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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of its local beauty. *

One must be amid these wild and gloomy so-
litudes, surrounded by an armed band, and feel
the impatience of the traveller who rushes on to
catch a new view at every pass and turn ; one

* "A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho,
and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment,
and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance, there came down a certain priest that way,
and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. And
likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked
ou him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Sa-
maritan, as he journeyed, came where he was : and when he
saw him, he had compassion on him, and went to him, and
bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him
on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care
of him." St. Luke, x. 30—34.


must be alarmed at the very tramp of the horse's
hoofs rebounding through the caverned rocks,
and at the savage shouts of the footmen, scarcely
less loud than the echoing thunder produced by
the discharge of their pieces in the valleys ; one
must witness all this upon the spot, before
the full force and beauty of the admirable
story of the Good Samaritan can be per-
ceived. Here, pillage, wounds, and death
would be accompanied with double terror, from
the frightful aspect of every thing around.
Here, the unfeeling act of passing by a fellow-
creature in distress, as the Priest and Levite are
said to have done, strikes one with horror, as an
act almost more than inhuman. And here, too,
the compassion of the Good Samaritan is doubly
virtuous, from the purity of the motive which
must have led to it, in a spot where no eyes were
fixed on him to draw forth the performance of
any duty, and from the bravery which was ne-
cessary to admit of a man's exposing himself by
such delay, to the risk of a similar fate to that
from which he was endeavouring to rescue his

After about three hours' travel from the camp
at which we had halted, and little more than six
hours' journey from Jerusalem, in nearly a
north-eastern direction, we came upon the ruins
of an aqueduct, leading from the foot of a hill


towards the plain. The channel for the water
was lined on the inside with plaster and gravel,
like the aqueduct at Tyre. Close by it were the
remains of a fine paved way, with a single co-
lumn, now fallen ; probably one of the mile-
stones on the high-road from Jerusalem to

We caught from hence the first view of the
Great Plain, as it is called, or of the Valley of
Jordan. We could see, too, the point at which
that river emptied itself into the Dead Sea, after
pursuing its serpentine course through the plain,
in nearly a south-east direction. The sea itself
is bounded by high mountains, both on the east
and the west, and its surface is generally un-
ruffled, from the hollow of the bason in which it
lies scarcely admitting the free passage necessary
for a strong breeze. It is, however, for the
same reason, subject to whirlwinds or squalls of
short duration ; but, at the present moment, its
surface exhibited a dead calm, and its waters
gave back a whitish glare, from the reflection of
the sun on them.

Still descending, we came, in half an hour, to
other portions of aqueducts, originally perhaps
connected with these, which we had seen above.
Here, however, we noticed the addition of
arched or vaulted reservoirs for the water, at
the termination of the channel ; so that it was


conveyed to these as places of general store, ra-
ther than to any actual town. Indeed, we saw
no vestiges which might lead us to infer that
any large settlement existed on the immediate
spot, though it may be presumed that there
were once dwellers near, for whose convenience
these reservoirs were constructed.

We conceived it probable that these aqueducts
might have been connected with the fountain
which was near to Jericho, the waters of which
were sweetened by the Prophet Elisha. The
fact of the aqueducts being found here, on the
foot of the hills, is sufficient to prove that water
was at least so scarce an article as to render ex-
pensive and artificial means necessary to its
preservation. This, too, would be perfectly
consistent with such local details as are left us
regarding the country immediately about Je-

When Elijah was taken up in a chariot and
horses of fire, and carried by a whirlwind to
heaven, leaving only his mantle behind him, and
when the fifty men of Jericho had sought him
on the mountains and high places where they
thought he might have dropped, but returned
without success to this place, where Elisha him-
self staid ; the Scriptures say, "Now the men
of the city said unto Elisha, Behold, I pray thee,
the situation of this city is pleasant, as my lord


seeth, but the water is nought, and the ground

Josephus, after observing that the Great Plain
here is all destitute of water, excepting the river
Jordan, says, " notwithstanding which, there is
a fountain by Jericho that runs plentifully, and
is very fit for watering the ground. It arises
near the old city, where Joshua, the son of
Nane, the general of the Hebrews, took the
first of all the cities of the land of Canaan, by
right of war." He then mentions the report
of its waters being formerly of such a nature as
to destroy every thing over which it ran ; but
by the virtue of Elisha's throwing into it a little
salt, accompanied by a prayer, the pouring out
a milk drink-offering, and joining to this the
proper operations of his hands, after a skilful
manner, the waters became not only sweet and
wholesome, but possessed afterwards so fertiliz-
ing a quality as to be superior to all others, and
to occasion the writer to say, after enumerating
the benefits of its stream, " that he who should
pronounce this place to be divine, would not be

