Biography and family record of Lorenzo Snow/Letter VIII
Jordan River. Sac-red localities. Fountain of Ehsha. Brook Cherith. Plains of Jericho. liethany. Residence of Mary and Martha. Tomb of Lazarus. Garden of G'ethsemane. Hill of evil counsel. Mizpah. Valley of Jehoshaphat. Absalom's Pillar. Mosque of Omar. Solo- mon's Temple. Mount Mo r ia h. Worship of Moloch. Place of Lamentation.
PALESTINE, MARCH GTH, 1873. Editor Deseret News:
Our visit to the river Jordan was interesting. As we drank of its sweet and refreshing waters and washed in its sacred stream, our thoughts and reflections recurred to the days of childhood, when we were accustomed to peruse the Holy Scriptures describing the important events which trans- pired in this locality the passage of the Israelites when the channel became dry, as the priests, bearing upon their shoulders the sacred ark, stepped into the flowing stream: the dividing of the waters by Elijah when he passed over the dry bed and was taken up into heaven from the plain on the opposite side by a whirlwind; and Elisha, as he returned, took the mantle of Elijah that fell from him, and smote the waters, saying, "Where is the Lord God of Elijah?" thus making the third time the Jordan w;is divided. But another event of much deeper interest is associated with this place the baptism of our Savior, referred to in the following language: "John came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and Jesus came from Galilee to Jordan to be baptized of him;" and we were at or near the iden- tical point where all these memorable events had taken place, standing upon the bank, looking down into the glen, and bathing in the same stream which had borne silent witness of these sublime occurrences.
This stream of Biblical history flows through a glen varying from two hundred to six hundred yards in width, and from fifty to one hundred and fifty feet in depth below the surrounding plain. The bottom of the glen is sprinkled here and there with shrubs: tamarisk, oleander and willows grow
on the banks of the stream, which are generally very steep. The Jordan varies in width from eighty to one hundred and fifty feet, with a depth often of ten or twelve feet. It flows through the Sea of Galilee; from the great fountain at Dan, to where it empties into the Dead Sea, its distance in a direct line is ninety-two miles. The Sea of Galilee is about six hundred feet higher than the mouth of the Jordan, and sixty miles distant. This river has a rapid current, making it dangerous to bathers unacquainted with the stream. A gentleman from New York, who joined us at Jaffa, stated that on his previous tour to Palestine, while bathing here, he was suddenly car- ried down by the force of the current, and at the last moment was saved by a dexterous and extraordinary effort of his dragoman.
A singular custom prevails among the Christian churches of Palestine that of bathing in the Jordan every year at Easter. They gather in mul- titudes, putting themselves under the protection of a Turkish escort, headed by the Governor of Jerusalem or his deputy, to protect them from the Bedouin robbers. Starting from the "Holy City," traveling on foot and upon mules, donkeys and camels, through the wild, mountain regions of Judea, they cross the Plains of Jordan, and on reaching its sacred stream, rush indiscriminately into the flowing waters, young and old, men and women, regardless of propriety or even decency. Through this ceremony they anticipate peculiar favors and heavenly blessings.
Having sufficiently examined the Jordan and its surroundings, we pro, eeeded across the plains, making our encampment at the Fountain of Elisha, near the ruins of Jericho. This fountain consists of several small springs which flow from beneath a large mound. These are the famous water s which were healed by Elisha, as spoken of in Scripture. A stream flows from them of considerable size, which waters a portion of the Plain of Jericho. The Valley of the Jordan, in the direction we crossed, is about ten miles in width, possessing a rich soil, and with proper tillage could be made abundantly productive. A great portion of it, however, is a dreary, desolate region. Some parts of the valley watered by the Brook Cherith and the stream issuing from Elisha's Fountain are covered with lotus trees, interspersed with willows and a prolific growth of weeds. Some distance from these water courses, the trees and shrubbery are more thinly scattered which viewed in the distance resemble an immense park, beautiful and picturesque. These plains were formerly celebrated for their richness and fertility their palm groves and luxuriant gardens, producing honey and balm, reckoned the most fertile region of Judea. Now nothing of this kind remains. The Plains of Jericho were formerly considered the garden of Palestine; their aspect now is strangely different, nothing is seen but small fields of grain intermixed with thorny bush.
