Thomas Harmer.

Observations on various passages of Scripture, placing them in a new light and ascertaining the meaning of several not determinable by the methods commonly made use of by the learned (Volume 1) online

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Online LibraryThomas HarmerObservations on various passages of Scripture, placing them in a new light and ascertaining the meaning of several not determinable by the methods commonly made use of by the learned (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 37)
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Ghilan in particular. '

f David might have addressed him as the children ofHeth did Abraham,
Gen. xxii. 6, Hear us, my lord: thou art a prince of Qod, anaishty prince, !

amonq- us.


cheese and milk, and so pass their time somewhat joy-
ously on the occasion."

This is very different from the feast Nabal held when
his sheep were shorn ;-^ or, we may believe from the en-
tertainment Absalom prepared for the family of king Da-
vid, when Amnon was slain.



Our translators suppose, that the edifice at which Jehu
slew the brethren of Ahaziah, king of Judah,f was des-
tined to the sole purpose of shearing of sheep ; but as I
apprehend the term in the original is ambiguous, which is
accordingly literally translated in the margin, the house
of shepherd's binding ^X ^^ might be better to use some
less determinate word ; as the word, I am ready to be-
lieve, may signify the binding sheep for shearing; the
binding up their fleeces, after those fleeces taken from the
sheep beforehand were washed ; or the binding the sheep
for the purpose of milking. Whether it was erected for
all three purposes, or if only for one of them, then for
which of the three, it may be very difScult precisely to

A pit near such a building must be useful in any of the
three cases, for the affording water for the sheep that
were detained there for some time, in the first and third
case, to drink ; and for the washing the wool in the other.

• I Sam. XXV. I, 8, S6 ; to which is to be added the account given of the
plentiful present made to David by Abigail, v. 18, which, larg-e as it was.
seems not to have been missed by Nabal, at least did not prevent his cele-
brating the festival.

t 2 Kings, X. 12, 14.

i: The term IpJ? n''2 heeth-akad^ in the original, is according to St.
Jerom, the name of a town belonging to Samaria ; and the Septuagiut re-
tain the word as a proper name, B<t<Q*xA<r. Edit.
VOL. I. 31


If the intention of the historian had been to describe
it as the place appropriated to the shearing of sheep, it
would have been natural for him to have used the word
that precisely expresses that operation, not such a gene-
ral term as the house of binding.

All know that sheep must be bound, or at least forcibly
held, in order to be shorn ; and it appears in the Travels
of Dr. Richard Chandler in the Lesser i^sia, that "the
shepherds there, sitting at the mouth of the pen, were
wont to seize on the ewes and she goats, each bj the hind
leg, as they pressed forward, to milk them ;^ which seiz-
ing them, sufficiently shows they must be held, shackled,
or somehow bound when milked.

In another Observation I have taken noticeof the read-
iness of great men, in the East, to repose themselves^
when fatigued, under the shelter of roofs of a very mean
kind ; the brethren, it seems, of Ahaziah anciently did the
same thing. But they found no more safety in this ob-
scure retreat, than they would have found in the palaces
of either Samaria or Jezreel.

The slaying them at the pit, near this place, seems to
have been owing to a custom at that time, whether
arising from superstition, to preserve the land from being
defiled, or any other notion, does not at first sight ap-
pear ; but it was, it seems, a customary thing at that time
to put people to death near water, at least near where
water was soon expected to flow, as appears from 1 Kings
xviii. 40,



In Arabia, and in other places, they are wont to close
and cover up their wells of water, lest the sand, which is

* P. 273,


put into molion by (he winds there, like the water of a
pond, should fill them, and quite stop them up.*

This is the account Sir Jl Chardin gives us in his MS.
in a note on Psal. Ixix. 15. I \ery much question the
applicableness of this custom to that passage, but it will
serve to explain, I think, extremely well, the view of
keeping that well covered with a stone, from which La-
ban's sheep were wont to be watered ; and their care not
to leave it open any time, but to stay till the flocks were
all gathered together, before they opened it, and then,
having drawn as much water as was requisite, to cover it
up again immediately, Gen. xxix. 2, 8.

Bishop Patrick supposed it was done to keep the water
clean and cool. Few people, I imagine, will long hesitate
in determining which most probably was the view in keep-
ing the well covered with so much care.

