Laurence Oliphant.

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

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expedition to the top of Jebel Osh'a, said to be the
highest peak of the range of Gilead ; but as these
mountains have never yet been properly surveyed,
and the eastern part of the range Is entirely unex-
plored, this is still a matter of doubt. The town of
Salt Is situated at an elevation of 2740 feet above
the level of the sea, and Jebel Osh'a rises behind it
to a height of nearly 1000 feet more. The path is
a gradual ascent through vineyards, and other ter-
raced cultivation, almost until we reach the summit,
when a view burst upon us, for the extent and beauty
of which we were quite unprepared. ( In all Palestine,
whether to the east or west of the Jordan, there is
nothing, so far as my experience goes, to be com-
pared to the prospect from Jebel Osh'a.) From here
we can trace the whole course of the Jordan, from
the Sea of Tiberias to the Dead Sea, glittering in the
sun about 4500 feet below us. Every winding of


the river, throughout almost its entire length, is
mapped out at our feet. On a projecting spur in the
distance to the north, we could make out the Kalat
er Rubud, which we had already visited, above
Ajlun, with Hermon in the distance. The whole
range of the Palestine hills, from Mount Jermak in
the north to the hills behind Hebron to the south,
displayed their long irregular line, each peak recog-
nisable and replete with its own Scriptural associ-
ation. We could even distinguish Mount Tabor,
and a little to the south of it, the distant shoulder
of Mount Carmel, while the Mount of Olives con-
cealing Jerusalem from our view was easily detected.
To the south we looked over the wooded moun-
tainous country which intervenes between Salt and
the plains of Moab, with Mount Nebo rising out of
them; while to the east the continuation of the Gilead
range limited the prospect. The mountain is called
by the Arabs Osh'a, after the prophet Hosea, who
is supposed to be buried here, and whose tomb is
a spot venerated alike by Mohammedans and Chris-
tians, who come and offer at it prayers and sacrifices.
The Mohammedans suppose all the early Biblical
characters to have been giants, and have therefore
constructed for Hosea a tomb thirty-six feet long,
three feet wide, and three and a half high.

Not far from here are some ruins which retain
the name of Jilad, which some suppose to have
been the site of Ramoth-Gilead ; the more gener-



ally accepted opinion, however, is, that Salt itself
occupies the site of that town, and that Jebel Osh'a
is the Ramoth-Mizpeh (heights of the watch-tower)
referred to in the Book of Joshua. There is no
evidence of this, however ; it is an hypothesis based
upon the assumption that the mountain is too
prominent a topographical feature to have been
left out in the enumeration of the different land-
marks of the frontier of the tribe of Gad, and
would be a natural point to mention where it occurs
in connection with Heshbon (Josh. xiii. 26). I am
strongly inclined to think, on the contrary, that the
Ramoth-Mizpeh here mentioned is identical with
the Mizpeh on Galeed, where Jacob raised the heap,
not far from Mahanaim, probably on the Jebel
Kafkafa to which I have already alluded at some
length (page 151). The text runs, "And from
Heshbon unto Ramoth - Mizpeh and Betonim, and
from Mahanaim unto the border of Debir." The
exact frontiers of the three tribes to the east of
the Jordan is a subject surrounded with difficulty,
partly on account of many of the places named
not having been yet identified, and partly because
the definitions are in themselves not very clear,
especially in the absence of sufficient reference to
the points of the compass. Thus, to the tribe of
Gad was given " Jazer and all the cities of Gilead,"
and ** half the land of the children of Ammon, unto
Aroer that is before Rabbah" (ver. 25); but to the


half tribe of Manasseh is given " half Gilead " (ver.
31), implying that the "cities of Gilead" were a group
specially known by that name, and did not neces-
sarily include many other cities which were in the
northern part of Gilead allotted to Manasseh.

