« AnteriorContinua »
RUINS NEAR TIBERIAS.
not a population with which our Lord and his disciples would choose to associate. Josephus farther states that to make this place habitable was to transgress the ancient laws of the Jews, because “many sepulchres were here to be taken away in order to make room for the city of Tiberias, whereas our law pronounces that such persons are unclean for seven days." Jesus, therefore, could not enter this city without becoming ceremonially unclean, and we know that both he and his disciples scrupulously avoided any such violation of the law of Moses. He never visited Tiberias, and thus the silence of the evangelists in regard to it is explained.
This piece of history suggests one or two other remarks. It is nearly certain that Tiberias was built, in part at least, upon the cemetery of a neighboring city then in ruins, for without such a city whence came the many sepulchres spoken of? And that this city was ancient, and long since deserted, is evident from the fact that these sepulchres had no owners to be outraged by their demolition. The people who once used that cemetery had totally disappeared from the vicinity before Tiberias was erected. We may also determine with certainty that this former city was south of the present one, for there is no place for it on the north, or in any other direction but south. This confirms the idea that the ruins between Tiberias and the baths are the remains of a city more ancient than that built by Herod. The remark of Josephus about the sepulchres also shows that the present town occupies the site of Herod's city. The face of the hill on which the northern part of it stands is covered with a very peculiar kind of tombs, and apparently as old as the rock itself. Many of them were wholly destroyed when the wall was built, for they extend under it, and into the city itself, while the whole hill side north and northwest of it is crowded with them—the forsaken graves of an extinct city and race. What was the name of this more ancient city must ever remain a matter of mere conjecture. It was many times larger than the modern town, for it covered the plain and side of the mountain quite down to the baths, and was a city of palaces, and temples, and splendid edifices, as
the remains abundantly show. Perhaps it was Hammath itself, named from the hot baths, great and rich, from their celebrity in olden time. Perhaps it was Chinneroth, from which the lake took its most ancient, as it has derived its modern name from its successor. Perhaps—but it is idle to multiply suppositions of this kind.
It would be tedious to enter minutely into the history of this city and its varied fortunes; nor is this necessary. Reland, and Burckhardt, and Robinson, and Wilson, and Kitto have done this at large. Ever since the destruction of Jerusalem, it has been chiefly celebrated in connection with the Jews, and was for a long time the chief seat of rabbinical learning. It is still one of their four holy cities. Among the Christians it also early rose to distinction, and the old church, built upon the spot where our Lord gave his last charge to Peter, is a choice bit of ecclesiastical antiquity. Though we need not accept this age or origin, still I am not so sure as Dr. Robinson is that, because the arch of its vault is slightly pointed, its antiquity must necessarily be limited to the time of the Crusades at the earliest.” If not greatly mistaken, I have seen such arches far older than the twelfth century. But the entire subject of the arch is yet to be properly developed, and until this is done the unlearned must not be too positive. Let that pass. The present city is situated on the shore, at the northeast corner of this small plain. The walls inclose an irregular parallelogram, about one hundred rods from north to south, and in breadth not more than forty. They were strengthened by ten round towers on the west, five on the north, and eight on the south. There were also two or three towers along the shore to protect the city from attack by sea. Not much more than one half of this small area is occupied by buildings of any kind, and the north end, which is a rocky hill, has nothing but the ruins of the old palace. The earthquake of 1837 prostrated a large part of the walls, and they have not yet been repaired, and perhaps never will be. There is no town in Syria so utterly filthy as Tiberias, or so little to be desired as a residence. Being six hundred feet below the
HIGH TEMPERATURE-SIZE OF THE LAKE.
level of the ocean, and overhung on the west by a high mountain, which effectually shuts off the Mediterranean breezes, it is fearfully hot in summer. The last time I was encamped at the Baths the thermometer stood at 100° at midnight, and a steam went up from the surface of the lake as from some huge smouldering volcano. Of course it swarms with all sorts of vermin. What can induce human beings to settle down in such a place? And yet some two thousand of our race make it their chosen abode. They are chiefly Jews, attracted hither either to cleanse their leprous bodies in her baths, or to purify their unclean spirits by contact with her traditionary and ceremonial holiness.
The lake itself is too well known to need much description. It is an irregular oval, with the large end to the north. I can not make it more than fourteen miles long, and nine wide from Mejdel to Wady Semak. It is about six hundred feet lower than the Mediterranean, and this great de. pression accounts for some of its remarkable phenomena. Seen from any point of the surrounding heights it is a fine sheet of water a burnished mirror set in a frame-work of rounded hills and rugged mountains, which rise and roll backward and upward to where hoary Hermon hangs the picture against the blue vault of heaven.
This profound basin owes its origin, I suppose, to volcanic agency at some remote epoch in geological chronology, but it is not necessary to maintain that the whole of it was once an active crater. Perhaps no part of it was, though it is surrounded by vast regions of trap rock. It may, therefore, have been a gigantic crater, with waves of burning lava instead of water. The lake is fed mainly by the Jordan, but, besides this, there are the great fountains of Fûlîyeh, el Mudowera, 'Ain et Tiny, and Tabiga, and in winter the streams from wadies Hamam, er Rūbūdîyeh, 'Amûd, and Leimûn from the west and northwest; and Sulam, Tellaiyeh, Jermaiah, Shủkaiyif, and Semak on the east. During the rainy season these streams pour an immense amount of water into the lake, and raise its level several feet above its present mark. The effect is seen particularly along the