John L. (John Lawson) Stoddard.

John L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) online

. (page 7 of 12)
Online LibraryJohn L. (John Lawson) StoddardJohn L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 12)
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sible. It is well
known that
both Titus and

Hadrian, in their successive conquests of Jerusalem, cut down
all the trees in its vicinity, and the Crusaders found this region
well-nigh destitute of wood. Still, since it is characteristic

of the olive to sprout repeatedly
from the same roots, even though
cut off at the ground, it is not
wholly improbable that these
trees have sprung from the
ones beneath which on the
midnight air were uttered the
agonizing words: "Father,
if it be possible, let this cup
pass from me!"

But can we believe that
this is the exact locality of
Gethsemane? We know, at
least, that -somewhere
in this valley at the
base of Olivet, and just




across the brook Kedron, was the secluded spot whither the
Master came with His disciples after the Last Supper. But
whether this is the precise location is uncertain. The Greeks,
for example, have their Garden of Gethsemane a little farther
up the hill, and are, of course, confident that theirs is the
right one. To thoughtful and intelligent travelers it should
be enough that somewhere in this limited area (the whole
of which is, in a moment, open to the gaze) occurred that
scene, whose narrative for over eighteen centuries has moved
unnumbered listeners and readers to repentant tears.

When one seats himself in a retired portion of the Mount
of Olives and looks out on the historic landscape, he realizes
that it is the natural features and associations of the Holy
Land that really give him pleasure. The life which conse-
crated these Judaean Hills may not have left a trace within
the church of the Holy Sepulchre, but it has made each por-
tion of the Mount of Olives consecrated ground. No part of
Palestine is hallowed by so many memories of Jesus as this
hill; for to its olive groves He often came to escape the noise
and turmoil of the city, and here He uttered words familiar
now to millions of our race. It was from Olivet that He

gazed tenderly upon Jerusalem

and ^^^^ ^^^^ wept




as He foretold its doom. Here also, more than anywhere
else on earth, He held communion with His Father, thus
gaining strength and inspiration for His life and death; and
we are told that on some portion of this hill, having con-
ducted His disciples out toward Bethany, He gave to them
His benediction and parted from them forever.


Unfortunately, however, though there is surely enough
material here for true religious sentiment, it by no means
satisfies the average pilgrim. Upon the crest of Olivet,
therefore, has been built the "Church of the Ascension."
On entering this, we saw in the floor a small, rectangular
space, surrounded by a marble coping. Pilgrims were pros-
trating themselves before it and kissing the pavement repeat-
edly. The cause was soon explained to us, for in the pave-
ment is shown a slight irregularity, believed to be the imprint
made by the right foot of Jesus as He left the earth.



This is an admirable
illustration of Palestine, as
men have made it. Practi-
cally disregarding the hill
itself, which is unquestion-
ably genuine, thousands of
pilgrims prefer to crawl be-
neath an arch of masonry
to worship so-called foot-
prints in a stone! There
are three kinds of travelers
in the Holy Land. First,
those who are wisely content to see the natural localities
connected with the life of Christ, and therefore gain from
Palestine the solemn inspiration of its priceless memories;
secondly, those who lose themselves within the slough
of superstition there; and thirdly, those who, thoroughly
offended by the false, forget the value of the true, and
ridicule it all.



Just beyond the crest of Olivet lies the little village of
Bethany. Its site is undoubtedly authentic, and we are
sure, beyond peradventure, that it was over this same hill,
and to this very place, that Jesus loved to come to find rest
in the home of his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary. The
most satisfactory thing, however, for the traveler to do here,
is to survey from a distance the town and the surrounding
hills, whose contours have remained unchanged, and then to
retire. For, if he persists in going nearer, he will experience

the usual dis-
The modern
Bethany is
a cluster of
miserable huts,
without a build-
ing which seems
to be more than
a century old.
Nevertheless, a
swarm of blear-
eyed, ragged children greeted us here with cries of "Back-
sheesh, Backshecsh ! Tombo Lazarus! Tombo Lazarus!"
For not only are the ruins of the house of Martha and Mary
pointed out, but also the tomb from which Lazarus is said
to have come forth at the divine command.

