Laurence Oliphant.

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

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Many of them I did not know by name, but I recog-
nised the burnet, the sword-flag, especially among
the young crops, where there were any and wild
flax, and a fine specimen of Persian iris. When we
got to the bottom of the hill we found ourselves upon
a ledge or natural terrace ^overlooking the gorge of
the Adonis, and along this we rode for an hour and
a half to the head of the valley ; for above all things
we had set our hearts upon seeing Afka, once the
abode of the Goddess of Love, and the source of
the Adonis ; and we had determined not to linger
by the way, even to eat, until we had reached it.
And when at length, on turning the angle of a pro-
jecting spur, the sacred, or perhaps, more properly
speaking, the profane, spot burst suddenly upon us, it
was impossible to withhold an exclamation of aston-
ishment and delight ; and we felt it incumbent upon
us to pause, even at the expense of suffering nature,
in order thoroughly to take in the marvellous and
unique beauty of the scene. We found ourselves
on the lip of a bowl from which the river issued
through a gorge, and which was almost completely
surrounded by sheer cliffs, varying in height from
one to two thousand feet, their crevices filled with
snow, and here and there a hardy pine clinging to
the jutting crags. A couple of hundred feet below
us the small circular area was a mass of vegetation,
consisting chiefly of walnut, oak, and juniper trees ;
while there were patches of cultivation appertaining

2 H


to a squalid Metawaly village, just peeping out from
under the foliage at the head of the gorge. By the
side of the stream near the base of the cliff a clump
of walnut-trees indicated the site of the once cele-
brated temple ; and close to it was a picturesque
bridge, from under which the torrent plunges in a
mass of foam, and then precipitates itself in three
cascades into the gorge below ; but the most remark-
able feature is the main source itself, which issues
from a deep cavern in the side of the cliff by a fall
of about forty feet. It is joined by two other smaller
streams, which also break their way out of the side
of the rock at some height above its base, forming
altogether a combination of springs so singular for
situation, and surrounded by such a weird and fan-
tastic natural formation, that it was no wonder it
appealed to the aesthetic imaginations of the votaries
of Venus, and became the scene of a touching mytho-
logical episode. It became worse than this ; for in
this temple of Apheca, beneath the crumbling walls
of which we halted for our scanty meal, those rites
sacred to the goddess took place, which at last be-
came so impure that the temple itself, which, ac-
cording to Lucian, who visited it in the days of
its celebrity, was built by Cinyras, was destroyed
by the Emperor Constantine. Where we lunched
on the margin of the brook it was clear as crystal,
falling in pellucid cascades from its three-fold source ;
but it is said that it is occasionally coloured red with


mineral matter, which the ancients regarded as the
blood of Adonis, shed by the wild boar before he
was sought for and resuscitated by Aphrodite. While
the cult of the goddess had its seat at Apheca, that
of Adonis took place at Byblos, the modern Jibeil,
situated about four miles to the north of the mouth
of the river which bore the name of the god. There
can be little doubt that the legend sprang from the
early Phoenician worship of the dual principle. For
Byblos was said to have been founded by Baal Kro-
nos, a Phoenician monarch ; and it is not difficult
to trace the connection between the early Canaanit-
ish religion of Baal and Ashteroth with the myth of
Osiris and Isis and the legend of Venus and Adonis.
Aphek, in the land assigned by Joshua to, but never
occupied by, the tribe of Asher, has been identified
with Afka, or Apheca.

We regretted that we had not time thoroughly to
explore a spot so enchanting in itself, and invested
with traditions and associations of so interesting a
character. Unfortunately we had lingered too long
over the ruins of Kalat Fakra in the morning ; and
the delay involved by the subsequent loss of our way
had made it problematical whether we should succeed
in reaching our night-quarters at all. This would
not have signified had we kept our baggage -mule
with us, but we had sent him by a short cut to the
town of Ghazir, which we had fixed upon as our
sleeping - place ; and we now found ourselves, late


in the afternoon, still many hours distant from that
spot, with every prospect of having to rough it out
on the mountains. There was a Metawaly village,
it is true, scarce a mile distant ; but the bigotry,
squalor, and dishonesty of the Metawalies form a
combination so little tempting that the hillside would
have been preferable. So we determined to make
a push for Ghazir, and reluctantly turned our backs
upon the mystic grove amid which the walls of the
temple are crumbling. In places these are standing
to a height of ten or twelve feet from the ground ;
and the blocks of which they are composed are so
massive that there is no reason why they should not
continue to remain as they are until they are toppled
over by an earthquake.

