by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.
Philologos Religious Online Books
The Holy Land and the Bible
A Book of Scripture Illustrations gathered in Palestine
Cunningham Geikie D.D.
With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
A large pond is to be seen at the roadside outside Burberah, which collects the rain-water for use in summer; the latter and early rains, in the close and opening of the year, filling it. The water was the colour of mud, but it seemed to give delight alike to man and to beast. Women with their jars on their shoulders were bringing a supply from it for household use, cattle were drinking it, and dirty children were swimming in it, making the water splash up before them as they beat it with each hand alternately. Some of the women had children on their shoulder, and I could not but notice how firmly the little creatures kept their seat. As soon as they are out of their mummy-like swaddling-clothes,* which are strips of calico about six inches wide and three yards long, they are taught to perch on their mother's shoulder, holding on to her head, while she supports their back with one hand. Very soon, however, this is unnecessary; the child learning to clasp its mother's shoulder with its legs, so as to need no other help. Thus mother and child have both hands free, while in the one case the mother is made to carry herself erect, which of itself is a great benefit, and in the other the child is trained to be a splendid rider; for the same grip which keeps it safe on the shoulder makes it afterwards perfectly at home in the saddle. An Oriental will carry a coin all day between his knee and the saddle, while riding, often at full speed, over very rough ground, and show it in the same place in the evening, so perfect is his seat. Boys are more often honoured with a place on their mother's shoulder than girls, for in a man-child pride is felt, while a daughter counts for very little. It is therefore a mark of a better state of things when Isaiah says of the long procession of the returning exiles from Babylon: "Thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders" (Isa 49:22). The mud huts and walls of the little courts were stuck over with cakes of cattle-dung, drying for fuel.
Deir Sineid, like all the villages of the plain, consists of mere mud hovels. At the entrance to it rose a great dust-heap, as in all Eastern villages and towns; the counterpart of that, doubtless, to which poor Job betook himself in his affliction (Job 2:8). The "ashes" "among" which he sat down were the "mezbele," or dust-mound, of a Palestine village, which is very different from the farm "dunghill" of our rural neighbourhoods. Manure in the east is not mixed with straw as with us, no litter being used for cattle in so dry and warm a climate, and it is almost entirely that of the ass, for few horses are kept, and cattle, sheep, and goats, are generally out of doors, day and night. The ordure is brought from time to time, dry, with every other form of refuse, in baskets, to the assigned place beside the village, and usually burnt every month; care being taken to select a day on which the smoke is being driven away from human dwellings. But as the ashes are left untouched, the "mezbele" in an old village often rises high above the houses; the rains having consolidated it into a hill, which is excavated into grain-pits, where corn can be stored through the year, safe from fermentation or vermin. It also serves the villagers as a look-out, and is the favourite lounging-place in the cool of the evening, to enjoy the air which blows at this comparative elevation. Through the day it is the playground of the children; the sufferer from any loathsome disease, such as leprosy, shut out from human dwellings, makes his best on it; and the wandering beggar, after sitting on it by day craving alms, burrows during the night in its ashes, which the sun has heated. The village dogs sun themselves on it, or gnaw at some carcase thrown out on this common receptacle of all vileness, for no one thinks of burying a dead animal; it is either left where it falls or dragged to the "mezbele." Many places in the Hauran take their names from the size and number of these hills, just as Madmenah, as we have already seen (see ante, p. 136), did in former ages, and many a modern village is built on a "mezbele" on account of its healthiness, elevated as it is above the undrained ground below, and with the view of getting the cool air on its summit.*
The last village before entering Gaza is called Beit Hanun—"the House of Grace": a sad misnomer, since its population have the worst name as rogues and thieves. It stands on a hill, with a fair proportion of gardens and barley-patches round it, and, of course, a rain-pond, with its crowd of urchins enjoying themselves in the water. Many cattle and calves were feeding on the slopes. Country people, both men and women, passed by us on their way to the village or to Gaza, many of the women carrying on their heads baskets of eggs, cheese—or, rather, the curd which passes for cheese in Palestine—and vegetables, or great jars of sour goats' milk. I noticed also a mother on an ass, her child in her lap, her husband walking behind: a picture, perhaps, of Mary and her infant Son, with Joseph, as they journeyed from Bethlehem to Egypt, it may be by this very route. A soldier on a swift horse galloped by, and many a thin, scorched peasant wended homewards on a lowly ass, his naked feet almost touching the ground at its sides.
Gaza is embowered in great olive-woods which stretch north-eastwards the whole four miles to Beit Hanun. The sand-dunes directly north of the town, and to the west, are broken by a wide oasis of olive-groves and gardens, which girdle Gaza on nearly all sides, in a wide sweep. The town itself lies on a hill, 100 feet above the plain, and 180 feet above the sea, with some palm-trees rising beneath, amidst, and above it, five minarets breaking the outline of the flat roofs and mud walls which cluster over each other up the slope. A cemented, low-domed fountain of mud bricks stood on the road outside, then came the great rain-pond of the town, which had leaked across the road, making it, for a space, into a quagmire. Six men sat cross-legged on the ground at the roadside, doing nothing; and, beyond them, mud walls, topped by the hideous prickly pear, stretched up the hill, enclosing sadly wild-looking orchards of palms, figs, and other fruit-trees.
