THE LAND OF ISRAEL.*
NEXT to Dean Stanley's eloquent narrative of travels in Palestine, we do not know of a more interesting book on the same subject than the one before us, by the Rev. H. B. Tristram. Though professing to be only an account of the physical features of the Holy Land, it treats with great fulness of the character, manners, and customs of the various races inhabiting it, and seeking in the contemplation of ruined temples and cities the connection of past and present, gives a singularly lucid picture of the country of the Israelites, the birth-place of Christianity. Mr. Tristram, accom- panied by a small party of friends, spent nearly ten months in Palestine, in 1863-4, engaged chiefly in the examination of the geology and natural history of the country, and the present book is the upshot of notes made and letters written on the spot. There is a singular freshness about all the descriptions, as much re- moved from scientific severity on the one hand as on the other from that horrid jocular style so common in books of travel, and which at one time threatened to grow into a mania among a certain class of writers. Though always graphic, and often eloquent, Mr. Tristram yet says what he has to say in a simple, unadorned style, straining neither after effect, nor falling into the equally com- mon fault of learned obscurity. We -have no doubt of the Land of Israel becoming what it deserves to be—a most popular book.
The author and his friends landed at Beyrout, and from thence made their way southward along the coast, passing successively through Sidon and Tyre. There are fine sketches of both these world-famous cities, as they appear at the present time.
"No description can do justice to the squalor and filth of the streets of Sidon on a wet day. All of them are more than half arched over, and very dark—so narrow that two laden asses cannot pass—with a gutter a foot deep running down the centre. Where not arched, a rotten screen of sticks, overlaid here and there with pieces of ragged matting and wattles, adds to the deplorable appearance of the place. Copper- smiths seemed the most thriving, as well as the noisiest of the artizans, while, like every one else, they sat in their open shops, hammering away on the ground. We turned up a blind entry, and then mounted a flight of steps in the corner, at the top of which a door ajar led to a courtyard, clean and tidy, on the roof of the dungeons below The port, when compared with the harbours of classic Greece must have been a spacious one, and was perhaps enlarged by an artificial mole, of which, though not noticed by any writer, we thought we could descry the traces. In many places the Old reef has been quarried out till the sea makes a clean breach into the harbour, but this has probably been the work of later times. The jagged, fretted rocks in the sea are full of carved doorways, huge stones of old arches, with many of the holes still visible where the stanchions of gates had been fitted, and strewn with masses of undecipherable maSonry. We were struck by the Cyclopean character of the work—immense stones let in to form the edges of the ancient quays, by the sides of which, among and on these ancient rock; must have been the ware- houses of Sidon. The Masse& of broken columns on all sides form a breastwork against the action of the sea below ; but these remains are so perforated and honeycombed by the water and by the boring-shells (pholades) that it is impossible to make out their style. Time, man, and, above all, the incessant dashing of the waves, have so honeycombed rocks, stonework, and columns alike, that no clear plan of the style of building can be ascertained. Such is the harbour of Sidon,. the cradle of the world's commerce, the mother of Tyre."
A couple of days' journey, over a roadless track along the coast, brought the travellers to Tyre.
"Sidon in the rain is wretched enough, but what is that to Tyre in the dry ? The filth and squalor of the little city surpass even that of a Tunisian town. Scanty bazaars, about five feet wide, wattled over at intervals by decayed sticks and palm leaves ; the street never less than ankle—often a foot—deep in putrid mud ; dilapidated, windowless hovels, raised among huge fragments of polished granite and porphyry columns, prostrate in rubbish—suah is modern Tyre. Through these we picked our steps to the shore, where a few fishing-boats form the navy of her whose merchants were princes.' We ascended to the higher part of the promontory, and from the ruined walls looked down on the wondrous fulfilment of prophecy. For half a mile the sea flows to the depth of a foot or two over flat rocks, covered by one mass of broken columns, leaning or prostrate in bewildering confusion, as if pitched pelt-mall into the water. This is insular Tyre ; 'the waters have covered her: She is a place for fishermen to spread their nets on.'" • rise Land of /trawl. A. Souraal of Travels in Palestine, undertaken with sp Sal reference to its physical character. By H. B. Tristram, RA., F.L.S. Lon Ion: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
One of the chief objects of Mr. Tristram and his fellow- travellers in their jottiney through Palestine was the exploration of the basin of the Dead Sea and the districts east of the Jordan, very little known as yet to Europeans. Accordingly they went forward to Jerusalem with as little delay as possible, turning in- land at Caiffa, in the Bay of Acre, and from thence by way of Nazareth and Nablous. Arrived at Jerusalem, they found no little difficulty in prosecuting the journey southward. Always in a state of insurrection and petty warfare, the country was parti- cularly so at this moment, and all agreed that to traverse it a strong escort would be necessary. Then there ensued long nego- tiations with the Sheiks, which for a time threatened to make the Dead-Sea expedition altogether impossible. M. de Saulcy, the well- known French traveller, who had just before gone over the same ground, had thought fit to indulge in lavish and ostentatious expen- diture, paying the highest price for his escorts, and throwing away presents right and left, the consequence of which was that the good Bedouins and. their sheiks held him up as a model, and refused to do anything for a lesser sum than that paid by him. However, after long diplomatic negotiations, after much stroking of beards and kissing of hands, the needful arrangements were entered into, Sheik .Abou Dahuk promising to guard the travellers with seven horsemen and twenty-five Bedouins on foot, against a present of 30 francs down, and 5 francs a day as regular pay. This settled, the long cavalcade was able to start, and reached the shores of the Dead Sea without mishap, touching it at the mouth of the Jordan. The approach was striking. "Leaving our horses to be led to the river bank," says Mr. Tristram, "we had a weary -walk through the ooze to the north end of the sea, sinking ankle- deep at every step in the adhesive mud." The beach of the Dead Sea at this point is composed of a pebble gravel, rising steeply, and covered for a breadth of 150 yards from the shore with drift wood.. "Trunks of trees lay tossed about in every possible posi- tion, utterly devoid of bark, grim and gaunt, a long and disorderly array of skeleton forms. There was a great variety in the speci- mens of timber, but a very large proportion of the trees were palms, many with their roots entire. These must have been tossed for many years before they were washed up along this north shore. The whole of the timber is indeed so saturated with brine that it will scarcely burn, and when it is ignited emits only a pale blue flame. It is difficult to conceive whence such vast numbers of palms can have been brought, unless we imagine them to be the collected wrecks of many centuries."