We had hoped to explore the valley of the Adonis
itself, but our guide told us there was no possibility
of taking a horse through the narrow gorges and
chasms by which it forces its way to the sea. He
said that even on foot it was difficult and dangerous
climbing. But I have no confidence in his accuracy,
and would recommend the examination of this valley
to the tourist in search of the picturesque. The
paths from Afka seem to keep along the tops of
the hills on either side ; and to our intense disgust
we found ourselves, instead of following the stream
as we expected, retracing our steps along the ridge
for an hour, and then, instead of plunging down into
the gloomy gorge, we turned away from it. We saw


enough to tempt us sorely to linger where we were
for the night, and make an exploratory dash in spite
of the guide in the morning; but unfortunately I
was due at Beyrout to catch a steamer, and could
only gaze wistfully over a landscape whose secrets
have only been partially explored as yet by Renan
and one or two other travellers. Still we had no
reason to complain ; for though our path led us
away from the precipitous sides of the gorge of
the Adonis, it wound over a shoulder, from the
crest of which the view in the evening light was
one of exquisite beauty ; and from it we descended
into a smaller valley, where pendulous forests of oak
clung to the hillsides, and the limestone formation
cropped out in the strange fantastic forms common
to a dolomite region. We had to scramble down
stone stairways, the descent seaward now becoming
rapid and trying to man and beast. In mercy to
ourselves and our animals we dismounted, and one
secluded nook again almost induced us to halt ; for,
nestling among the rocks which enclosed a perfect
garden of vines, mulberries, and fruit-trees, were the
picturesque abodes of the Maronite peasants, who
had settled themselves here high up among the
mountains in a tiny amphitheatre, sheltered by
woods and rocks, and hidden away from the busy
world in a corner of their own. And now, as we
traversed another belt of wild uninhabited country,
the night began to close in, and In the growing dark-


ness the natural obstacles seemed to assume greater
proportions. Every peasant we met added on an
hour to the distance still to be traversed, and at
last we became so sceptical as to our whereabouts,
that we took one of them for an extra guide. We
had now crossed over from the valley of the Nahr
Ibrahim or Adonis into that of the Nahr Maamilten,
a thickly populated and luxuriantly cultivated dis-
trict, the beauties of which were concealed from us
by the darkness ; but the numerous lights which
twinkled on the hillsides all round, bore testimony
to the density of the population. At last, after fifteen
hours of saddle and foot scramble, the welcome
sounds of a chorus of barking dogs indicated our
approach to a large town.

For the last hour the descent had been rocky and
precipitous in the extreme, and it was a marvel how
our ponies found their way in the darkness along the
dangerous ledges and over the steep slippery rocks.
But our troubles were not at an end : it was between
nine and ten at night, and we had still, in a town of
about 8000 inhabitants, to find our mule. We made
for the monastery to which the muleteer had been
directed, and where we hoped to find accommoda-
tion ; but after much knocking and shouting, a surly
half- dressed ecclesiastic put his head out of the
window, and grufily told us that the monastery was
full, and that he had sent away our muleteer hours
before, and he did not know where he had gone.


