Title


PALMYRA AND ZENOBIA. CHAPTER 29.

COIN OF PHILLIP STRUCK AT PHILIPPOPOLIS.
COIN OF PHILLIP STRUCK AT PHILIPPOPOLIS.

Chapter XXIX.

At Rimet el-Lohf we found the Druzes as usual in conclave in their dark assembly-room. Sheikh Akhzîn accompanied us round the town, and pointed out to us all the antiquities of the place. These comprise a Christian church in ruins, a square mortuary tower about twenty feet high, and a number of inscriptions in Greek, Latin, and Nabathean.

The sheikh, after having shown us all he had to show, returned to his assembled brethren, and I started for a more thorough exploration of the village alone. As I passed the two reservoirs of the village I asked a drink from some Druze women, who were filling their jars, and they immediately became very talkative, and asked questions much faster than I could answer them. The first question generally asked by the women is, —

"Have you entered the world?" which means, "Are you married?" 1

1The wailers at the funeral of an unmarried man make this their bitterest plaint, "Ma dakhal ed dunya" ("He had never entered the world"). [365]

Then they ran me through my catechism, about the colour of my wife's skin, whether or not she wore rings in her nose, and if she had any boys, the question nearest the hearts of these Spartan mothers. When they asked if it was true that with us the women ruled the men, I gave an evasive answer, and passed on from my horned catechisers.

While exploring an extensive private ruin, I dropped down through a break in the stone roof, and found to my astonishment that. I had frightened a family from their supper. Fancy a man dropping through your ceiling when you are all at supper, and you will not be surprised to hear that I was received with a stony stare. I said all the apologies that I was acquainted with in Arabic, suitable to the circumstances, and immediately they were all delighted to see me, and no excuse would save me from partaking of their food. At last I consented on condition of every one returning to the place which he occupied previous to my unceremonious descent.

I had seen the patriarchal and lordly feast given by the sheikh again and again, always with the same dignified courtesy on the part of the host, and I was glad of an opportunity of joining with a poor family at their ordinary evening meal.

The family consisted of the father and mother, three plain girls, and a spoiled boy. They all squatted on a hair cloth round a little straw tray, on which was spread some barley bread, and in the centre of the bread stood a large [366]

DRUZE SHEIKHS.
DRUZE SHEIKHS.

[367]

[Page 368 is a blank page]

[368]

earthenware bowl filled with kishk. The kishk has a smell like sauerkraut; it is made of laban (sour milk) and burgal (crushed wheat), which are mixed together and left standing until the whole mass is rotten. Then it is dried in the sun, and served up in many ways.

Our feast consisted of kishk, with a little greasy water poured over it, and well stirred up with a spoon. The women withdrew their veils, exposing mouths and chins horribly tattooed. The father of the family leant forward, and with a "Bismilla" (In the name of God) took a handful of the kishk, rolled it up in a ball, and threw it into his mouth. The others did accordingly. I confined myself exclusively to the black bread and brass bowl of water, which was handed round.

The smell of the kishk was sickening, and the bread, which was baked with cow's dung, had too much of the flavour of the fuel. The boy bullied his sisters and mother, patronized me, and contradicted his father on grave points of history, archaeology, and domestic economy. The father seemed to enjoy his son's triumphs over himself.

One of the reasons why this boy assumed such airs with his father, was that he was one of the ukkal, or initiated in the higher mysteries of the Druze religion, a rank to which his father could not attain, as he would not abstain from swearing and smoking, and so he remained among the jahhâl, or ignorant, while his precocious boy of twelve was received into the highest rank.

When the maidens had each disposed of four or five balls apiece of kishk, about the size of a pigeon's egg, they [369] started up and fell back one by one. This is the rule; no one waits for another at table. They feed rapidly and silently, and each one withdraws when he has done.

Leaving my hospitable entertainers, I proceeded to the square tower at the west of the village. It is a great tomb built in imitation of the Palmyra towers, with loculi round the walls for the reception of bodies. It has a fine Greek inscription over the entrance.

