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This region, to a traveller coming from the desert south of it, breaks upon the eye with a charming effect, especially in the spring season, when it is usually covered over with flowers of brilliant dyes springing up among the rich herbage; the whole landscape being the more striking from contrast with the barrenness and the dreariness of nature among which he has been so long time journeying. That very accurate observer, Dr. Robinson, describes his approach to Beersheba in a manner which will give us a very good idea of the place and of the approach to it from the south. He had been travelling for many days over the desert, where the only variety to its monotonous wastes was an occasional mirage, taunting the travellers with the appearance of lakes and herbage which disappeared as they advanced. At length, on April 10th, they came to some shrubs and vegetation in a basin where a thin, meagre grass was springing up in various places. “Such spots as these," he remarks, "we had not seen or heard of since passing Wady Ghurundel on the Gulf of Suez.” As they now advanced, the country around became gradually more open, with broad valleys separated by low, swelling hills. Grass increased in the valleys, and herbs were sprinkled over the hills. “We heard this morning, for the first time, the songs of many birds, and among them the lark.” Of their journey on the 11th he says: “Our path now led over a hill and down another small valley running nearly E.N.E. toward a wide and open country, which spread itself out on every side with swelling hills, but no mountains as far as the eye can reach. Herbs were abundant, but the scanty grass was withered and parched ” [the season was unusually dry]. Proceeding, “we halted at a fine well, surrounded with several drinking troughs of stone for watering camels and flocks. The well is circular, eight or ten feet in diameter, and twentyseven to the surface of the water." Leaving this, “our path led for a time over sandy hills sprinkled with herbs and shrubs, but with little grass.” “As we advanced (April 12th] the loose sand ceased, and the country exhibited more grass mingled with herbs. Our road thus far had been among swelling hills of moderate height. We now began to ascend others, higher but of the same general character. The herbs of the desert began to disappear, and the hills were thickly covered with grass, now dry and parched. The ascent was long and gradual. We reached the top at a quarter past one, and looked out before us over a broad, level tract, beyond which our eyes were greeted with the first sight of the mountains of Judah, south of Hebron, which skirted the open country and bounded the horizon in the east and northeast. We felt that the desert was at an end. Descending gradually, we came at two o'clock upon an open, undulating country; the shrubs ceased, or nearly so; green grass was seen along the lesser water-courses, and almost green sward, while the gentle hills, covered in ordinary seasons with
green pastures, were now burnt over with drought. Arabs were pasturing their cattle in various parts, but no trace of dwellings was to be seen. At a quarter to three o'clock we reached Wady es Seba, a wide water-course or bed of a torrent running here W.S.W. toward Wady es Suny. Upon its northern side, close upon the bank, are two deep wells, still called Bir-es-Seba, the ancient Beersheba. We had entered the borders of Palestine!
“The wells are some distance apart; are circular, and stoned up very neatly with solid masonry, apparently much more ancient than the wells at Abdeh (just passed). The larger one is twelve and a half feet in diameter, and forty-four and a half to the surface of the water, sixteen of which at the bottom are excavated in the solid rock. The other well lies fifty-five rods W. S. W., and is fifteen feet in diameter and forty-two feet deep. The water in both is pure and sweet, and in great abundance; the finest indeed we had seen since
leaving Sinai. Both wells are surrounded with drinking troughs of stone for camels and flocks. The curbstones were deeply worn by the attrition of ropes."
Van de Velde saw this region in a more favorable season, and he wrote, “Nothing has so much surprised me as the lovely herbage with which this extensive, undulating, sandy plain is clothed (April 1st]. Sand is not now to be seen at all; all is
and flowers. .. At 9 A. M. we reached the wells of Beersheba. They are five in number, narrow at the opening, and deep. They form, as it were, a group of wells in a shallow dry bed of a stream.”