Again, while Gad's frontier is defined as being
"from Heshbon unto Ramoth-Mizpeh," to Reuben
was given " Heshbon and all her cities that were in
the plain," some of which seem to have lain con-
siderably to the north of Heshbon. Though, there-
fore, Heshbon was alluded to in connection with the
frontier of Gad, it may possibly have been to the
south of it : so, likewise, Mahanaim is mentioned
both in the frontiers of Gad and Manasseh ; but it,
together with Betonim, were two of the cities of
Gilead lying well inside the territory of the former,
on the north-eastern boundary of which, and some-
where near them probably, was Ramoth - Mizpeh.
The frontier connecting these places with Jazer and
the cities of the plain round Heshbon, seems to have
extended round "half the land of the children of
Ammon, unto Aroer that is before Rabbah." Rab-
bah, or Rabbath-Ammon, was not included in the
territory either of Reuben or Gad ; and Aroer, which
faces it, and is possibly identical with Arjun, must
have indicated the south-eastern limit of the terri-
tory. From Mahanaim the frontier goes on to the
border of Debir, which, as its name signifies, is
a high pasture-land, and is probably identical with


Lo- debar, the birthplace of Machir, the son of
Ammiel, who came to David while he was at
Mahanaim (2 Sam. xvii. 27). Debir would in that
case be somewhere between Mahanaim and the
Sea of Tiberias, and complete the frontier to its
north-western point, which, we learn, was on "the
edge of the Sea of Chinnereth on the other side of
Jordan eastward," from whence the western boundary-
follows the cities of the valley of the Jordan back to
the group of cities in the plain of Heshbon.
j-lf, as is generally supposed, and I think with rea-
son, Ramoth-Mizpeh and Ramoth-Gilead are in
close proximity, the latter is not the city of Salt,
which has hitherto been the site appropriated to it,
but it must have lain with Ramoth-Mizpeh on the
north-eastern slopes of the mountains of Ajlun.
This view is borne out by the fact that "to the
son of Geber in Ramoth-Gilead pertained the towns
of Jair, the son of Manasseh, which are in Gilead ;
to him, also, pertained the region of Argob, which
is in Bashan, threescore great cities, with walls
and brazen bars." If Salt be Ramoth-Gilead, the
son of Geber would have had to traverse both the
mountain-ranges of Gilead and then the plain of
the Hauran, between three and four days' journey,
before he could have reached Argob, probably the
modern Lejah ; and intervening between him and
his territory would have been " Aminadab the son
of Iddo, who had Mahanaim." Now it is extremely


unlikely that his residence would be thus widely
separated from his territory ; whereas if Ramoth-
Gilead lay on the borders of that part of Gilead
which belonged to Manasseh, his possession of the
towns of Jair, the son of Manasseh, which are in
Gilead, becomes most natural. These probably ex-
tended from the Jebel Kafkafa or Jerash, at or near
which I believe Ramoth-Gilead to have been, to the
Lejah. Another argument in favour of Ramoth-
Gilead being upon these northern slopes, lies in the
fact that it had been taken by the king of Syria,
when Jehoshaphat and Ahab went to recapture it
(i Kings xxii.) Had it been identical with Salt,
lying at the south-west corner of Gilead, the king of
Syria coming from the north-east would have had to
conquer all Gilead, with its cities, before he reached
it, traversing two mountain-ranges and a most dif-
ficult country. Moreover, we should certainly have
heardof so great an achievement, whereas Jehoshaphat
specified Ramoth in Gilead apparently as the only
town taken. If, on the other hand, it was situated on
its north-eastern mountain-slopes, it would naturally
be one of the first, perhaps the first, most important
town to fall into the hands of the king of Syria, as
he would first strike the frontier of Gilead here.

When, upwards of thirty years after this, the con-
quest of Gilead did take place, we are expressly
told that " in those days the Lord began to cut Israel
short: and Hazael smote them in all the coasts of


Israel ; from Jordan eastward, all the land of Gilead,
the Gadites, and the Reubenites, and the Manassltes,
from Aroer, which Is by the river Arnon, even Gilead
and Bashan" (2 Kings x. 32). Some years prior
to this J Oram had attacked Hazael at Ramoth-Gil-
ead, had been severely wounded, and returned him-
self to Jezreel, sick. Then Jehu had been anointed
king at Ramoth-Gilead as the successor of Joram,
and had "driven furiously" to Jezreel, where he
slew Joram. If Ramoth-Gilead be where I sup-
pose it to have been, his course would have been
due west on the plains we had traversed, the dis-
tance from thirty-five to forty miles, which he could
easily have accomplished in a day. It would have
been nearly double the distance from Salt.

