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RAMLEH TO ASHDOD.
Soap Factories at Ramleh.-Alkali.—Cactus.-Open Cistern.- Wady 'Aly.-- Lâtrôn.
'Akir, Ekron.—Return of the Ark.—'Ain esh Shems, Beth-shemesh.-Slaughter of the Beth-shemites.—Baal-zebub, the God of Ekron.--Ekron and her Towns.-Floral Beauty of the Plain of Philistia.-Eastern Border of Philistia.—Samson at Timnath.- Bibli. cal Sites. --Social Relations between the Hebrews and the Canaanites.-Intermarriages. -Ancient Inhabitants not Exterminated.-Beasts of the Field.-Philip and the Eunuch. -Sirocco Winds, Two kinds.—Wady Sărâr, Valley of Sorek.-El Mughâr, Makkedah. - Azekah.—Libnah.-Yebna, Jamnia.—Mosk at Jamnia.--Fortifications at the Harbor of Jamnia.— Jaffa to Yebna.-Summer Threshing-floors.—Threshing Instruments. -Winnowing-fan and Fork. – Whirlwinds. — Yebna Centre of Hebrew Learning. Sanhedrim.—Plain of Philistia occupied by the Jews.-Gamaliel.—Simeon.—Yebna to Ashdod. - Wady es Sủnt.--Esdûd, Ashdod.--Extermination of the Philistines.—Siege of Ashdod by Psammetichus.—Biblical and Historical Notices of Ashdod. -Statements of Herodotus.-Route from Lâtrôn to Esdûd.—Harvest Scenes in Philistia.-Dense Fog.-Cloud of Dew in the Heat of Harvest.—Length of Harvest.—Gleaning.-Manufacture of Unburnt Brick in Palestine and Egypt.—Hebrew Bondage in Egypt.-Küsh, Stubble. -Burnt Brick and Brickkilns.—Manufacturing Establishments of the Khedive. -Ashes of the Furnace breaking into Boils and Blains.—Making Brick on the Nile.Ancient Bricks.-Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians.—Tower of Babel. - Houses in Native Villages.—The Sâkieh.
April 14th. A WALK through the streets this morning has not increased my respect for Ramleh. I got bewildered amongst narrow, crooked lanes which led nowhere in particular, and had a regular battle with dogs, hairless and mangy, until a one-eyed man drove them away, and guided me out of the perplexing labyrinth. Are the large mounds of gray rubbish that encumber some of the streets the ashes of soap factories?
They are, and they speak of an extensive business continued through many centuries. Similar heaps are found at Gaza, Jerusalem, and many other places; but by far the largest I have seen are at Edlib, south-west of Aleppo; and there, too, are the most
extensive olive-orchards in the country. I cannot account for these hills of ashes, except on the supposition that the kúly, alkali, used in the manufacture of soap has been very impure, leaving a large residuum to be cast out upon these heaps.
From whence is this kúly, and by what process is it manufactured ?
In Syria it is obtained mostly from the Arabs of the frontier deserts, where it is made by burning the glasswort and other saliferous plants that grow on those arid plains. The kůly resembles in appearance cakes of coarse salt, and it is generally adulterated with sand, earth, ashes, and other extraneous materials; and from them these tells of rubbish gradually accumulate around the places where soap is manufactured. The growth of these mounds, however, is so slow that it must have taken centuries for those at Edlib to reach their present size. The mineral alkali, called natron, found in Egypt, and employed from remotest antiquity for various purposes besides making soap, as we learn from Herodotus and other old authors, is not used in this country.
Both kinds of alkali are mentioned, I suppose, in the Bible. Jeremiah says of the degenerate Jews of his day, “Though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord God.” This borith, here translated soap, was, doubtless, some cleansing preparation of vegetable alkali, and the nitre was the mineral natron of Egypt. Malachi also speaks of “fullers' soap,” where the same word borith is used.' Solomon was acquainted with the natron of Egypt, and also with the fact that it effervesced violently when brought into contact with vinegar; and he says that this is like singing songs to a heavy heart. The wise king's own heart seems to have been in ‘an effervescing state when he indited his Ecclesiastical complaints and confessions.
These ash-heaps are extremely mischievous, for they not only add to the heat which renders Ramleh almost uninhabitable in summer, but, on the occurrence of the slightest wind, the air is filled with a fine, pungent dust, which is very injurious to the eyes. I once walked the streets counting all that were either blind or had Jer. ii. 22. ? Mal. iii. 2.
