The Christian's Mecca
We were agreeably surprised in Jerusalem and Judea, but disappointed to learn how few Protestant Christians visited this city which may without impropriety be styled the Christian's Mecca. Possibly the wretched harbor at Joppa—if harbor it can be called—may frighten some away, for when the weather is bad passengers are often carried by, and yet it does seem that there should be more than four thousand a year from the rich and numerous churches of Europe and America. More than ninety thousand pilgrims visit the Mohammedan Mecca each year, although the Mohammedans are poor and the journey is difficult. Port Said is only a hundred and thirty-five miles from Joppa and Alexandria less than three hundred miles, and more than ninety-nine thousand persons disembarked at these ports last year. Making a liberal allowance for Egyptians returning from Europe, for immigrants from Europe to Egypt, and for invalids visiting Cairo in search of health, it is still true that many times as many go to the Nile as travel to Jerusalem, and of the less than four thousand tourists who visit the Holy City less than one thousand continue their journey to Nazareth and the Sea of Galilee. The number which I mention does not include the Greek Catholics or the Roman Catholics, but is an outside estimate of the number of Protestant Christians. The railroads which are building and the carriage roads in process of construction will make travel easier and may increase the number in the future, but it is difficult to explain or to under-stand why so many have come near to, and yet passed by, without seeing the places made familiar to the Christian world by the books of the Old and the New Testament.
We landed at Joppa when the weather was fair, but were detained a half day that they might "de-ratify the ship," as the Turkish authorities describe rat-killing upon the ship—a custom inaugurated after the rat had been convicted of carrying bubonic plague. Joppa is on the edge of the Plain of Sharon and, as an abundance of water can be secured at a reasonable depth, the city is a garden. Orange trees thrive there and the fruit is excellent. Two places of interest are shown, the home of Tabitha and the house of Simon the tanner, the latter immortalized by the vision which taught Peter the universality of Christ's mission.
The railroad to Jerusalem crosses the valley of Sharon which, at this season of the year, is exceedingly attractive. The crops are growing, the fellaheen are at work in the fields and everywhere the wild flowers bloom. The rose of Sharon had many rivals, if the plain looked in olden times as it does now. The principal station on the plain is Ramleh, through which conquering armies marched for ages. From time immemorial Palestine has been a prize of war. When it was not itself the object of conquest, its occupation was necessary to the acquiring or holding of other territory. The Persians, the Egyptians, the Parthians, the Scythians, the Greeks, the Romans and the Turks have all overrun this country—not to speak of the numerous wars of the Israelites and the expeditions of the Crusaders. From Alexander the Great and Csar to Napoleon, no world-conquering general overlooked Palestine—and yet, out of Palestine came the Prince of Peace.
South of Sharon lies the plain of Philistia, a narrow strip of land be-. the hills of Judea and the sea, a small region, and yet it supported a people who warred for centuries with the Children of Israel. It was at Gaza, one of the chief cities on this plain, that Samson pulled down the pillars of the building and died with those who made sport of him.
Leaving the low country, the railroad begins the ascent of the Judean hills through the Wady es Suar, and ,as one is carried up the tortuous course of the narrow valley he begins to understand why Jerusalem was considered a citadel. The hills rise to a height of about twenty-five hundred feet and are so inaccessible that a small number dwelling on top could easily defend themselves against a much larger force. The narrow limits of Judea impress one, hemmed in as it is on the west by Philistin, on the south by the desert and on the east by the deep chasm ,of the Dead Sea. Its history was developed in a territory scarcely larger than a Nebraska county.
As we approached the summit the vineyards appeared and the olive groves became more numerous. Jerusalem is beautifully located. No wonder its rebuilding and re-peopling is the dream of the devout Jews, many of whom come from distant corners of the earth to spend their last days within its precincts. The present walls of the city are only a few hundred years old, but the Tower of David is believed to be a part of the wall erected by the great Hebrew king.
Once within the city, one is surrounded on every hand by places that stir the tenderest of memories. Even the uncertainty as to the identification of many of the sites made sacred by the life, the sufferings and the' death of Christ—even the rivalry between the various sects cannot prevent 'a feeling of reverence. Here He whose name is borne by increasing millions was condemned without cause, crowned with thorns and at last crucified, sealing with His blood the testimony of His life.
