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    Chapter 48

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    Chapter 49
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    Magdala is not a beautiful place. It is thoroughly Syrian, and that is
    to say that it is thoroughly ugly, and cramped, squalid, uncomfortable,
    and filthy--just the style of cities that have adorned the country since
    Adam's time, as all writers have labored hard to prove, and have
    succeeded. The streets of Magdala are any where from three to six feet
    wide, and reeking with uncleanliness. The houses are from five to seven
    feet high, and all built upon one arbitrary plan--the ungraceful form of
    a dry-goods box. The sides are daubed with a smooth white plaster, and
    tastefully frescoed aloft and alow with disks of camel-dung placed there
    to dry. This gives the edifice the romantic appearance of having been
    riddled with cannon-balls, and imparts to it a very warlike aspect. When
    the artist has arranged his materials with an eye to just proportion
    --the small and the large flakes in alternate rows, and separated by
    carefully-considered intervals--I know of nothing more cheerful to look
    upon than a spirited Syrian fresco. The flat, plastered roof is
    garnished by picturesque stacks of fresco materials, which, having
    become thoroughly dried and cured, are placed there where it will be
    convenient. It is used for fuel. There is no timber of any consequence
    in Palestine--none at all to waste upon fires--and neither are there any
    mines of coal. If my description has been intelligible, you will
    perceive, now, that a square, flat-roofed hovel, neatly frescoed, with
    its wall-tops gallantly bastioned and turreted with dried camel-refuse,
    gives to a landscape a feature that is exceedingly festive and
    picturesque, especially if one is careful to remember to stick in a cat
    wherever, about the premises, there is room for a cat to sit. There are
    no windows to a Syrian hut, and no chimneys. When I used to read that
    they let a bed-ridden man down through the roof of a house in Capernaum
    to get him into the presence of the Saviour, I generally had a
    three-story brick in my mind, and marveled that they did not break his
    neck with the strange experiment. I perceive now, however, that they
    might have taken him by the heels and thrown him clear over the house
    without discommoding him very much. Palestine is not changed any since
    those days, in manners, customs, architecture, or people.

    As we rode into Magdala not a soul was visible. But the ring of the
    horses' hoofs roused the stupid population, and they all came trooping
    out--old men and old women, boys and girls, the blind, the crazy, and the
    crippled, all in ragged, soiled and scanty raiment, and all abject
    beggars by nature, instinct and education. How the vermin-tortured
    vagabonds did swarm! How they showed their scars and sores, and
    piteously pointed to their maimed and crooked limbs, and begged with
    their pleading eyes for charity! We had invoked a spirit we could not
    lay. They hung to the horses's tails, clung to their manes and the
    stirrups, closed in on every aide in scorn of dangerous hoofs--and out of
    their infidel throats, with one accord, burst an agonizing and most
    infernal chorus: "Howajji, bucksheesh! howajji, bucksheesh! howajji,
    bucksheesh! bucksheesh! bucksheesh!" I never was in a storm like that
    before.

    As we paid the bucksheesh out to sore-eyed children and brown, buxom
    girls with repulsively tattooed lips and chins, we filed through the town
    and by many an exquisite fresco, till we came to a bramble-infested
    inclosure and a Roman-looking ruin which had been the veritable dwelling
    of St. Mary Magdalene, the friend and follower of Jesus. The guide
    believed it, and so did I. I could not well do otherwise, with the house
    right there before my eyes as plain as day. The pilgrims took down
    portions of the front wall for specimens, as is their honored custom, and
    then we departed.

    We are camped in this place, now, just within the city walls of Tiberias.
    We went into the town before nightfall and looked at its people--we cared
    nothing about its houses. Its people are best examined at a distance.
    They are particularly uncomely Jews, Arabs, and negroes. Squalor and
    poverty are the pride of Tiberias. The young women wear their dower
    strung upon a strong wire that curves downward from the top of the head
    to the jaw--Turkish silver coins which they have raked together or
    inherited. Most of these maidens were not wealthy, but some few had been
    very kindly dealt with by fortune. I saw heiresses there worth, in their
    own right--worth, well, I suppose I might venture to say, as much as nine
    dollars and a half. But such cases are rare. When you come across one
    of these, she naturally puts on airs. She will not ask for bucksheesh.
    She will not even permit of undue familiarity. She assumes a crushing
    dignity and goes on serenely practicing with her fine-tooth comb and
    quoting poetry just the same as if you were not present at all. Some
    people can not stand prosperity.

    They say that the long-nosed, lanky, dyspeptic-looking body-snatchers,
    with the indescribable hats on, and a long curl dangling down in front of
    each ear, are the old, familiar, self-righteous Pharisees we read of in
    the Scriptures. Verily, they look it. Judging merely by their general
    style, and without other evidence, one might easily suspect that
    self-righteousness was their specialty.

