Laurence Oliphant.

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

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been able to spend the rest of the day exploring
the Wady Yabis, which is immediately contiguous
to the castle on the north side, where the site of
Jabesh Gilead remains yet to be satisfactorily iden-
tified. Robinson places it at a ruin called Ed-Deir ;
but I think Mr Merill has shown that the ruin of
Miryamin, which he discovered four years ago, has
superior claims to be considered the site of that in-
teresting but unlucky city. Some idea of its popula-
tion in the early days of the Jewish occupation of the
country may be gathered from the fact that, when
it became necessary to provide wives for the tribe
of Benjamin, and twelve thousand of the " valiantest
men of Israel went up against Jabesh Gilead," after
slaughtering all the males, all the women who were
or had been married, and all the children, four


hundred marriageable virgins remained, who were
carried off. This punishment was inflicted upon
the inhabitants because they refused to answer the
summons of the other tribes to make war on Ben-
jamin in the first instance (Judges xxi. 8). Three
hundred years afterwards the valley over which we
were now looking became the scene of another ter-
rific slaughter, for the Ammonites under Nahash
came and encamped in it, and threatened to spare
the town only on the condition that the entire male
population would consent to having their right eyes
thrust out. On obtaining seven days' grace, and ap-
pealing for help to Saul, an army of three hundred
and thirty thousand men was collected in three days.
After a night-march, the Israelites "came into the
midst of the host in the morning watch, and slew the
Ammonites until the heat of the day ; " and " they
which remained were scattered, so that two of them
were not left together." If the country was as thickly
wooded then as it is now, it was eminently adapted
for a night-surprise; and the difficulty of escape back
to Ammon^ over the rocky passes of Gilead, would
easily account for the slaughter and dispersion of the
army of Nahash, which was no doubt much outnum-
bered by this immense and rapidly extemporised
host (i Sam. xi.)

On our return to the village we found to our sur-
prise the energetic and indefatigable Caimakam of
Ajlun, whom we had parted from at Irbid, camped


under the trees. He had suddenly arrived with a
company of mounted infantry, to put a stop to some
village disputes, which threatened to culminate in
acts of violence, and to restore order in a district
which had been too long neglected by previous pro-
vincial authorities, and which was, consequently, un-
accustomed to control. It was doubtless owing to
the timely receipt of the news of the Caimakam's
approach late the night before, that we owed our
immunity from the attack and robbery with which
we had been threatened. It would seem that the pop-
ulation of Ajlun and the adjoining villages were in
a turbulent mood, and just in the humour for robbing
strangers, for they were expecting an attack from
the inhabitants of Staf, a large and populous village,
where we intended to lunch. The Caimakam as-
sured me that the sheikh at Suf could bring fourteen
hundred fighting men into the field ; but I think in
this estimate the male inhabitants of other villages,
together with a large number of nomad Arabs with
whom he is allied, must have been included, as there
is no one village in the province which could furnish
more than a tenth of that number out of its own pop-
ulation. There is so little difference between the in-
habitants of these villages, who are really sedentary
Arabs, and the Bedouins, that in their disputes they
sometimes get the latter to help them. The sheikh
of Stif, who had threatened to make a descent upon
Ajlun with this formidable force, was a rebellious in-


dividual, by name Hassan Effendi Barakat, the most
powerful chief in this region of country; and he was
now doubly notorious for the revolt he had incited
the previous year against the Turkish Government,
when he refused to pay the taxes, and resisted the
authority of the Government, then distracted by
European complications, with some success. Since
then the movement had been repressed, but Hassan
Effendi had not been punished, nor had the taxes
been collected. English travellers who have visited
Jerash may remember a handsome but extortionate
and insolent Arab sheikh at Suf, who demanded, and
always with success, an extortionate sum as black-
mail, for which he gave them an escort and protec-
tion during their visit to the ruins. This was none
other than Hassan Effendi Barakat, who was sitting
on his heels, with his head bent down, in an attitude
of profound humility, in the presence of the Caima-
*kam when we rode up and dismounted. After the
first cordial greetings had been exchanged, we took
our seats on the carpet by the side of the Caimakam,
while he explained the situation. We found a most
interesting but guilty-looking group of leading men
arrayed before us, to each one of whom a history of
lawlessness of some sort was attached ; while the
soldiers, with their horses tethered to the trees, were
grouped round, and some zaptiehs, of most brigand
aspect, made up in picturesqueness for what they
lacked in virtue. Then the Caimakam, pointing out



