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 5 of 26)
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force, with some amplifications of detail, as we
had an opportunity of noticing in the conversa-
tion of the party to whom our guides had intro-
duced us, at the house of the chief. These men,
perceiving that we were strangers in the land,
were glad to gratify our curiosity, and flatter
their own vanity at the same time, by recount-
ing to us the stories of which this place of their
abode had been the scene.

The house, in which we had taken up our
quarters for the night, was one belonging to the
Sheick of the village, but at present it was not
occupied by him. The whole male population
of the place that was now in it, however,

* Bibliotheque Orientale, torn. ii. p. 330.


crouded around us to make a thousand en-
quiries regarding our journey, the motives
which led to it, and the end it was to
accomplish. We insisted that we were going to
Damascus, and assured them that our having
taking this route to go up on the east side of the
Jordan, rather than having followed the more
direct road of the caravans by Nablous, was in
the hope of being less interrupted by the Be-
douins of these parts, than by the insolent soldiery
of the Pashalics, who were now in great commo-
tion on account of the expected changes in

Our tale was believed, though our hopes of
passing securely were somewhat damped, by
learning that, only on the preceding evening,
a party of five hundred horsemen, from the Arabs
of this same tribe, had halted at Rihhah on their
way to the northward, whither they had gone on
a plundering excursion, intending to sweep the
whole range of the valley of Jordan. Mr. Bankes
and his attendants had slept in this same house,
and with nearly the same party as were here now,
on his return from a visit to the shores of the
Dead Sea ; and there then seemed to him to have
been a consultation among them, about the deten-
tion of their guests, either with a view to plun-
der them, or to obtain a ransom for their libera-
tion. In the present instance, however, they


treated us with all the hospitality for which the
Arabs are so celebrated ; and though our own
fears might have conjured up appearances of an
unfavourable nature, or given to common inci-
dents an interpretation which they would not,
under any other circumstances, have borne, we
relied on the pledges of our conductors. After
a rude but hearty meal, we stretched ourselves
along on straw mats, by the side of the cattle
which were driven in among us for shelter, and,
surrounded by at least twenty of our visitors un-
der the same shed, we soon sunk to sleep.

( ?? )



January 29th. We were stirring before the
day had clearly opened, and after a morning
pipe and coffee, served to us by our entertainers,
we mounted our horses at sun-rise, and continued
our journey.

On quitting Rihhah, we pursued a northerly
"course, keeping still on the western side of the
Jordan. In our way, we noticed a thorny
tree, which abounds in the neighbourhood of
Jericho, and is said to be found on both banks
of the river. Pococke calls this the zoccum-
tree, and says, *' The bark of it is like that of
the holly ; it has very strong thorns, and the
leaf is something like that of the barbary-tree ;
it bears a green nut, the skin or flesh over it is
thin, and the nut is ribbed and has a thick shell
and a very small kernel ; they grind the whole,
and press an oil out of it, as they do out of olives,
and call it a balsam. But I take it to be the
Myrobalanum, mentioned by Josephus as grow-


ing about Jericho *, especially as it answers very
well to this fruit, described by Pliny as the pro-
duce of that part of Arabia which was between
Judea and Egypt." t

The opinion that this was the tree from the
branches of which Christ's crown of thorns was
made, is very prevalent among the Christians
of these parts ; but our Mohammedan guides
professed their ignorance of this matter. Among
them, however, it must have some traditional
celebrity, as rosaries or chaplets are made of its
berries, and sold at the door of the Holy Se-
pulchre at Jerusalem, both to Christians and
Mohammedans. Those for the former have a
cross at the top, and those for the latter consist
of ninety-nine in number, divided by beads of a
different colour into three parts, containing
thirty-three in each, which is the only difference

* Josephus, Jewish Wars, b. iv. c. 8.

f Myrobalanum Troglodytis, et Thebaidi, et Arabia?, quae
Judaeam ab .5£gypto disterminat, commune est, nascens un-
guento, ut ipso nomine apparet. Quo item indicatur et glan-
dem esse arboris, heliotropio quam dicemus inter herbas, simili
folio. Fructus magnitudine avellanse nucis. Ex his in Arabia
nascens Syriaca appellatur. Sunt qui yEthiopicam iis prsefe-
rant glandem nigram. E diverso Arabicam viridem ac tenuio-
rem, et quoniam sit montuosa spissiorem. Unguentarii autem
tantum cortices premunt : medici nucleos tundentes affusa eis
paulatim calida aqua. Plin. Nat. Hist. xii. 21.


between them ; and eacli is equally esteemed by
the respective purchasers.

