Jericho And Jordan - Good Samaritan's Road
( Originally Published 1908 )
IT is strange how every day, no matter in what mood of merry jesting or practical modernity we set out, an hour of riding in the open air brings us back to the mystical charm of the Holy Land and beneath the spell of its memories and dreams. The wild hillsides, the flowers of the field, the shimmering olive-groves, the brown villages, the crumbling ruins, the deep-blue sky, subdue us to themselves and speak to us "rememberable things."
We pass down the Valley of the Brook Kidron, where no water ever flows; and through the crowd of beggars and loiterers and pilgrims at the cross-roads; and up over the shoulder of the Mount of Olives, past the wide-spread Jewish burying-ground, where we take our last look at the towers and domes and minarets and walls of Jerusalem. The road descends gently, on the other side of the hill, to Beth-any, a disconsolate group of hovels. The sweet home of Mary and Martha is gone. It is a waste of time to look at the uncertain ruins which are shown here as sacred sites. Look rather at the broad landscape eastward and southward, the luminous blue sky, the joyful little flowers on the rocky slopes,—these are unchanged.
Not far beyond Bethany, the road begins to drop, with great windings, into a deep, desolate valley, crowded with pilgrims afoot and on donkey-back and in ramshackle carriages,—Russians and Greeks returning from their sacred bath in the Jordan. Here and there, at first, we can see a shepherd with his flock upon the haggard hillside.
"As for the grass, it grew as scant as hair In leprosy."
Once the Patriarch and I, scrambling on foot down a short-cut, think we see a Bedouin waiting for us behind a rock, with his long gun over his, shoulder; but it turns out to be only a brown little peasant girl, ragged and smiling, watching her score of lop-eared goats.
As the valley descends the landscape becomes more and more arid and stricken. The heat broods over it like a disease.
"I think I never saw Such starved, ignoble nature; nothing throve; For flowers—as well expect a cedar grove!"
We might be on the way with Childe Roland to the Dark Tower. But instead we come, about noon, through a savage glen beset with blood-red rocks and honeycombed with black caves on the other side of the ravine, to the so-called "Inn of the Good Samaritan."
The local colour of the parable surrounds us. Here is a fitting scene for such a drama of lawless violence, cowardly piety, and unconventional mercy. In these caverns robbers could hide securely. On this wild road their victim might lie and bleed to death. By these paths across the glen the priest and the Le-vite could " pass by on the other side," discreetly turning their heads away from any interruption to their selfish duties. And in some such wayside khan as this, standing like a lonely fortress among the sun-baked hills, the friendly half-heathen from Samaria could safely leave the stranger whom he had rescued, provided he paid at least a part of his lodging in advance.
We eat our luncheon in one of the three big, disorderly rooms of the inn, and go on, in the cool of the afternoon, toward Jericho. The road still descends steeply, among ragged and wrinkled hills. On our left we look down into the Wadi el-Kelt, a gloomy gorge five or six hundred feet deep, with a stream of living water singing between its prison walls. Tradition calls this the Brook Cherith, where Elijah hid himself from Ahab, and was fed by Arabs of a tribe called "the Ravens." But the prophet's hiding-place was certainly on the other side of the Jordan, and this Wadi is probably the Valley of Achor, spoken of in the Book of Joshua. On the opposite side of the canon, half-way down the face of the precipice, clings the monastery of Saint George, one of the pious penitentiaries to which the Greek Church assigns unruly and criminal monks.
As we emerge from the narrow valley a great view opens before us: to the right, the blue waters of the Dead Sea, like a mirror of burnished steel; in front, the immense plain of the Jordan, with the dark green ribbon of the river-jungle winding through its length and the purple mountains of Gilead and Moab towering beyond it; to the left, the furrowed gray and yellow ridges and peaks of the northern "wilderness" of Judea, the wild country into which Jesus retired alone after the baptism by John in the Jordan.