At the present moment, even such channels
as were evidently those of streams and torrents,
were destitute of water, from the long-continued
drought that had prevailed ; so that we could say
nothing regarding the peculiar qualities of any


of the fountains in this neighbourhood ; and,
probably from the same cause, the plain here,
at the foot of the hills, was parched and barren.

We had scarcely quitted the foot of these
hills, to go eastward over the plain, before we
came upon the ruins of a large settlement, of
which sufficient remained to prove it to have
been a place of consequence, but no one perfect
building existed. Some of the more striking
objects among the ruins were several large
tumuli, evidently the work of art, and re-
sembling, in size and shape, those of the Greek
and Trojan heroes on the plains of Ilium. Near
to this was also a large square area, enclosed by
long and regular mounds, uniform in their
height, breadth, and angle of slope, and seeming
to mark the place of enclosing walls now worn
into mounds. Besides these, the foundations of
other walls in detached pieces, portions of ruined
buildings of an indefinable nature, shafts of
columns, and a capital of the Corinthian order,
were seen scattered about over the widely-ex-
tended heaps of this ruined city.

The site of Jericho has been hitherto fixed by
all authorities at Rihhah, the village east of this,
and nearer to the banks of the Jordan, where it
is equally acknowledged, by these same autho-
rities, that no remains are found by which to
identify the position. But from the presence of


the ruins described on this spot, and its more
accurately agreeing in distance and local posi-
tion to that assigned to Jericho by Josephus,
there is great reason to believe that here, and
not at Rihhah, its remains are to be sought for.

In the history of the Jewish war, after the
descent of Vespasian from Neapolis to Jericho,
where he was joined by one of his commanders
named Trajan, the historian thus describes the
position of this city. " It is situate in a plain ;
but a naked and barren mountain, of a very
great length, hangs over it, which extends itself
to the land about Scythopolis northward, but as
far as the country of Sodom, and the utmost
limit of the lake Asphaltites southward. This
mountain is all of it very uneven, and uninhabited
by reason of its barrenness." * In another
place, when speaking of the city of Jericho, he
adds, " This place is 150 furlongs from Jerusa-
lem, and sixty from Jordan. The country, as
far as Jerusalem, is desert and stony. But that
as far as the lake Asphaltites lies low, though
it be equally desert and barren." t

Nothing can more accurately apply, in all its
particulars, than this description does to the site
of the present ruins, assumed here as those of
the ancient Jericho, whether it be in its local

* De Bello. Jud. 1. iv. 8. 2. f Ibid. 1. iv. 8. 3,


position, its boundaries, or in its distance from
Jerusalem on the one hand, and from the Jordan
on the other. The spot lies at the very foot of
the barren hills of Judea, which may be said
literally to overhang it on the west ; and these
mountains are still as barren, as rugged, and as
destitute of inhabitants as formerly, throughout
their whole range, from the lake of Tiberias to
the Dead Sea. The distance, by the computa-
tion of our journey in time, amounted to about
six hours, or nearly twenty miles ; and we were
now, according to the reports of our guides, at
the distance of two hours, or about six miles
from the banks of the Jordan.

From the very low level of the plain in which
Jericho is seated, the palm-tree might find
sufficient heat to flourish here, while every
other part of Judea would be unfavourable to
its growth ; and the existence of these trees in
this valley, at a very early age, was dis-
tinguished as such a peculiarity, compared with
the incapacity of the other parts of the land to
produce them, that Jericho itself was often
called, " The city of Palms." In the view of
the Promised Land which Moses was permitted
to have from the top of Nebo or Pisgah, over
against Jericho, " the Lord showed him all the
land of Gilead unto Dan, and all Napthali, and
the land of Ephraim, and Manasseh, and all the


land of Judah, unto the utmost sea, and the
south, and the plain of the valley of Jericho,
the city of palm-trees, unto Zoar."* It is men-
tioned, by the same name, when "the children
of the Kenite, Moses's father-in-law, went up
out of the city of palm-tree s y with the children
of Judah, into the wilderness of Judah, which
lieth in the south of Arad." t And again, when
God "strengthened Eglon the king of Moab
against Israel, because they had done evil in
the sight of the Lord, he gathered unto them
the children of Ammon and Amalek, and went
and smote Israel, and possessed the city of palm-
trees" t