No one who has not seen an Oriental town can imagine its filthiness. The mud houses crumble into dust at a given rate daily, and all the garbage, offal, and, when the dust-hill is too far off, foulness of daily life, are thrown into the narrow lane. Rivulets of abomination soak out from a hole made for their escape at the side of each door. Nor is this the only kind of filth. There are no scavengers, and there is no decency.*
The mosque has three aisles, which formed part of the ancient church; rows of pillars, with Corinthian capitals, dividing them one from the other. On the south side, and east end additions have been made by the Arabs. Of the three, the middle aisle is the highest, the roof being here supported by two rows of pillars, one above the other, each pillar of the lower row having a cluster of small marble pillars round it, for greater strength. The church is built in the old basilica form, but the roof-arches of the side aisles are in the Arab style. A small choir at the south end of the building rests on a number of diminutive pillars without capitals. The west doorway is a beautiful specimen of the Italian Gothic of the twelfth-century churches in Palestine, with delicate clustered shafts and pillars, and with deeply undercut lily-leaves adorning the capitals. The roof, of groined vaulting, is entire; and on one of the pillars of the upper row is a touching design of the seven-branched candlestick, inside a wreath. Pity that its light should be extinguished by the superstition of Mahomet, but it has been so since about AD 1350, as recorded in an inscription on one of the walls. It had shone, however, for many generations, since the first church of which we know at Gaza was built, about AD 402.* In Christ's day there were ten heathen temples in Gaza—to the Sun, Venus, Apollo, Proserpina, Hecate, Fortune, "The Hiereion," and Marnas,** the greatest of the gods of Gaza, whose sanctuary, which was round, was believed by the townsmen to be more glorious than any other in the world. All these shrines, however, were pulled down by a decree obtained by the wife of the Emperor Arcadius from her husband, commanding them to be removed, and a church—which was dedicated at Easter, AD 406—was built on the site of the temple of the god Marnas. Very curiously, in 1880 a statue of this famous deity, fifteen feet high, was discovered by some peasants in a large natural mound about six miles south of Gaza. It is a human figure in a sitting position, with an arrangement of the hair like that of the classic Jupiter. The peasants had commenced to destroy it as soon as it was found, but it was rescued from them by the English missionary at Gaza, though not before the face had been much injured. Marnas was the great Jupiter, the god of rain and fruitfulness, and was honoured, besides, as "the living, the eternal, the universal, and the everlasting." One arm and both legs appear to have been sawn off, as if some pious heathen had cut the idol in pieces to facilitate his saving it from the fury of the Christians. The statue is now at Constantinople. A register 1,000 years old is said to be preserved in the present mosque, built in the place of that which stood on the site of the temple of Marnas.
** There were six temples to heathen gods, and four to goddesses (Schurer, N.T. Zeitgesch. p. 379).
The strength of the Philistine city must have lain rather in the arms of its defenders than in its position. Such protection as walls and gates afforded has long since gone. Yet the streets, being very narrow, could be easily barred by chains, as, indeed, some of them, on occasion, are. The heat is much greater than at Jerusalem, but, contrary to the practice there, the streets are never arched over, the only protection being plaited mats, laid out roughly on poles, and extending from the houses and shops. These shops are unspeakably poor; in not a few cases mere holes, open in front, with more dirt than goods. A traditional site of the "House" of Dagon, which Samson pulled down (Judg 16:27-30), is, of course, shown. This famous building stood, apparently, at the farther end of an open square, bordered inside by colonnades; the flat roof of the temple—for roofs are nearly all flat in the East—projecting beyond the sanctuary itself, to give shade beneath, while also affording a point of vantage from which to look down on the court below. This great verandah roof rested in its centre, it would appear, on no more than two great pillars, and was crowded by the great ones of Gaza when Samson was brought out to make sport for them in the wide quadrangle below. Some of the large mansions in Barbary, indeed, seem to be built in much the same way; a central structure, of great size, with colonnades and chambers on each side, enclosing an open space, which forms a large hollow square. The palace of the Dey of Algiers, in olden times, was of this kind, and its flat roof was often crowded by favoured spectators, assembled to divert themselves by exhibitions in the vacant area. The great platform thus utilised as a "stand" projected a long way in front of the building, and was supported in the middle by two pillars standing near each other. These pulled down, the whole structure above would fall, and it may well be that the "House" of Dagon was somewhat similar.*
After a time the kadi interrupted the hubbub, which subsided into a dead calm as he motioned to speak. His judgment was given in a few words, and as there was no appeal, all went out as quietly as so many children from the dreaded presence of a schoolmaster. Presently a fine old man, the sheikh of the Terabin Arabs, stepped across to one of the chairs, and, sitting down, addressed the bench. A murder had been committed, some time before, in Gaza. Two Arabs, between whom there was a blood-feud, had accidentally met in the house of the English missionary; the second comer of the two turning away instantly, with a scowl, when he saw his intended victim. A few hours later, this unfortunate, while sitting in the town market-place, was shot dead by his enemy, in open day; the murderer fleeing to his tribe in the desert. The slain man had belonged to the tribe of which the present speaker was sheikh, and the governor had ordered him to arrest the man-slayer. But this was no easy matter. War had broken out between the tribes immediately after the murder, and had only been quelled by sending 400 soldiers from Jerusalem, but these were now withdrawn, leaving the author of all the trouble at large. "If you send troops, we shall try to arrest him," said the sheikh, "but if you do not, we shall not obey. There has been fighting already, as you know, and there would be more." Having spoken thus, he rose, and left the court-house, without waiting for a reply.
