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 6 of 26)
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watering, we found it pure and sweet to the

From the distance which we had come from
Jericho northward, it seemed probable, that we
had crossed the river pretty nearly at the same
ford as that which was passed over by the Is-
raelites, on their first entering the promised land.
In the account of this passage given by the
sacred writers, it is merely said, that they en-
camped afterwards in Gilgal, in the plains of
Jericho. * But Joseph us says, after describing
their coming up out of Jordan, "So the Hebrews
went on further fifty furlongs, and pitched their
camp at the distance of ten furlongs from Jeri-
cho." t This last was therefore sixty furlongs,
or seven miles and a half from the place of
crossing ; and the first was ten furlongs, or a
mile and a quarter from Jericho, and fifty fur-
longs, or six miles and a quarter from the pas-
sage of the river. " Now the place where Joshua
pitched his camp," says the historian, " was
called Gilgal, which denotes liberty. For since
they had now passed over the river Jordan, they

* Joshua, iv. 19.

f Joseph. Ant. Jud. lib. 5. cap. i . sec. 4.


looked on themselves as freed from the miseries
which they had undergone from the Egyptians
and in the wilderness." It is likely, therefore,
that Jericho was really at the spot where we
noticed the extensive ruins described, and that
Gilgal was near to Rihhah, east of Jericho, and
consequently nearer to the river. We saw no-
thing of the heaps of stones that were raised as
a memorial of the passage, either at Gilgal, or at
the stream of the Jordan itself; but these are
monuments that soon disappear. The place of
Christ's baptism by John is but a little to the
southward of this, as fixed on by the Catholics,
but the Greeks assign a spot three or four miles
still more southerly than that assumed by the
former as the scene of this event.

Ascending now on the east side of the Jordan,
we met large flocks of camels, mostly of a
whitish colour, and all of them young and never
yet burthened, as our guides assured us,
though the whole number of those we saw could
not have fallen short of a thousand. These
were being driven down to the Jordan to drink,
chiefly under the care of young men and dam-
sels. Among them, many of the young ones
were clothed around their bodies with coverings
of hair tent-cloth, while the elder females had
their udders bound up in bags, tied by cords
crossing over the loins, and the males walked
with two of the legs tied.



96 Passage of thk jordan.

We now began to ascend the white and
barren hills of Arabia, as these are usually called,
having quitted the territory of the tribe of
Benjamin, in which Jericho, Bethel, and Hai,
were situated *, and entered that of Ruben, on
the other side of Jordan, t We were followed
in our way up these hills by a horseman from a
neighbouring tribe of Arabs, who impatiently
demanded whither we were going ? It was
replied, " to Sham or Damascus ;" when he
answered, that we should have kept along the
banks of the river, and not have come up into
the hills to avoid the king's highway. The
conduct of our guides was, on this occasion, as
inexplicable as before ; for, instead of frankly
explaining the reason of our having chosen this
route, they seemed to admit that they had mis-
taken their road, and even turned down towards
the valley of the Jordan again, in compliance
with the stranger's advice.

It was not until this man had quitted us, un-
der the firm persuasion of our pursuing the high
road to Damascus, that we again ventured to go
up into the hills, after having gone about six
miles on a north-east course from the time of our
crossing the river. In another hour of a course

* Joshua, xviii. 12, 13. 20.
f Joshua, xiii. 15 — 23.


nearly east, we gained the summit of the range,
and enjoyed from thence a most commanding
prospect. These hills were of less elevation
than those on the west, or the mountains of
Judea, their height not exceeding a thousand
feet, while those of Jerusalem were from fifteen
hundred to two thousand at least.

We could now bear testimony to the accurate
description of the great outline features of this
territory, as given by Josephus ; as our point of
view embraced almost all the objects which he
enumerates. In speaking of Jericho, he says,
" 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 Scytho-
polis northward ; but as far as the country of
Sodom, and the utmost limits of the Lake As-
phaltitis, southward. This mountain is all of it
very uneven, and uninhabited by reason of its
barrenness. There is an opposite mountain, that
is situate over against it, on the other side of
Jordan. This last begins at Julias, and the
northern quarters, and extends itself southward
as far as Somorrhon, which is the bounds of Pe-
tra, in Arabia. In this ridge of mountains there
is one called the Iron Mountain, that runs in
length as far as Moab. Now the region that
lies in the middle, between these ridges of moun-
tain, is called the Great Plain. It reaches from