As we proceeded to the northward, we had
on our left a lofty peak of the range of hills
which border the plain of Jordan on the west,
and end in this direction the mountains of Judea.
This peak is conceived to be that to which Jesus
was transported by the devil during his fast of
forty days in the wilderness, " after which he
was an hungred." *

Nothing can be more forbidding than the
aspect of these hills : not a blade of verdure is
to be seen over all their surface, and not the
sound of any living being is to be heard through-
out all their extent. They form, indeed, a most
appropriate scene for that wilderness in which
the Son of God is said to have " dwelt with
the wild beasts, while the angels ministered
unto him." f

In this mountain of the temptation, there are
many grottoes of the early anchorites, which

* St. Matthew, iv. 2.

" And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain,
showed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment
of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will
I give thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto
me ; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore
wilt worship me, all shall be thine." St. Luke, iv. 5 — 7.

f St. Mark, i. 13.


were visible to us as we passed. The grottoes
below are in long ranges, consisting each of
several separate chambers j those higher up are
in general isolated ones, all in the cliff of the
rock ; and on the summit of the hill itself is a
small Greek chapel, erected on the supposed
spot of the temptation. The grottoes were all
formerly inhabited, and one of the uppermost
of them, which is approached by a flight of steps
cut out of the solid rock behind the immediate
front of the cliff, has still its decorations of Greek
saints painted on the walls, with the colours
perfectly fresh. All are, however, now deserted,
and the enthusiasm which, in past ages, filled
these cells with hermits, is now scarcely
sufficient to induce Christian pilgrims even to
visit them.

While we were talking of the scriptural and
traditional history of the holy places within our
view, as the country here abounds with them,
our guides mentioned to us, that, about a day's
journey to the southward of Jericho, and, like
it, seated at the foot of the mountains of Judea,
was a place called Merthah, supposed to be the
site of a city of the giants, and, consequently,
of very great antiquity. They added, that there
were at this place many sepulchral caves, from
which human skulls and bones had been taken
out, that were at least three times the size of


those of the human race at the present day.
They offered the unanswerable testimony of
their having seen these with their own eyes, and
handled them witli their own hands, so that we
were reduced to the necessity of believing that
they had really deceived themselves in these
particulars, or that they had invented the false-
hoods, or that these were really the remains of
the skeletons of that race of giants which
both sacred and profane history place in this

It is probable, from the reported situation of
Mertha, or Mersha, as one of our guides pro-
nounced it, that it was the Maresha or Marissa
of Josephus, seemingly both one place, and cor-
responding to this in position. Mareshah is
first enumerated ainono' the strong and large
cities which Rehoboam, the son of Solomon,
built in the tribe of Judah, in contradistinction
to those which he also built in the tribe of Ben-
jamin. * It is soon afterwards again mentioned
as a city that belonged to the tribe of Judah ;
and it was at this place that Zerah, the king of
Ethiopia, halted, when he came with an army
of nine hundred thousand footmen, and one
hundred thousand horsemen, and three hundred
chariots, to go up against Asa, the king of Jerusa-

* Joseph. Ant. Jud. l.viii. c. 10. s. I.


lem,* Marissa,too, was in the same tribe of Judali,
and, from all the details given of it, was pro-
bably the same place, as Cellarius has considered
it to be. When Judas Maccabeus, and Jona-
than his brother, defeated Georgias, the general
of the forces of Jamnia, at that place, which is
near the sea-coast on the west, they are said to
have pursued the fugitives of the defeated army
to the very borders of Judea, naturally in the
opposite quarter, or on the east, and there to
have taken from them the city of Hebron, and
demolished all its fortifications, and set its towers
on fire, and to have burnt the country of the
foreigners, and the citv Marissa. t This same
city is said, in another place, to have been in
the middle of the country, in distinguishing it
from the cities of the sea-coast, t

D'Anville has placed the sites of these as of
two separate places, near to a city, which, as he
himself says, we do not find mentioned until af-
ter the ruin of the second temple of Jerusalem,
but which, under the Greek name of Eleuthero-
polis, or the Free City, appears to have presided
over a great district, though it is now unknown. ||

* Josephws, Ant. Jud. 1. viii. c. 12. s. J.
■f Ibid. 1. xii. c. 8. s. 6.
% Ibid. 1. xiii. c. 15. s. 4.

|| D'Anville, Compendium of Ancient Geography, lorn i.
p. 405. 8vo.