We were foolish enough to visit the so-called tomb ; and
descending by candle-light twenty-five slippery steps, we
reached what seemed to have been originally the bottom of a

Again, therefore, at Bethany, as in so many other places
in the Holy Land, we see that "the letter killeth, the spirit
giveth life." In a broad sense, Palestine is still the land of
Jesus. In a narrow sense, it is not so at all. It is a pic-





ture of which only
the grand outlines
are satisfactory. It
is sublime in its en-
tirety, but tawdry
in detail. Even sup-
posing that the pre-
cise localities con-
nected with the life
and death of Christ
are still capable of
identification after
the dreadful sieges

and disasters that have come upon them, the question arises,
Which guide or scholar should we follow of all who have
written on Jerusalem? There are hardly two of them who
do not fight each other fiercely, like ecclesiastical gladiators
in an arena of uncertainty. The part of
wisdom, therefore, in such a country, where
almost every stone is made to indi-
cate some sacred spot, which every
other sect immediately disputes,
is to fix one's gaze upon the
unchanging natural features and
draw from them the interest their
unrivaled history inspires.

The religion of Jesus, which
still lives in the hearts of mil-
lions, is not dependent on the
existence of old sepulchres and
shrines. Its essential monu-
ments are not tombs, but char-
acters; not perishable temples
upon earth, but a city of God,



"not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Returning
from Bethany and Olivet, and walking down the valley
of the Kedron, beyond the reputed Tomb of the Virgin,
we came upon a singular monument, the greater part
of which is a mass of solid rock, about twenty feet
square, completely detached from the adjoining cliff. Within


it is a compartment, eight feet square, with spaces on the
sides for two sarcophagi. Originally, it must have been im-
posing, for it is fifty feet in height, and was adorned with
columns and a delicately sculptured frieze. As we were
passing it, our guide picked up a stone and hurled it at the
monument, spitting meantime upon the ground and uttering
a curse. "What are you doing?" we inquired: "what is the
meaning of that heap of stones to which you have just added
one?" He turned and spat again. "It is the tomb of Ab-
salom," he said. In fact, both Jews and Moslems believe that



this surmounts the grave of David's disobedient son, and
they take a singular delight in showing thus their detestation
of treachery to a father.

Not far from this, we paused to notice on the side of
Olivet two other monuments. One, like the tomb of
Absalom, is an enormous block of stone hewn out of the
adjoining cliff; the other is distinguished by a colonnade,
behind which, in the hillside, is a kind of catacomb. Noth-
ing is known with certainty about these sepulchres. The
names assigned to
them are based on
no authority save
that of vague
tradition. But
they, of course,
must have some
legendary history
to satisfy the
memento - craving
pilgrim. Hence
one is called the "Tomb of Zachariah;" the other, the
"Grotto of St. James," from the belief that the Apostle
James concealed himself there after the Crucifixion.

We lingered here some time absorbed in thought ; for
although nothing is known of those who were originally
buried here, one interesting fact gives to these tombs along
the slope of Olivet a priceless value. It is that they were
undoubtedly standing here at the time of Christ. Ruin, we
know, soon overtook alike the glorious Temple and the build-
ings of the city, of which, as Holy Writ affirms, not one
stone was to be left upon another; but these old rock-hewn
sepulchres remain almost unchanged since Jesus walked be-
side them. Upon these very structures, therefore, He must
have looked; and this fact gives to them a value shared,


1 82



with certainty,
by nothing else
of human work-
manship in the
world. Around
them, for some
distance, the hill
is almost con-
cealed u nder
prostrate tomb-
stones. They
mark the burial-
place of Jews
who have by
thousands toiled

back to Jerusalem, content if finally their dust might mingle

with the soil of their native land.

In our walks around Jerusalem we often found ourselves

before huge openings in the

hillsides. One of these is

called the "Tombs of the

Kings." Whether or

not authentic names

have been attached

to them, certain it

is that all the hills

around Jerusalem

are honey - combed

with rock-hewn sep-
ulchres of great an-
tiquity. They are
of every shape and
size. Some have fine
carvings chiseled in



the stone. The cost of making many of them proves that
persons of great wealth or rank were buried here. Some of
their entrances seem to have been closed by stone doors
turning on socket-hinges, and fastened by bolts on the
inside. Strangely enough, no inscriptions tell the names
of their former inmates or even the dates of their entomb-


ment, and now the sepulchres are tenantless alike of earthly
treasure and of human dust.