A small village, occupied by Arabs, is the only modern representative of the ancient Jericho. The houses are formed of stone walls, built up loosely without mortar; the roofs flat and covered with brush and gravel; the yards and wretched patches of gardens are enclosed by winrows con- structed of the bows of thorns; the walls of the village, to protect its shift- less inhabitants from the raids of the Bedouins, are made of the same material. In riding through this disgustingly filthy town, we were lustily cheered by some dozen dirty, half-naked children, collected for this pur- pose, but more particularly for backsheesh (money). Sheep, children, goats, women and men, all indiscriminately huddled together, and no doubt this people deserved the profligate character given them, i. e., similar to that of Sodom and Gomorrah.
In the evening, some twenty Bedouins appeared in our carnp, equipped and prepared to amuse us by their accomplishments in music and dancing, for the purpose of laying claims to our backsheesh. We considered it policy to accept the offer; accordingly we took seats before our tents. They posted themselves in a standing line immediately fronting us, each having a short sword girded under a ragged mantle, all scantily and shabbily clad making rather a primitive appearance. They commenced their singular manoeuvres by dodging forward and back, at the same moment clapping their hands, accompanied with rapid stepping of the feet and a strange chant, occasionally making a whizzing, thrilling whoop, the like of which was never heard but from the throat of a Bedouin, their chief standing in front, twirling and flourishing a naked sword in the faces of his comrades, keeping time with their fantastic motions, stoppings, chantings and whoop- ings, occasionally turning suddenly, making the whole exceedingly impressive by flourishing the naked blade close to our faces. The drift of their songs, we were told, was highly flattering to the ladies and compli- mentary to the gentlemen the former for their extraordinary beauty, the latter for their anticipated liberality in bestowing backsheesh. We took the hint, and recollecting several robberies and murders which had occurred in the vicinity, we paid them for this wretched entertainment, constantly adding more, until we excited their admiration. We retired to our tents, reflecting on the strange difference between the present occupants of this locality and those who inhabited it when Prophets converted bitter springs into sweet fountains, and smote impetuous streams, piling up their waters on either side, and walked through on dry ground.
The following morning, after breakfasting and drinking the sweet water s of the Fountain of Elisha, we left the Plains of Jericho, and ascended into a wild, rocky, mountainous region, our path lying along the brink of the most sublime ravine of Palestine. It is many hundred feet deep, where bu t
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little else is seen than precipices of naked rocks, containing here and there a grotto seemingly inaccessible to anything but eagles; yet we were informed that these solitary caves were once occupied by hermits, some of whom reduced their bodies to a condition that four raisins per day supplied the cravings of appetite. Down to an immense depth, we discovered a small stream tumbling over the rocks, which we were told was the "Brook Cherith, that is before Jordan," where the Prophet Elijah was fed by ravens, while the famine prevailed in Palestine.
We stopped for lunch under the shade of some crumbling walls and pointed arches, where our generous sheik left us, his services being no longer required. Before leaving, he inscribed, in beautiful Arabic, his official name in my journal. Mounting our horses, we soon reached Bethany, situated about two miles from Jerusalem. Its location is pleasant and romantic, being built on the eastern slope of Mount Olivet, partially surrounded by steep hills, encircled by old, decayed terraces, supporting a few scattered fig and olive trees. It is a poor, miserable village, with nar- row, filthy streets; the whole presenting a dismal appearance, yet a place of sacred interest. Here dwelt the sisters, Mary and Martha, with Lazarus their brother. Here Christ raised Lazarus from the tomb and presented him alive to his weeping sisters. Here, too, was the house of Simon the leper, in which Mary anointed Jesus with precious ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. The sites of these events are still pointed out the house of Simon, that of Mary and Martha and the tomb of Lazarus. The latter is a deep vault, partly excavated in the rock and partly lined with masonry. We stopped our horses
at the front of the entrance. This opens
on a winding staircase leading to a small chamber, whence a few steps more lead to a small vault in which the body is said to have been placed. We made but a short stay in this village, much to the disappointment of a crowd of dirty, ragged customers, who clamored fearfully for back- sheesh.
