Category Archives: Orientalia

1872: Sharon is like a wilderness

Sharon is like a wilderness; and Bashan and Carmel shake off their fruits [Isaiah 33.9]
No precise illustration of these predictions was given in several previous editions of this treatise; but an extract from the work of a more recent traveller may show how the celebrated plain of Sharon not only partakes of the general desolation, as predicted, but how it also bears witness to the word that has fallen upon itself. “The plain of Sharon,” says Mr Robinson, “celebrated in Scripture for its fertility, and the beautiful flowers that grow spontaneously from the soild, stretches along the coast, from Gaza on the south to Mount Carmel in the nort, being bounded towards the east by the hills of Judea and Samaria. The soil is composed of very fine sand, which, though mixed with gravel, appears extremely fertile, and yet it is but partially cultivated, and still less inhabited. On either side of the road ruined and abandoned villages present themselves to the view of the disappointed traveller, impressing him with a species of melancholy which he is at a loss to account for, seeing no just cause for the existence of such a state of things in a lang ‘so plenteous in goods,’ and so abundant in population as once it was. If he should attribute it, as most likely he will, to the misrule of those that govern, he may, after mature reflection, ask himself the question: The judgments pronounced against the land, ahve they yet received their full completion? And are not its present rulers the visible instruments of those judgments? ‘You land, strangers devour it in your presence, and it is desolate, as overthrown by strangers.'”

Having since passed through Sharon from end to end, we may affirm, from personal observation, that Sharon is a wilderness. With very special exceptions it is now abandoned to the Bedouins, who in the present day pitch their tents near to the sea-shore, as well as on the borders of the desert. In an extensive view over the plain from the elevated ground beside the village of Mukhalid, not a village nor habitation was to be seen, as far as the eye can reach, and before arriving there from the north, not an inhabited village had we passed or seen, for the distance, along the coast, of six hours and a-half, or about twenty miles, though the ruined capital of Herod lay in our path; and the nearest in any direction, we were told, is ten miles distant. But true it is of Sharon, as of other plains, that, while strangers have devoured it, and the wicked of the earth have made of it a prey and a spoil, many pastors or herdsmen tread it under foot, and have made the pleasant portion of the Lord a desolate wilderness. We there saw nine or ten flocks of cattle and sheep, some of which were large, spread over the nearest borders of the plain. The habitations of the solitary village are wretched hovels, and the cattle pertaining to it, far too few to depasture the adjacent plain, where the flocks of the wandering Arabs freely roam.

But deserted and desolate as it lies, the wilderness retains not a little of the beauty of Sharon, ere, unsheltered as it is, it is scorched by the summer sun, its grass withered and its flowers faded. The ground is in many places covered with beautiful flowers. About midway between Mukhalid and Jaffa, the borders of a stream (the Phaalek) were extremely rich, after the earlier rain, in wild spontaneous produce; and vigorous plants were matted together in impenetrable closeness and the richest luxuriance.

Yet even there desolation is still advancing in unarrested progress; and one of its causes, not overlooked in prophecy, may be witnessed in its defacing and destructive effects, where the traveller seems to be leaving a desolated plain for a rich orchard, or a shady grove, or—what all the land shall yet be—a garden like that of Eden. But on a closer inspection several of the trees were withering away, but not from age. They had not been scathed from the top by lightning; but, with less instantaneous but not less destructive efficacy, they had been burned at the root by Bedouins. The lowest part of the trunks, half through or more, had been turned into ashes, and the tress were left standing to wither and die, till the hand could pull them down, or a blast lay them on the ground, when their withered branches would be fitted for the fires of the Bedouins, with the trunks, perhaps, of other trees for their hearths. In some instances, the soil had been partly scraped out beneath, to form hollows for the fire, as seen by the uncovered and burned roots. While desolation thus continues to spread over Sharon and other plains—where all manner of fruit trees of old adorned and enriched the land—the time is long past in which one generation had to tell another of such judgments ere they came; but how true as to the past, with such direful causes in operation still, is the word of the Lord, whether figuratively or literally,—a nation is come up upon my land—he hat laid my vine waste, and barked by fig-tree: he hath made it clean bare, and cast it away; the branches thereof are made white.—The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men [Joel 1.6, 7, 12].—Numberless are the trees that have thus been withered, till over extensive plains there is no fruit to be plucked from a tree, and Bedouins have often far to wander ere they pitch their tents near any trees that remain, not for fruit to eat, but for branches to burn. Sharon is like a wilderness. . . .

Rev Alexander Keith. Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived From the Literal Fulfilment of Prophecy: Particularly As Illustrated by the History of the Jews and by the Discoveries of Recent Travellers. Thirty-Ninth Edition. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1872. Pages 173–176. Emphasis his.