But sepulchres are not the only excavations in these hills.
Among them are the royal quarries, where architects obtained
the enormous blocks of limestone for the walls and Tem-
ple of Jerusalem. The evidence is abundant that skilful
stone-cutters once labored in these rock-hewn labyrinths, and
that in many instances the blocks were carried forth, all
carved and ready for their appointed place. This, therefore,

1 86


verifies the statement of the Scriptures that, in the building
of the Temple, the stones were all prepared before being
brought there; so that neither hammer, nor ax, nor any
tool of iron was heard within the sacred precincts during its


construction. One of these quarries is known as the "Grotto
of Jeremiah," and in its gloomy shadows the prophet is said
to have written his Book of Lamentations.

Jerusalem has never had a natural supply of water suffi-
cient for its needs. King Hezekiah did much to improve the
city in this respect, and Solomon built reservoirs in the hills
ten miles away, still known as the Pools of Solomon, from
which ingeniously constructed aqueducts brought a copious
flow of water both to Bethlehem and Jerusalem. For cen-
turies, however, these well-built conduits have been in ruins.
Now and then one or another of them has been repaired and
rendered serviceable, but negligence has soon allowed it to
relapse into its former useless state. The so-called "Pool of
Hezekiah " in Jerusalem is an open tank, capable of contain-



ing four million gallons of water; but this too is in bad repair,
the bottom is covered with vegetable mold, and since it is
surrounded by houses, the water it contains is often foul.
Few people use it, save for washing purposes; but, in sum-
mer, when there is a scarcity of water in Jerusalem, the
poorer classes sometimes drink it with evil consequences.

The Pool of Bethesda is in a still worse condition, since it
has no water at all, is largely filled with rubbish, and even


receives the drainage from the neighboring dwellings. It is
a melancholy illustration of decadence that the city of Solo-
mon, which was three thousand years ago abundantly sup-
plied with water, and boasted of its pools of Gihon, Solomon
and Siloam, is now chiefly dependent upon private wells and

No visit to Jerusalem would be complete that did not
include an inspection of some of the places of transcendent
interest, lying within a radius of a few miles of the Holy
City, Jericho, the Jordan, the Dead Sea, Mar Saba, Beth-
lehem, and Hebron. Excursions to these localities may be

1 88


easily made on horseback, even by ladies unaccustomed to
that form of exercise ; and, on a journey thither, the nights
spent in water-proof tents, carpeted with rugs and furnished
with every needed comfort, are among the pleasantest mem-
ories of a tour in Palestine. The distance from Jerusalem to

Jericho, as the crow flies,
is only thirteen miles. Few
routes, however, are more
precipitous and rough ; for
the Plain of Jericho is thirty-
six hundred and twenty
feet lower than Mount Zion.
Moreover, the road is still
so dangerous that one is
even more likely now, than
in the time of the Good
Samaritan, to fall among
thieves in making the jour-
ney. The traveler's safety,
therefore, lies in being open-
ly robbed at the start, by
purchasing protection from
the Bedouins who practically
levy blackmail on all tour-
ists. There is, however,
honor among thieves; and
the Arab tribes that inhabit the hill-country of Judaea agree
not to molest the traveler, if one of their chiefs has been
retained by a sufficient fee.

When I first looked upon the distant Plain of Jericho from
the mountains east of Jerusalem, it appeared remarkably
beautiful, and I could understand why it had once been
called the "Garden of the World," and Jericho itself the
"City of Palms." In fact, palms are known to have been in

* -. .



existence here as late as the time of the Crusaders, who also
found under them some lovely flowers, which they called
"Jericho roses."

But, with the exception of the site of Ephesus, in Asia
Minor, it would be difficult to find a more impressive con-
trast between past magnificence and present squalor than at
Jericho. Its history has been eventful. It was the first city
conquered by the Jews when they entered Palestine, fifteen
hundred years before the birth of Christ ; and from that time,
for nearly twenty centuries, it was noted for its wealth and
luxury. Under the Roman conquerors of Syria it was
rebuilt, and Antony, who for the sake of Cleopatra had
"madly flung a world away," gave Jericho to that en-
chantress of the Nile, as her special property, as one might
offer to one's love a costly gem. Its palm-girt and well-
irrigated plain was made world-famous by its palaces, gardens
and amphitheatres, and here the Roman governor, Herod,
died. When Christ passed through it on His last journey to
Jerusalem, it was at the height of its splendor and pros-
perity, but to-day, of all its opulence not a trace remains.
Some wretched
huts clinging,
like barnacles,
to the Moslem
tower called
the House of
Zacchajus, are
all that now
remain to hint
to us that this was once inhabited by man, and the occu-
pants of these hovels are the most repulsive and degraded
inhabitants of Syria.

