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Bishop Colenso's examination of the Pentateuch examined ; with an appendix online

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supply them with milk for their infant ehildren. The butter
and cheese which they could procure from the wandering tribes
in the valleys around Sinai, or make for themselves, could no
longer be obtained ; and they pined and fainted for stronger
food than the manna, especially under the fatigue of crossing
the stupendous pass over the mountain range which now was
close before them.

" What they should have done at this time was to press
energetically forward; and then, in a few days, they would
have had food and resources of all kinds on the ground south
of the patriarchal settlement ; where in fact they afterwards
found it for upwards of thirty-eight years. But this effort
they would not make. Here, accordingly, on three occasions
in this stage of the journey, their failure of trust is again con-
spicuously noted, with one of the causes that occasioned it, in
the lack of food. And here it is that we read how, in punish-
ment for their sloth and ignoble weakness, the food they lusted
after was miraculously furnished, in quantities inviting to
excesses that slew the mightiest of them, and smote down the
chosen men of Israel.

" In this manner they dug again for themselves graves of
lust and of transgression. Those graves lie somewhere near
the western side of the great Tih range, which now, at length,
taught and strengthened by their severe discipline, the people
girded themselves up to pass,'^ In respect of phj^sical effort

'* "Dr. Stewart, Tent and Khan, pp. 96, 159, 160; gives


and enterprise, this was incomparably more difficult than any-
thing they had undertaken. Along steep and rugged paths,
upon the edge of deep ravines, and on narrow ledges by the
sides of the stupendous hills, where the beasts moved on with
difficulty in single file — they, at length, reached the head of
the Elanitic Gulf; and there, under the palms of that beautiful
oasis of the desert, where the peninsula borders close on the
vast Arabian wilderness, they refreshed themselves after their
prodigious toil and excitement from the perils which they had
just undergone, and made their preparations for the effort of
the few remaining days, which took them on to Kadesh. Near
the encampment they found mercantile stations; and here, too,
their friendly relations with the Midianites in the neighbour-
hood procured for them some of the necessaries required in the
prosecution of their journey.

" It was in about eighteen months from the time when they
started from Egypt that we next find them advancing up the
broad sandy desert, that stretches its terrific length from the
head of the Elanitic Gulf to the Dead Sea, and settling, after
about three days' journey northward, at their encampment in
Kadesh. . . . This station was at the foot of that range which
extends, in confused and broken eminences, all along the western
side of the long path they had just traversed. . . . They would
find water there, and vegetation, shrubs, and trees — the nubk,
the acacia, probably the palm — in equal abundance with that
which they had found sufficient, through all seasons of the
year, in the neighbourhood of Sinai. With the Edomites, in
the blue mountain valleys which fronted them on the east, they
were on friendly terms ; and from them they could procure
corn sufficient for their needs. From this place, then, they
sent up into the highland country an adventurous company of
spies, or explorers, for the purpose of ascertaining the most

an interesting account of numerous cairns, or stone mounds,
which he found in this direction, two days' journey from the
convent, and which, as he reports, are known among the Be-
douins as Turbet el Yahoud, ' the Graves of the Jews.' "


practicable line of access into the promised territory ; and, for
forty days, they looked wistfully for the return of these
messengers, for they were anxious to move out of the oppres-
sive, stifling heat of the Arabah, on to the healthier as well as
more abundant region which was there above them, and which
they already regarded as their own possession.

"These were the circumstances, and this must have been
the state of mind, in which they awaited the return of the com-
missioned twelve, who were deputed as their forerunners. Their
alarm and disappointment, when these men brought back such a
discouraging report, especially in respect of the prowess of the
inhabitants, may be illustrated by their own superiority, in
respect of personal strength, to the Egyptians. Such as they
were in comparison with the slender, low-statured, and debili-
tated occupants of the Nile valley, the Hebrews had expected
to find themselves in relation to the possessors of the land,
whom they could then have easily displaced. They had
thought of an immediate conquest over races to whom they
were as much superior as to their keepers in the house of
bondage.'* . . . They were, therefore, naturally overcome by
consternation and despair when the facts were laid before them.
. . . ' Would it not be better,' they now asked, ' to return into
Egypt ?' And then was uttered the threatening which spurred
them to that wild rush, through the hill passes above them,
which was so disastrously repulsed, and which compelled them
to ascend in the only course now before them, through one of
the gentler openings farther south, on to that wide and ample
territory south of the patriarchal ground, where at length we
reach the scene of their history during this stage of it, for here
thirty-eight of the forty years of what is known as their
wanderings were passed. . . .