the village Ginnabris, as far as the Lake Asphal-
titis. Its length is two hundred and thirty
furlongs, and its breadth an hundred and twenty;
and it is divided in the midst by Jordan. It
hath two lakes in it j that of Asphaltitis, and
that of Tiberias, whose natures are opposite to
each other. For the former is salt and unfruit-
ful ; but that of Tiberias is sweet and fruit-
ful. This plain is much burnt up in summer-
time ; and by reason of the extraordinary heat,
contains a very unwholesome air. It is all des-
titute of water, excepting the river Jordan ;
which water of Jordan is the occasion why those
plantations of palm-trees, that are near its banks,
are more flourishing, and much more fruitful j
as are those that are remote from it not so
nourishing or fruitful." *

We could perceive from hence that the valley
had no apparent bounds to the north ; as the
view was lost in that direction, in the open space
which was occupied by the Lake of Tiberias.
To the south, we could see the surface of the
Dead Sea more distinctly ; the head of it ap-
pearing to be about twenty miles off. Its west-
ern shores were now exposed to us ; and these,
like its eastern ones, seen from the Mount of
Olives, near Jerusalem, presented the appearance

* Joseph. Jewish Wars, l.-iv. cap. viii. s. 2.


of bold and lofty cliffs and precipices, of consi-
derable elevation, and abrupt descent. The
southern limits of this lake could not be per-
ceived ; for there, as toward the Lake of Tiberias
on the north, the view was lost in distance,
without having any marked boundary to define
its extent. The length of the valley, or of the
Great Plain as it is called, might be therefore
fully equal to that given to it by Josephus ; and
its breadth of one hundred and twenty furlongs,
or fifteen miles, seemed to us to be near the
truth, as an average taken throughout its whole
extent. The Jordan divides it, as he describes,
nearly in the centre ; and the contrast of the
soil, the climate, and the productions, observable
in the valley and in the hills, is perfectly consis-
tent with the account given. The verdant
carpet which was spread out over the cultivated
land of Farah on the opposite side, was conspi-
cuously beautiful from hence ; and with the
ruined aqueduct still seen near it, and the gene-
ral aspect of its situation, we had no longer any
doubt of its having been the site of former
opulence, but admired the choice which had
fixed on such a spot for a royal city.

We now quitted the summit of this first
range of hills on the other side of Jordan, (as
they are always called in the holy writings, from
their being penned at Jerusalem,) and going

h <2


down on their eastern side over a very rugged
and pathless way, we came into a deep glen
about sunset ; and finding a small encampment
of a friendly tribe of Bedouins there, we alighted
at their tents to pass the night.

Our reception here was as warm and cordial
as if we had been members of the same com-
munity, or friends of long standing. Our horses
were taken from us by the young men of the
tribe, and furnished with corn from the saiks of
the Sheikh. We were ourselves conducted to
his tent, and were soon surrounded by the
elders, who sat in a half circle before us on the
ground. A substantial meal, though rudely
prepared, was set before us, and by dint of per-
severance, aided by the courtesy of gratitude to
our entertainers, and a wish to avoid detection
as strangers, we contrived to surmount those
revolting sensations which our stomachs often
experienced, before we could eat cordially and
heartily of the messes of an Arab tent.

We were a good deal entertained here by
meeting a sort of travelling artist, o a jack-of-
all-trades, a desert Arab, who travelled about
from camp to camp among the Bedouin tribes,
and obtained a competent livelihood among
them by his labours. His chief occupations
were as a farrier, a blacksmith, and a saddler ;
occupations which embraced the whole range


of a Bedouin's wants, beyond that portion of
them which could be supplied by his own
labours, and by those of his wife and children.
This man had his anvil, his bellows, and his
smaller tools, all with him; and as we entered, he
had just closed his day's work beneath the tent
allotted to our repose. He rose to receive us
with something of a more studied grace in his
attitude than is usually witnessed in Arabs of the
desert, who are remarkable for the natural ease
of their politeness ; but this difference arose
perhaps from the variety of his associates in an
itinerant life. He was as complete a wit, and
as determined a jester as any Dicky Gossip of
a country village in England, and we were
amused until a late ■ hour with his facetious

We were on the point of rising with the rest
to retire each to his own length and breadth of
earth to repose, for there were no other beds to
recline on, when all at once some one of the
party recognized Abou Farah, the eldest of our
guides, as one on whose head rested the blood
of a son of their tribe. The accusation was
hastily made, a momentary confusion ensued,
but at length, after some explanation, all was
calm again. This, it seemed, was an affair of
four years' standing ; but it having been clearly
demonstrated by one of the party that it was

ii 3


simply a wound that was received, from which
the sufferer had recovered, and that this was
accidentally given, matters were adjusted ; and
a general reconciliation following, we lay down
to repose under the assurance of being in per-
fect safety beneath their tents.

