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decreasing in numbers, and amount now to only
about one hundred and sixty. Benjamin of Tu-
dela estimated them in the twelfth century as only
one hundred in Nablus ; but in those days they had
adherents in Ascalon, Caesarea, and Damascus—


amounting to one thousand in all. Now, this is
their only settlement ; the little, whitewashed
synagogue the sole outward and visible sign
of their race, their faith, and even their dialect,
for in the ordinary affairs of life they use

The office of high priest is hereditary in the
tribe of Levi, and it is interesting to note
that he holds, in addition, the secular dignity of
president of the community, and is, moreover,
one of the district authorities. Jerusalem has
some personal acquaintance with his son and heir-
apparent, who makes occasional visits to the
Holy City for various purposes, including the
sale of manuscripts, not, perhaps, quite convincing
as to their antiquity or value ; but the scion of a
high priest must live, even if the methods should
bring him occasionally within the arm of the
Law. The official stipend is derived from tithes
paid by the faithful, who, unfortunately, have
litde to tithe.

Their festivals have been often described ; and
the Samaritan Passover has become a common-
place of tourists, though, happily, there are still
some to whom the slaughter and disembowelling
of half-a-dozen poor little lambs, which have been
tamed and kept as domestic pets, is not a pleasing


sight at close quarters. One feels especially
thankful for the Gospel dispensation on reading
in the twentieth century such details as the
following : — " Whilst the six lambs were thus lying
together, with their blood streaming from them,
and in their last convulsive struggles, the young
shochetim (five lads, who acted as butchers) dipped
their fingers in the blood, and marked a spot on
the foreheads and noses of the children. The
same was done to some of the females."

Importunate Jews and Samaritans followed
us back to the convent, their numbers increased
by inquisitive Moslems coming to see the Frenjys
fleeced, and a few especially impudent girls, who
demanded backsheesh on the ground that they
"sat down in the English school." We speedily
convinced the entire crowd that we were not
tourists, much to the satisfaction of the officers
of the convent, who suffer much from the visitors
of their guests.

"Baedeker" was on business, and we were
obliged to postpone, to some future occasion,
several visits we would have gladly paid ; above
all, the ascent of Mount Ebal, whence one has
a view practically over the whole of Palestine —
a country, be it remembered, however, contain-
ing no more square miles than that of Wales.


Gerizim is, historically, the more famous of the
two, and that most frequented, as by far the easier
climb ; but a view from Carmel to Jaffa, from
the Mediterranean to the mountains of Moab,
would have been to some of us more suggestive,
and of deeper significance, than the Moslem
wely alleged to contain the skull of St John
the Baptist, or even the church, possibly of
the Justinian period, which may be on the site of
the Temple of Gerizim destroyed by Hyrcanus,
rival to that at Jerusalem. At Jacob's Well also
we would have willingly lingered, grateful to
Professor G. A. Smith for leaving us still in
possession of the traditional site, which he
maintains against many opponents. (" Historical
Geography," xviii.) Another site offered for con-
sideration, as that where Abraham prepared for
the sacrifice of Isaac, we summarily condemned
without trial. Some of us had ridden to Beer-
sheba, which we knew to be a good sixteen hours'
ride south of Jerusalem, Nablus being equally
a good twelve hours' north, and we failed to
understand how an old man and a boy, with an
ass heavily burdened, could have made the
journey on foot in a period of less than three
days ! The acoustical properties of the valley
between the two mountains need astonish no


one who has seen the position, or indeed many
other places in Palestine, where the nature of
the limestone formation, the innumerable caves,
and the intense clearness of the atmosphere,
carry sound to inconceivable distances, and many
times we have carried on conversation with
persons visible only as a distant speck. On one
occasion the Lady, who had left the Artist
sketching on some rising ground, and had her-
self crossed a valley, and climbed a Tell beyond,
mindful, though somewhat incredulous, of tradi-
tions on the subject, addressed her friend, whose
whereabouts she knew, but who otherwise was
too distant to be easily visible. To her intense
surprise she was promptly answered, and the
two were able to carry on conversation without
even raising the voice.

