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The land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; online

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and the city must have been a place of imposing
grandeur, alike from the magnificence of its situation
as from the splendour of its public edifices. There
seems to be no indication of its having been a Jewish
city of any importance prior to its celebrity as a centre
of Roman civilisation. The first historical notice we
have of it is its capture by Antlochus the Great in
the year 218 B.C., and the last is when it became the
residence of the Bishop of Palsestina Secunda.

We had been able to obtain no definite information
as to the accommodation we were likely to find at
this place, but we were assured that it was inhabited.
To our dismay we found that the three huts which
had once contained the entire population were now
abandoned from fear of the Arabs, and that there
was no sign of life visible. When we looked at
what might have been our accommodation, we were
consoled ; for the abodes of the inhabitants of Ga-


dara or Mkes, as it is now called were a com-
bination of den and hovel which a respectable pig
would have scorned. They no doubt abounded in
vermin ; and even had there been food and water
procurable, we should have preferred sleeping in the
open air to risking a bed amid the filth with which
the floor was strewn. The food question was, how-
ever, paramount, and the necessity of reaching a vil-
lage of some sort before dark compelled us to curtail
our investigations of this interesting locality which,
however, since its first discovery by Seetzen in 1805,
ha^ been frequently visited, so that there is nothing
new left for the explorer but excavation, for which
he would doubtless be amply repaid.

We now turned our horses' heads southwards, and
plunged into the Wady Araba, descending about
1500 feet in an hour, by a narrow path worn out of
the chalk cliffs, which wound down ravines and along
the edge of precipices till it reached the torrent
at the bottom, foaming between banks fringed with
oleanders. Here there was a most picturesquely-
situated old mill, with a wild Arab family as its only
occupants, whose intelligence was so limited that we
had great difficulty in getting directions from them
as to our future route. The Kurdish zaptiehs, who
are not, as a rule, very profound Arabic scholars, of
course misunderstood them ; and the result was that,
after scrambling up the opposite side of the Wady
for an hour, we lost our way.


It was now getting dusk, but we followed the best
indication of a path we could find, hoping it would
lead us somewhere before it became too dark for us
to see it.

Meantime I had plenty of opportunity of judging
of the engineering facilities of the country; and I
came to the conclusion that to attempt to bring a
railway from the valley of the Jordan to the plateau
of Ajlun and the Hauran by way either of the Yar-
muk or the Wady Araba, would be attended with
difficulties of too formidable a nature to make it
desirable as a future line. There are some wadies
farther to the south which I had not an opportunity
of examining ; but my impression is, that it will be
found that the easiest way of reaching this plateau
will be by following up the valley of the Jordan to
the Huleh, and then ascending the right bank to the
plains of Jaulan near Kuneitereh, from whence the
line could be taken, without further trouble, to Da-
mascus, with a branch, if desirable, to the Hauran.

We had climbed for nearly two hours before we
could look back upon Mkes from the other side of
the valley, and found that we had attained its altitude.
We had now reached the plateau, and saw signs of
cultivation, which cheered our spirits ; and as the
night was closing in upon us, came upon some olive-
groves, and heard the barking of dogs a most wel-
come sound, though hostile in its intent.

We were not very cordially received by the in-


habitants of Kefr Assad, or " the happy village," as
the name signifies. Perhaps this may have been
owing to the presence of the zaptiehs possibly it
may have been simply fear and amazement at being
called upon, for the first time in their lives, to enter-
tain strangers of such a type. There were not, prob-
ably, 100 souls in all in the group of huts among
which we were to choose our shelter for the night ;
and these latter differed so little in appearance, that
it was difficult to say which offered the best prospect
of comfort, so we left the selection to the zaptiehs,
and they informed the best-to-do householder that
he was to be our host, whether he liked it or not. A
description of our quarters will apply to all the other
abodes in the village. A circular stone-and-mud wall,
about six feet high, enclosed the entire establishment.
This was entered by a gateway wide enough to admit
a horse, and barricaded at night with two or three
bars. Inside this enclosure, and adjoining the wall,
so as to leave a yard in the centre, there were on
the right, on entering, first, two detached little rooms,
occupied by the owner and his family ; then a raised
stage of mud, two or three feet above the yard, on
which was an erection of boughs of trees, forming a
sort of shelter under which they slept in the heat of
summer ; then a long shed or stable now empty
for cattle ; then an open pen, in which were two
donkeys ; and lastly, bringing us back to the en-
trance-gate, and completing the circle, an immense


