We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough,
but is given over wholly to weeds--a silent, mournful expanse, wherein we
saw only three persons--Arabs, with nothing on but a long coarse shirt
like the "tow-linen" shirts which used to form the only summer garment of
little negro boys on Southern plantations. Shepherds they were, and they
charmed their flocks with the traditional shepherd's pipe--a reed
instrument that made music as exquisitely infernal as these same Arabs
create when they sing.
In their pipes lingered no echo of the wonderful music the shepherd
forefathers heard in the Plains of Bethlehem what time the angels sang
"Peace on earth, good will to men."
Part of the ground we came over was not ground at all, but
rocks--cream-colored rocks, worn smooth, as if by water; with seldom an
edge or a corner on them, but scooped out, honey-combed, bored out with
eye-holes, and thus wrought into all manner of quaint shapes, among
which the uncouth imitation of skulls was frequent. Over this part of
the route were occasional remains of an old Roman road like the Appian
Way, whose paving-stones still clung to their places with Roman
Gray lizards, those heirs of ruin, of sepulchres and desolation, glided
in and out among the rocks or lay still and sunned themselves. Where
prosperity has reigned, and fallen; where glory has flamed, and gone out;
where beauty has dwelt, and passed away; where gladness was, and sorrow
is; where the pomp of life has been, and silence and death brood in its
high places, there this reptile makes his home, and mocks at human
vanity. His coat is the color of ashes: and ashes are the symbol of
hopes that have perished, of aspirations that came to nought, of loves
that are buried. If he could speak, he would say, Build temples: I will
lord it in their ruins; build palaces: I will inhabit them; erect
empires: I will inherit them; bury your beautiful: I will watch the worms
at their work; and you, who stand here and moralize over me: I will crawl
over your corpse at the last.
A few ants were in this desert place, but merely to spend the summer.
They brought their provisions from Ain Mellahah--eleven miles.
Jack is not very well to-day, it is easy to see; but boy as he is, he is
too much of a man to speak of it. He exposed himself to the sun too much
yesterday, but since it came of his earnest desire to learn, and to make
this journey as useful as the opportunities will allow, no one seeks to
discourage him by fault-finding. We missed him an hour from the camp,
and then found him some distance away, by the edge of a brook, and with
no umbrella to protect him from the fierce sun. If he had been used to
going without his umbrella, it would have been well enough, of course;
but he was not. He was just in the act of throwing a clod at a
mud-turtle which was sunning itself on a small log in the brook.
"Don't do that, Jack. What do you want to harm him for? What has he
"Well, then, I won't kill him, but I ought to, because he is a fraud."
We asked him why, but he said it was no matter. We asked him why, once
or twice, as we walked back to the camp but he still said it was no
matter. But late at night, when he was sitting in a thoughtful mood on
the bed, we asked him again and he said:
"Well, it don't matter; I don't mind it now, but I did not like it today,
you know, because I don't tell any thing that isn't so, and I don't think
the Colonel ought to, either. But he did; he told us at prayers in the
Pilgrims' tent, last night, and he seemed as if he was reading it out of
the Bible, too, about this country flowing with milk and honey, and about
the voice of the turtle being heard in the land. I thought that was
drawing it a little strong, about the turtles, any how, but I asked Mr.
Church if it was so, and he said it was, and what Mr. Church tells me, I
believe. But I sat there and watched that turtle nearly an hour today,
and I almost burned up in the sun; but I never heard him sing. I believe
I sweated a double handful of sweat---I know I did--because it got in my
eyes, and it was running down over my nose all the time; and you know my
pants are tighter than any body else's--Paris foolishness--and the
buckskin seat of them got wet with sweat, and then got dry again and
began to draw up and pinch and tear loose--it was awful--but I never
heard him sing. Finally I said, This is a fraud--that is what it is, it
is a fraud--and if I had had any sense I might have known a cursed
mud-turtle couldn't sing. And then I said, I don't wish to be hard on
this fellow, and I will just give him ten minutes to commence; ten
minutes--and then if he don't, down goes his building. But he didn't
commence, you know. I had staid there all that time, thinking may be he
might, pretty soon, because he kept on raising his head up and letting
it down, and drawing the skin over his eyes for a minute and then
opening them out again, as if he was trying to study up something to
sing, but just as the ten minutes were up and I was all beat out and
blistered, he laid his blamed head down on a knot and went fast asleep."
"It was a little hard, after you had waited so long."
