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    Chapter 52

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    Chapter 53
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    The narrow canon in which Nablous, or Shechem, is situated, is under high
    cultivation, and the soil is exceedingly black and fertile. It is well
    watered, and its affluent vegetation gains effect by contrast with the
    barren hills that tower on either side. One of these hills is the
    ancient Mount of Blessings and the other the Mount of Curses and wise men
    who seek for fulfillments of prophecy think they find here a wonder of
    this kind--to wit, that the Mount of Blessings is strangely fertile and
    its mate as strangely unproductive. We could not see that there was
    really much difference between them in this respect, however.

    Shechem is distinguished as one of the residences of the patriarch Jacob,
    and as the seat of those tribes that cut themselves loose from their
    brethren of Israel and propagated doctrines not in conformity with those
    of the original Jewish creed. For thousands of years this clan have
    dwelt in Shechem under strict tabu, and having little commerce or
    fellowship with their fellow men of any religion or nationality. For
    generations they have not numbered more than one or two hundred, but they
    still adhere to their ancient faith and maintain their ancient rites and
    ceremonies. Talk of family and old descent! Princes and nobles pride
    themselves upon lineages they can trace back some hundreds of years.
    What is this trifle to this handful of old first families of Shechem who
    can name their fathers straight back without a flaw for thousands
    --straight back to a period so remote that men reared in a country where
    the days of two hundred years ago are called "ancient" times grow dazed
    and bewildered when they try to comprehend it! Here is respectability
    for you--here is "family"--here is high descent worth talking about.
    This sad, proud remnant of a once mighty community still hold themselves
    aloof from all the world; they still live as their fathers lived, labor
    as their fathers labored, think as they did, feel as they did, worship in
    the same place, in sight of the same landmarks, and in the same quaint,
    patriarchal way their ancestors did more than thirty centuries ago. I
    found myself gazing at any straggling scion of this strange race with a
    riveted fascination, just as one would stare at a living mastodon, or a
    megatherium that had moved in the grey dawn of creation and seen the
    wonders of that mysterious world that was before the flood.

    Carefully preserved among the sacred archives of this curious community
    is a MSS. copy of the ancient Jewish law, which is said to be the oldest
    document on earth. It is written on vellum, and is some four or five
    thousand years old. Nothing but bucksheesh can purchase a sight. Its
    fame is somewhat dimmed in these latter days, because of the doubts so
    many authors of Palestine travels have felt themselves privileged to cast
    upon it. Speaking of this MSS. reminds me that I procured from the
    high-priest of this ancient Samaritan community, at great expense, a
    secret document of still higher antiquity and far more extraordinary
    interest, which I propose to publish as soon as I have finished
    translating it.

    Joshua gave his dying injunction to the children of Israel at Shechem,
    and buried a valuable treasure secretly under an oak tree there about the
    same time. The superstitious Samaritans have always been afraid to hunt
    for it. They believe it is guarded by fierce spirits invisible to men.

    About a mile and a half from Shechem we halted at the base of Mount Ebal
    before a little square area, inclosed by a high stone wall, neatly
    whitewashed. Across one end of this inclosure is a tomb built after the
    manner of the Moslems. It is the tomb of Joseph. No truth is better
    authenticated than this.

    When Joseph was dying he prophesied that exodus of the Israelites from
    Egypt which occurred four hundred years afterwards. At the same time he
    exacted of his people an oath that when they journeyed to the land of
    Canaan they would bear his bones with them and bury them in the ancient
    inheritance of his fathers. The oath was kept. "And the bones of Joseph,
    which the children of Israel brought up out of Egypt, buried they in
    Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor
    the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of silver."

    Few tombs on earth command the veneration of so many races and men of
    divers creeds as this of Joseph. "Samaritan and Jew, Moslem and
    Christian alike, revere it, and honor it with their visits. The tomb of
    Joseph, the dutiful son, the affectionate, forgiving brother, the
    virtuous man, the wise Prince and ruler. Egypt felt his influence--the
    world knows his history."

    In this same "parcel of ground" which Jacob bought of the sons of Hamor
    for a hundred pieces of silver, is Jacob's celebrated well. It is cut in
    the solid rock, and is nine feet square and ninety feet deep. The name
    of this unpretending hole in the ground, which one might pass by and take
    no notice of, is as familiar as household words to even the children and
    the peasants of many a far-off country. It is more famous than the
    Parthenon; it is older than the Pyramids.

    It was by this well that Jesus sat and talked with a woman of that
    strange, antiquated Samaritan community I have been speaking of, and told
    her of the mysterious water of life. As descendants of old English
    nobles still cherish in the traditions of their houses how that this king
    or that king tarried a day with some favored ancestor three hundred years
    ago, no doubt the descendants of the woman of Samaria, living there in
    Shechem, still refer with pardonable vanity to this conversation of their
    ancestor, held some little time gone by, with the Messiah of the
    Christians. It is not likely that they undervalue a distinction such as
    this. Samaritan nature is human nature, and human nature remembers
    contact with the illustrious, always.

