James Silk Buckingham.

Travels in Palestine, through the countries of Bashan and Cilead, east of the River Jordan; including a visit to the cities of Geraza and Gamala, in the Decapolis (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryJames Silk BuckinghamTravels in Palestine, through the countries of Bashan and Cilead, east of the River Jordan; including a visit to the cities of Geraza and Gamala, in the Decapolis (Volume 2) → online text (page 23 of 26)
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such similarity of position, when he enumerates,
among the chief cities of Palestine, " Sebaste
upon the mountain, and Gamala, which yet
stands higher than it." #

Nearly on the summit of the hill, but rather
on the western side, so as not to be seen on
passing by from the road below, are the remains
of a large street, lined by an avenue of columns
on each side, probably the principal one of the
city, and leading, apparently, to the place of the
city-gate. There are eighty-three of these
columns now erect, and some others fallen, but
all of them are without capitals. The people
of the country have a tradition that they are a
part of Herod's palace ; and the probability is,

* Plin. Nat. Hist. I. v. c. 13.


..that they are at least a portion of the avenue to
the temple which he built, It may be, indeed,
the " Sacred place of a furlong and a half long,"
which Joseph us says "he built about the middle
of the city, and adorned with all sorts of deco-
rations, and therein erected a temple, which was
illustrious on account of both its largeness and
beauty." The area which these pillars cover,
is better calculated for building on than any
other part of the hill, and though the fallen
fragments of masonry scattered about leave
nothing definite to be traced of a plan, without
more time than we could spare to the task, yet
sufficient still remains to prove that there were
once other buildings there besides the one
marked out by these columns. If these only
remain erect while the other parts of the work
have fallen to decay, this is chiefly from the
firmness of their hold as pillars, which are
generally the last part of ancient edifices
that fall, and which often retain their origi-
nal place, when every trace beside has disap-

On the eastern side of the hill, and also near
the summit, are the remains of another building,
of which eight large and eight small columns are
still standing, with many others fallen near them.
These are also without capitals, and are of a


smaller size, and of an inferior stone to the others,
and they were probably of the Doric order ori-
ginally, to judge by the appearance of their pro-
portions and intercolumniation ; for we had not
time to measure them. The foundations of the
building, to which they might have belonged,
cannot now be traced, though there are blocks
of stone and fallen pillars scattered about near
it ; but the appearance of the ground, which, it
must be admitted, is always liable to have been
affected by subsequent accident, induced a con-
jecture that these pillars formed avenues of
approach to a theatre, now destroyed. I know of
no positive mention of such an edifice atSebaste;
but it is known that Herod, in his embellishment
of Caesarea, constructed theatres, amphitheatres,
and places for the public games of Rome and
Greece *, and even appointed solemn games to
be celebrated every fifth year, in honour of
Csesar, and built a theatre at Jerusalem, and an
amphitheatre in the plain, both costly works, but
contrary to the Jewish customs, t It will be at
least admitted, therefore, that such edifices as
those were thought by him to be appropriate or-
naments of a great city, and that no respect for
the religious prejudices of the country would

* Wars of the Jews, b. i. c. 21. s. 8.
| Ant. of the Jews. b. xv. c. 8. s. 1.


prevent liis adorning Sebaste with them, after
they had been erected at Jerusalem, more par-
ticularly as it is said, (< And as to the several
parts of the city, he adorned them with decora-
tions of all sorts." *

In the walls of the humble dwellings now
forming the modern village of Sebaste, portions
of sculptured blocks of stone are perceived, and
even fragments of granite pillars have been
worked into the masonry, while other vestiges
of former edifices are occasionally seen scattered
widely about, t

The most conspicuous object of all the remains
of Sebaste, as seen from the road below in ap-
proaching it, is, however, the ruins of the most
modern structure erected in it, except the habi-
tations of the poor villagers themselves, namely,
a large cathedral church, attributed to the piety
of St. Helena. Sebaste, or Samaria, as it is more
generally called in the New Testament, was
among the earliest of those cities whose inhabit-
ants embraced Christianity through the preach-

* Ant. of the Jews, b. xv. c. 9. s. 5.

■| Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Sebaste, and knew it to
be the ancient Samaria, thought these vestiges to be the re-
mains of the palace of Achab, king of Israel. He notices its
situation on a high mountain, and speaks of it as a delicious
spot, from its fountains and gardens, and the beauty of the
surrounding: country. See Bergeron's Collection


ing and miracles of" Philip ; and among the num-
ber of his converts was Simon the sorcerer, or
Simon Magus, as he is called, who, from prac-
tising sorcery and bewitching the people of
Samaria, became a Christian, in order, as it
would seem, to purchase from the apostles by
money the power of communicating to others
the gift of the Holy Ghost. * St. Jerome says,
that it is thought Obadiah was buried at Sama-
ria ; and tradition fixes the sepulchres both of
Elisha and of John the Baptist on this spot.
Some bishops of this city are found to have sub-
scribed to the ancient councils of the church,
and probably Christianity nourished in it till the
conquest of Palestine by the Saracens ; but
whether it ever reverted again to the possession
of the original race of the Samaritans, whose
chief residence had been established at the She-
chem near their temple on Mount Gerizim, I
am not aware. In the days of St. Helena, it was
however honoured with a stately edifice, of the
same kind as the many other cathedrals and re-
ligious buildings erected by this devout old lady
over every part of the Holy Land, and whose
remains are now very considerable. This pile
was reared over the supposed prison in which
St. John the Baptist was confined, and from

* Acts of the Apostles, viii. 5 — 20.


whence his head was brought in a charger to
gratify the revenge of an angry woman, living
in reputed incest with her husband's brother,
and to fulfil an oath made to her daughter,
whose dancing pleased Herod and his captains,
when probaby heated with wine, at his birthday-
supper. *

This large church, whose remains still exist,
stands east and west, and is about one hundred
feet in length, by fifty in breadth. In the court
at the west end are two apertures, leading down
to a large subterranean reservoir for water, well
stuccoed on the inside, and now nearly dry ;
though during the rains it often becomes filled
to the brim. On the south side are high slender
buttresses, and on a piece of building without
this is a sloping pyramidal mole, constructed of
exceedingly large stones. The northern wall is
quite plain ; the eastern front is semicircular, with
three open and two closed windows, each con-
tained in arches divided from each other by three
Corinthian columns.

The interior of the eastern front has a pointed
arch, and columns of no known order, though
the capitals approach nearer to the Corinthian
than to any other. The eight small arches
which go round the tops of the windows within,

* St. Mark, vi. 21.


are semicircular, and have each at their spring
the capital of a column, but no shaft attached
to it ; the great arch of the recess is pointed,
and the moulding that passes round it is fantastic
in the extreme. Among other things seen
there, are the representations of scaly armour,
an owl, an eagle, a human figure, and an angel,
all occupying separate compartments, and all
distinct from each other.

The exterior of the eastern front presents a
still more singular mixture of style, as the point-
ed and the round arch are both used in the
same range, and the ornaments of each are
varied. In the lower cornice are human heads,
perhaps in allusion to the severed head of the
Baptist ; and there are here as fantastic figures
as on the inside, the whole presenting a strange
assemblage of incongruous ornaments in the
most wretched taste.

The masonry appeai-s .in some parts to have
been exceedingly solid, in others only mode-
rately good ; and in some places, weak and
paltry ; and at the west end, in a piece of build-
ing apparently added since the original con-
struction of the church itself, are seen several
blocks of sculptured stone, apparently taken
from the ruins, and worked into the present
masonry there.

On the inside of this ruined edifice, is a small


mosque, erected over the supposed dungeon in
which St. John was executed ; and an Arab
family, who claim the guardianship of this sanc-
tuary, have pitched their dwelling on the south-
west angle of the great church, where it has the
appearance of a pigeon-house. On learning that
I was a Moslem, we were all admitted into this
mosque, which we entered with becoming reve-
rence. They have collected here the white
marble slabs, found amid the ruins of the
church, to form a pavement ; and in one part
we noticed three large pieces with sculptured
circles and bands on them, which were set up in
the wall as tablets.

The mosque itself is a small oblong room,
with steps ascending to an oratory, and its only
furniture is a few simple lamps and some clean
straw mats for prayer, the recess of the Caaba
being in the southern wall. From the mosque,
we descended by a narrow flight of steps to the
subterranean chamber or dungeon of St. John,
which had all the appearance of having been an
ancient sepulchre. It was not more than ten
feet square, and had niches as if for the recep-
tion of corpses, in arched recesses on each side.
There was here, too, one of those remarkable
stone doors, which seem to have been exclusively
appropriated to tombs, resembling exactly in
e e 2


fbnti and size those described in the Roman
sepulchres at Oom Kais. The panneling, the
lower pivot, and the sill in the ledge for re-
ceiving the bolt, were all still perfect ; but the
door was now unhung, and lay oji its side against
the wall.

