Galilee And The Lake - Their Own City Nazareth
( Originally Published 1908 )
OUR camp in Nazareth is on a terrace among the olive-trees, on the eastern side of a small valley, facing the Mohammedan quarter of the town.
This is distinctly the most attractive little city that we have seen in Palestine. The houses are spread out over a wider area than is usual in the East, covering three sides of a gentle depression high on the side of the Jebel es-Sikh, and creeping up the hill-slopes as if to seek a larger view and a purer air. Some of them have gardens, fair white walls, red-tiled roofs, balconies of stone or wrought iron. Even in the more closely built portion of the town the streets seem cleaner, the bazaars lighter and less malodorous, the interior courtyards into which we glance in passing more neat and homelike. Many of the doorways and living-rooms of the humbler houses are freshly whitewashed with a light-blue tint which gives them an immaculate air of cleanliness.
The Nazarene women are generally good looking, and free and dignified in their bearing. The children, fairer in complexion than is common in Syria, are almost all charming with the beauty of youth, and among them are some very lovely faces of boys and girls. I do not mean to say that Nazareth appears to us an earthly paradise; only that it shines by contrast with places like Hebron and Jericho and Nablûs, even with Bethlehem, and that we find here far less of human squalor and misery to sadden us with thoughts of
" What man has made of man."
The population of the town is about eleven or twelve thousand, a quarter of them Mussulmans, and the rest Christians of various sects, including two or three hundred Protestants. The people used to have rather a bad reputation for turbulence; but we see no signs of it, either in the appearance of the city or in the demeanour of the inhabitants. The children and the townsfolk whom we meet in the streets, and of whom we ask our way now and then, are civil and friendly. The man who comes to the camp to sell us antique coins and lovely vases of iridescent glass dug from the tombs of Tyre and Sidon, may be an inveterate humbug, but his manners are good and his prices are low. The soft-voiced women and lustrous-eyed girls who hang about the Lady's tent, persuading her to buy their small embroideries and lace-work and trinkets, are gentle and ingratiating, though persistent.
I am honestly of the opinion that Christian mission-schools and hospitals have done a great deal for Nazareth. We go this morning to visit the schools of the English Church Missionary Society, where Miss Newton is conducting an admirable and most successful work for the girls of Nazareth. She is away on a visit to some of her outlying stations; but the dark-eyed, happy-looking Syrian teacher shows us all the classes. There are five of them, and every room is full and bright and orderly.
On the Christian side, the older girls sing a hymn for us, in their high voices and quaint English accent, about Jesus stilling the storm on Galilee, and the intermediate girls and the tiny co-educated boys and girls in the kindergarten go through various pretty performances. Then the teacher leads us across the street to the two Moslem classes, and we cannot tell the difference between them and the Christian children, except that now the singing of " Jesus loves me" and the recitation of "The Lord is my Shepherd" are in Arabic. There is one blind girl who recites most perfectly and eagerly. Another girl of about ten years carries her baby-brother in her arms. Two little laggards, (they were among the group at our camp early in the morning), arrive late, weeping out their excuses to the teacher. She hears them with a kind, humorous look on her face, gives them a soft rebuke and a task, and sends them to their seats, their tears suddenly transformed to smiles.
From the schools we go to the hospital of the British Medical Mission, a little higher up the hill. We find young Doctor Scrimgeour, who has lately come out from Edinburgh University, and his white-uniformed, cheerful, busy nurses, tasked to the limit of their strength by the pressure of their work, but cordial and simple in their welcome. As I walk with the doctor on his rounds I see every ward full, and all kinds of calamity and suffering waiting for the relief and help of his kind, skilful knife. Here are hernia, and tuberculous glands, and cataract, and stone, and bone tuberculosis, and a score of other miseries; and there, on the table, with pale, dark face and mysterious eyes, lies a man whose knee has been shattered by a ball from a Martini rifle in an affray with robbers.
"Was he one of the robbers," I ask, "or one of the robbed?"
"I really don't know," says the doctor, "but in a few minutes I am going to do my best for him."
Is not this Christ's work that is still doing in Christ's town, this teaching of the children, this helping of the sick and wounded, for His sake, and in His name ? Yet there are silly folk who say they do not believe in missions.