We tried at one or two good-looking houses where
the inhabitants had not gone to bed, but they were
sleepy and disinclined to be hospitable ; and we
wandered helplessly about in the dark, objects of
suspicion and distrust to innumerable noisy curs.
At last a priest, who spoke French, came and took
compassion on us. He had a friend, he said, who
would take us in, and another friend who would go
in search of the muleteer. So he took us to a very
nice house, the occupants of which were a young
man and a young woman and a baby. The baby
was the young man's, and the young woman was his
sister-in-law, who was performing the duties of wet-
nurse as an act of sisterly accommodation. The
wife was not visible, but they both seemed extreme-
ly anxious to make us comfortable, and sent out to
wake up the chemist and buy us tea. We were
to share their apartment with them ; but as it was
a large one, and the baby was of an amiable and
easily soothed type, that did not much matter. In
fact, under the circumstances, there seemed no im-
propriety in our occupying the same room with the
young man and his sister-in-law quite the con-
trary. I half suspected the priest intended to join
us, he seemed so very much at home ; and we made
ourselves as agreeable as wearied, famished men, in
the worst possible temper at there being no imme-
diate prospect of food, could do, when suddenly the
news arrived that the mule with all our raiment and


provisions had been found. Our hearts bounded
with joy ; but our hosts, as the prospect of well-re-
munerated hospitality vanished, became despondent.
We were received with open arms in our new quar-
ters, and had quite a levee after dinner, notwithstand-
ing the advanced hour of the night. The priest
turned out a most enlightened and intelligent man ;
and as we were here at the very headquarters of
Maronite feeling and sentiment, it was interesting
to hear his political opinions, and those of our host
and his neig^hbours.

I found they differed considerably from those of
their religion with whom I had already conversed.
As a rule, the instinct of the Maronite is to consider
that his religion should be the dominant influence
in the Lebanon, and that, practically, the governor-
general of the province should be the servant of the
Maronite episcopate. Ever since they have en-
joyed the special protectorate of the French, their
pretensions have become thus exaggerated ; and it
is only of late, since a republican form of govern-
ment has modified the clerical influence in the ad-
ministration of the foreign affairs of France, that
the more intelligent section of the Maronltes see
that they had better enjoy the privileges which now
insure them protection and material prosperity, than
struggle for an influence which would only increase
religious animosities In the Lebanon against them.
Notwithstanding the special relations which exist


between England and the Druses, who are the
traditional enemies of the Maronites, the latter
are most anxious to cultivate the friendship of the
British Government ; for the more intelligent among
them cannot conceal from themselves that, in the
present state of France, even French interests in the
East might be sacrificed to the intensity of anti-cleri-
cal animosity, and the Maronites would find them-
selves abandoned by their present protectors, on the
ground that the tie which binds them to France is
rather an ecclesiastical than a political one. The
disposition which has recently manifested itself in
England to rush to the rescue of any sect in Tur-
key, provided that it bears the name of Christian,
and can draw up petitions complaining of ill-treat-
ment by the Turks, has encouraged the Maronites
to believe that, on the sentimental ground of " Cross
against Crescent," they would find the sympathies
of the Liberal party in England ready to pro-
nounce in their favour, and undertake, if neces-
sary, a religious crusade in their behalf. Indeed,
among other sects as well as the Maronites, I found
the idea prevalent that a British occupation of Syria
was probable. And they indulge in the vague hope
that such an occupation would benefit them, and
might possibly lead to their ultimate independence ;
but what race or religion would dominate in the end
they are unable to decide each naturally thinks his
own would though they cannot deny that much


bloodshed must necessarily precede any such result,
and that in the meantime they have practically
nothing to complain of. My hosts and the priests
informed me that popular feeling in Ghazir was
pretty equally divided between those who were
satisfied with the political condition of things as
they are, and with the administration of the exist-
ing governor-general, and those who desired to see
a change in the executive which should give them
a larger share of political power. He believed, and
rightly, that any attempt on the part of the Maron-
ites to grasp at more than they have got, would
bring them into dangerous collision with other sects,
and might lead to injury to the Church. The fact
is, the Maronite priesthood is so much better off
than any other priesthood in the world, that the
less attention they attract to themselves the better.
They are all-powerful among their own flocks. Prac-
tically every Maronite community is self-governing,
and the ecclesiastical interest is dominant. To want
to extend that influence over Druses and Greeks
would be suicidal, and this the more sensible per-
ceive. But the more ambitious among the bishops
are absorbed with a craving for complete rule, and
are never satisfied unless their control of the gov-
ernor-general is supreme. In conversation with
Maronites, I failed to discover one substantial cause
of grievance. In no part of the world is a peasantry
to be seen more happy and prosperous ; and how-


