Laurence Oliphant.

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

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seven hundred and threescore, made war with the
Hagarites, with Jetur, and Nephish, and Nodab,"
and took as spoils 50,000 camels, 250,000 sheep,
2000 asses, and 100,000 men a booty which con-
veys some idea of the material wealth of the
country and its population in those days.

The last^ conflict which took place on the bor-
ders of Itursea was one of a very different nature.
About thirty miles distant from Kuneitereh, and
intervening between the plain of Itursea and the
mountains of Bashan or Jebel Druse, lies that
remarkable bed of black basalt called by the Ro-
mans Trachonitis, which some believe to be the
Argob of the Bible though that is by no means
satisfactorily established and nowadays known as


the Lejah. Elevated about twenty feet above the
plain, it is a labyrinth of clefts and crevasses in the
rock, formed by volcanic action ; and owing to its im-
penetrable condition, it has become a place of refuge
for outlaws and turbulent characters, who make it
a sort of cave of Adullam. The Government of
the Porte is unable to exercise any authority here,
and its inhabitants know no law but their own. A
large proportion of these are Druses, who use the
place as a stronghold to resist the conscription, or
any exactions of the Turkish Government to which
they object. It is, in fact, an impregnable natural
fortress, about twenty miles in length by fifteen in
breadth ; and when Ibrahim Pasha of Egypt held
this country in 1835, he determined to bring it into
subjection. Its garrison consisted of 800 Druses.
The Egyptian army surrounded the Lejah, and
occasionally succeeded in penetrating a short way
into it; but after a siege of eleven months, dur-
ing which Ibrahim Pasha lost 25,000 men, he was
compelled to draw off his troops and acknowledge
himself vanquished by the invincible 800. Some
years afterwards, Mehemet Kuprisli Pasha attempted
to enforce the conscription on the Druses of the
Lejah with an army of 1 3,000 men, but was resisted
by between 400 and 500 Druses at the south-west
angle, and compelled to retire with a great loss of
men and some cannon. Since our visit to this neigh-
bourhood, Midhat Pasha has become involved in a


dispute with the Druses of the Lejah, against whom
he sent a force of 5000 men. The matter was only
arranged after a sharp fight in which 300 men were
killed and wounded, when a compromise was effected,
through the mediation of the chief Druse chiefs of
the Lebanon ; and I see that the Turkish Govern-
ment have recently had the good sense to select a
Druse sheikh to be appointed the local Caimakam,
instead of, as heretofore, a Turk, often ignorant of
the language, and of the peculiar conditions with
which he had to deal. It would be a great im-
provement in the administration if prominent men
of the locality were more often appointed local au-
thorities, instead of corrupt and ignorant function-
aries being sent from Constantinople. The import-
ance of the Lejah as a strategical point, and of the
Druses as its defenders in case of an invasion from
the north-east, should not be overlooked.

We now proposed to traverse the plains of
Jaulan, for the purpose of inspecting their pastoral
resources, and exploring a tract of which no very
definite account exists. As a guide, the Caimakam
gave us a Kurdish zaptieh, who was supposed to
know the way to Sheikh Sa'ad, which was our
objective point.

The sun rose brilliantly on the morning of our
start, but an ominous bank of clouds resting just
above the horizon, warned us that its splendour
was likely to be of short duration ; and we had


scarcely got under way when a driving mist
swept down upon us, and almost induced us to
abandon our journey for the day. Our first glimpse
of the sun, however, gave us confidence in its power
ultimately to disperse the clouds, and we pressed
on. To the right, the grassy conical hill of Tultil
Surnam rose to a height of 600 or 700 feet above
the plain ; and skirting its base, we reached in
about an hour an embryo Circassian village, the
most southerly of the seven. A biting cold wind
whistled down upon us from the snows of Hermon,
and there was a slight suspicion of hoar-frost on
the ground. So far, the path had been well worn
and easy to find ; but after leaving the Circassian
village, the fog thickened, and the path diminished
in size, until at last we lost it altogether, and wan-
dered helplessly in the mist. Luckily the country
was flat and open, so that there was nothing to pre-
vent our going in any direction we liked, and we
were enabled to make some use of our compass ;
but it was a great disappointment to find ourselves
traversing an entirely new country without being
able to see anything of it beyond a radius of fifty