All this care of their water is certainly very requisite,
since they have so little, that Chardin in another part of
his MS. supposes, " that the strife between Abraham's
Lerdmen and Lot'sf was rather about water, than pastur-
age ;" and immediately after observes, " that when they
are forced to draw the water for very large flocks, out of
one well, or two, it must take up a great deal of time."


GEN. XXIX. 1, &C.

Chardin also gives us to understand, in the sixth
Vol. of his MS. that he has known wells or cisterns of
water locked up in the East ; and if not, that some per-
son is so far the proprietor, that no one dares to open a
well or cistern, but in his presence. He has often, he

* This and the follo\vin.e: Observation make David's indulgence to Nabal's
servants appear very meritorious.

t Gen. xiii. f.


says, seen them mate use of such precautions, in divers
parts of Asia, on account of the real scarcity of water

He applies this account of Jacob's watering Rachel's
flock. Gen. sxix : supposing that Rachel had the key;
or that they dared not to open it but in her presence.
This representation of matters seems much preferable to
that of those, who suppose the stone was of such a weight
as not to be moved, but by the joint strength of several
shepherds, but that Jacob had strength or address suffi-
cient to remove it alone ; or supposing that he a stranger
ventured to break a standing rule for watering the flocks,
which the natives did not dare to do, and this without
opposition, or, so far as appears, so much as contradic-
tion : the Eastern people were not wont to be so tame, see
Gen. xix. 9.



If we should turn our thoughts to the strength of an
Arab emir, or the number of men they command, we shall
find it is not very great, and that were Abraham now
alive, and possessed of the same degree of strength that
he had in his time, he would still be considered as a
prince among them, and might, perhaps, even be called
a mighty prince, he having three hundred and eighteen
servants able to bear arms. Gen. xiv. 14, especially in the
Eastern compliraental style: for this is much like the
strength of those Arab emirs of Palestine d'Arvieux vis-

There were according to him eighteen emirs or princes
that governed the Arabs of Mount Carmel ; the grand
emir, or chief of these princes, encamped in the middle,
the rest round about him, at one or two leagues distance
from him, and from each other ; each of these emirs had



a number of Arabs particularly attached to him, who call-
ed themselves his servants, and were properly the troops
each emir commanded when they fought ; and when all
these divisions were united, they made up between four
and five thousand fighting men."^ Had each of these
emirs been equal in strength to Abraham, their number
of fighting men must have been near six thousand, for
three hundred and eighteen, the number of his servants,
multiplied by eighteen, the number of those emirs, make
five thousand seven hundred and twentyfour; but they
were but between four and five thousand, so that they had
but about two hundred and fifty each, upon an average,
Abraham then was superior in force to one of these emirs.

The Arab clans are not, most certainly, equal in num-
ber: Egmont and Heyman expressly observef that the
three clans, defenders of the convent of Mount Sinai, dif-
fered from each other in this point, the second being more
numerous than the first, and the third than the second ;
but it seems that they are often not more numerous than
Abraham's family was. Several Arabian tribes can
bring no more than three or four hundred horses into the
field. Dr. Shaw says :J so that it is no wonder that Abra-
ham was considered in ancient days as a considerable
prince, at the head of a powerful clan; should have his
alliance courted ; Gen. xx. 22, and make war in his own
name. Aner, Eshcol, and Mamre, his confederates,
were, I suppose, neighbouring emirs at the head of con-
siderable clans also, with whom Abraham was leagued,
and who made up together a formidable power in those

Heber the Kenite, in the time of the Judges, appears
to have been in like manner a powerful emir, but separat-
ed on some account or other from the rest of the emirs of

* Voy. dans la Pal. p. 103 - 108.

t See the last edition of those Travels*

i P. 169. And such a clan, according to him there, possesses frequent-
ly as large a number of cattle as Job was master of.


his nation, as the Arab princes of these times frequently
have great misunderstandings with each other, and are
divided by separate interests. And if the Grand Seign-
ior, powerful as he is, courts the modern Arab emirs as
we know he does, it can be no wonder that such a prince
as Jabin, when he distressed Israel, chose to continue in
peace with Heber, who living in tents, was more able to
elude the vexations of Jabin on the one hand, and to per-
plex him on the other ; nay, it is not impossible that his
detaching himself from the rest of the Kenites might be
owing to the intrigues of Jabin, as the present misunder-
standings of the Arab clans are frequently caused by the
artitices of the Turks.

