Copyright
William Benham.

The letters of Peter Lombard (Canon Benham) online

. (page 8 of 16)
Online LibraryWilliam BenhamThe letters of Peter Lombard (Canon Benham) → online text (page 8 of 16)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


bold hill is Mizpeh (i Sam. vii.). This i$ visible from
many places in our tour. Our guide abo showed us
Gibeah of Saul, though there appears to be some
doubt as to this site. The road rises, and we find
ourselves literally riding upstairs. Tm mountain in
front of us seems all composed of smooth ridges of



PETER LOMBARD 107

limestone rock, as if a giant had laid them down in
terraces, and up these one after the other our sure-
footed beasts make their way. Passing round the
mountain, we have an elevated plateau to cross, and
then the terraces begin once more. But before we
have reached the top another turn brings us to our
halting place for the night, Bethel. It is a marked
feature of the landscape that these terraced mountain
sides meet your view, look which way you will, and it
was a happy thought of Stanley's, which succeeding
travellers have accepted at once, that the sight of
them suggested his dream to Jacob.

Bethel is a very poor village now. It stands on a
hillock rising out of the mountain side. We emerged
at the lower end, close to the village fountain, and all
the inhabitants turned out to look at us, just as
English cottagers would do if they were visited by a
camp of Kaffirs. The air seemed to echo all round
the word " baksheesh." We walked through the
village, steep lanes, say five feet wide, and hovels
without a vestige anywhere of a glass window. In
fact, these are rare anywhere in Palestine. Most of
these cottages, so far as I could see, were lighted only
by the door. This, or the dirty faces, or both
combined, may account for the ophthalmia which is



108 THE LETTERS OF

so painfully common. We mounted, on the invitation
of the owner, to the roof of the highest house, and
were rewarded by the view. The altar of Jacob and
also of Jeroboam were probably on the hill over against
us. On the skyline to the south we could discern
with a good opera-glass the church of the Holy
Sepulchre and some towers, and, of course, the
Mount of Olives. The road by which the disobedient
prophet came must have been that by which we our-
selves had come. On our left was the site of Ai, and
beneath it the pass by which Elijah and Elisha went
down to Jericho.

Our dragoman warned us when we turned in that
it would be a very cold night, and he was right. All
the wraps we had brought with us were brought into
requisition, and were none too many. At half-past
six next morning we were ruthlessly knocked up.
By the time we had done breakfast our sleeping tents
and beds were clean off the ground. And whilst you
are at breakfast you have to look out sharp, for if you
put down your knife for an instant the attendant will
swoop down upon your plate and carry it off, so eager
is he to pack up and be gone. By eight we were in
saddle and riding off to our next destination, Shiloh.
As we advanced into the heart of the country, the



PETER LOMBARD 109

inheritance of the sons of Joseph, we were struck with
the increasing fertility. Rocks there are always, and
now and then a stiff climb or descent. Once or twice
our dragoman asked us to get off and walk down a
precipitous path. But the rich carpetings of wild
flowers (and they such beauties), the goodly promise
of the corn-fields, the vast olive-yards and fig-tree
enclosures, all combined to make scenes which brought
whole passages of the Psalms and the Prophets
continually to one's memory. The peasantry were
busy in the fields, and a remarkably handsome race
as a whole they are. The ploughmen wear a rough
single garment down to their knees and a turban ;
the women vary. In the south they have one long
garment, generally blue, and over it depending from
the head-dress a mantle, hanging in straight folds to
the knees, altogether as graceful a costume as one
would wish to see. In the north they wear loose
trousers and short skirts, while the mantle, instead of
hanging from the head-gear, is folded round them.
But the way to see a handsome woman of this country
to advantage is to watch her coming from the
fountain with her great waterpot balanced on her
head. She must needs be upright then ; and
splendidly she moves along, fearless and strong.
Sometimes she will raise her hand to steady it, but



110 THE LETTERS OF

generally she does no such thing. One hand she
swings, the other is on her hip. And as for the
waterpot itself, it is as much as I can just lift, when it
is full.