Blood-revenge has been a passion among all Semitic people from the earliest ages. It may have arisen, in some degree, as lynch law has sprung up in the frontier states of America, from the imperfect development of society, and the fancied necessity of taking private means to secure justice; but whatever its sources, it was early recognised as not only a right but a duty. Among the Bedouins it has, for ages, been made not only a personal matter, but the affair of the whole tribe of a murdered man, on each member of which lies the responsibility of obtaining vengeance. It considers not only the murderer or his next of blood, but every member of his family, or even of his tribe, as legitimate objects of revenge, and thus bloody and long-continued feuds on a large scale often arise. The murder of Abner by Joab, "for the blood of Asahel, his brother" (2 Sam 3:27), which nearly led to a war, and the fear of the woman of Tekoah that the avengers of blood would not be content without life for life (2 Sam 14:11), show how deeply and dangerously the custom had rooted itself among the Hebrews. The law was, indeed, written, "He that killeth any man shall surely be put to death" (Lev 24:17); but the avenger of blood was left to be the executioner, due reprisals being regarded as so completely a fulfillment of the Divine will that God Himself is spoken of as the blood-avenger of His people (Psa 9:12; see Gen 9:5, 42:22; Eze 33:6). No money payment could be taken for murder, or even for homicide: to compound such a felony made the land unclean before God (Num 35:33). Innocent blood, in the opinion of the Hebrews, as of the Arabs now, cries from the ground to God for revenge (Gen 4:10; Isa 26:21; Eze 24:7; Job 16:18). Even the altar, inviolable for any other crime, could give the murderer no protection (Exo 21:14; 1 Kings 2:28).
It was manifestly wrong, however, to put deliberate and accidental homicide on the same footing, and hence means of escape were provided for those guilty of only the unintentional offence. Six free towns were provided, to which the man-slayer might flee and find a sanctuary, if he proved before the elders his innocence of guilty purpose; the death of the high priest, finally, giving him leave to return home without danger. But even in the case of designed murder, the Law of Moses humanely limited revenge to the actual person of the murderer (Deut 24:16; 2 Kings 14:6), forbidding the fierce abuses prevalent among races like the Arabs. It was enacted, moreover, that the murderer should be publicly tried, and that the testimony of at least two witnesses should be necessary to his condemnation (Num 35:12,30; Deut 19:12); so that the blood-revenge sanctioned by the Bible only amounted to an obligation on the family of the murdered person to prosecute the murderer.
The public offices in Gaza are built of stone, but are old, and in very poor condition. A detached small stone building in the yard, with little windows closely barred, and, of course, with no glass, and two dark and terrible stone arches in the passage to the street, was the gaol—a fearful place in such a climate for prisoners heavily ironed. A huge convent, formerly connected with the great church, which is now used as a mosque, serves as a khan or caravanserai; its open court offering room for the beasts; the lower chambers, along the sides of the open space, serving as store-rooms for the loads of the asses or camels; and its upper rooms, quite empty, supplying shelter for the traders, merchants, or wayfarers who may need it. A man in charge of the whole receives a slight gratuity from everyone for his trouble, but there is no provision for either man or beast beyond a well in the centre of the court. It was to such an "inn" that the good Samaritan carried the man who had fallen among thieves. The two pence he gave the host to buy food for the unfortunate creature was the amount fixed by the Emperor Augustus as the monthly allowance to be paid to each poor citizen of Rome for flour. Such also was the "habitation" of Chimham (Jer 41:17), by Bethlehem, where Jeremiah rested before being taken away to Egypt. The word translated "inn" in St. Luke, as the place in which the mother of our Lord could not find shelter, was not, however, as I have explained elsewhere,* a khan, but a private dwelling, so full of guests at the time that hospitality could not be shown to Mary and her husband.