As we approached Jerusalem, we descended a steep hill, down a rocky, winding, shelvy path, past an immense cemetery and the Garden of Geth- semane, with its ornamental trees, gravel walks, flowers and shrubbery, then around the towering battlements of Jerusalem, and soon reached our encampment, well pleased with our three days' excursion.
I was much interested in the topographical appearance of the country around about Jerusalem. The city is situated on a broad mountainous ridge, between the two valleys of Hinnom and Kedron. All around, from one to three miles distant, are loftier summits, consisting of irregular, broken ridges, varying from fifty to two hundred feet above the buildings of the city. They slope down, forming into small plains, low valleys, and
steep, rugged ravines, presenting a panoramic view, beautiful and sublime. Along the western horizon runs a long range of hills, about the same height as that on which the city stands.
On the south, some distance from the city, is the "Hill of Evil Coun- cil," where it is said Caiaphas had a house where the priests and elders met to compass the destruction of Jesus; it is now covered with the ruins of some village. Northwards, rising conspicuously in the distance, is "Neby Samuel," the ancient Mizpeh, which is distinguished by its high towers. On the east, about half a mile from the city walls, the Mount of Olives rises from the Valley of Jehoshaphat, olive trees ornamenting its slopes, its sum- mit crowned by a mosque, with its high tapering minaret. Some portions of these hills show little else but white rocks projecting from the soil, which is almost as white as the rocks themselves; others arc covered with fields of grain, and fig and olive orchards.
The plateaus and vales are generally cultivated, and covered with herbage and fig and olive trees. The ravines, especially the Hinnom and Keclron, in places are so steep and rugged that nothing is seen, scarcely, but a few olive trees here and there, growing upon narrow terraces built upon the rocks and cliffs. The summit of the Mount of Olives rises several hundred feet above the city, affordjpig one of the most commanding views of Jerusalem and its surroundings.
I ascended this mountain, and obtained a favorable position upon the highest point on its summit, spent a happy hour surveying the "Holy City," its environs, and the endless objects of rare and sacred interest which formed the magnificent scenery around. Through the olive trees along the declivity could be discerned the white top of "Absalom's Pillar," and the grey excavated cliffs of Siloam; the high walls of Jerusalem appeared with their square towers; the Mosque of Omar, with its magnificent dome in the centre, occupying the site ot Araunah's threshing floor, and Solomon's Temple, around it a grassy area, the whole encircled by olive and cypress trees; the two domes and the strong square tower of the Church of the Sepulchre, the massive towers of the citadel standing upon the Hill of Zion; in the distance a long line of high hills, and low broken ranges of moun- tains, with intervening vales, plateaus and wild ravines the whole forming a marvelous picture of varied beauty and magnificence.
It is astonishing, the number of cemeteries we observed around about Jerusalem. It is truly said, that the "tombs" of the "Holy City" are more numerous than its buildings. Nearly every hill and valley is studded more or less with these monuments.
The slopes of Mount Moriah and Mount Olivet, and portions of the deep valleys of Hinnom and Jehoshaphat, form exclusive burying places.
In viewing the multitude of tombs in the rocks and cliffs along the ravines of Hinnom, we were forcibly reminded of the prophecy of Jeremiah: "They shall bury in Tophet till there be no place. They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire."