Hassan Effendi, who seemed quite conscious that his
misconduct was being descanted upon, and tried to
look penitent, after telHng me his history, an-
nounced that he was dismissed from the MedjHss or
provincial council ; that he was disgraced from his
position as head sheikh, and must live henceforth in
retirement and under surveillance ; and that fifteen
years of arrears of taxes, the payment of which he
had refused during all that time, were to be made
good by him, for which acts of clemency Hassan
endeavoured to look deeply grateful, and came and
made low reverences to the Caimakam, and obse-
quiously kissed my hand. There was, however, a look
in his eye which suggested that it was an extremely
hollow salutation, and that he would be glad of any
favourable opportunity which might arise, when he
could take his revenge for having performed it.
When he returned to his place, the Caimakam
pointed to his next neighbour, a remarkably intel-
ligent-looking fine-featured man, with a flowing yel-
low kufeiyek, and dress carefully and picturesquely
arranged, who was chief of the Christian community
of the neighbouring village of Kefrenjy, and who
had been summoned to arrange a blood-feud which
existed between them and the Christians of Ajlun,
in consequence of the murder, in a quarrel, of one of
the latter. The guilty parties, four in number, had
been given up, and handed over to the Caimakam,
and guarantees had been required and obtained that


peace should be observed for the future. This chief
also advanced and made his reverence to us, but
was far more manly in his bearing and sympathetic
in his manner than the sheikh of Stif. There were
some other neighbouring notables to whom the
Caimakam deemed it necessary to address some words
of warning and good advice ; and I took advantage
of the opportunity to complain to him of the over-
bearing manner of our own zaptiehs towards the
country people, and they received in consequence an
admonition which was not without its g-ood results.
Then we drank coffee and smoked narghilehs, and
discussed the political condition of the country, and
the administrative problems which had to be dealt
with. The Caimakam attributed the disorder which
had reigned so long to the east of the Jordan entirely
to the lack of efficiency and energy on the part of
those upon whom the task had devolved of governing
it, and to some extent to the absence of the necessary
armed force. Since the arrival of Midhat Pasha five
hundred mounted infantry had been amply sufficient
to establish peace and order, alike among the seden-
tary and nomad population ; and he saw no reason
why, with the aid of this small military contingent,
whom he much preferred to zaptiehs, the most per-
fect security should not reign from the slopes of Her-
mon to the shores of the Dead Sea. With a properly
paid local police, aided and supported by a small
body of regular troops, order could be maintained ;


and, with a reform in the system of tax-collecting,
the contentment and happiness of the peasantry in-
sured. We certainly were able to judge for ourselves
of the effect of an energetic administration upon the
country. We had seen the district near Gadara,
usually so insecure, prepared as it were for our recep-
tion by the arm of the law, as represented by the
Caimakam himself with a few soldiers, swiftly over-
taking those who had violated it. We had witnessed
at Ajlun the immediate effect produced by the per-
sonal presence of the same functionary, and the com-
plete submission of a district notoriously turbulent ;
while the security with which we travelled to the
end of our journey, through regions supposed to be
inaccessible, excepting by the payment of black-mail
and accompanied by an escort, furnished constant
evidence of the salutary effect of an administration
which showed a determination to enforce and sustain
its authority. The principle of the Caimakam of
Ajlun was, not to be satisfied with sending under-
lings to settle disputes or enforce the law, but in-
stantly to proceed himself to the scene of action ; and
the rapidity and unexpectedness of his movements
never failed to produce the desired effect. The
Arab problem to the east of the Jordan would not be
difficult of solution if a few active and intelligent
functionaries like Daoud Abbadie Effendi, Caimakam
of Ajlun, were employed to solve it.

