Laurence Oliphant.

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

. (page 7 of 35)
Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 7 of 35)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


astery, and determined to throw ourselves upon the
hospitality of the Mutessarif or governor of the pro-



THE MONASTERY OF JOB. 73

vince, who had recently converted It Into the seat of
his government.

We followed the broad beaten track and line of
telegraph-posts, which Indicated a direct communica-
tion between this point and Damascus, and soon
found ourselves at the gateway of the monastery,
opposite to which a few shops, a smithy, and some
military storehouses formed one side of the only
street in the place. Here we were most politely
received by the governor's secretary, who led us Into
the quadrangle of the monastery, an extensive
courtyard, containing in the centre the residence
and offices of the Mutessarif, and a Christian church
no longer, of course, used as such. Built under
the wall on the sides of the square were barracks
for troops, depots for stores, and the apartments of
sundry officials. One of these was occupied by the
secretary, which he kindly offered to place at our
disposal ; and as It was superior to anything In the
shape of accommodation we had seen since leaving
Sidon, we gratefully became his guests. According
to Arabian authors, the monastery was built by the
Jefnide King Amr I., who reigned about i8o a.d.
If this Is the case, It is evident that the Arabs of
Hauran embraced Christianity at a very early period,
and were the architects of probably the most ancient
ecclesiastical edifice of this description of which we
have any record. According to the history of Ibn
Kethir, the Graeco-Ghassanide army, under the com-



74 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

mand of Theodoric, a brother of the Emperor Hera-
cHus, revolted here a few months prior to the battle
of the Yarmuk, which resulted in the loss of Syria to
the Byzantines. A Greek inscription which had for-
merly been in the church was now placed over the
entrance gateway, but it was so much effaced that I
did not succeed in deciphering it. In consequence
of the unhealthiness of Mezarib, which was formerly
the seat of government, the monastery, which was
partially in ruins, was bought about three years ago,
converted into a barrack, and became the residence
of the Mutessarif. It is built of fine square blocks
of dolerite. A few weeks before our arrival five or
six hundred soldiers had been sent here by Midhat
Pasha from Damascus, for the purpose of maintain-
ing order in the province : of these only about two
hundred remained, the others having been sent to
points where their presence was deemed more neces-
sary. We paid a visit to the governor, and had a
long discussion with him on the subject of the ad-
ministration of his province. It is composed of the
four districts of Hauran, Ajlun, Jaulan, and Jedur.
Of these districts Hauran is by far the most pro-
ductive and thickly populated. The high range of
mountains on the east, in old times called the hills of
Bashan, and now the Jebel Druse, are inhabited
by about 50,000 of the Druse people ; and on their
lower slopes there are several villages of Christians,
chiefly of the orthodox Greek Church. In the plains



THE PEOPLE OF THE HAURAN. 75

the peasantry dress like the Arabs, and are no doubt
ethnologically nearly allied to them. Though subject
to Bedouin incursions, they have managed to hold
their own more successfully than the natives of the
other districts. All they want is protection ; and this
the new governor-general seems determined to give
them. Hitherto they have been compelled to pur-
chase safety by a system of black-mail ; and what they
fear is, if the Government chastise predatory Arabs
now, that a new Vali may succeed the present one,
and not continue the same policy, but for the sake
of economy or other reasons withdraw the troops :
in that case the Arabs, undeterred by fear of conse-
quences, would revenge themselves upon the unfor-
tunate villagers. On the occasion of our visit a
sense of security pervaded the country, to which it
had long been a stranger ; nor could we have desired
a better proof of its peace and order than in the per-
fect security with which we wandered about it.

In Jedur and Jaulan the settled population has
considerably diminished of late years ; still there do
not seem to be any great tracts of land in which the
absolute title is vested in the Government. The
Mutessarif himself was said to be the largest land-
holder in Jaulan ; and though villages may be de-
serted, in the event of a purchase of them being
attempted from the Government, claimants would be
apt to spring up from unexpected quarters, as the
Government have issued at some period or other



^6 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

tapoo papers for the greater part of Jaulan, and
these have in many cases not run out. These
papers give a prescriptive possession, based on
occupation and cultivation, and proprietors gener-
ally take some means of keeping their titles alive ;
though probably, if they came to be strictly exam-
ined, they would be found defective. Nevertheless,-J(;-
magnificent grazing-land could doubtless be picked
up in Jaulan now for next to nothing.