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Jerusalem, 1872

Jerusalem was the city which the Lord did choose to place his name there. He loved the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. But while the land has been defiled, and the people have been scattered abroad, these gates have long fallen, and Zion has often been filled with judgment. The tomb of David stands without the wall of the present city ; but the palaces of Jerusalem have disappeared from Mount Zion. Not a vestige of its bulwarks that long withstood Roman hosts remains ; and the city of David that stood on Zion, has wholly vanished, as if that site of Israelitish royalty, like Samaria the other, had never been reclaimed from the plough. Only a small portion of the mount is now enclosed within the walls of the modern Jerusalem ; and Mount Zion may now be seen, as each successive traveller can testify, as the prophet saw it in vision, ploughed as a field, (see frontispiece.) In other places throughout the land, grain is sown around closer and larger olives than those of Zion as it is among them, while many open spaces or fields are there given up entirely to the plough. “At the time I visited this sacred ground,” says Dr Richardson, “one part of it supported a crop of barley, another was undergoing the labour of the plough, and the soil turned up consisted of stone and lime mixed with earth, such as is usually met with in the foundations of ruined cities. It is nearly a mile in circumference. We have here another remarkable instance of the special fulfillment of prophecy ; therefore shall Zion for your sake be ploughed as a field” (Richardson’s Travels, p. 349 ; Mic. iii. 12). Zion testifies against her children. On his first visit to Zion, the writer of these pages, together with his friends, gathered some ears of barley from a field that had been ploughed and reaped : but, on the last, we saw the plough, as in any other field, actually cleaving the soil of Zion.

And the mountain of the house as the high places of a forest (Jer. xxvi. 18). Jerusalem lay in heaps, after it was besieged, taken and destroyed by the Chaldeans, and also by the Romans. To this day the mosque of Omar may be seen, as in the plate, as the crescent of Mohammed towers over it, where the nobler temple of Solomon stood in its glory. The mountain of the house, with its trees around it, may still be said to be “as the high places of a forest,” devoted as it is, as were they, to the cause of false religion, and not to the worship of the Holy One of Israel. But the words of truth immediately subjoined to these denunciations of the prophet, tell of other times than these in which many a cresent, as now, glitters over it, in token that Jerusalem is still trodden down of the Gentiles. But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills ; and people shall flow unto it. And many nations shall come and say, Come and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob (Mic. iv. 1,2 ; Isa. ii. 2,3).

Rev Alexander Keith. Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived from the Literal Fulfilment of Prophecy: Particularly as Illustrated by the History of the Jews and by the Discoveries of Recent Travellers, 39th edition, 1872, pages 256

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Like the sands of their own deserts

The spoilers are come upon all high places through the wilderness. The robbers shall enter into it, &c. [Jeremiah 12.12; 7.22]
The land of Israel has not only been given into the hands of strangers for a prey, and unto the wicked of the earth for a spoil, as foreign nations have successively subjugated and despoiled it; but it has also been the prey of bordering marauders, to whose assaults it has for ages been exposed. “These precautions, on the part of travellers, are above all necessary in the countries exposed to the Arabs, such as Palestine and the whole frontier of the desert.” [Volney’s Travels, vol. ii. p. 417.] “The Arabs are plunderers of the cultivated lands, and robbers on the highroads. —On the slightest alarm the Arabs cut down their (the peasants’) harvests, seize their flocks, &c. The peasants with good cause call them thieves. The Arab makes his incursions against hostile tribes, or seeks plunder in the country or on the highways. He became a robber from greediness, and such is in fact his present character. A plunderer rather than a warrior, the Arab attacks only to despoil.” [Ibid. chap. xxiii.] Such is the systematic spoliation and robbery to which the inhabitants of Palestine have been subjected for ages. Mr Stanley’s testimony may here be added: “In Greece and Italy and Spain, it is the mountainous tract which is beset with banditti—the level country which is safe. In Palestine, on the contrary, the mountain tracts are comparitively secure, though infested by villages of hereditary ruffians here and there; but the plains, with hardly an exception, are more or less dangerous . . . . The Bedouin tribes are the corsairs of the wilderness. Far up in the plains of Philistia and Sharon come the Arabs of the Tîh; deep into the centre of Palestine, into the plain of Esdraelon, especially when the harvest has left the fields clear for pasturage, come the Arabs of the Haurân and of Gilead. But now, like the sands of their own deserts which engulph the monuments of Egypt, no longer defended by a watchful and living population, they have broken in upon the country far and near; and in the total absence of solitary dwelling-places—in the gathering together of all the settled inhabitants into villages, and in the walls which, as at Jerusalem, enclose the cities round, with locked gates and guarded towers—we see the effect of the constant terror which they inspire.” [Stanley, pp. 135, 136.]

The Rev Alexander Keith. Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived From the Literal Fulfilment of Prophecy: Particularly As Illustrated by the History of the Jews and by the Discoveries of Recent Travellers. Thirty-Ninth Edition. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1872. Pages 189-190. Emphasis his.