"I should think so. I said, Well, if you won't sing, you shan't sleep,
any way; and if you fellows had let me alone I would have made him shin
out of Galilee quicker than any turtle ever did yet. But it isn't any
matter now--let it go. The skin is all off the back of my neck."
About ten in the morning we halted at Joseph's Pit. This is a ruined
Khan of the Middle Ages, in one of whose side courts is a great walled
and arched pit with water in it, and this pit, one tradition says, is the
one Joseph's brethren cast him into. A more authentic tradition, aided
by the geography of the country, places the pit in Dothan, some two days'
journey from here. However, since there are many who believe in this
present pit as the true one, it has its interest.
It is hard to make a choice of the most beautiful passage in a book which
is so gemmed with beautiful passages as the Bible; but it is certain that
not many things within its lids may take rank above the exquisite story
of Joseph. Who taught those ancient writers their simplicity of
language, their felicity of expression, their pathos, and above all,
their faculty of sinking themselves entirely out of sight of the reader
and making the narrative stand out alone and seem to tell itself?
Shakspeare is always present when one reads his book; Macaulay is present
when we follow the march of his stately sentences; but the Old Testament
writers are hidden from view.
If the pit I have been speaking of is the right one, a scene transpired
there, long ages ago, which is familiar to us all in pictures. The sons
of Jacob had been pasturing their flocks near there. Their father grew
uneasy at their long absence, and sent Joseph, his favorite, to see if
any thing had gone wrong with them. He traveled six or seven days'
journey; he was only seventeen years old, and, boy like, he toiled
through that long stretch of the vilest, rockiest, dustiest country in
Asia, arrayed in the pride of his heart, his beautiful claw-hammer coat
of many colors. Joseph was the favorite, and that was one crime in the
eyes of his brethren; he had dreamed dreams, and interpreted them to
foreshadow his elevation far above all his family in the far future, and
that was another; he was dressed well and had doubtless displayed the
harmless vanity of youth in keeping the fact prominently before his
brothers. These were crimes his elders fretted over among themselves and
proposed to punish when the opportunity should offer. When they saw him
coming up from the Sea of Galilee, they recognized him and were glad.
They said, "Lo, here is this dreamer--let us kill him." But Reuben
pleaded for his life, and they spared it. But they seized the boy, and
stripped the hated coat from his back and pushed him into the pit. They
intended to let him die there, but Reuben intended to liberate him
secretly. However, while Reuben was away for a little while, the
brethren sold Joseph to some Ishmaelitish merchants who were journeying
towards Egypt. Such is the history of the pit. And the self-same pit is
there in that place, even to this day; and there it will remain until the
next detachment of image-breakers and tomb desecraters arrives from the
Quaker City excursion, and they will infallibly dig it up and carry it
away with them. For behold in them is no reverence for the solemn
monuments of the past, and whithersoever they go they destroy and spare
Joseph became rich, distinguished, powerful--as the Bible expresses it,
"lord over all the land of Egypt." Joseph was the real king, the
strength, the brain of the monarchy, though Pharaoh held the title.
Joseph is one of the truly great men of the Old Testament. And he was
the noblest and the manliest, save Esau. Why shall we not say a good
word for the princely Bedouin? The only crime that can be brought
against him is that he was unfortunate. Why must every body praise
Joseph's great-hearted generosity to his cruel brethren, without stint of
fervent language, and fling only a reluctant bone of praise to Esau for
his still sublimer generosity to the brother who had wronged him? Jacob
took advantage of Esau's consuming hunger to rob him of his birthright
and the great honor and consideration that belonged to the position; by
treachery and falsehood he robbed him of his father's blessing; he made
of him a stranger in his home, and a wanderer. Yet after twenty years
had passed away and Jacob met Esau and fell at his feet quaking with fear
and begging piteously to be spared the punishment he knew he deserved,
what did that magnificent savage do? He fell upon his neck and embraced
him! When Jacob--who was incapable of comprehending nobility of
character--still doubting, still fearing, insisted upon "finding grace
with my lord" by the bribe of a present of cattle, what did the gorgeous
son of the desert say?
"Nay, I have enough, my brother; keep that thou hast unto thyself!"