The luxuriance of the gardens and orchards of Gaza is due to the abundance of water, drawn from a great many wells, some of them not less than 150 feet deep. Good water is, indeed, plentiful at greater or less depth over all the district, even on the sea-shore, though the frequency of rubble cisterns to the south and east shows that in ancient times the inhabitants depended largely on artificial supply. The chief manufacture of Gaza is soap, which is carried over the desert to Cairo on the south, and to Joppa on the north. Black pottery is also made, and a good deal of coarse material for "abbas" is woven. It is curious to see the weavers in their small, windowless workshops—the only light coming from the open front—plying the shuttle in a loom as primitive as it could well have been 3,000 years ago, when the weaver's beam was made the comparison for the ponderous shaft of Goliath's lance (1 Sam 17:7). It is interesting to try to realise, from the sights of a town like Gaza, the everyday life of ancient Israel. The Hebrews had trades of many kinds among them, perhaps rudely enough carried out in many cases. In Jerusalem, and other towns of Bible times, one might have seen men at work, just as now in Gaza, or Joppa, or Damascus—making or sharpening plough shares and all agricultural implements; armourers fashioning swords and spearheads (1 Sam 13:19; 2 Kings 24:14; 2 Chron 24:12); coppersmiths beating out water-jugs, trays, and basins (2 Tim 4:14); and brass-founders skilful in all kinds of artistic work (2 Kings 25:13; 1 Kings 7:14). Goldsmiths and silversmiths plied their delicate arts, doubtless in open booths, as in Damascus at present (Judg 17:4,5; Isa 40:19, 41:7; Jer 10:14), making, as ordered, either an idol, or teraphim, in dark times, or a signet ring like that of Judah, which he gave in pledge to Tamar (Gen 38:18), or purifying metal from alloy (Mal 3:2). You could have bought a bright metal mirror, or a brass pot, or a censer (Lev 6:28; Num 16:39), or gold earrings or bracelets (Gen 24:30), or a lordly dish of copper, like that of Jael (Judg 5:25). If you had had precious stones, or corals, or pearls, you could have got them mounted in what settings and chasings you liked (Exo 28:11,17; Job 28:15-19). The ruby, the topaz, the sapphire, and other stones of price, were to be had from the merchant. They could solder or polish, tinker, overlay with gold, silver, or copper (Isa 40:19, 41:7, 44:12; 1 Kings 6:20ff, 7:45; Num 17:4; Jer 10:4; Exo 25:11,13; 2 Chron 3:5). In the open booths where the craftsmen were at work you could have seen the anvil, hammers, tongs, chisels, bellows, crucibles, and small furnaces (Isa 41:7, 44:12, 6:6; Eze 22:18; Exo 32:4; Jer 6:29; Prov 17:3).
Stone-cutting and masonry may have been learned by the Hebrews in Egypt; perhaps with additional hints from the Phœnicians after settling in Canaan (Exo 28:11ff). Workers in wood, ready to turn their hand to any order, whether as carpenters, cabinet-makers, or wood-carvers, were numerous (2 Sam 5:11; Isa 44:13; Matt 13:55; Mark 6:3; Exo 35:36, 25:10ff, 37:1,10,15,25), and there were also wheel-wrights and basket-makers (Num 6:15ff; Deut 26:2,4; Judg 6:19). A spectator watching them would have seen that they plied the axe and hatchet, the gouge, the compasses, the saw, the plumb-line, and the level, and used red chalk for marking (Isa 44:13, 10:15, 28:17; 2 Kings 21:13). The trades of masons and plasterers were apparently united (1 Chron 14:1; 2 Kings 12:12; Eze 13:11; Isa 28:17; 1 Kings 7:9). Brickmakers, as we find in Egypt, Babylonia, and Assyria, mixed their mortar with chopped straw—that is, "teben"—whether for burned bricks or for those simply dried in the sun (Exo 5:7; Gen 11:3; Nahum 3:14; 2 Sam 12:31; Jer 43:9). The Hebrew potter, sitting at his work, turned the clay, which had first been kneaded with the feet, into all kinds of vessels on his wheel, which was generally of wood (1 Chron 4:23; Isa 29:16, 41:25, 45:9, 64:8; Dan 2:41; Psa 94:9; Job 10:9; Matt 27:7,10; Jer 18:3). He could also, probably, glaze his ware, since the Egyptians could do so, though the art seems now to be lost in Palestine. Tanners are mentioned in the New Testament only (Acts 9:43, 10:6,32); but as the Pentateuch speaks of red leather of ram's skin, and of "tahash," or sealskin leather (Exo 25:5, 26:14), the Hebrews must have had tanners and curriers among them from the first. The shoemakers and tailors are mentioned only in the Talmud, since in Bible times clothing of all kinds seems to have been made by women (1 Sam 2:19; Prov 31:19ff; Acts 9:39).