    From various authorities I have culled information concerning Tiberias.
    It was built by Herod Antipas, the murderer of John the Baptist, and
    named after the Emperor Tiberius. It is believed that it stands upon the
    site of what must have been, ages ago, a city of considerable
    architectural pretensions, judging by the fine porphyry pillars that are
    scattered through Tiberias and down the lake shore southward. These were
    fluted, once, and yet, although the stone is about as hard as iron, the
    flutings are almost worn away. These pillars are small, and doubtless
    the edifices they adorned were distinguished more for elegance than
    grandeur. This modern town--Tiberias--is only mentioned in the New
    Testament; never in the Old.

    The Sanhedrim met here last, and for three hundred years Tiberias was the
    metropolis of the Jews in Palestine. It is one of the four holy cities
    of the Israelites, and is to them what Mecca is to the Mohammedan and
    Jerusalem to the Christian. It has been the abiding place of many
    learned and famous Jewish rabbins. They lie buried here, and near them
    lie also twenty-five thousand of their faith who traveled far to be near
    them while they lived and lie with them when they died. The great Rabbi
    Ben Israel spent three years here in the early part of the third century.
    He is dead, now.

    The celebrated Sea of Galilee is not so large a sea as Lake Tahoe
    --[I measure all lakes by Tahoe, partly because I am far more familiar with
    it than with any other, and partly because I have such a high admiration
    for it and such a world of pleasant recollections of it, that it is very
    nearly impossible for me to speak of lakes and not mention it.]--by a
    good deal--it is just about two-thirds as large. And when we come to
    speak of beauty, this sea is no more to be compared to Tahoe than a
    meridian of longitude is to a rainbow. The dim waters of this pool can
    not suggest the limpid brilliancy of Tahoe; these low, shaven, yellow
    hillocks of rocks and sand, so devoid of perspective, can not suggest the
    grand peaks that compass Tahoe like a wall, and whose ribbed and chasmed
    fronts are clad with stately pines that seem to grow small and smaller as
    they climb, till one might fancy them reduced to weeds and shrubs far
    upward, where they join the everlasting snows. Silence and solitude
    brood over Tahoe; and silence and solitude brood also over this lake of
    Genessaret. But the solitude of the one is as cheerful and fascinating
    as the solitude of the other is dismal and repellant.

    In the early morning one watches the silent battle of dawn and darkness
    upon the waters of Tahoe with a placid interest; but when the shadows
    sulk away and one by one the hidden beauties of the shore unfold
    themselves in the full splendor of noon; when the still surface is belted
    like a rainbow with broad bars of blue and green and white, half the
    distance from circumference to centre; when, in the lazy summer
    afternoon, he lies in a boat, far out to where the dead blue of the deep
    water begins, and smokes the pipe of peace and idly winks at the
    distant crags and patches of snow from under his cap-brim; when the boat
    drifts shoreward to the white water, and he lolls over the gunwale and
    gazes by the hour down through the crystal depths and notes the colors of
    the pebbles and reviews the finny armies gliding in procession a hundred
    feet below; when at night he sees moon and stars, mountain ridges
    feathered with pines, jutting white capes, bold promontories, grand
    sweeps of rugged scenery topped with bald, glimmering peaks, all
    magnificently pictured in the polished mirror of the lake, in richest,
    softest detail, the tranquil interest that was born with the morning
    deepens and deepens, by sure degrees, till it culminates at last in
    resistless fascination!

    It is solitude, for birds and squirrels on the shore and fishes in the
    water are all the creatures that are near to make it otherwise, but it is
    not the sort of solitude to make one dreary. Come to Galilee for that.
    If these unpeopled deserts, these rusty mounds of barrenness, that never,
    never, never do shake the glare from their harsh outlines, and fade and
    faint into vague perspective; that melancholy ruin of Capernaum; this
    stupid village of Tiberias, slumbering under its six funereal plumes of
    palms; yonder desolate declivity where the swine of the miracle ran down
    into the sea, and doubtless thought it was better to swallow a devil or
    two and get drowned into the bargain than have to live longer in such a
    place; this cloudless, blistering sky; this solemn, sailless, tintless
    lake, reposing within its rim of yellow hills and low, steep banks, and
    looking just as expressionless and unpoetical (when we leave its sublime
    history out of the question,) as any metropolitan reservoir in
    Christendom--if these things are not food for rock me to sleep, mother,
    none exist, I think.

