Travel: Round About Jerusalem

We composed three separate outfits, each one accompanied by a dragoman, two soldiers, a mule and muleteer, a donkey and donkeyteer. Travelers, dragomen, and one half of the soldiers were provided horses, while the rest of the soldiers went on foot. The one with mules and the donkeys carried food, baggage, etc. Since the days of early boyhood, horseback-riding had been laid aside as one of the things I could not do, and would not do if I could. But now there was no other alternative except a, mule palanquin or staying at home, neither of which was to be entertained.

Our route lay along the northern walls of the city around to the eastern side and then across the Kedron Valley past Gethsemane, and around the south side of the Mount of Olives to Bethany, and from there down into the defile that leads to Jericho. At the very mention of these names by our guides, our hearts burned within us as we thought of their sacred associations. It all seemed so dreamlike to be traversing the ground and viewing the scenes so celebrated in sacred story. As we did not pause to inspect them then, we shall not now, but pass on with the company. At the foot of the deep descent, having reached the bottom of the valley perhaps two miles beyond Bethany, we came to a fountain called the Apostle’s Fountain. A stream of living water flows from a crevice of a rock in the hillside, and goats, camels, and pilgrims hovered around it for a chance to quench their thirst.

It was a comfort to drink of this water, for it was on a road over which our Saviour had passed more than once, and without doubt he, too, bad stopped at that place for the same purpose.

The road to Jericho descends nearly four thousand feet from Jerusalem, but it is not all down grade. About noon, as we were ascending a hill, in a gorge to the left was pointed out the place where the man fell among thieves and was left in a dying condition, as alluded to by our Saviour in his parable of the good Samaritan. A little farther along was a Khan called the Good Samaritan Inn. It consists of a small square surrounded by a stone wall ten or twelve feet high, having an entrance next to the road. Across one side of the enclosure is a roof covering a row of sheds, or deep stalls, in which people may eat their food, or make up their beds for the night, while the animals are tied around the walls of the enclosure. There are also mangers in the stalls where beasts may be fed. We stopped here for dinner. It was in such a place that Christ was born.

Pursuing our journey, we approached the precipitous edge of the Jordan Valley along the chasm through which flowed the brook Cherith where Elijah was hidden. This gorge is very deep, and our road often brought us so near the edge that from our horses we could look down into the dark depths far below. All this country through which we passed is now a desolate wilderness without a tree and with scarcely verdure enough to support any animal life, though a few goats and camels do eke out a living there. For more than half of the way from Jerusalem to Jericho there is a good carriage road, built, as we were told, by the government, but suddenly the energies of the Turks were exhausted, and for the most of the remainder of the way there is nothing more than a wellworn trail, though in places some work has been expended on the road.

After making the rapid descent into the valley, we left the trail, turned to the left, and crossed the brook, which is a limpid little stream, and rode two miles northward. This took us across what is well reputed to be the site of ancient Jericho, the city which was destroyed in the days of Joshua. There is but little to indicate that a city has stood there except a smooth plain of rubbish and debris which resembles brick and stone turned to dust together. Beyond this interesting spot we came to another clear stream of water larger in volume than Cherith, and this we followed a short distance to its source where it gushed in a copious fountain from the foot of a high hill. This is called Elisha’s Fountain, and is identified with the sacred story in 2 Kings 2 :19-22. The men of the city came to Elisha saying that the situation of the city was pleasant, but the water was naught and the ground barren. He called for a cruse of salt which he cast into the water, and it was ” healed unto this day.” That these last words were true, we proved, for at the close of a rough day’s ride taken with great discomfort, it was a refreshing relief to dismount, and in the good, old-fashioned way stoop down and drink from the pure stream.

A mill was in process of construction a few rods below for which the spring is to furnish the power. This fountain is less than ten miles from the Dead Sea, and doubtless partook of the bitter character of its waters until the power of God sweetened it. Two miles to the southeast brought us to the more modern Jericho of our Saviour’s time, the ancient Gilgal, where was located the camp of Israel and which for some time was the abode of the tabernacle.

Two or three houses and some Arab huts are all that comprise this village. One of the former is a comfortable inn kept for tourists. Here we remained two nights visiting the Dead Sea and the Jordan in the day between.