Here, at the bottom of the defile, amid its clifts and rocky steeps and gloomy scenes, the Israelites performed the worship of Moloch, alluded to by Jeremiah. These heathen rites consisted in making a burnt offering of children in the following manner: A statue of Moloch was erected of gigantic proportions, consisting of brass, in the form of a man's body, with a head like that of an ox. The interior was hollow, in which was con- structed a large furnace, by which means the whole statue could easily be made red hot. The children to be sacrificed were then placed in its arms, while drums were beaten to drown their cries. It is asserted, however strange it may appear, that Solomon was the first who formally introduced these fearful practices, though previous to this they had been performed occasionally by the Israelites.
Seeing no lake, pond, stream, rivulet, nor scarcely a living well or fountain in or around Jerusalem, we naturally inquired how its inhabitants' especially its former dense population, ^ere supplied with water. We were informed that within the walls of Jerusalem living wells and fountains, at present, were comparatively unknown. Three small fountains, in the lower part of the valley of Jehoshaphat, are said to be the only waters that can be depended upon in the region around.
The city is chiefly supplied by means of its cisterns, every house of any importance having one or more of these, so arranged that the winter rains can be conducted into them, by means of pipes and ducts, from the roofs and court yards. With suitable care the water in them can be preserved pure and sweet during the whole summer. Besides these private cisterns, there are many public tanks, pools and reservoirs in the city and suburbs. We saw the ruins of aqueducts, cisterns and immense tanks, which showed that in former periods great attention and a vast amount of labor had been employed to secure supplies of water.
In every quarter of the site of the ancient city numerous reservoirs and cisterns are discovered some of immense capacity, excavated in solid rock; others, formed upon the flat surface of the rock, built up around with stones thickly lined with cement. One of these subterranean reservoirs was dis- covered eighty feet below the surrounding surface. Subterranean aqueducts lead in various directions from the cisterns, frequently formed in the solid rock, extending many hundred yards. How these numerous cisterns were supplied is still a great mystery. Some imagine it was effected by conduits
connecting with secret springs and fountains a long distance beyond the city.
The Jewish rabbi, with whom we conversed, stated that many springs and fountains which formerly supplied the inhabitants of Jerusalem, had long since ceased to flow, but he expected the time was near when they would be revived into living waters.
Jerusalem occupies but a small space its walls are but a little over two miles in circumference. Its population has been variously estimated; the following particulars I believe are tolerably authentic: Jews, nine thousand; Mohammedans, five thousand; Christians, about four thousand, making a total of eighteen thousand.
The political and financial condition of the Jewish population is not very flattering or prosperous. The people are generally poor and oppressed, without means or opportunity of improving their circumstances. They receive large contributions from Europe and America, to aid in objects of charity, and in making small improvements in the way of public buildings.
In our interview with the chief rabbi, we learned that foreign influence is operating, in a small measure, in their favor toward softening the feelings and moderating the rules of the Turkish authorities; that they are allowed to purchase and hold title to real estate; but they have no money to expend in this direction, and if they had it would be discouraging under the present system of taxation. All kinds of property are heavily taxed, and all pri- vate and public enterprise is discouraged. A direct tax is levied on persons, cattle, land and fruit trees; tobacco and silk pay about forty-two cents per pound, and all other articles eight per cent., either in kind or money.
Near where the Temple formerly stood, is a small paved area where the Jews have been permitted, during many centuries, to approach the pre- cincts of the site of the Temple of their forefathers, and lament and wail over the ruins, and the desolation of their nation and sanctuary. In this retired locality, each Friday, Jews of both sexes, of all ages, and from every quarter of the world, are seen weeping, bathing the stones with their tears, and lifting up their voices in loud lamentation. No one can witness this scene without being touched with feelings of the deepest sympathy, and the poet may well say:
"Oh, weep for those that wept by Babel's stream, Whose shrines are desolate, whose land a dream; Weep for the harp of Judah's broken spell, Mourn where their God hath dwelt, the godless dwell !