Laurence Oliphant.

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

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Karnaim " (Gen. xiv. 5), or Ashtaroth of the two
horns or peaks ; and there seems to me to be good
ground for assuming that while the Ashtereh de-
scribed by Newbold may be identical with Ashtaroth,
the Tel Asherah we visited, and which, so far as I am
aware, has not been examined before, may be the site
of Ashtaroth Karnaim, for the following reasons :
^ Proceedings R. G. S., vol. xvi. : 1846.


In the wars which took place between Judas
Maccabeus and Timotheus, we read that the latter
took refuge In a fortress called Carnion, which is
elsewhere alluded to in the First Book of Macca-
bees, V. 44, as Carnaim, a city of Galaad, celebrat-
ed for its temple of Atargatis, which can be none
other than Ashtaroth Carnaim. It is described
(2 Mace. xii. 21) as " impregnable and hard to come
at, by reason of the straitness of the places" a
description which exactly tallies with the strategical
position of Tel Asherah. Here, after taking Timo-
theus prisoner and routing his army with a great
slaughter, Judas moved to Ephron, " a strong city,"
which he also took, advancing then to Scythopolis
or Bethshan. The site of Ephron is not known ;
but the position of Scythopolis which is nearly
opposite the mouth of the Yarmuk relatively to
Tel Asherah, which is on its banks, affords a strong
presumption that the campaign was in this part of
the country, and that Tel Asherah and Ashtaroth
Karnaim may be identical.

The temple of Atargatis at Ashtaroth Karnaim
was destroyed by Judas Maccabeus (i Mace. v. 44).
The goddess Atargatis is represented on ancient
coins with a fish's tail, and was apparently the femi-
nine correlative of the god Dagon, who is described
in the Bible as having " a fishy part " or " stump "
(i Sam. V. 4). Plutarch says that some regarded
her "as Aphrodite, others as Here, others as the


cause and natural power which provides the prin-
ciples and seeds for all things from moisture."
Porter considers her Identical with Ashtoreth. It
is just possible that the ruined temple we saw near
the bridge, only a mile distant, may have been
that once dedicated to this divinity.

A curious confirmation of the connection which
existed between Dagon and Ashtaroth or Atargatis,
is to be found In the capture of the body of Saul
In Gllboa by the Philistines, when " they cut off his
head, and stripped off his armour, and sent Into the
land of the Philistines round about, to publish it
in the house of their idols, and among the people.
And they put his armour in the house of Ashtaroth ;
and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-
shan" (i Sam. xxxl. 9, 10). And it Is added, in
the account In Chronicles, that "they fastened his
head In the temple of Dagon" (i Chron. x. 10).
Bethshan Is about forty miles to the west of Tel
Asherah no very great distance to send the head
and armour as an evidence of their achievements to
their people, and as a thank-offering to their idols.
As Ashtoreth was the goddess of the moon, the
two horns may be In allusion to the crescent, which
was her symbol. That Ashtaroth Karnaim should
have been " a strong and great city, hard to be-
siege," and In the land of Gllead, might all apply
to this Ashtaroth ; but Euseblus and Jerome, in
the ' Onomastlcon/ describe Ashtaroth Karnaim as


*' Vicus grandis in angulo Batanseae." And they
speak of two villages of the same name which
lay nine miles apart "inter Adaram et Abilam
civitates." Now I have already alluded to the
two places, one called Tel Asherah and the other
Ashtereh, about seven miles apart ; and at this point
we were almost equidistant, as the crow flies, from
Adra or Derd and Abila, the one lying about
eleven English miles to the south-east, and the
other about fourteen miles to the south - west.
Porter denies altogether that the identification of
the modern Adra or Dera as Edrei, the former
capital of Og, the King of Bashan, by Euse-
bius, is sound, and places it, apparently with rea-
son, at the south - west corner of the Lejah, at a
place still called Edra by the Arabs a sound which
corresponds more nearly to Edrei than Derd, and
lying about fifteen miles to the north - east of the
spot on which we stood. Derd, however, which has
been visited and described by Wetzstein, is unques-
tionably the site of the important Roman town of
Adraha mentioned in the Peutinger tables; while it is
the most wonderful underground city, with its streets
of deserted houses and subterranean market-place,
which has yet been discovered, and would well repay
further exploration. Whichever be the site of the
ancient Edrei, Tel Asherah would still correspond to
the definition of the city of Og, who " dwelt in Ash-
taroth in Edrei " (Deut. i. 4), ** at Ashtaroth and at