Starting out early in the morning, the placid waters of the Dead Sea were in plain sight, and owing to the clearness of the atmosphere, it seemed but a short distance to its shores, but it proved to be very much farther than we thought. All the way this alluring deception was kept up even to the last quarter of a mile.

It is a fact quite generally known that the surface of this salt lake is one thousand and three hundred feet lower than that of the Mediterranean Sea. Ascending from Jaffa to Jerusalem, we rise two thousand six hundred feet, and going on to the Dead Sea we descend three thousand nine hundred. This small basin, forty-five miles in length and nine in width, receives the waters of the Jordan and a few other small tributaries, and though it has no outlet, there is no increase in the volume. The theory is that evaporation keeps pace with inflow. Toward the north end there are high and precipitous banks on the east and west. Between its waters and those that are poured into it there is a very wide difference in every respect. Those of the Jordan are far from clear, while the sea is singularly pellucid. When the turbid stream strikes the sea, its waters are carried at once to the bottom, where all their silt is deposited. But while these were previously sweet, upon their introduction to the sea they become acrid to a degree that is almost venomous. Having a desire to test their quality, I essayed to taste them cautiously. None passed the mouth, and but little got that far. A sensation was left, however, that pervaded my being with a shudder. While ocean water is thirty parts in one thousand salt, the Dead Sea water contains two hundred and fifty parts salt or eight times as much. Mingled. with this is a strong impregnation of saltpeter and of asphaltum, which is very abundant, and also several other pungent and disagreeable qualities. On the banks of this sea grow the famous apples of Sodom, beautiful on the outside but bitter to the tase, and when mature, filled with a dry fiber and dust which have generally been called ashes.

By the Arabs the sea is called the Bahr Loot or sea of Lot. It is popularly supposed that its waters cover the site of Sodom and Gomorrah. But of this there can be no knowledge. We know that these cities lay in the valley of the Jordan, and when Lot and Abraham were at Bethel, where they separated, it is said that Lot chose the plain of Jordan, that he journeyed east, and that he “pitched his tent toward Sodom.” From this it is by some inferred that these cities were farther north than the Dead Sea.

But it is evident that God did not design that their site should be known, since their fate was emblematical of the final destruction of the ungodly. The apostle Jude says: ” Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities round about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Jude 7. Of what they are an example another sacred writer tells us: ” Turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly.” 2 Peter 2 : 6. Thus we learn what is meant by eternal fire. It is a fire that is eternal in its conse quences. Those cities were utterly exterminated so that even their place is forgotten. They only live in history as a reminder of what will be the fate of those who reject the gospel of Christ, and choose to live ungodly lives. Of their destruction we read, ” The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” Gen. 19: 24. And of the final punishment of the wicked it is said, ” And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” Rev. 20 – 9

There is in the dreadful fate of those wicked cities an awful warning to the impenitent sinner. Not of an eternity spent in conscious suffering, but the utter extinction of being, in the destroying elements. In harmony with this is the scripture: ” For, behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven, and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble, and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.” Mal. 4 : l.

The northern end of the lake is easily accessible, and a beautiful pebbly beach stretches far in each direction. It is usual for travelers to bathe in the clear waters, the specific gravity of which is so great that they easily support the body of the bather.

Turning from this interesting place, we rode about six miles to the northward and a little east, till we came to the banks of the Jordan at the place called the Ford, where it is reputed that the baptism of Christ took place. The appearance of this noted stream, celebrated in sacred story and song, was such as to cause no small degree of disappointment. Instead of a clear stream flowing rapidly over smooth stones, there was a deep, murky river whose banks were a mire of clay, into which one could not venture except at the risk of getting into the mud to his knees. A growth of underbrush lines the banks, but there was nothing in sight that deserved the name of timber, nor any signs that there ever had been any. If it was such a stream as this in the days of Naaman, it is not to be wondered at from a human point of view that he chose his own clear Abana and Pharpar rather than the turbid Jordan. But it is in every way likely that the river like the country at large has suffered from the curse and contamination of sin. The soft banks of yellow sand and clay are continually yielding to the inroads of the river’s wash. Such, at least, was its appearance at that point at the time of our visit. And there was no evidence that it would have been more favorable at another time. We sat here to eat our lunch, while some of our company risked a reputation for cleanliness by bathing in the thick water, though how to get the mud off their feet after leaving the water, was a serious question.