That we were often wading knee - deep in the
most luxuriant herbage, that we frequently crossed
clear little brooks bubbling among the stones, that
we sometimes were scrambling over what seemed
ancient lava-beds, that now and then we went down


into, grassy hollows from which we climbed out up
steep stony sides, so much we knew ; but whether
we were passing within a few yards of the ruins
of some of the 127 cities that are strewn over the
country, whether we were near large Arab encamp-
ments, whether the country was all grass and stone,
or whether there might be wood to be seen in some
directions, and how the hills looked which we knew
were to our right, all these were matters which
sorely tried our tempers and imaginations. Our
Kurdish zaptieh was absolutely obtuse when any-
thing like information was concerned, and our efforts
to get anything out of him only tried our patience
still more.

At last we heard the barking of a dog and the
bleating of sheep, and following the sound, came
upon a Bedouin shepherd sitting on a rock, and
looming through the mist like an Eastern idol. He
was tending a flock of black -faced, fat-tailed sheep.
We asked him to take us to the nearest tents, which
we found were only a few yards off. These were
only three or four in number ; most of the men were
away, and the women were busy making semen.
This is a preparation of milk first boiled, then hung,
then churned in a sheep-skin by women, who sus-
pend it to a stick, and then keep pulling it to and
fro until it attains the consistency of clarified butter,
when it Is exported to all parts of Syria to be used
for cooking purposes, instead of oil, fresh butter, or


grease. There is quite an extensive business in
semen between the Bedouins and the settled popula-
tion of the west, and a large trade is done with the
Desert, chiefly by Jedeideh men, who go laden with
coffee, powder, cloths, and other articles needed by
the Arabs, and come back with semen. The Arabs
of Jaulan and Jedur own extensive flocks of camels,
cattle, and sheep, and the Kurds come here with
large droves of horses, destined for Syria, Egypt,
and the west generally. They remain on these
grazing-lands until the condition of their horses is
thoroughly restored after their journey, and then
they either drive them on into Palestine, or sell
them to traders who come here to buy them.

After some little parleying, we persuaded an Arab
to guide us to Tel el Paris, the most southerly peak
of the Jebel Hesh range, which we intended to
ascend if, by the time we reached it, the weather
had cleared. He led us with Arab instinct through
the mist till mid-day, when, to our intense relief, it
cleared, and we found ourselves at the foot of the
hill. We had now no further need of his services,
so we dismissed him, lunched, and mounted our
steeds for the ascent. Tel el Paris is the crater of
an extinct volcano, rising some 700 or 800 feet above
the plain, which is here about 2700 feet above the
sea, or about 400 feet below its level at Kuneitereh.
We were not long in pushing our steeds up the steep
grassy slope, until, near the top, we found it more to


our minds to dismount and lead them round the rim
of the crater on the summit. It was so narrow that,
with a high wind blowing, we almost found a dis-
position to giddiness. At one point where it flat-
tened out a little was a small Arab cemetery ; and
we disturbed a jackal engaged on a skull, from which
it would appear that it is still occasionally used.
The view from this point comprised the whole terri-
tory once ruled over by Og, the King of Bashan,
and was most interesting. In all directions the eye
ranged over a vast expanse of well -watered plain
and pasture-land, in places abundantly strewn with
basaltic rocks, but still capable of sustaining countless
flocks and herds. At the base of the cone was
one of the few villages still existing in Jaulan, sur-
rounded by a very considerable tract of cultivated

To the south the steppe stretched away till it
was cleft by the winding gorges of the Yarmuk,
beyond which the country became undulating and
wooded, terminating in the lofty range of the Jebel
Ajlun, or the mountains of Gilead. To the south-
east and east extended the vast corn-growing plains
of Hauran, bounded in their turn by the "hills of
Bashan" and the Jebel Druse, now the home of
three-fourths of the Druse race, on the plains to the
south of which the Israelites found sixty cities with
fortified walls and gates. To the north-east, we
looked over the pasture-plains of Ituraea, with the


solitary conical hill of Tel el Hara rising from the
midst of them, and forming a conspicuous landmark.
In this direction the prospect was bounded by the
low range of the Jebel el Mania, thirty miles be-
yond which lay the city of Damascus. Walking
round our crater, and looking north, we could now
see the character of the country we had traversed
in the fog a brilliantly green expanse dotted with
patches of basaltic rock, with Mount Hermon in the
far distance, and, more to the west, the volcanic
range of El Hesh, still shrouded in clouds, which also
hung over the valley of the upper Jordan.