Early in the fourth century Helena, the mother of 'Constantine, set out to identify the spots most intimately associated with the Savior's life. She selected the place where, as she believed, Christ was crucified and buried, and her son erected the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to mark the locality. For fifteen centuries her designation was accepted as the correct one, and the Roman Catholics, the Greek Catholics and the Armenians, who divide the space in the church between them, have kept joint, though not always harmonious, watch over the various altars and chapels. A few years ago the correctness of the location of Calvary was disputed and a hill over the Grotto of Jeremiah was fixed upon by the dissenters as the place of the crucifixion, and a tomb near by as the sepulchre. Since that time the traveler has been shown both places and furnished with the arguments in support of the claims of each. It is contended that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, though within the present walls, stands upon, land which was outside of the original walls, while the new location is outside of the walls as they are at present. Possibly future excavations may settle the question by determining the exact location of the wall in the time of Christ; but what matter? The two places are not far apart, and the whole vicinity has been hallowed by His presence.
Pilate's judgment hall, the Via Dolorosa and Ecce Homo arch are marked by the erection of a Catholic convent and school for girls where one finds a cleanliness in striking contrast to the streets outside. The pools of Gihon, of Siloam, of Bethesda and Hezekiah are all given a local habitation ; the place where Judas hanged himself is pointed out, as well as the cave in which Jeremiah wrote his lamentations; the chamber where the Last Supper was observed is also fixed upon, and the tombs of Rachel, Absalom and of David. I do not know how much credence should be given to the testimony adduced in behalf of these different sites, but we are sure of the identity of a few places. Mount Zion, upon which David built his palace, is known ; Mount Akra can be located and about Mount Moriah there can be no mistake. The great bare rock that crowns the last named eminence is a land-mark that has. not been and cannot be easily removed. It is now covered by a mosque but was once the sacrificial stone of the Hebrews. Solomon's temple was built on Mount Moriah, and some of its foundation stones and subterranean chambers can still be seen. In a street that leads by these foundation walls is the Jews' wailing place where for many centuries devout Hebrews, gathered from every country, have met on each Friday afternoon to bemoan the fate of Jerusalem and to petition for the restoration of the kingdom. One sees no more pathetic sight in a trip around the world than this assemblage of men and women, some gray-haired, some in middle life and many mere children, chanting their laments and caressing the stones which the hand of Solomon laid when he was building the temple which marked the summit of Jewish political power.
Bethlehem is also identified and whether or not the Church of the Nativity, erected by the mother of Constantine, covers the spot where Christ was born, one can look upon the hills around about the city and recall that it was here that the message, "Peace on earth, good will to men," came to the shepherds who kept their flocks by night.
In the Garden of Gethsemane, by the Brook Kedron, one can tread the soil pressed by the Master's feet in the hours of his loneliness and agony. The Garden is now walled in and carefully kept, and its old, gnarled and knotted olive trees shade the pansies which grow there in profusion. Bethpage still stands and also Bethany, where Mary and Martha and Lazarus lived, and, most conspicuous of all, the Mount of Olives, the place of the Ascension. From its summit the best view of Jerusalem is obtained ; from that point also the eye can sweep the hills ,of both Judea and Samaria and to the east look upon the waters of the Dead Sea, thirty-eight hundred feet below.
Nowhere else can one walk amid scenes so familiar to the civilized world as are those of Judea. Surrounded by paganism and idolatry, a little band began here the establishment of a monotheistic religion and notwithstanding backslidings, shortcomings and wanderings from the faith, the spiritual side of life was never entirely forgotten ; great prophets thundered their warnings from these hills ; great singers poured forth their hymns of penitence, praise and thanksgiving; here a wonderful literature was developed and a history written which was stranger than fiction ; and here, in the fulness of time, came One who was commissioned to substitute the law of Love for the law that required "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth."
In the city of Jerusalem there are now some sixty thousand souls, and ,a composite population it is. While about two-thirds of the people are Jews and the remainder divided almost equally between the Mohammedans and 'Christians, one can count representatives of a score or more of nations in an hour's walk. The streets of Jerusalem are narrow and crooked, and one is going up hill or down hill all the time. The houses, the stores, the walls, the gates and the customs of the people seem more Oriental than European. There are no street cars, no mod-ern bookstores and no newspapers, excepting one printed in Hebrew.