( 421 )



After taking some bread and olive oil, as a
meal of hospitality with the Sheikh oi' Subusta,
we quitted it about eleven o'clock, and from
hence our road lay for half an hour over hills of
siliceous stone, going constantly to the southward
until we opened upon the long valley of Nab-
lous, running nearly east and west.

We turned off to the eastward, leaving on our
right the village of Beit Eiba, on the side of the
hill ; Beit Oozan, a smaller one, just above it ;
and on the summit of the range, an enclosed
town with walls and towers, called Aijeneid, all
peopled by Mohammedans. The valley here is
really beautiful, being covered with woods of
olives, corn fields now green, reservoirs of water,
gardens, aqueducts in different directions, both
arched and plain, and all the marks of industry,
opulence, and abundance.

We continued our way easterly through this
valley, and at noon approached Nablous by the

e e 3



lower road, scarcely seeing it until we were
near the gate. Just without it we passed through
some grounds where several parties were spin-
ning, winding off, and bleaching cotton thread ;
and soon afterwards we entered at the western
gate. Passing through a narrow but crowded
bazar, we halted at a public khan, and directed
our first enquiries to know when the Damascus
caravan would set out. What was my mortifi-
cation to learn that it departed three days
since, that there remained not the least hope of
overtaking it, and that no other would go from
hence for at least a month to come ! I crew
almost desperate at this information, and had I
not been restrained, would have really set out
immediately to follow it alone. A moment's
consideration convinced me, however, that this
would be rashness rather than enterprise, and
that there was no remedy but in a patient search
for some other occasion.

The horseman sent with me by Hadjee
Ahmed Gerar, insisted that, as the caravan was
gone, and we were perfect strangers here, he
could not leave me until some arrangements
should be made for our future proceeding ; but
recommended that I should return with him to
Sanhoor, whither he would conduct me in
safety. This was therefore assented to, as the
only alternative remaining ; hut as there was
e e 4


yet ample time to return before sunset, we
halted for an hour to repose our horses, to cast
our eyes around on the leading features of the
place, and to make, in the mean time, a visit to
the well of Samaria,, to the eastward of the

The name of Sichem, which is one of the
most ancient of those by which this place is
known, appears, like that of Samaria, to have
been applied to a district of country at first.
On Abram's coming from Haran into the land
of Canaan, he is said to have " passed through
the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the
plain of Moreh." * It is said also, in the history
of Jacob's journeyings, that " he came to Sha-
lem f> a city of Shechem, which is in the land of
Canaan, when he came from Padan-Aram, and
pitched his tent before the city."t The name
too was evidently derived from that of the son
of Hamor the Hurite, the prince of the country,
whose name was Shechem. § Josephus, how-

* Genesis, xii. 6.

f Some critics have thought that as Shalem or Salem sig-
nifies peace, safety, &c. in Hebrew, the original of this passage
should be rendered thus : " And he came in peace and safety
to the city of Shechem." (Anc. Un. Hist. vol. iii. p. 289. 8vo.)
which woidd therefore be meant only of the city of Shechem,
so called from the prince of that name, who is expressly said to
have been more honourable than all the house of his father.
Genesis xxxiv. If).

X Gen. xxxiii. 18. § Ibid, xxxiv. 2.


ever, calls Shechem " a city of the Canaanites,"
and the inhabitants of it, Shechemites. * From
these children of Hamor, the patriarch bought a
parcel of a field here, where he had spread his
tent, for an hundred pieces of money ; and
erected an altar, probably with a view to make
it his permanent abode, t And indeed, this
parcel of ground was held so sacred among his
descendants, that the bones of Joseph, who died
in Egypt, were brought up from thence to be
buried here, and it became the inheritance of
his children. X

It was after this apparent settlement among
them, that Dinah, his daughter, went into the
city, during the celebration of a festival among
the Shechemites, to see the finery of the women
of that country §, or as the Scriptures express it,
" She went out to see the daughters of the
land." || This young Mesopotamian girl was,
however, so much more beautiful or fascinating
than those she had gone out to behold, that when
Shechem, the son of Hamor, the Hivite, prince
of the country, saw her, he took her, and lay
with her, and defiled her. % Nor was it seem-
ingly the momentary gratification of sensual

* Ant. Jud. 1. i. c. xxi. s. 1. f Gen. xxxiii. 19, 20.