The only argument in favour of Salt being Ramoth-
Gilead is, that the Arabs have retained the name
of Jilad in the case of a ruin and the range behind
the town, while they call the mountains to the north
of the Jabbok, Jebel Ajlun ; but no such distinction
is made in the Bible, the whole country, includ-
ing both ranges, being called Gilead; besides, it is
probable that many other places besides Ramoth-
Gilead had the suffix Gilead. The fact that Euse-
bius puts it fifteen miles west of Rabbath-Ammon,
is counterbalanced by Jerome, who puts it that
distance to the east, a position manifestly absurd.
Ewald, who is extremely careful and painstaking in
such matters, puts it at Reimun, a village on the


north of the Jabbok close to Jerash; while the Arabic
version of the Book of Joshua, and the Jewish tra-
veller Parchi, put it at Jerash itself (see Smith's
* Dictionary of the Bible '), a still more probable
spot. Wherever it may have been, I think we are
compelled to abandon the notion that it was to the
south of the Jabbok, and, least of all, at Salt. I
have entered at some leno^th into a consideration of


the claims of Salt to be identified with Ramoth-Gil-
ead, and Jebel Osh'a with Ramoth-Mizpeh, because
it seems to have been taken for granted that they
are so by so many authorities ; and I think the
sites of these two important Biblical localities have
yet to be ascertained, as there seems to be a
danger of confusion arising in regard especially to
the sites of the various Mizpehs mentioned in the
Bible. Thus Mr Grove, whose authority upon all
such points is too high to be lightly questioned,
is of opinion that Jebel Osh'a was also the Mizpeh
where the children of Israel assembled to decide
what punishment was to be inflicted upon the tribe
of Benjamin and the city of Gibeah, after the out-
rage on the Levite and his concubine. It seems to
be quite impossible that this Mizpeh can have been
situated to the east of the Jordan at all, but rather
that it must have been the Mizpeh of Benjamin, also
a place of great sanctity, and one of the three holy
cities the other two being Bethel and Gilgal
where the ark was kept, where Saul was chosen


king, and where Samuel judged the people, and
which was in close proximity to Gibeah : for we read
that, having decided which tribe should lead the at-
tack, they rose up in the morning, encamped against
Gibeah, were defeated, Went up and wept before the
Lord, evidently returning to Mizpeh to supplicate
there; renewed the battle the second day, were again
defeated, went back again to Mizpeh, and " came
into the house of God " and " inquired of the Lord "
(for the ark of the covenant of God was there in
those days), and again renewed the battle the third
day, when they were finally victorious. Now it
would have been physically and materially impos-
sible for them to have returned to the top of Jebel
Osh'a on the other side of Jordan after the first day's
battle, and then to have marched out again and
fought all day at Gibeah, and got back again to
Jebel Osh'a the same night, repeating the process
three times, for no army could march from Jebel
Osh'a to Gibeah of Benjamin under two whole days ;
but if we suppose them to be encamped on the
modern Neby Samwil, which has been identified as
the site of Mizpeh of Benjamin, the achievement
becomes perfectly possible, for it is not above three
miles from the modern Tuleil el Ful, which has been
identified by Dr Robinson as the site of Gibeah of
Benjamin. Ewald is of opinion that Mizpeh was a
town and fortress to the north of the Jabbok.

The first mention we have of Salt, according to


Dr Porter who also assumes it to be Ramoth-GIlead
in later times, occurs in the sixth century, under the
Greek form Sal ton. He suggests that the fact of
its being mentioned in the ' Notitise Ecclesiasticae,' in
connection with the addition of the word Hieraticus
or " sacerdotal," is strong proof of its being the Leviti-
cal city of Ramoth-Gilead ; but I think the fact that
it was then the seat of a bishop's see is sufficient
to account for this epithet, and that to apply to it
the sacred character it was supposed to have had
2000 years before that time, is a somewhat strained

Salt first became a place of some importance dur-
ing the Crusades, when Saladin established himself
in this country. The castle is a large quadrangular
edifice, built somewhat on the plan of the Kalat er
Rubud, with a moat hewn out of the solid rock ;
some part of the building shows signs of great
antiquity. It was built by the Sultan Bibars in the
thirteenth century, and has been kept in tolerable
repair since then. There is said to be a secret
passage connecting it with the fountain in the town.