Edrei " (Josh. xii. 4, xiii. 12), or "who was at Ash-
taroth " (Josh. ix. 10). Eusebius says, " Ashtaroth
Karnaim is at present [about a.d. 310] a very large
village beyond the Jordan, in the province of Arabia,
which is also called Batansea : here, according to tra-
dition, they fix the home of Job." The fact that Euse-
bius and Jerome so exactly describe the position of the
two villages relatively not only to each other, but to
the two towns of Dera and Abil, and that Eusebius
calls Ashtaroth Karnaim the home of Job, whose
residence is to this day shown in its immediate
proximity, disposes, I think, of Wetzstein's elabor-
ate argument, in which that careful and painstaking
traveller endeavours to prove the identity of Ash-
taroth with the ancient Bosra. The subject is one
which it would not be difficult for those skilled in
the identification of sites to clear. The writer upon
it in Smith's ' Dictionary of the Bible ' says : " The
only trace of the name yet recovered in these inter-
esting districts is Tell Ashtereh or Asherah, and of
this nothing more than the name is known." In
Baedeker's Guide, usually most accurate, nothing
is said of this Tel Asherah, though it is marked
in his map, but not mentioned in the text, on the
route on which it lies. In Dr Smith's map, Ash-
taroth Karnaim is placed at the modern Sanamen,
twenty miles to the north of Tel Asherah ; and
the position of this latter village and the country
round Sheikh Sa'ad is by no means accurately de-


fined, while Wetzstein's, RItter's, Kiepert's and Van
der Velde's configuration of this region are all ex-
tremely defective ; though there seems to be a gen-
eral consensus on the part of some of the latter,
which is shared in by Ewald, to place the Ashtaroths
at these villages.

Porter says that there is nothing to fix the identity
of Tel Asherah with Ashtaroth, as the resemblance
of the names is only apparent. But the Hebrew
word "Ashera," translated "groves" in the Bible,
and always mentioned in connection with Baal, is
identical with the Arabic word by which this place
is known ; while the word " Ashtereh," which still
more closely resembles " Ashtaroth," is retained by
the natives as the name of the adjacent village. In
Porter's route from Tel Asherah to Nawa he makes
the unaccountable omission of leaving out Sheikh
Sa'ad altogether, the proximity of which to Tel
Asherah, with all its interesting associations con-
nected with Job, tend so strongly to confirm the
identity of this ruined stronghold with Ashtaroth
Karnaim ; but he never seems personally to have
visited any of these places. That the four mounds
upon which the monastery and temple of Job and
the villages of Ashtereh and Asherah are respec-
tively situated would richly reward excavation, I have
very little doubt.

Tel Asherah possesses, however, an historical in-
terest of a far more recent date than that which we


have been endeavouring to attach to it ; for it was
made the rendezvous by Saladin for that famous
army with which he afterwards vanquished the Cru-
saders at Hattin in a.d. 1187. When Count Ray-
mond of Chatillon, then Lord of Kerak, broke the
truce which he had made with the Saracen chief,
and plundered a Moslem caravan on the Hadj from
Damascus to Mecca, killing the men and carrying ,
off the women, Saladin was able to take advantage
of the indignation created by this breach of faith to
unite the contending Arab factions, and to collect
them into an army, which he assembled at Tel
Asherah, and with which he conquered nearly all

I could only regret that, the object of my journey
being in no way connected with the past, and the
time at my disposal limited, I had neither the pre-
vious knowledge nor the conveniences necessary for
exploration of this kind, and that my observations
are therefore cursory and superficial in their charac-
ter. I could not but wonder that a region compara-
tively so accessible and so full of interest should not
have been more thoroughly explored.