It is more frequently called Jericho, however,
and under this name it is mentioned in the
curious details which are given of its recon-
noitre by the spies, who were entertained in the
house of Rahab the harlot, and of its capture,
and the falling down of its walls at the sound

* Deut. xxxiv. I — 3. f Judges, i. 16.

$ Judges, iiL 12, 13.

Jericho 'H'V'V ^P'X^j Luna, vel mensis, aut odor ejus.
Civitas opulentissima in tribu Benjamin, ab Jerosolymis cl et
a Jordane lx distans stadiis, (Num. xxii. 1. Jos. ii. 1.)
quam aedificavit, Hiel de Bethel, 1 Sam. xvi. 34. 2 Par.
xxviii. 15. Matt. xx. 29. Luke, xviii. 35. and xix. 1. No-
bilius palmetis, et balsami viridariis. Unde etiam civitas pal-
marum appellatur, Deut. xxxiv. 3. D^DDH TJ7 — CEnomas-
ticum Sacrum, p. 172. ed. 1686.


of the seven trumpets of rams' horns. After
this easy conquest, it is said, that " they utterly
destroyed all that was in the city, both man and
woman, young and old, and ox, and sheep, and
ass, with the edge of the sword. But they
saved the life of Rahab the harlot, and de-
livered her father, her mother, her brethren,
her kindred, and all that she had. And though
they burnt the city with fire, and all that was
therein, yet the silver and the gold, and the
vessels of brass, and of iron, they put into the
treasury of the house of the Lord." # Every
habitation was destroyed, and Joshua adjured
them at the same time, saying, " Cursed be the
man before the Lord that riseth up and build-
eth this city Jericho ; he shall lay the founda-
tion thereof in his first-born, and in his youngest
son shall he set up the gates of it." t

It was, however, again rebuilt, notwithstand-
ing this denunciation, though it was effected in
Ahab's wicked reign. " In his days did Hiel
the Bethelite build Jericho : he laid the foun-
dation thereof in Abiram his first-born, and set
up the gates thereof in his youngest son Segub,
according to the word of the Lord, which he
spoke by Joshua the son of Nun." t It after-

* Joshua, vi. 20—24. f Ibid. ver. 26.

t 1 Kings, xvi. 34.



wards continued to be inhabited, as we find
Elisha the prophet living there when Elijah was
taken up to heaven from him in a chariot of

In much later times, when Pompey marched
from Damascus with his Roman legions and
Syrian auxiliaries, against Aristobulus, he came
down by way of Pella, Scythopolis, and Corea,
in the valley of Jordan, as far as Jericho, where
he pitched his camp for a night, and marched
on the following morning against Jerusalem, t
Even then, the fertility of the surrounding
country, the peculiarity of its productions, and
the difference of its climate from that of all
the rest of Judea, were particularly noticed.
"Now here," says the historian, "is the most
fruitful country of Judea, which bears a vast
number of palm-trees, besides the balsam-tree,
whose sprouts they cut with sharp stones, and
at the incisions they gather the juice which
drops down like tears." t

The balsam produced by these trees was of
such consequence as to be noticed by almost all
the writers who treated of Judea. Pliny says,
" This tree, which was peculiar to Juria, or the

* 2 Kings, ii. 5.

f Joseph. Ant. Jud. 1. xiv. c. iv. 1.