oven with a domed roof, and a huge fire in a hole in
the floor in the centre. The domestic circle of our
host consisted of two wives, a grown-up daughter,
and some small children, including a baby. These
all turned into one room, leaving us sole possessors
of the other, which was a small apartment, about ten
feet square, partly excavated and partly built of stone,
plastered with mud and cow-dung. The entrance
was a hole three feet high, destitute of a door,
through which came the entire supply of light and
air, as there were neither windows nor chimney. The
mud - floor having been sprinkled with water and
swept by the women, they spread mats upon it, and
we pushed a bush into the doorway, with which to
make a barricade against the invasion in the night
of two or three savage dogs who inhabited the yard,
and whom we found it impossible to conciliate. There
was an air of extreme poverty in the whole estab-
lishment, but the women were willing and anxious
to make us comfortable. Although Moslems, they
seemed to have no thought of covering their faces,
which, however, were by no means attractive. Our
cook, the invaluable Hanna, was soon engaged in
making the chicken stew, in which he was a pro-
ficient. Indeed his faculty for turning out a credit-
able dinner on the extremely limited resources of a
small Arab village was something remarkable. In
addition to meat of some kind, generally poultry, we
were usually able to obtain rice, sour-milk, or leben


a most refreshing native preparation and eggs.
These we supplemented with our own cheese, olives,
and dates ; while, as a beverage, coffee was always

Altogether, though our accommodation at Kefr
Assad was somewhat squalid in its character, we
were disposed, after dinner, to take a contented view
of life ; and after barricading our door and spreading
our blankets on the floor, looked forward with some
satisfaction to a well-earned night's rest a delusion
which, unhappily, was soon dispelled ; for no sooner
had the sounds of the day died away, and the family
and our servants gone to roost, than a pack of jackals
set up that plaintive and mournful wail by which they
seem to announce to the world that they are in a
starving condition. They came so close to the vil-
lage that all the dogs in it set up a furious chorus
of defiant barking. This woke the baby, of whose
vocal powers we had been till then unaware. Fleas
and mosquitoes innumerable seemed to take advan-
tage of the disturbed state of things generally to
make a combined onslaught. Vainly did I thrust
my hands into my socks, tie handkerchiefs round my
face and neck, and so arrange the rest of my night-
attire as to leave no opening by which they could
crawl in. Our necks and wrists especially seemed
circled with rings of fire. Anything like the numbers
and voracity of the fleas of that " happy village " I



have never, during a long and varied intimacy with
the insect, experienced.

It would have been useless to go and try sleeping
on a raised stage outside. In the first place, the dogs
were lying in wait for the calves of our legs in its
immediate vicinity ; and in the second, the fleas were
doubtless as numerous there as inside. If the baby
was only suffering a tithe of what we were, no wonder
it squalled. It was easy enough to catch them by the
dozen ; but it was of no manner of use it in no way
diminished the supply. So we groaned and tossed
without closing an eye, eagerly watching for the
morning, and an hour before daylight roused the

It was getting so dark when we reached Kefr
Assad the night before, that we had not been able
to appreciate the character of the country In which
It was situated. Now, however, as the sun rose
gloriously over the distant hills of Bashan, we looked
with delight on a tract of luxuriant cultivation. Al-
though we were on a limestone plateau, and the sedi-
mentary rock showed in large patches on the surface,
there was an abundance of rich soil bearing fine olive-
groves, the thick gnarled stems of the trees affording
evidence of their great antiquity. There were vine-
yards and corn-fields besides ; and had the population
been larger, there can be no doubt we should have
seen more abundant proof of the great productiveness
of the country. As It was, we wondered to find the


inhabitants so poverty-stricken in the midst of so
fertile a tract, till we remembered the amount of
revenue which is squeezed out of them, and then
the wonder was that they are able to exist at all.

