among the oldest known to history, the location being probably determined by the presence of a very large spring whose waters would supply a great population. The name of the city (but a few thousand inhabitants are to be found there now) indicates that it was the center of Baal, or sun, worship. It is believed by those who have made research that an ancient temple, built by the Egyptians or Phoenicians, occupied the ground now covered by the ruins of a later temple built by the Romans. It is this latter temple which has drawn tourists from all over the world. It was begun during the first century of the Christian era, and the work upon it continued for more than two hundred years. It was dedicated to Jupiter and the Sun, the worship of these two deities being combined. The Romans even adopted the Greek name, Heliopolis, for the city, but the Arabic designation, Baalbek, has survived.

This great temple was laid out upon an immense scale. First a hill was built, filled with subterranean chambers, and upon the massive walls which separated these chambers the superstructure was reared. The temple was approached by u staircase one hundred and fifty feet wide and entered through a hexagonal court two hundred feet in diameter. Next came the great court, nearly four hundred feet square, with an altar in the center. Both of these courts were open, but had broad colonnades around the sides supported by granite pillars brought from the upper Nile. These colonnades were ornamented with carvings and contained two rows of niches, three hundred and thirty altogether, formerly occupied by images. Our guide, Mr. Alouf, whose pamphlet on Baalbek gives the results of his fifteen years’ study of the ruins, insists that the great court was really a pantheon and contained all of the gods at that time worshiped by the conquerors and by the native population.

The temple of Jupiter must have been a most impressive building. It stood twenty-six feet above the courts and therefore about fifty feet above the natural level of the ground around. It measured three hundred and ten feet in length and one hundred and sixty in breadth. Its outer wall supported fifty-four columns of Corinthian style, each column being seventy feet in height, seven feet in diameter and composed of three pieces. Six of these columns are still standing, having survived three earthquakes and one mountain torrent. The six columns with the capitals and cornice give some idea of the magnificence of the temple before its decay. The stone used is taken from a lime-stone quarry near the city, and the carving is excellent. Enormous masses of stone lie scattered over the ground-parts of pillars, pieces of cornice, and sections of the pediment. How these huge blocks were ever lifted into place is still a matter of conjecture. No mortar was used, and yet in some places the joints are so nicely fitted and the stone so accurately cut that a knife blade can not be inserted after a lapse of nearly twenty centuries.

Stupendous as is the plan of this wonderful temple and elaborate as is its ornamentation, the most remarkable feature is the size of the stones employed. The guide first shows a number of blocks about thirty-three feet long, fourteen feet high and ten feet thick. After one’s wonder has had sufficient time to express itself, three blocks are pointed out which measure sixty-four feet in length, fourteen feet in height and twelve feet in thickness. The estimated weight of one of these stones is nearly one thousand tons, and it is calculated that it would require ten thousand horse power to lift it. At the quarry about three-quarters of a mile away a companion block, seventy-two feet long and about fifteen feet in height and thickness is to be seen, chiseled from the stone about it, but not entirely separated from the stratum beneath it. This was probably intended for the sustaining wall around the temple. Whether it remained at the quarry because the work was interrupted, or because the builders despaired of being able to move it, is a secret which the living are not able to reveal. After the decline of paganism the Christians built a church in the great court, using the stones and pillars for the walls. Then came the Mohammedans and turned the courts and temple into a fortress, making use of the walls of the church.

A little way distant from the great temple is a smaller temple dedicated to Bacchus, which would of itself be sufficient to distinguish a city, but for its more famous rival. This temple is about two hundred and twenty-five feet long by one hundred and ten feet wide, and a row of fifty columns, of which fourteen are fluted, surround it. These columns are sixty feet in height and about six feet in diameter. While smaller in its dimensions this temple is even more elaborately carved than the larger one. Some of the clusters of grapes are less than two inches in length but exquisitely wrought. This temple is in a much better state of preservation than the great temple and is therefore in some respects even more interesting.

Emperor William of Germany visited Baalbek in 1898 and was so impressed by the ruins that he obtained permission from the sultan to clear away the debris, and the traveling world is under obligations to him for having made it possible to inspect the foundations and the ground plan. In this connection it may be added that Emperor William seems to take a deep interest in this part of Asia.. He visited Jerusalem to lay the corner stone of the German church; he sent to Damascus a beautiful bronze wreath to adorn the tomb of the great Mohammedan general, Saladin, and he has encouraged the establishment of German colonies in Palestine. There are German settlements of considerable size at Jerusalem, Joppa, and Haifa. At four places we found German hotels, and it is needless to say that they are kept with the excellence characteristic of the race.