The absence of tents, as well as the necessity ofTi
getting through my work as speedily as possible,',!
rendered it impossible for me to linger over these'
and other ruins which I visited. The field for
antiquarian and archaeological research in these
regions is so vast and enticing that, if one has any


Other object in view, the temptation must be steadily

While I was sketching the view of the gorge,
Captain Phibbs tried to get something out of the
crowd. But beyond the fact that they were very
poor which was a self-evident proposition and
that the whole male population of the place was
present, we did not derive much information. I
counted the male population, and it amounted to
forty. They were very civil, and brought us some
coffee which was, however, of the most undrinkable
description ; and I had some difficulty in forcing
them to take remuneration for their hospitality :
they were as proud in their politeness as they were

I longed to scramble down to the bed of the Yar-
muk and follow it up to the bridge of Sira, so as to
see the cataracts and examine the sides of the gorge ;
but the necessity of leaving ourselves time to reach
Irbid, where we had decided to spend the night,
rendered this impossible, and I reluctantly turned my
back upon a spot which had proved of such deep
and unexpected interest.

1 It is a matter for congratulation that the Palestine Exploration
Society have recently decided to undertake the survey of Eastern
Palestine. From a geographical point of view the results which will
be obtained must prove most valuable, as the map which has been
produced by the American Survey with the exception of that part
of the Belka which had been previously surveyed by Colonel Warren
still leaves much to be desired.









We were now riding over plains which had been
the battle-field of Chedorlaomer with the Rephaim
giants; of the Israelites with Og, the King of Bashan;
and the scene of sundry conflicts between the invading
Assyrians and the Jews, for across these plains the
former marched to invade Palestine, and the brunt
of the shock of hostile attack from the east invari-
ably fell upon Gad and Manasseh. And it was on
these plains, here cleft by the Yarmuk, that in a.d.
636 the Arabs, inspired by the frenzy of a new reli-
gion, fought that bloody battle with the Byzantines
which drove out Christian civilisation, such as it was,
from Syria, and established Moslem supremacy.

And so, passing out of the land of Bashan, we
entered " the land of Gilead, a hard, rocky region,"
as its name signifies, though the country we were



now riding over would not come under that defini-
tion. It is probable that Gilead extended to this
point, and that it was sometimes used in a wider
sense in the Bible than its geographical limits would
imply, and included the southern part of Bashan.
We are told that half Gilead was possessed by
Sihon, King of the Amorites, and the other half
by Og, King of Bashan, the Jabbok being the
boundary between the two (Josh. xii. i-6). Moses
gave to the half- tribe of Manasseh "half Gilead,
and Ashtaroth, and Edrei, cities of the kingdom of
Og in Bashan" (Josh. xiii. 31). According to Porter,
the land of Gilead extended from the Yarmuk on the
north to the valley of Heshbon on the south, which
would make it about sixty miles long; while its
breadth, by Biblical inference, would be about twenty
miles. Our present position would in that case have
been in its extreme north-east corner. The pas-
ture-land of Jaulan was here giving way to cultiva-
tion, and in an hour we reached Mezarib, a station
on the Hadj or pilgrimage road from Damascus to
Mecca, and the great grain centre of the Hauran.
As commercially it is one of the most important
places in this district, we had been looking forward
to it as a town possibly possessing some signs of
civilisation ; but we were most grievously disap-
pointed. It was relatively large that is, it may
have contained 800 or 1000 souls, but they lived in
the usual collection of squalid huts ; and the attempt


at a bazaar, in which there were a few dirty little
shops, was only an additional indication of the primi-
tive condition of the country and its inhabitants
generally. There was a large khan, which had been
finished only a few years ago by Zia Pasha, at a cost
of 469,000 piastres, but it has since been abandoned,
and is now rapidly falling into ruin ; and there were
tortuous, narrow, evil-smelling streets, and a mias-
matic atmosphere generally about the place, which
quite accounted for its bad reputation in a sanitary
point of view. In winter the whole place is flooded ;
and even on the occasion of our visit, there was too
much standing water for health.

A copious warm spring gushes out of the earth
with force enough to turn a mill which has been
established here to grind corn for the pilgrims. It
is one of the few mills in the world which is turned
by tepid water. The stream, after turning the mill,
runs into the small lake of El Bejeh, in which there
are several warm springs : It is extremely clear, and
abounds with fish. In the middle of it is an island,
covered with huts, and approached by a causeway.
The Owerid, on issuing from this lake, after a short
course precipitates itself over a ledge sixty feet in
height, forming a fine cascade, and is in fact one of
the sources of the Yarmuk ; and on the opposite
side of it from the village is an old castle, containing
a mosque and some storehouses, also in a decaying
condition. It is said to have been built by the Sul-


tan Selim, the Ottoman conqueror of Syria, about the
year 1 500 ; but the materials of which it is composed
are of much older date, and Burckhardt found a
Greek inscription turned topsy-turvy in the wall,
*' to the memory of Quadratiames, son of Diogenes,
who was beloved of all, and lived seventy years."
On the opposite side of the small lake are some
carved basaltic blocks and other Greek remains, indi-
cating that it had formerly been the site of a town.