We were soon on our way north, anxious to
have time to visit Sebaste, the city of Samaria,
on our way to Jenin, our next halting-place for
the night. The scenery of this district, if pleas-
ing, is as unexciting as the county of Yorkshire.
There are bare spaces, rocky and sterile, slop-
ing down into fertile plains. There are pleasant
fields and fruitful gardens, and we gathered our
first anemones of the season, scarlet and purple
and white, and noted that the mandrakes were


coming into bloom — rich, compact masses of
violet in their crumpled, primrose-like leaves.
Here and there were trickling rills, which,
although the season was dry and the early
rains had been a disappointment, had enough
life left in them to produce bright ribbons of
verdure across the plains, which opened out
amid detached hills to right and left. Not only
the familiar olive-trees scattered over wide tracts
of land, but oaks and carobs, and even gardens
of fruit-trees — apricots, pears, apples— give to
the scenery a homelike air, which to our eyes,
long used to the sepias and vandyke-browns of
Judaea, was reposeful and refreshing.

We were able to appreciate the observation of
Professor G. A. Smith {pp. cit. Chap, xvi.), that
Samaria is the scene of all the long drives of
Old Testament history — a fact due to the open-
ness of the country, and the possibility of
practicable roads passing among, rather than
over, the mountains. It was here that Ahab
raced the rain-storm coming up from the
Mediterranean- — well do we know the tearing,
raging " latter rains " of Palestine ; here that
Jehu drove furiously ; here that Naaman came
with his horses and with his chariot to visit
Elisha ; here that Jehu gave a lift to Jehonadab,


the son of Rechab ; here that Ahab, who had
at least the virtue of courage, was propped up
to lead the battle while his life-blood streamed
into the midst of his chariot, to be licked by
the dogs when it was washed in the pool at
Sebaste, whither we were hastening in the morn-
ing sunshine.

We passed through two or three villages, each
with its gardens and springs, and noted the
beauty of the women — a rare sight here, where
a woman is a grandmother before thirty and a
withered hag at thirty-five. They are more
graceful, more shapely of limb, with better-set
heads than in Judaea, where a woman's comeli-
ness is measured by weight, especially among the
so-called beauties of Bethlehem. We turned
out of a well-wooded valley into a wide basin,
where a rounded hill, some 300 feet high, rose
suddenly in front of us, like an island in a lake,
which, in days when it was crowned with a
stately city of Greek architecture, and surrounded
at the base by a noble colonnade nearly 2000
yards in length, must have been, indeed, an
imposing spectacle.

Few spots in the whole of Palestine are pos-
sessed of associations more varied and interest-
ing than those of Sebaste, though its history


may be less familiar than that of other cities.
Always strategically important, protected by
mountains on three sides, looking clear out to
the Mediterranean on the fourth, one cannot
wonder that Omri should have recognised its
value as a stronghold ; nor that it should have
withstood several prolonged sieges, one lasting
until one mother said to another : " Give thy
son that we may eat him to-day, and we will
eat my son to-morrow," and till an ass's head
was sold for fourscore shekels. It must have
been down below, in the plain across which we
are riding, that a curiously dramatic scene was
enacted when the lepers, obliged, even in times
of siege, to sit in the gate, argued among them-
selves that they might as well die by the hand
of the enemy, with a chance of food, as sit where
they were, with the certainty of starvation — and
so ventured into the camp of the Syrians, to
find that an aural hallucination of the sound of
horses and chariots had caused their flight, so
that the poor pariahs "went into one tent, and
did eat and drink, and carried thence silver and
gold, and raiment, and went and hid it ; and
came again, and entered into another tent,
and carried thence also, and went and hid it."
Even the Assyrians blockaded Samaria for


three years before they could possess it.
Alexander the Great, Ptolemy Lagos, John
Hyrcanus — each in turn invested this little
hill rising before us, so green and smiling in
the midday sunshine, always an enviable pos-
session. Picture after picture rose before our
minds as we rode across the fertile plain, but
none more vivid than that of the days of its
Greek grace, its Roman luxury, as interpreted
by Herod, who named it Sebaste — Greek for
Augusta — in honour of his patron, Augustus, who
had bestowed upon him the site of the city
demolished by Hyrcanus over a century before,
though to some degree restored by Gabinius,
the successor of Pompey.