$ Prov. XXV. 20.
defective eyes, and it amounted to about one-half of the male population. The women I could not count, for they are more rigidly veiled in Ramleh than in any other town in this region. I never saw the faces of those in whose house I resided for a month. Whenever I had occasion to go out or come in, a servant or one of the sons always preceded me, calling out, “ Et tarîûk! et tariûk!" —the way! the way!—when the women fed and concealed themselves in their own apartments. But we must leave Ramleh ; and I fear we shall encounter a sirocco to-day, for there are premonitory puffs of hot air which rarely deceive.
Our camp for the coming night is to be at Ashdod, and the muleteers will go directly there; but we will follow for some distance east of Ramleh the carriage-road that leads up Wady 'Aly to Jerusalem, and then visit Ekron and other places in the intervening country.
I became entangled this morning in a net-work of these pricklypear hedges, and found some difficulty in escaping from it.
The cactus here grows to an extraordinary size, and forms a barrier around orchards and vegetable-gardens quite impenetrable not only to animals but even to robbers. Turn a little to the right, and you will see one of Ramleh's specialties.
Why, here is an immense, open cistern, with a score of lads swimming in it, while the water-carriers are filling their jars in the midst of the rollicking bathers! I hope the inhabitants are not compelled to use this loathsome water.
There are no fountains in Ramleh ; but some of the inhabitants have cisterns of their own, which are kept clean, and filled with rainwater from the roofs of their houses. Many, however, depend altogether upon this filthy cistern. I have pitched my tent on this grassy plateau east of the pool, and could then get no other water; and before we complete our travels we may find ourselves in places where even such a beverage as this will be our only resource. Let us now ride up through this grand old olive-grove to an elevated spot some distance to the south-east which commands an extensive view over the country.
This is truly a prospect of great rural beauty, and the site makes one long to traverse the plain in all directions.
Many similar scenes are in reserve for us, as we are about to enter a region crowded with Biblical and historic sites.
On the tower of Ramleh you described the road from Ludd to Jerusalem, but said nothing about this carriage-road by Wady ’Aly.
Because there is very little to say. It does not pass through a single Biblical site on this western side of the mountains. Gezer is a considerable distance south of it, and 'Amwâs to the north-east. Just at the entrance into Wady ’Aly is Lâtrôn, a wretched hamlet, the home, according to ecclesiastical tradition, of Disma, the penitent thief, who was crucified for robbing pilgrims and travellers in the wady, and hence the name Lâtrôn, or Ladrone, robber. During the Crusades it was an important military station, and its castle commanded the entrance into the wady. Since the completion of the carriage-road, a respectable station has been erected some distance above Lâtrôn; but from there to Kuryet el 'Enab— three weary hours—there is neither water nor any object of antiquity to attract attention, except the tomb of Imâm ’Aly, below Sârîs, from whom the valley takes its name. Kuryet el 'Enab for the last half century has had a bad notoriety as the residence of the mountainrobber, Abu Ghaush. We will visit it and other places in that neighborhood from the Holy City.
We are passing into a region quite different from that about Ramleh; the soil is sandy and barren, and the pathway descends quite rapidly towards the south. What is the name of that village immediately before us?
It is called 'Akir, and, no doubt, is the modern representative of Ekron.
Is it possible that the royal city of the Philistines has shrunk to this forlorn cluster of low earth-roofed hovels ?
Such is the fact; but though the village itself is squalid and the people rude, the wide valley below it is extremely fertile. I have ridden from Yebna to 'Akir in an hour and a half, through continuous fields of luxuriant wheat. It was in harvest-time, and the whole country was alive with merry reapers, and many Ekronites were threshing in the floors on the hill-side, north-west of the village. The scene reminded me of that extraordinary incident recorded in the sixth chapter of i Samuel. It must have been at
THE RETURN OF THE ARK.
the same season of the year when the ark set out from that place on its divinely guided return to the people of God; for “they of Beth-shemesh were reaping their wheat harvest in the valley: and they lifted up their eyes, and saw the ark, and rejoiced to see it."
“ The cart came into the field of Joshua, a Beth-shemite, and stood there, where there was
a great stone.''
The Ekronites adopted a very cunning device in order to ascertain
whether or not the pestilence that desolated their city was from the God of the Hebrews. “If it [the ark] goeth up by the way of his own coast to Beth-shemesh," they said, “then he has done us this great evil : but if not, then we shall know that it is not his hand that smote us; it was a chance that happened to us." 11 Sam. vi. 13.
i Sam. vi. 14.
i Sam. vi. 9.