Weaving and spinning, whether for household use or for sale, were also left for the most part to the women (Isa 19:9; Eze 27:7; Prov 7:16; Exo 35:25; Prov 31:13,19,24; 1 Sam 2:19; 2 Kings 23:7), though we find that men as well "wrought fine linen" (2 Chron 2:14, 3:14). Flax was hackled with wooden combs; its coarser fibres made into nets and snares; its finer woven into yarn on the spindle and this, when wound on reels, was woven on the loom with the shuttle (Isa 19:9; Judg 15:13, 16:14; Prov 31:19; 1 Sam 17:7; 2 Sam 21:19; Job 7:6) . A coarse stuff, known as "sak," was made of camels' and goats' hair into mourning-robes, girdles, and tent-covers; the black hair of he-goats being mostly used, as is still the case with the Bedouins (2 Sam 3:31; Matt 3:4; Isa 3:24; Exo 26:7; Song 1:5). The making of cloth for tent-covers was, indeed, a special trade followed by many, and, among others, by the Apostle Paul (Acts 18:3). But besides these rougher manufactures, there were then, as now, in these strange-looking towns of Palestine, many others of a higher class. In the days of Amos rich men lay on couches of damask (Amos 3:12; this is the proper reading); the clothing of the daughter of Tyre, married to the Israelitish king, was inwrought with threads of gold (Psa 45:14); and curtains and hangings of mingled blue and purple and crimson, with inwoven figures or choice designs, were to be had for mansions or palaces, as well as for the Temple, while embroidered robes were common among the rich few (Exo 26:1,31,36, 27:16, 28:6,39, 36:8,37, 38:18; Judg 5:30; Eze 16:10,13, 26:16; Exo 35:35, 39:8). Fullers busied themselves with dressing new webs, and cleansing old garments (Isa 7:3, 36:2; Mark 9:3), using natron, lye, wood-ashes, and fuller's earth, in their trade (Jer 2:22; Mal 3:2; Job 9:30), which was carried on outside towns, on account of its malodorous characteristics (2 Kings 18:17; Isa 7:3, 26:2). Women, and also men, prepared fragrant salves, by mixing olive oil with various perfumes (Exo 30:25,35; 1 Sam 8:13; Eccl 10:1; Neh 3:8). Bakers are first mentioned by Hosea, the old practice of bread-baking for each household by the women having, in a measure, fallen into disuse, so that there came to be a street of bakers in Jerusalem, 100 years later, when Jeremiah was alive (Hosea 7:4; Jer 37:21). Barbers make their first appearance during the Captivity (Eze 5:1), but became numerous after that time, the rich having barbers in their households. Strange to say, dyers are not mentioned in the Bible, nor are glaziers, though the Jews were acquainted with glass through the Phœnicians, and perhaps through the Egyptians.
As in the East now, to work at a trade was no dishonour, though some crafts were in disfavour, and even disqualified men for certain positions. The dignity of high priest, for example, according to the Talmud, could not be granted to a weaver, a fuller, a salve-maker, a tanner, or a barber.
The grinding at the mill, assigned to Samson as his work in Gaza, must have been galling in the extreme to such a Hercules, since it was the work usually left to women, though, as I have said, I saw one man at Joppa sitting in the street turning a handmill. The blinded hero, however, may have been set to turn a millstone of the larger size, too heavy for men, and commonly turned by an ass; the strength once used so nobly being thus contemptuously degraded.
The women sit or kneel in grinding, and their mills are still, doubtless, the same as those used in Bible times. Two stones, about eighteen inches or two feet across, rest one on the other, the under one slightly higher towards the centre, and the upper one hollowed out to fit this convexity; a hole through it, in the middle, receiving the grain. Sometimes the under-stone is bedded in cement, raised into a border round it, to catch and retain the flour or meal as it falls. A stick fastened into the upper one served as a handle. Occasionally two women sit at the same pair of stones (Matt 24:41; Luke 17:35), to lighten the task, one hand only being needed where two work together, whereas a single person has to use both hands. It was, and continues to be, the same in Egypt; "the maid-servant that is behind the mill" may yet be seen in any village on the Nile, just as her predecessors were before the Exodus (11:5). The revolution of the stones makes a rough grating sound, but it is a sign of life and plenty, and as such is pleasant to hear. It has, for this reason, been immemorially a familiar symbol of all that is most joyous in the remembrance of home; its absence marking desolation and sorrow. Hence Jeremiah, when painting the ruin to be brought on the land by the Chaldæans, tells his people that Jehovah will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp (Jer 25:10). Hence also "The Preacher" gives it as one mark of old age that the teeth fail, because they are few—taking the figure from women at the mill, so that the passage would read literally, "The women who have ground the meal slacken in their labour, because they are few," "and the sound of the grinding is low."* The utter destruction of the mystic Babylon is impressed on the mind by St. John in the statement that, "the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all" in it (Rev 18:21). No creditor was allowed to take a millstone in pledge, since doing so would mean the wretchedness of a household: a lesson to our law-givers at this time. Some millstones, of a much larger size than those turned by hand, are driven by an ass, as already noticed, and it is to one of these that our Lord refers when He says that it were better that a millstone were hanged about the neck of him who offends one of His little ones, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea (Matt 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:1,2).