While copying an inscription in a garden wall close by the tower a tall, venerable Druze issued from a hole in a ruin, which appeared to be only an irregular heap of stones, and approaching took up a position beside me. He told me many wonderful stories, for the Druze people have an amazing faculty for believing the incredible.

The sheikh had taken a fancy to me, I was so good a listener, and invited me to his den. I refused to accompany him, urging the lateness of the hour, but being actually afraid of this strange old man, whom I saw heaving with inspiration in the glow of the setting sun.

When I rose to depart he seized my arm with a force that I did not think was in him, and began to drag me towards the ruin which he called his house. I went quietly along with him till just at the door, when, feeling his grasp relax, I plucked my arm out of his hand, and, jumping over a low wall, turned at a distance of ten or twelve yards to apologize.

As I hurried back to the tent I met the whole Druze population, who had been to our camp to see my wonderful gun, which my muleteers had informed them "has [370] only to be wound up, and it will blaze away as long as you like without missing."

On April the 15th we were early working our way over the execrable path between Lohf and 'Ahiry. The grim appearance of the basalt was here relieved by the glancing green of the butm trees that grow among the stones. In about an hour we approached two beautiful tells, or conical hills, with fields of waving wheat sweeping round their bases, and surging up their sides, but not reaching to the top. 'Ahiry is at the base of the second tell, which is named Tell 'Ammâr.

This town is distinguished from all the towns of the Lejah in having a Perennial supply of water. Among the numerous inscriptions that abound here we find the names of Aumos and Agenes, ancient deities of the Hauran. On every side we saw Roman remains and Greek inscriptions, and from the tell we saw the abiding traces of the Roman dominion, in the road, stretching away in straight lines through the stony wilderness.

Sheikh Hussein pressed us much to stay for breakfast, but time pressed us still more to move, as we wished to cut right through the Lejah, and far out into the plain at the other side, during the day. The crowd that gathered round us here was of the usual character.

The Druzes, in person and dress, differ from the Moslems and Christians, who are pretty much alike. The tub-like turban 1 of the Druzes gives them a top-heavy [371] appearance; and indeed, heaviness, I might say grossness, in limb and feature, is their general characteristic. They are often very fair, have blue eyes, and are generally fat and ruddy. They are always well clothed, and are seldom met with barefooted.

1The Druze turban consists of a white felt cap, which is covered by the red fez, and this is swathed about with calico until it assumes the

The -Moslems and Christians who live among the Druzes are, as a rule, lean and lithe, have black hair, dark, piercing eyes, and olive complexions. They wear a handkerchief over the head, fastened there with a hair-rope, and hanging down over the shoulders. They wear also a kind of cotton gown, with a sack-like garment thrown over it, and they are constantly met barefooted. They are the hewers of wood and drawers of water to the Hauran Druzes.

We struck once more into the Lejah in the direction of Dama, without guide or guard, as usual, though everybody assured us that the Arabs were in our path. I had been over the road once before, and we were, in fact, becoming sceptical about the ferocity of the Arabs. Besides, I had previous lessons in the Hauran on the value of guides and guards.

Once when reconnoitring the country with a view to future operations, we became excited at Khubab in reading the description of the wondrous approach of Dama. "Lofty, impending cliffs," "deep gullies and ravines," "a wild labyrinth that none but the Arabs can penetrate," are scenes rarely within one's reach, and too [372] tempting to be passed without a visit. A spice of danger was added to the wondrous bill of fare; for if we showed paper and pencil, which we certainly would do, we would be taken for magicians, and set upon by lawless vagabonds with clubs and stones. We had hitherto found everything tamer than we had expected, and our faces were at once set to go to Dama.

dimensions of a tub about eight inches deep and eighteen inches in diameter.