But the most interesting view of all was to the
south-west. In this direction the plain was so rocky
as in places almost to give it the appearance of a
desert. It extended for nearly twenty miles, and
terminated abruptly in the precipitous shores of the
Lake of Tiberias, its blue waters sparkling in the
sun, and behind them the irregular outline of the
mountains of Palestine closed the prospect. It was
on this plain that the King of Syria met the Israel-
ites, when he was told by his servants that the gods
of Israel were the gods of the hills, because they
had previously beaten the Syrians at Samaria ; but,
said they, "let us fight against them in the plain,
and surely we shall be stronger than they." So they
chose this plain, and "went up to Aphek, to fight
against Israel." Aphek is the modern Fik. We
could see through our glasses the small collection of


Stone huts, scarcely distinguishable from the rest of
the stones by which it was surrounded, and which
form the present village. Here "the children of Israel
pitched before them like two little flocks of kids, but
the Syrians filled the country." After the slaughter of
100,000 Syrians, the remainder took refuge in Aphek,
where a wall fell upon the 27,000 that were left.

The plateau extending from Fik to the Yarmuk
on the south, and the Lake of Tiberias on the west,
is described by Mr Merill, of the American Survey,
as " generally level, extremely fertile, and, taken
together, forming one of the finest wheat-fields in
Syria. The soil is of a reddish colour, and quite
free from stones." At Fik, which Mr Merill visited,
and believes to be identical with Hippos, he found
extensive ruins which deserve to be thoroughly ex-
amined. He says, " Columns and ornamental work
abound, and there are some elegant stone doors, and
some Cufic inscriptions." Gamala is, according to Mr
Merill, only forty-five minutes distant from Fik ; and
here he describes the ruins as being more extensive
than at any other place which he had visited east
of the Jordan : " Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian cap-
itals ; marble, granite, and basalt columns ; ornamen-
tal work of considerable variety ; walls, towers, public
and private buildings, all fallen into confusion to-
gether." ^ Burckhardt travelled across the plain from

^ Palestine Exploration Society. Fourth Statement. January 1877 :
New York.


Fik past the base of Tel el Farls, and so on to
Tseil, the village to which we were bound, and gives
a most careful description of the ruins he passed.
He believes the plain of Fik to be the ancient
Argob. No modern traveller seems to have followed
this route since.

According to Mohammedan belief, the plain of
Fik may yet be the scene of an encounter pregnant
with far more vital consequences to humanity than
that between the Syrians and Israelites ; for it is one
of the " greater signs " of the approach of the end of
the world, and of the resurrection, that Jesus shall
appear again on earth according to some, at the
white tower near Damascus, and according to others,
near a rock named Afik with a lance in His hand,
wherewith to kill Antichrist.^ The country im-
mediately round the present Fik is such a mass of
rock that one can scarcely doubt that this is the spot

Although the belief of Moslems in regard to the
end of the world and the final judgment is no
mystery to any one who takes the trouble to look
for it in the Koran, it seems to be so little known
generally, that I may perhaps be excused for allud-
ing to it more fully. In the forty -third chapter
of the Koran, entitled "The Ornaments of Gold,"
Mohammed says, "And He [Jesus] shall be a sign
of the approach of the last hour, whereof doubt not."

^ Sale's Koran, p. 367.


And it is the Mohammedan faith that Jesus can thus
reappear, inasmuch as He was taken up into heaven
without dying by the angels Gabriel, Michael,
Raphael, and Uriel ; and that it was Judas who was
crucified in His stead, God having permitted that
traitor to appear so like his Master in the eyes of the
Jews that they took Him and delivered Him to
Pilate. In the fourth chapter of the Koran, entitled
" Women," it is said, " Therefore they [the Jews]
have made void the covenant, and have not be-
lieved in the signs of God, and have slain the pro-
phets unjustly, and have said our hearts are uncir-
cumcised ; and for that they have not believed in
Jesus, and have spoken against Mary a grievous
calumny, and have said. Verily we have slain Christ
Jesus, the son of Mary, the apostle of God ; yet they
slew Him not, neither crucified Him, but He was
represented by one in His likeness; and verily they
who disagreed concerning Him were in doubt as
to this matter, and had no sure knowledge thereof,
but followed an uncertain opinion. They did not
really kill Him, but God took Him up unto Him-
self. And God is mighty and wise, and there shall
not be one of those who have received the Scrip-
ture who shall not believe in Him before His
death, and on the day of resurrection He shall be
a witness against them."