Nor were even wailing and rending the clothes, or wearing sackcloth, the only expressions of grief at the death of loved ones. Notwithstanding the prohibition of the law (Lev 19:28; Deut 14:1), men cut themselves, in the time of Jeremiah, with knives, and shaved the front of their heads, to honour the departed (Jer 16:6). But this is not done now. The violence of the wailing may be imagined from the words used in Scripture: "The mourners [that is, the women] howled," says Jeremiah (4:8). Their wailing was like "the shrieks and yells of jackals," says Micah (1:8), "and they smote on their breasts, with voices sad as that of the dove" (Nahum 2:7), as our English people did at the news of the death of the Black Prince, when they beat their heads against the pillars of Canterbury Cathedral, and lifted up their voices in loud lamenting, with all the outward manifestations of sorrow once familiar to the Hebrews. The hired women of to-day, as they gather at the house of the dead, shriek out every endearing expression to stimulate the sorrow of those around, just as they did of old: "Ah, my brother!" "Ah, sister!" "Ah, lord!" or, "Ah, his glory!" (Jer 22:18, 34:5).
Men and boys come after the women, often carrying flags, and chanting, "No God but God, and Mahomet is His prophet," repeating this over and over as they advance; the numbers following the open bier being large in proportion to the respect felt for its pale occupant. Just such a procession met our Lord, as it passed through the gate of Nain, the widowed mother going before, and "much people of the city" following the remains of her only son (Luke 7:12).
On arrival at the grave, a scene very strange to Western eyes takes place, the celebration of a "zikr," or memorial service, which is repeated, at stated intervals, at the graves of those long dead, if they have left a reputation for holiness. I saw one held at the tomb of a local saint at Gaza. A circle was formed round the grave by the men present, without respect to their social position; a poor beggar taking part on the same footing as a rich trader. About forty men, who had come to the spot with a flag and a drum, stood in the ring; Arabs, jet-black Nubians, peasants; most of them in turbans of green, red, white, or yellow, or striped; some with fezzes; one with the Arab "kefiyeh," or head-shawl; their clothing as vividly contrasted as their head-dresses in shape, colour, and material; one wearing the "abba," of which we have often had to speak before. A leader broke the preliminary silence by beginning to chant in a sing-song voice from the Koran, after which the whole body of men broke out into a repetition of the name of God, crying "Allah, Allah, Allah," as quickly as it could be uttered, for quite a long time; their bodies, meanwhile, swaying up and down, in what was doubtless intended for bowing in reverence; each holding his neighbour's hand. Groans followed, volley after volley, and then the swaying, mingled with loud grunts, began once more. Presently all broke out into a chant praising God, and celebrating the glory of the dead. Clapping of hands followed, and more chanting of the Koran, more violent bowing, groaning, and grunting, till everyone must have been thoroughly tired. The whole ceremony lasted about half an hour, and at its close the procession, which consisted wholly of men, formed behind the flag and drum and marched back to the town, to the beat of the monotonous music. The name given to this act of Divine worship, for such it is, is, as I have said, "zikr," a word closely connected with the Hebrew word for "a memorial" or "remembrance"; indeed, one may say, identical with it. The Psalmist uses it when he exhorts the righteous to "give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness" (Psa 97:12; see also Psa 111:4, 112:6, 135:13, 145:7; Prov 10:7).
It is a pity to have to think of the wailing at death or at funerals as insincere, but how can that of hired women be anything else? The custom is falling into disfavour, partly on this account, and partly from its expense, but also from the unnatural constraint imposed by the rule that wailing shall be renewed at stated intervals in each week, for forty days (Gen 50:3). The true mourners have as real sorrow as those of any other land, and many of the white-sheeted forms that go to the grave to weep, or do so in their homes, are those of broken-hearted mothers, sisters, or wives. But to weep, shriek, beat the breast, and tear the hair at so much an hour, is sorrow as artificial as that of our undertakers. Professional mourners are employed simply in obedience to the tyranny of custom, and to stimulate the real grief of others. "Consider ye and call for the mourning women," says Jeremiah, "that they may come; send for the cunning women [skilful in lamenting] that they may come; and let them make haste and take up a wailing for us, that our eyes may run down with tears, and our eyelids gush out with waters" (9:17,18). Even the funeral processions of Mahommedans are far from being as decorous as those of Christians. The bier, on which the body lies dressed in its best clothes, is followed rather by a straggling and motley crowd than by mourners, for they talk and laugh in the most indifferent way as they go to the grave, where the "zikr," as I have described it, takes place, the women lamenting, and the men repeating with incredible volubility, "There is no God but God," &c., till they often foam at the mouth with their exertions. When they are tired, the body is laid in its shallow grave, which is quickly filled in, a few stones being heaped over it to keep off jackals and hyenas.