Esau found Jacob rich, beloved by wives and children, and traveling in
state, with servants, herds of cattle and trains of camels--but he
himself was still the uncourted outcast this brother had made him. After
thirteen years of romantic mystery, the brethren who had wronged Joseph,
came, strangers in a strange land, hungry and humble, to buy "a little
food"; and being summoned to a palace, charged with crime, they beheld in
its owner their wronged brother; they were trembling beggars--he, the
lord of a mighty empire! What Joseph that ever lived would have thrown
away such a chance to "show off?" Who stands first--outcast Esau
forgiving Jacob in prosperity, or Joseph on a king's throne forgiving the
ragged tremblers whose happy rascality placed him there?
Just before we came to Joseph's Pit, we had "raised" a hill, and there, a
few miles before us, with not a tree or a shrub to interrupt the view,
lay a vision which millions of worshipers in the far lands of the earth
would give half their possessions to see--the sacred Sea of Galilee!
Therefore we tarried only a short time at the pit. We rested the horses
and ourselves, and felt for a few minutes the blessed shade of the
ancient buildings. We were out of water, but the two or three scowling
Arabs, with their long guns, who were idling about the place, said they
had none and that there was none in the vicinity. They knew there was a
little brackish water in the pit, but they venerated a place made sacred
by their ancestor's imprisonment too much to be willing to see Christian
dogs drink from it. But Ferguson tied rags and handkerchiefs together
till he made a rope long enough to lower a vessel to the bottom, and we
drank and then rode on; and in a short time we dismounted on those shores
which the feet of the Saviour have made holy ground.
At noon we took a swim in the Sea of Galilee--a blessed privilege in this
roasting climate--and then lunched under a neglected old fig-tree at the
fountain they call Ain-et-Tin, a hundred yards from ruined Capernaum.
Every rivulet that gurgles out of the rocks and sands of this part of the
world is dubbed with the title of "fountain," and people familiar with
the Hudson, the great lakes and the Mississippi fall into transports of
admiration over them, and exhaust their powers of composition in writing
their praises. If all the poetry and nonsense that have been discharged
upon the fountains and the bland scenery of this region were collected in
a book, it would make a most valuable volume to burn.
During luncheon, the pilgrim enthusiasts of our party, who had been so
light-hearted and so happy ever since they touched holy ground that they
did little but mutter incoherent rhapsodies, could scarcely eat, so
anxious were they to "take shipping" and sail in very person upon the
waters that had borne the vessels of the Apostles. Their anxiety grew
and their excitement augmented with every fleeting moment, until my fears
were aroused and I began to have misgivings that in their present
condition they might break recklessly loose from all considerations of
prudence and buy a whole fleet of ships to sail in instead of hiring a
single one for an hour, as quiet folk are wont to do. I trembled to
think of the ruined purses this day's performances might result in.
I could not help reflecting bodingly upon the intemperate zeal with which
middle-aged men are apt to surfeit themselves upon a seductive folly
which they have tasted for the first time. And yet I did not feel that
I had a right to be surprised at the state of things which was giving me
so much concern. These men had been taught from infancy to revere,
almost to worship, the holy places whereon their happy eyes were resting
now. For many and many a year this very picture had visited their
thoughts by day and floated through their dreams by night. To stand
before it in the flesh--to see it as they saw it now--to sail upon the
hallowed sea, and kiss the holy soil that compassed it about: these were
aspirations they had cherished while a generation dragged its lagging
seasons by and left its furrows in their faces and its frosts upon their
hair. To look upon this picture, and sail upon this sea, they had
forsaken home and its idols and journeyed thousands and thousands of
miles, in weariness and tribulation. What wonder that the sordid lights
of work-day prudence should pale before the glory of a hope like theirs
in the full splendor of its fruition? Let them squander millions!
I said--who speaks of money at a time like this?
In this frame of mind I followed, as fast as I could, the eager footsteps
of the pilgrims, and stood upon the shore of the lake, and swelled, with
hat and voice, the frantic hail they sent after the "ship" that was
speeding by. It was a success. The toilers of the sea ran in and
beached their barque. Joy sat upon every countenance.
"How much?--ask him how much, Ferguson!--how much to take us all--eight
of us, and you--to Bethsaida, yonder, and to the mouth of Jordan, and to
the place where the swine ran down into the sea--quick!--and we want to
coast around every where--every where!--all day long!--I could sail a
year in these waters!--and tell him we'll stop at Magdala and finish at
Tiberias!--ask him how much?--any thing--any thing whatever!--tell him we
don't care what the expense is!" [I said to myself, I knew how it would
Ferguson--(interpreting)--"He says two Napoleons--eight dollars."