The friendship which the. emperor has shown for the sultan seems to be reciprocated, for roads were built, harbors improved and many other things done in honor of his visit. We have heard all sorts of rumors as to the kaiser’s intentions, but the only thing that seems certain is that German influence in this part of Asia is increasing.

‘While Baalbek contains the largest and most famous ruins, it is not the only place that attracts the archæologist. There are hundreds of sites of ancient cities which abundantly repay the excavator. Specimens of Greek and Roman art have been found on both sides of the Jordan as well as along the Mediterranean coast. The tombs also have yielded up their treasures and the museums of the world have been sup-plied with tear bottles, perfumery jars, vases, bowls, scarabs, ancient coins, etc.

The Phoenicians are credited with having invented the making of glass in the days when Tyre and Sidon were their chief cities. It is said that the art owes its discovery to the use of saltpeter in the place of stones by some sailors who landed at the mouth of the river Belos, near Akka. Finding no stones upon which to put their kettles, they used blocks of saltpeter and were surprised to find that the fire had fused the sand and saltpeter into a transparent substance. The industry was in augurated at Tyre and Sidon, and for some time the Phoenicians supplied the world with glass. The bottles and vases found from time to time in the tombs of Syria and Egypt are more beautiful than when they left the hand of the manufacturer; the outer surface has decayed, and beneath are revealed all the colors of the rainbow. It was the custom to fill the ter bottles with tears of the mourners and to bury them with the dead.

The scarab, which is found so often in the ancient tombs in Syria and in Egypt, is the old fashioned tumble-bug or dung beetle with which every boy, or at least every country or village boy, is familiar. I little thought, when I used to see the tumble-bug rolling his little globe of manure along the dusty road, that he was considered a sacred insect several thousand years ago or that he was ever used as a symbol of the Creator; and yet his likeness adorns temples and tombs while his image, cut in stone and bearing the seal of rulers, has been found by the thousands. Often the heart of a dead person was removed and a scarab inserted in its place. The scarab, rolling its ball, typified to the ancient an unseen power guiding the sun while the bursting of the young bug from its egg in the ball symbolized the resurrection—to what classical uses this commonplace little insect was put !

Among those who have been instrumental in bringing the hidden treasures of Syria to the attention of the world, Mr. Azeez Khayat, a native of Tyre, but now an American citizen, deserves special mention.

Many American museums are indebted to him for their collections.

Speaking of Tyre and Sidon reminds me that in the study of Syria and Palestine, I ran across an early instance of monopoly. Josephus accuses John of Gischala of monopolizing the oil business on the Mediterranean coast. It was early in the Christian era that the aforesaid John, according to Josephus, convinced the Jews who dwelt in Syria that they were obliged to use oil made by others, and the historian adds : “So he (John) bought four amphoræ with such Syrian money as was of the value of four Attic drachmae and sold every half amphor at the same price; and as Galilee was very fruitful in oil and was peculiarly . so at this time, by sending away great quantities and having the sole – privilege so to do, he gathered an immense sum of money together.”

This is interesting and instructive. It shows, first, that monopoly is an ancient evil and, second, that the monopolist in his inclination to take advantage of the consumer by raising the price was much the same then as now—but I have been afraid, ever since I read of John of Gischala, that some American named John might try to imitate him and establish a monopoly in our country—possibly in oil.

But on to Damascus—and we reached it all too soon, for the ride across the Anti-Lebanon range is also picturesque. The route down the east side of the mountain follows the valley of the Abana, a splendid stream, worthy of the compliment paid it by Naaman. It leaps from the mountain side a full grown river and plunges down into the plain only to be lost in the sands, but not until it has brought verdure to many square miles that would otherwise be barren. It is easy to understand why Damascus is among the oldest, if not actually the oldest, of all the cities still standing. It occupies the one green spot in all that section and is the outpost of the Mediterranean coast. The Arabian desert stretches to the east and southeast for hundreds of miles, and the caravans from Persia and Arabia pass through Damascus on their way to Egypt even now, as they did when Babylon and Ninevah were young; it is also on the road between the great East and Tyre and Sidon.