When we returned to Salt we found that all the
sheikhs of the Beni Hassan tribe of Arabs had arrived
at the summons of the Caimakam to settle a matter of
tribute. The Beni Hassan occupy the country called
Es Zuweit, to the east of Jerash, and from there south-
wards to the Jabbok, at the point where it forces its
way through the eastern mountains of Gilead in


fact, exactly that highland region which I had looked
at with longing eyes from Tekitty, and which is still
totally unexplored. It had now become doubly inter-
esting in our eyes, foV we had met a Syrian merchant
in Salt who told us he had been into this coun-
try, and that it contained the ruins of an extensive
city, the Arab name of which was Rahab, in the
midst of which the Beni Hassan were camped.
Here he described vast subterranean excavations,
as well as the remains of fine edifices. We there-
fore applied to the Caimakam to make arrangements
with the sheikh now here, and whose tent was actu-
ally pitched on the spot we desired to visit, to be our
guide, and take us back with him ; but in spite of the
efforts of the Caimakam, the Beni Hassan sheikhs,
one and all, declined the honour of our visit. Their
country, they said, was not worth visiting; why
should foreigners desire to intrude upon them ? None
had ever done so before, and they refused emphati-
cally to be our hosts, or to have anything to do with
us. The real reason for this, we were informed,
was, that their country was too beautiful and fertile
to be exhibited not Es Zuweit, which is a pebbly
plain but the hill-country to the south of it, hence
they were extremely shy of allowing strangers to
come in and discover its merits. However this may
be, the Caimakam said he did not wish to force them
to take us with them if they refused to do so, but
that we might proceed to Kalat Zerka, a post on


the Hadj road, and there perhaps induce a sheikh
of another friendly tribe to be our guide. If we
arrived as visitors thus escorted, however unwelcome
we might be, the rites of hospitality would compel
them to receive us kindly and treat us well. The
practical difficulty in the way of this arrangement
was that the time at our disposal was limited, and
that our money was rapidly coming to an end.
Indeed, had it not been for this, a sufficient baksheesh
would doubtless have overcome their objections. As
we had received before starting various accounts
of the dangers which attended travel through this
country, and the great risk of being robbed, we had
brought very little gold with us ; but knowing that
Salt was a comparatively civilised place, I had put a
couple of Bank of England five-pound notes in my
pocket-book, feeling sure that no Arab would under-
stand their value should I happen to be robbed, and
hoping that they might stand me in good stead if
I came across a partially civilised individual. Un-
fortunately, even at Salt, there was no one who
answered that definition. I could not find a soul
who had the least conception what a bank - note
was ; and I got tired of hawking about, in ex-
change for money, a suspicious - looking piece of
paper, which, after being carefully inspected, was
handed back to me with a look of distrust which
was anything but complimentary. The consequence
was that we were getting decidedly hard up; and


now that it came to hiring extra baggage-animals,
laying in a stock of provisions, and feeing Arab
sheikhs to act as guides, our prospects began to
look gloomy. Then I was extremely anxious to
push south as far as possible, so as to examine the
richest portion of the Belka, and to go north-east
was partially to retrace my steps. On the other
hand, Canon Tristram had already pretty thoroughly
explored the country to the south, the fertility and
productiveness of which has been confirmed not only
by his testimony but by that of other travellers ;
whereas nobody, so far as I knew, had ever been
into the country in which the ruins of Rahab are
situated. Nor were the existence of any such ruins
known. Rahab, it occurred to us, might be the
Rehob of the spies, a spot which has never been
identified. " They searched the land from the wil-
derness of Sin unto Rehob as men come to Ham-
ath." Dr Robinson has inferred from this that the
position of Rehob was near Bainas, or Tel el Kady,
but there is no trace of the name in that direction.
The tribe of Asher contained two Rehobs, neither
of which has been identified ; but they are generally,
with reason, from their position in Asher, considered
to be distinct from the Rehob of the spies, which was
on the way " as men come to Hamath." A city
upon the northern slopes of Eastern Gilead would be
exactly on the road as men come up to Hamath, sup-
posing they entered the Holy Land at Hebron and