My companion had a magnificent rifle, which was safely packed up at the bottom of a box, and he carried a breech-loading fowling-piece — so much improved that it could hardly be fired at all. Our Arab guide had a dabbous; but then, we might calculate that he would be on' the wrong side with this murderous weapon. Our guard, a Kurdish soldier, carried a little howitzer with a flint lock; but the arm had not been fired for a quarter of a century, nor was it ever loaded during our whole tour. My servant had also tied himself to a tremendous pistol; but he fired it for the first and last time as we were entering Damascus on our return, and it burst in the most becoming manner, blowing the lock into the air and injuring his hand.

Thus formidably equipped, and with a supply of sticking-plaster, we entered the Lejah on our perilous adventure. For the first hour we had to trace out our own way, as neither guide nor guard appeared, but at last they overtook us, and still urged us to go back.

We had set our lives upon a cast, and we would stand the hazard of the die! At last we reached Dama, and just as we came up to the entrance of the town, three [373] women rushed up out of a deep pit where they had been filling skins with water. They raised a wild scream, and notwithstanding I cried, "We are not enemies, O sisters, the sisters rushed over the ruins like tigresses, screaming, and disappeared.

They were tremendous women, Amazons of the Hauran, the only remains of the giants that I feel certain about having seen in the whole district. "Now, we are in for it," we both uttered in the same instant, for the women will bring the town upon us." My friend looked round to give a parting salute to the retreating guard, but he was nowhere to be seen. In fact, our whole party had discovered something extremely interesting in the rear, and did not join us for nearly an hour.

After waiting like Bob Acres, with our valour oozing out at our fingers' ends, and no infuriated mob coming to attack us, we picked up courage and entered the town vi et armis. The women had evidently hidden among the ruins, for the only human beings we saw in the place were three most savage-looking men, armed with dabbouses. These men kept away from us a distance of about four hundred yards, and we could not induce them to approach us, or to wait till we should approach them.

We wandered at will through the ruins, descended into vaults, and ascended into dormitories, and rambled over suites of apartments, and copied inscriptions, and shot partridges, and neither gave nor received injury. Neither did we see the "impending cliffs" nor "deep ravines."

The inscriptions proved to be of little value, and Dama [374] did not seem to have ever been of any great importance. It contains the ruins of one large building, the gate of which is adorned with vines and grapes, similar to what we saw at Kanawât. The houses were good, solid structures, ŕ la Hauran, but they were all in a ruinous state. The town, which stood in one of the most dismal spots of the great lava bed, had neither spring nor fountain, as far as we could ascertain; but the rocks beyond the walls were full of excavated cisterns, the sides of which were plastered with cement, and in most of the houses we saw "broken cisterns" half filled with their stone roofs, which had fallen in. In subterranean chambers the winter rains were preserved for summer use.

In this dreary and deserted region we came upon patches of the most wonderful colouring. Wherever the soil remained among the rocks, "we scarce could see the ground for flowers." Crimson poppies, and white daisies, and yellow rape, and green grass, made a strikingly lovely picture, set in a rigid frame of black basalt.

Should any one accuse us of foolhardiness for going through the Hauran in those times without a guard, the foregoing experiences are our justification for dispensing with such impedimenta, especially as one's guards always bully the weak, cringe to the strong, and abuse the hospitality of one's hosts generally. The one great use of guards—to bear home the news in case you should be killed — we did not take deeply into consideration, and so, guardless and alone, we crossed the Lejah at 'Ahiry and made straight for Dama. [375]

At first we found the country rough, but generally cut up into fields, many of which were cultivated. The stones had been gathered into heaps, and built up in fences, as is done in the mountainous parts of Ireland and Scotland. As we penetrated further, the cultivation increased, and extended up nearly to Dama.

As we passed Deir Dama on our right, two tall Arabs came in sight, on our path before us, and just as they saw us one of them deliberately stooped for a stone, which he held in his hand under his garments. They were thoroughly armed, and they came up to us in a very defiant manner, and the one who picked up the stone — a tall, desperate-looking character—came up in front of my companion's horse and stopped it. I kept at a distance behind, to one side, and ready for any emergency; and the Arabs, after measuring our strength, and concluding that the balance of chalices was against them, stood sullenly aside, and let us pass.