Cellarius thinks it to have been somewhere near
the sea-coast of Judea, from its being enumerated
with Keilah and Achzib, in the catalogue of the
cities of Judah. * In a passage of Eusebius,
quoted by St. Jerome, it is mentioned with Eleu-
theropolis ; but as it is still considered to be
the Maresha, or Marissa, of Josephus, as before
described, the probability still is, that it was in
the central, or towards the eastern borders of
Judea, and near the spot where this Mertha, or
Mersha, is said to be, about a day's journey, or
thirty miles, to the south of Jericho.

This, too, was in the part of the country re-
puted to abound with giants, as is frequently
mentioned in the Scriptures. Josephus, in de-
scribing the taking of Hebron, whose inha-
bitants, according to the Jewish mode of
warfare, were all put to the sword, says, that in
this part of the country there were, till then,
left the race of giants, who had bodies so large,
and countenances so entirely different from
other men, that they were surprising to the
sight and terrible to the hearing. The bones of
these men, he adds, are still shown to this very
day, unlike to any credible relations of other
men. " Elia and Arihhah, or Jerusalem and
Jericho, according to the Arabian writers, were

* Joshua, xv. 44., and Cellarius, Geog. Ant. I. iii. c. 13,
p. 359.

G °2


the two capital cities of this holy portion of the
globe. In this province alone, they say that
there were a thousand towns, each of which was
furnished with beautiful gardens. These gar-
dens produced such extraordinary fruits, that
it is said five men were scarcely able to bear the
weight of one of their grapes ; and it is insisted
on, that the same number of persons might con-
veniently dwell within the rind of one of their
pomegranates. The giants, which were of the
race of the Amalekites, occupied this happy
land, and the smallest of these, according to the
opinion of the divines, were of the height of
nine cubits. Oy, the son of Anak, was esteemed
to surpass them all in stature, and he is said to
have prolonged his life to a period of three
thousand years." *

In about two hours from the time of our
quitting Rihhah, and after passing the foot of
the mountain of the Temptation, keeping nearly
a northerly course all the way, we saw on our
left, at the distance of a mile from us, the ruins
of a fine Roman aqueduct. This presented a
range of at least twenty arches, still perfect ;
and as its direction was from west to east, or
leading from the feet of the mountains of Judea
out into the valley of Jordan, its purpose

* Bibliotheque Orientale, torn. ii. p. 15.


seemed to be to conduct the water from a fixed
point, on the side of the hills, to another fixed
point in the plain, so as to prevent its dispersion
over the surface of the ground. We were suffi-
ciently near it to observe that the architecture
was Roman, and the masonry massive.

From the distance we had gone, and the line
of direction in which we had travelled from
Rihhah, this spot seemed likely to mark the
site of Cypros, one of the cities built by Herod
in this plain. The historian of this king, after
describing his magnificent monuments at
Caesarea and Antipatris, the first of which he
named hi honour of his emperor, the last in
honour of his father, says, " He also built upon
another spot of ground, above Jericho, of the same
name with his mother, a place of great security,
and very pleasant for habitation, and called it
Cypros." * This same place was afterwards em-
bellished by Archelaus, of whom the historian
says, " He also magnificently rebuilt the royal
palace that had been at Jericho, and he diverted
half the water with which the village of Neara used
to be watered, into the plain, to water those palm-
trees which he had there planted. He also built
a village, and called it Afchelais." t

* Josephus, Ant. Jud. 1. xvi. c. 5. s. 2. Jewish War, 1. i.
e. 21. s. 4.

f Josephus, Ant. Jud. 1. jcvii. c. 13. s. 1.



