Laurence Oliphant.

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

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gentleman, whom they plundered in this immediate
vicinity, they seem to have been unable to resist
their lawless propensities. Crossing the Hasbany
Jordan by the picturesque old bridge, we found our-
selves in the territory of Dan, and in less than
an hour after reached the Tel el Kadi, or mound
which was the site of the ancient city of Dan. We
rested under the shade of the magnificent tree which
overhangs this source of the Jordan, and took a
plunge and a swim in the fountain as it wells out
of the earth with the volume of a full-grown stream.
It was an interesting locality, as no doubt whatever
hangs over its identity, and there is scarcely another
spot in Palestine of equal antiquity of which the
same can be said, for it dates far beyond the arrival
of the children of Dan, with the idolatrous worship
and somewhat irregular priesthood which they estab-
lished here. We are informed that they called the
name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their
father, who was born unto Israel. " Howbeit, the
name of the city was Laish at the first : " but we
find that, according to the Biblical chronology, it was
called Dan five hundred years before this event ; for



BANIAS. 23

we are told that when Abram heard of the capture
of Lot, " he armed his trained servants, born in his
own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued
them unto Dan." Moses, too, from the top of Mount
Pisgah, was shown "all the land of Gilead unto
Dan," fifty years prior to the capture of Laish by
the Danites, and the consequent change of name.

The explanation of this apparent contradiction
is probably to be found in the hypothesis that the
Pentateuch was revised and partially rewritten after
the establishment of the children of Israel in the
Holy Land.

We were now on the beaten track of the tourist
and traveller from Jerusalem to Damascus, and put
up for the night at Banias, a spot full of historical
association, but which has been too often and elabo-
rately described to need any ample notice here. The
ancient Caesarea Philippi, it is supposed to have been
the most northern point visited by Christ, and one
in which He found Himself surrounded by the
temples and shrines of an idolatrous worship most
repulsive in its character ; for here were celebrated
the rites sacred to the god Pan, from which the
city took its name : and, to judge by the extensive
remains which still exist, and the records of its great-
ness and beauty, it must have been one of the most
gorgeous centres of mythological superstition. The
village, which seems almost buried among the ruins
that surround it, is a poor squalid -looking place,



24 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

built partially with the huge carved blocks of stone
which once adorned the walls of temples or palaces,
while fragments of columns or their capitals are abun-
dantly strewn around. We were kindly received by
the old Sheikh Ismail ; but unfortunately his hospi-
tality was not limited to ourselves. First arrived a
handsome Druse sheikh, apparently a great friend of
our host's, for they embraced with great demonstra-
tions of affection, and kissed each other on both
cheeks. Then came a soldier, or rather a sub-
ordinate officer, who had been at Plevna, and who
showed us with pride two bullet-holes in his leg.
Then arrived three visitors of distinction from a
distant village ; and when night came we found, to
our dismay, that they were all beginning to say
their prayers and make their beds on the opposite
side of the room we had fondly hoped had been
placed exclusively at our disposal. Their idea of
going to bed consisted simply of stretching them-
selves on the floor, throwing off their outside gar-
ment, and getting under a quilt ; and they watched
with some interest our more elaborate arrangements.
As for sleep, it proved out of the question : each one
of the five either snored, or moaned, or puffed, or
talked in his sleep ; and these noises, diversified with
the incessant barking of dogs and a slight sprink-
ling of fleas, kept me awake, and indeed to some
extent occupied, until the first streak of dawn war-



BAN IAS. 25

ranted me in waking my companion and rousing the
household generally. An early start was the more
necessary, for we were now about to dive into the
wilderness beyond Jordan, and our information as to
the number of hours it would take us to reach our
night-quarters was somewhat vague.



26



CHAPTER II.

AIN FIT AN ANSARIYEH VILLAGE THE SHEIKH's HOUSE HIS
RETICENCE ORIGIN OF THE ANSARIYEH THE FOUNDER OF
TttE SECT THEIR RELIGIOUS TENETS THEIR SOCIAL DIVI-
SIONS MARRIAGE AND OTHER CEREMONIES JOURNEY TO

KUNEITEREH A CIRCASSIAN COLONY KUNEITEREH MEDJ-

LISS AT THE CAIMAKAm's PRESENT CONDITION AND PROS-
PECTS OF THE CIRCASSIAN COLONISTS.