Shiloh, it will be remembered, was the place where
Joshua set up the tabernacle, as soon as he had gained
firm possession of the heart of the country (Josh,
xviii. i). One glance round us explains why. It
stands on an isolated hill. The eye surveys a
magnificent landscape, the widest panorama we have
yet seen. It was the centre of a whole colony of
population. But the place itself — what a desolation !
The tragedy of Eli and his sons was simultaneous
with the fall of the sanctuary, and from that terrible
day ruin has marked the site (Jer. vii. 12). There is
now only one roofed building, quite deserted.
Clambering through a great mass of nettles and
thorns, I got inside. It is a low building which
might be the nave of a church ; two columns with
Byzantine capitals divide it into two parts. Murray's
Guide thinks it may have been a synagogue converted
into a church. It has been also turned into a mosque
for there is the mecca door, plainly an insertion.
The site of the tabernacle, I venture to say, was at
the top of the hill. There is a large smooth platform



PETER LOMBARD 111

which may have been made on purpose for it. And
all around are more ruined houses than I can count.
But not one sign is there among them all of present
human habitation. There was not a person but our-
selves within sight. All round the sides of the hill of
the deserted sanctuary are rock-hewn tombs. One
may safely assert that in one of them Eli must have
been buried. The highway beside which he died
must have been that by which we had come, for it is
the only way to the district where the Ark was
taken.

After two or three hours here we moved again
northwards, and at sunset reached Lubban, the
Lebonah of Judges xxi. 19. We had thus passed
through the lot of Benjamin, and were now in the
tribe of Ephraim. Lubban is now nothing but a
Khan ; the fountain which flows beside it causes it to
be much frequented. We encamped beside it on a
lovely evening. Whilst we were there a long caravan
of camels came up ; they were journeying from
Damascus to Egypt. The more I saw of these
strings of camels, and I saw many hundreds of them
the more they attracted me. As you look at one in
the Zoo, it must be confessed he is not an attractive
beast. But see them in their proper country, perhaps



112 THE LETTERS OF

twenty of them strung together with their heavy
loads, there is a downright stateliness about the
procession as it moves along against the sky or
against the sides of a hill. On the foremost beast
rides the conductor in state, and the others follow on,
generally without any other person upon them. It is
the very perfection of patience and obedience.
Generally the rear is covered by two or three men
riding donkeys.

Before leaving Lubb&n I may note that in all
probability our Lord must have rested here the night
before His talk with the woman of Samaria. For we
know that He came along this road. There is no
other house within reach. He reached Jacob's Well
at noon, which is the same time a traveller would
reach it leaving this Khan in the morning.

The beauty of the road does not diminish as we
pass on through the Vale of Mukhna ("camp''),
which we reach after about an hour's ride. The
name is probably derived from the encampment
which Joshua caused to be made when he gathered
the people together between Ebal and Gerizim
(Josh. viii.). As we go through the Vale, which is
seven miles in length, we see thousands of fig trees



PETER LOMBARD 118

and olive trees in the midst of the corn fields, and
whole woods of them high up on the hill sides. All
the while that we are enjoying the prospect we are
on the look-out for Mt. Gerizim, and presently our
guide shows us the white Wily (Saint's tomb) which
marks the top of it. Before we pass into the defile
between the two mountains we come upon an object
which engages our reverent attention, Jacob's Well.
It is in the middle of a piece of ground now enclosed,
and kept by a native peasant. We sat down by it
and read St. John iv. with the emotion which could
hardly be absent at such a moment. The custodian
lifted an enormous stone ; the well bears one of those
peculiar shapes which are so common in Palestine,
small at the mouth like a bottle, and enlarging below.
When he went to work to draw us up a vessel full,
it was found that, as of old, " the well is deep," for
the rope he brought was not long enough, and we
had to put together a lot of strings out of our
baggage before we could fulfil our purpose. I filled
my bottle before leaving. Within sight as we sat
there was Joseph's tomb, lying between us and the
village of Sychar. It is of the usual type, a rect-
angular building with a dome. Immediately after
leaving it, we pass into the narrow valley between
Ebal and Gerizim, in which Israel was gathered to

I



114 THE LETTERS OF

hear the blessings and the curses recited. The
entrance to this valley is now guarded by Turkish
barracks, which appeared to be strongly manned.
Passing it we move through a beautiful olive
grove, which brings us to the town now known as
Nablus.