One or two countenances fell. Then a pause.
"Too much!--we'll give him one!"
I never shall know how it was--I shudder yet when I think how the place
is given to miracles--but in a single instant of time, as it seemed to
me, that ship was twenty paces from the shore, and speeding away like a
frightened thing! Eight crestfallen creatures stood upon the shore, and
O, to think of it! this--this--after all that overmastering ecstacy!
Oh, shameful, shameful ending, after such unseemly boasting! It was too
much like "Ho! let me at him!" followed by a prudent "Two of you hold
him--one can hold me!"
Instantly there was wailing and gnashing of teeth in the camp. The two
Napoleons were offered--more if necessary--and pilgrims and dragoman
shouted themselves hoarse with pleadings to the retreating boatmen to
come back. But they sailed serenely away and paid no further heed to
pilgrims who had dreamed all their lives of some day skimming over the
sacred waters of Galilee and listening to its hallowed story in the
whisperings of its waves, and had journeyed countless leagues to do it,
and--and then concluded that the fare was too high. Impertinent
Mohammedan Arabs, to think such things of gentlemen of another faith!
Well, there was nothing to do but just submit and forego the privilege of
voyaging on Genessaret, after coming half around the globe to taste that
pleasure. There was a time, when the Saviour taught here, that boats
were plenty among the fishermen of the coasts--but boats and fishermen
both are gone, now; and old Josephus had a fleet of men-of-war in these
waters eighteen centuries ago--a hundred and thirty bold canoes--but
they, also, have passed away and left no sign. They battle here no more
by sea, and the commercial marine of Galilee numbers only two small
ships, just of a pattern with the little skiffs the disciples knew. One
was lost to us for good--the other was miles away and far out of hail.
So we mounted the horses and rode grimly on toward Magdala, cantering
along in the edge of the water for want of the means of passing over it.
How the pilgrims abused each other! Each said it was the other's fault,
and each in turn denied it. No word was spoken by the sinners--even the
mildest sarcasm might have been dangerous at such a time. Sinners that
have been kept down and had examples held up to them, and suffered
frequent lectures, and been so put upon in a moral way and in the matter
of going slow and being serious and bottling up slang, and so crowded in
regard to the matter of being proper and always and forever behaving,
that their lives have become a burden to them, would not lag behind
pilgrims at such a time as this, and wink furtively, and be joyful, and
commit other such crimes--because it would not occur to them to do it.
Otherwise they would. But they did do it, though--and it did them a
world of good to hear the pilgrims abuse each other, too. We took an
unworthy satisfaction in seeing them fall out, now and then, because it
showed that they were only poor human people like us, after all.
So we all rode down to Magdala, while the gnashing of teeth waxed and
waned by turns, and harsh words troubled the holy calm of Galilee.
Lest any man think I mean to be ill-natured when I talk about our
pilgrims as I have been talking, I wish to say in all sincerity that I do
not. I would not listen to lectures from men I did not like and could
not respect; and none of these can say I ever took their lectures
unkindly, or was restive under the infliction, or failed to try to profit
by what they said to me. They are better men than I am; I can say that
honestly; they are good friends of mine, too--and besides, if they did
not wish to be stirred up occasionally in print, why in the mischief did
they travel with me? They knew me. They knew my liberal way--that I
like to give and take--when it is for me to give and other people to
take. When one of them threatened to leave me in Damascus when I had the
cholera, he had no real idea of doing it--I know his passionate nature
and the good impulses that underlie it. And did I not overhear Church,
another pilgrim, say he did not care who went or who staid, he would
stand by me till I walked out of Damascus on my own feet or was carried
out in a coffin, if it was a year? And do I not include Church every
time I abuse the pilgrims--and would I be likely to speak ill-naturedly
of him? I wish to stir them up and make them healthy; that is all.