J Joshua, xxiv. 32. § Ant. Jud. 1. i. c. 21. s. 1

|| Gen.xxxiv. 1. ^[ Gen. xxxiv. 2.


passion which allured him, for " his soul clave
unto Dinah, and he loved the damsel, and spoke
kindly unto # her." And when difficulties
arose about his legal marriage with her, he re-
plied, in all the vehemence of a young and
ardent lover, if Ask me never so much dowry
and gift, and I will give according as ye shall
say unto me ; but give me the damsel to wife."t
The Scriptures say, that all the males of She-
chem underwent circumcision to obviate the
difficulties of an alliance with the family of
Jacob ; but Josephus omits the mention of this,
though both authorities agree in the dreadful
vengeance that was taken on them. This was
no less than the slaughter of every male with the
edge of the sword, by the two brothers of Dinah,
Simeon and Levi, who could not, it seems,
admit that the honour of their sister was re-
deemed by marriage, and who were as tenacious
on the point of female purity as the Arabs of
this same country continue to be to the pre-
sent hour.

So great a destruction committed in a city by
only two individuals, is differently accounted
for by the different authorities already cited.
Josephus, who mentions nothing of the circum-
cision of the males, says, " It being now the

* Genesis, x.wiv. 3. -j- Ibid. xxxiv 12.


time of a festival, when the Shechemites were
employed in ease and feasting, they fell upon
the watch when they were asleep, and coming
into the city, slew all the males, as also the
king, and his son with them, but spared the
women. And when they had done this without
their father's consent, they brought away their
sister." * The Scriptures say, that it was on
the third day after the circumcision of all the
males, and when they were yet sore from the
wound, that this act of hardihood was under-
taken. As in most of the cases of war and re-
venge in these early records, the mere slaughter
of their enemies, however great and terrible it
was, did not glut their vengeance, which was
wreaked even on the helpless bodies of the dead,
and on such of the unoffending wives and in-
fants as remained among the living. " The sons
of Jacob," says the inspired writer, after de-
scribing the slaughter itself, " came upon the
slain, and spoiled the city, because they had
denied their sister ; they took their sheep, and
their oxen, and their asses, and that which was
in the city, and that which was in the field, and
all their wealth, and all their little ones, and
their wives took they captive, and spoiled even
all that was in the house." t The authors of

* Joseph. Ant. Jud.l. 1. c. 21. s. I.
| Genesis, xxxiv. 27 — 29.


the Universal History characterise this act of
revenge as a treacherous and inhuman massacre
of the inhabitants, on the part of Dinah's bro-
thers ; and say that Jacob reproved them for
their barbarity ; though they add, that the rest
of the inhabitants of the country would, no
doubt, have made them pay dearly for it, had
not God interposed, and sent a panic-fear
amongst them, insomuch that they even let them
depart quietly, and carry off all the plunder they
had got from the slaughtered Shechemites. *

The most remarkable feature of this place
was its situation between the two mountains of
Gerizim and Ebal, or the mountain of blessing
and the mountain of cursing. These hills were
fixed on by Moses for the purpose of setting on
them the blessings and the curses which he pro-
posed to the children of Israel, after they should
have entered the land of Canaan ; and though
he could never have seen the hills himself, as he
did not live to enter the promised land, yet pro-
bably, from the information of his spies, he
speaks precisely of their local position, " Are
they not on the other side Jordan, by the way
where the sun goeth down, in the land of the
Canaanites, which dwell in the champaign, over
against Gilgal, beside the plains of Moreh." f

* Anc. Univ. Hist. vol. iii. b. \. -c.7. p. 289, 290. 8vo.
f Deut. xi. 30.


