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ward, up the lovely vale of Nablûs. Nothing in Palestine surpasses it in fertility and natural beauty, and this is mainly due to the fine mill-stream which flows through it. The whole country is thickly studded with villages, the plains clothed with grass or grain, and the rounded hills with orchards of olive, fig, pomegranate, and other trees. Coming from Samaria, the ascent to the city from the valley is quite steep, and it climbs up the side of Gerizim to a very considerable elevation; indeed, the perpendicular cliffs of the mountains overhang the upper part of the city. Travelers generally seek out the Samaritan quarter, which is near the southwestern corner, and sufficiently elevated to afford a good view of the whole town. Nablûs is a queer old place. The streets are narrow, and vaulted over; and in the winter time it is difficult to pass along many of them on account of brooks which rush over the pavement with deafening roar. In this respect, I know no city with which to compare it except Brusa, and, like that city, it has mulberry, orange, pomegranate, and other trees, mingled in with the houses, whose odoriferous flowers load the air with delicious perfume during the months of April and May. Here the bilbûl delights to sit and sing, and thousands of other birds unite to swell the chorus. The inhabitants maintain that theirs is the most musical vale in Palestine, and my experience does not enable me to contradict them.
Imagine that the lofty range of mountains running north and south was cleft open to its base by some tremendous convulsion of nature, at right angles to its own line of extension, and the broad fissure thus made is the vale of Nablûs, as it appears to one coming up the plain of Mukhna from Jerusalem. Mount Ebal is on the north, Gerizim on the south, and the city between. Near the eastern end, the vale is not more than sixty rods wide; and just there, I suppose, the tribes assembled to hear the "blessings and the curses” read by the Levites. We have them in extenso in the 27th and 28th chapters of Deuteronomy; and in Joshua' we are informed that it was actually done, and how.
1 Joshua viii.
Simeon, and Levi, and Judah, and Issachar, and Joseph, and Benjamin, stood on Gerizim ; and Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulon, Dan, and Naphtali, on Ebal; while all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges, stood on this side of the ark and on that side before the priests which bare the ark of the covenant of the Lord; the whole nation of Israel, with the women and little ones, were there. And Joshua read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings; there was not a word of all that Moses commanded which Joshua read not before all the congregration of Israel. This was, beyond question or comparison, the most august assembly the sun has ever shone upon; and I never stand in the narrow plain, with Ebal and Gerizim rising on either hand to the sky, without involuntarily recalling and reproducing the scene. I have shouted to hear the echo, and then fancied how it must have been when the loudvoiced Levites proclaimed from the naked cliffs of Ebal, "Cursed be the man that maketh any graven image, an abomination unto Jehovah." And then the tremendous AMEN! tenfold louder, from the mighty congregation, rising, and swelling, and re-echoing from Ebal to Gerizim, and from Gerizim to Ebal. AMEN! even so let him be accursed. No, there never was an assembly to compare with this.
It was part of the command of the Lord, and of Moses to Joshua, that, having placed the" blessings and the cursings" on Gerizim and on Ebal, he should write the whole law upon pillars of stone which he should rear up at this place. Do you suppose
that the whole five books of Moses were thus engraven upon stone ?
I suppose not; perhaps none of it was engraved on stone. A careful examination of Deuteronomy xxvii. 4, 8, and Joshua viii. 30–32, will lead to the opinion that the law was written upon or in the plaster with which these pillars were coated. This could easily be done, and such writing was common in ancient times. I have seen numerous specimens of it certainly more than two thousand years old, and still as distinct as when they were first inscribed on the plaster. There seems to have been an unnecessary amount
THE LAW WRITTEN ON THE STONES AT MOUNT EBAL. 205
of learning bestowed upon this matter, and difficulties imagined where none exist. Michaelis, in his Commentary on the Laws of Moses, enters into a labored examination of the passage. He gives and refutes various explanations, among others, that of Kennicott, who supposes that the letters were cut out in black marble, the letters being raised, and the hollow intervals between them filled with white lime plaster. His own opinion, however, is that Moses commanded Joshua to do as Sostratus, the architect of the Pharos did, who cut his own name on the solid marble, then plastered it over, and grooved the name of the King of Egypt on the cement. Moses, in like manner, ordered the law to be cut in the solid stone, and then to be plastered over with hard cement, so that when this plaster fell off, in after ages, the engraven law would be discovered entire and perfectly legible! Now the main objection to these speculations is that there is not the slightest foundation for them in the text. The direction there is perfectly plain, and needs none of these recondite devices to render it intelligible and reasonable. That the Egyptians were accustomed to engrave on stone in various ways is well known, and Moses must have been familiar with it; but he was also familiar with the mode which he here commands to be followed, and he knew it to be sufficiently durable for all practical purposes. He therefore did not order such a herculean labor as to grave the whole law in marble, but simply to write it on or in properly prepared cement. In this hot climate, where there is no frost to dissolve the cement, it will continue hard and unbroken for thousands of years, which is certainly long enough. The cement on Solomon's pools remains in admirable preservation, though exposed to all the vicissitudes of the climate, and with no protection. The cement in the tombs about Sidon is still perfect, and the writing on them entire, though acted upon by the moist, damp air always found in caverns, for perhaps two thousand years. What Joshua did, therefore, when he erected these great stones at Mount Ebal, was merely to write in the still soft cement with
Michaelis, vol. i. book iii.
a stile, or, more likely, on the polished surface, when dry, with red paint, as in ancient tombs. If properly sheltered, and not broken away by violence, they would have remained to this day. But every thing that could be destroyed has been long since, and again and again overthrown, in the countless convulsions of this most rebellious neighborhood; and the hope expressed by Michaelis that these imaginary) marble slabs, with the law engraven upon them, were still in existence, buried beneath the rubbish of Nablûs, and might one day be discovered, crumbles into dust, along with the plaster upon which the commandments of the Lord were really written. Nor need we mourn over the loss. The printing-press preserves this same law to us far more securely than could any monument, though built of bronze or solid adamant.
If Nablûs occupies the place of Shechem (and I suppose it does), it is one of the oldest cities in the world; nor is there any thing improbable in this, for its natural advantages, great beauty, and abundant supply of water mark out the site for a city. This latter fact, however, seems to prove that Shechem was not the Sychar mentioned in the 4th chapter of John. It is incredible that the “woman of Samaria” would have gone two miles away from these delicious fountains to draw water out of an immensely deep well. If we admit the identity of the present well of Jacob with that mentioned by John, there can be but little doubt that Sychar was a small Samaritan town not far from that spot; and there is a village north of it now called Aschâr. This is so like John's Sychar that I feel inclined to adopt it. Of course, the "woman of Samaria" belonged to the country or people of Samaria, not to the city of that name, which is some eight miles to the northwest of it.
I see no good reason to question the identity of this well with that of the patriarch; nor do I intend to disturb the bones of Joseph, concerning which he expressed so much solicitude when about to die in Egypt. The Moslems point out his tomb at the base of Ebal in this vicinity; and this
1 Gen. 1. 25.