Herod it was, who raised the colonnades and
gateways which we were approaching ; who built
a city, according to Josephus, two miles and a
half in circumference ; who beautified it with
palace and theatre and hippodrome ; who made
it a recruiting centre whence his veterans could
collect mercenary troops ; who substituted the
worship of Caesar for the worship of Baal, in a
temple, whereof the ruins lie a few score yards
beyond those of the great Gothic cathedral of
the Crusaders, now turned into a mosque — the
site having been originally chosen as that of a


basilica, in honour of the tradition that the body
of St John the Baptist was here buried, a tradi-
tion dating, at least, from St Jerome. The
tombs of Obadiah and Elisha are also shown in
the same rock-hewn chamber.

Well might Isaiah call such a spot " The
pride of Ephraim, the flower of his glorious
beauty, which is on the head of the fat
valley ! " and when, in addition to all the gifts
of Nature, we add all that wealth and art could
command, we cannot help reflecting, as on a
score of occasions during our journey, here and
in Moab, upon the persistent fashion in which
history and fact are falsified by conventionality.
The literature and art of a thousand years, the
teaching of one's childhood, the wilful misappre-
hension of modern travellers, the conventional
treatment of works of devotion, have combined
to impress a great number of sincere and devout
persons with the general idea that the surround-
ings of our Lord somewhat resembled those of a
Highland fishing village; whereas — in Jerusalem,
in Jericho, along the shores of Gennesaret, in
Tyre and Sidon, in Caesarea Philippi, in the
cities of the Decapolis, and here in Sebaste — His
eyes must have rested upon architecture and
sculpture which, even in decay and ruin, are still


a revelation of beauty to such as ourselves,
accustomed to the ineffectiveness of the Thames
Embankment and the trivialities of Trafalgar
Square. Here in this little country of Palestine,
two thousand years ago, were palaces and for-
tresses, theatres and hippodromes, temples, baths,
colonnades, porticos, triumphal arches, forums, to
which Europe, in this twentieth century, with all
her boasted science, her educated " masses," her
"art for the million," is at least wise enough to
attempt no rivalry. In a Bedawin tent we may
recreate the life of the patriarchs, and realise that
Abraham was but a wealthy shech ; in many
a fellah village we may find such kings as
the thirty - two who reinforced Benhadad ; we
may find everywhere types of half the characters,
of most of the manners and customs, of the New
or Old Testaments. The everlasting hills re-
main ; the stars, as the sand of the sea, still shine
out in millions, which in the West the ordinary
observer can never look upon ; the flowers
spring up for us as for Solomon ; the patient
beasts are but intermittently remembered now
as in Holy Writ ; the dog is still the victim and
not the friend of man ; the sheep follow their
shepherd — at his voice they separate from the
goats ; the poor are always with us — but only a


strong effort of imagination, only familiarity with
traditions of classic art and luxury, can revive
for us the glory of the cities, "over whose acres
walked those blessed feet."

On this subject at least may we here enlarge
our notions, and " divest our mind of cant ! " May
we realise something of the glory of the Tempta-
tion-vision of our Lord, something of the aesthetic
beauty over which He, beholding, wept ; may
imagine somewhat of the stones and the buildings
which were there ; may conceive the contrast
between the cave - stable of Bethlehem and
Herodium, the castle of the Herods, which
frowned down upon the Jewish village ; between
the little group which surrounded the Master
when He paused to heal the blind beggars of
Jericho, and the sensuous beauty of the city,
with its subtropical vegetation, and its luxurious
winter homes.

Even Jerash, more perfect in its remains, im-
pressed us less than Sebaste, so unique as to
beauty and dignity of position. The mosque,
although rich in frag'ments of what must have
been a grand cathedral in the days when Sebaste
was a bishopric — the title is still owned by the
Greek Church — has been too recently restored,
after destruction by fire, to be very interesting.


Our attention was, in fact, somewhat diverted
by some handsome Arab boys playing unmiti-
gated hockey within the precincts. On the north
sides are the outlines of a square fortress, with
corner towers, probably a home of the knights
of St John. Mutilated remains of the Maltese
cross are still to be traced on many of the stones
scattered about Sebaste. M. de Vogue, who
seems to have been the first to show, in plan, a
restoration of the buildings, considers that, next
to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, this was
the most important reconstruction of crusading
times. The length is almost 165 feet, the breadth
75. The decoration of the capitals is of the
beautiful palm pattern, the arches of the apse
are pointed.