Christ having thus escaped death, and retained
His natural body, is enabled to reappear in it, and


rule for forty years at Jerusalem, during which time
the paradisiacal condition prophesied in the Bible
will be established on the earth. Christ will embrace
the Mohammedan religion, marry a wife, get chil-
dren, kill Antichrist, die after forty years, and rise
again at the resurrection. Nevertheless, Mohammed
shall be the first to rise, and he also will become the
intercessor between God and man at the Judgment,
this office having been previously declined by Adam,
Noah, Abraham, and Jesus.

Among the other signs which are to precede the
resurrection, a war is predicted with the Greeks,
and Constantinople is to be taken by the posterity
of Isaac, who shall not win that city by force of
arms, but the walls shall fall down while they cry
out, " There is no god but God ; God is most great."
As they are dividing the spoil, news will come to
them of the appearance of Antichrist, whereupon
they shall leave all and return back.

The fourth great sign is the coming of Anti-
christ, whom Mohammedans call Al Dajjal. He is
to be one-eyed, and marked on the forehead with
the letters C.F.R., signifying cafer or infidel. They
say that the Jews give him the name of Messiah
ben David, and pretend that he is to come in the
last days, and restore the kingdom to them.

According to the tradition of Mohammed, he is
to appear first between Irak and Syria. They add,
he is to ride on an ass, that he will be followed by


70,<X)0 Jews of Ispahan, and continue on earth forty
days, of which one will be equal to a year, another
to a month, another to a week, and the rest common
days; that he is to lay waste all places, but not
Mecca or Medina. Then will come a war with the
Jews, of whom the Mohammedans will make a tre-
mendous slaughter, and the eruption of Gog and
Magog, supposed by some Mohammedans to mean
the Russians, who will pass the Lake of Tiberias,
which they will drink dry, and then come on to
Jerusalem, where they will greatly distress Jesus
and His companions, till at His request God will
destroy them.^

1 The remaining greater signs are : that the sun shall rise in the
west; the appearance of the beast an allegorical creation, very
similar to the one described in the Revelation ; a smoke which will
fill the earth ; an eclipse of the moon ; the return of the Arabs to their
idolatry ; the discovery of treasure on the Euphrates ; the demolition
of the temple of Mecca, or Caaba, by the Ethiopians ; the speaking
of beasts and inanimate things; the breaking out of fire in the Hejaz";
the appearance of a man of the descendants of Kahtan ; the coming
of Mehdi, or the Director this person the Shiites consider to be now
alive, and concealed in some secret place till the time of his mani-
festation, which many of them conceive to be at hand ; a wind which
shall sweep away the souls of all who have but a grain of faith in
their hearts. The lesser signs are : i, decay of faith among men ;
2, advancing of the meanest persons to eminent dignity ; 3, that a
maid-servant shall become the mother of her mistress by which is
meant, either that towards the end of the world men shall be much
given to sensuality, or that the Mohammedans shall take many cap-
tives; 4, tumults and seditions; 5, "a war with the Turks" (this would
seem to indicate a time when Islam shall be divided against itself) ;
6, great distress in the world, so that a man when he passes another's
grave shall say, " Would to God that I were in his place ; " 7, that


These are the greater signs which, according to
their doctrine, are to precede the resurrection, but
still leave the hour of it uncertain. The immediate
sign will be the " blast of consternation," when the
heavens will meet, the earth be shaken, and terrors
similar to those predicted by Christ occur. Then
will come the " blast of examination," when all
creatures, both in heaven and earth, shall be de-
stroyed, except those which God shall please to
exempt from this fate. The last who shall die will
be the angel of death. Forty years after this comes
the "blast of the resurrection," when the trumpet
shall be sounded the third time by Asrafil, who,
together with Gabriel and Michael, will be previ-
ously restored to life, and, standing on the rock of
the Temple of Jerusalem, shall at God's command
call together all the dry and rotten bones, and
other dispersed parts of the body, and the very
hairs, to judgment. This angel will collect all the
souls and fill his trumpet with them, and then blow
them out into their respective bodies.