Shechem is one of the first two cities mentioned
in Palestine, the other being Hebron. It was
hundreds of years old when it was rebuilt in the
days of Vespasian and called Neopolis (" new city "),
now corrupted into its present name. I wish we
could have stayed here" longer, for the historical
associations are of delightful interest, but our drago-
man, moved by considerations of camping and
weather, urged us to move on further. Two objects,
however, I was determined to see before budging.
The one is a remarkable abutment of rock, striking
out of Gerizim into the town like a great pulpit or
platform. A man standing upon it can audibly
address hundreds of people below him, and upon it
Jotham stood when he addressed his striking parable
to the men of Shechem (Judges ix. 7-21). I have
no manner of doubt that this was the same platform
which formed the scene of Rehoboam's fatal defiance
to all Israel, when they assembled in the ancient



PETER LOMBARD 115

city ready to make him king. It is a most striking
natural object, such as would attract the notice of
any passer by, even if he were ignorant of the history.
The other was the famous Samaritan Pentateuch, the
oldest copy of the Scriptures known to exist, asserted
to be written by the hand of the grandson of Aaron.
It is not very easy to get sight of it, for the Samaritans
are very chary about it. But I had some good friends
to back me, and we were introduced to the High
Priest successfully.

I am not going to give here the history of that
deeply interesting document, nor to offer theories
about the Samaritans generally. But it will hardly
be out of place to state the broad question which is
matter of doubt. Some historians hold that the
Samaritans are descendants of the Assyrians whom
Tiglath-Pileser placed in the cities of the Northern
Kingdom when he took their former inhabitants
away. Others hold that he only took away the
bettermost of the inhabitants, leaving the poorer
people, but filling the higher places with his own
nominees, much as William of Normandy did after
his victory at Senlac. I fully believe this view to be
the correct one, and that the Samaritan race, and
the northern Palestinians, are descendants of the

I 2



116 THE LETTERS OF

Ten tribes. The Samaritan Jews then claim, and, I
believe, rightly, to be descended from Ephraim and
Manasseh. How they got possession of this priceless
manuscript of the Pentateuch is a piece of history
which plenty of books will tell. They keep the
Passover still on Mt. Gerizim, which the Jews of the
South are precluded from doing because their Temple
is destroyed. Therefore, I need not say that there
are many Biblical students who take a deep interest
in that Passover. The best account of it which I
know by an eye-witness is Stanley's. I heard a
story, half ludicrous, half pathetic, about them in
Jerusalem. They are dwindling in numbers, and are
much distressed at the fact. Whenever a child is
born among them, if it is a daughter, there is much
rejoicing, if a son, the contrary. For they would
not hear of marrying with any but one of their own
race ; they are the strictest of the strict. There
are at present twenty-five young men craving in
vain for wives. None are to be had. They applied
recently to the Jews of Jerusalem to furnish
some. The reply was " We shall be very happy
if you will submit to our authority, and send us
our Pentateuch, of which you unlawfully hold posses-
sion." The conditions were refused, and the old feud
continues.



PETER LOMBARD 117

Our visit to the synagogue to see the Pentateuch
was a very curious one. We entered the gate of
the city with a good guard, for the Mahometan
inhabitants are violent fanatics, and we passed
through a densely crowded street of the usual
eastern type, a footway lined with bazaar stalls. We
turned at length to the left, up a dark and filthy
street, and found ourselves at the synagogue, a plain
whitewashed building. We were received by one of
the priests, a boy who could hardly have been more
than fifteen, for the priesthood is a caste, rigidly
adhered to. His brother was still in his teens, I
should think. Their father, the High Priest, is a tall,
handsome man of about forty. He was in a sort of
priestly undress uniform, and after welcoming us
civilly, brought out his treasures. The roll containing
the document is enclosed in a handsome silver case.
We gave him a few francs and took our leave. I am
very sorry that some of our party sided with the
dragoman's fads about moving on, their interest in
Old Testament history being of the slightest. It has
been my only disappointment in this journey that we
left this ancient capital without exploring it further.
The opportunity was lost, and, so far as I am con-
cerned, will never return.



118 THE LETTERS OF

Leaving Nablus we found ourselves in what was
certainly a novelty, a good road. An English carriage
would have bowled along it most pleasantly. The
landscape on both sides was one of fertility. Sud-
denly we came upon this object — a stone roller right
in the middle of the road ! That it had been there
some time was evident, for the weeds had grown up
all round it. So then, it is a characteristic of the
Turkish government to be ineffectual. They began
well, with a new road to Caesarea, thought better
(or worse) of it, and thus left off in the middle, and
there it remains, an eloquent protest of incapacity.
So once more we had to take to the bridlepath, and
passed on to Samaria, which we reached late in the
afternoon.