The palace may have been that of Cypros,
or a royal palace at Jericho, as it is expressed,
though the name here might be used for that
of the territory, as no royal palace is spoken of
at that city. The construction of the aqueduct
for carrying the waters from the hill into the
plain, can refer, however, only to this situation
at the foot of the mountains, and probably to
this identical work now seen here in ruins.
The village of Archelais is made a large town in
D'Anville's map, and placed farther to the
northward ; but as no particular position is
assigned to it by the historian, beyond its being
near to the other works described, it may
occupy its proper place.

This spot is near to that, too, in which the
old city of Ai must have stood, a city which
commanded a district or small province of land,
and was itself governed by a king. Its position
is given as east of Bethel, which was in the
mountains here on our left, where Abram had
an interview with God, and where he erected
an altar to him. "And he removed from
thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel,
and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west,
and Hai on the east" *

* Genesis, xii. 8. and xiii. 3. — These places of Bethel and
Ai are constantly spoken of together in the Scriptures. See
Ezra, xi, 28. and Nchemiah, vii. 32


The details of the war against it, and the
stratagem of Joshua to take it, are such as could
be applied with strict local accuracy to a city
seated on ground like this. The ambush, it
appears, was placed among the hills on the west,
or in the words of the Scriptures, " behind the
city, between Bethel and Ai." The portion of
the troops which was to decoy the men of Ai
from their city, was pitched on the north side
of it, and then there was a valley between it and
Ai. The ambush was composed of five thousand
men, and the rest of the host, or thirty-five
thousand men, were to make the false attack,
for they had only lost thirty- six men out of the
three thousand sent up first against this city, and
the whole number that crossed Jordan, was forty
thousand men prepared for war. This succeeded
so well, that both Bethel and Ai were emptied
of their inhabitants in the pursuit of their be-
siegers, when the ambush rose and entered into
the city, and gained an easy victory. *

* Not an individual was spared amid the general slaughter,
and even when all were fallen, both men and women, to the
number of twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai, they re-
turned to the city and smote it with the edge of the sword.
" And Joshua burnt Ai, and made it an heap for ever, even a
desolation unto this day. And the king of Ai he hanged on a
tree until eventide. And as soon as the sun was down, Joshua
commanded that they should take his carcase down from the
tree, and cast it at the entering of the gate of the city, and
raise thereon a great heap of stones, that remaineth unto this
day." — Sec Joshua, c= viii. throughout.
G 4


On going about half an hour farther to the
north, over the same kind of plain, we opened
on our left a beautiful valley, now highly culti-
vated, and spread over with a carpet of the
freshest verdure, seemingly, from its colour, of
young corn. This place, we were told was
called Waad-el-Farah, or the Valley of Farah,
and a town was spoken of near it, in the side of
the hills, bearing the same name, and being
larger and more populous than Rihhah.

The situation of this place corresponds very
accurately with that assigned to Phasaeius, as
well as the aspect of the country near it, and
even the present name may be conceived to be
but a corruption of the original one. It was the
same Herod who had built the magnificent city
of Caesarea in honour of his emperor, Antipatris
in honour of his father, and Cypros in honour
of his mother, that built here also Phasaeius in
honour of his brother, The first monument
which he erected to him was the celebrated tower
of this name in Jerusalem, which was compared
to the Pharos of Alexandria, one of the seven
wonders of the world, and said to have been at
once a part of the strong defences of the city,
and a memorial for him that was deceased,
because it bare his name. The historian adds,
° He built also a city of the same name in the
Valley of Jericho, as you go from it northward,
whereby he rendered the neighbouring country


more fruitful by the cultivation its inhabitants
introduced. And this also he called Phasaelus." *
This was among the cities that enjoyed his pecu-
liar protection, from the fraternal feelings which
first prompted its dedication ; and, accordingly,
it was relieved by Herod of those annual pen-
sions or tributes which were paid by other
cities, t At his death, too, he bequeathed this
city by testament to Salome, his sister, with five
hundred thousand drachmas of silver that was
coined. J

From hence we now crossed over the plain
towards the river, changing our course from
north to nearly due east, and at the moment of
our making this sharp angle, estimating ourselves
to be little more than six miles to the northward
of Rihhah. We found the plain here generally
unfertile, the soil being in many places encrusted
with salt, and having small heaps of a white
powder, like sulphur, scattered at short intervals
over its surface.