" Baedeker," to whom all this was already
familiar, proceeded with the horses to the top
of the hill to superintend the servants' preparation
for luncheon, as time was precious. We found
him, half-an-hour later, sitting in the midst of
a group of shechs — young men, women, and
children hovering in the background. With their
usual absorbent interest in politics — the greater
for the rarity of its gratification — they had
assembled to hear the latest news, and had
worked backwards from the new railway and the


troubles in Macedonia — which had called into
service Arab soldiery from all parts of Palestine,
and had been the excuse for special taxation —
to the Boer War, the Armenian question, and
the visit to Palestine of the German Emperor,
— the great epoch of the modern history of
Syria — the occasion of new buildings, new roads,
new uniforms, new trade, and a general clean-
ing-up along the line of route, with which only
the orders issued during the cholera scare of
1903 could in any degree be compared.

With the usual courtesy of the Moslem
Oriental, so different from the unabashed curiosity
of Europeans and the Europeanised, they with-
drew when we made preparations for food, the
two or three actually engaged in conversation
too important to interrupt, emphasising the
occasion for discretion, by throwing stones at
others who approached too closely. Some
children, many of singular beauty, retired behind
a neigrhbourinor wall, and for some time lacked
courage to pick up the dainties we threw to them.
When we made our final move numbers came
up to offer coins, fragments of carving and
specimens of carnelian, lapis-lazuli, and crystal.
One especial treasure was an abominable bracelet,
of the type of art sold at exhibitions, and lost —


to her advantage — by some tourist — not, fortun-
ately, that many tourists visit Sebaste, as was
shown by the superior manners of the people
and the absence of demand for backsheesh. The
village is entirely Moslem, and all behaved with
self-respecting" dignity, if we except, perhaps, one
boy who pulled gently at the Doctor's blond
locks, to see if they grew upon his head ; and
some men who, greatly interested in our spirit-
lamps, put a match to the weeds upon which we
emptied one before packing, with a childish
pleasure in, as he said, "setting fire to water."
One of the many cheap conveniences of this
country is the fact that one gets an imperial pint
of spirits of wine — no miserable " methylated "
substitute — for about eightpence ; but we have
never found it in a Moslem village, where the
use of alcohol is, of course, forbidden by religion.
With much hesitation and politeness some of
the men asked leave to examine a small revolver
belonging to one of the party, which excited
great admiration, the firearms of the country
places being often of a very primitive description,
sometimes of such a size that one wonders how
they are carried. It is very rare, however, to
meet an Arab, beyond the towns, who is not fully
armed, even if his weapon be a flintlock six feet


in length. It was a curious conjunction of the
new and the old, when Khalil stopped a shepherd
one day to ask for a light for his cigarette, a
dainty Egyptian, which we had given him. The
peasant produced a piece of a table-knife, picked
up a flint off the roadside, tore a scrap of blue
cotton from his ragged garment, and in an instant
Khalil was made happy as only tobacco in any
form could make him.

A self-constituted guide dispersed the crowd,
and conducted us round the hill, that we might
more closely observe the colonnade, some 20
yards wide, and originally over 1800 yards long.
All the columns have lost their capitals and
architraves, but are still 16 feet high, some being
monoliths. Besides, perhaps, over a hundred
still standing, columns and fragments of columns
are scattered in all directions — a lesson in the
history of Tells and the exaltation of the valleys
of Palestine. Many were still on the surface of
the ground, still more were half buried, of others
only the projecting stones of the base remained
visible ; while here and there the observant, or
rather, perhaps, the experienced, eye, could
perceive by the contour of the ground that
hidden treasure of sculpture lay concealed. The
soil is deep, and, for the most part, cultivated ;


for the hill of Sebaste is no rocky scarp, and
in ten years much of all this will have disap-
peared. A separate mound, a little away to the
west, is said by some to be the site of Ahab's
ivory palace, and might repay exploration.
Happily, the Germans seem able to obtain fir-
mans at will, having probably inspired confi-
dence, even in a suspicious Government, by the
liberality and thoroughness of their excavations.