But though Abraham was a man of power, and did upon
occasion make war, yet I hope a remark I before made
concerning him will be remembered here, that is, that he
was a pacific emir notwithstanding, at least, that he by no
means resembled the modern Arabs in (heir acts of dep-
redation and violence.



In the smallness of their clans, and in their terribleness
to those of a more settled kind of life, there is some re-
semblance between the Arabs and the Indians of North
America ; shall we, therefore, suppose there is a conform-
ity between the emirs of the one, and the sachems of the
other, as to slovenliness in the way of living?

The Journal of the Prefetto of the missionaries de pro-
paganda fide, published by the late Bishop of Clogher,
seems to suppose this, which has given me, I confess, a
good deal of offence : for speaking of the tents of the
Arabs, the Journal sa^s,^ "They are subdivided into

•* P. 8.


three apartments; in the most retired of which, the wo-
wen have their residence ; in the middle, some of the men
and women live promiscuously ; and in the outermost are
kept all the beasfs and cattle of the field, the cocks, and
hens, and goats ; which seemed to me to be a lively rep-
resentation of the manner of habitation practised by the
ancient patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Did
they then and their cattle and their poultry all live togeth-
er in the same tent ? One would imas^ine the Prefetto
meant so, when he said this wretched way of living, of
the vulgar Arabs, seemed to him, a lively representation
ofthatofthe Patriarchs; but it cannot be just, since we
know froni their history that Sarah had a tent to herself,
which Rebekah afterward had for her separate use. Gen.

xxiv. er.

The way of living of the Patriarchs may be much more
truly learnt from d'Arvieux's account of the Arabs, who
tells us indeed, that among the Arabs the men and cattle
lodge together in the winter time, on account of warmth,
for which reason they encamp in vallies or on the sea
shore, upon the sand, in order to avoid the inconvenience
of mire ;* but then, though the common Arabs lire after
this inelegant manner, especially in the winter, he informs
us that their emirs or princes live very differently ; that
they have always two tents, one for themselves, the other
for their wives, besides a number of small ones for their
domestics, together with a tent of audience. How differ-
ent a picture of the Arabs does this give us ! Is it not
much more reasonable to suppose that the accommoda-
tions of an emir of these times, such as la Roque gives us
account of from d'Arvieux, is a representation of the way
of living of the Patriarchs, who were treated as princes
by the people of those countries, than the tent of a vulgar
Arab ?

As to a separate tent for their wives, we are sure the
mode is the same ; and probably the same may be said aiK

^Voy. dans la Pal. p. 175.


to (he other accommodations of the Arab emirs, which
are very different, according to d'Arvieux, in Palestine,
from those of the ordinary people of that nation, at least if
we make some abatement, for the earliness of the time in
which the Patriarchs lived. The common Arabs, accord-
ing to him, have only some mats on which they lie,^ and
some coverlets ; seldom any cushion, a stone serving them
for a bolster: but their princes are much better furnish-
ed, they have quilts, carpets, coverlets of all sorts, and
some very beautiful, stitched with gold and silk, and
others woven and embroidered with flowers of gold and
silver, like those of the Turks, and extremely handsome;
they sew fine white sheets to the coverlets, and have
others striped with several colours to put underneath,
&c.f Sanctius seems to have thought it incredible that
there should be any elegance in Arab tents ;J but d'Ar-
vieux, an eyewitness, gives a very different account.

After all, 1 believe this passage of the Prefetto's was
merely owing to inattention, and no ways designed to les-
sen the honor of those progenitors of the Israelitish na-
tion ; but, as it is monstrously inaccurate, I cannot pass it
by in silence.