ever much the Turkish Government may be to
blame in its administration of the Moslem part of
its population in other parts of Syria, there can be
no doubt that the Maronites of the Lebanon are
far better treated than they would be in any country
where the head of the State professed the Greek
instead of the Mohammedan religion. No doubt
this has been due to external pressure, which West-
ern Powers would not dare to apply to a European
Power under similar circumstances. On the other
hand, it is only fair to give the Maronite Church
its due. It carefully feeds and pampers the goose
that lays the golden egg. If it knows how to
squeeze a pliable peasantry, it is far too wise to
oppress or tyrannise over them. Hence Church
farms are eagerly sought for, because in good years
the tenants get as large a share of the produce as
on private estates ; while in bad years the liberality
of their priestly landlords insures them against the
misery too often in store for ordinary farmers. It
is a question, therefore, whether they are not better
off, treated as children by a priesthood which de-
spoils them with foresight and discrimination, than
they would be if left to take care of themselves, a
prey to the competitive plundering of the uncon-
trolled lay usurers of Christian sects generally. As,
with the exception of England, there is scarcely any
country in Europe which enjoys such complete re-
ligious toleration as Turkey, it is evident that a small


sect has great opportunities for favourable develop-
ment, provided it can be exempted from the onerous
pecuniary burdens which the embarrassed financial
condition of the empire have rendered necessary.

Since the special regulations of 1 860 have imposed
upon the Maronites a tax far too light considering
the resources of their country, they have, in spite of
clerical absorptiveness, been happy and prosperous ;
but it would be absolutely impossible to deal with
all the religious sects in the country in this excep-
tional manner, considering the present state of the
Turkish exchequer.

The two problems, the solution of which underlies
all reform in Turkey, are those of religion and rev-
enue. They are both problems which can be far
more satisfactorily settled on the spot than from
Constantinople ; and hence it is that the surest
method of introducing reform is by a process of
decentralisation. Without giving to other vilayets
the exceptional privileges which the Lebanon enjoys,
the power of the vali or governor-general of each
province might be increased, while his responsibil-
ity to the central government would be proportion-
ally augmented. The vilayet might be periodically
assessed according to its resources, but the method
of collecting the revenue would be a matter for the
local government to determine. A provincial ad-
ministration, presided over by an intelligent gov-
ernor-general, would be far more competent to


reform exlstino- financial and sectarian abuses than
a fluctuating ministry at Constantinople, liable to
be acted upon by influences brought to bear by
intriguers from those distant provinces hostile to
the action of the governor -general. Each vali
would then feel that his reputation was at stake.
He could not plead interference from Constanti-
nople as an excuse for religious persecution or a
deficient revenue. If he failed to remedy abuses
and give satisfaction he would be alone to blame,
and could be at once withdrawn, and the empire
would be consolidated by the removal of just causes
of discontent springing from intrigues by which
powerful men In the provinces can resist any at-
tempt to reform abuses upon which they thrive at
the expense of the poorer part of the population.

Many of the evils from which poor Christians
suffer arise from the oppression of their wealthy
co-religionists. And the Moslem governor is unable
to assist the poor Christian in his struggle against
the rich one, because the latter has influential friends
among the Christian effendis at Constantinople, who
support him against the Moslem vali. Of the two,
the Christian governing element at Constantinople Is,
In some respects, a greater obstacle to reform than the
Mohammedan ; for the Moslem is a more tolerant
man In his treatment of rival Christian sects than
those rival Christian sects are of each other ; while
in the provinces there Is no Moslem priesthood to


fatten upon the peasantry of their own religion, nor
do rich Moslems squeeze the Hfe-blood out of their
co-reHgionists as rich Christians do. The power of
Christians in Turkey, and especially at Constanti-
nople, to co-operate in the work of reform, if they
chose to exercise it, is very great ; for they fill high
offices in every department of State, and take a
most active share in the government of the empire.
Unfortunately they are the class most open to the
corrupt influences which maintain abuses. It is not,
therefore, either for them or their co-religionists to
denounce as incorrigible oppressors those whose
efforts to introduce reform they most persistently