Not far from Jericho, a short ride brings the traveler to
the River Jordan. It is by no means an imposing stream,



being here only about thirty or forty feet wide, and as muddy
as the Tiber. The current is impetuous, and dangerous for
bathers, unless they are expert swimmers. A considerable
number of pilgrims are drowned in it every year, and we saw
one dead body caught in the bushes on the opposite shore.

Thousands of
Christian pil-
grims come an-
nually, especial-
ly at Easter
time, to bathe
in the sacred
stream ; each
sect having a
different bath-
ing-place, which
each affirms to
be the exact
spot where Jesus
was baptized by
John the Baptist. On the occasions of these pilgrimages,
the Turkish Government guarantees, as it has done for
centuries, the protection of the Christians from the Bedouins.
To most of the pilgrims to the Holy Land baptism, or even
a bath, in the Jordan is one of the most sacred and impor-
tant events of their lives, and they religiously cherish the
robes in which they have been immersed, to serve ulti-
mately as their winding-sheets. Most of them also take
back to their homes bottles filled with water from the sacred
river. The Jordan has been sometimes praised as being
beautiful and limpid, and such perhaps it may be in the
earlier portion of its course, but we agreed that we had never
seen a stream more desolate and dreary. One might imagine
that it has a presentiment here of the awful fate which




awaits it close at hand, of being stifled in the brine of the
Dead Sea. Swift and sullen, it here rolls through a land
of desolation to a sea of death.

The first glimpse of the Dead Sea, as we descended
toward it from the site of Jericho, was a great surprise. It
seemed to us as fair a sheet of bright green water as we had
ever looked upon, and it sparkled in the sunlight like a limpid
lake. Could it be possible, we asked ourselves in astonish-
ment, that this was the Dead Sea? When we arrived at its
shore, however, there was no longer any doubt. It was the
climax of the dreary plain over which we had come. There


was no sail upon its surface, no sign of life within its waves.
Some shrub-like vegetation fringed the shore, but that, like
everything else in the vicinity, was covered with a white,
salt crust, and looked as if it had been smitten with leprosy,
while branches of dead trees, brought hither by the Jordan,



lay on the sterile shore like the distorted limbs of monsters
that had died in agony.

The Dead Sea fills the deepest depression known on the
surface of the earth, and is sunk, like a monstrous cauldron,
between mountains three and four thousand feet in height.

It is nearly four
thousand feet
below the city
of Jerusalem,
which is only
twenty miles
away, and thir-
teen hundred
feet below the
level of the
We found
its atmosphere
GUIDES. even in mid-

winter extremely sultry; and in summer, after long months
of exposure to the full power of the sun, it must be almost
unendurable. Of course, we tried a bath in its waters. It
was a singular experience. To go beyond one's depth one
must wade out to a great distance. In doing so, however,
there is no danger, as it is impossible for a person to
sink, so saline is the water. We found it even hard to
swim, owing to the difficulty of keeping our feet underwater.
At every stroke we found that we were merely kicking the
air. It might be possible to dive, but we preferred that some
one else should make the experiment, for the salty ingre-
dients are disagreeable enough upon the skin, without allow-
ing them to enter one's eyes, nose and mouth. On coming
out from the bath, our sensations can best be described by
saying that we felt as if we had been immersed in mucilage.



The Dead Sea is the Greek, and comparatively modern,
epithet applied to this vast lake. The Hebrews called it the
Salt Sea. As is well-known, it has no outlet, and all the
water which it receives from the Jordan and other streams is
carried off by evaporation. This alone might not explain its
extraordinary saltness, which is nearly seven times greater
than that of the ocean ; but to this there is added another
reason, in the fact that at one end of it is a salt deposit, sev-
eral miles long. Great as is the depression of the surface, its
own depth is also enormous, being in one place no less than
thirteen hundred feet.