Altogether, if it is not an inviting spot, it possesses
the merit of a certain picturesque quaintness and
originality, and during the time of the halt of the
Hadj, must be a bustling, interesting place. At that
period there is a fair held here, which lasts for ten
days. There has been a project on foot to connect
it with Damascus by a tramway, which should tap
the grain-growing district of the Hauran, and feed
the road of the French Company from Damascus to
Beyrout. I doubt, however, whether, until a rail-
way is brought into the country, it will ever be worth
while to make a tramway, the only termination of
which will be a carriage-road. The true port of the
Hauran is not Beyrout, but Haifa or Acre, to which
latter place at present all the corn of the Hauran is
conveyed by camels, by way of the southern part of
Jaulan, and across the Jordan just below the Sea of

We left Mezarib by the broad track of the pil-
grims' road to Mecca, keeping a due southerly


direction, and leaving Dera, or the controverted
Edrei, about five miles on our left. For an hour or
more we traversed a rich, well-cultivated, undulating
country, passing in half an hour the dry Wady Talid,
and shortly after the Wady Zeidy, both falling into
the Yarmuk, and spanned by old Roman bridges ;
then we turned off to the right from the Hadj road,
and crossed high rolling downs, and our zaptiehs told
us we had now left Hauran and had entered Ajlun.
We stopped to rest in a gorge between the cliffs
of chalk where there was a spring and some small
trees the first we had seen since leaving Banias.
This Wady, which was the largest and most pre-
cipitous we had crossed, was, I believe, here called
the Wady Rahub, and lower down the Wady
Shellaleh. From the fact of the numerous cav-
erns in its chalk cliffs, and its position, I am in-
clined to think that in it are the Cavea Rood men-
tioned in the History of William of Tyre, in which
(lib. xxii. c. 2i) it is said that the Crusaders, on
their return from a marauding expedition in Hauran,
wished to reconquer a strong position, the Cavea
Roob, which they had lost a short time before.
" This place," says the historian, " lies in Suite, a dis-
trict distinguished by its pleasantness; and Baldad,
Job's friend, who is on that account called the Suite,
is said to have come from it." Now the gorge in
which we were lunching formed the northern bound-
ary of the modern Zuweit, a district which, on emerg-

'miz' '' ' tHE LAND OF GILEAD.

ing from it, we merely skirted, leaving it to the
south-east. And again the same historian says,
" After having passed Decapolis [the district we were
now entering], we came to the pass of Roob, and
further on into the plain of Medan [this is the plateau
across which we had been riding from Mezarib],
which stretches far and wide in every direction,
and is intersected by the river Dan [so the Yarmuk
was called in the time of the Crusaders], which falls
into the Jordan between Tiberias and Scythopolis."
It is probable that the numerous caverns by which
we were surrounded were none other than " the
swinging caves of Roob," or Mu'allakat Rah tab,
which seem first to have been discovered by Wetz-
stein in i860, and which are doubtless identical with
the Cavea Roob of William of Tyre; but I did not
then know the interest which attached to the spot.
Clambering up the opposite side of the gorge, we
found ourselves on an elevated undulating plain.
There was something so pure and exhilarating in the
air, that our whole cortege, including the baggage-
mules, started off at a gallop ; and I could well under-
stand that a belief should exist at Damascus that the
whole of this region is free from disease, and that the
inhabitants should flock thither to escape local epi-
demics. The Romans were so well aware of its
salubrious character that they called it PalcBstina
Salutaris ; while with the poets of Hauran " the cool-
blowing Nukra" is a favourite expression.