Another ride of eight miles brought us back to our hotel in good season. The valley at this place is about fifteen miles in width, with the river somewhat east of the middle. The soil seems to be an alluvial of sandy clay, unproductive and barren except for a growth of low brush upon which large herds of camels feed. Riding being a painful exercise, I was forcibly reminded of a ditty we sang when boys, to the effect that “Jordan am a hard road to trabbel.” On our way I fell considerably behind the rest of the party, when I soon found myself in the edge of a drove of more than one hundred camels. Like most of the other natives, they seemed to take a deep interest in the stranger, and proceeded to view me at close range, but whether their interest was in me or in my horse I could not tell. Whichever it was, it led to no demonstrations of ill-will, and we were allowed to pass out of their admiring circle in peace. Some beautiful specimens of oranges were growing in a garden at Jericho, one of which, the finest I have ever seen, I carried several days before I found time and courage to attempt its disintegration.

An early start in the morning on our way to Jerusalem brought us out of the valley while yet the stars were shining. We reached Bethany a little after noon, and paused for refresh ments in an olive grove near the edge of the ancient village This road is the one over which Jesus passed on his way from Jericho when he went to raise Lazarus. As it emerges from the deep valley, a curve around the point of the hill brings the village into view. It was doubtless very near where we stopped for rest, that Martha met the Saviour with the words, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not -died.” It was within sight of our position that the scene at the sepulcher took place. Taking out my Testament, I read John II with an interest I never before felt. Blessed promise ! ” I am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” The resurrection is the gate of the endless life. He who came to save mankind conquered death and carried to heaven the keys of death and the grave.. Nor is life promised through any other means except through a resurrection from the dead. How many precious ones are sleeping on the hill-sides and in the valleys of Judea! Soon they will come forth at the call of Him who hath said, ” I will come again.”

Bethany probably retains its primitive character as well as any other town in that country. Looking at it, any one would imagine that no changes had been wrought in it for two thou sand years. Its houses are stone hovels of a not very inviting appearance to those accustomed to modern dwellings. Its streets are mere lanes. The place of Lazarus’s burial is pointed out as a deep and almost inaccessible hole in the ground or rock, but like many of the definite localities now pointed out, it gives no satisfaction to any but the most credulous. Sending our horses by the road, we took the shorter path to the city, which passes over the top of the mount. Here, too, we could realize that we were closely following the literal footsteps of Jesus. Though many changes have taken place in superficial appearances, still the main outline of the country remains the same.

The elongated height east of Jerusalem is divided by a slight depression into Mount Scopas to the north and the Mount of Olives to the south. The latter is also divided, for the southern extremity is sometimes called the Mount of Offense because Solomon there built altars to please his idolatrous wives. On the western side of Olivet are the tombs of the prophets. And in the valley of Jehoshaphat are pointed out the tombs of James, of Zechariah, and the pillar of Absalom. The latter still stands quite well preserved, and according to the Jewish traditions is the one spoken of in 2 Sam. 18: 18. It is frequently though incorrectly referred to as Absalom’s tomb. It shows marks of great age. The base of the pillar is perhaps ten feet square and hollow. An aperture about a foot in diameter has been broken through one side. Into this, devoted Jews in passing cast a stone, exclaiming, ” Cursed be every son that disobeyeth his father.” Front time to time these stones are thrown out.

But it is time to look at the city and its immediate surroundings. The city proper is enclosed with a stone wall in a good state of preservation. This wall is perhaps thirty feet in height, and was built by Suleiman ” The Magnificent,” a Turkish pasha, in 1542. It is pierced by seven gates : The Jarffa gate on the west, which is the principal one, the New gate, Damascus gate, and Herod’s gate on the north, St. Stephen’s on the east, the Dung gate, and Zion’s gate on the south, the latter being at the southwest corner of the walls. The walls are two and a half miles in length. In form the city is an irregular square originally built on four hills, two of which, Zion and Moriah, are prominent in Biblical history. The former is in the southwest and the other in the southeast portion of the city, with the Tyropean Valley running between them. But this celebrated valley has been mostly filled with the debris of successive destructions and rebuildings.

The city is naturally divided into four quarters, of which the northwest is called the Christian quarter, the northeast, the Mussulman, or Mohammedan quarter, the southwest, the Armenian, while the Tyropean valley is occupied by the Jews.