I HAVE supposed that Abraham lived with all the ele-
gance of a modern Arab emir, or at least with no other

* Sir J. Chardin in his sixth MS. gives a somewhat different account ;
for having said that their tents are in common, black, made of goats' hair,
and pretty high, he adds, that they are adorned below, to the height of
four feet, with mats made of reeds. Harmer. Dr. Russell, ia his MS.
note, confirms Chardin's account. Edit.

t P 176, 177.
^ Vide Poll Syn. in Cant. i. 5. Quis credat tabernacula Cedar pulclira
fuisse, qu» inhabitabaat pastores^ ^euus homiouia incultum et agreste I


abatements than what arose from his great antiquity, and I
think with reason, since I have shown that he had a dis-
tinct tent for Sarah, which is one great reason at present ;
and [ find it expressly said that Abraham was very rich
in silver and in gold, as well as in cattle, Gen. xiii. *2;
and consequently he was able to procure the ancient ele-
gancies of his way of life, as well as the modern Arab
princes are theirs. This, perhaps, w-e may think strange,
and may have imagined, as the Prefetto seems to have
done, that Abraham lived in a sordid plentj' : abundance
of food by means of his flocks and herds, but unattended
with silver or gold, ,and the elegancies that generally go
along with them. If we did, it was certainly very erro-

Authors have sufficiently explained how these acqui-
sitions might be made. So Dr. Russell tells us, that the
people of Aleppo are supplied with the greater part of
their butter, their cheese, and their cattle for slaughter,
by the Arabs, Rushwans, or Turcomans, who travel about
the country with their flocks and their herds as the Pat-
riarchs did of old.f The Patriarchs doubtless supplied
the ancient cities of Canaan, in like manner, with these
things. Hamor expressly speaks of their trading with
his people. Gen. xxxiv. 21«

At the same time that the Arabs receive money for
their commodities, their expenses are very small, so that
their princes are rich in silver and gold as well as cattle,
and amasji large quantities of these precious metals ; inso-
much that la Roque remarks, that in the time of Pliny,
the riches both of the Parthians and Romans were in a
manner melted down among the Arabs, to use that ex-
pression, they turning every thing into money, without
parting with any of it again. J

* "The Arabs," says Dr. Russell, MS. note, "on the skirts of the
Desert, who have communication with the Turkish governora and Iarg«
cities, adopt some of the Turkish luxuries." Edit.

t Vol i. p. 165, 388, 8cc.
i Voy. dans la Pal. p. 157. dans la note. •• 7 he Arabs at this lime," snys
Dr. Russell, MS. note, " were a commercial peoole*"

VOL. I. 32


Abraham's expenses, like those of the Arabs, by no
means equalled his profits, he was therefore continually
making acq!iisitions of money current with the merchant,
Gen. xxiii. IG ; or of such precious commodities as were
easy of carriage, and suited to his way of life. And more
especially might he do this in Egj'pt, where, as be-
ing a rich countr}^, his exchanging his cattle might be
more advantageous to him than usual. For which rea-
son, perhaps, his being rich in silver and gold is mention-
ed immediately after his return from thence.

To these accounts may be added, that given us in the
sixth vaUmie of the MS. papers of Sir J. Chardin, and it
is so curious that I cannot but here insert it. After hav-
ing remarked in general, that they that travel in the East
will now often see a picture of Patriarchal history, he
goes on to inform us, "that their cattle are all their riches,
and engage all their attention, particularly their flocks of
sheep and goats, for they are not so much concerned about
camels, horses, and asses, though they have them in great
numbers, as well as oxen, for the carriage of their portable
cities, as they call their tents, which are in common black,
and made of goats' hair. As to their manner of living,
what is said. Gen. xiii. 2, Abram was very rich in cattle,
in silver^ and in gold, ought not to give us any pain, for
these powerful shepherds are able to gather much togeth-
er by the sale of their cattle, butter, milk, and its depen-
dencies, which their goats produce, for in the East the
greatest part of the butter is made of goats' and sheeps'
milk ; and of the wool of their flocks, and of what they
manufacture from it : they sell all these things in the
neighbouring towns ; and as for themselves they spend
very little, their flocks support them, and the land, of
which they cultivate as much as they have occasion for.

