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SABBATIC RIVER-ITS POSITION.
nea. It hath somewhat very peculiar in it, for when it runs its current is strong and has plenty of water, after which its springs fail for six days together, and leave its channel dry, as any one may see; after which days it runs on the seventh as it did before, and as though it had undergone no change at all. It has also been observed to keep this order perpetually and exactly, whence it is that they call it the Sabbatic River, that name being taken from the sacred seventh day of the Jews.” So much for Josephus. Pliny also, in his natural history, very likely refers to the same river: "In Judeah rivus, Sabbatis omnibus siccatur.” This makes it rest every seventh day, according to the fourth commandment. Pliny, however, knew less of the actual phenomena of the river than Josephus, and, in order to make it a consistent Jew, required it to rest on the seventh day.
The translator of Josephus says that this famous river is extinct, and in this opinion the learned Reland concurs. Niebuhr, the celebrated Danish traveler, having discovered an independent tribe of Jews residing in Arabia, says, The circumstances of this settlement have perhaps given rise to the fable of the Sabbatic River. What those circumstances were he does not mention, nor is it easy to understand how he could venture to write such a sentence. He may have had some fable of the Talmud in his mind at the time. I discovered this river and its source in 1840. Let us return to, and examine the quotation from Josephus. From Beirût Titus marched northward to Zeugma, on the Euphrates. On his march he saw this river running between Arca, in the kingdom of Agrippa, and Raphanea. The mention of Agrippa's kingdom probably induced most travelers to look for the Sabbatic River somewhere in the south of Palestine, where it is not to be found, although there are traces of ancient cities in that region, with names similar to those of Arca and Raphanea. But the kingdom of Agrippa did actually extend, at one time, as far north, I believe, as the River Eleutherus, and therefore included Arca. rate, the account requires that we search for the Sabbatic
River between Arca and Raphanea, and there I found it. Arca, the capital of the Arkites, lies about half a day's ride to the northeast of Tripoli, and between it and Hamath, on the east of Jebel Akkar, is the site of Raphanea. A short distance west of Kŭlaet Húsn is the great convent of Mar Jirius, and in the wady below it is a fountain called Nebâ el Fûârr, which throws out, at stated intervals, an immense volume of water, quite sufficient to entitle it, in this country, to the dignified name of river. This site answers to the description of Josephus in all respects, but there are some discrepancies between the actual phenomena of this fountain and his Sabbatic River which require explanation.
In the first place, this Nebâ el Fùârr is now quiescent two days, and active on a part of the third. The account which the monks gave me of the matter was, that every third day St. George descends and forces out the water with great violence and loud noise, to irrigate the extensive plantations of this richest Syrian convent. The cave out of which the river flows is at the base of a hill of limestone, entangled in a vast formation of trap rock. It was a day of rest when I examined it, but evidently a large volume of water had rushed along the bed of the river only a few hours before. Now Josephus says that it rested six days and ran on the seventh; but Pliny makes it run six and rest on the seventh. At present it rests two days and runs on the third. These discrepancies admit of a probable explanation. Both historians appear to have depended upon report, and did not carefully examine the facts of the case for themselves. The numbers in both versions of the story were adopted in order to connect this singular phenomenon with the Sabbatic division of time, and it is not necessary to suppose that either of them was strictly accurate; if, however, we must admit that one or other was literally exact, the difference between the periods of resting and running eighteen hundred years ago and at present may still be accounted for.
It is well known that these intermitting fountains are merely the draining of subterranean reservoirs of water on the principle of the siphon. Let A in our diagram repre
sent such a reservoir, filled by the veins DEF. Let S be the siphon, which, of course, must begin at the bottom of the pool, rise over the elevation at C, and end in the wady at B-lower than the bottom of the pool. Now the condition necessary to make the stream intermit is that the capacity of the siphon be greater than the supply from DEF. If the supply were greater, or exactly equal to this capacity, the pool would be always full, and there could be no intermission. The periods of intermission and the size of the stream depend upon the size of the pool A, the supply from DEF, and the calibre of the siphon S. If it required six days for DEF to fill the pool, and the siphon
could exhaust it in one, we have the conditions required by
If the account of Josephus was strictly true when he
wrote, one of the following changes must have taken place during the eighteen hundred years which have since elapsed. Either the supply from DEF has increased so as to fill the pool in two days and a half instead of six, and the capacity of the siphon so enlarged as to exhaust this treble supply in half the time he mentions, or, the supply and the siphon remaining the same, the reservoir itself must have been reduced to about one third of its former capacity. The former supposition is not probable in itself, and is discountenanced by the fact that the amount of water was then so great that Josephus calls it a river, and it can only obtain that title now by courtesy. But we can readily admit that the pool may have become partly filled up by the falling in of its superincumbent roof of rock.
If Pliny was correct, then either the supply must be greatly diminished, or the reservoir much enlarged; for, according to his statement, it required but one day of rest to fill it, while now it takes two days and a half. Either of these hypothetical changes is possible, but none are very probable, nor are we obliged to resort to any of them. I suppose the Sabbatic River was always nearly what we find the stream below Mar Jirius now to be. The vagueness of general rumor, the love of the ancients for the marvelous, and a desire to conform this natural phenomenon to the Jewish division of time, will sufficiently account for the inaccuracies of these historians.
This account of the Sabbatic River furnishes the explanation of many similar fountains and streams in Syria. As stated above, the source of the Litany at 'Anjur is a remitting fountain of a very peculiar character. A constant stream issues from the pool; but there are frequent and vast augmentations in the volume of water, occurring at irregular periods, sometimes not more than twice in a day, while at others these augmentations take place every few hours. So, also, one of the largest fountains of the 'Aujah (the second river of Damascus) has singular intermissions, accompanied by loud noises, and other strange phenomena, on the return of the water. In Lebanon there are likewise fount
ains which either entirely intermit at stated periods, or are subject to partial remissions. Such, too, is the Fountain of the Virgin, in the valley of Jehoshaphat. All such instances can be explained by supposing either that the entire stream is subject to this siphonic action, as at the Sabbatio River and at Menbej, or that the constant regular stream is at times augmented by tributary intermitting fountains, as at Anjar and Siloam.