Samaria, which Omri made the capital of the
Northern Kingdom, is not a particularly interesting
place at present. There is a vast number of marble
columns, apparently the remains of colonnades made
by the Herods. And there are terraces, beautiful
even in their desolation, looking down over what
must once have been magnificent gardens. The
ancient gate, so memorable in more than one passage
of the Books of Kings, is still recognisable. I could
not undertake to say whether any remains of Ahab's



PETER LOMBARD 119

palace or Jezebel's temple to Baal may still be left.
But we saw the "Pool of Samaria" in which Ahab's
bloodstained chariot was washed, and also the tomb of
Elisha hard by. It was beside a mosque, which I
entered. It was touching to see a large number of men
joining earnestly in a series of prayers under the direc-
tion of a sheikh. A zeal not rendered according to
knowledge, but unquestionably sincere in its ignor-
ance.



IX



Samaria stands on an isolated hill, olive woods
gathered round the foot of it, and again round the
middle. The town towers on the top, and in the
days of Ahab and Jehu must have presented a noble
appearance. At first sight one understands the
epithet by which the prophet describes it, " the crown
of pride," Is. xxviii., and, again (ver. 4), " the glorious
beauty which is on the head of the fat valley." But
its very isolation was a source of weakness, and
facilitated the severe sieges which it so frequently
sustained.

When we had ridden away from it for about an



120 THE LETTERS OF

hour, and I looked back, the view struck me as the
most superbly beautiful I had ever seen in my life.
The hill of the city was dwarfed in the midst of the
plain ; behind it, all across the southern horizon, were
the hills of Ephraim. They are hills, not mountains
in the Swiss tourist's sense. From their top down
to the swelling plains beneath, far as the eye could
reach, all was fertility, the rich colours of the profuse
vegetation blending into the loveliest harmony. The
foreground was a mass of wild flowers. On our right
the heights were not so lofty, and one could quite
imagine the plain of Sharon on the other side of
them. I seemed to share in the exultation which
was kindled in the souls of psalmists and prophets
as they gazed upon fruitful Ephraim and poured forth
their ecstasy in song. And when I further bethought
me how the oppressor now treads the beautiful land
down, I yet rejoiced in remembering the last
words of Amos, the shepherd prophet, who so
unsparingly denounced the very spot on which 1 was
gazing, but yet was sure that, after all, victory and
joy would triumph over judgment. How it shall be
brought to pass that the plougher shall overtake the
reaper, and these mountains overflow with wine, I do
not know. But I am sure that any man gazing
on this scene with faithful and reverent eyes will



PETER LOMBARD 121

rejoice in the prophet's words, and pray for their
fulfilment. The present fertility remains a pledge
of it.

Dothan was within our sight as we passed along,
but we did not go through it. I am told that it has
many " pits " similar to that into which Joseph was
put, bottle-shaped stone cisterns for the reception of
rain water. It was a coincidence, though in no wise
remarkable, for it was an hourly sight with us, that
we saw a long caravan of camels passing by it,
I believe on their way from Nazareth to Jaffa. And
now the hills get tamer, but the roads are still trying,
especially the precipitous rocky pass which leads
down to Jenin. The last words at first sight will not
convey much, but I must enlarge upon them. The
pass of Jenin, anciently Engannim, leads down from
the great compact mass of hills through which we
have been travelling, the hill country occupied by
Manasseh, Ephraim, Benjamin, and Judah. Other
passes lie parallel to it to the West, but none so
frequented as this. They all emerge on the north
upon the great, and fruitful, and famous Plain of
Esdraelon. Let the reader take his stand with me
at Jenin and look northward. On our left this plain
stretches out widely, as flat as a great billiard table,



122 THE LETTERS OF

and I was going to say as green, but the green would
look patchy on the table, for there are all sorts of
shades of it according to the crops ; but all is
evidently as fruitful as land can be. In front of us
it is narrower, for a hill has come up from the East
and wedged itself into the middle of the plain. This
hill is no other than Mount Gilboa. On the other
side of it the plain continues, so that it takes the
shape of a Y with Gilboa between the forks. In
the distance on the north is the range of Galilean
hills, occupied of old by Zabulon and Naphtali. The
Vale of Esdraelon was the inheritance of Issachar.
Somewhat to the left of Gilboa, between it and the
mountain range, is Little Hermon. These are the
main features of the scene which met our view when
we encamped at Jenin for the night. A little brook
went purling by us — a brook with watercresses, and
we filled our vessels from it for camp use. It was one
of the sources of "the ancient river, the river Kishon."
But oh ! the croaking of the frogs that evening.
I never heard anything like it in England. If you
can imagine a thousand English sparrows, all with
bad colds, chattering with terror at the sight of a
hawk, you may get something like an idea of it All
the different intonations reminded me of the queer
sounds of the frogs in Aristophanes, which hitherto



PETER LOMBARD 123

I had thought unmeaning. But here was the whole
assortment.

The Plain of Esdraelon (which, by the way, is a
Grecised form of " Jezreel ") is the great battle-field of
Palestine. Gilboa, as I have said, was right before
us. It was in all probability on the other side (the
north) that Saul perished, for the Philistine head-
quarters were at Aphek. Within sight of us was a
hamlet around which was fought one of Napoleon's
battles in 1798, and at the back of Little Hermon
Saladin smashed the army of the Crusaders in 1187.
But the battle which excited my keenest interest was
that of Judges iv., only it took place at the western
end of the plain, and its place in these letters is later,
when I shall cross the plain again. And I have more
to say directly about the pass of Jenin.

Next morning we started betimes, for a long ride
was before us. Our first halt was at Jezreel. I have
already described the smooth plain. Lay a penny
bun on a bare table-cloth, and you have the situation
of Jezreel. It stands on a low hill, plain all round it.
We mount this hill, and find a fairly large population
inhabiting the hovels, of which, as usual, the town is
composed. There is one large building conspicuous



124 THE LETTERS OF

amongst the rest, and its massive foundations are
evidently of remote antiquity. I think anyone walk-
ing round this building, and comparing it with David's
greater tower at Jerusalem, must see at once that this
is the remains of Ahab's palace, the scene of Jezebel's
death. It is now the filthy residence of half-a-dozen
families who crowd each corner of it, and as usual
clamour for baksheesh. Hard by it on the east side
of the town is a field on which are some masses of
prickly pear and a few vegetables — our guide told us
it was Naboth's vineyard. Probably he was right, the
situation exactly fits. Again I will ask the reader to
stand with me on this plot of ground and look east-
ward over the plain. There is the road skirting the
northern side of Gilboa, by which Jehu drove furiously
on his way from Ramoth Gilead. Within sight of our
standpoint Joram was killed. With my Bible in my
hand, I was certain almost of the very spot. " Take
up and cast him into the plot of Naboth," said the
fierce conqueror, and drove on to the palace. This is
exactly how the events would occur on the sites
indicated. Add to this that there are wine-presses still
to be seen adjacent to the vineyard. But I call attention
to the accounts of the death of Joram and Ahaziah.
The narrative of Ahaziah's death in 2 Kings ix. 27
differs from that in 2 Chron. xxii. 9. It is impossible,



PETER LOMBARD 125

in the absence of fuller information, to arrange with
certainty the exact sequence of events. Bishop
Wordsworth, in his commentary, is probably correct in
substance, but I venture to alter his solution a little.
I worked it out in my mind on the spot. Joram was
killed very near to Jezreel, at the foot of Gilboa. At
that point the road turns to the left straight for
Engannim, called in our version " the garden house."
Along that road Ahaziah fled. His object was to get
up the pass to Samaria. In that pass he received his
wound, but managed to creep into the capital and hide
himself. Jehu made diligent search for him, and once
more he fled, like a hunted beast, down the pass
again, intending to reach Jerusalem by way of
Megiddo, but his strength failed, and he died there.

One more object I have yet to note, as I stand on
Naboth's vineyard. Along that road, so fatal to the
two kings, I see about two miles off a shining pool of
water. It is the " Water of Harod," the fountain at
which Gideon's men were put to their memorable
test.

All these things came under our eye before we
moved on across the plain and ascended the western
shoulder of Little Hermon. Coming at length to a



126 THE LETTERS OF

plantation of cactus we made our way through quite
a labyrinth of it. To have broken through the fences
on either side would have been about as impracticable


1 2 3 4 5 6 8 10 11 12 13 14 15 16

Online LibraryWilliam BenhamThe letters of Peter Lombard (Canon Benham) → online text (page 8 of 16)