We saw in the distance, upon a rising ground, sur-
rounded by olive-gardens, the village of El Tayibeh,
the spot we were making for the evening before when
we lost our way. It stands near a wady of the same
name, which I was able, later in the day, to look
down, and which seemed to offer greater engineering
facilities for reaching the plateau than either the Yar-
muk or the Wady Araba.

We now decided not to follow the route by way of
Tibneh, which we should have done had we slept at
Tayibeh, but deliver ourselves up to our zaptiehs,
who told us of a remarkable underground village
called Beloola, on another road leading to Jerash.
As our main object was to see the country, and
especially to pass villages which had been deserted
and might possibly be available for colonisation, and
as we were assured that several of these lay upon
our route, we started off in a south-easterly direction,
following, as near as I can judge, the line of the old
frontier between the tribe of Gad and the half-tribe
of Manasseh. The territory of Gad extended to
the Sea of Chinnereth, or Galilee, just touching its
most southern point, and then striking south-east to
Aroer, which faces Rabbah, or Rabboth Ammon.
This Aroer of Gad has never been identified, and


must not be confounded with Aroer on the Arnon,
a town of Reuben. But from the fact that it is men-
tioned as facing Rabbah, it must have Iain south-east
from the Sea of Gahlee. The city of Gadara was
thus included in the limits of Gad, as its name may
possibly imply ; and at Kefr Assad we were in a
direct line between the Sea of Gennesaret and Rab-
bah, or a town in its neighbourhood. It is scarcely
possible that the boundary of the half-tribe of Man-
asseh would have extended so far south as Rabboth
Amnion ; and the frontier town of Aroer is probably,
therefore, the ruin of Arjun to the north of that city.

The real object of the zaptiehs in holding out
various inducements for us to follow this line rather
than the more direct route through Tibneh, lay in
the fact that the latter road cuts across a series of
wadies, involving a sharp descent and ascent in each
case ; whereas the line we followed, although longer,
kept on the table-land skirting the heads of these
wadies, thus securing us a relatively level road.
As it was all new to us, and equally full of interest,
we allowed the circumstances as they arose to decide
our route for us.

We made an unusually early breakfast, which
invariably consisted of coffee and Arab bread a
preparation of flour and water not unlike the Indian
ckapatty, excepting that it is as thin as a pancake
and about eighteen inches in diameter. Upon this
we subsisted for about five hours, when we halted to


rest and eat some more of it for luncheon, together
with hard-boiled eggs, and whatever cold scraps re-
mained from the dinner of the night before sustain-
ing famished nature by munching chocolate if our
provender was too limited.

Our ride from Kefr Assad until our mid-day halt
was somewhat monotonous. We only passed one
small village Kefr Rahta and the country was
for the most part uncultivated, consisting of high
rolling verdant downs, capable of being made very
productive, but left a desert through lack of popula-
tion. The ruins of Samma and one or two other aban-
doned villages were evidences that It had not long
since been more thickly inhabited. To the south,
and not far distant, were the partially - wooded
spurs of the Ajlun, or Gilead mountains, which we
were gradually approaching. Not far from Mezar,
our luncheon-place, we saw numerous sarcophagi
strewn about on the hillside. One of these had
been turned into a watering - trough for cattle,
near a spring. Many of them were carved ; but
we could see no signs of the ruins of the town
which' should have been in their proximity, nor
even of the tombs in which they had been placed.
Stranger and more inexplicable monuments of a
former race than these, were numerous dolmens which
were in the same vicinity. They consisted of four
stones, three of which formed the sides and the fourth
the roof. The horizontal slabs on the top measured


ten or twelve feet by six or seven, while the side
slabs were about three feet in height the parallel
ones being the same height as the one above, and
the one in rear shorter, so as to correspond with its
breadth. Dolmens seem to me the most mysterious,
as they are the most universal, of all the monuments
of antiquity. They have been found in Great
Britain, Algeria, Spain, France, Holland, Denmark,
Scandinavia, Germany, Palestine, and have been
traced to the western confines of India. We now
hear of them in Japan and in western Missouri.
I never saw them in any other part of Palestine, ex-
cepting here ; but Canon Tristram mentions having
seen them on the plains of Moab. He does not
seem to have come upon them in this part of the
country, though his route cannot have been very far
distant from ours. Indeed he visited Mezar on his
way from Suf, and an hour before reaching the
village passed the Birket Mahneh, which we left a
mile or more to the left. Here he describes the
buried traces of a city which must have covered a
considerable area ; but he seems to be not alto-
gether certain of its identity with Mahanaim,' whilst
on the American map Mahneh is placed in a
wady at a ruin three miles to the north of the
village of Ajlun. This locality, however, does not
suit the Biblical conditions nearly so well as the
Birket Mahneh discovered by Canon Tristram, for
many reasons. Here it was that Jacob, after