( 103 )



January 30th. We quitted our station in the
valley at sun-rise, and after continuing to travel
for about two hours, in a north-east direction,
always ascending by winding paths, we came to
the summit of the second range of hills on the
east of Jordan. The first of these that we had
crossed was generally of white lime-stone, but
this last had a mixture of many other kinds of
rock. Among these was a dark red stone, which
broke easily, and had shining metallic particles
in it, like those of iron ore. It is probable,
therefore, that this is the range which is called
by Josephus the Iron Mountain, as before
quoted ; for he describes this as being only one
of the ridges of the eastern hills which bounds
the Jordan on that side, an I runs in length as
far as Moab. Both of these ranges are barren
throughout, excepting only in some little dells
near their feet, where the rain-water lodges, and
favours vegetation. The first, or western one,
is a little higher than the second ; but in all
other respects, except these enumerated, their

h 4


general character is alike, and they botli run in
the same direction of nearly north and south.

We had no sooner passed the summit of the
second range, going down a short distance on
its eastern side by a very gentle descent, than
we found ourselves on plains of nearly as high a
level as the summits of the hills themselves, and
certainly eight hundred feet, at least, above the
stream of the Jordan. The character of the
country, too, was quite different from any thing
that I had seen in Palestine, from my first land-
ing at Soor to the present moment. We were
now in a land of extraordinary richness, abound-
ing with the most beautiful prospects, clothed
with thick forests, varied with verdant slopes,
and possessing extensive plains of a fine red soil,
now covered with thistles as the best proof of
its fertility, and yielding in nothing to the cele-
brated plains of Zabulon and Esdraelon, in
Galilee and Samaria.

We continued our way to the north-east,
through a country, the beauty of which so sur-
prised us, that we often asked each other what
were our sensations ; as if to ascertain the reality
of what we saw, and persuade each other, by
mutual confessions of our delight, that the pic-
ture before us was not an optical illusion. The
landscape alone, which varied at every turn, and
gave us new beauties from every different point


of view, was, of itself, worth all the pains of
an excursion to the eastward of Jordan to obtain
a sight of; and the park-like scenes that some-
times softened the romantic wildness of the
general character as a whole, reminded us of
similar spots in less neglected lands.

It was about noon when we reached a small
encampment of Arabs, who had pitched their
tents in a most luxuriant dell, where their flocks
fed on the young buds of spring, and where
they obtained for themselves an abundant supply
of wood and water. Near to this camp, we
found a place on which were the ruins of former
buildings, with a large mill-stone of a circular
form, with a square hole for an axle in its centre,
and at least six feet in diameter. The name of
this place, we were told, was Zerkah. It was
seated in a beautiful valley ; and on the hills
around it were an abundance of wild olives,
oaks, and pine-trees, of a moderate size. This
place may therefore be the " Zara in the valley
of Cilices," which Josephus mentions with
Heshbon, Medaba, and Pella, as being in the
possession of the Jews in the reign of Aretas,
the Arabian king. *

* Joseph. Ant. Jud. 1. xiii. c. 15. s. 4. Zaram is the same
place mentioned by Reland among the towns possessed by
Alexander Janneus in the land of Moab. Pala?stina Illustrata,
C. xx. de Moabitis, 1. i. p. 101.


After smoking a pipe, and taking coffee with
the Arabs, we quitted them about one, and soon
after saw a smaller party, consisting of about a
dozen families only, halting to pitch their tents
in a beautiful little hollow bason, which they
had chosen for the place of their encampment,
surrounded on three sides by woody hills. The
sheikh was the only one of the whole who rode ;
the rest of the men walked on foot, as did most of
the women also. The boys drove the flocks of
sheep and goats ; and the little children, the
young lambs, the kids and the poultry, were all
carried in panniers or baskets across the camel's
backs. The tents, with their cordage and the
mats, the cooking utensils, the provisions and
furniture, were likewise laden upon these useful
animals. As these halted at every five steps to
pull a mouthful of leaves from the bushes, the
progress, of their march was very slow ; but the
patience of all seemed quite in harmony with
the tardy movement of the camel, and it was
evidently a matter of indifference to every one
of the group whether they halted at noon or
at sun-set, since an hour was time enough
for them to prepare their shelter for the night.