As far as Banias we had required no guide. Captain
Phibbs was so intimately acquainted with the country,
that we had not only found our way here without
difficulty, but had even made the rash experiment
of a short cut successfully. Now, however, we were
getting into country rarely visited by any traveller,
in regard to which there were the usual exaggerated
stories of marauding Bedouins, of the necessity of
an escort, and so forth. Fortunately, we had no
dragoman to invent impossible dangers for the pur-
pose of sharing the black-mail afterwards with the
Arab chief, who is put up to demanding it nor had
we a long caravan of mules laden with tents and
baggage, to tempt the needy nomade ; but we jogged
humbly and unostentatiously behind a guide we



AIN FIT. 27

picked up at Banias, who said he knew the way
to Kuneitereh, followed by Hanna, our trusty cook,
mounted on a bright little Arab, and the two mule-
teers riding their lightly-loaded animals.

We passed out of Banias by its southern gate
a massive and . very handsome structure, on which
is an Arabic inscription, though the walls are in fact
very ancient and crossed the brook of the Wady
Za'areh by a stone bridge, which is also partly
ancient, and in the walls of which were several
granite columns, and followed a path a little to
the east of south, which gradually began to ascend
the range which forms the eastern side of the Jordan
valley. We here left the territory of Dan, and
entered that of the half- tribe of Manasseh. After
a gradual ascent of an hour, we reached the An-
sariyeh village of Ain Fit. As this was the only
opportunity we should have of seeing any of the
members of this remarkable sect, who for the most
part inhabit the little - known mountains between
Tripoli and Antioch, we determined to make a short
halt here, and try to make acquaintance with some
of the inhabitants. The village was so unutterably
squalid, that it was difficult to determine by any
external indication which was the abode of the
sheikh or leading man. The streets were narrow
lanes winding between low mud-walls that enclosed
small courtyards containing hovels which were gen-
erally devoid of any apertures but a low door, and



28 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

a hole in the roof for the smoke to escape. The
women were, as usual, collected round the spring,
and carrying water-jars ; the men were squatting
in groups on their heels, where the lanes were
wide enough to admit of their doing so, gossiping
and staring vacantly at our cavalcade. They showed
no inclination to be hospitable, and when we pulled
up and dismounted, looked rather disgusted than
otherwise. We forced our way, however, unabashed,
into the courtyard that contained the two or three
miserable huts which, we were informed, belonged
to the sheikh ; and fastening our horses leaving
them carefully watched, for the Ansariyeh are no-
torious pilferers we almost forced the sheikh to
appear and receive us, and invite us into his house.
It consisted of a single windowless room, in which
there was a small charcoal-fire and two threadbare
carpets. In common decency, the sheikh was obliged
to offer us coffee ; but as he seemed rarely to indulge
in that luxury, it had to be first roasted, then
pounded, and then made. This was a long opera-
tion, and gave us the time we wanted to talk to
him. As the Ansariyeh are prohibited by their
religion from smoking, we could not return his
civility by offering him tobacco. Two or three
men of the village now came in, but suspicion and
moroseness were the order of the day ; and it was
not to be wondered at, considering the extreme con-
tempt in which the Ansariyeh are held, both by Mo-



AN ANSARIYEH VILLAGE. 29

hammedan and Christian, and the open manner in
which the popular aversion is expressed. When we
told our guide we wanted to stop in the village, he
said, " What is the use of stopping among pigs, who
don't fast, and don't pray, and have got no god ? "
Perhaps, also, the reticence of our host may have
been caused by the presence of a Bedouin and a
Druse, who happened to be in the village when we
arrived, and whose curiosity tempted them to follow
us into the hut. Under these circumstances the
sheikh, when he did speak, seemed more inclined to
ask than to answer questions. The first inquiry
he made was whether we had brought our harems
with us. This might possibly have been with a
view to trade, for the Ansariyeh have no idea of
a woman except as a marketable animal without
a soul, and their marriages are all distinct sales
for money down, and not indirect ones, as they so
often are with us. However, he said nothing to
our reply in the negative, but seemed for some
time lost in thought at the anomaly of men wander-
ing about alone without women, so that it is im-
possible to say what train of ideas prompted the
question. Then he asked us if English soldiers
were not on their way to Damascus. He said he
had been told that they were expected to arrive
there in a few days. We assured him that there
was no truth in the statement ; but it was evidently
one which others had heard as well as the sheikh,