Our servants, however, urged us never to let the Arabs come so close to us. They pointed out that they were armed with swords and clubs, and as one of them had a large stone in his hand, the battle would have been over before we could have had time to begin. It seems we should challenge at a distance all Arabs we met.

We were greatly surprised at the amount of arable land which we found in the heart of the Lejah. We turned off the ordinary track at Dama to go to Han n, and wandered for a long time out of the beaten path, and we came fully [376] to comprehend the secret of the numerous towns and cities contained in Argob.

Almost the whole country had once been under cultivation, and the little fields, when not now under cultivation, are green with soft, rich grass.

South-west of Dama, also, about one-third of the fields contained wheat and barley. As we approached Rail the cultivated ground became more rare, but everywhere we saw traces of former cultivation.

Again from Jędâl the cultivation extended with occasional interruptions up to the rugged margin of the Le jab. Burckhardt, when writing of this part of the country, speaks of "the number of small patches of meadow, which afford excellent pasture for the cattle of the Arabs," but we were utterly taken by surprise to find such an amount of arable land cultivated, and non-cultivated, as exists in these parts. The land is also of a very good quality and easily worked, like all soil in basaltic regions.

West of Jędâl, we met several flocks of goats, and as our servants had been vainly looking out for water all day, we called a halt in order that we might get some milk. The first goatherd we met was a little boy whose only garment was a single piece of white calico, which was hung round his neck like a scarf, and fell down on each side, partially covering him. It was with great difficulty that we could get him to understand what we wanted. Soon a second boy, dressed like the former, but a little older, came forth like a fairy from among the rocks. He was very zealous to strike a bargain with us. We [377] promised him a piaster for the full of a copper basin which he carried with him, but he insisted on having his money in advance. We produced a silver piece which was one-eighth more than a piaster, but he firmly declared that he must have a piaster, and that he would take neither more nor less.

While we were lying in the grass, drinking the milk, two great tall Arabs issued from the rocks, and eyed us from a distance. They then approached one of the muleteers, who was feeding his mule on the wheat at a distance from us, and asked him if we would surrender.

He replied, "Not if there were two thousand of you instead of two for the Khawajât have gums that fire thirty shots a minute, and five thousand an hour." The logic was conclusive, for the Arabs said, "W'alla," and came up to us at once.

One of them was over six feet two inches high, but looked much taller. His dress consisted of a single coarse calico shirt, and a leathern girdle round his waist, from which a dagger was suspended. He had nothing on his enormous black head, and his buttered and plaited locks hung down his shoulders. He was barefooted, and his right arm, which was tattooed with figures of camels in the most archaic style, was bare to the shoulder, exhibiting muscular development in the highest perfection.

This, and the Arab who crossed our path in the morning, were the finest specimens of their race, physically, I had yet met, and I doubt if I have ever seen a man so powerfully built as that almost naked savage. [378]

On coming up, he assured us, in a somewhat grand manner, that he was a Selűt Arab; but seeing that we were not mightily impressed with the information, he overwhelmed us with the additional fact that Abu Suliman, whom all dread, was his sheikh. We assured him that we were greatly delighted to know that he was a Selűt Arab, and that his sheikh was Abu Suliman, but that we wanted another piaster's worth of milk ; whereupon his highness stooped down, caught a little goat, and provided us with what we wanted, taking care, however, to get paid full, and a little more.

By-and-by, another little Arab, in the same undress as the former, issued from among the rocks, and the three stood timorously watching all our movements. The tall Arabs were very greedy, and asked us for everything we had, like children.

The little boys were more easily satisfied, and seemed tilled with delight on receiving a few percussion caps. They had never heard of Adam, or David the shepherd, or the other Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep. They were wild and hardy as the goats and sheep they were tending, a little higher intellectually, and not so well clad or cared for. They all assured us that no one in their tribe could read, and so they had no use for our books.