'* Judging from the mummies, the figures of the ancient
Egyptians were slight, and their stature averaged about five
and a half feet. . . . The contrast between them and the robust
descendants of the giant settlers in Hebron would naturally
strike the people with surprise and alarm, as described in
Numb. xiii. 28.


" . . . . This vast and open territory was marked by frequent
tracts of verdure and fruitfulness, where the long-practised
agricultural skill of the Hebrews might be put into profitable
activity. Even in the heart and centre of it, and under the
languid and unskilful operations of the wandering tribes w4iom
they dispossessed, they found corn and barley growing in con-
siderable quantities ; while the spaces covered with desert vege-
tation would be a continual surprise to them, as they moved
over the surface of the country, between its mountain bound-
aries and the sandy desert on the west towards Egypt. They
would carefully avoid settling for any time on this side of their
new territory, both on account of its barrenness, and to escape
contention with the armed companies moving to and fro
between the land of their late captivity and Palestine. On this
line they might, however, communicate with the caravans for
purposes of merchandise ; and as a granary, Egypt was within
their reach. Probably, extensive communities were then
occupying some of the oases of the country, where they fre-
quently found scenes of exquisite beauty, as well as abundant
means of pasturage and sustenance. High mountains were in
view from every part of it, and over its general surface there
was an aspect of massive grandeur and desolate sublimity, that
contrasted most favourably with the stations where their an-
cestors, the patriarchs, had settled.'^

'^ We crossed this part of the peninsula by Nukhl and
Beersheba. The following extracts from my journal will
convey some impression of its appearance. " Every step of our
journey to-day (April 6th, the second day after crossing the
Tih) has shown how abundant water was at one time here. , . .
Our course has almost entirely lain amongst the beds of ancient
torrents. . . . We met with continuous vegetation. The turfa
was abundant, but it does not bear manna here.— April 9th.
Again came on extensive spaces covered with vegetation.
Some acres, about a mile from Nukhl, are under field culti-
vation. In fact, a pure desert, z.e., a sandy or stony surface
without vegetation, has hitherto been the exception.— April
10th. Our camping ground to-night is on the borders of a wady
as fruitful and picturesque as Ghurnidel or Fairau ; grain is


" In its features and resources, and again in its relative
position with respect to the adjacent kingdoms, the region was
well adapted for the training of that generation w^hich was first
to enter on the place of the Hebrews as one amongst the nations
of the earth. There was freedom for the masses from cor-
ruptmg influences and from oppression, while the princes and
elders had opportunities, by means of the caravans which passed
on either side of them, to maintain the permanent advantages
they had acquired. Their position, in fact, combined the
advantages of both the previous positions of the people on the
patriarchal territory and in Egypt. Amidst these circumstances
Moses saw another generation rising up, under the strengthen-
ing discipline of their new life, free from the ignoble features
that were indelibly branded on their parents' soul, and under
the purifying and elevating influence of the polity and worship
that were now observed under his superintendence

" For it was another generation that came down through
one of the wadys in the west of the Arabah, from the high
table-lands of Paran into the broad wilderness highway that
lay outstretched, between the hills they were descending, and
the purple mountains of Edom before them on the east. They
could not have been ignorant of its sterility and arid desolation,
for it was visible to them whenever they approached its moun-
tain boundary on that side of their wide territory. Yet here
again the old rebellious, mistrustful spirit manifested itself, on
the failure of the waters in their former encampment at Kadesh.
The hopes of Moses, that he might yet see the success of

growinjQj on it and birds are singing ; and one might imagine
oneself at home, in the country, about the middle of INIay.
— April 13th. Soon after starting this morning we came upon
patches of ground under cultivation, and growing barley and

oats ; and further on we found extensive field enclosures

Reached Berein and rested under the first group of trees we
have seen since leaving the garden at Sinai. The whole country
(around Eboda) was at one time evidently under cultivation.
. . . There were wide grassy swards and ploughed fields just
before we reached this wady where we are now encamped."