30 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

and several questions were put as to the probability
of a British occupation of the country. The Druse
seemed particularly interested, and the others re-
marked of him, that they considered him an English-
man. " Druses and English are the same as one,"
they said an observation which the Druse evidently
regarded as a compliment, and seemed by his man-
ner to wish to make it apparent that his relations
to us were different from those of the others ; in
fact, we felt rather patronised by him than otherwise.
The sheikh told us that there were two other An-
sariyeh villages in the immediate neighbourhood,
and that the total population of the three amounted
to about looo souls ; that they had been settled in
this part of the country for about 800 years, and
did not keep up much intercourse with their co-
religionists in the north of Syria. The presence of
the others made it very difficult to do more than
talk generalities ; but under no circumstances would
it have been possible to extract any information
in regard to his religious belief, or even the social
habits of the people. They are, if possible, more
secret than the Druses in their mysticism, and to
some extent profess Mohammedanism as a matter
of convenience, and a cloak to conceal their real
ctilte.

Some say that the Ansariyeh spring from the
Carmathians, a mystic sect, who, after the death, in
323 of the Hegira, of Abou Tahir, their last great



THE ANSARIYEH. 3 1

chief, rapidly broke up, and soon ceased as a king-
dom, the most fanatic of his followers taking refuge
in the mountains now named after them ; others, that
they are a remnant of some of the old Canaanitish
races that fled before Israel in the days of Joshua.
They themselves advance, in proof of this origin, the
fact that the name of Canaan is still so common
among them, and that they have their traditions
concerning Samaria, narrating that the Samaritans
had found a refuge among them. The name of a
Jew is exceeding hateful to them; while, notwith-
standing the fact that Christianity so soon found
a footing in Antioch, it seems never to have pene-
trated into the Ansariyeh mountains close by. There
can be little doubt, from the difference of type that
exists among them, that they are now of mixed
race : they themselves have a tradition of an Eastern
infusion, and I imagined that in the women's coun-
tenances especially I saw indications of Tartar blood.
This was very slight, and their features were for the
most part regular and Grecian, clearly distinguish-
able from the natives of the country. Some, how-
ever, in their northern mountains, are said to have
negro features, and crisp, curly hair ; but I did not
see any specimens of these.

The Ansariyeh, according to Gregory, surnamed
Bar Hebraeus, and called in Arabic Abulfaradj, take
their name from an old man who appeared in the
year of the Hegira 270 (a.d. 891), in the region of



32 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

Akab (which Assemani, in his ' Bibliotheca OrientaHs,'
considers identical with Kufa), in a village which
the inhabitants call Nazaria. This old man, called
Nusair, probably after the village, appears to have
been the son of a slave of AH, the son of Abou
Taleb. His son, Abou Shuaib, was the first great
apostle, and was a pupil of Hassan il Askere, the
father of the last Imaum, and the chief authority
of the sect. Nusair himself declared he had seen
Christ in a vision, and the formula in which he
announces it runs as follows:^ "I, such an one,
commonly believed to be the son of Othman of
the town of Nazaria, saw Christ, who is Jesus, who
is also the Word, and the Director, and Ahmed the
son of Mohammed, the son of Hemaphia, of the sons
of Ali, the same also is the angel Gabriel ; and he
said to me, * Thou art the Reader, thou art the
Truth. Thou art the Camel that retainest anofer
against the infidels. Thou art the Heifer bearing the
yoke of the believers. Thou art the Spirit. Thou
art John, the son of Zacharias. Preach, therefore,
to men that they kneel four times in their prayers
twice before sunrise, twice after sunset toward
Jerusalem, saying each time these three verses : God
is sublime above all God is high above all God
is the greatest of all. On the second and sixth
festival let no man do any work ; let them fast two
days every year; let them abstain from Moham-
1 Wortabet's Researches into the Religions of Syria.