As we approached Zobeir, the ground became more wavy, and as we had to go along the hollows and had no steady object in view, we kept moving about for a time almost in a circle. We all hurried up to an elevated [379] point, believing that we had almost reached the village, when, to our surprise, we discovered it behind us, and that we had been going further from it, instead of approaching closer to it. As we thus wandered about, we had additional opportunities of seeing the capabilities of the land, and of forming an idea of the high state of perfection to which it must have been brought, for almost everywhere, even on the bare rocks, we saw traces of former cultivation, and we ceased to wonder that so many ruins existed among the sable waves of the Lejah.

By keeping our eye fixed on the highest rock in the line of our march, we at last got free of the mazy waves among which we were entangled, and soon we emerged once more on the open plain at Khubab.

As we cast our eye along the black rocky coastline, we thought of the striking appropriateness of the Hebrew word Hebel, always applied to Argob in the Bible, whether that word means a rope, in reference to its "sharply defined border," or whether, as would be equally appropriate, the word signifies a wave.

We now proceeded north-west for more than an hour, through an unbroken flat of level wheat, in which we passed an enormous flock of gazelles, and reached Buseir at the going down of the sun. We soon discovered that the inhabitants of the place were Christians, by their curiosity and activity. They swarmed about us, bringing antiquities, and eggs and milk, unasked, and showed much eagerness to make bargains with us.

The people, having finished the ploughing and sowing, [380]

THE HAJJ LEAVING DAMACUS.
THE HAJJ LEAVING DAMACUS.

[381]

[Page 382 is a blank page]

[382]

were all busily engaged in dressing mill-stones, and we were shown eight which were purchased on the day of our arrival, by a merchant from Akka, for forty napoleons. We passed an uncomfortable night at Buseir, and though the rain poured down upon us, we were obliged to pay for water for ourselves and horses.

On April 16th we started early for Damascus. Our path lay through a stony, cultivated plain, in which hundreds of storks were marching up and down the wheat in straight lines, and partridges were shouting from rock to rock. As we approached the Hajj road we saw enormous flocks of vultures, soaring and wheeling, and filling the air before us. We soon learned the cause. "Where the carcass is, there will the vultures be gathered together."

The great caravan of pilgrims from Mekka had passed that way the day before, and had left their track strewed with horses, and mules, and camels, dead and dying. Apparently no officer from the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals accompanies the Hajj, and so the holy men ride on their animals till the saddles sink into the bones, and when they can force them along no further, they abandon them to die of their wounds and thirst.

The vultures conic along a day in the rear of the pilgrims, and strip the quivering flesh off the animals ere they are quite dead. They all fall upon a carcass together. and when they have stripped it bare, they rise like a mighty whirlwind into the air, and ascend and [383] soar round and round for a few minutes, until one of them, espying a new victim, strikes off at a tangent from the huge, revolving vulture cloud, and draws the rest after it in the form of a comet, of which it is the nucleus.

Down, down they come swooping on their prey, and they cover the animal until nothing is seen but a struggling heap of vultures; and so intent are they on the feast, that you might run in among them and knock them down with a stick. All the vultures of Arabia seemed to be gathered together in this one great army, and they were so confident that they stood red in talon and beak and watched us from a few yards' distance as we passed.

We halted at Kesweh,1 a town on the 'Awaj, where the river has made a little paradise among the bare red fields. The pilgrims had abandoned the place a few hours previous to our arrival, and everything was abominably filthy, except the little stream of running water.

We approached Damascus, bringing up the rear of the Hajj, but it being Wednesday, an unlucky day, the caravan could not officially enter the Holy City. Some of the pilgrims of the worldly sort pushed on straight to their [384] homes; but the devout ones were sitting outside the walls, quarrelling and swearing, and plying the instruments of King James' luxury, their nails; and when their wives and children came out to meet them after a long absence, they did not rise to receive their welcome or show any sign of gladness at meeting them once more. We met crowds coming out of the city to kiss the hands and beards of these holy pilgrims, and their blessing was eagerly sought.1 Keating would have been useful.