The carriage road from Jerusalem to Jericho winds around the Mount of Olives and down the eastern side of the Judean hills, past the Apostles' fountain and through the wilderness of -Judea. This wilderness is not the waste that we expected to find, but merely a broken and mountainous country, too stony to be cultivated and fit only for grazing. At this season of the year the grass is green and the ground bright with flowers.
A little more than half way down the slope is a rest station called, in honor of the parable, the Good Samaritan Inn. But for the mounted guards who now patrol this road the traveler would even to-day be in danger of falling among thieves.
A little farther on, the road leads near the edge of a wild, deep and rugged canyon at the bottom of which plunges the Brook Cherith. A Greek monastery has been built at the place where Elijah found refuge during the drought.
Jericho is a small village and a half mile from the site of the ancient city of that name. It depends for its support upon the tourists who visit the Jordan valley rather than upon the cultivated area.
The Dead Sea, forty miles long and eight miles in width, covers the deepest portion of this most remarkable of the depressions in the earth's surface. The rent extends from the base of Mount Hermon to the eastern arm of the Red Sea, known as the Gulf of Akabah. For more than one hundred miles this rent or ravine is below the level of the sea, the surface of the Dead Sea being thirteen hundred feet lower than the Mediterranean. As the Dead Sea is in some places thirteen hundred feet deep, the greatest depth of the chasm is, therefore, more than twenty-six hundred feet. The water of the Sea is bitter and contains twenty-six per cent of salt, or about five times as much as the ocean. As we took a bath in the Dead Sea, we can testify that one cannot sink in its waters.
The Jordan is neither as large nor as clear as one would expect from its prominence in Bible history. The banks are slippery, the waters are muddy and the current is swift. It has much the appearance of a creek swollen with rain. We tried its waters also, but did not venture far from the shore. Between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea the Jordan falls about six hundred feet, or ten feet to the mile. At present but little use is made of this fertile valley, but, in the opinion of some who have investigated the matter, it could, with proper irrigation and under a just government, be made as fruitful as the valley of the Nile. As might be expected, the heat in this deep basin is intense in the summer, but the hills are near enough on each side to provide homes for those who would cultivate the fields.
Looking across the Jordan one sees the Mountains of Moab. While the country "beyond the Jordan" plays an unimportant part in Bible history as compared with Judea, Samaria and Galilee, still it has its Nebo, where the great Jewish lawgiver sleeps in an unmarked grave; it has its Macherus, where John-the Baptist was beheaded, and its Gilead. Elijah, the Tishbite, came from beyond the Jordan, and beyond the Jordan Elisha received his teacher's mantle; Ruth came from the Land of Moab, and Job endured his trials in the Land of Uz.
Space does not permit a reference to all the places of interest or an elaborate consideration of any' of them. It is impossible to describe in a few words what it requires several days to see. One thought often comes to the mind as the different scenes are visited, viz., that a visit to the Holy Land makes it easier to understand many Bible passages and gives added significance to others. We have seen the barren fig tree and the fruitful vine; we have seen the lame and the blind, and have met the leper at the gate; we have seen the tiny lamp, such as the wise and foolish virgins carried-lamps that need often to be refilled; and we have seen the "whited sepulchres," "full of dead men's bones." We have been impressed with the life-giving power of a fountain in a barren land and can more fully realize the force of the promise that the man who delighteth "in the law of the Lord" "shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water."
But no part of the Old Testament has been brought more vividly to our minds than the twenty-third Psalm. Life" is much the same here to-day as it was two, three, four thousand years ago, and we have seen innumerable flocks and have watched the sheep following the shepherd with confidence as he, staff in hand, led them into new pastures or from hillside to stream. No animal is more helpless than the sheep and no guardian more tender than the shepherd. The sheep know their master's voice, and we have several times seen a shepherd carrying a lamb in his arms. The hills about Jerusalem, the springs, the shepherds and their flocks, will rise before us whenever we read again :
" The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
( Originally Published 1907 )
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