It is unnecessary here to go into the details of the
resurrection and of the subsequent judgment when
all will pass over the narrow bridge Al Sirat, which,
stretched across hell, will be finer than a hair and
sharper than a sword or of the Mohammedan con-

the provinces of Irak and Syria shall refuse to pay their tribute; 8,
that the buildings of Medina shall reach to Ahab or Yhab. Sale's


ception of Paradise or of hell, further than to call
attention to their order. The first is assigned to
wicked Mohammedans, the second to Jews, the third
to Christians, the fourth to the Sabeans, the fifth
to the Magians, the sixth to the idolaters, and the
seventh which is the worst and deepest of all to
the hypocrites of all religions : this will undoubtedly
be by far the most crowded.

A ride of three hours from the foot of Tel el Paris
across the plains brought us to one of the northern
affluents of the Yarmuk, the Allan, which was clear
and fordable, with a stony bed. It was spanned by
an old Roman bridge of five arches, and the traces
of the Roman road leading to it were visible. In the
immediate vicinity were the ruins of what seemed to
have been a temple, the walls of which were in places
from six to eight feet in height, and some of the
larger blocks of stone bore the marks of elaborate
carving. It was in shape a parallelogram, and had
been surrounded by a colonnade.

The stream which we here crossed is the eastern
boundary of Jaulan, and we now entered Hauran, or
ancient Auranitis, and in less than an hour reached
the village of Tseil. This village, like the others in
this part of the country, consisted of flat-roofed hovels,
built of blocks of dolerite stone, which had been used
in times gone by for the walls of far more imposing
structures, and often bore traces of carving. They
were now generally plastered with cow-dung.


We dismounted at the house of the sheikh, for we
thought of passing the night here ; but we found it
contained only one room in which travellers could
be lodged, and this was already full of visitors, who
apparently intended to stay and sleep. It looked
intensely stuffy, and was full of smoke, and probably
of fleas ; so we decided to urge our weary steeds on
to Sheikh Sa'ad.

There were several fragments of columns lying
in the courtyard of the sheikh's house, and some of
them supported a sort of piazza in front of it. There
is also an old Christian church here, which has been
converted into a mosque.

Tseil is on the great caravan route from Jisr el
Mejamia, a bridge over the Jordan below Gadara, to
Damascus, and really the shortest road from Jeru-
salem to that city, though, in consequence of its sup-
posed insecurity, and the monotony of the country
through which it passes, it is never taken by tourists.

The next station to Tseil on the way to Da-
mascus, distant five miles, is Nawa, the ancient
Neve a place of great interest, on account of the
extensive ruins by which it is surrounded. Mr
Merill is of opinion that Nawa is the site of the
ancient Golan, once a city of refuge, and supports
this hypothesis by the fact that Tseil seems un-
questionably to be the ancient Thersila mentioned
by Jerome, and which was inhabited by Samaritans ;
and we are told that in immediate proximity to the


city of refuge was a town where there dwelt a tur-
bulent population hostile to the Jews. It does not
appear, however, that the American explorer ever
visited this locality ; but Burckhardt, who was at
Nawa in 1812, says that it contains the remains of
temples and other public buildings, showing that it
must have been at one time a city of some import-
ance. Arab writers describe it as having been the
home of Job. Muhammed el Makdeshi says, p. 81
of his * Geography : ' " And in Hauran and Batansea
lie the villages of Job and his home ; the chief place
is Nawa, rich in wheat and other cereals." Jakut el
Hamawi describes Nawa as " the residence \inenzil~\
of Job." And Ibn er Rabi says, " To the prophets
buried in the regions of Damascus belongs also
Job, and his tomb is near Nawa, in the district of

We galloped for an hour more over the plain be-
fore we saw before us, in the light of the setting sun,
the village of Es Sa'diyeh, or Sheikh Sa'ad, built on
a low conical mound; and about a mile distant to the
south-west, also on a mound, the monastery of Job
Der Eyub a quadrangular building, from which
the Turkish flag was floating.

We rode to the village first; but its appearance
was so squalid, and the negroes who inhabited it
looked so uninviting, that we went on to the mon-

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 6 of 35)