There are a few so-called sacred places and shrines in Nazareth—the supposed scene of the Annunciation; the traditional Workshop of Joseph; the alleged Mensa Christi, a flat stone which He is said to have used as a table when He ate with His disciples; and so on. But all these uncertain relics and memorials, as usual, are inclosed in chapels, belit with lamps, and encircled with ceremonial. The very spring at which the Virgin Mary must have often filled her pitcher, (for it is the only flowing fountain in the town), now rises beneath the Greek Church of Saint Gabriel, and is conducted past the altar in a channel of stone where the pilgrims bathe their eyes and faces. To us, who are seeking our Holy Land out-of-doors, these shut-in shrines and altared memorials are less significant than what we find in the open, among the streets and on the surrounding hillsides.
The Virgin's Fountain, issuing from the church, flows into a big, stone basin under a round arch. Here, as often as we pass, we see the maidens and the mothers of Nazareth, with great earthern vessels poised upon their shapely heads, coming with merry talk and laughter, to draw water. Even so the mother of Jesus must have come to this fountain many a time, perhaps with her wondrous boy running beside her, clasping her hand or a fold of her bright-coloured garment. Perhaps, when the child was little she carried Him on her shoulder, as the women carry their children to-day.
Passing through a street, we look into the interior of a carpenter-shop, with its simple tools, its little pile of new lumber, its floor littered with chips and shavings, and its air full of the pleasant smell of freshly cut wood. There are a few articles of furniture which the carpenter has made: a couple of chairs, a table, a stool : and he himself, with his leg stretched out and his piece of wood held firmly by his naked toes, is working busily at a tiny bed which needs only a pair of rockers to become a cradle. Outside the door of the shop a boy of ten or twelve is cutting some boards and slats, and putting them neatly together. We ask him what he is making. "A box," he answers, "a box for some doves "—and then bends his head over his absorbing task. Even so Jesus must have worked at the shop of Joseph, the carpenter, and learned His handicraft.
Let us walk up, at eventide, to the top of the hill behind the town. Here is one of the loveliest views in all Palestine. The sun is setting and the clear-obscure of twilight already rests over the streets and houses, the minarets and spires, the slender cypresses and round olive-trees and grotesque hedges of cactus. But on the heights the warm radiance from the west pours its full flood, lighting up all the flowerets of delicate pink flax and golden chrysanthemum and blue campanula with which the grass is broidered. Far and wide that roseate illumination spreads itself; changing the snowy mantle of distant Hermon, the great Sheikh of Mountains, from ermine to flamingo feathers; making the high hills of Naphtali and the excellency of Carmel glow as if with soft, transfiguring, inward fire; touching the little town of Saffûriyeh below us, where they say that the Virgin Mary was born, and the city of Safed, thirty miles away on the lofty shoulder of Jebel Jermak; suffusing the haze that fills the Valley of the Jordan, and the long bulwarks of the Other-Side, with hues of mauve and purple; and bathing the wide expanse of the western sea with indescribable splendours, over which the flaming sun poises for a moment beneath the edge of a low-hung cloud.
On this hilltop, I doubt not, the boy Jesus often filled His hands with flowers. Here He could watch the creeping caravans of Arabian merchants, and the glittering legions of Roman soldiers, and the slow files of Jewish pilgrims, coming up from the Valley of Jezreel and stretching out across the Plain of Esdraelon. Hither, at the evening hour, He came as a youth to find the blessing of wide and tranquil thought. Here, when the burden of manhood pressed upon Him, He rested after the day's work, free from that sadness which often touches us in the vision of earth's transient beauty, because He saw far beyond the horizon into the spirit-world, where there is no night, nor weariness, nor sin, nor death.
For nearly thirty years He must have lived within sight of this hilltop. And then, one day, He came back from a journey to the Jordan and Jerusalem, and entered into the little synagogue at the foot of this hill, and began to preach to His townsfolk His glad tidings of spiritual liberty and brotherhood and eternal life.
But they were filled with scorn and wrath. His words rebuked them, stung them, inflamed them with hatred. They laid violent hands on Him, and led Him out to the brow of the hill,—perhaps it was yonder on that steep, rocky peak to the south of the town, looking back toward the country of the Old Testament,—to cast Him down headlong.
Yet I think there must have been a few friends and lovers of His in that disdainful and ignorant crowd; for He passed through the midst of them unharmed, and went His way to the home of Peter and Andrew and John and Philip, beside the Sea of Galilee, never to come back to Nazareth.