It was impossible to pass the night upon a mound
which popular tradition identifies with the dunghill
upon which Job scraped himself with potsherds,
without feeling a strong desire to trace its origin,
and raise, however slightly, the veil which shrouds
the mystery of his place of abode. Leaving the
controversy as to his real or mythical character to
be discussed by Ewald, Renan, Froude, and others
far more competent to deal with it than myself,
there can be no doubt that among the inhabitants
of this region the tradition that it was the land of
Uz runs back to a very early date. Biblical com-
mentators usually place that region very far to the
south and east of Bashan, in Arabia Deserta, to the
north of the 30th parallel of latitude, and contiguous
to Idumsea. The arguments in favour of this view
are, that in a notice appended to the Alexandrian
version of the Bible it is stated that "Job bore pre-
viously the name of Jobab," and that a tradition
adopted by the Jews and some Christian fathers



THE COUNTRY OF JOB. yy

Identify him with Jobab, " son of Zerah of Bozrah,"
and successor of Bela, first king of Edom. Zerah,
Jobab's father, was the son of Reuel, the son of
Esau. This Bozrah was not the Bozrah in Bashan,
but In Edom. Moreover, Mohammedan writers tell
us that Job was of the race of Esau.

It Is also said that Incursions could not have been
made by the Chaldeans and Sabeans the one from
the banks of the Euphrates, and the other from
Yemen, the home of the Sabeans unless Uz was
situated somewhere between them In the locality
Indicated. To this It may be replied that the evi-
dence identifying Job with Jobab is very slight ; but
granting this, It might have been part of Edom In
the days of Esau's grandson, while, if at that epoch
the Chaldeans, as Is generally supposed, had not yet
descended to the plains of Babylon, but were a
predatory tribe living In Kurdistan, Bashan would
be a most convenient raiding -ground. It is true
that It would have been distant from the Sabeans ;
but so, on the other hand, was Edom from Kurdistan.
And to this day the Arabs make marauding expedi-
tions and hostile demonstrations over this very track.
Since the period of our visit, Ibn Rashid Is reported
to have advanced with an Immense force from Jebel
Shammar, In the heart of Arabia, a distance of about
600 miles, into the outlying districts of Hauran.
Wetzstein, I think, clearly shows that the land of Uz
mentioned in Jer. xxv. 20, cannot refer to Edom, but



78 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

must have reference to a region near Damascus; while
Josephus (Ant, i. 6. 4) states that " the Arameans,
whom the Greeks call the Syrians, were descended
from Aram. Uz, who was a son of Aram, settled
Trachonitis and Damascus," a fact which is relied
upon by Ewald, who places Uz in the south of Ba-
shan. William of Tyre narrates that the Crusaders,
returning from a marauding expedition in Hauran,
wished to reconquer a position which "lies in the
province of Suite," and that Bildad, Job's friend, who
is on that account called the Shuhite, comes from it.
The modern name of this district is Zuweit, and it
lies about twenty miles south of Sheikh Sa'ad. While
the modern village of Tema, the inhabitants of which
are to this day called Temani, lying forty miles to
the east of Sheikh Sa'ad, may fairly be assumed to
have been the home of Eliphaz the Temanite.

Again, the tradition of the Arabs is not to be
despised. It is evident that a Jefnide king would
not have built a monastery on the site, had it not
been a spot to which the tradition of Job had at-
tached long, doubtless, before the Christian era.
/ There is probably no part of the world where the
native races have undergone so little change as in
the region between the Jordan and the Euphrates ;
and to this very day the descendants of the contem-
poraries of Job, and possibly his own, inhabit the
plains of their ancestors. A tradition here has there-
fore quite a different value from those which attach



THE COUNTRY OF JOB. 79

to Christian sites or relics in Palestine, many of which
were, so to speak, discovered "to order" long after
any evidence by which they could be identified had
ceased to exist, in the hope that they might confirm
the truth of a tradition. There seems to be more
logic in confirming a site by a tradition than in con-
firming a tradition by a site or a relic. If, there-
fore, this has always been considered, by the race
which has inhabited it from time immemorial, to be
the land in which Job lived in other words, the
land of Uz it is certainly an argument in favour
of the possibility of such being the case. The his-
torian of Jerusalem, Mugir ed-din el Hambeli, in the
chapter on the legends of the prophets, says : "Job
came from El-Es [Uz .f*], and the Damascene province
of Batansea [which includes Hauran] was his pro-
perty." Again, there is a passage in the ' Onomas-
ticon ' which furnishes a very early testimony to the
existence of this tradition, and which runs as follows :
" According to the view of a certain one [xara rtvo?]
this region is the land of Asitis [ Ausitis], the home
of Job ; while, according to others, it is Arabia; and
again, according to others, it is the land of Sihon."