his interview with his father-in-law, Laban, in
Mount Gilead, saw the angels of God coming to
meet him : " and when he saw them he said, this
is God's host [Mahaneh], and he called the name
of the place Mahanaim" (the two hosts). It has
thus preserved to this day the name Jacob gave
it; and the prominent part it afterwards played in
Jewish history invests it with a special interest
as a spot which seems always to have retained
a sacred character. It is named in the specifica-
tion of the frontier towns both of Gad and of
Manasseh ; was one of the cities allotted to the
Levites out of Gad, where it is said that the coast
of Manasseh *' was from Mahanaim, all Bashan,"
showing that it was on the extreme southern
border of Bashan, which came up to the base of
the mountains of Gilead. The Birket Mahneh is
situated on the lower spurs of these mountains, which
we entered at Mezar. It is probable, also, that it
was not far from this spot that Jacob raised the pile
of stones, after his interview with Laban, that he
called Galeed, or " the heap of the witness," and
Mizpeh, or a "beacon." He would here first strike
the mountains in his flight from Mesopotamia. It
was apparently on the first hill of the range that
Laban overtook him, and on the top of which they
made their compact and ratified it with heaps of
stones ; and immediately after ' parting from Laban
he meets the angels, and calls the name of the place


Mahanaim. The appellation thus bestowed upon it
by Jacob seems to have been slightly altered by a
play upon the word to " Gilead," which signifies a
hard rocky country. A portion of it was afterwards
bestowed upon Machir, the great-grandson of Jacob,
*' because he was a man of war," and he called his son
" Gilead," after the name of his territory.

Dr Porter, in Murray's Handbook, is of opinion
that this Mizpeh may be identified with Ramath
Mizpeh, the mountain now called Jebel Osh'a, which
is one of the highest peaks in the mountains of
southern Gilead, and rises immediately behind the
modern town of Salt ; and in this view he is sup-
ported by Mr Grove, in Smith's * Dictionary of the
Bible.' But even admitting that Jebel Osh'a is iden-
tical with Ramath Mizpeh mentioned in Joshua as
one of the landmarks of the tribe of Gad, which is
certainly open to grave doubt, it seems almost impos-
sible that the Mizpeh of Jacob can be the same place,
as it would be entirely out of his route from Meso-
potamia. Jebel Osh'a is a south-west mountain of
Gilead, but Jacob would have struck the range at
its north-eastern extremity, not very far from which
the Birket Mahneh is situated. Before reaching it,
however, Laban overtakes him on a mound, which
he names Galeed or Mizpeh. After leaving Mahneh
he goes in a southerly direction, and crosses the
Jabbok, upon the southern bank of which he meets
his brother Esau. He is even then half a day's


journey to the north of Jebel Osh'a, which cannot,
under these circumstances, be the Mizpeh where he
raises " the heap of the witness." It is probable that
the Mizpeh which was the residence of Jephthah was
this same place. We are told that, when he went to
fight the Ammonites, he " passed over Gilead and
Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and
from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the
children of Ammon." The allusion to Manasseh, in
this somewhat obscurely-indicated route, proves that
he was traversing the northern slopes of the moun-
tains of Ajlun or Gilead, part of which were included
in Manasseh in fact, exactly that part where Mezar
is situated. He then attacks the Ammonites, and
smites them " from Aroer even until thou come to
Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of
the vineyards [Abel Ceramim], with a great slaugh-
ter." Aroer was a city of Gad, upon its extreme
eastern frontier, to the north a little probably of Rab-
both Ammon. Minnith, as I shall show later, is in all
probability the modern Mineh, a station on the Hadj
road, about twenty miles south-east of Mezar. The
notices in the * Onomasticon,' both of Minnith and
Abel, as being near Hesbon, are extremely vague,
and quite unsupported by subsequent investigation.
I think it has been satisfactorily shown that the ruins
of the Abil near Irbid, to which I have alluded as one
of the cities of the Decapolis, can be none other than
Abel Ceramim (page io8). Jephthah, then, attacks