" I have seen in Persia and in Turkey, where the coun-
try is full of these Turcomans, their chiefs going along
with a great train, very well clothed, and very well mount-
ed. I saw one between Parthia and Hyrcania, whose


train surprised and alarmed me. He had more than ten
led horses, ail their harness of solid gold and silver. He
was accompanied by many shepherds on horseback, and
well armed. Their rustic mien and tanned complexions
caused me at first to take them for robbers; but I was
soon undeceived. They treated me civilly, and answer-
ed ail the questions my curiosity prompted nie to put to
them, upon their manner and way of life. The whole
country, for ten leagues, was full of flocks that belonged
to them. An hour after I saw his wives, and those of the
principal of his attendants, passing along in a row. There
w ere four in cajavehs ; these are great square cunes, car-
ried two upon a camel, which were not close covered.
The rest were on camels, on asses, and on horseback ;
most of them with their faces unveiled ; I saw some very
beautiful women among them."

This account is a valuable addition to this Observation,
and gives us some particulars that might be introduced in
other. places of this book; but my reader will remember
them, without citing this account afresh there.



The same MS. gives us an astonishing account of the
numerousness of some of these flocks, soon after the pre-
ceding citation, as well as mentions the different colours
of their sheep.

" It is a wonderful thing to see these Turcomans pass,
when they go from one country to another. They are
sometimes three or four days in passing. I saw a clan of
them pass along two days' distance from Aleppo. The
whole country was covered by them. Many of their
principal people, whom I spoke to on the road, assured


me that there were four hundred thousand beasts of car-
riage, camels, horses, asses, oxen, and cows, and three
millions of sheep and goals."-* The number, if their ac-
count was to be depended upon, is trulj amazing to us
Europeans; but upon comparing these numbers with Dr.
Shaw's accounlf of (he Barbary flocks and herds, they
will not appear at all incredible.

Their sheep are not all of one colour, it seems, for
speaking in the same page, of the two famous princely
races, distinguished from each other by the appellalions
of the black sheep and the white sheep, he tells us, they
were originally shepherds, though afterward possessed
of considerable territories, and that they distinguished
these two families by these appellations, because all the
cattle wi(h white wool were taken by one family, and the
other had the rest, by an agreement very like that made
between Jacob and Laban, mentioned in the 301h of Gen-
esis. I do not remember that d'Herbelot, who mentions
these two houses frequently, has any where given us so
clear an account of the reason of these names of distinction ;
which is a circumstance, however, that deserves to be
taken notice of, as it shows a very considerable number

* In the original it is three millionSi des bestes k come, horned cattle.
By that terra \ve indeed commonly mean neat beasts, but as he had men-
tioned before oxen and cows, and elsewhere tells us, they have most sheep
and goats, he evidently means them.

f Dr. Shaw's account is as follows : " Besides this great variety of cattle,
we may observe further, that each kind is very numerous and prolific.
Several Arabian tribes, who can bring no more than three or four hundred
horses into the field, are possessed of more than so many thousand camels^
and triple the number of sheep and black cattle. The Arabs rarely dimin-
ish their flocks by using them for food, but live chiefly upon bread, dates,
iTfiilk, butter, or what they receive in exchange for their wool. Such cat-
tle as are brought to their fairs, or to the neighbouring towns and villages,
are very inconsiderable, when compared with the yearly increase. By
proper care therefore, and attendance, nay, if these numerous flocks and
herds had shelter from the inclemency of the weather during a small part
only of the winter season, this whole country, in a few years, would be
overrun with cattle."

Dr. Russell, MS. note, says, *• Vast flocks pass Aleppo every year, and
the proprietors sell their sheep for the supply of the city." Edit.


of modern Eastern sheep are not white, since the family
of the black sheep were willing to accept thera, as, along
with other cattle, not an improper portion for them in di-
viding their substance.



The manner in which the Arabs harrass the caravans
of the East, is described in the same page. He tells us
there, " that the manner of their making war, aftd pillag-
ing the caravans is, to keep by the side of them, or to
follow them in the rear, nearer or further off, according to
their forces, which it is very easy to do in Arabia, which
is one great plain, and in the night they silently fall upon
the camp, and carry off one part of it before the rest are
got under arms."

He supposes that Abraham fell upon the camp of the
four kings, that had carried away Lot, precisely in the

Online LibraryThomas HarmerObservations on various passages of Scripture, placing them in a new light and ascertaining the meaning of several not determinable by the methods commonly made use of by the learned (Volume 1) → online text (page 20 of 37)