Soon after leaving the gorge we reached the
troglodyte village of Es Sal, and crossed an old
Roman aqueduct which used to supply the city of
Gadara with water, distant twenty miles to the west.
A large part of the population of Hauran and this
part of Ajlun still live in caves. In the Bible this
land was called the land of the giants (Deut. iii. 13),
and there can be no doubt that in those ancient
times the population lived principally in subterranean
dwellings, the massive entrances to which were slabs
of stone ; indeed, there is probably no country in
the world where an immigrant population would find
such excellent shelter all ready prepared for them,
or where they could step into the identical abodes
which had been vacated by their occupants at least
fifteen hundred years ago, and use the same doors
and windows. The grottoes in which the squalid
population of Es Sal lived, were not sufficiently
tempting for us to stay and explore, the more
especially as it was getting late, and we certainly
had no fancy to pass the night in them ; so we
pushed on over the fresh breezy country to Irbid.
Here we found that the Caimakam or local author-
ity was absent on an expedition against the Arabs,
and that the Cadi or judge was the principal official
in the place. This worthy, however, proved to be
a Moslem of the most bigoted type, and did not rise
to receive us when we entered, or even ask us to
sit down. As he was not in his own house, but in


the reception-room of the Calmakam, we seated our-
selves on the divan without further ceremony, and
proceeded to make ourselves comfortable. The Cadi,
after apparently hesitating whether he should try to
turn us out or go out himself, decided on the latter
course, and we occupied the apartment during the
remainder of our stay. Fortunately, the Caimakam's
secretary, who spoke French, was an intelligent and
civilised individual, and knew that he would best
please his chief by treating us with civility ; so he
did all in his power to atone for the Cadi's inhos-
pitality. It appeared that the Caimakam had gone
off with some soldiers in the direction of Mkes or
Gadara, to punish the Beni Sukhr Arabs for refus-
ing to pay the sheep - tax, and for resisting the
zaptiehs who had gone to collect it, when they fired
upon them and wounded one. There seemed to
be some uncertainty as to the exact locality in which
the Arabs were now to be found ; but we were
anxious, if possible, to join the Caimakam, and wit-
ness the operations against them. While we were
in the midst of our consultation a sheikh of the Beni
Sukhr arrived, and offered to escort us to his tribe
at once. This was rather a suspicious invitation,
considering the relations in which one section of it,
at all events, stood towards the Government. Still,
we might have been tempted to accept it if he would
have consented to postpone his departure till the
following day, as our horses were too tired to push

IRBID. 105

on with them at once. This he refused to do, but
offered to take a letter to the Caimakam, to whose
camp he assured us he was bound, for the purpose
of conciHating that functionary, and offering satisfac-
tion for the outrage which had been committed by his
tribe. So we gave him a letter begging the Caim-
akam to let us know at once where we could join
him, and the probable date of his return.

There was still enough daylight left for a stroll,
and we sallied forth under the guidance of the
secretary, and ascended the hill, or rather mound
for it was not a hundred feet high round the
base of which the huts of Irbid are clustered.
Here we found the walls partially standing of what
had once been a fortress, with trunks of columns
strewn about, and the usual indications of the archi-
tecture of an ancient civilisation. The mound upon
which the castle stands is evidently to a great extent
artificial. It is partially faced on the east side by
a wall composed of blocks of stone of Cyclopean
dimensions. In the highest part these reach an
elevation of about thirty feet, and the wall extends
for at least a hundred yards. Some of the stones
are from fifteen to eighteen feet long, from three to
five high, and from eight to ten broad. The view
from a dilapidated tower at an angle of the wall,
as the sun set over Mount Tabor and the distant
mountains of Palestine, was full of interest as well
as beauty. We were immediately surrounded by a


fertile undulating country, partially cultivated, but
evidently capable of being made in the highest
degree productive. To the east and north-east
stretched the level corn -growing plains of the
Hauran, with the Jebel Druse softly defined in the
blue haze of evening. To the north we looked
with interest on Tel el Faris, now so familiar to
us, with the conical range beyond, extending to the
spurs of Hermon, and the prairie country which we
had traversed at its base. We even thought we
could make out Tel Asherah and the station of
Job. To the west the country seemed more rugged,
but in places well wooded ; while the mountains of
Ajlun to the south were heavily timbered to the
summits with fine forests. We stood here at an

Online LibraryLaurence OliphantThe land of Gilead, with excursions in the Lebanon; → online text (page 8 of 35)