One or two instances which have come under my
own immediate notice will illustrate the influence for
evil of the rival sacerdotalisms as they exist in Turkey.
A Protestant was murdered not long since under
circumstances which left no moral doubt in the minds
of those who investigated the case, of the guilt of
the man suspected of the crime. I assisted in col-
lecting the evidence, and went through it carefully
with those who were charged to examine into the
attendant circumstances. The chain of proof was
so strong that the man was arrested, and upon one
occasion I attended the 7nedjliss, upon which the
Christian members preponderated, when he was
brought up for examination. The prisoner was
born of Christian parents, belonging to the ortho-


dox Greek Church, but in early life had come to
England, where I had seen him twenty-five years
previously, a specimen convert to Protestantism,
and making a very good thing out of his conver-
sion. His only hope of escape now consisted in
a recantation of this error, and in the profession of
an ardent adherence to the Church of his fathers.
Conviction then became impossible. The bishop
and the entire *' orthodox " community of the place
in which the murder had been committed took the
case up. The head of the police, who was a Mos-
lem, but open to influences, which are doubly power-
ful where the salaries of officials are not regularly
paid, was won ; the Christian members of the fnedjliss
did not dare to incur the hostility of their co-religion-
ists by an impartial administration of justice when
the murdered man was a Protestant, and the mur-
derer a member of the orthodox Church, who had
renounced the errors of Protestantism. One or two
of the Moslem members proved themselves incor-
ruptible, but they were unable to bring out the facts
of the case, because not only the witnesses, but some
of the officials who had been charged with the prose-
cution of it, were threatened by the bishop with his
spiritual displeasure if they ventured to press further
in the matter ; one, consequently, withdrew alto-
gether. And in spite of the most active exertions
of those who desired to have a fair trial, which
should elicit the truth and bring the criminal to


justice, it was found impossible to proceed with it
with any such hope or expectation, and the man was
ultimately released on bail, with a verdict which
amounted to not proven. Christians allege that it
is difficult to bring a Moslem to justice who has
murdered a Christian ; but it is still more difficult to
bring a Christian to justice who has murdered one
of a rival sect, if the sect of the murderer predom-
inates in the community. On one occasion I was
travelling with a friend in another part of the coun-
try when he was robbed by a guide who belonged
to the Catholic Church. He had originally been
" orthodox," but found it convenient to change his
religion ; and he had actually been in the service
of a Catholic archbishop. It was rumoured that he
had been dismissed by his Eminence for misconduct.
We put the necessary machinery in motion to have
the man caught, and his character and antecedents
investigated. It occurred to me that the archbishop
could throw considerable light on the subject, and I
suggested to the official who was most energetically
prosecuting his researches, that we should apply for
information and assistance to the head of the Church
to which the thief belonged, and in whose service he
had been. I was astonished to find my proposal
scouted as most injudicious, "Why," said the in-
telligent and experienced functionary, " the thief is
a convert ; and so far from helping us to find him,
the archbishop, if he knew we were after him, would


do all he could to screen him ! " For the credit of
the archbishop, I hope this was a libel on his char-
acter; but whether it was one or not, it came to
pretty much the same thing. We were afraid to
risk the experiment in consequence of the notorious
manner in which Christian ecclesiastics in Turkey-
perpetrate injustices and screen crimes, in order to
gratify their religious animosities, or to promote their
sectarian ends. So far as the Turks are concerned,
the most hopeless feature of their case lies in the
fact that the wealth of the country is in the hands
of their bitterest enemies. It is only natural that,
secretly, all Christians, no matter what their position^
rank, or sect, should wish for the overthrow of the

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 31 of 35)