On an evening such as we have described, in those ancient times, the aged chief of the tribe then occupying this region gazed over this scene of plain and hill, where his numerous retainers were bringing in the herds to the wells for refreshment and for the protecting night-shelter at home. There was an outspoken joyousness in these attendants; for, as we shall soon observe, the nomads have their own peculiar times of mirth, have their songs and their poets gifted with the power of impromptu effusions, their musical instruments and performers, their treasures of unwritten history and genealogies, their thrilling stories of present adventure or of love, and their peculiar sensibilities to love itself;-all which, as they come in from their solitary, scattered employments through the day, make a double enjoyment in these evening gatherings at the tents, or in the congregated movements incident to their changes of camping-place. So this evening, as they came from far and near, the shouts of herdsmen and their song, the sounds of musical pipes and laughter and gaiety, the lowing of herds and the bleating of flocks, all mingled in a pleasant harmony and suited well the scene, where nature in its sky, now changing to amethystine hues, and its sun tipping all objects with a mild glory, and its welcomings to approaching rest, seemed itself to have a gentle, quiet joy.
But the merriment among these thickening groups had a somewhat subdued, although not on that account a less pleasing, cast, when they saw the figure of their chief; and, if in some it was quite hushed, it gave way to a more pleasurable, because more affectionate, sentiment. For all loved the aged patriarch. His character was indeed a very peculiar one, and well adapted to produce great respect and affection, and also a feeling deepening into veneration. They knew him to be brave and skilful in battle; for, although mostly a man of peace and quiet, even to the sacrifice of his own interests, he had on one occasion armed them and led them to war for the relief of friends and neighbors carried off for slavery, and had defeated the enemy superior in numbers and put them to flight; and he had afterward refused any requital to himself. His hospitality was always free and large, and his tribe felt that they were honored by it. He was manly, simple, affectionate in disposition, and had a religious sentiment pervading his feelings and actions in a very remarkable degree. This latter, indeed, was so strong a characteristic, that his adherents would have looked upon him with awe approaching to fear, if there had not been with it a gentleness and manliness which drew all to him, and blended with their reverential regard a feeling also of deep affection and attachment.
His history, as communicated to them, was a peculiar one. He was from a distant region, and, they were told, had come hither by divine command. He was also said now to have communications with the Deity, whether by voice or dreams is not known; but he believed in them, so far as to make them the rule of his life. For this reason he had come from his own country, and he was called now “The Hebrew,""} perhaps from Heber, " to cross over,” in consequence of his having come from beyond the great river, the Euphrates. So he was an exotic in his present residence; and his belief in the truth of the divine command was shown by his planting himself here among strangers, led as he said by that Superior Will made manifest to him. People listened and wondered ; and even the idolatrous rulers of the country, with whom he came in contact, impressed by his sincerity of belief and by his strong points of character, treated him with great respect.
1 Gen. xiv. 13. In the Septuagint, this passage reads Abram mepårns, "Abram who came over."
On this evening, however, while the vast, busy life invited on every side the chief's gratified regard, these were yet constantly attracted from the moving panorama toward his son-we might almost say his only son, for another one, older, had been banished from his home. And this son, standing now near the tent, was one who might well engross a father's attention and love. The young man—for although twenty-five years old,' he was in those days considered almost a youth-had in himself no very strong traits of character, certainly nothing corresponding to the greatness of the father; but a mysterious greatness connected with the supernatural belonged to him and his future; and the father's eye, while seemingly resting on the youth, saw through him, far onward in time, a wonderful glory, compared with which all this brilliant radiance now filling the evening air was but the veriest dimness itself.
The father of whom we have been speaking was the patriarch Abraham; and the son was Isaac. An older Ishmael, was a wanderer, sent off from home in consequence of female jealousy within the tent by which the old man was standing. The spectacle which we have just been contemplating—the father and Isaac—is one which we may very well stop to gaze at, and before which all other objects in that landscape lose their comparative interest. Was Abraham
1 On authority of Josephus, Antiq. I. 13 & 2.