Porter tells us that the people of Suweideh a
town he visited in the Hauran say that Job was
king of Batanaea, while to this day the peasants
call all this country the land of Job (Belad Eyub).
In regard to the locality which has been fixed
upon as his abode, it is most likely that this is



80 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

an Instance of the tradition being confirmed by
the site. It may have been true that Job lived
in these parts because every one had always said
so; but it is quite possible that immemorial tradi-
tion having in general terms been to this effect,
a tendency should be developed to confirm It by
finding the exact spot on which he had lain, the
bath in which he washed, and the potsherd with
which he scraped himself.

Whether the extreme veneration which attaches
to the monastery and to the Makam or station of
Job, arises from the fact that it was originally, as I
shall presently endeavour to show, a centre of Baal-
worship, and that it only became sacred to the
memory of Job when the other culte had passed
away ; or whether the Baal-worshippers took advan-
tage of an anterior sanctity with which its real or
supposed connection with Job had invested it, it is
not possible to say. In the East it is a common
thing for the same shrine to serve the purpose of
many succeeding religions. A spot once sanctified
by worship is thus very likely to become venerated
on quite a new set of considerations, and in some
cases even the tombs of the saints of one religion
become the tombs of the saints of another.

For some reason known only to themselves, the
Holy Places at Sheikh Sa'ad, or Es Sa'diyeh, seem to
be more sacred in the eyes of negro Mohammedans
than any other class of Moslems. The tomb of Job



job's fountain. ^i

is a sacred shrine to which woolly-haired pilgrims
resort from Soudan, first visiting Mecca and Medina,
then Damascus, and then the Makam Eyub. Here
they remain for a month or more, washing themselves
in Job's fountain, praying at his tomb, and finding
congenial companions in their African hosts; for,
besides being a resort for pilgrims, Sheikh Sa'ad is
also a place of refuge for negro slaves who have
been the property of Arabs and have escaped, or
been in other servitude and have been granted their
liberty. These Holy Places are also venerated still
by Christians, as they were in the days of Chrysos-
tom, who says of them, '* Many pilgrims come from
the ends of the earth to Arabia, in order to seek for
the dunghill on which Job lay, and with rapture to
kiss the ground where he suffered." ^

We rode over to the Makam in the morning in
company with the governor's secretary. The tomb
is a small white -domed building, apparently very
ancient, where a Moslem saint, Sa'ad from which
the village takes its name is also said to be buried.
It is situated in the Makam or station, which is sur-
rounded by vegetable gardens, in the midst of which
is another building with three small white cupolas,
which is the residence of the negro sheikh of the
village. In the immediate vicinity is the "wadjet
sejidni Eyub," " the lavatory of our Lord Job " a
cleft in the rocks about the size of an ordinary

^ Homil. V. de Stud., i. torn. ii. p. 59.
F



^82 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

plunge-bath, full of the clearest water, and tempting
to look at for ablutionary purposes. Over it is a
small building of dolerite stone, also bearing the
marks of extreme antiquity.

Of Job's fountain or bath it is said in the
Koran 1 "And it was said unto him [Job],
Strike the earth with thy foot; which, when he
had done, a fountain sprang up; and it was said
unto him. This is for thee to wash in and to
drink. And we said unto him. Take a handful
of rods and strike thy wife therewith, and break
not thine oath. Verily we found him a patient
person."

The Makam and bath are situated at the foot
of a mound about a hundred feet high, which is
now covered with the wretched huts of the negro
population. No Arabs or Syrians live in it, and
I was struck with the paucity of women. It was
curious to come across this collection of the sons
of Ham in the midst of the land of Uz, their huts
constructed of the massive stones which once com-
posed the handsome dwellings of the descendants
of Shem. The old granite columns are now built
into the mud walls, and the carved entablatures
are plastered with cow - dung. The inhabitants,
ragged and poverty-stricken in the extreme, con-
sist of about 200 souls. The condition of this
miserable, squalid population, in the midst of the

1 Chap. 33.



THE MAKAM. > 83

richest and most productive land imaginable, tells
its own tale. The Makam possesses a character
for sanctity in the eyes of the Arabs, which is its
best protection. They seem to regard it with a
superstitious awe, and neither levy black-mail upon
the inhabitants nor plunder their gardens, whilst it
also enjoys immunity from taxation by the Govern-
ment.