    But I should not offer the evidence for the prosecution and leave the
    defense unheard. Wm. C. Grimes deposes as follows:--

    "We had taken ship to go over to the other side. The sea was not
    more than six miles wide. Of the beauty of the scene, however, I
    can not say enough, nor can I imagine where those travelers carried
    their eyes who have described the scenery of the lake as tame or
    uninteresting. The first great characteristic of it is the deep
    basin in which it lies. This is from three to four hundred feet
    deep on all sides except at the lower end, and the sharp slope of
    the banks, which are all of the richest green, is broken and
    diversified by the wadys and water-courses which work their way down
    through the sides of the basin, forming dark chasms or light sunny
    valleys. Near Tiberias these banks are rocky, and ancient
    sepulchres open in them, with their doors toward the water. They
    selected grand spots, as did the Egyptians of old, for burial
    places, as if they designed that when the voice of God should reach
    the sleepers, they should walk forth and open their eyes on scenes
    of glorious beauty. On the east, the wild and desolate mountains
    contrast finely with the deep blue lake; and toward the north,
    sublime and majestic, Hermon looks down on the sea, lifting his
    white crown to heaven with the pride of a hill that has seen the
    departing footsteps of a hundred generations. On the north-east
    shore of the sea was a single tree, and this is the only tree of any
    size visible from the water of the lake, except a few lonely palms
    in the city of Tiberias, and by its solitary position attracts more
    attention than would a forest. The whole appearance of the scene is
    precisely what we would expect and desire the scenery of Genessaret
    to be, grand beauty, but quiet calm. The very mountains are calm."

    It is an ingeniously written description, and well calculated to deceive.
    But if the paint and the ribbons and the flowers be stripped from it, a
    skeleton will be found beneath.

    So stripped, there remains a lake six miles wide and neutral in color;
    with steep green banks, unrelieved by shrubbery; at one end bare,
    unsightly rocks, with (almost invisible) holes in them of no consequence
    to the picture; eastward, "wild and desolate mountains;" (low, desolate
    hills, he should have said;) in the north, a mountain called Hermon, with
    snow on it; peculiarity of the picture, "calmness;" its prominent
    feature, one tree.

    No ingenuity could make such a picture beautiful--to one's actual vision.

    I claim the right to correct misstatements, and have so corrected the
    color of the water in the above recapitulation. The waters of Genessaret
    are of an exceedingly mild blue, even from a high elevation and a
    distance of five miles. Close at hand (the witness was sailing on the
    lake,) it is hardly proper to call them blue at all, much less "deep"
    blue. I wish to state, also, not as a correction, but as matter of
    opinion, that Mount Hermon is not a striking or picturesque mountain by
    any means, being too near the height of its immediate neighbors to be so.
    That is all. I do not object to the witness dragging a mountain
    forty-five miles to help the scenery under consideration, because it is
    entirely proper to do it, and besides, the picture needs it.

    "C. W. E.," (of "Life in the Holy Land,") deposes as follows:--

    "A beautiful sea lies unbosomed among the Galilean hills, in the
    midst of that land once possessed by Zebulon and Naphtali, Asher and
    Dan. The azure of the sky penetrates the depths of the lake, and
    the waters are sweet and cool. On the west, stretch broad fertile
    plains; on the north the rocky shores rise step by step until in the
    far distance tower the snowy heights of Hermon; on the east through
    a misty veil are seen the high plains of Perea, which stretch away
    in rugged mountains leading the mind by varied paths toward
    Jerusalem the Holy. Flowers bloom in this terrestrial paradise,
    once beautiful and verdant with waving trees; singing birds enchant
    the ear; the turtle-dove soothes with its soft note; the crested
    lark sends up its song toward heaven, and the grave and stately
    stork inspires the mind with thought, and leads it on to meditation
    and repose. Life here was once idyllic, charming; here were once no
    rich, no poor, no high, no low. It was a world of ease, simplicity,
    and beauty; now it is a scene of desolation and misery."

    This is not an ingenious picture. It is the worst I ever saw. It
    describes in elaborate detail what it terms a "terrestrial paradise," and
    closes with the startling information that this paradise is "a scene of
    desolation and misery."

    I have given two fair, average specimens of the character of the
    testimony offered by the majority of the writers who visit this region.
    One says, "Of the beauty of the scene I can not say enough," and then
    proceeds to cover up with a woof of glittering sentences a thing which,
    when stripped for inspection, proves to be only an unobtrusive basin of
    water, some mountainous desolation, and one tree. The other, after a
    conscientious effort to build a terrestrial paradise out of the same
    materials, with the addition of a "grave and stately stork," spoils it
    all by blundering upon the ghastly truth at the last.