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Bethany Procession

And so, as it gets to be the seventh hour, everyone comes to the Lazarium, which is at Bethany, approximately two miles from the city. On the way from Jerusalem to the Lazarium, at about half a mile from that place, there is a church along the road at the very place where Mary, the sister of Lazarus, came forth to meet the Lord. When the bishop reaches this place, all the monks come forth to meet him, and the people go into the church, where a hymn and an antiphon are sung and the proper passage from the Gospel is read, describing how Lazarus’ sister met the Lord.

When a prayer has been said and a blessing given to all, everyone continues on to the Lazarium, chanting hymns; and by the time they have come to the Lazarium, such a multitude has gathered that not only the place itself, but all the surrounding fields are filled with people. Jymns are sung as well as antiphons appropriate to the day and the place; various scriptural readings, also fitting to the day, are read. Just before the dismissal is given, the Pasch is proclaimed, that is to say, a priest mounts to an elevated spot and reads the passage from Scripture where it is written: When Jesus came into Bethany six days before the Pasch. When this has been read and the Pasch has been proclaimed, the dismissal is given. Because it is written in Scripture that six days before the Pasch this was done in Bethany, therefore on this day this ceremony takes place. There are six days from Saturday to the following Thursday, when after supper the Lord was arrested in the night. Everyone then returns directly to the city and to the Anastasis, were vespers is celebrated as customary.Egeria. Diary of a Pilgrimage. Ancient Christian Writers 38. Newman Press, 1970. Pp 102-103.

No more will pilgrims be able to participate in the roughly two mile walk from Bethany to Jerusalem on Lazarus Saturday. The more than 1600 year old practice will be impossible for an indefinite period due to the erection of a massive security wall, cutting off the footpath leading over the Mount of Olives and down into Jerusalem. It will remain in place as long as Israel is threatened by Palestinian suicide bombers. That wall will only come down upon the renunciation of “armed resistance” on the part of the Palestinians. That will be a long time coming.

So, Christians throughout the world may now thank Palestinian terrorism for the end of one of its oldest traditional processions. That’s okay, you know. Other Palestinians have prevented this procession from happening before, and Christians managed well enough. For nearly the entire period of Muslim rulership over the Holy Land, all Christian public religious processions were banned, as were public displays of the Cross, even as jewelry, the ringing of bells, celebration of saints days in cemeteries and shrines, and even funerals (see translations of primary documentation relating to all of this in the remarkable book by Bat Ye’or, The Decline of Eastern Chrisitianity under Islam [Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1996]). So things are really just getting back to normal from the Muslim perspective. And that’s something to think about, people.

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Rabbat-Ammon in 1847

“The dreariness of its (Ammon’s) present aspect,” says Lord Lindsay, “is quite indescribable,—it looks like the abode of death,—the valley stinks with dead camels, one of which was rolling in the stream; and though we saw none among the ruins, they were absolutely covered in every direction with their dung. That morning’s ride would have convinced a sceptic; How runs the prophecy? ‘I will make Rabbah a stable for camels.'”

The prophecy to which Lord Lindsay referred is Ezekiel 25.5:
I will make Rabbah a pasture for camels
and Ammon a fold for flocks.
Then you shall know that I am the LORD

The excerpt from Alexander William Crawford Lord Lindsay’s Letters on Egypt, Edom, and the Holy Land (London, 1847) is quoted in Rev. Alexander Keith’s Evidence of the Truth of the Christian Religion Derived from the Literal Fulfillment of Prophecy; Particularly as Illustrated by the History of the Jews, and by the Discoveries of Recent Travellers (phew!), 35th edition [!], Edinburgh, 1854, page 174. I also have a copy of the 39th edition, from 1872. The book’s multiple editions made it a mainstay of popular religion throughout the Victorian Age. He also wrote the entirely fascinating The Signs of the Times, as Denoted by the Fulfillment of Historical Predictions, Traced Down from the Babylonish Captivity to the Present Time (Edinburgh, 1834), in which the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation are tied, in the historicist manner, to various events in European history, most notably to Napoleon’s campaigns! The two small volumes are half-calf with marbled covers and marbling on the edges, and include some pullout maps which are fine examples of early nineteenth century mapmaking.

The Rev. Alexander Keith and his son George Skene Keith were also responsible for taking the first ever photographs of the Holy Land in 1844. These photographs, converted into engravings, appear in various editions of the Evidence… book. Rev. Keith (1791-1880) was also one of the many ministers involved in the formation of the Free Church of Scotland.

The primary value to moderns of the Evidence… book is its important picture of the state of the territories of the Holy Land in the years before Jewish settlement in the area and a counteracting/corresponding Ottoman transfer of Muslim populations into those territories. The picture described is one of a beautiful, fertile, productive land which is only sparsely populated by melancholy and oppressed inhabitants. What little settled population lived there was constantly intimidated by bands of marauding bedouin Arabs or the Turkish authorities. Although I would certainly think we can all regret the loss of the unspoiled natural beauty of the region which has since occurred, no one can miss the oppression of people in those days.

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