    For an offense done to the family honor, the sons of Jacob exterminated
    all Shechem once.

    We left Jacob's Well and traveled till eight in the evening, but rather
    slowly, for we had been in the saddle nineteen hours, and the horses were
    cruelly tired. We got so far ahead of the tents that we had to camp in
    an Arab village, and sleep on the ground. We could have slept in the
    largest of the houses; but there were some little drawbacks: it was
    populous with vermin, it had a dirt floor, it was in no respect cleanly,
    and there was a family of goats in the only bedroom, and two donkeys in
    the parlor. Outside there were no inconveniences, except that the dusky,
    ragged, earnest-eyed villagers of both sexes and all ages grouped
    themselves on their haunches all around us, and discussed us and
    criticised us with noisy tongues till midnight. We did not mind the
    noise, being tired, but, doubtless, the reader is aware that it is almost
    an impossible thing to go to sleep when you know that people are looking
    at you. We went to bed at ten, and got up again at two and started once
    more. Thus are people persecuted by dragomen, whose sole ambition in
    life is to get ahead of each other.

    About daylight we passed Shiloh, where the Ark of the Covenant rested
    three hundred years, and at whose gates good old Eli fell down and "brake
    his neck" when the messenger, riding hard from the battle, told him of
    the defeat of his people, the death of his sons, and, more than all, the
    capture of Israel's pride, her hope, her refuge, the ancient Ark her
    forefathers brought with them out of Egypt. It is little wonder that
    under circumstances like these he fell down and brake his neck. But
    Shiloh had no charms for us. We were so cold that there was no comfort
    but in motion, and so drowsy we could hardly sit upon the horses.

    After a while we came to a shapeless mass of ruins, which still bears the
    name of Bethel. It was here that Jacob lay down and had that superb
    vision of angels flitting up and down a ladder that reached from the
    clouds to earth, and caught glimpses of their blessed home through the
    open gates of Heaven.

    The pilgrims took what was left of the hallowed ruin, and we pressed on
    toward the goal of our crusade, renowned Jerusalem.

    The further we went the hotter the sun got, and the more rocky and bare,
    repulsive and dreary the landscape became. There could not have been
    more fragments of stone strewn broadcast over this part of the world, if
    every ten square feet of the land had been occupied by a separate and
    distinct stonecutter's establishment for an age. There was hardly a tree
    or a shrub any where. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends
    of a worthless soil, had almost deserted the country. No landscape
    exists that is more tiresome to the eye than that which bounds the
    approaches to Jerusalem. The only difference between the roads and the
    surrounding country, perhaps, is that there are rather more rocks in the
    roads than in the surrounding country.

    We passed Ramah, and Beroth, and on the right saw the tomb of the prophet
    Samuel, perched high upon a commanding eminence. Still no Jerusalem came
    in sight. We hurried on impatiently. We halted a moment at the ancient
    Fountain of Beira, but its stones, worn deeply by the chins of thirsty
    animals that are dead and gone centuries ago, had no interest for us--we
    longed to see Jerusalem. We spurred up hill after hill, and usually
    began to stretch our necks minutes before we got to the top--but
    disappointment always followed:--more stupid hills beyond--more unsightly
    landscape--no Holy City.

    At last, away in the middle of the day, ancient bite of wall and
    crumbling arches began to line the way--we toiled up one more hill, and
    every pilgrim and every sinner swung his hat on high! Jerusalem!

    Perched on its eternal hills, white and domed and solid, massed together
    and hooped with high gray walls, the venerable city gleamed in the sun.
    So small! Why, it was no larger than an American village of four
    thousand inhabitants, and no larger than an ordinary Syrian city of
    thirty thousand. Jerusalem numbers only fourteen thousand people.

    We dismounted and looked, without speaking a dozen sentences, across the
    wide intervening valley for an hour or more; and noted those prominent
    features of the city that pictures make familiar to all men from their
    school days till their death. We could recognize the Tower of Hippicus,
    the Mosque of Omar, the Damascus Gate, the Mount of Olives, the Valley of
    Jehoshaphat, the Tower of David, and the Garden of Gethsemane--and dating
    from these landmarks could tell very nearly the localities of many others
    we were not able to distinguish.

    I record it here as a notable but not discreditable fact that not even
    our pilgrims wept. I think there was no individual in the party whose
    brain was not teeming with thoughts and images and memories invoked by
    the grand history of the venerable city that lay before us, but still
    among them all was no "voice of them that wept."

    There was no call for tears. Tears would have been out of place. The
    thoughts Jerusalem suggests are full of poetry, sublimity, and more than
    all, dignity. Such thoughts do not find their appropriate expression in
    the emotions of the nursery.

    Just after noon we entered these narrow, crooked streets, by the ancient
    and the famed Damascus Gate, and now for several hours I have been trying
    to comprehend that I am actually in the illustrious old city where
    Solomon dwelt, where Abraham held converse with the Deity, and where
    walls still stand that witnessed the spectacle of the Crucifixion.
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