Mount Moriah is covered by the Haram, or temple area, which is still enclosed by a wall separating it from the rest of the city, and forming on the south and east the city wall.

The Dung gate on the south is in the Tyropean valley, and receives its name from the fact that through it the refuse of the city was formerly taken into the valley of Hinnom below, where it was destroyed by fires that were kept perpetually burning. It is from this circumstance that we have the name Gehenna, which in the New Testament is called “hell,” and which affords an illustration of the punishment of the wicked in unquenchable fire, since those fires continued to burn as long as there was anything for them to prey upon. But they effectually destroyed that upon which they preyed.

Zion’s gate is celebrated in the Bible and in sacred song. Just outside of it is a pile of buildings called David’s tomb, held in high veneration by both Mohammedans and Jews. Although in possession of the Mussulmans, the Jews are allowed to visit the place and pray one day in each month. In the massive portal of this edifice is a small gate large enough to admit a man, called the Needle’s Eye, and referred to as the one which our Saviour had in mind when he spoke of the impossibility of a camel’s going through the eye of a needle. But this is a senseless claim since the gate is a comparatively modern one, and that was not his meaning. It is insisted that it would be an impossibility for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Very true. It would also be impossible for a camel to go through this little door-way, and equally so for covetousness to enter heaven.

In this building is pointed out the room where Christ ate the last passover with his disciples, but this, too, is an evident fraud. We saw the apartment in which the women con gregate to worship. Across the entrance was hung a heavy chain. To an inquiry as to its purpose, the guide gravely replied that it was to teach them humility, as they must stoop very low upon entering. I saw no chain across the men’s entrance.

The Jaffa gate is the principal point of entrance and exit of the city. To this place several omnibuses from the suburbs run, and there is always congregated around it a crowd of car riages, donkeys, camels, horses, men, and women. Farther than this carriages do not go, for no carriage or wagon can enter Jerusalem. The streets are too narrow to admit of their passage, and too rough if they were wide enough. Donkeys and camels are ridden through the streets, which are many of them crowded with people sitting or walking.

Just outside the Damascus gate on the north, is a little mound called the Place of a Skull. It is perhaps thirty feet in height, of a circular form, and has no buildings, but is cov ered with Mohammedan graves. It is believed by many that this is the real site of the crucifixion, and to a disinterested party it seems much more probable than does the site chosen by the churches, of which we shall speak later.

The New gate, near the northwest corner, is so called because it had been opened for modern convenience. Just inside are the extensive buildings of the Roman Catholic Church, and just without are others of the Greek Church.

St. Stephen’s gate, on the east, is the one through which we pass on going from the city to the Mount of Olives, the place between the east walls, and the bottom of the Kidron Valley is covered with Mohammedan graves. Passing down the road across the dry bed of the brook, one sees numerous leprous beggars sitting by the wayside begging. As they hear footsteps approaching,-for many of them are blind,they set up a most pitiful wail of distress. ” Cowajie, cowajie, backsheesh” was the cry that became familiar to my ears, though it is likely that this is not a correct rendering. They hold up their handless stumps, or point out their hideous deformities and appeal in the name of God for “backsheesh,” that is, a present. And if their importunities appear not to be heeded, they mingle tears with their wailing cries. The sight of their wretchedness is touching, and though I passed them many times, I took pains to have something with me with which to stop their cries.

Such cries often greeted our Saviour’s ears, and with what pitying compassion he imparted the healing gift! Leprosy is a striking emblem of sin. They are diseases which no human power can reach, and both inevitably end in a terrible death. Jesus Christ to-day is ready to hear the leper’s call. With ready response he answers, “I will, be thou clean.”

A mile or so to the north of the city are the “ash hills.” They are mounds of ashes from the temple altars. These are now being carted away to be used for mortar in building. But to my mind they were one of the most satisfying relics that are to be found. Of their authenticity there can be no reasonable doubt, and they bear a testimony to the reliability of the accounts of the temple service which cannot be gainsaid. And having established that part of the sacred writings, they confirrn all that pertains to those services which form the central figure of the past dispensation. It was no small satisfaction to delve in those ashes for bits of charred bones, which were easily found, and a piece of a snuffer, almost reduced to rust, rewarded our search. These trophies are indeed ancient, having been deposited there for a period of at least two thousand years. Still farther north are found the tombs of the kings, an interesting place to visit, showing clearly the mode of ancient sepulture.