Damascus is an Oriental city and is still innocent of the ways of the western world. Its bazaars give one a glimpse of life as it was before Europe and America were known to history. The government is erecting public buildings according to modern plans ; but the covered streets, lined with little booths, the homes of the people, the dress, the customs and the habits are the same that they were when Saul of Tarsus wandered down the street “called Straight” in search of the one who was to restore his sight. (This street though straight as compared with the other streets, is hardly deserving of the name which it still bears.)

As in Cairo, the different trades have different sections. The dealers in sugar occupy one quarter; the silversmiths, the candy manufacturers, the blacksmiths, the carpenters—each class has its cluster of shops. The Arabian horse being the pride of the Bedouin, we were not surprised to find much attention paid to the manufacture of saddles, saddle bags, bridles and trappings, only they were for the most part made of wool and cotton rather than of leather. Bright colors, tassels, fringes, shells and ostrich feathers are employed in the ornamentation of the horse, the donkey and the camel.

The candies of Damascus are good and very cheap, and nuts of all kinds are to be found in abundance, an excellent variety of walnut being grown within the city limits. Naturally this city is a market for Persian rugs and large stocks are kept on hand. While the people make everything which enters into the daily life of the country, they are especially skilled in brass, damascene ware and the inlaying of wood with mother-of-pearl.

Damascus is not especially noted for places of historical interest. The tourist is shown the house of Ananias and the window through which Paul was let down from the wall, but it is doubtful whether the identity of these places has been really established. A house, known as the house of Naaman the Leper, is now very appropriately used for a leper’s home. There is no uncertainty about the river Abana, and another river near Damascus known as Pharpar. An ancient wall surrounds the city, and one of the largest mosques in the world occupies ground first dedicated to a heathen temple and afterward to the church of St. John the Baptist, erected by Arcadius, the son of Theodosius.

The big-tailed sheep described by Herodotus is to be found on the streets of Damascus. It is a peculiar breed, and the tail, which is considered a great delicacy, is often so heavy as to seem a burden to the sheep. It is broad, covered with wool, and sometimes ends in a curl. We also saw here the long-eared goats, as curious looking in their way as the sheep.

And what shall we say of the Damascus dog? He is to be found every-where and has no owner. We counted eighteen in one group and two hundred and thirty-eight in one forenoon’s ride. They live on charity and fight whenever an opportunity offers. It seems to be against the law of the sultan to kill dogs, as one learns to his regret after he has heard them barking at all hours of the night. It is superfluous to add that the flea is as common as the dog, and as indifferent also to the peace of the stranger.

A new railroad which is now building from Damascus to the south will soon make it possible to go to Galilee in a few hours, but now it is more convenient to return to Beyrout and go to Haifa by boat. This we did, and having a couple of days at Beyrout we learned something of the religious work done there.

In the division of territory the Presbyterians of America were, in 1870, assigned the country around Beyrout. The district is divided into the Beyrout, Lebanon, Sidon and Tripoli stations, and at all of these stations schools, as well as churches, are being established. So successful has the work been that the native communities now contribute half a dollar for every dollar sent from America. There is also an American press at Beyrout which publishes the Bible in Arabic, some eighty thou-sand copies being issued last year in addition to religious tracts of various kinds. One of the leaders in the missionary movement, Rev. H. H. Jessup, has completed his fiftieth year of service among the Syrians.

The Syrian Protestant college is also located in Beyrout ; it occupies a beautiful site overlooking the sea and is in sight of the highest peak of the Lebanons. While Christian in management, this college is not denominational but is under the control of an American board representing a number of churches. Between six and seven hundred young men are in attendance, and its graduates are scattered throughout the world. Within its halls are to be found Protestants, Catholics (both Greek and Roman), Armenians, Jews and Mohammedans, and its influences in these parts can scarcely be overestimated.

The present president of the college, Dr. Howard S. Bliss, is the worthy son of the college’s first president, Dr. Daniel Bliss, whose religious and educational work in this territory covers more than half a century. The elder Bliss, now past eighty-three, and his wife are enjoying an enviable experience. Their active labors over, with minds still alert and with hearts still young, they are spending the evening of their lives near the scenes of their labors and among the children and grandchildren who have blessed their home. Their rest has been earned, and the peace of their latter years is a merited reward. Surely they illustrate the blessedness of lives consecrated to a high purpose and rich in noble service.