I made inquiries in a large fig-orchard at Gaza respecting the time of the ripening of the fruit; hoping to understand better than hitherto the curse of the fig-tree for its barrenness when "the time of figs was not yet" (Mark 11:13). The gardener, a middle-aged man, very thin by labour in the hot sun all his life, was probably not unlike those of ancient times. He wore an old fez, wound round with a coloured handkerchief to make it into a turban for protection from the sun. His arms and legs were bare; his dress a white shirt, with a blue cotton sack over it. A steel, for striking fire, hung at his side from a steel chain attached to a belt or girdle of leather round his waist. The earliest figs, it appears, are called "dafour," which mean "ripe before the time," and are ready at Gaza about the end of March, before the leaves are well out. Our Lord had a right, then, to expect that a tree rich in leaves should have had some figs on it by the middle of April, when He was passing, and the fact that there were none offered a striking text for a lesson on the worthlessness of profession without performance. It sometimes happens that in autumn—that is about October— some figs put out fresh leaves, and these are followed, it may be, by new figs. But the winter checks the ripening of such untimely growths, where it does not make them fall; the few still clinging to the branches till spring never becoming fit to eat. To show what he meant, the gardener forthwith pulled some of this kind, and they were withered and worthless.
It was on the 2nd of March, in the opening of spring, that I visited the garden. Fig-leaves were coming out on some trees; not, as yet, on others. Large beds of onions were standing a foot high, but they were thin in the stalk. Lettuce was large, and in great abundance; it is often, with bread, the only food of labourers. Tomato-plants were set out between the rows of lettuce; marrows were coming up, and vines were leafing, with rows of tomatoes between them also. The pomegranate was bursting out; beans were about nine inches high; garlic, somewhat shorter. A patch of tobacco, for the future personal use of the gardener, had just shown itself above the ground; and there was a small bed of parsley. The garden did not need watering, I was told; the rainfall and the night mists sufficient. Indeed, irrigation is little practised in Palestine, except in gardens around towns. On the plain of Sharon, for example, there is none for the fields, which yet give excellent crops.
The "abbas" of the men amused me. They are made of coarser or finer camels'-hair cloth, and are as nearly square as the human figure will allow; three holes being left for the head and arms, and short sleeves being generally added. The garment is open in front, to wrap tightly or wear loosely, as the owner thinks fit. In Gaza the women, besides the blue or white covering over their heads, wear an Egyptian veil: a thing made of cotton cloth, like a gigantic moustache, but hung over the nose, and sweeping down on each side to the bottom of the jaws, with a row of coins at the lower side for ornament; the rest of the face being left exposed. The "izar," or white cloak, worn by not a few of the fair sex, covers the person from head to foot. It was strange to hear that among the families in Gaza one was known as "European." Its members were, in fact, descendants of some Crusader who had remained in Palestine and married a native woman; his posterity still bearing the name of Frangi, or Franks. There are many such households in the Holy Land.
The heads of the children were a constant amusement, for in Gaza, as in Egypt and elsewhere, they are shaved in the most fanciful way. One gloried in a tuft on the very top of the skull; another, in a small ring of hair; still others had other designs. There is always, however, some tuft left for the benefit of the resurrection angel, to facilitate extrication from the grave, or, as some say, to help the spirits who, as Moslems believe, raise every dead man to his knees, in his grave, immediately after his burial, till he answers their questions and it is thus determined where his soul is to be till the general judgment. One thing is effected at any rate by the general head-shaving; there is no shelter for vermin. Boys wear no head-covering, running about with their shaved skulls even in Egypt, but men protect themselves by a turban, to take the place of their hair; for their heads are shaved as well as those of boys. Arabs never shave the head or the beard.
The mission house in which I lived while at Gaza offered, in many ways a curious example of the condition of Palestine. The stones of which it was built were from the ruins of ancient buildings on the sea-shore; some marble pillars over the door and elsewhere were spoil from Ascalon. The rafters were from Cilicia, in Asia Minor; the pine-wood, from Norway; the chairs were Austrian; the dresser was made in Gaza; the locks, hinges, glass, and paint, came from England; the nails and tiles, from France; the lime, from the hills of Judæa.
More than a third of the children in Palestine, I was told, die in infancy, which is no wonder,* so ignorant are the people, and so dirty and insanitary are their houses. Ophthalmia is epidemic, with blindness as its frequent result.
I had the honour of a return visit from the kadi to acknowledge my attendance at his court. He came with his son, a boy of twelve, dressed, excepting the inevitable red fez, like a European, and already showing his budding virility, as he no doubt fancied, by puffing at a cigarette. A very shabby servant followed, as the only escort of the two. I found his excellency very gracious. The missionary had beaten him in a lawsuit raised by the Turk to prevent the English from having a mission house—for the authorities harass Protestants in every way—but the defeat was ignored for the time, and the greatest affability reigned. The kadi had kept me waiting a very long time in his wretched court-house, to show me some pieces of a lead coffin just dug up. "Had they any value as antiquities?" Unfortunately there was no inscription on the fragments, but only ornaments, including human heads: a proof that it must have been as old as the Crusading times, if not older, as Mahommedans never introduce likenesses of either man or creatures in their ornamentation, nor such scrolls of leaves. "Why was there no cleansing of the streets in Gaza?" "Ah, how would you get the money for it? Many townsmen are very rich, but they refuse to pay taxes." "But could you, as governor, make no improvements at all, to bring your city more to the front?" "Ah! no one can do anything. I tried very hard to get a harbour made for Gaza, through a company that was wiling to construct it, but Turks are jealous of each other. If a clever man rises, all conspire to pull him down. The great men seek only their own interests, not those of the country. I could do nothing. Things must just go on as they are, if I am not to ruin myself. To show any zeal or enterprise would do so." Coffee, the nargileh, and cigarettes, enlivened the interview, though the boy felt it so dull that he stole away down-stairs to play with the children; the attendant following his charge. A few salaams and gracious assurances of eternal friendship, and the great man withdrew.
