« AnteriorContinua »
ROUTE FROM TIBERIAS TO BEISAN.
Agâ, near the western hills, on the bank of the Sherrar, and just below Koukab el Howa. At four hours and forty minutes, passed a ruin with a few short columns, called Nusleh, near a large encampment of the Arabs of Rūbâh. At five hours is the great Wady Osheh (or Ushey), with a large tell of the same name, and in ten minutes farther Wady Mukhărkŭsh crosses the plain on its way to the Jordan. The ruined town, called es Soudah, half an hour south of this, has many columns and sarcophagi, and from that onward the remains of the great Bethshan begin to appear, and constantly multiply for nearly an hour before you reach the castle. We rode rapidly, and the distance from Tiberias can not be far from twenty-four miles. I have already led you over the route from Jisr el Mujameah to Tiberias, and need not repeat. From the bridge, on this occasion, we ascended the western side of the ghor to 'Akil's tent under Koukabah, and then kept south along the base of the hills, with the plain of the Jordan on our left. This plain constantly widened by the falling back of the hills, until at es Soudah the great valley of Jezreel, in which Beisan is situated, opens to the west its noble expanse. From the city eastward it is called Ghor Beisan, and it spreads out to the southeast farther than the eye can follow. For the last hour there is a steady ascent, and the aneroid indicates an elevation for the city above the Jordan of more than five hundred feet. Owing to this, the whole plain can be watered by the fountains that send their copious streams across the site of Beisan. In fact, few spots on earth, and none in this country, possess greater agricultural and manufacturing advantages than this ghor, and yet it is utterly desolate.
But to our description. Beisan is naturally one of the strongest places even in this country of strongholds. About half a mile south of the tell you saw is a square tower, constructed in part of large beveled blocks of white limestone. Around this are grouped some forty or fifty wretched hovels of trap rock, loosely built, and ready to tumble down upon
their inhabitants. These are as sinister a looking gang as can be found, and are, in fact, as great robbers
as the Bedawîn themselves. The ancient city consisted of several distinct quarters, or wards, separated by deep ravines, with noisy cascades leaping over ledges of black basalt. I have seen no city except Damascus so abundantly supplied with water. Most of the streams take their rise in large marshes to the southwest of the city, and so high above it as to send their brooks over every part of the area; and it is evident, from the tufaceous deposits in all directions, that the inhabitants made good use of their privileges in
The largest wards of the city appear to have been around the present castle, and on the west of Tell Húsn; but there are extensive ruins both to the east and north of it. The great Wady el Jalûd passes down on the north side of the tell, and Wady el L'ab on the south, meeting below, and thus almost surrounding it. The position of the tell is therefore very strong, and it rises about two hundred feet high, with the sides nearly perpendicular. A strong wall was carried round the summit, and the gateway was high up the steep declivity at the northwest angle. In the huge buttresses of this gateway are built fragments of columns, and handsome Corinthian capitals. It was on the wall of this tell, I suppose, that the bodies of Saul and his sons were fastened by the Philistines after the battle on Gilboa; and this supposition enables us to understand how the men of Jabesh Gilead could execute their daring exploit of carry ing them away. Jabesh Gilead was on the mountain east of the Jordan, in full view of Bethshan, and these brave men could creep up to the tell, along Wady Jalûd, without being seen, while the deafening roar of the brook would render it impossible for them to be heard. I have often been delighted with this achievement. The people of Jabesh had not a good character among their brethren. None of them came up to the great war against Benjamin' in the matter of the Levite and his concubine, and for this neglect they were condemned to utter destruction. In the days of Saul, however, it had again become a considerable city, and had
Judges xxi. 8-12.
JABESH GILEAD-THEATRE AT BEISAN.
acquired a fair reputation. All Israel hastened, with almost incredible dispatch, to rescue it from the cruel doom of Nahash the Ammonite. It was, no doubt, in gratitude for this deliverance, effected wholly through the energy of Saul, that the men of Jabesh hazarded their lives in order to secure his headless body from insult. History should always rejoice to record noble deeds, and most of all those instances of public gratitude which now and then throw a gleam of sunlight over its gloomy chronicles of selfishness and sin.