Notwithstanding their strong escort, the travellers were fre- quently molested in their progress along the western shore of the Dead Sea. Arrived at last at the extreme southern point of the journey, the expedition came to a complete standstill. Incessant fighting among the petty tribes on the eastern shore made the further journey so dangerous that it was deemed prudent to discuss the matter at a council of war of all the travellers, including the worthy Bedouin Sheik, when it was decided to go no further, but enter upon an honourable retreat towards Jerusalem. But before this retreat commenced Mr. Tristram and his friends thoroughly explored the supposed sites of the ancient Cities of the Plain, the thrice-renowned Sodom and Gomorrah. Mr. Tristram has some interesting remarks on the often discussed question of the destruc- tion of these cities, in which he shows a remarkably unbiassed judgment and much critical acumen.
"I think there can be no question," he says, "but that the old notions of volcanic agencies about the Dead Sea were erroneous, and that many writers, like De Saulcy, have been misled by endeavouring to square their preconceived interpretation of Scripture with the facts they saw around them. The preceding pages have shown that such traces are not to be found, that the whole region has been slowly and gradually formed through a succession of ages, and that its peculiar phenomena are similar to those of other salt lakes in Africa, or referrible to its unique and depressed position. But setting aside all preconceived notions, and taking the simple record of Genesis xix. as we find it, let us see whether the existing condition of the country throws any light upon the Biblical narrative. Certainly we do observe by the lake sulphur and bitumen in abundance. Sulphur springs stud the shores, sulphur is strewn, whether in layers or in fragments, over the desolate plains ; and bitumen is ejected, in great floating masses, from the bottom of the sea, oozes through the fissures of the rocks, is deposited with gravel on the beach, or, as in the Wady Mahawat, appears with sulphur to have been precipitated during some convulsion. We know that at the time of earthquakes in the north the bitumen seems even in our own day to be detached from the bottom of the lake, and that float- ing islets of that substance have been evolved coincident with the con- vulsions so frequent in nerth-eastern Palestine. Everything leads to the conclusion that the agency of fire was at work, though not the over- flowing of an ordinary volcano. The materials were at hand, at which- ever end of the lake we place the doomed cities, and may probably have been accumulated then to a much greater extent than at present The kindling of such a mass of combustible material, either by lightning from Heaven or by other electrical agency, combined with an earthquake eject- ing the bitumen or sulphur from the lake, would soon spread devasta- tion over the plain, so that the smoke of the country would go up as the smoke of a furnace. There is no authority whatever in the Biblical record for the popular notion that the site of the cities has been sub- merged, and Mr. Grove (in his able and exhaustive article in the Bibl. Diet., Sodom') has justly stated that 'there is no warrant for imagining that the catastrophe was a geological one, and in any other case all traces of action must at this distance of time have vanished.' The simple and natural explanation seems—when stripped of all the wild traditions and strange horrors with which the mysterious sea has been invested,—to be this,—that during some earthquake, or without its direct agency, showers of sulphur, and probably bitumen, ejected from the lake or thrown up from its shores, and ignited perhaps by the light- ning which would accompany such phenomena, fell upon the cities and destroyed them. The history of the catastrophe has not only remained in the inspired record, but is inscribed in the memory of the surround- ing tribes by many a local tradition and significant name."
We need not further dwell upon the interest of Mr. Tristram's book, sufficiently proved by the preceding extracts. But we have to add that the work is accompanied by two maps and numerous illustrations, including four chromolithographs, all of a very superior kind. The whole of the illustrations, we are informed, were executed after drawings and photographs taken on the spot by the friends and fellow travellers of the author.