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Springs Of Jordan - Hill Country Of Naphtali

( Originally Published 1908 )



NAPHTALI was the northernmost of the tribes of Israel, a bold and free highland clan, inhabiting a country of rugged hills and steep mountainsides, with fertile vales and little plains between.

"Naphtali is a hind let loose," said the old song of the Sons of Jacob (Genesis xlix: 21) ; and as we ride up from the Lake of Galilee on our way northward, we feel the meaning of the poet's words. A people dwelling among these rock-strewn heights, building their fortress-towns on sharp pinnacles, and climbing these steep paths to the open fields of tillage or of war, would be like wild deer in their spirit of liberty, and they would need to be as nimble and sure-footed.

Our good little horses are shod with round plates of iron, and they clatter noisily among the loose stones and slip on the rocky ledges, as we strike over the hills from Capernaum, without a path, to join the main trail at Khan Yubb Yûsuf.

We are skirting fields of waving wheat and barley, but there are no houses to be seen. Far and wide the sea of verdure rolls around us, broken only by ridges of grayish rock and scarped cliffs of reddish basalt. We wade saddle-deep in herbage; broad-leaved fennel and trembling reeds; wild asparagus and artichokes; a hundred kinds of flowering weeds; acres of last year's thistles, standing blanched and ghostlike in the summer sunshine.

The phantom city of Safed gleams white from its far-away hilltop,—the latest and perhaps the last of the famous seats of rabbinical learning. It is one of the sacred places of modern Judaism. No Hebrew pilgrim fails to visit it. Here, they say, the Messiah will one day reveal himself, and after establishing His kingdom, will set out to conquer the world.

But it is not to the city, shining like a flake of mica from the greenness of the distant mountain, that our looks and thoughts are turning. It is back-ward to the lucent sapphire of the Lake of Galilee, upon whose shores our hearts have seen the secret vision, heard the inward message of the Man of Nazareth.

Ridge after ridge reveals new outlooks toward its tranquil loveliness. Turn after turn, our winding way leads us to what we think must be the parting view. Sleeping in still, forsaken beauty among the sheltering hills, and open to the cloudless sky which makes its water like a little heaven, if seems to silently return our farewell looks with pleading for remembrance. Now, after one more round among the inclosing ridges, another vista opens, the widest and the most serene of all.

Farewell, dear Lake of Jesus ! Our eyes may never rest on thee again; but surely they will not forget thee. For now, as often we come to some fair water in the Western mountains, or unfold the tent by some lone lakeside in the forests of the North, the lapping of thy waves will murmur through our thoughts; thy peaceful brightness will arise before us; we shall see the rose-flush of thy oleanders, and the waving of thy reeds; the sweet, faint smell of thy gold-flowered acacias will return to us from purple orchids and white lilies. Let the blessing that is thine go with us everywhere in God's great out-of-doors, and our hearts never lose the comradeship of Him who made thee holiest among all the waters of the world !

The Khan of Joseph's Pit is a ruin; a huge and broken building deserted by the caravans which used to throng this highway from Damascus to the cities of the lake, and to the ports of Acre and Joppa, and to the metropolis of Egypt. It is hard to realize that this wild moorland path by which we are travelling was once a busy road, filled with camels, horses, chariots, foot-passengers, clanking companies of soldiers; that these crumbling, cavernous walls, overgrown with thorny capers and wild marjoram and mandragora, were once crowded every night with a motley mob of travellers and merchants; that this pool of muddy water, gloomily reflecting the ruins, was once surrounded by flocks and herds and beasts of burden; that only a few hours to the southward there was once a ring of splendid, thriving, bustling towns around the shores of Galilee, out of which and into which the multitudes were forever journeying. Now they are all gone from the road, and the vast wayside caravanserai is Sleeping into decay—a dormitory for bats and serpents.

What is it that makes the wreck of an inn more lonely and forbidding than any other ruin ?

A few miles more of riding along the flanks of the mountains bring us to a place where we turn a corner suddenly, and come upon the full view of the upper basin of the Jordan; a vast oval green cup, with the little Lake of Huleh lying in it like a blue jewel, and thé giant bulk of Mount Hermon towering beyond it, crowned and cloaked with silver snows.

Up the steep and slippery village street of Rosh Pinnah, a modern Jewish colony founded by the Rothschilds in 1882, we scramble wearily to our camping-ground for the night. Above us on a hill-top is the old Arab village of Jaûneh, brown, picturesque, and filthy. Around us are the colonists' new houses, with their red-tiled roofs and white walls. Two straight streets running in parallel lines up the hillside are roughly paved with cobble-stones and lined with trees; mulberries, white-flowered acacias, eucalyptus, feathery pepper-trees, and rose-bushes. Water runs down through pipes from a copious spring on the mountain, and flows abundantly into every house, plashing into covered reservoirs and open stone basins for watering the cattle. Below us the long avenues of eucalyptus, the broad vineyards filled with low, bushy vines, the immense orchards of pale-green almond-trees, the smiling wheat-fields, slope to the lake and encircle its lower end.

The children who come to visit our camp on the terrace wear shoes and stockings, carry school-books in their bags, and bring us offerings of little bunches of sweet-smelling garden roses and pendulous locust-blooms. We are a thousand years away from the Khan of Joseph's Pit; but we can still see the old mud village on the height against the sunset, and the camp-fires gleaming in front of the black Bedouin tents far below, along the edge of the marshes. We are perched between the old and the new, between the nomad and the civilized man, and the unchanging white head of Hermon looks down upon us all.

In the morning, on the way down, I stop at the door of a house and fall into talk with an intelligent, schoolmasterish sort of man, a Roumanian, who speaks a little weird German. Is the colony prospering ? Yes, but not so fast that it makes them giddy. What are they raising ? Wheat and barley, a few vegetables, a great deal of almonds and grapes. Good harvests ? Some years good, some years bad; the Arabs bad every year, terrible thieves; but the crops are plentiful most of the time. Are the colonists happy, contented ? A thin smile wrinkles around the man's lips as he answers with the statement of a world-wide truth, "Ach, Herr, der Ackerbauer ist nie zuf rieden. " (" Ah, Sir, the farmer is never contented.")



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