We now went up from hence by gradual but
gentle ascents, over still more beautiful and
luxuriant grounds than those which we had
passed before. In our way, we left two ruined




buildings on our right, named Sluihan and Ullan;
they were both extensive but simple edifices,
and seemed to be either large caravanseras, or
very small villages recently deserted. After
ascending these hills until three o'clock, pur-
suing, generally, a north-east direction, we came
to a high plain, and going about a quarter of an
hour over this, we came to a deep ravine, which
looked like a separation of the hill to form this
chasm by some violent convulsion of nature.
The height of the cliffs here on each side, which
were nearly perpendicular, was not less than
five hundred feet, while the breadth from cliff
to cliff was not more than a hundred yards.

The plains at the top, on both sides, were
covered with a light red soil, and bore marks of
high fertility ; but the dark sides of the rocky
cliffs that faced each other in this hollow chasm
were, in general, destitute of verdure.

We descended into this ravine by winding
paths, since it was every where too steep to go
directly down ; and found at the bottom of it a
small river, which flowed from the eastward,
appearing here to have just made a sharp bend
from the northward, and from this point to go
nearly west to discharge itself into the Jordan.
The banks of this stream were so thickly wooded
with oleander and plane trees, wild olives, and
wild almonds in blossom, pink and white sickley-


man flowers, and others, the names of which
were unknown to us, witli tall and waving reeds,
at least fifteen feet in height, that we could not per-
ceive the waters through them from above; though
the presence of these luxuriant borders marked
the winding of its course, and the murmur of its
flow was echoed through its long deep channel
so as to be heard distinctly from afar. On this
side of the stream, at the spot where we forded
it, was a piece of wall, solidly built upon the
inclined slope, constructed in an uniform man-
ner, though of small stones, and apparently
finished at the end, which was towards the river,
so that it never could have been carried across,
as we at first supposed, either for a bridge or to
close the pass. This was called by the Arabs,
" Shughl beni Israel," or the work of the sons
of Israel ; but they knew of no other traditions
regarding it. The river, where we crossed it,
at this point, was not more than ten yards wide,
but it was deeper than the Jordan, and nearly
as rapid ; so that we had some difficulty in
fording it. As it ran in a rocky bed, its waters
were clear, and we found their taste agreeable.

This stream is called "Nahr-el-Zerkah," or
the river of Zerkah, by the Arabs, from the
name of the nearest place, which we had just
passed through before coming here. From its
position, there can be no doubt of its being


the Jabbok of the Scriptures, which was the
northern boundary of the Amorites, as the
stream of Anion was their southern one ; and
this northern border, from its character as
already described, would fully justify the asser-
tion of its strength. "And Israel smote him
(Sihon king of the Amorites) with the edge of
the sword, and possessed his land from Anion
unto Jabbok, even unto the children of Amnion,
for the border of the children of Amnion was
strong." *

Joseph us, in describing the geographical
boundaries of the land of the Amorites, says,
" This is a country situate between three rivers,
and naturally resembling an island ; the river
Anion being its southern limit, the river Jabbok
determining its northern side, which, running
into Jordan, loses its own name t, and takes the
other, while Jordan itself runs along by it on
its western J coast." This is in perfect unison
with the boundaries so frequently mentioned
in Holy Writ, and more particularly in Jephthah's
racapitulation of the wars of the Israelites, when

* Numbers, xxi. 24. Deut. ii. 37- and iii. 16.

f It is called the Ford of Jabbok, in the Scriptures, (Gen.
xxxii. 22.) and its very name is expressive, Jaboc, p^' —
evacuatio, vel dissipatio, aut lucta. Nomen vadi in Jordaneiu
profluentis. — tEnomasticum Sacrum, p. 159.