% De Bello, 1. i. vii. 6.


vale of Jericho, was more like a vine than a
myrtle. Vespasian and Titus carried each one
of them to Rome as rarities, and Pompey
boasted of bearing them in his triumph. When
Alexander the Great was in Juria, a spoonful
of the balm was all that could be collected on a
summer's day ; and in the most plentiful year,
the great royal park of these tress yielded only
six gallons, and the smaller one only one gallon.
It was consequently so dear that it sold for
double its weight in silver. But from the great
demand for it, adulteration soon followed, and
a spurious sort grew into common use at a less
price. * Justin, indeed, makes it the source of
all the national wealth ; for, in speaking of this
part of the country, he says, " The wealth of
the Jewish nation did arise from the opobal-
samum, which doth only grow in those coun-
tries ; for it is a valley like a garden which is
environed with continual hills, and as it were
enclosed with a wall. The space of the valley
containeth two hundred thousand acres, and it
is called Jericho. In that valley there is a
wood, as admirable for its fruitfulness as for its
delight, for it is intermingled with palm-
trees and opobalsamum. The trees of the
opobalsamum have a resemblance like to fir-

* Pliny, Nat. Hist, c 25.
F 2


trees, but they are lower, and are planted and
husbanded after the manner of vines. On a
set season of the year they do sweat balsam.
The darkness of the place is besides as won-
derful as the fruitfulness of it. For although
the sun shines no where hotter in the world,
there is naturally a moderate and perpetual
gloominess of the air'. *

The situation, boundaries, and local features
of this valley are accurately given in these
details ; and both the heat and the gloominess
were observed by us, though darkness, in the
sense in which we generally use it, would be an
improper term to apply to this gloom.

In the estimate of the revenues which Cleo-
patra derived from the region about Jericho,
which had been given to her by Antony, and
which Herod afterwards farmed of her, it is
said, " This country bears that balsam which is
the most precious drug that is there, and grows
there only." t And in the account of Sheba,
Queen of Ethiopia, visiting Solomon, from a
desire to see a person so celebrated for his
wisdom, it is said that she gave him twenty
talents of gold, and an immense quantity of
spices and precious stones ; " and they say,"

* Justin's Hist. 1. 36.

\ Joseph. Ant. Jud. 1. xv. c. iv. 2.


adds the Jewish historian, "that we are in-
debted for the root of that balsam, which our
country still bears, to this woman's gift." *

It was singular enough that a gift brought
by a Queen of Ethiopia to the wealthiest
monarch of Judea, should have fallen to the lot
of a Queen of Egypt, as given to her by one of
the most extravagant even among Roman
lovers. Philosophy and wisdom is said to have
been the object of Sheba's visit to Judea ;

* Ibid. 1. viii. c. vi. 6. <

Exuberant fruges nostrum ad morem ; praeterque eas, bal-
samura et palmae. Palmetis proceritas et decor : balsamum
niodica arbor : ut quisque ramus intumuit, si vim ferri adhi-
beas, pavent venae ; fragmine lapidis, aut testa aperiuntur.
Humor in usu medentium est. — Tacitus, Hist. 1. v. c. 6» de
hac regione.

Hiericus est planities montibus circumdata, quae in theatri
speciem ad ipsam alicubi declinat.

Ibi est Palmetum, cui immixtae sunt etiam aliae stirpes hor-
tenses ; locus ferax, palmis abundans, spatio centum stadiorum,
totus irriguus est, et habitationibus plenus. Ibi et regia est,
et Balsami Paradisus, quae planta aromatica est fruticosa,
cytiso et terebintho persimilis : hujus corticein scindentes,
succum in vasis suscipiunt, tenaci lacti persimilem : susceptus
autem in conchis coagulatur : capitis dolores, et sufiusiones
oculorum incipientes, et hebetudinem visus mirifice senat,
quare in pretio est, eo praesertim quod hie solum nascitur. —
Strabo, 1. xvi. p. 763.

Judaea reliqua dividetur in toparchias decern, quo decernis
ordine : Hiericuntem palmetis consitam, fontibus irriguam,
etc. — Plinius, 1. v. c. 14.

F 3


Cleopatra's pursuits were of a very different
kind, as may be learned from Josephus.

At the present time there is not a tree of any
description, either of palm or balsam, and
scarcely any verdure or bushes to be seen about
the site of this abandoned city ; but the com-
plete desolation with which its ruins are sur-
rounded, is undoubtedly rather to be attributed
to the cessation of the usual agricultural labours
on the soil, and to the want of a distribution of
water over it by the aqueducts, the remains of
which evince that they were constructed chiefly
for that purpose, than to any radical change in
the climate or the soil.