His successor, Joshua, having crossed the Jor-
dan, and taken Jericho, went up, after first
burning the city of Ai, and hanging its king on
a tree, and built an altar unto the God of Israel,
in Mount Ebal ; placing the one half of the
people here, and the other half on the opposite
mountain of Gerizim, he read to them from this
last all the words of the law, and pronounced
the blessings and the cursings to all the congre-
gation of Israel, with the women and the little
ones, omitting not a word of all that Moses had
commanded. * From this it would plainly ap-
pear, that these opposite hills were sufficiently
near for the human voice to be distinctly heard
from the summit of the one to the summit of
the other. A more remarkable instance may be
cited to prove, too, that though Josephus calls
Gerizim " the highest of all the mountains that
are in Samaria I," yet that the human voice
could be heard from its summit even in the
valley below. In the history of Abimelech,
who, after the practice of all pretenders to power
still in the same country, raised money with
which he hired vain and light persons to follow
him, and going into his father's house slew three-

* Joshua, viii. 28 — 35.

Shechem, with her suburbs in Mount Ephraim, was one of
the cities of refuge for the slayer. Joshua, xxi. 21 .
f Ant. Jud. 1. xi. c. 8. s. 2.


score and ten of his own brethren, on one block,
and so waded through the blood of his very
kinsmen to royalty, it is said, the youngest of
his brothers, Jothara, escaped by flight, and
when all the men of Shechem were gathered to-
gether in the plain # , where they made Abime-
lech king, he went up and stood on the top of
Mount Gerizim, and lifted up his voice to ad-
dress to those who were below ; one of the
earliest and most ingenious fables in holy writ, f
These facts, therefore, set the proximity of the
mountains beyond doubt, and limit their alti-
tudes to a moderate standard.

As has been before described, in speaking of
the destruction of Samaria, and the removal of
the Samaritans from thence, these people made
Shechem their chief abode, and Josephus men-
tions it as being their metropolis, and situate at
Mount Gerizim, where they had a temple, at

* This word, which in Hebrew is Alon, is by some trans-
lated " an oak ;" and the present version of our Scriptures
calls it " The plain of the pillar that was in Shechem." There
was an altar or pillar set up here by.Abram, (Gen. xii. 7,) and
another by Jacob, (Gen. xxxiii. 20.) There was also a cele-
brated oak at the same place, under which Jacob buried all
the strange gods and the profane ornaments of his household,
(Gen. xxxv. 4.) so that it might have been either of these three
that remained ; or even the great stone which Joshua set up
there long afterwards, under this very oak and altar, before his
death. (Joshua, xxiv. 26.)

j Judges, ix. 1 — 21.


the period at which Alexander the Great made
his visit to Jerusalem.* It is chiefly known,
afterwards, as the seat of these people, who
looked upon the adjoining mountain of Gerizim,
on which Moses had ordered the blessings to be
pronounced, to be the most holy of mountains ;
and though Joshua is said to have set up the
altar in Ebal, they hold that Moses himself had
buried certain sacred, vessels in Gerizim, though
he never came westward of the Jordan. As late
as the wars of Antiochus, and Hyrcanus the
high priest, in Syria, it still retained the name ;
for in speaking of the acts of the latter, Jose-
phus says " He took Medaba and Samea, with
the towns in their neighbourhood, as also She-
chem and Gerizim, and besides these [he sub-
dued] the nation of the Cutheans, who dwelt
round about that temple, which was built in
imitation of the temple at Jerusalem." t

In the time of Vespasian it was called Nea-
polis, or the new city, and it is reckoned among
the colonies planted, or towns restored by him.t
Pliny, in enumerating the cities of Palestine,
mentions Shechem under the name of Neapolis,
which he says was anciently called Mamortha,

* Joseph. Ant. Jud. 1. 11. c. 8. s. 6.

f Joseph. Wars of the Jews, b. 1. c. 2. s. 6\

\ Anc. Un. Hist. vol. xv. p. 36.


or Maxbota. * And Josephus, in detailing the
movements of Vespasian's army, in the Judean
war, mentions his coming from Emmaus down
through the country of Samaria, and hard by
the city by others called Neapolis, [or Shechem,]
but by the people of that country Mabortha, to
Conea, where he pitched his camp, t

It continued to be known afterwards chiefly
by this its Greek name ; and indeed this is the
only one by which it is called in all the histories
of the Crusades and Saracen wars, and which it
still retains, under the Arabic form of Nablous.t

This town is seated between the two hills of

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Online LibraryJames Silk BuckinghamTravels in Palestine, through the countries of Bashan and Cilead, east of the River Jordan; including a visit to the cities of Geraza and Gamala, in the Decapolis (Volume 2) → online text (page 23 of 26)