From Egypt our journey takes us to that land toward which every Christian heart turns with interest, the land of Palestine. Among the most ancient travels of which the Sacred Record gives account, a trip from Egypt thither is recorded. Egypt and Palestine have been closely associated during the whole course of time. In olden times the journey was made by the slow stages of caravan travel, but now it is made by steamer in a single night.
Our boat from Alexandria was the ” Selene ” of the Austrian Lloyd line, a staunch little craft of about eight hundred tons. The captain was an Italian who spoke only a few words of English, but even in this scant knowledge of the language he excelled both his officers and crew, for they could not speak a word of English. While musing upon my loneliness, T inadvertently spoke to a gentleman standing near, who replied with an exclamation of joy that there was one on board with whom he could converse. He was a civil engineer on his way to Palestine to aid in the construction of a railway. The sea was delightfully smooth, and as night came on, there was scarcely a ripple on the face of the water. The phosphorescence glowed more brightly than I had ever seen it in any other water, and stretched away into a broad path of light for more than half a mile in our wake. At the bow and along the sides of our vessel it rolled in great fiery billows.
So quietly did the steamer ride that as we looked up through the rigging at the stars, not a tremor could be discerned. Such was my first night on the Mediterranean. A night that for rare beauty and thrilling thought of the peace and majesty of the works of God will not soon be forgotten.
Early in the morning we were in Port Said at the northern entrance of the great canal. This place is the creature of the canal, and for physical and moral cleanliness certainly does its parent no credit. It is a coaling station for nearly all steamers, and the chief characteristic of the town is coal dust. Coal heavers of every shade and nation are there in great numbers. Sailors, too, from various ships are on the streets. As the town gains age, it will doubtless become more sober and steady in its ways. During our brief stay we met several men of ability and earnestness, and there are devoted Christian workers doing what they can to withstand the tide of evil. Our vessel remained here through the day exchanging cargo. By the time we were ready to leave, the wind had risen from the northwest, and as we emerged from behind the breakwater, we received at once the full force of the waves. The night being of itself not at all comfortable. was rendered all the more dismal because the fierce wind diminished our chances of landing at Jaffa. The wind continued to rise, and by morning those chances were so small that there was nothing left of them. Upon coming on deck after a night of rough tossing, the coast of Canaan was in sight, and soon we saw our desired haven. We approached to within a mile or so of Jaffa, but the waves were too high to admit of a thought of disembarking, so the captain put his ship’s head into the face of the storm, and we very reluctantly saw the town fade from view. There is no natural harbor at Jaffa nor has anything been done to provide one. Just off the shore there is a ledge of rocks, which in low tide, stand a little out of water, thus adding to the difficulty, and making it impracticable to land when the wind blows from the west or northwest. Some risks are taken, however, and the wrecks of two or three steamers lying on the beach showed the foolishness of the undertaking. A few days before we were there, a boat-load of forty passengers and boatmen was dashed on the rocks, and over one half of the number drowned. Under the circumstances we were quite willing to forego the attempt, though the disappointment was not small. After battling with the wind all day, at nightfall we tried the harbor of Haifa, at Mount Carmel, but this, too, was open to the weather, and it was with no very cornfortable feelings that we saw the ship once more turned toward the wind and waves for a terrible night of pitching and plunging. As we clung to our berths, the experiences of Jonah and Paul came vividly before the mind, for we knew as never before what a Euroclydon is.
Happily by next morning the wind abated, and we made the harbor of Beyrout, finding safe and quiet anchorage. We went ashore satisfied for once that we had had our money’s worth of ride, for we were at least one hundred and fifty miles past our desired haven. Beyrout is the principal seaport of Syria, a city of one hundred thousand inhabitants, and one of the cleanest cities of the Orient. There is a mixture of nationalities in the inhabitants, Turks and Arabs being predominant. The situation is picturesque, near the foothills of the Lebanon Mountains, which at this time of the year (December), were covered with snow. The city is surrounded by orchards, principally of figs, and by vineyards. It is the center of active missionary work, the American college and hospital with a medical school being located here, and publishing work is also carried on extensively in the Arabic language.
Beyrout is the outlet of Damascus, and as there is a good road, built by a French company, between these cities, much heavy traffic by wagon, camel, and donkey is carried on. The mail is carried twice a day by diligence, or stage. A railway is in process of construction, and will soon supersede to some extent the methods now employed, though judging by what is seen in other places, it is doubtful whether the camel-driver will yield the field to the iron horse without a trial of merits, in which the camel is likely to gain the victory for cheapness of transportation.
To our joy a Russian steamer came along loaded with pilgrims for Jerusalem about the time that we had taken a good look at Beyrout. However, clouds in the west nearly kept us from the attempt, as it was not desirable to be taken past Jaffa again, but the captain predicted a favorable landing, and such it proved to be. On our trip we had fine views of Mount Carmel, on which Elijah offered the test sacrifice, and from which the servant of the prophet overlooked the sea and perceived the cloud the size of a man’s hand. The coast and city of Caesarea Philippi, to which Peter was called by Cornelius, and where Paul was taken before Felix and Festus, were also in plain sight.