At the top of the mound, and almost sur-
rounded by hovels, was an ancient temple sup-
ported on nine arches. It is not used for sacred
purposes now, but has been a Moslem place of
prayer. Prior to this it was evidently a Christian
church, as the old belfry and the. internal arrange-
ment and shape testify. But there are traces of a
yet greater antiquity in its columns and architec-
ture ; and there can be little doubt that it has also
been a Roman temple, and possibly, anterior to
that, a sacred edifice of Phoenician worship. It is
about twenty yards square ; and the roof, which is
on a level with the top of the mound, is composed
of slabs of stone nine or ten feet long, eighteen
inches broad, and a foot deep. In the centre of the
building is a monolith of black basalt; its base is
embedded in the ddbris which has fallen in upon
the floor, but which, if it were cleared away, would
leave it about ten feet high. The top has been
broken off. It is now pointed out as the Sakhrat
Eyub, or stone to which job resorted for relief



84 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

from his cutaneous affliction, and is for that reason
regarded with great veneration by the negroes, by
whom it might be advantageously used for the same
purpose ; but, as my friend Captain Phibbs suggest-
ed, it was doubtless originally a Phallic emblem.
Everything points to the extreme probability of the
ancient city, the ruins of which no doubt partially
composed the present mound, having been a centre
of Baal-worship. The old name has been lost, and
I have been unable to find any clue identifying it
as the site of a known city ; but in the immediate
neighbourhood are two villages one now called
Ashtereh, and the other Tel Asherah. The for-
mer I saw at a distance, but did not visit, as we
were assured that no ruins of any kind existed
there; the other I will describe presently. It is
reasonable to assume that one of these is the site
of the ancient Ashtaroth, one of the Levitical
cities located in the half- tribe of Manasseh, and
given, with its suburbs and surrounding pasture-
lands, to the Gershonites (i Chron. vi. 71). Ash-
erah is the symbol of the goddess Ashtaroth, the
principal female divinity of the Phoenicians, as Baal
was the principal male divinity. Both names are
frequently used in the plural signifying possibly,
when so used, the androgynous character. Thus
Baalim may have included Baal and Ashtaroth as
one duality ; while Ashtoreth included Baal and
Ashtaroth also, as two in one. In the earlier



ASHTAROTH. 85

books of the Old Testament, only the singular
form, Ashtaroth, occurs, though Baal and Baalim
seem to be used indiscriminately. The first we
hear of the feminine plural is when Solomon " went
after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonlans."
The original conception, before it became degra-
ded into an obscene idolatry, was evidently that
of a dual first cause, and may have been derived
from a belief In the creative principle Elohlm,
the singular of which is Eloah, Indicated In the 26th
and 27th verses of the first chapter of Genesis.
The word Baal, separated from Its idolatry, simply
means lord and proprietor of all ; while Ashtaroth
seems to have been either the goddess of the moon,
or the planet Venus. Hence her successor in Greek
mythology was Astarte, and Baal became looked
upon as the sun-god.

Strabo mentions the goddess Aphrodite under
the name of Attara, which Is probably Identical with
Ashtera; and Lieutenant Wilford ^ calls attention to
the circumstance that Atavi, the ** Goddess of the
Grove" of Hindu mythology, was also called Ash-
tara, and that a pyramid in her honour, by name
Ashtird-Devi, Is placed by the writer of the Purana
on the Call river, in the woods of Tapas. This
Ashtard or Atavi is Identical with the goddess
Amba, whose consort, Bhava, was the author of
existence.

^ Asiatic Researches, vol. iii. p. 389.



S6 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

The proximity of a village which still preserves
without change the name of the symbol of the
goddess, can leave very little doubt that the
temple containing the ancient monolith at Sheikh
Sa'ad must have been originally dedicated to Baal,
and the scene of Jewish idolatry. Among the
nations left "to prove Israel by," were the Zidon-
ians; the Hivites, that dwelt in Mount Lebanon,
from Mount Baal - Hermon to the entering in of
Hamath ; and the Amorites, who dwelt in this very
country : and we are told that " they did evil in
the sight of the Lord, and served Baalim and Ash-
erah," or, as that word is rendered by the translators,
"the groves." If our conjecture that the monolith
at Sheikh Sa'ad represents what we suppose it to
have done, it becomes one of the most ancient and
interesting monuments in Syria, the only one, in
fact, so far as I am aware, in existence, which we
can still trace as a record, in their own country or
its vicinity, of the worship of the Phoenicians.