On leaving these ruins, we thought that, in
their greatest extent, they did not cover less
than a square mile ; but its remains were not
sufficiently marked to enable us to form a plan
of it. As we continued our way across the
plain to the eastward, the same parched soil ap-
peared over every part of it, until after about an
hour's ride at a moderate pace, going over a
distance of perhaps four miles, in nearly an
easterly direction, we reached the village of

As we rode through this, we perceived it to
be a settlement of about fifty dwellings, all very
mean in their appearance, and every one fenced


in front with thorny bushes, while a barrier of
the same kind encircled the whole of the town.
This was one of the most effectual defences
which they could have raised against the incur-
sions of horse Arabs, the only enemies whom
they have to dread, as neither will the horse
approach to entangle himself in these thickets of
briar, nor could the rider, even if he dismounted,
get over them, or remove them to clear a
passage, without assistance from some one

There was a fine brook flowing by the village,
and emptying itself into the Jordan, the nearest
part of which river is thought to be about three
miles off'; and from this brook the inhabitants
are supplied with sufficient water for the irriga-
tion of their lands, and for all domestic purposes.
The grounds immediately in the vicinity of the
village, are therefore fertilized by this stream,
and are cultivated with dourra, Indian corn,
rice, and onions, the soil and climate here re-
sembling in many particulars that of Egypt.

This place, which is called Rihhah, or
" Odour," in modern Arabic, and " Perfume"
in the older dialect, has been thought to be on
the site of Jericho, from its retaining nearly the
same name, and exactly the same signification
as the name of the harlot, who entertained the
spies of Joshua here ; Rahhab, in Hebrew,

p 1.


meaning also " a sweet smell." * It would
agree in the distance assigned to Jericho from
the Jordan, and from Jerusalem, with sufficient
accuracy, considering the want of exactness in
ancient measurements, had there been any re-
mains to induce an opinion of their being really
those of that city ; but of this it shows no marks.
The only things pointed out here, are a modern
square tower, of Mohammedan work, which they
pretend to be the house of Zaccheus, and an old
tree into which they say he climbed up to obtain
a sight of Jesus as he passed. This tree is not
a sycamore, however, as the Evangelist describes
that to have been, but a thorny one of the acacia
family, so common in Egypt.

The population is all Mohammedan, and con-
sists of from forty to fifty families only. Their
habits are those of Bedouins and shepherds,
rather than of cultivators of the soil j this last
duty, indeed, when performed at all, is done
chiefly by the women and children, as the men
roam the plains on horseback, and live by robbery
and plunder, which forms their chief and most
gainful occupation. They are governed by a
Sheick, whose influence among them is rather
like that of a father of a family than of a magi-
strate ; and as even fathers can sometimes play

* -J*- 1 }} plural of . > odour, fragrance. Rich. vol. i. p. 488.


the tyrant, so does this chief, though there is
always this check on his conduct, that he owes
his authority to the sufferance of his people, and
could be not only removed from his power, but
even deprived of his life, by declamation, on his
surpassing the bounds which fortunately are set
even to despotism.

This place is celebrated by many Moham-
medan authors, as the " Dwelling of the Giants,"
and tradition assigns the building of its seven walls
to seven separate kings. * Its deliverer, or its
destroyer, Joshua, has been held by some among
both Jews and Mohammedans, to have been
a person elevated above human nature, and par-
taking in some degree of the divine, from the
splendour of his victories. They conceive that
he was sent by Jehovah to dispossess the giants
of this their strong-hold and principal abode.
According to the author of the Tarikh Mon-
tekheb, this first battle of Joshua in the Promised
Land was fought on a Friday evening. As the
night approached, and by the ordinances of
Moses it was forbidden to labour on the Sabbath,
he implored the Almighty to lengthen out the
day, that he might have time to finish the com-
bat. It was then, continues the same pious
author, that by the order of the Divine Omni-

* Biblioth&que Orientale, torn. i. p. 248.


potence, the sun was stayed in his course, and
rested an hour and a half beyond his usual time
above the horizon, giving to Joshua ample time
to cut in pieces the army of his enemies. He
adds, that this day having thus become longer
than any other, by an hour and a half, enjoyed
by this means a prerogative, which no other day
besides itself coidd presume to ; and he assures
us, that this was one of the reasons why the
Mussulmans had chosen Friday, above all the
other days of the week, for their holy day, in-
stead of the Sabbath of the Jews. *

These traditions are preserved here in full

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 4 of 26)