We were now obliged to turn our backs upon


Ajlun and its romantic surroundings of all the spots
I have visited in the Holy Land, to me the most
attractive. Its gushing waters, its hanging forests,
its rocky gorges, its productive gardens, its fair
maidens, its grand old castle, its delightful climate,
all combine to invest this valley in the heart of Gilead
with an unrivalled charm ; and I cannot but hope
that the day is not far distant when the vast tracts
of rich land, now lying waste upon its slopes, may
be cultivated by an emigrant population, who will
develop their resources, and find in these beautiful
and secluded vales a refuge from that persecution to
which they are exposed in Christian countries.

Our way to Suf lay up a glen which meets the
gorge by which we had descended into Ajlun at
that village. It was, if possible, the more beautiful of
the two. The combination of overhanging rock and
pendulous wood was perfect, wild olive, arbutus,
laurustinus, and many other shrubs formed the un-
derwood, above which sycamore, oak, and terebinth
spread their branches ; while in places crags and
pinnacles of rock projected over the path which
wound round their base. Passing a small Christian
village, the name of which I have unfortunately mis-
laid, we steadily ascended to the summit of the ridge,
and then descended 700 or 800 feet to the straggling
dirty village of Suf. We here struck the route taken
by the few travellers who visit the ruins of Jerash
from Jerusalem and Salt. Although there are on an


average not more than one or two a-year, the effect
of their passage through the village is at once visible.
The children ask for baksheesh, the men scowl and
look insolent, and the women do not stare open-
mouthed, as at unknown monsters. We meant to
choose our own spot for lunch just outside the vil-
lage, but the pressure to enter the house of the
sheikh was so strong that we finally yielded to it.
It was at present occupied by the sheikh's brother,
the sheikh himself, it will be remembered, having
already made our acquaintance in the morning, under
the circumstances I have just described.

The contrast between the insolent confident man-
ner of the brother, who did not exactly know what
was passing at Ajlun, with the servility we had seen
manifested there, was most amusing; and he was
evidently little prepared for the tone of indepen-
dence we adopted. On entering his house several
other Arabs crowded in, while the sheikh opened
a greasy old pocket-book, and extracted therefrom
about a score of documents in English and French,
which he seemed to regard in the light of favourable

The price of an escort from Jerusalem to Jerash
in time of peace is about 250 francs, but the traveller
who has paid this sum is invariably black-mailed at
Suf, and has to disgorge another hundred francs or
more before he is allowed to proceed, while a far
higher sum is demanded if he wishes to push his


explorations over the country to the north, which we
had already traversed in safety. The testimonials
which the sheikh triumphantly produced consisted
largely of complaints against this robbery. When,
with an apparent feeling of gratified vanity, he
handed us a testimonial calling him an " extortion-
ate old thief/' and warning travellers to beware of
him ; and insisted upon our reading It carefully and
then returning to him, to be stowed away for future
use, and then expected us to comply with his de-
mand for money, he seemed quite astonished at our
attitude of resistance.

" Why should we pay you five pounds ? " we

" It Is the custom," he replied ; " no traveller has
been allowed to visit the ruins without paying me."

" Then it is a bad custom, which must be im-
mediately discontinued," we said. ** We decline
absolutely to pay a farthing."

" But no one has ever before declined."

" Then it Is high time for some one to set the
example," we remarked, and we called in the zap-
tlehs, who for the first time proved of some use.
They, anxious to prove their zeal and Importance,
and knowing that they ran no risk, as the Caimakam
and his soldiers were within call, poured upon the
head of the sheikh a torrent of invective telling
him that they were a far better protection than
any escort he could furnish, and that there was


plenty more protection at Ajlun, about which, if he
had any doubt, he had better send and ask his
brother, who was in a position to give him all the
necessary information with many other sarcastic re-
marks of a like nature, which made all the surround-
ing Arabs, who had begun to look truculent, change
countenance considerably. Nevertheless he went on
murmuring and protesting, and offering us more tes-
timonials, which we read out of curiosity, until we
had finished our meal and our cigarettes, when we
quietly mounted and rode away, leaving the sheikh,
and the savage-looking group of Arabs by whom
he was surrounded, staring open-mouthed at our
audacity, but utterly impotent and paralysed by the
new turn matters had taken, thanks to an enero-etic

