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a sad whining plaint that I listened to. An indisposition or incapacity for vocal music seems to be a characteristic of the people throughout the country; and probably no surer sign than this could be produced to show their oppressed condition. This remark is applicable to Egypt as well as to Palestine. Indeed, it was in Egypt that I first had occasion to notice this absence of vocal music in the people. The oppression, the misgovernment, under which the inhabitants of both countries labour, and which seems to press so heavily upon their spirits, quite unfits them for such an exercise. Hence, any attempt to sing is repressed ; they are strangers to vocal melody, having apparently neither heart nor soul for it. A song from them would be out of place, and all that is elicited from them when they make the attempt is, at most, but a melancholy whine, showing a total absence of anything like music so far as the voice is concerned. The melancholy and plaintive tones of the Arab in singing affect the listener almost to tears,—while of musical instruments the people have none, or such as are worse than none. * In the language of the prophet Isaiah, it may be said, “The mirth of the land is gone.” “All the merry-hearted do sigh. The mirth of tabrets ceaseth, the noise of them that rejoice endeth, the joy of the harp ceaseth. They shall not drink wine with a song.... All joy is darkened; the mirth of the land is gone.” (Isai. xxiv. 7–11.) Again, in the book of the prophet Jeremiah it is written : “Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride : for the land shall be desolate.” “ And joy and gladness is taken from the plentiful field ;......and I have caused wine to fail from the winepresses ; none shall tread with shouting; their shouting shall be no shouting.” (Jer. vii. 34 ; xlviii. 33.)
I rose early next morning from my hard couch, and hailed the first symptoms of the approaching day. On the previous evening I had arranged with Jacob Moses to accompany me to Bethel. The horses being got ready, we set out on a fine clear morning over a stony road, and passed many of the villagers with their ploughs and other implements of husbandry, going forth to their daily labour in the fields. In the early morning they had left their homes, and were now "going forth unto their work and to their labour until the evening.” (Psalm civ. 23.) On arriving at Bethel I found it . mean-looking village, consisting of a few huts, and the remains of other buildings. There is an old church still standing here, though in a dilapidated state, having been built probably in the times of the Crusades. While inspecting it, I went through one of the openings in the walls, and stood in the interior of what was once a Bethel, or “ House of God;" its roofies aspect, however, showed that it had been long disused as a sanctuary. Bethel is about half an hour's ride from El-Bireh. The open district in
* Music was condemned by Mohammed almost as severely as wine ; and musical instruments he declared to be among the most powerful means by which the devil seduces man.
which it stands has nothing attractive about it in point of scenery, but presents for the most part a wild and desolate appearance. The craggy
hills between Beeroth and Bethel reminded our party of travellers of Dartmoor, only that they were brown and grassless, and of limestone instead of granite. I noticed an ancient pool here, which had water in it; and on a hill at a distance are the remains apparently of an old castle. We passed also on the road, between El-Bireh and Bethel, one or two old cisterns. Strewn around the place are many rough stones, of which Jacob might have made a pillow, or afterwards Jeroboam altar-stones for his rival temple. When Jacob lighted on it, it was “a certain place.” No more characteristic word is found to describe it. He rested there, not because it offered a shady retreat, or in anywise a tempting shelter ; but just for the same reason we had tarried at Beeroth,“ because the sun was set.” It was a place in itself no more attractive or sublime than Jacob's own very ordinary character. It was no snowy Alpine summit, forming naturally a flight of spotless altar-steps from earth to heaven-a pedestal on which one could well imagine the angelic ladder might have rested. It was an ordinary brown hillside, strewn with rough stones, over which passed the high road. There Fas nothing, therefore, to distinguish it from any of the undulations or hills around ; nothing to make it“ dreadful” and sublime from any intrinsic beanty or sublimity in the scenery. When Jacob lay down to sleep, it was to him a bare featureless spot strewn with stones, which he could not have specially recognised when he returned from Haran among the many similar places he might have witnessed on his journey. When he awoke out of sleep, he said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not." There was no terror, or majesty, or beauty inherent in the place, especially to reveal or symbolize the Divine presence. But God was there. This was its consecration and its glory. Heaven had been opened to Jacob's vision there. The voice of the Lord had spoken to his spirit there in human words; and therefore the place was full of solennity and majesty to him. It was "the house of God.” And then when he returned, a patriarch and a prosperous man, from his long exile, he built an altar, and called the place El-Bethel, because there God appeared unto him.