FOUNDER OF THE ANSARIYEH. 33

medan ablution; let them not drink strong drink,
but of wine as much as they please ; let them not
eat of the flesh of wild beasts.' Nazar then went to
Palestine, where he infected the simple and rustic
people with his absurd doctrines. Then departing,
he hid himself; nor is his place known to this day."
According to William of Tyre, he was imprisoned
for spreading these doctrines ; escaped, and attributed
his escape to miraculous agency ; chose twelve dis-
ciples, abolished circumcision and the observance of
the Ramadan, and finally founded the mystical sect
now called after him. Assemani gives the following
account of this miraculous escape : The Governor of
Kufa, hearing of his doctrines, " commanded to
apprehend him ; and having cast him into a dun-
geon in his own house, swore that on the following
morning he would have him crucified. On the same
night the governor, going to bed half intoxicated
with wine, placed the key of the dungeon under his
pillow : a maid of the household perceiving this,
when he was fast asleep withdrew the key ; and
pitying this old man given to fasting and prayer,
opened the dungeon, set him at liberty, and then re-
stored the key to its former place. The governor,
going in the morning to the dungeon, and opening it
with the same key, and finding no person, imagined
the culprit to have been miraculously removed ; and
as the maid, through fear, kept silence as to what she
had done, the report spread abroad that the old man

G



34 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

had escaped from prison while the doors were shut.
A short time after, having found two of his disciples
in a distant country, he contrived to persuade them
that he had been delivered by angels from the prison
and conveyed to a desert place." I am indebted to
Captain Phibbs, who had travelled over the northern
part of Syria, and gained much information about
the Ansariyeh, for the following particulars, none
of which seem to have come to the knowledge of
Mr Walpole, who, in his book on * The Ansariyeh,'
published in 1 851, gives us absolutely no information
in regard to their peculiar manners and customs, and
the mysteries of their faith, though he seems to have
spent some time among them, and professes to have
penetrated all the secrets of their religion. Captain
Phibbs was kind enough to place at my disposal his
translation of an Arabic pamphlet by a native author,
who apparently had exceptional means of becoming
acquainted with the Ansariyeh belief. From this it
would appear that the Ansariyeh are divided into
four tribes : the Kelaziat, who worship the moon ;
the Shemaliat, or Northerns, who worship the host
of heaven ; the Ribyiat, who worship the air (evi-
dently from a word meaning to know secret things
or hidden mysteries) ; and the Mouwachesat, who
worship the dawn. They all believe in the divinity
of Ali, the son of Abou Taleb, and to him ascribe
all the attributes of the Godhead. They also accept
the doctrine of metempsychosis. Their religion fur-



TENETS OF THE ANSARIYEH. 35

ther consists in a knowledge of the mystery of
A. M. S., the initial letters for Ali- Mohammed-
Suleiman (the Persian), the same who is honoured
by the Druses. These three are further called ** the
Meaning," " the Name," and " the Door," ?>., Ali,
All in All (the Meaning), was manifested in Moham-
med (the Name), and made known by Suleiman
(the Door). According to the tribe who worship
the dawn, the sun is Ali ; according to the Kela-
ziat, he is the moon. All the incarnations who
have appeared on earth at various times have been
different manifestations of the mystic Trinity.

Previously, the Ansariyeh lived in the Milky Way
in the heavens, but failing in their adoration to Ali,
were cast down to the earth. All their energies are
now turned to getting back again there, and their
ideas of the future life seem to have much in com-
mon with modern spiritualists. In fact, it would
seem that the initiated are somewhat given to
mediumship. Among them, as among the Druses,
there are two classes the initiated and the un-
initiated. A service in which wine is drunk, and
also poured on the ground, takes place on the
initiation of a new member. Unlike the Druses,
however, where women are constantly allowed to
take the highest grade, women among the Ansariyeh
are never admitted to religious meetings, though
certain ceremonies in which they must of necessity
bear a very important part, take place. These are



36 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

symbolical of the origin of man, and the productive
powers of nature, which are highly honoured and
considered sacred among them. In this they have
much that was common to the Gnostics of the early
Church, and, indeed, we are carried back by it to the
earliest worship of which we have any record in this
country' that of Baal and Ashtaroth. Their relig-
ious meetings take place in secret, at sacred tombs
called Mazars, and are shrouded in mystery false-
hood and deception towards the outer world being
inculcated and practised, so that, if circumstances
require it, any other religion may for the time being
be outwardly professed by them. Should any of
their number divulge their mysteries, it is certain
that he would be assassinated ; and from this fact
probably arises the name which has been popularly
but erroneously bestowed upon them, of Assassins,
which more properly belongs to the Ismailians or
Hashishins, to whom, however, they are closely
allied. That they are, in fact, an offshoot from the
Druse sect, may be gathered from the following
citation from the Druse Catechism :

" How have the Ansariyeh separated themselves
from the Unitarians [Druses], and abandoned the
Unitarian religion ?