The old Roman road which connected Pella with
Gerasa or Jerash, seems to have followed the track
by which we came from Ajlun to SM, for there are
some traces of it near the latter village, where there
was probably a station ; here are also some remains
of broken columns, on one of which is a Greek
inscription. Three springs near Suf give rise to a
stream which turns a mill or two, and flows down
a charming glen, the Wady-ed-Deir, in which are
olive-groves of extreme antiquity. We followed its
windings down a gentle slope for more than an hour,
and then suddenly turned into the broad, shallow,
and somewhat desolate valley in which lie the im-


posing and extensive ruins of the ancient city of
Jerash. The forest had ceased on our leaving Stif,
and except the oleanders which fringed the stream,
no shrubs or trees relieved the barren aspect of the
scene. Nevertheless the whole of this country is
well watered, and susceptible of the highest cul-
tivation, if a population equal in amount to that
which once inhabited it so densely were only re-
stored to it.

We sat on one of the prostrate columns which sur-
rounded the atrium or large court by which the great
temple was enclosed, and gazed on the monuments,
unsurpassed in their solitary grandeur, which testify
to the magrnificence of a former civilisation. From
the eminence upon which the great temple stands
we looked down upon the long colonnade that inter-
sected the city, a hundred columns of which are up-
right and intact while of others the lower parts are
still erect, amid the ddbris of those that are shattered
and prostrate ; upon the four huge pedestals which
once vaulted over formed the tetrapylon, where
there was a cross street also lined with columns ;
upon the three - arched bridge which spans the
stream ; upon the great portal of the grand propy-
leum, with the remains of the basilica behind ; upon
the ruins of the baths beyond, and far to the right,
at the other end of the Via Columnata, upon the
forum, encircled by an Ionic colonnade, of which
fifty-seven columns are still standing ; upon the grand


theatre, with its twenty-eight tiers of seats, and an-
other temple beyond, close to the southern gate of
the city. Behind us the grand temple, dedicated to
the sun, reared its imposing pile. Out of the thir-
teen columns which adorned it, eleven remain erect,
the largest measuring about forty feet in height and
six in thickness. The temple itself, three sides of
which are perfect, was twenty-six yards long and
twenty-two wide ; and we walked down the central
street to the forum and grand theatre, and from
the highest tiers of the latter could overlook the
ruins from their southern extremity ; while from the
hill behind we could see the Naumachia, the scene
of those sham naval fights in which the Romans
delighted, and the triumphal arch beyond. The
high ground by which the city is surrounded fur-
nishes numerous admirable points of view, and the
ruins are comparatively so perfect that it needs no
pfreat stretch of imaorination to reconstruct the streets
and buildings, and people them with the busy thou-
sands who once made Jerash the centre of Eastern
opulence and civilisation.

Jerash was probably never more magnificent than
during the lifetime of our Lord, and the two or
three centuries immediately succeeding that period.
Then it was that the Decapolis attained the summit
of its fame and prosperity ; and the ruins of such
cities as Jerash, Gadara, Pella, and Philadelphia or
Rabbath - Ammon, all within or bordering on the


ancient limits of the tribe of Gad, are the best evi-
dence we could desire of the vast resources of the
territory which was allotted to it, and of the possi-
bilities which may be in store for it in the future.

We had sent our mules direct from S<if to Tekitty,
our night quarters, and now made for that village by
a path considerably to the south of that by which
we had approached Jerash. We soon reached the
woods, and ascended steadily for more than an hour,
our route from time to time affording magnificent
views over the rolling country to the south-east, with
lofty wooded mountains in the background. A little
before sunset we reached the top of the pass, and
passing the ruined village of Reimun came upon
an ancient ruin, probably of Roman origin, be-
neath which were extensive excavations in the
limestone rock. We now began to descend into a
basin formed by an amphitheatre in the mountains,
and passed through fine groves of gnarled old olive-
trees to the village of Tekitty, which lay embosomed
in the midst of them. Here we were hospitably re-
ceived by the Moslem sheikh, who placed the upper
room of his house at our disposal, an apartment
not inferior to that which we had occupied at Ajlun,
though it was the only one of the kind of which the
village could boast.