We had left Capernaum behind us. It was only a shapeless ruin. It bore
no semblance to a town, and had nothing about it to suggest that it had
ever been a town. But all desolate and unpeopled as it was, it was
illustrious ground. From it sprang that tree of Christianity whose broad
arms overshadow so many distant lands to-day. After Christ was tempted
of the devil in the desert, he came here and began his teachings; and
during the three or four years he lived afterward, this place was his
home almost altogether. He began to heal the sick, and his fame soon
spread so widely that sufferers came from Syria and beyond Jordan, and
even from Jerusalem, several days' journey away, to be cured of their
diseases. Here he healed the centurion's servant and Peter's
mother-in-law, and multitudes of the lame and the blind and persons
possessed of devils; and here, also, he raised Jairus's daughter from
the dead. He went into a ship with his disciples, and when they roused
him from sleep in the midst of a storm, he quieted the winds and lulled
the troubled sea to rest with his voice. He passed over to the other
side, a few miles away and relieved two men of devils, which passed into
some swine. After his return he called Matthew from the receipt of
customs, performed some cures, and created scandal by eating with
publicans and sinners. Then he went healing and teaching through
Galilee, and even journeyed to Tyre and Sidon. He chose the twelve
disciples, and sent them abroad to preach the new gospel. He worked
miracles in Bethsaida and Chorazin--villages two or three miles from
Capernaum. It was near one of them that the miraculous draft of fishes
is supposed to have been taken, and it was in the desert places near the
other that he fed the thousands by the miracles of the loaves and
fishes. He cursed them both, and Capernaum also, for not repenting,
after all the great works he had done in their midst, and prophesied
against them. They are all in ruins, now--which is gratifying to the
pilgrims, for, as usual, they fit the eternal words of gods to the
evanescent things of this earth; Christ, it is more probable, referred
to the people, not their shabby villages of wigwams: he said it would be
sad for them at "the day of judgment"--and what business have mud-hovels
at the Day of Judgment? It would not affect the prophecy in the least
--it would neither prove it or disprove it--if these towns were splendid
cities now instead of the almost vanished ruins they are. Christ visited
Magdala, which is near by Capernaum, and he also visited Cesarea
Philippi. He went up to his old home at Nazareth, and saw his brothers
Joses, and Judas, and James, and Simon--those persons who, being own
brothers to Jesus Christ, one would expect to hear mentioned sometimes,
yet who ever saw their names in a newspaper or heard them from a pulpit?
Who ever inquires what manner of youths they were; and whether they
slept with Jesus, played with him and romped about him; quarreled with
him concerning toys and trifles; struck him in anger, not suspecting
what he was? Who ever wonders what they thought when they saw him come
back to Nazareth a celebrity, and looked long at his unfamiliar face to
make sure, and then said, "It is Jesus?" Who wonders what passed in
their minds when they saw this brother, (who was only a brother to them,
however much he might be to others a mysterious stranger who was a god
and had stood face to face with God above the clouds,) doing strange
miracles with crowds of astonished people for witnesses? Who wonders if
the brothers of Jesus asked him to come home with them, and said his
mother and his sisters were grieved at his long absence, and would be
wild with delight to see his face again? Who ever gives a thought to
the sisters of Jesus at all?--yet he had sisters; and memories of them
must have stolen into his mind often when he was ill-treated among
strangers; when he was homeless and said he had not where to lay his
head; when all deserted him, even Peter, and he stood alone among his
Christ did few miracles in Nazareth, and staid but a little while. The
people said, "This the Son of God! Why, his father is nothing but a
carpenter. We know the family. We see them every day. Are not his
brothers named so and so, and his sisters so and so, and is not his
mother the person they call Mary? This is absurd." He did not curse his
home, but he shook its dust from his feet and went away.
Capernaum lies close to the edge of the little sea, in a small plain some
five miles long and a mile or two wide, which is mildly adorned with
oleanders which look all the better contrasted with the bald hills and
the howling deserts which surround them, but they are not as deliriously
beautiful as the books paint them. If one be calm and resolute he can
look upon their comeliness and live.
One of the most astonishing things that have yet fallen under our
observation is the exceedingly small portion of the earth from which
sprang the now flourishing plant of Christianity. The longest journey
our Saviour ever performed was from here to Jerusalem--about one hundred
to one hundred and twenty miles. The next longest was from here to
Sidon--say about sixty or seventy miles. Instead of being wide apart--as
American appreciation of distances would naturally suggest--the places
made most particularly celebrated by the presence of Christ are nearly
all right here in full view, and within cannon-shot of Capernaum.
Leaving out two or three short journeys of the Saviour, he spent his
life, preached his gospel, and performed his miracles within a compass no
larger than an ordinary county in the United States. It is as much as I
can do to comprehend this stupefying fact. How it wears a man out to
have to read up a hundred pages of history every two or three miles--for
verily the celebrated localities of Palestine occur that close together.
How wearily, how bewilderingly they swarm about your path!
In due time we reached the ancient village of Magdala.
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