the enterprise for which he had lived and toiled, were again
discouraged ; and he must also have been conscious of much
anxiety on account of their purpose to make their way up the
Ghor through the Edom provinces to the eastern side of Jordan.
Their request to advance in that direction, however, was refused.
The king of Edom naturally enough forbade the march of such
a formidable host through his mountain territory, and past the
neighbourhood of settlements and cities that were even then
wealthy with the stores of the great commerce which was being
carried forward by the land caravans across the Arabah desert,
and by the shipping in the Gulf of Elah. This refusal saved
the Israelites from a temptation which Moses, not less than the
king of Edom, must have dreaded, since it might have led them
to stop short of the true goal of their enterprise, and to settle
themselves in the attractive country to which they might even
suppose they could make out ancestral claims. Under the
king's prohibition, however, they were helpless ; for an attempt
to force a passage up those mountains, occupied and protected
by hostile troops, would have been infatuation.

"We now, therefore, see them compelled, in one of the
severest trials of their fortitude, to return on a southward
march down the Arabah, with the purpose of taking the route
bordering upon the great wilderness on the other side of the
Seir mountains, that so they might reach the provinces on the
east of the Jordan. This circuitous and dangerous path was,
however, the only one open to them, and so they girded them-
selves up in mind and bod^r to attempt it

" They went forward upon the long journey of more than
sixty miles, which yet lay between them and the head of the
eastern Red Sea Gulf; for this heated barren valley was not a
scene to tarry in longer than needful, . . . But before them were
the palm-groves of Elah, under whose green shades their
ancestors had stopped and refreshed themselves thirty-eight
years before, in a transient revival of their life beside the Nile.
As soon as they arrived at that resting-place they replenished
their stores from the commercial depots they found there, and
from the encampments of the friendly Midianites ; and then


they ascended the winding mountain- path which led up to the
higher ground bordering on the great desert, that stretched far
beyond them on the east, and they went along the already
well-trodden route of the caravans which, for centuries past,
had conveyed to Damascus and the north of Syria the mer-
chandise of Egypt and of Ethiopia.

" Their relations with Edom compelled them to keep a line
of march on the very outskirts of the great sandy shadeless
waste, stretching far on to the Persian Gulf, which was even
more terrible than the desert highway they had just left,
beyond the mountains that now stood low, compared with their
elevation as they had before been seen on the west.'^ So the
soul of the people ' w^as here naturally much discouraged, be-
cause of the way.' In truth, their circumstances at this time
were more trying, and even apparently more desperate, than
any their ancestors had ever encountered in their marchings.
One week's earnest endeavour might, indeed, have carried them
to the end of their embarrassment ; and, as was afterwards
shown, there were amongst them many who were capable
of such an effort, and w^ho earnestly expostulated with the
feebler, the ignoble, and rebellious spirits who impeded them so
much by their complaints. They, for failing in that effort, were
severely punished. The ' fiery serpents ' of this region added
new horrors to their sufferings from heat, and fatigue, and
drought. This severe visitation, however, like former ones,
purified the camp of its pests and troublers ; for the efficacy of
the cure provided for it was discriminative, so that it took effect
only on those who were walling to go forward on their remain-
ing path cordially and with valiant trust. For the rest, the
faithless and the ignoble, they were left in their desert graves ;
and another mound of death w^as raised in awful testimony of

'^ The road taken by the people coincided w^ith the present
Haj route from Damascus to Mecca, and the towns and villages
situated in it now supply the pilgrim caravans, as the Edomites
supplied the marching Hebrews ; selling to them water and
their field produce as it was required. Deut. ii. 28, 29.


their guilty unfaithfulness in the vocation with Avhich they had
been called.