The more we wandered among these hills, the
more struck we were with the charm of their scenery,
the health-giving qualities of their sharp bracing air,


and their great natural capabilities for agricultural
purposes. Here was a region eminently adapted for
colonisation by a people accustomed to a European
climate, and requiring but little manual labour to be|
made sufficiently productive to sustain them. Im-
mediately behind Tekitty, Jebel Hakart, clothed to
the summit with fine forests and broad stretches of
the greenest pasture-land, reared its crest to a height
of about 3790 feet above the sea, the highest peak of
the range which encircled this richly cultivated valley.
In the blue haze of evening we traced the lofty
irregular outline of the mountains of Eastern Gilead,
some of which seemed to attain an even greater alti-
tude than those by which we were surrounded, all
heavily timbered, but, so far as I know, as yet totally
unexplored, and but very vaguely indicated in the
best maps. Except by a few wandering Arabs they
are uninhabited, and consequently totally unculti-
vated, waiting, let us hope, to be reoccupied by the
descendants of the same race which once pastured
their flocks in their luxuriant valleys, and upon the
rolling prairie-land which stretched beneath us. After
the return from the Captivity a number of Jews again
settled in Gilead in the midst of a heathen popu-
lation. Here were forests celebrated throughout
Palestine for products of a special nature, as we
may gather from the account of the Ishmaelites
who " came from Gilead with their camels bearing
spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down

( TEKITTY. 1 89

to Egypt" (Gen. xxxvii. 25) ; and from the exclama-
tion of the prophet, " Is there no balm in Gilead ? "
This was supposed to be a liquid resin, extracted by-
incision from the Amyris Gileadensis, and owing to
its scarceness and extraordinary qualities formed a
valuable present even to princes. Some idea of the
value of this extract may be formed from the follow-
ing facts narrated by Pliny. When Alexander was
in Judaea, a spoonful was all that could be collected
in a summer day ; and in a plentiful year, the great
royal park of these trees yielded only six gallons, and
the smaller one only one gallon. It was consequently
so dear that it sold for double its weight in silver.
Vespasian and Titus carried each one of the plants
which produced it to Rome ; and Pompey boasted of
bearing them in his triumph. The question then
put by the prophet is one which may prove most
interesting in the present day to botanists " Is
there no balm in Gilead .-* " Whether there be or
not, there can be little doubt that an intelligent ex-
amination of these little-known forests might suggest
a profitable cultivation of those aromatic, gum, and
spice-bearing shrubs for which they were once so

There was only one Christian family in the little
village of Tekitty, which, considering the luxuriance
of its groves and gardens, should have presented a
more prosperous and thriving appearance than it
did. The peasants, however, lose all heart ; for the


result of their industry is only that they become
more squeezable for taxes than if they remained
poor, and they content themselves, therefore, with
producing just what is absolutely needful ; while the
more squalid and miserable is the aspect which they
present, the more immunity do they secure from the

Our road on the following morning skirted the hill-
side of Jebel Hakart, and for the first time pine-trees
were thickly intermingled with the oaks, carobs, and
terebinths, while there was a dense undergrowth of
arbutus, laurustinus, and other shrubs. During the
whole way to the village of Birmah the prospect
eastwards was magnificent, and filled one with long-
ing to penetrate the unknown region which was so
temptingly spread out before us. Even here we
met the ubiquitous Jedeideh men driving their
donkeys laden with semen, often from distant Arab
encampments ; for they follow the nomads to their
most remote haunts, and are familiar, in consequence,
with every inch of the country. They always greeted
us with a cordial salutation of " Marhaba," and were
glad to stop and gossip with travellers, one of whom
knew their native village.

Birmah, like Tekitty, was surrounded by olive-
gardens, and the entire male population was basking
in the sun, as we passed, upon the large village dung-
hill. From this point we began to descend to the
fords of the Jabbok by a glen clothed with wild olive,


and after a long downward scramble reached the bed

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 13 of 35)