In about an hour after our turning to the
eastward, we came to a ravine, apparently the
bed of a torrent discharging itself from the
north-west into the Jordan, perhaps either the

* Joseph. Antiq. Jud. 1. xvi. c. 5. s. 2. Ibid. Jewish Wars,
1. i. c. 21. s. 10.

f Jewish Wars, 1. i. c. 22. s. 12.

| Ant. Jud. 1. xvii. c. 8. s. 1. and c. 11. s. 5.


one marked as descending from Ai, or that from
Phasaelus, though, in point of distance from
Ilihhah and Jericho, falling just between these
two, or the places assigned them on the map.
We descended into this, which was now per-
fectly dry, and it led us, after a course of a few
hundred yards, into the valley of the Jordan
itself. The whole of the plain, from the moun-
tains of Judea on the west, to those of Arabia
on the east, may be called the Vale of Jordan,
in a general way ; but in the centre of the plain,
which is at least ten miles broad, the Jordan
runs in another still lower valley, perhaps a mile
broad in some of the widest parts, and a furlong
in the narrowest.

Into this we descended, and we thought the
hills of white clayey soil on each side, to be
about two hundred feet in height, the second or
lower plain being about a mile broad, generally
barren, and the Jordan flowing down through
the middle of it, between banks which were now
fourteen or fifteen feet high, while the river was
at its lowest ebb. There are close thickets all
along the edge of the stream, as well as upon
this lower plain, which would afford ample shelter
for wild beasts ; and as the Jordan might over-
flow its banks, when swoln by rains, sufficiently
to inundate this lower plain, though it could
never reach the upper one, it was, most pro-


bably, from these that the lions were driven out
by the inundation which gave rise to the
prophet's simile, " Behold, he shall come up
like a lion from the swelling of Jordan, against
the habitation of the strong." * The overflow-
ing is said to have been in the first month, which
corresponds to our March, as, in the enumera-
tion of the armies that came to David at Hebron,
those are spoken of who went over Jordan in the
first month, when he had overflowed all his
banks, t In the description of the passage of
the priests with the ark, while the waters were
divided and stood in a heap, as in the passage
of the Red Sea, it is said too, that " Jordan over-
flowed! all his banks all the time of harvest X"
which would be both in the autumn and in the
spring, as there are two harvests here, one suc-
ceeding the early, and the other the latter rains.
From our first descent into this lower plain,
we went on northerly again for about half an
hour, and finding a small party of Arabs en-
camped on the west bank of the river, we
alighted at their tents to refresh. These were
of the tribe of Zaliane, to which one of our
guides belonged, and we met, therefore, with
the most welcome reception. A meal of warm
cakes and goat's milk was prepared for us, and

* Jeremiah, xlix. 19. and 1. 44. f 1 Chron. xii. 15.

\ Joshua, iii. 15.


we were glad to shelter ourselves from the
scorching heat of the sun, beneath the shade of
these humble dwellings. Many enquiries were
made of our guides as to the motives and object
of our journey, yet, though we w T ere in safety
among this portion of the same tribe to which
one of our guides belonged, neither of them
would explain, but merely said that we were
going to Sham, or Damascus, with which the
rest seemed satisfied. As the road on the east
of the Jordan was acknowledged by all to be
dangerous, we took from the party here a third
horseman, the chief aim seeming to be, to have
our escort formed of those who were personally
known among the Arabs on the other side of
the river, and who could therefore ensure us a
safe and unmolested passage through their terri-

We quitted this encampment about noon, our
party now being composed of six horsemen,
namely, three Arab guides, Mr. Bankes, Moham-
med, his Albanian interpreter, and myself. We
here crossed the Jordan, just opposite to the
tents, which were pitched at the distance of a
few yards only from the river. The stream
appeared to us to be little more than twenty-five
yards in breadth, and was so shallow in this
part as to be easily fordable by our horses. The
banks were thickly lined with tall rushes, olean-


ders, and a few willows ; the stream was ex-
ceedingly rapid ; the waters tolerably clear,
from its flowing over a bed of pebbles ; and as
we drank of the stream, while our horses were

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 5 of 26)