The subsequent history of Bethel has little more religious interest for us than that of any heathen shrine ;-a scene of idolatrous worship, with the old Egyptian animal symbols recalled by Jeroboam from Egypt; of feasts and sacrifices mocking and parodying God's ordinances at Jerusalem ; of prophetic denunciation, and at last of judgment, when the bones of false priests and prophets were exhumed froin the tombs among these hills, and burnt and strewn to the winds on an altar formed of these scattered stones. Temple, city, altar, shady grove, all the relics of that idolatrous ritual have perished, without leaving a trace, and the bare hill-sides lie again ordinary and stony, and solitary and dreary, as when sunset surprised Jacob upon it, and the heavenly vision transformed the place in his eyes from a sweep of barren moorland into a gate of heaven.
Bethel, now called Beitín, stands on the shelving point of a low rocky ridge between two converging valleys, which unite below it, and run off southward into Wady Suweinît. The site is surrounded by higher ground on every side except the south, and yet it is so high that from the upper part of it the dome of the Great Mosque in Jerusalem can be seen. The ruins of the ancient city cover the whole surface of the ridge, and are three or four acres in extent. They consist of foundations, fragments of walls, and large rude heaps of stones. On the highest point are the remains of a square tower; and towards the south are the walls of a Greek church, standing within the foundations of a much older edifice built of large stones. Amid the ruins are about a score of low huts, rudely formed out of ancient materials. In the western valley is a huge cistern, three hundred and fourteen feet long by two hundred and seventeen, constructed of massive stones. The southern side is entire, but the others are more or less ruinous. The bottom is now a beautiful grass-plot, watered by two little crystal fountains, from which the cattle of Abraham often drank in former days, and at which the maidens of Sarah were doubtless wont to fill their pitchers, just as the Arab maidens from the village do still. The description of Jerome, joined to the similarity of the modern and ancient names, leaves no room for doubt that this is the Bethel of Scripture. He places it twelve Roman miles north of Jerusalem, on the right of the road to Shechem; and here its ruins still lie under the scarcely altered name of Beitîn. The name Bethel sounds in our ears like a household word. Near it Abraham pitched his tent, attracted by its water and its pastures. Here Jacob, when running away from his brother Esau, slept, as many an Arab sleeps now, on the bare ground, with å stone for his pillow. Here he dreamt that well-known dream of the ladder that reached from earth to heaven, on which the angels of God ascended and descended; and here he heard those promises which cheered him through all the trials of his after life :-“In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest.” On waking, though he baw around him the rocky hill-sides, and above him the starry sky, yet trembling and astonished he was forced to cry, “How dreadful is this place ! this is none other but the house of God.” Such was the origin of the name Beth-el, “The House of God;" the place which bore, amidst all the subsequent sanctuaries of the Holy Land, the distinctive name which has spread to every holy place throughout the world. Before that time it had been called Luz. To Bethel Jacob returned after an interval of some thirty years, and here received a second time the name Israel. (Gen. xxxv. 6, 10.) Here he buried Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, under an oak-tree. (sxxv. Here, too, he set up a pillar of stone in the place where God first talked with him, and poured a drink offering and oil thereon. (xxxv. 14.) From that rude beginning grew the sanctuary of Bethel. First rose Jacob's altar ; then the town became the seat of the assemblies in the days of the judges ;*
* Thus of Samuel we read that “ he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel
, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places.” (1 Sam, vii. 16.)
