Title


PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 25.

COIN OF HEROD THE GREAT.
COIN OF HEROD THE GREAT.

CHAPTER XXV.

EzrŠ is an extensive ruin three or four miles in circumference. Some of the buildings are very massive and look very old, as they are half-buried in accumulated rubbish; but when one sees in a massive wall a Greek inscription wrong side up, showing that it was taken from some other building, he rationally concludes that the structure is not older than the ruin from which its literary ornaments were rifled.

Probably the most interesting edifice in EzrŠ is the church of St. George. It is one of the oldest Christian structures in the world. From an inscription we learn that the church was erected in 410 of the Bostrian era, corresponding to 515 A.D. It owed its construction to John Diomede. He built it on the site of a pagan temple, and dedicated it to St. George, who appeared to him, not in a dream or vision, but in reality. The tomb of St. George, containing his bones, is in the church, and is an object of veneration to Moslems as well as to Christians. [293]

The form of the church is that of an octagon described within a square. Eight piers support the lofty dome, which has an external gallery running round it. This church of St. George was built after the pattern of the church at Antioch, which was the first octagonal church ever erected, and dates from the time of Constantine.

As we pitched our tent, we were joined by the Greek priest, who, probably, had the true succession from the Greek priest, his predecessor, who ran away with Burckhardt's money. He showed a disposition to take limited views of European society through the small openings of our tent. When admitted, he told a harrowing tale of Moslem persecution and murder, which broke down under examination. Ile was a very ignorant and unclean priest, and a very importunate beggar, and a very disagreeable man in every way.

The inhabitants of the place were about half Moslem and half Christian. The Moslems of the place were sullen and morose, but I visited them all, notwithstanding. The Christians were keen and active, and they all visited us. As a rule, the men of Ezra are tall and well made, and the women would be handsome but for the tattoo marks on their faces. The children are very beautiful, and the old women are simply hideous. Several villanous-looking characters, probably the same who made the murderous attack on Porter, were hanging about the camp, on pretence of looking at our books; and they became very much interested in the books when we watched them, but as they held the wrong side of the books up, it [294] may be presumed that they were not profiting very much.

We were informed that we might expect to be robbed during the night, as the caves about the village were infested with robbers. Our muleteers, though unarmed, threatened loudly, and in the most emphatic language, that if any one appeared during the night, they would blow them into a thousand atoms. I showed my gun as a curiosity, and the rapidity of its fire, twenty shots a minute, was very impressive, and probably helped to secure us an undisturbed night.

We left Ezra by a path at right angles to the one by which we entered, and crossed the promontory due east in the direction of Jebel Kuleib. The road was similar to that by which we entered, the black surface of the rock being worn smooth by traffic, till it had a metallic polish, and there were here and there, especially in the hollows, fragments of the Roman pavement, polished and slippery also by much wear.

In our descent we met several very fine-looking village women, who would have been counted handsome in any country but for the horrible blue tattoo ornaments worked on their faces and lips. Here also we got our supply of partridge for the day.

In twenty-five minutes we reached the bay on the eastern side of the promontory, and launched once more on the vast green sea, with the indented and ruin-crowned coast of the Lejah, or Argob, on our left. After a lovely sail of two hours, we turned in to the left, behind a head-land, [295] to visit Busr el-Hariry. We reached the ruin over an execrable road, and found it scattered over the two sides of a wady.

The ruins were extensive, ancient, and massive, and contained, as usual, many Greek inscriptions. We found the women at the cisterns, but the water was so exhausted that we could scarcely, even by paying for it, get enough for our horses.

Both men and women surrounded us here with the pale assassin faces we saw in Damascus, and gazed at us in the calm silence of suppressed fanaticism; and there was lightning in those pale, clouded brows, but lest it should dart forth on us, we drew their attention from ourselves by urging them to buy books. The only civil man in the place was the old green-turbaned keeper of the mosque, which was the most conspicuous object among the ruins. He held our horses, and permitted us to copy all the inscriptions, and we rewarded him.

Quitting Busr el-Hariry without regret, we embarked once more on a green sea of poppy-growing corn." We passed Dar, a large village, with a high square tower standing at a distance from the houses, and we saw a number of smaller places of the ordinary Hauranic type. We had here a typical Moslem for travelling companion. He was an intelligent ploughmaker, and we had conversation with him on many subjects. His theory about the Koran was that it has superseded all other revelations; and he added, of books in general, that they are impertinence to both God and man, as the Koran contains [296] all knowledge. He was the first Hauran Moslem we had met who did not seem preternaturally stolid.

I hope my readers will pardon the use of nautical phraseology thus far, for I could not divest myself of the feeling that 1 was sailing along near the tide line, with a black, rugged coast on my left, and a vast green sea on my right. Indeed, my companion, who was more of a geologist than myself, suggested that the molten flood may have been poured out from the bowels of the earth, ere the shallow sea had retreated, and hence the horribly contorted forms into which the seething mass finally settled down.