One of these peaks, the Quarantana, is sup-posed to be the "high mountain" from which the Tempter showed Jesus the "kingdoms of the world." In the foreground of that view, sweeping from the snowy summits of Hermon in the north, past the Greek cities of Pella and Scythopolis, down the vast valley with its wealth of palms and balsams, must have stood the Roman city of Jericho, with its imperial farms and the palaces, baths and theatres of Herod the Great,—a visible image of what Christ might have won for Himself if He had yielded to the temptation and turned from the pathway of spiritual light to follow the shadows of earthly power and glory.
Herod's Jericho has vanished; there is nothing left of it but the outline of one of the great pools which he built to irrigate his gardens. The modern Jericho is an unhappy little adobe village, lying a mile or so farther to the east. A mile to the north, near a copious fountain of pure water, called the Sultan's Spring, is the site of the oldest Jericho, which Joshua conquered and Hiel rebuilt. The spring, which is probably the same that Elisha cleansed with salt (II Kings ii: 19-22), sends forth a merry stream to turn a mill and irrigate a group of gardens full of oranges, figs, bananas, grapes, feathery bamboos and rosy oleanders. But the ancient city is buried under a great mound of earth, which the German Palastina-Verein is now excavating.
As we come up to the mound I pull out my little camera and prepare to take a picture of the hundred or so dusty Arabs—men, women and children—who are at work in the trenches. A German gelehrter in a very excited state rushes up to me and calls upon me to halt, in the name of the Emperor. The taking of pictures by persons not imperially authorised is streng verboten. He is evidently prepared to be abusive, if not actually violent, until I assure him, in the best German that I can command, that I have no political or archaeological intentions, and that if the photographing of his picturesque work-people to him displeasing is, I will my camera immediately in its pocket put. This mollifies him, and he politely shows us what he is doing.
A number of ruined houses, and a sort of central temple, with a rude flight of steps leading up to it, have been discovered. A portion of what seems to be the city-wall has just been laid bare. If there are any inscriptions or relics of any value they are kept secret; but there is plenty of broken pottery of a common kind. It is all very poor and beggarly looking; no carving nor even any hewn stones. The buildings seem to be of rubble, and " the walls of Jericho are little better than the stone fences on a Connecticut farm. No wonder they fell down at the blast of Joshua's rams' horns and the rush of his fierce tribesmen.
We ride past the gardens and through the shady lanes to our camp, on the outskirts of the modern village. The air is heavy and languid, full of relaxing influence, an air of sloth and luxury, seeming to belong to some strange region below the level of human duty and effort as far as it is below the level of the sea. The fragrance of the orange-blossoms, like a subtle incense of indulgence, floats on the evening breeze. Veiled figures pass us in the lanes, showing lustrous eyes. A sound of Oriental music and laughter and clapping hands comes from one of the houses in an inclosure hedged with acacia-trees. We sit in the door of our tent at sundown and dream of the vanished palm-groves, the gardens of Cleopatra, the palaces of Herod, the soft, ignoble history of that region of fertility and indolence, rich in harvests, poor in manhood.
Then it seems as if some one were saying, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help." There they stand, all about us : east-ward, the great purple ranges of Gad and Reuben, from which Elijah the Tishbite descended to rebuke and warn Israel; westward, against the saffron sky, the ridges and peaks of Judea, among which Amos and Jeremiah saw their lofty visions; northward, the clear-cut pinnacle of Sartoba, and far away beyond it the dim outlines of the Galilean hills from which Jesus of Nazareth came down to open blind eyes and to shepherd wandering souls. With the fading of the sunset glow a deep blue comes upon all the mountains, a blue which strangely seems to grow paler as the sky above them darkens, sinking down upon them through infinite gradations of azure into some-thing mysterious and indescribable, not a color, not a shadow, not a light, but a secret hyaline illumination which transforms them into aerial battlements and ramparts, on whose edge the great stars rest and flame, the watch-fires of the Eternal.