From the Dead Sea our route led upward through the
wilderness of Judaea. Neither words nor views can ade-
quately represent the desolation of this frightful area, seamed
with a thousand
sterile gorges.
Even the Sahara
is less dreary.
The African
desert has a cer-
tain beauty in
its boundless
sweep of sand,
now level as the
surface of a tran-
quil sea, now ris-
ing into gently
rolling waves.
But the Judaean
wilderness is a series of absolutely barren and appalling
mountains, divided from each other by great chasms,
flanked with frowning precipices, as if the country had been
gashed and scarred by demons. It would be like a horrible
nightmare to think of being lost in these Judaean caflons,


I /<


where every drop
of water is drained
away, every vestige
of vegetation has
vanished, and noth-
ing is visible but yel-
low, burning sand
and rocks. Birds,
beasts and men
shun the region, as
if smitten of God.
It was in this wil-
derness that Jesus
is supposed to have
fasted forty day-;
and it is difficult to
imagine any one,
human or divine,

doing anything else in such a place. From the earliest cen-
turies of Christianity ascetics and anchorites have resorted

to this wilderness

for fasting and

prayer, and one

old monastery still

remains, clinging,

as it has done for

ages, to the barren

rocks. It is the

monastery of Mar

Saba. From the

precipitous cliff, on

which it hangs

like a wasp's

nest, one can




drop a stone more than a thousand feet into the sombre
depths of a chasm. Here, in the fourth century after Christ,
the monk, Saint Saba, came to live in solitude and spend
his days in prayer. Eventually hundreds followed him, and
made for themselves homes in the recesses of this frightful
gorge. At last, for mutual preservation from starvation


and protection from the Bedouins, this
monastery rose, strong as a fortress,
and almost as substantial as the cliffs themselves. Sentinels
are always on duty at its iron gate, through which alone an
entrance can be gained. We were admitted only when our
dragoman had satisfied those within as to who we were.
Never can I forget the night spent at Mar Saba. The rock-
hewn rooms in which we lodged, the bell that called the
monks to midnight prayer and rang out weirdly on the
desert air, and the pity inspired by the lonely ascetic life of
these poor monks, made the few hours passed in this
Judaean monastery among the most impressive of my life.



Leaving Mar Saba early the next morning, we gradually
rode up from the wilderness, and far on in the day beheld,
framed in a mass of old gray olive trees illumined by the set-
ting sun, a village which we knew was Bethlehem. Surely
if any place on earth should breathe of peace and good-will
to mankind, it is this town of David, consecrated by the birth
of Christ. But, alas! the reception given us was anything
but peaceful. A veritable mob of beggars and street venders
swarmed out to meet us on the road, and, in an uproarious
babel of strange tongues they thrust upon us rosaries,
crosses, beads, stars, canes and numberless other trinkets, all
of which they declared were sacred, since they had rested on
the Star of the Nativity. Our dragoman did not hesitate to
strike a number of these hawkers with his whip, and I remem-
ber seeing one of them receive a cut across the face which
must have disfigured him for many a day.

It is said that the inhabitants of Bethlehem are the fiercest
and most lawless of any in Judaea, and that in riots and other
disturbances they are invariably the ringleaders. Our own
experience was sufficiently depressing, and, even now, it is
impossible for any of our party to recall Bethlehem without
the remem- ^^^^^^^^BH^M^^^^^^^ brance of

that ^^^* ^^^^ noisy



and persistent mob, whose vociferations were still ringing in
our ears as we finally hastened through the door, and entered
the Church of the Nativity. It is an enormous edifice,
consisting of a church and three convents, belonging respect-
ively to the Latins, the Greeks, and the Armenians. Here,
as in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem, every

spot that can be

^-r: - r -r~r-

thought of in /

connection with

the birth of

Jesus is pointed

out. Thus we

were shown the

place where the

three wise men

knelt, to give

1 2 3 4 5 7 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryJohn L. (John Lawson) StoddardJohn L. Stoddard's lectures : illustrated and embellished with views of the world's famous places and people, being the identical discourses delivered during the past eighteen years under the title of the Stoddard lectures (Volume 2) → online text (page 7 of 12)