\ Joseph. Ant. Jud. 1. iv. c. 5. s. 2.


he sends messages to the king of the children
of Amnion, wherein he says of the former,
"And they possessed all the coasts of the
Amorites, from Anion even unto Jabbok, and
from the wilderness even unto Jordan *." This is
the same place with Peniel, where Jacob wrestled
with a man, or, as he himself supposed, with
God, whom he thought he had seen face to
face, t As it was here, too, that his name was

* Judges, xi. 22. f Genesis xxxii. 24. et seq.

" A patriarchs itinere incipiemus, qui ex Mesopotamia
regressus a monte Galaad in locum venit, quern a visis ibi
angelorum castris Mahanaim adpellavit. Cadit in sort em
tribus Gad, quamquam trans torrentum Jabok fuit ; Josuae,
xiii. 26. ; et cap. xxi. 38. ubi inter Leviticus hujus tribus
numeratur. Ibi Isboseth rex contra Da vidian creatus, 2 Sam.
ii. 8. ibidemque castra David habuit, quum pulsus ab Abso-
lone esset, c. xvii. 24. 27. Hieronymus de Locis. Manaim
(Mai/aeijU. contracte Eusebius) potest ergo in Galaad etiam
transcribi : potest etiam in principio Peraese propria?.

" Inde transvexit suos patriarcha torrentem Jabok, et sin-
gulare certamine cum fortiore luctatus, locum Pnuel seu Pniel,
id est 7ft^3 facies Dei, nominavit. Genesis, xxxii. 30. seq.
Urbs postmodum facta et emunita, Jud. viii. 8. 17- Hierony-
mus scripsit Fanuel : Septuaginta verterurit JSo? tS ScZv.
Ipse amnis Jabok, qui Mahanaim inter et Pnuel delabitur, ab
Hieronymo praeeunte Eusebio sic descriptus est. Jabock
fluvius, quo transmisso luctatus est Jacob adversus eum qui
sibi adparuerat, vocatusque est Israel. Flint autem inter
Amman, id est Philadelphiam et Gerasam, in quanto milliaria
ejus ; et ultra procedens, Jordani fluvio commiscetur. Adde
Joseph. 1. iv. Ant. c. 5." — Cellarius, Geog. Ant. 1. iii. c. 13.
Peraea, p. 397.


first changed from Jacob to Israel, because as a
prince he had power with God, and with men
had prevailed, it is not impossible but that the
singular building of the sloping wall below
might bear the name of Beni Israel, in allusion
to this event, and be thought even to be a
monument commemorative of it by the people
of the country here.

We ascended the steep on the north side of
the Zerkah, and on reaching its summit, came
again on a beautiful plain, of an elevated level,
and still covered with a very rich soil. We had
now quitted the land of Sihon, king of the
Amorites, and entered into that of Og, the
king of Bashan, both of them well known to all
the readers of the early scriptures. We had
quitted, too, the districts apportioned to the
tribes of Reuben and of Gad, and entered that
part which was allotted to the half tribe of
Manasseh, beyond Jordan eastward, leaving the
land of the children of Ammon on our right or
to the east of the Jabbok, which, according to
the authority before quoted, divided Ammon or
Philadelphia from * Gerasa. The mountains

* Jabboc fluvius terminus Ammonitarum appellator, Deut.
iii. 16. ^nin py IV Hptf »i3 Si3J usqtie adJabbokftuvi-
um terminum filiorum Ammon dedi Rubenitis et Guditis. Quod
tamen non debet intelligi ac si Jabboc ita distingueret Ammo-
nitas et Israelites ut quemadmodum regio Israelitarurh est ad


here are called the land of Gilead * in the Scrip-
tures, and in Josephus ; and, according to the
Roman division, this was the country of the
Decapolis, so often spoken of in the New Testa-
ment t, or the province of Gaulonites, from
the city of Gaulon, its early capital, t

We continued our way over this elevated tract,
continuing to behold, with surprise and admira-
tion, a beautiful country on all sides of us ; its
plains covered with a fertile soil, its hills clothed
with forests, at every new turn presenting the
most magnificent landscapes that could be ima-
gined. Among the trees, the oak was frequently
seen, and we know that this territory produced
them of old. In enumerating the sources from
which the supplies of Tyre were drawn in the

austrum Jabboci, ita regio Ammonitarum (si ex parte, certe non
omnis ibi fuit) esset ad septentrionem : nam ultra Jabbocum
septentrionem versus erat Basan et portio dimidiae tribus Me-

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 6 of 26)