" In a very few days after this last visitation, they were on
those same open downs melting away in the great desert, over
which they had wished to make a direct march, when they re-
quested a passage through the territories of the king of Edom.
His country, which they passed on the east of it, reminded them
of the best parts of the Paran uplands, whose familiar heights
they could now discern in some of the prospects that now
opened before them on the south-west. There were in view the
well-known hills, under whose shades the lives of all, save
three of them, had been passed. The same aspect of the country
was continued in the possessions of the friendly tribe of Moab,
on the borders of whose territory they paused to refresh and
recruit their forces. Here the grey hills on the other side of
Jordan were distinctly visible, and just in front of them they
could look on the eastern boundaries of the Land of the Patri-
archs. They took up their position at the head of the valley
which gives its name, Arnon, to the springs that come through
a broad cleft in the north-east coast of the Dead Sea, leaving
beyond them, on the other side of the wildly beautiful and
richly wooded ravine, on the south of which they were en-
camped, a country even more picturesque and fruitful than
any they had seen since they left their resting-place at

Here their long discipline, in preparation for the
conquest and occupation of the land that had been
promised to them, ended. — And now, reviewing the
account which you see thus illustrated, step by step,
by means of an inspection of the ground over which the
historian carries us, — the narrative itself, be it observed,
being obtained by means of a searching comparison be-
tween two separated portions of his record, — you sec
how truly it may be affirmed that the coincidence is


absolutely perfect between the circumstances of bis
history and the respective localities in the peninsula to
which he has assigned them. The topographical de-
tails given by him are reflected, with most accurate
precision, in the present aspect of the country ; and —
as you observed I intimated in passing — traces of an
earlier condition of greater fertility and cultivation
continually deepen in the traveller's mind this sense of
an absolutely perfect conformity between the narrative
and the ground and framework of its occurrence.
Hence the first tests by which we naturally examine
our writer^s trustworthiness are satisfied. And, as I
have before reminded you, the interior agreements and
the ''undesigned coincidences,'' between separated parts
of each book of his history, and again between each
book in its entireness, and the remaining four, are not
less remarkable than the accuracy of its exterior rela-
tion.i^ ^i-e we not, then, entitled to say that, so far,
the Pentateuch justifies the account which was given
of it when it was put into our hands, under such high
sanction and authority ? Surely we may here conclude
that, if ever authentic history was written, these books
of Moses contain the record of historical circumstances
as reai as any that ever occurred on earth, and that
have been transacted in the history of men.

Innumerable students, after many years of unfet-
tered as well as of trustful and reverent inquiry into the
subject, have deliberately come to this conclusion.
" See Appendix.


Yet here, in this part of the ^' story '^ especially, Dr.
Colenso finds " a series of manifest contradictions and
inconsistencies, which leave us, it would seem, no alter-
native but to conclude that main portions of the story
of the Exodus, though based probably on some real
historical foundation, yet are certainly not to be
regarded as historically true It has been writ-
ten^' — i. e. it has been compiled or edited — "from
the ancient legends of the people, though with no
more consciousness of doing wi'ong, or of practising
historical deception, than Homer had, or any of the
early Roman annalists/^ — Pp. xi, xvii.

For, first, as one main reason for this conclusion.
Dr. Colenso asks. How it is possible to account for the
sustenance of such an immense multitude, with their
cattle and herds, in a country such as the peninsula is
described, both by modern travellers and by Scripture,
as being, and this during a period of forty years ? Then
(pp. 65-78) he collects, and comments upon, the reports
of observers, who speak of its " bare and barren plains
of sands," of its " entire desolation,^' of its " extreme
scarcity of water," and of its lack "of anything that can
properly be called soil." And he says, " It cannot be
pretended that the state of the country through which
the people travelled has undergone any material change
from that time to this. It is described as being then
what it is now, a ^ desert land,' a ^ waste, howling
wilderness.^ " On this difiiculty he has expended his
chief force in his longest and most elaborate chapter.


replying, at considerable lengthy and in a manner
whicli I shall soon notice, to the considerations which
Drs. Stanley and Kalisch have brought forward in
order to mitigate^ if not remove_, it.