    Nearly every book concerning Galilee and its lake describes the scenery
    as beautiful. No--not always so straightforward as that. Sometimes the
    impression intentionally conveyed is that it is beautiful, at the same
    time that the author is careful not to say that it is, in plain Saxon.
    But a careful analysis of these descriptions will show that the materials
    of which they are formed are not individually beautiful and can not be
    wrought into combinations that are beautiful. The veneration and the
    affection which some of these men felt for the scenes they were speaking
    of, heated their fancies and biased their judgment; but the pleasant
    falsities they wrote were full of honest sincerity, at any rate. Others
    wrote as they did, because they feared it would be unpopular to write
    otherwise. Others were hypocrites and deliberately meant to deceive.
    Any of them would say in a moment, if asked, that it was always right and
    always best to tell the truth. They would say that, at any rate, if they
    did not perceive the drift of the question.

    But why should not the truth be spoken of this region? Is the truth
    harmful? Has it ever needed to hide its face? God made the Sea of
    Galilee and its surroundings as they are. Is it the province of Mr.
    Grimes to improve upon the work?

    I am sure, from the tenor of books I have read, that many who have
    visited this land in years gone by, were Presbyterians, and came seeking
    evidences in support of their particular creed; they found a Presbyterian
    Palestine, and they had already made up their minds to find no other,
    though possibly they did not know it, being blinded by their zeal.
    Others were Baptists, seeking Baptist evidences and a Baptist Palestine.
    Others were Catholics, Methodists, Episcopalians, seeking evidences
    indorsing their several creeds, and a Catholic, a Methodist, an
    Episcopalian Palestine. Honest as these men's intentions may have been,
    they were full of partialities and prejudices, they entered the country
    with their verdicts already prepared, and they could no more write
    dispassionately and impartially about it than they could about their own
    wives and children. Our pilgrims have brought their verdicts with them.
    They have shown it in their conversation ever since we left Beirout.
    I can almost tell, in set phrase, what they will say when they see Tabor,
    Nazareth, Jericho and Jerusalem--because I have the books they will
    "smouch" their ideas from. These authors write pictures and frame
    rhapsodies, and lesser men follow and see with the author's eyes instead
    of their own, and speak with his tongue. What the pilgrims said at
    Cesarea Philippi surprised me with its wisdom. I found it afterwards in
    Robinson. What they said when Genessaret burst upon their vision,
    charmed me with its grace. I find it in Mr. Thompson's "Land and the
    Book." They have spoken often, in happily worded language which never
    varied, of how they mean to lay their weary heads upon a stone at Bethel,
    as Jacob did, and close their dim eyes, and dream, perchance, of angels
    descending out of heaven on a ladder. It was very pretty. But I have
    recognized the weary head and the dim eyes, finally. They borrowed the
    idea--and the words--and the construction--and the punctuation--from
    Grimes. The pilgrims will tell of Palestine, when they get home, not as
    it appeared to them, but as it appeared to Thompson and Robinson and
    Grimes--with the tints varied to suit each pilgrim's creed.

    Pilgrims, sinners and Arabs are all abed, now, and the camp is still.
    Labor in loneliness is irksome. Since I made my last few notes, I have
    been sitting outside the tent for half an hour. Night is the time to see
    Galilee. Genessaret under these lustrous stars has nothing repulsive
    about it. Genessaret with the glittering reflections of the
    constellations flecking its surface, almost makes me regret that I ever
    saw the rude glare of the day upon it. Its history and its associations
    are its chiefest charm, in any eyes, and the spells they weave are feeble
    in the searching light of the sun. Then, we scarcely feel the fetters.
    Our thoughts wander constantly to the practical concerns of life, and
    refuse to dwell upon things that seem vague and unreal. But when the day
    is done, even the most unimpressible must yield to the dreamy influences
    of this tranquil starlight. The old traditions of the place steal upon
    his memory and haunt his reveries, and then his fancy clothes all sights
    and sounds with the supernatural. In the lapping of the waves upon the
    beach, he hears the dip of ghostly oars; in the secret noises of the
    night he hears spirit voices; in the soft sweep of the breeze, the rush
    of invisible wings. Phantom ships are on the sea, the dead of twenty
    centuries come forth from the tombs, and in the dirges of the night wind
    the songs of old forgotten ages find utterance again.

    In the starlight, Galilee has no boundaries but the broad compass of the
    heavens, and is a theatre meet for great events; meet for the birth of a
    religion able to save a world; and meet for the stately Figure appointed
    to stand upon its stage and proclaim its high decrees. But in the
    sunlight, one says: Is it for the deeds which were done and the words
    which were spoken in this little acre of rocks and sand eighteen
    centuries gone, that the bells are ringing to-day in the remote islands
    of the sea and far and wide over continents that clasp the circumference
    of the huge globe?

    One can comprehend it only when night has hidden all incongruities and
    created a theatre proper for so grand a drama.
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