the Ammonites at Aroer, close to Rabboth Ammon,
their chief city, drives them north through Minnith,
following probably very much the line of the present
Hadj road, then turning a little to the west, pursues
them past his own home, Mizpeh, which, if it be near
Mezar, as I assume, would lie about fifteen miles to
the south of " the plain of the vineyards," where he
overtook and defeated his enemy. The whole pur-
suit, from Aroer to Abel Ceramim, under these cir-
cumstances, would have extended over a distance of
as nearly as possible fifty miles ; it would have been
through the heart of the country in which he lived ;
and the whole description becomes perfectly clear.
If, on the other hand, we put Mizpeh on Jebel Osh'a
opposite Jericho, the scene of the battle becomes
transferred to the opposite end of the country of
Gilead, and the difficulties surrounding Jephthah's
route become immensely increased.

Again, we hear of Joshua having defeated the
Hivites, who lived "under Hermon in the land of
Mizpeh," together with the other Canaanitish nations
at the waters of Merom, the modern Huleh, whom
he smote " unto the valley or plain of Mizpeh east-
ward." ^ The course of their flight might in that case
have been across Jaulan, which is under Hermon, to
the plain of Mizpeh, or "the pillar" or "beacon,"
which was again the plain we were looking over, and
which was south-eastward from the waters of Merom ;
^ Joshua xi. 3-8 ; see i Mace. v. 35.


whereas the Buka'a, which it has been surmised was
the valley or plain of Mizpeh here signified, would
have been northwards. Nor was there any pillar or
beacon in the Buka'a, such as that which Jacob had
rendered celebrated, and which overlooked these
plains. All these considerations lead me to think
that the site of Mizpeh is to be found near Mezar,
on the north-eastern slopes of the Jebel Ajlun.
There was a hill to the left which would answer the
description of a landmark, or possibly it might have
been on Jebel Kafkafa.

It would seem as if the boundary-line between the
tribes of Gad and Manasseh had been determined
upon with relation to the character of the country,
and to the tastes and habits of the tribes ; for while
to Manasseh was reserved the vast arable plains and
luxuriant pastures of Batansea, Itursea, and Golan,
with only a margin of Gilead, Gad had almost a
monopoly of its forests and its mountains ; and that
the character and tendencies of the two tribes must
have differed as widely as those of highlanders and
lowlanders do elsewhere. The Gadites were appar-
ently a wild turbulent set of mountaineers, and their
country, in consequence of its inaccessible and easily
defensible character, often became the home of the
outlaw and the refugee. Exposed to the attacks of
the Assyrians and the tribes of the deserts, the Am-
monites, Midianites, Hagarites, and others who were
contiguous to their eastern frontier, they lived in a


State of perpetual warfare, and were doubtless much
given to raiding themselves indeed Jacob predicted
of them, "a troop shall plunder him, but he shall
plunder at the last." In all the records of their war-
fare, however, they seem to have been actuated by a
certain chivalrous instinct. In the history of Jeph-
thah, who was a Gadite, of Barzillai the Gadite's
conduct to David, and of the undaunted way in which
the eleven heroes of Gad rallied to that monarch's
standard at the moment of his greatest need, we have
marked indications of this trait in their character.
That they were considered mighty men of war by
the other tribes, is evident from the description given
of those who joined David in i Chron. xii. 8 : " And
of the Gadites there separated themselves unto David,
into the hold to the wilderness, men of might, and
men of war fit for the battle, that could handle shield
and buckler, whose faces were like the faces of lions,
and were as swift as the roes upon the mountains ; "
of whom it is further said, " one at least could resist
a hundred, and the greatest a thousand." Their suc-
cessful raids upon the Ishmaelitish tribes of Jetur,
Nephish, and Nodab on the plains near Kuneitereh,
to which I have already alluded, go far to justify this
exalted estimate of their prowess in war. Besides
warriors the tribe produced a very remarkable char-
acter, in the person of Elijah the Tishbite, who we

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 11 of 35)