We longed to linger among so much that was
beautiful both in art and nature — the green hill
sloping gently to the wooded plain, the hills eight
miles away opening towards the west, where the
intensely blue waters of the Mediterranean,
though distant a score of miles, sparkled gaily
in the sunshine. Little wonder that the sun-
worshipping peoples should have here erected
temples to the great god, whose majesty was
shown to them in the smile of the sea and the
glory of the sunset ! Little wonder that the great
Syrian princess, Jezebel, should have rejoiced in
the ivory palace looking across to the northern
shore she had known in her childhood's home.

One parts so reluctantly from what is beautiful
that some of us resented almost angrily a re-
minder that it was possibly at yonder gateway
that the dogs licked up the blood of Ahab ; that


on this smiling plain Jezebel slew the prophets
of Jehovah ; and Jehu, with still greater brutality,
the priests of Baal and the family of the king ;
that here also Herod murdered Mariamne,
strangled his sons, and, possibly, beheaded John
the Baptist. 1

Our last visit was to the hippodrome, lying in
a bay of the hill to the north-east — a fine natural
position for such a purpose (480 by 60 yards).
Many fragments of columns yet remain, appar-
ently belonging to this noble circus, but which
some have alleged to belong to a second colon-
nade at right angles to the first, such as we saw
at J crash. Finally, as we descended to the
bottom of the valley to the north-east, we passed
another plateau, strewn with massive columns,
but a few of which remain upright, probably the
forum of the Herodian city, and noted here and
there some fine sarcophagi. A ride of four and
a half hours was still before us, some of which
was over paths of a nature to be traversed, if
possible, by daylight, and we might not linger.

^ Another tradition, more probable, though with less dramatic
fitness, places the scene of the execution at Machcerus, east of the
Dead Sea.



" Consider with me that the individual existence is a rope which
stretches from the infinite to the infinite, and has no end, and no
commencement, neither is it capable of being broken. This rope,
passing as it does through all places, suffers strange accidents."

17^0 R the first fifty minutes our road lay, for

the most part, upward, constantly offering

glorious views, especially in retrospect, and then,

after crossing a green and wooded plateau, we

began once more to descend to the north-east,

and at the village of Jeba, after passing through

a pleasant district, well covered with fruit gardens,

found ourselves, about an hour later, once more

on the ordinary highroad from Nablus to Jenin.

We looked with interest at the village of Saniir,

with its ruined fortress, monument to '' Some

village Hampden that with dauntless breast The

petty tyrant of his fields withstood," some eighty

years ago. The petty tyrant was the Pasha of

Acre, who besieged, and with difficulty captured,

the fortress manned by the independent villagers,

whose courage must have impressed the authorities,

for they had the cowardice to destroy the fortifica-


tion entirely. A little farther on we rode across
a low plain which resembled the bed of a large
lake, perfect in islands and peninsulas, and
which bore the descriptive name of the Meadow
of Sinking In — Merj-el-Gharak. Fortunately for
us it was fairly dry, and we were able to press
forward over its green surface, urged on by
" Baedeker," who assured us of two bad descents
which would be trying to the nerves and, what
mattered more, the riding powers of the Artist,
who was somewhat inexperienced in horseman-
ship, and, on the theory that December was a
cold month, so encumbered with clothing that
she had no seat whatever, and who having been
unwillingly persuaded to emulate the Lady's habit
of riding en cavalier courageously faced diffi-
culties by standing in her stirrups and balancing
herself upon the pommels. Of course, the stirrup
straps broke at frequent intervals, not having
adapted themselves to their new uses ; but the
accident was soon repaired, and the interval of
repose was good for the horse, happily as gentle
as a sheep, but who suffered also from the un-
wonted arrangement.

Fortunately, nothing more serious occurred to
detain us as we resisted the temptation to turn
aside to inspect Dotan, probably the Dothan


where poor little Joseph, after passing through
Shechem, fell into the hands of the Midianites,
who carried him into Egypt. Nablus, as we have
seen, being the only pass through the mountain

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Online LibraryA. (Ada) Goodrich-FreerIn a Syrian saddle → online text (page 11 of 19)