On the south-east of the town lies a hill—El-Muntar—to the top of which, it is said, Samson carried the city gates. Riding through the great cemetery, which in some parts was washed into gullies by the rain, and in others dug into great holes for gravel, the brick and plaster cubes or half-circles over older graves fallen, or falling, into decay; no fence or railing anywhere; stones, thorns, weeds, rubbish, choosing their own places without disturbance from any one—we reached the hill by a sandy lane, fringed with gardens and cactus-hedges. The ascent is rather steep from all sides; the slopes only thinly sprinkled with vegetation. A large tomb to some forgotten saint rises on the summit, where there is also a station, in a sickly times, for a quarantine watcher, who signals the approach of caravans from Egypt, the track from which stretches away, alongside the telegraph, straight to the south. The quarantine establishment lay about a mile to the east, among gardens: a stone building in front, with a quadrangle inside, but everywhere falling into decay. It has fine water, however; one of the soldiers kindly brought us a jar of it for a draught.
Standing apart, the hill offered a wide landscape on all sides. On the south, the eye ranged over the green uplands, closed in, at a distance, by the low hills of the great desert, which in all ages has been so strong a protection to Palestine against invasion from Africa. Yet the warlike lords of Egypt and Assyria had braved it, as the trade caravans have done during the immemorial past, slowly passing over its desolate breadth on the "ship of the desert." Along this southern road Shishak had emerged from the sandy wilderness, at the head of the columns which humbled Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25). The hosts of Sargon, Sennacherib, Esarhaddon, Assurbanipal, Nebuchadnezzar, and Cambyses, had successively sounded their trumpet-blasts round the town, as they marched towards the Nile. Alexander the Great had camped with his glittering staff and steel-clad warriors for five months on the plains beneath, before he could force an entrance into Gaza "the Strong"; and the wailing must have been loud and sore when, on his storming the city, all the men were slain, and the women and children sold as slaves; a new population from a distance being brought to take their place. Pharaoh-Necho had smitten Gaza on his victorious march towards Carchemish (Jer 47:1), and when afterwards overthrown by the Chaldæans his troops had retreated along this road to Egypt, devastating Philistia as they passed. Men had wailed aloud, women and children had filled the air with their cries "at the noise of the stamping of the hoofs of the war-horses, at the bounding of the chariots, at the rumbling of their wheels"—fathers, in their flight, not looking back to save their children; and thus "baldness," the sign of mourning (Micah 1:16), "had come on Gaza" (Jer 47:2-5). But Alexander's victory had been still more destructive. Gaza had bought Jewish captives as slaves, and had sold them as such to the hated Edomites, and now fire had been sent on its wall and had devoured its palaces, as Amos had long before threatened (1:7; see also Zeph 2:4; Zech 9:5). Destroyed again and again, its situation had always secured its being rebuilt. The Jews had triumphed over it under David, Hezekiah, and the Maccabees, but they had afterwards seen their sons sold in multitudes by Hadrian in its slave-marts. The Greeks and Romans had held it in their time, and now, for 1,400 years, it had been in the hands of the Arabs and Turks. A strange history on which to look down from the hill-top! The haughty armies that had spread their banners beneath—where were they? How was the tumult of ages stilled down! Infinite pity for dying man filled one's heart!
On the south-east lay the track to Beersheba, over the open field; and on the east the mountains of Judæa bounded the view; low tawny hills, with cactus-hedges over their tops, lying close below El-Muntar, and beyond them vast stretches of rolling pasture, ploughed land, wheat, and barley, to the foot of the mountain-range. On the west spread out a vast wood of olive and fig trees, broken here and there by green fields, and by low, rough hills, reaching to the sand-dunes which were being slowly blown over the cultivated land. Beyond these, the great sea spread out to the horizon, its deep blue contrasting in rich effect with the yellow sand-hills at its edge. North-west lay Gaza, on its long, low hill, embowered in a sea of green, two minarets rising from the town itself, and three from its suburb, Sejiyeh, the quarter of the weavers, a place bearing a very bad name. The sand-hills rose close to the town on the west. Cactus-hedges streamed in all directions, over height and hollow, and palms in numbers waved high in the air among the gardens, but not in groves as in Egypt. On the north-east a track over the wide common showed the way to Hebron.