There is not much more to be said about Beisan. A bridge of extraordinary height spans the Jalûd east of Tell Húsn. It appears to have led from the south to the north quarter of the city. The theatre is in the wady southwest of the tell. It is built entirely of basalt, and much of it is thrown down. The chord of the circle is one hundred and ninety-three feet, and though the seats are nearly gone, the vomitories, with dens for wild beasts on either side, are almost perfect. Some of them are now used for stables. Beisan was a city of temples. They are now entirely destroyed, and most of the materials have long since been carried away for other building. Their number, however, can be ascertained, and their localities traced out, from partial foundations and prostrate columns. Some of these columns were four feet in diameter, mostly of white limestone from the neighboring mountain, or of basalt from the place itself, and only a few are foreign granite. I do not think that the city could have been all embraced within one general wall, for it would have required one at least five miles long. It is more probable that the various wards, separated by deep ravines, had each its independent fortifications.
Whenever a good government shall restore order and security to this region, Beisan will rapidly rise to an important city. Its water privileges and other advantages will not only make it a delightful residence, but render it a great manufacturing centre. All kinds of machinery might be driven with the least possible expense by its abounding brooks; and then this lovely valley of Jezreel above it, ir
11 Sam. xi, 1-11.
rigated by the Jalûd, and the Ghor Beisan below, watered in every part by many fertilizing streams, are capable of sustaining a little nation in and of themselves. Besides, Beisan is the natural highway from Bashan and the east to the sea-board at Haifa and Acre, and also to southern Palestine and Egypt. The ghor once teemed with inhabitants, as is evident from ruined sites, and from tells too old for ruins, which are scattered over the plain. I took down their names as now known to the Arabs, but none of them have any historic significance. Of Salim and Enon, which must have been in the ghor at no great distance, I could hear nothing. Succoth is well known under the name of Sakût. Tûbûkat Fahel is in full view over the Jordan, and is, doubtless, the Pella of history. My guide assured me that Felah was the true name; and this is their way of pronouncing Pella, for, having no p in their language, they sometimes use b, and at others f, instead of it. Wady Yabis, at the head of which was Jabesh Gilead, is a little to the south of Tûbûkat Fahel.
Bethshan has figured largely in the history of this country from a very early age. It was given to Manasseh, but, ike many other grants, seems never to have been in their possession. At what time it took the name of Scythopolis, and on what account, is uncertain. Some suppose it was so called from a colony of Scythians who got possession of it. This is more probable than that its name was derived from Succoth, a mere village many miles to the southeast of it. Be this as it may, it is thus called in the Apocryphal books of the Old Testament, in Josephus, who often mentions it, and by nearly all profane authors. It early became a Christian city, with a bishop of its own, and was the ecclesiastical metropolis of the Third Palestine. Beisan is, of course, merely the Arabic form of the original name Bethshan, given to it by these barbarians, whose mission is destruction, and under their sway it soon fell into decay and obscurity, and thus it must remain until they are driven over the Jordan into their native desert.
But it is time for us to prosecute our journey. How sad
THE SHUNAMITE'S SON RAISED TO LIFE.
to know that even this pretty home of the Shunamite, with its orchards and gardens, will soon be deserted and destroyed, unless these accursed Bedawîn be driven back by the government! See! what a large encampment stretches down toward Zer'in, and their black tabernacles dot the plain in all directions far as the eye can reach.
We are now on ground poetically, or, rather, prophetically illustrious. In this immediate neighborhood, the Tishbite, and his scarcely less wonderful disciple Elisha, performed their amazing miracles. Here, in this very village, dwelt that good Shunamite, who built a little chamber (an ullîyeh, upper room) on the wall for the “holy man of God,” and put there a table, and a bed, and a stool, and a candlestick. In some part of these fields, which slope down southward into Jezreel, her only son, given in reward for her hospitality to Elisha, received a stroke of the sun while looking at the reapers, and I know by experience that this valley glows like a furnace in harvest-time. The poor
lad cries out to his father, My head! my head !? and, being carried home, he sat on his mother's knee till noon, and then died. Elisha was on Carmel-probably near the altar of Elijah—at El Makhrakah, ten or twelve miles off. The mother saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive and go forward, slack not thy riding for me except I bid thee; and away she flew past Fuliyeh, and westward down the plain to the foot of Carmel. The man of God sees her coming in such haste, fears some calamity, and sends Gehazi to meet her with these three inquiries, Is it well with thee? is it well with thy husband ? is it well with the lad? She answered, It is well; but, at the same time, she rushes up the "hill,” and seizes the prophet by his feet. This scene is natural, and very graphic. If you ask after a person whom you know to be sick, the reply at first will invariably be, Well, thank God, even when the very next sentence is to inform you that he is dying. Then the falling down, clasping the feet, etc., are actions witnessed every day. I have had this done to me often before I could prevent it. So, also, the 2 Kings iv. 8-10.
2 2 Kings iv. 19. 3 2 Kings iv. 26.