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Springs Of Jordan - Where Jordan Rises

( Originally Published 1908 )

THE Jordan is assembled in the northern end of the basin of Huleh under a mysterious curtain of tall, tangled water-plants. Into that ancient and impenetrable place of hiding and blending enter many little springs and brooks, but the main sources of the river are three.

The first and the longest is the Hasbani, a strong, foaming stream that comes down with a roar from the western slope of Hermon. We cross it by the double arch of a dilapidated Saracen bridge, looking down upon thickets of oleander, willow, tamarisk and woodbine.

The second and largest source springs from the rounded hill of Tel el-Kadi, the supposed site of the ancient city of Dan, the northern border of Israel. Here the wandering, landless Danites, finding a country to their taste, put the too fortunate inhabitants of Leshem to the sword and took possession. And here King Jereboam set up one of his idols of the golden calf.

There is no vestige of the city, no trace of the idolatrous shrine, on the huge mound which rises thirty or forty feet above the plain. But it is thickly covered with trees : poplars and oaks and wild figs and acacias and wild olives. A pair of enormous veterans, a valonia oak and a terebinth, make a broad bower of shade above the tomb of an unknown Mohammedan saint, and there we eat our midday meal, with the murmur of running waters all around us, a clear rivulet singing at our feet, and the chant of innumerable birds filling the vault of foliage above our heads.

After lunch, instead of sleeping, two of us wander into the dense grove that spreads over the mound. Tiny streams of water trickle through it: blackberry-vines and wild grapes are twisted in the under-growth; ferns and flowery nettles and mint grow waist-high. The main spring is at the western base of the mound. The water comes bubbling and whirling out from under a screen of wild figs and vines, forming a pool of palest, clearest blue, a hundred feet in diameter. Out of this pool the new-born river rushes, foaming and shouting down the hillside, through lines of flowering styrax and hawthorn and willows trembling over its wild joy.

The third and most impressive of the sources of Jordan is at Baniyas, on one of the foothills of Hermon. Our path thither leads us up from Dan, through high green meadows, shaded by oak-trees, sprinkled with innumerable blossoming shrubs and bushes, and looking down upon the lower fields blue with lupins and vetches, or golden with yellow chrysanthemums beneath which the red glow of the clover is dimly burning like a secret fire.

Presently we come, by way of a broad, natural terrace where the white encampment of the Moslem dead lies gleaming beneath the shade of mighty oaks and terebinths, and past the friendly olive-grove where our own tents are standing, to a deep ravine filled to the brim with luxuriant verdure of trees and vines and ferns. Into this green cleft a little river, dancing and singing, suddenly plunges and disappears, and from beneath the veil of moist and trembling leaves we hear the sound of its wild joy, a fracas of leaping, laughing waters.

An old Roman bridge spans the stream on the brink of its downward leap. Crossing over, we ride through the ruined gateway of the town of Baniyas, turn to right and left among its dirty, narrow streets, pass into a leafy lane, and come out in front of a cliff of ruddy limestone, with niches and shrines carved on its face, and a huge, dark cavern gaping in the centre.

A tumbled mass of broken rocks lies below the mouth of the cave. From this slope of débris, sixty or seventy feet long, a line of springs gush forth in singing foam. Under the shadow of trembling poplars and broad-boughed sycamores, amid the lush greenery of wild figs and grapes, bracken and briony and morning-glory, drooping maidenhair and flower-laden styrax, the hundred rills swiftly run together and flow away with one impulse, a full-grown little river.

There is an immemorial charm about the place Mysteries of grove and fountain, of cave and hilltop, bewitch it with the magic of Nature's life, ever springing and passing, flowering and fading, basking in the open sunlight and hiding in the secret places of the earth. It is such a place as Claude Lorraine might have imagined and painted as the scene of one of his mythical visions of Arcadia; such a place as antique fancy might have chosen and decked with altars for the worship of unseen dryads and nymphs, oreads and naiads. And so, indeed, it was chosen, and so it was decked.

Here, in all probability, was Baal-Gad, where the Canaanites paid their reverence to the waters that spring from underground. Here, certainly, was Paneas of the Greeks, where the rites of Pan and all the nymphs were celebrated. Here Herod the Great built a marble temple to Augustus the Toler-ant, on this terrace of rock above the cave. Here, no doubt, the statue of the Emperor looked down upon a strange confusion of revelries and wild offerings in honour of the unknown powers of Nature.

All these things have withered, crumbled, vanished. There are no more statues, altars, priests, revels and sacrifices at Baniyas—only the fragment of an inscription around one of the votive niches carved on the cliff, which records the fact that the niche was made by a certain person who at that time was "Priest of Pan." But the name of this person who wished to be remembered is precisely the part of the carving which is illegible.

Ironical inscription! Still the fountains gush from the rocks, the poplars tremble in the breeze, the sweet incense rises from the orange-flowered styrax, the birds chant the joy of living, the sunlight and the moonlight fall upon the sparkling waters, and the liquid starlight drips through the glistening leaves.

But the Priest of Pan is forgotten, and all that old interpretation and adoration of Nature, sensuous, passionate, full of mingled cruelty and ecstasy, has melted like a mist from her face, and left her serene and pure and lovely as ever.

Here at Paneas, after the city had been rebuilt by Philip the Tetrarch and renamed after him and his Imperial master, there came one day a Peasant of Galilee who taught His disciples to draw near to Nature, not with fierce revelry and superstitious awe, but with tranquil confidence and calm joy. The goatfoot god, the god of panic, the great god Pan, reigns no more beside the upper springs of Jordan. The name that we remember here, the name that makes the message of flowing stream and sheltering tree and singing bird more clear and cool and sweet to our hearts, is the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

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