and, finally, when it seemed on the point of being superseded for ever by the new sanctuary at Jerusalem, it assumed a fresh, though evil, celebrity as the Holy Place of the northern kingdom. Anciently a royal city of the Canaanites, (Joshua xii. 16,) it was assigned to Benjamin, and stood close to the border of that tribe and Ephraim. (xviii. 22.) It was captured, however, and occupied by the Ephraimites. (Judges i. 22-26.) On the division of the kingdom of Israel, Bethel became doubly important; first as a sanctuary, and then as a border fortress; the key, in fact, of both kingdoms. Jeroboam here built a temple after the Egyptian model, to rival in its splendour that at Jerusalem. Here burnt offerings and meat offerings were offered up to the golden calf; and feast-days and assemblies were held at the idol shrine, within sight of the Lord's dwelling-place on Moriah. Here on one great festival, when Jeroboam stood in his temple in the midst of assembled Israel, & prophet from Judah suddenly advanced to his side, and boldly predicted the vengeance of the Lord against the idolatrous rites : "O altar, altar, thus saith the Lord ; Behold, a child shall be born unto the house of David, Josiah by name ; and upon thee shall he offer the priests of the high places that burn incense upon thee, and men's bones shall be bornt upon thee.” And he added, “This is the sign which the Lord hath spoken ; Behold, the altar shall be rent, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out.” The enraged monarch, thus insulted in the midst of his people, attempted to seize the prophet on the spot ; but his hand was "dried up, so that he could not pull it in again to him.” And no sooner had he given the command, “ Lay hold on him,” than the altar was rent by his side, and the ashes were poured out. (1 Kings xiii. 1–5.) Though the sanctuary was thus cursed, its ancient name attracted to it many holy men, who gathered round Elijah when he passed through Bethel on the day he was taken up to heaven. (2 Kings ii. 3.) But the iniquity of the place soon became so glaring, that the name Bethel, “ House of God,” was changed into Beth-aren, “House of Idols.” (Hosea x. 5, 8.) And the time soon came round for the fulfilment of the fearful prediction of the prophet of Judah. Josiah, filled with holy zeal, visited Bethel. The altar and high-place of Jeroboam he brake down and stamped small to powder ; the grove that had grown up on the hill around them for the worship of Astarte he burned to the ground; and as he turned to leave the spot, he saw the sepulchres in the side of the hill to the west,—the same perhaps we now observe on the road to Bireh,—and he took the bones out of them, and burned them upon the altar and polluted it. One tomb alone was spared, that in which the bones of the aged prophet of Bethel, and his brother and victim, the “man of God from Judah,” reposed side by side. (2 Kings xxiii. 15—20.) After the captivity, the Benjamites again occupied Bethel ; (Ezra ii. 28;) and in the time of the Maccabees it was fortified for the king of Syria. Though not noticed in the New Testament, it was still a place of importance; and was afterwards captured by Vespasian on his march to Jerusalem. In the fourth century of our era Bethel had dwindled down to a small village ; but it must subsequently have revived ; for the remains of churches and houses still existing cannot be much older than the time of the Crusades. The shapeless ruins scattered over the hill are not without their importance even yet,—they are silent witnesses of the truth of Scripture. The prophet Amos said twenty-five centuries ago, "Seek not Bethel, nor enter into Gilgal, and pass not to Beersheba : for Gilgal shall surely go into captivity, and Bethel shall come to nought.” (Amos v. 5.)
Dr. Clarke and other travellers since his visit have remarked on the “stony” nature of the soil at Bethel, as perfectly in keeping with the parrative of Jacob's slumber there. When on the spot little doubt can be felt as to the localities of this interesting place. The round mount south-east of Bethel must be the “mountain" on which Abram built the altar, and on which he and Lot stood when they made their division of the land. (Gen. xii. 7; xiii. 10.) It is still thickly strewn to its top with stones formed by nature for the building of “altar” or sanctuary. As the eye turns involuntarily eastward, it takes in a large part of the plain of the Jordan opposite Jericho; distant, it is true, but not too distant to discern in that clear atmosphere the lines of verdure that mark the brooks which descend froun the mountains beyond the river, and fertilize the plain even in its present neglected state. Further south lies, as in a map, fully half of that sea which now covers the once fertile oasis of the “cities of the plain,” and which in those days was as “ the garden of the Lord, even as the land of Egypt.” Eastward again of this mount, at about the same distance on the left that Bethel is on the right, overlooking the Wady Suweinit, is a thin hill crowned by a remarkably desolate-looking mass of grey débris, the most perfect heap of ruins to be seen even in that country of ruins. This is Tell-er-Rijmeh, “the mound of the heap," agreeing in every particular of name, aspect, and situation, with di.
A remarkable incident is recorded in the life of the prophet Elisha, when, on one occasion, he was journeying from Jericho to Bethel. It is related that as "he went up from thence unto Bethel, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head.” Turning back, and looking on them, he “cursed them * in the name of the Lord. And there came forth two she bears † out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.” (2 Kings
* The phrase " cursed them "simply means that he declared the Divine judgments against them, and not that he expressed his own wish that they might be destroyed. We have proofs in the narrative that Elisha was not influenced by revengeful feelings, and that he did not speak in wrath. If he had, God would not have heard his wicked cursing, and the vengeance from heaven would not have followed. (Psalm lxvi. 18.) He acted under the Divine direction in uttering this denunciation, as was shown by its immediate fulfilment.
+ In the greater part of Syria and Palestine, where the bear was once frequently met with in the open country, it is now never seen, being limited to the more difficult mountain districts, and rare even there. One was killed by Hemprich and Ehrenberg, near the village of Bischerre, in the Lebanon. This specimen was a female, of a lighter colour than the common brown species, apparently a variety produced by climate. The travellers discovered her den, and found it formed of large fragments