" They have separated themselves in following
the teaching of Nusair, who said he was the ser-
vant of our Lord, the Prince of true believers, who
denied the divinity of one Lord Hakim, and made



TENETS OF THE ANSARIYEH. 37

profession of believing in the divinity of Ali, son
of Abou Taleb."

The Ansariyeh celebrate the Christian rite of
sacrament, as will appear from the following quo-
tation from their Catechism :

" Q. What is the great mystery of God ?

" A. The flesh and the blood, of which Jesus
has said, This is my flesh and my blood ; eat and
drink thereof, for it is eternal life.

" Q- What is the mystery of the faith of the
Unitarians? What is the secret of secrets, and
chief article of the true believers ?

''A. It is the veiling of our Lord in light that
is in the eye of the Sun, and His manifestation in
His servant, Abd in Noor."^

The sheikhs among the Ansariyeh are equal In
number almost to the Fellaheen or peasants, and
play somewhat the same role as the Ukkuls among
the Druses. They instruct the people in their re-
ligion, and preserve them from harm by providing

^ Since the above was in type I have had an opportunity of con-
sulting the very interesting and elaborate account given of the
Ansariyeh and their religion by the late Rev. Mr Lyde, who resided
for some time among them in their northern mountains (' The Asian
Mystery,' by the Rev. Samuel Lyde). This is the best, and indeed
only, analysis of their tenets which, so far as I am aware, has ever
been given to the public, and in the main confirms the information
furnished me by Captain Phibbs. The close connection which exists
between the Ansariyeh and Druse religions is made very evident, and
there can be no doubt that the esoteric character of both conceals
a far higher theological system than is apparent to the uninitiated
inquirer.



38 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

amulets and charms on which a verse of the Koran
is written " There is no power and strength but in
God the most High, the Almighty. O Ali, the all-
powerful One!" They are supposed to have the
power of curing diseases and madness, and are sup-
ported by lands set apart in a manner similar to the
Wakouf lands among the orthodox Moslems. Woe
to any unfortunate peasant who does not bestow due
honour upon them, or who should consult a physician
without previously obtaining their permission : should
he even speak a word against them, his life would be
in danger. The sheikhs are distinguished by a white
turban worn round their tarboosh, and called a shasha.

The second class is called the Mukkadameen.
To them belong the rest of the land that is not set
apart as Wakouf, and they exercise the chief authority
forests, lands, and houses all being under their con-
trol. They take all the produce, the peasant being
barely allowed enough to keep body and soul to-
gether. They are invariably the perpetrators of all
murders and highway robberies, or else share a part
of the plunder ; and in the event of the Government
following up a thief or murderer, they afford him
protection, and facilitate his escape if necessary. The
Mukkadameen wear a tarboosh with a long, broad, and
heavy tassel, a wide waist-belt of silk, and are never
without arms of some sort.

The third class are the Fellaheen. They are no
better than the slaves of the sheikhs and Mukkada-



ANSARIYEH CUSTOMS. 39

meen, all the fruit of their labours being taken from
them, so that in many instances they are barely
clothed, and subsist on roots and wild herbs, at
best their heads are covered with a felt skull-cap,
and their bodies with a long cotton shirt as their only
garment, with a belt round the waist, of wool, hair,
or leather. This, too, is the only dress of the peas-
ant women, though among those we saw at Ain Fit
some were clothed in long dresses of bright colours,
and seemed tolerably well off. Their position soci-
ally, however, is degraded in the extreme, and it is
said there is no race in the world by whom the women
are worse treated than by the Ansariyeh.

On the birth of a female child, it is put aside in
a corner of the house in a wicker-basket, and covered
with a torn cloth, and there left unclothed, without
nourishment, exposed, it may be, to the cold wind.
Those who survive this treatment are naturally of
a strong constitution, and capable of supporting the
fatigue and privation they have to undergo for the
rest of their lives. At an early age they are sent to
carry water from the fountain, and take the goats out
to pasture, or bring in a load of firewood. Curses



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