1"The accurate Burckhardt" sometimes takes one's breath away. 11e says, El-Kesweh is a considerable village situated on the river 'Awaj, or the Crooked, which flows from the neighbourhood of Hasbeya, and waters the plain of Djolan ("Travels in Syria and the Holy Land," p. 53). He would have little trouble in making a "stream meander level with its fount," who could bring the 'Awaj over Mount Hermon from Hasbeya or carry it over Joulan.

As we entered the "pearly Damascus" in its emerald setting, after a weary ride through an uninteresting country, we could thoroughly sympathize with the extravagant manner in which the Arabs speak of "the Pleasant," " the Honourable," "the Holy," "the Blessed" Damascus.

I have thus endeavoured to present a simple picture of Bashan, its people and ruins, as I saw them. No doubt the picture is only a sketchy outline, but it is an outline of all the important parts.

Moreover, in the disposition of light and shade I have had no theory to support, and therefore I have had no inducement to distort facts to give colour to my own preconceived opinions. I have sought truth for its own sake, without any attempt to champion Scripture history, or prophecy, believing, as I do, that simple facts in every department of human research best illustrate the Divine Word.

1The prophet said, "God pardons the pilgrim, and him for whom the pilgrim prays." Hence, on meeting the pilgrim, the people say, "Pray for pardon for me," to which the pilgrim replies, "Allah, pardon him." [385]

No one need be discouraged because the picture is poor in mechanical evidence of the pre-Israelitish inhabitants of Basilan, when he remembers how many thousand years the spoilers have been within her borders that the Romans, who reconstructed her cities, pulled down to build up; and above all, when he remembers what destruction a few centuries of misrule have been able to accomplish in the splendid cities of Syria.1

And is not the light shed on the Sacred Record by simple facts, of a nature to satisfy the most utilitarian investigator? That Bashan contained an enormous number of towns is a fact proved beyond all cavil.2

The ruins of "the towns of Jair, which are in Basban, threescore cities" (Josh. xiii. 30), are there to this day, some of them unchanged even in name, and we have seen, from the tokens of a former cultivation, that these cities had extensive resources in their own strange land.

But with the picture, I wish to present a plea on behalf of the inhabitants of Bashan. We are the hereditary friends of the Druzes. They look on us as their protectors, and welcome us among them as their benefactors; [386] but have we ever done anything for them? For a few individuals, yes. For the Druze people, no. Basilan as a mission field has never been occupied, nor are there in existence within its borders any really serious direct missionary operations.

1In digging the foundation of the Presbyterian church in Damascus, Roman remains were found to a depth of fifteen feet; thus the floors of the houses in the Damascus of to-day occupy nearly the same position as did the roofs of the houses in the Damascus of Augustus.

2Burckhardt, during two brief tours in Bashan in 1812, discovered one hundred and seventy-one ruins. Since then, Porter, Waddington, and others have brought important ruins to light which were unnoticed by Burckhardt. I have in my note-book over two hundred names of places in Bashan, all of considerable importance. A rich harvest still awaits the patient archaeologist in that wonderful land.

And yet there is no more attractive mission field for a missionary of manly piety than among the chivalrous Druzes of the Hauran.

Nor have we any reason to consider a mission to the Druzes hopeless, for they who believed, through the preaching of Dorazy, in the incarnation of the mad Fat unite, El-Hakem, would surely be brought, through the preaching of the Gospel, which is the Power of God, to believe in the incarnation of Jesus, who is the Wisdom of God.

And let me add, without presumption, that whatever church or people attempts mission work in the Hauran, should send their best man to the work, one of themselves, who will carry the living sympathy of his people with him for a mere hireling, or adventurer, will be as impotent for good as the prophet's servant when laying a lifeless stick on the face of a dead child. [387]




Text Archive Home | Book Details | Table of Contents