It is about seven miles from Sheikh Sa'ad to
Tel Asherah. The road is over a fertile plain, and
crosses first the Wady el Lebweh, and then the
Wady Yabis. Both these contain affluents of the
Yarmuk, but they are occasionally dry in summer.
Shortly after quitting Sheikh Sa'ad, we leave on
the right, about two miles distant, the village of
Ashtereh, standing out on the plain. Just before
arriving at Tel Asherah we cross the principal source



VILLAGE OF ASHERAH. 87

of the Yarmuk, by the old Roman bridge of nine
arches, one of which has fallen in, and has not been
repaired now called the bridge of Sira. The
Yarmuk at this point is just sinking below the
level of the plain through which it has been mean-
dering, and in the course of the next mile plunges
down a series of cascades into the stupendous gorges
through which it winds, until it ultimately falls into
the Jordan below Gadara. This river was called
Yarmuk by the Hebrews, Hieromax by the Romans,
and is now called the Sheriat el Mandhur, from a
tribe of Arabs who pasture in its valley. Below
the bridge are some ruins probably, from the
shape of the foundations, those of a temple; but
only a few trunks of prostrate columns and carved
entablatures are visible among the large square
blocks of dolerite of which it was built. We had
two Kurdish zaptiehs with us, whom the Mutessarif
at Sheikh Sa'ad had insisted upon our taking as
guides and protectors ; but they could not tell us
whether this ruin had a name, nor was there a
creature in sight whom we could ask.

About a mile beyond, on the right, is situated
the village of Asherah, crowning a mound or /<?/
about seventy feet high. Its situation is strikingly
picturesque. On the one side is the gorge of the
Yarmuk, and on the other the plain is cleft by a
chasm, at the head of which is a small waterfall.
On the high projecting promontory between the



88 THE LAND OF GILEAD.

gorge and the chasm are the abundant remains of
what was once an ancient city, strongly fortified
in rear by three tiers of walls, which may still be
very distinctly traced. It must have been impreg-
nable. A few wretched huts compose the present
village, but the traces of a departed grandeur lie
strewn in every direction. I observed nothing dur-
ing my hurried survey of the surface-remains, which
did not belong to the Greek and Roman type of
architecture, common to the civilisation which pre-
vailed in this part of the world during the first and
second centuries after Christ. We walked through
the ddbris, as none of the remains were standing,
they could scarcely be called ruins, and sat on a
prostrate column on the extreme verge of the preci-
pice, which surrounded us on three sides, and looked
down the winding gorge, with the Yarmuk at least
500 feet below us. Our arrival produced the great-
est interest and commotion, and in a few moments
we were surrounded by an admiring and wondering
crowd. It was quite impossible, however, to extract
any information out of them as to any objects of
interest which there might be in the neighbour-
hood, and we had no time to explore for ourselves.
There can be little doubt that the sides of the
gorge are honeycombed with cave-dwellings, after
the Invariable manner of the former inhabitants of
the Hauran, and that the explorer would find himself
well repaid by an examination of a spot so replete



ASHTAROTH KARNAIM. 89

with the interest and association attaching to a civil-
isation and a worship of which this must have been
a centre. It is probable that Ashtereh, the village
we saw but did not visit, is the site of the ancient
Ashtaroth. The only traveller who has ever de-
scribed it is Captain Newbold ; but he did not visit
Tel Asherah, and was apparently unconscious of
its existence. In a paper contributed to the Royal
Geographical Society,^ he says of Ashtereh that it is
"situated on a mound from 50 to 100 feet in height
the base of trap, and its upper part covered with
a peculiar dark -coloured soil, mingled with stones
and fragments of ancient pottery. Near the base of
the hill ancient foundations of massive stones, hewn
and unhewn, can be distinctly traced. The soil of the
surrounding plain is strewn with fragments of stone
and pottery." Captain Newbold assumes, I think
with reason, that this village is the site of Ash-
taroth ; but there is another Ashtaroth mentioned in
Scripture, where " Chedorlaomer, and the kings that
were with him, smote the Rephaims in Ashtaroth



Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 7 of 35)