then crossed the Jordan at Jericho ; indeed, the
great Hadj road which now goes from the southern
deserts, near to which the children of Israel had
been wandering, to Damascus and Hamath, passes
within a few miles of the position assigned to the
modern Rahab. It also seemed extremely probable
that this Rehob may be identical with the city called
after Rehob, king of Zobah, whose territory in the time
of David appears to have extended from the country
of the Ammonites to the Euphrates, and whom the
Ammonites hired to help them to fight against
David {2 Sam. x. 6-8). The force consisting, be-
sides the Ammonites, of " the Syrians of Zobah, and
of Rehob, and Ishtob and Maachah " came " and
pitched before Medeba" (i Chron. xix. 7). Medeba
is a city situated ^.bout five miles to the south of
Heshbon, and about twenty to the south-west of
Rabbath - Ammon. The ruins of Rahab were de-
scribed to be situated about the same distance a
little to the east of north from Rabbath - Ammon,
and about half a day's journey south-east of Jerash ;
so that, had I known of their existence when at that
place, it would have been comparatively easy to have
visited them. Supposing Rahab to be this Rehob,
it would have been on the north-east boundary of
the Ammonite country, and just in a position to
make common cause with the Ammonites against
the victorious forces of David.

Altogether the temptation to make an attempt in


this direction proved too great to resist, and we
decided to make a start for Kalat Zerka. The
Caimakam sent us a couple of zaptiehs who, we were
assured, were familiar with the country, and the
senior of them was profuse in his promises to be an
obedient and intelligent guide, and in his professions
of service. Alas ! he turned out a more unmitigated
rascal than any former zaptieh of our acquaintance,
which is saying a great deal. As the prospect of
sleeping in Arab tents was not tempting, on account
of the peculiar insect which infests them, we availed
ourselves of the kindness of Mr Halil, who insisted
upon our borrowing his light summer tent. Thus
provided, with the old zaptieh leading, and the
young one bringing up the rear, so as to keep the
donkeys up to the mark, we made our exit from Salt
early one morning at the end of March.







After crossing the stream which brawls down the
narrow gorge called the Wady Shaib, on the banks
of which every available inch of ground is cultivated,
in terraces rising one above another in most impos-
sible places, we scrambled up the steep path that
leads to the high southern plateau, which we reached
in about an hour, and then traversed a rich grassy
plain to a spring, or rather tank, around which,
however, I did not observe any ruins. To the
right the hills were heavily wooded, and amidst
them the picturesque gorges commence which cleave
the range laterally, carrying their torrents by the
Wady Seidun, the Wady Azrak, the Wady Seir,
and other ravines, down to the valley of the Jordan.
The combination here of rich arable and pasture
land, with fine forests, was all that could be desired
for agricultural purposes. The land about here


was cultivated from Salt. The pond has an eleva-
tion of about 3000 feet above the sea, and near it is
a mound, to the summit of which we rode and had
a splendid view over the Bechaa, or Bukaa, a de-
pressed grassy plain, perfectly level, and eight or
nine miles in length, by from four to six in breadth.
It is surrounded by hills from 500 to 800 feet in
height, while at its north-eastern extremity rise the
higher mountains of Eastern Gilead. The hills on
the southern side are partially wooded, those to the
north are pasture.

This plain, which consists of a tract of rich land,
is said originally to have been the basin of a lake,
the water of which descended through the Wady
Tananyeh, about three miles to the north of the
Zerka. In the middle of it, about a couple of miles
from the base of the hills on which we stood, we
saw an Arab encampment. We found, when we
arrived at it, that it consisted of twenty tents pitched
in parallel lines so as to form a sort of street ten
tents being on each side. The occupants were Adwan
Arabs, who received us very hospitably, and gave us
some delicious sour milk. They were camped near
a fine spring. I observed in places that the soil was
shallow, and that there were lava-patches and expo-
sures of flat rock occasionally, showing that it was
more especially adapted for vine-culture.

Not many hundred yards from the Arab camp
there was a ruin of some extent, and evidently of


great antiquity. The most prominent object was a
square tower, probably of Roman origin, the walls of
which were composed of large blocks of stone, and
were standing to a height of ten feet. It had evi-
dently been higher, but the top was a grass-grown
mass of dSris; within was an arched chamber twenty
feet square. It was situated on a low mound, and
all round were numerous vaults and excavations, the
entrance to which were often substantial arches.
They seemed to be extensively used by the flocks of
goats belonging to the Arabs, who call the place El
Basha. About a couple of miles beyond this we left
the plain to ascend the hills on the south side, but just
before doing so came upon another ruin, which, I think,
was Safut, consisting principally of what had been
one extensive building, but there was nothing to indi-

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 15 of 35)