We had now coasted round more than half the well-defined border of the Lejah, and at midday we turned inland north-east to Nejr‚n. When I had last approached Nejr‚n a battle was going on within its walls. We heard the guns and the tumult of battle, and turned away, and on the morrow heard the result in killed and wounded. The wonderful unanimity of the Druzes, which is much applauded in books, is less the fruit of religious principle than the result of external pressure from their enemies.

We entered Nejr‚n through a savage wilderness of gloomy rocks. We found the town half in ruins, and the population half Druze and half Christian. The Druze sheikh, Fendy Abu Fakhr, gave us a hearty welcome. He led us to an open veranda covered with mats, and spread a felt rug on the ground. Then he ordered up laban in a lordly bowl, and we all three sat down on the rug and cemented friendship by eating together. The [297] sheikh called up his little son to kiss our hands, but we refused to allow him to do so, on the ground that we were Christianity teachers; but in the meantime the native Christians came hurrying in to see us, and on entering the veranda, they all, even the old men, kissed the hand of the sheikh's son, though he was only a child of seven years old.

It was humiliating to see the manner in which the Christians cringed before the Druzes. They immediately, however, fell fiercely on us for calling ourselves Christians, and eating in Lent, which gave us a fine opportunity to give them a lecture by way of self-defence.

A tall lady, whom we took to be the sheikh's wife, acted as our hostess, and to her we gave our fee; but discovering that she was not the sheikh's wife, we paid backshish over again, for we found that we were always more welcome where we paid our way. The lady, however, was so different from all the other women that we had seen in the Hauran that she deserves a passing notice. She was dressed in it long blue skirt reaching down to her feet, and over it a blue calico robe, lined with red, which she folded back to let the red appear. She wore great coarse boots, reaching half way to her knees, and a black handkerchief on her head, over which she had a turban of red and green; and encircling her brow, and around her head, she had strings of gold coins. She was tall and slender, in contrast with the thick, stumpy Druze women. Her face was long and pale, her forehead high, her features well cut and very animated when she spoke. [298] Her eyes, dark as a gazelle's, shot from under artificially arched brows, and the arches were magnified by carefully applied pigments. She carried in her hand a cherry pipe with amber mouth-piece, and worked over with a filagree of gold thread. Every one seemed to treat her with the greatest deference, and her will was law at the sheikh's board.

When she saw me buying old coins, she asked me to go with her and she would sell me a few. Instead, however, of leading the way into the sheikh's house as I expected, or to some house in the village, she marched straight out of the town, and for the first time I found she was not the sheikh's wife. I followed her through labyrinths of congealed lava, not without some misgivings; but I had my revolver with me, and at worst I could make a good race back to the village. Nor would my Druze friends allow me to be drawn into an ambush.

About a quarter of a mile from the town we reached a solitary tent pitched on a little patch of green among the dismal rocks. She invited me into her house of hair" with the vivacity of a Frenchwoman; and though my curiosity was roused to the highest pitch, a vision of strong-minded women from Jezebel to Lady Macbeth rose up before me, and I felt more comfortable standing outside and peeping into her tent after her. From what I saw I concluded that she lived in this tent entirely alone, but neither from herself nor from the villagers was I able to learn anything of this remarkable woman.

She soon emerged with a handful of old coins ó Kufic [299] and Constantines, and Remus and Romulus tugging at the wolf; but among the common rubbish I found one which is a real treasure, and especially useful in the identification of Edrei. It is the imperial Greek coin, referred to above, struck at Adraa. There is a huge, ill-shapen giant on the reverse of this coin that was struck in the city of Og. Ile bears in his left hand a club like "a weaver's beam," and in his right hand a skull. One of his feet also seems to rest on a skull.

COIN OF EDREI.
COIN OF EDREI.

The Romans permitted towns to place on the reverses of their coins their tutelary deities and traditional heroes, and so we see on coins of Sidon, Astarte; on coins of Dium, Dagon; and here, doubtless, on this coin of Adraa we have a remnant of the tradition of Og, the last of the "remnant of giants" (Deut. iii. 11), preserved by the people of his native town.

On my return to the village the sheikh took me away very mysteriously to the roof of his house, and when I expected to hear some state secret, which (ŗ la Taucred) would shake a thousand thrones, he merely informed me that he wanted "to be in the purse of the English Consul." [300] Having no political mission, and not wanting to hamper myself by inconvenient promises, I answered, "You are a very big man, and the Consul's purse is only a few inches wide." He then explained that he wanted English protection, and to be a protťgť of the Consul.

I replied, "O, Sheikh! your own proverb says, 'Too much tying loosens.' Everybody knows the good-will the Druzes bear to the English, and the protection the English extend to the Druzes. Do not loosen the knot of friendship that exists between you by any attempt to tie it tighter."

A proverb may not always be logical, but if it be aptly applied it is always conclusive in Arabia. He came down from the roof apparently as well satisfied with my reply as if I had made the present debtor to the future by a score of extravagant promises which I could never have hoped to perform.

Our visit to Nejr‚n was one of the pleasantest we made in the Hauran. We had a good sale for our books, and a most pressing invitation to stay during the night; but we pushed on to Mejdel, the residence of my friend Sheikh Hazimeh, the most powerful of all the Druze sheikhs. [301]




Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents