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ART. VII.-The Lands of the Bible visited and described, in an
extensive journey undertaken with special reference to the promotion of Biblical research and the advancement of the cause of philanthropy. By John Wilson, D.D., F.R.S., &c. &c. With maps and illustrations. Edinburgh : William Whyte and Co. London: Longman and Co. Dublin: W. Curry and Co., 1847. Calcutta : Messrs. Thacker and Co., Messrs. Ostell and Co., Messrs. Hay and Co.
DR. WILSON is happy in the choice of a title for his book. “The lands of the Bible” and every monument topographically or historically connected with that remarkable volume exercise a fascination, which no educated mind can resist. It is vain to struggle against the charm, and impossible to class the Bible with the Veds and Puranas of Hindustan, the myths and legends of Greece and Rome, the Talmud of the degenerate Jews, or the Koran and traditions of Islam.
One feels that, apart from the help of God, the same people, who wrote the Talmud, could not have written the Old and New Testaments; and that a history running up to the creation of man, transacted in the midst of the dominant powers that successively ruled the world, and intimately connected with them all, bristling too with names, facts, dates, and topographical details appealing for their truth to all records wherever they are to be found, either could not be false, or, being false, would be at the mercy of the merest tyro, who spells over the pages of his History or Geography in a Calcutta morning Academy.
The pyramids and tombs of Egypt have yielded their secrets to the perseverance of modern research ; ancient monuments have been discovered, long lost sites have been identified, and paths untrodden for ages have been traversed again and again. The Red Sea, and the great and terrible wilderness,' Mount Sinai and the city of the Rock, ancient Hebron and those waters, still shrouded in mystery, which roll over the guilty cities of the plain, are once more familiarly known; and from day to day, the remains of ancient cities, perhaps the first ever built by the hand of man, rise with startling interest from beneath the dust of ages to speak, like a voice from the dead, of deeds and times unknown to the living. The stars themselves have been interrogated : the bowels of the earth have been searched; and as each new discovery is announced, there is a pause of expectation,--and many an eye turns instinctively to that wondrous and venerable record, which claims to be the interpreter between God and man, and which, in calm majestic
simplicity, has blunted every weapon of attack, and still stands lofty and unmoved, shedding forth light into all ages.
Palestine is a small country, originally remarkable neither for beauty nor fertility, hemmed in on two sides by deserts, on a third by a sea coast without one tolerable harbour, and open only to the North. The people, who formerly inhabited it, appear first as debased serfs, hewers of wood and drawers of water for the haughty Egyptians, and are now in all countries counted as the off-scouring of the earth. Yet this little district was the theatre of the most momentous events in the history of man; and the annals of this despised race show forth an array of legislators, warriors, poets, historians, prophets, priests, and teachers, such as the world has never elsewhere beheld. Το them modern civilization is indebted for all that truly elevates and ennobles it; and, we may gather not obscurely from the same record, that the Jew will again rise from the dust, to be the leader of the world to still higher triumphs. Accordingly there seems to be an instinctive feeling common to all Christendom that Palestine is our Father land, and that its fate is mysteriously connected with the fate of humanity. Nor is this feeling confined to Christians. The Jews, in their weeping, expect the restoration of Sion; and to the Mussulmans, the rock on mount Moriah is as sacred as the tomb of their prophet, while they believe that the doom of mankind will have for its scene the valley of Jehoshaphat.
For fifteen hundred years, Europe has poured its annual tide of visitors into the Holy Land; and a library might be formed of the volumes that have been written concerning it. It had been visited and described by pilgrims, crusaders, scholars learned in eastern and western lore, scientific men, artists with their pencils in their hands, infidels of the flippant and despicable school of Voltaire, theorists, men of quick eye and sober judgment, in short by every variety of human intellect, from the massive strength of Pocock and Maundrell down to the veriest chronicler of small beer. And assuredly the list in our own days is no way inferior to the past, either in number, variety, or interest. We may contrast the melodramatic raptures of Chateaubriand and LaMartine, with the homely truth and spiritual unction of Bonar and McCheyne : the tape-carrying and merciless American Professor, with the horror-struck Puseyite, in the full fervour of veneration for all the rottenness of the 4th century; their accomplished and intelligent Lordships of Nugent and Lindsay, with the pleasant and readable shallowness of Stephens, and the matter-of-fact observations of the man who went to see how farming was carried on in Palestine; or the flum
mery of the high-born Countess Hahn-Hahn (whose fine ladies exhibit the most aristocratic contempt for vulgar morality and have a habit of changing their husbands without the ceremony of a divorce) and the brilliant but somewhat profane pages of Eothen, with the adventurous and accurate Burckhardt, the sober sense of Olin, the clear, interesting, and scholar-like pages of Irby and Mangles, or with the pains-taking and conscientious researches of the Germans. It would be tedious to characters ize, however briefly, the labours of Buckingham, Wilde, Elliot, Castlereagh, Formby, Williams, Catherwood, Roberts, &c. &c.
It might well be supposed, after all these had said their say, and especially after the appearance of the great work of Dr. Robinson, that there was nothing new to write, and nothing new to hear, regarding the aspect or present state of the Holy Land. Yet here is Dr. Wilson claiming to be heard in two thick octavo volumes, and here is the Christian public, willing to listen, and prepared to follow his footsteps with as fresh and breathless interest, as if the field were now trodden for the first time. The associations connected with the Lands of the Bible supply the place of new discoveries, or startling incidents; and though every year adds to the pile of travels, tours and researches in Palestine and Idumea, the interest with which they are read continues unabated and undying;
As for some dear familiar strain
But Dr. Wilson has special claims which demand for his work a more than common consideration. Of all the able, learned and distinguished men, who have written on the Lands of the Bible, not one perhaps can be pointed out on the whole so well qualified for the task. He is confessedly one of the foremost of our oriental scholars, long and intimately acquainted with the manners, customs and peoples of the East, accustomed to travel, with a temper that nothing can ruffle, a cheerful and courteous demeanour, à sincere and intelligent belief, and feelings of the deepest interest in the people as well as in the Lands of the Bible. Thus furnished, acquainted too with so many of the modern languages, and having in his library almost every work of note from the times of Jerome and the Bordeaux pilgrim down to our own, Dr. Wilson could not well fail in producing a valuable and important work. Every part of it indeed is finished conscientiously and ex abundanti. There is a profusion of learning. The topographical details are full and precise, and his descriptions picturesque and intelligible. The information he has collected and condensed concerning the Eastern churches, the Jews, the remnant of the Samaritans, and the tribes and languages of the East, would alone furnish matter for a separate volume; and the work is splendidly illustrated with engravings, cuts, copies of inscriptions, plans of cities, and beautiful and accurate maps.
Such a book is certainly not to be read like the last new novel or the last flashy tour of the season. It demands study, thought, and attention, and, in order to be fully appreciated, some sympathy with the pursuits, and no slight smattering of the almost encyclopedic knowledge of its accomplished author.
We shall not at present follow Dr. Wilson in his journey through Egypt, round the head of the Red Sea at Suez, and amidst the wild fastnesses and romantic defiles of the mountain peninsula of Sinai. The main interest of this portion of his route is connected with the wanderings of the people of Israel, and the miraculous events of which it was the scene, as recorded by their illustrious legislator. Dr. Wilson, while differing very considerably from Dr. Robinson, and for reasons which seem to carry great weight, bears witness to the wonderful truthfulness, and life-like accuracy of detail, which mark the Mosaic narrative. As the wilderness becomes better known, there seems little reason to doubt that every step in the march of the Israelites, from the passage of the Red Sea to the passage of the Jordan, may yet be distinctly traced and identified. Leaving, however, this most interesting field and all that concerns the Nile, the Isthmus, the two arms of the Red Sea, and the district lying between them for fuller notice in another connection we proceed with Dr. Wilson across the great valley of the Arabah toward Petra, the city of the Rock.
This enormous crevasse extends from the sources of the Jordan to the gulf of Akaba, with a length of 280 miles and an average breadth of 10. A glance at the map will show that the gulf of Akaba itself is merely a continuation of the same fissure, and it requires no great stretch of imagination to carry it down to the straits of Babel Mandeb through the whole length of the Red Sea. It sinks southwards through the lakes of Huleh and Tiberias, and northwards from Akaba through the Arabah, with a nearly equal descent, to the cavernous hollow of the Dead Sea. The bottom of the valley between the two seas was evidently a water-course, by which the Jordan may have found its way to the Red Sea, ere its waters covered the cities of the plain; but Dr. Wilson shows satisfactorily that this did not take place during the historic period, and has no countenance from the narrative of Scripture :
“ We were exactly seven hours in crossing the Arabah. Cutting it diago
nally, we did not find it so level on its surface as we expected; and, generally speaking, it is as barren as the desert itself
. It has commonly a very hard stony bottom. Patches of softer material, but of sand with very little soil in it, bere and there occur, especially where there are depressions in its surface. Many boulders and rounded stones, of red and white granite, porphery, basalt, sandstone, and lime, such as are found in beds of rivers running between mountains of different formations, are in many parts scattered over its surface. On the Eastern sides there are beds of alluvial gravel torn up by torrents. The dry bed of one of these torrents, with steep banks, called Wádí el-Gharandel, we found about half a mile in breadth. That this was the bed of a river we had no doubt; and we were quite willing to believe that it must be the bed of the ancient Jordan, through which its rolling floods passed on to the Red Sea before the destruction of the cities of the plain. The very name which it bears, however, when viewed in connexion with its real source, puts an end to this interesting speculation. It is called the Wadí Gharandel, (Arindela,) because it is the continuation of a large Wadi and winter torrent coming down first in a north-west direction from the heights of Mount Seir, and then, on airiving at the level of the 'Arabah, not passing to the south-west to the Red Sea, but to the north-east to the Dead Sea. It is considerably to the south of the part where it enters the great plain that the drainage of the 'Arabah goes to the Red Sea. Some may think that these facts, whatever they may determine as to the Wádí Gharandel as it now exists, do not conclusively prove that the Jordan may not have passed through the’Arabah to the Red Sea before the overwhelming of Sodom, Gomorrah, and the other cities of the plain. On the occasion of this catastrophe, they may say, a great alteration may lave taken place in the level of the valley throughout its whole extent. An elevation may have occurred in its middle, and a depression in its northern parts. The extent of this elevation and depression, necessary to suit the facts of the case, it is to be observed in reply, is such as far to transcend the Scripture narrative. The Dead Sea has been found by the actual measure. ments of Lieut. Symonds of the Royal Engineers, to be 1312.2 feet, and the lake of Tiberias 328.98 feet, below the level of the Mediterranean. If all this depression took place with the raising of the Wádí 'Arabah above the level of the ocean, when the Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire out of heaven, then must God have not only thrown those cities and all the plain, in which they were,) and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground," as the sure word of his testimony informs us; but, if we may judge from any thing we know of the migbty power of an earthquake of the required magnitude, it must, if it took place, have convulsed to their overthrow the whole lands of Canaan, Moab, Ammon, Edom, and the Desert, to the destruction of all their inhabitants. No such convulsion took place. Lot, casting his eyes on Zoar, quite proximate to Sodom, said, - This city is · near to flee unto, and it is a little one: oh, let me escape thither, (is it not a little one ?) and my soul shall live.” Into this city he was permitted to flee, and was safe. Abraham, living in the plains of Mamre, near Hebron, had practical cognizance of the execution of the threatened vengeance of God on the cities of the plain, only by his getting up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord, and looking toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and beholding the smoke of the country going up like the smoke of a furnace. Striking as must have been the phenomena which occurred during the storins of fire and brimstone, and the eruptions and submer. gence which may bave been their cause or accompaniments, they certainly fall short of the awful demands of the theory to which I refer. The fact