Now that the above quotations describe with accu-
racy some parts of the peninsula is evident from the
history itself, and this fact appears plainly in what I
may call the illustrated version of it, which I have just
placed before you. Indeed, it is in connexion with
such portions of his narrative that we observe an indi-
cation of the sacred writer^s accuracy and truthfulness,
since it is just where he is following the people through
these stages of their journey that, as I before said, he
represents them as distressed and exhausted by their
enterprise, and consequently desirous to abandon it.
But it is not less certain that to a very considerable
— nay, to by far the larger — part of the ground in
question, the phrases which Dr. Colenso has collected
are wholly inappropriate. "Bare and barren plains/^
" entire desolation,^^ &c., are descriptions ridiculouslv
unsuitable to immense portions of the 18,000 square
miles which are comprised in the surface of this
country, and especially so to that portion in which at
least thirty-eight of the forty years of the wanderings
were passed. In the configuration and levels of its
surfaces, and, indeed, in all its physical characteristics,
the peninsula includes regions of the most varied
character. Its soil, and climate, and its resources,
are singularly diversified. In some parts no waste


places can exceed its arid, dreary barrenness ; in others
it is fertile, abundantly watered, and romantic in the
beauty, and even magnificence, of its prospects. On
its lower grounds, indeed, the heat is terribly op-
pressive, but among the mountains around Sinai, and
upon the Paran highlands, you .breathe an air so
stimulating and invigorating, that it is, in fact, at the
present time, the yearly resort of numerous invalids,
who would be loath to exchange the scenes of their
" desert tour " for the most favourite regions in Swit-
zerland, or the Tyrol. You must have gathered thus
much from my own- description; and here let me, in
addition, quote a few sentences from the Journal of
Miss ]\Iartineau, who may well be regarded as an
unexceptionable witness in this cause.

" Here," (i.e. on the same ground which Dr. Colenso, com-
menting on Stanley's words, describes as " bare and barren
plains of sand ") '• I came upon a clump of palms ... in the midst
of this clump was a well ; and along the deep water-course, for a
considerable distance, tamarisks, acacias, and palms, were scat-
tered and clumped. . . . Soon after remounting we came upon
a string of muddy pools, where our camels drank. Everywhere
in the desert we were surprised hy the number of water-courses.,
and the traces of torrents. ... It is curious that while no rain
falls in the almost parallel and not distant Nile valley, there
should be abundant rain in this peninsula, usually in December
and January. We saw a good many pigeons (comp. Colenso.,
p. 125), and a few other birds ;'^ and under almost QXQry bush

'^ I find this entry in my own Journal. April 4th, (the day of
crossing the Tih) " Saw a'fli^ht of birds, thousands in number
. . . which at last vanished m the distance, like a cloud."


were the holes of the little jerboas, . . . Our place of encamp-
ment this (i.e. the next) evening was very charming. The
scenery the next morning was transporting.'' . . . Then, after
leaving Sinai, and while on one of the most trying portions of
the journey, she writes, " But we turned up among granite
mountains again, and found ourselves in a gorge, compared
with whose summits Sinai and Horeb appeared almost in-
significant. Ever}'^ winding disclosed something finer than we
had yet met with ; and at last we came upon a scene to which
we remembered no parallel. We all knew Switzerland, and
we all agreed that not even there had we seen anything so
magnificent as this Wadee-el-Ain, the Valley of the Spring. . , .
Presently we proceeded more slowly still, most willingly, for
we felt we could hardly linger too long. As we turned into
Wady Weteer we came upon a scene which might almost be
called verdant. The asphodel and other plants which grew on
perches, and in crevices of the red rock, were of the liveliest
green, while tamarisks spread their sprawling growth on all

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Online LibraryGeorge Smith DrewBishop Colenso's examination of the Pentateuch examined ; with an appendix → online text (page 5 of 12)