As arrangements for the trip through Palestine had been made in advance, everything was in readiness. After landing at a rickety wharf and passing the Turkish customs, we waded through the filth of what at first seemed to be a back alley, but upon further acquaintance proved to be one of the principal streets of this ancient city. It was nearly half a mile to the place where the carriages were left, because the narrow, crooked streets would not admit of their being brought nearer to the landing place. The hotel was a homely place, with rooms which bore the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. No sooner had we reached the hostelry, than my dragoman was introduced to me, and I was informed that after dinner we would take the train for Jerusalem. But as we had an hour or two before that time, we started off to visit the house of Sirnon the Tanner (Acts 10 : 6), and a few other points of interest. Some features served to identify the house, there were stone steps to the housetop. A very ancient well was in the court, near which were several tan ners’ stones made smooth as glass for dressing leather. It overlooked the sea, but after all it did not seem very real. That which was most deserving of attention at Jaffa was the forest of orange and lemon trees which surrounds the city, and which at this time were loaded with luscious fruit. Such orange groves I have not seen in any other country.
Near the center of the city- is an open space used as a market, in which the various products of the country are exposed for sale in lots to suit customers. Fruits, grains, vegetables, meats, wood, and sundry utensils, are mixed in a conglomerated confusion, and each little lot is watched over by its owner, whose face beams with joy at the slightest prospect of a customer. It is remarkable with what patience the keepers of those little stalls in all oriental bazaars will wait for the unusual occurrence of some one coming along to trade with them.
Upon Jaffa, as upon all the country, there is spread the stifling incubus of Turkish imbecility and inactivity. The flight of centuries has seen no improvement in methods of work or in the condition of the people. Camels and donkeys, dogs and dirt, are the inseparable accompaniments of native life and business, and the wretched government will make no changes for the better nor suffer any one else to do so.
About two o’clock we were off to Jerusalem by rail. The narrow-gauge railway has been in operation about ten years, and to go over it in safety was at first the exception rather than the rule. The road was rough and the carriages uncomfortable. Here I was brought for the first time into practical acquaintance with Turkish officers, as I occupied the same apartment with several of them. Civility was evidently something of which they had not the slightest comprehension. Their vile tobacco-smoke was very offensive, and the idea that they were discommoding some one was equally gratifying to them. The barrier of strange speech prevented my understanding the jokes which they were having at the stranger’s expense, and perhaps prevented their hearing one or two at their expense. This circumstance is only mentioned because it represents the whole fabric of the Turkish government, which is in the eyes of all the enlightened world a travesty on good government, justice, righteousness, or any quality which commands the respect of mankind.
Emerging from Jaffa, we are soon crossing the plain of Sharon which lies between the sea and the hill country, and is at this point perhaps twenty miles in width, though the rail way makes more than that distance in crossing it. There are several small stations, the principal of which are Lydda and Ramleh. This portion of the country is still under cultivation, and every available rod of the land is occupied. Some of these farmers are Arabs, and some are German colonists, quite a large number of whom are located in this and other sections of the land. Among the Arabs the primitive methods and tools, such as are seen in old Bible pictures, are still in use. Their teams are often ludicrous misfits, being perhaps a donkey and a camel, or a cow and a camel, or any other combination which the means at hand will allow. The ground is divided into small parcels, often consisting of a fraction of an acre, and each man’s land is separated from his neighbor’s by an imaginary line marked by small heaps of stones. This custom, too, has come down from ancient days, for in Moses time the Lord pronounced a curse upon the man who should remove his neighbor’s landmark.
When at last the hill region is reached, we begin to ascend through a narrow valley, often between lofty heights, and much of the way the road passes through interesting scenery, rendered all the more so at this time by the well-known unsafe condition of the rails upon which we were running. This hill country, which composes the whole of Palestine except three or four small plains, is as barren as one can well imagine any thing to be that is not an out-and-out desert. The hills are not rugged but regular, with round tops and gradually sloping sides, steep in some places, it is true, but still bearing the marks of cultivation. Many of the stone terraces which supported the earth where grew the vines, trees, and grains in ages gone by, are still there, and bear witness to a fruitfulness and glory that are altogether departed. These terraces extending to the summit of the hills, show that in the days of its prosperity the land was indeed beautiful and goodly, bringing forth abundantly for the great population which it sustained.
Our train reached the station at Jerusalem at about five in the evening. We were still outside the walls, and one half a mile from the gate, on the west side of the valley. A comfortable carriage conveyed the passengers to hotels, of which there are several that offer a very good degree of comfort. Of these but one is inside the city walls. Jerusalem as it now is, is a very good place to dwell outside of. We read of the New Jerusalem that ” without are dogs, liars,” etc., but in this case they are inside, as well as out. There being more room outside, it is the more desirable side of city life in Jerusalem. From the upper verandas of the hotel at the northwest corner of the city, our first view of the city and its surroundings was obtained. The sun was just above the western horizon. In every direction a charming panorama was spread out. Involuntarily came the words of inspiration: ” Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is Mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King.” The desolate state of the country being veiled by twilight, it was comparatively easy to imagine the hills and valleys covered and filled with busy throngs of happy and contented people. The filth and degradation of the city were readily forgotten for the moment, as a picture of peace and glory rose before the mind, and it was not difficult to perceive why the Lord had chosen such a place, so highly blessed, as the temporary abode of his people and the symbol of that future home which he has promised to them that love him.
A short walk through the Jaffa gate was a11 we had time for that night, for darkness soon settled down, and the city wastes no money on artificial illumination.
We shall not stop at this time to take a closer view of the city, for there is a pleasant party of three American gentlemen ready to start early in the morning for the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea, and for the privilege of their company we conclude to start with them.