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Jerusalem were tried experimentally on Jaffa. According to Josephus, eighty thousand of her inhabitants perished at one time. Yet Jaffa has survived. Her harbor, which is not really a harbor at all, but merely an anchorage, with a landing dangerous and uncertain, has still been sufficient to keep her the chief seaport of Judea.
There is another reason for Jaffa's survival. Beyond her hills lie the sacred cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The fields that knew Ruth and Benjamin and a man named Jesus lie also there. From Jaffa in every direction stretch lands made memorable by stories and traditions in which the God and the prophets of at least three religions are intimately concerned. So during long centuries Jaffa has been a holy gateway, and through its portals the tide of pilgrimage has never ceased to flow.
Some of us who were to put in full time in Egypt would have only a few days in the Holy Land, and we were off the ship presently, being pulled through the turquoise water by boatmen who sang a barbaric chorus as they bent over their huge, clumsy oars. Then we were ashore and in carriages, and in another moment were “jumping through Jaffa,” as one of the party expressed it, in a way that made events and landmarks fit together like the spokes of a wheel.
We visited the tomb of Dorcas, whom Peter raised from the dead, though for some reason we did not feel a positive conviction that it was the very tombperhaps because we did not have time to get up a conviction-and we called at the house of Simon the Tanner. It was with Simon, “whose house is by the seaside,” that Peter lodged when he had his “vision of tolerance,” in which it was made known to him that “God is no respecter of persons, but only of righteousness.” It is truly by the seaside, and there is an ancient tanner's vat in the court-yard. But I hope the place was cleaner when Peter lodged there than it is now. One had to step carefully, and, though it did not smell of a tanyard, it did of several other things. Many travellers, including Dean Stanley, have accepted this as the veritable house where Simon dwelt and St. Peter lodged. Those people ought to get together and have it cleaned up. I could believe in it then myself.
Jaffa, as a whole, could stand the scrub-brush and the hose. It is not “the beautiful” from within. It is wretchedly unbeautiful, though just as we were getting ready to leave it we did have one genuine vision. From the enclosures of the Greek Church we looked across an interminable orange-grove, in which the trees seemed mere shrubs, but were literally massed with golden fruit—the whole blending away into tinted haze and towering palms. No blight, no vileness, no inodorous breath, but only the dreamlit mist and the laden trees—the Orient of our long ago.
One might reasonably suppose that, as often as parties like ours travel over the railway that potters along from Jaffa to Jerusalem, there would be no commotion, no controversy with the officials—that the guard would only need to come in and check up our tickets and let us go. Nothing of the kind; every such 'departure as ours
is a function, an occasion—an entirely new proposition, to be considered and threshed out in a separate and distinct fashion. Before we were fairly seated in the little coach provided, dark-skinned men came in one after another to look us over and get wildly excited-over our beauty, perhaps; I could discover nothing else unusual about us. They would wave their hands and carry on, first inside and then on the platform, where they would seem to settle it. When they had paid us several visits of this kind, they locked us in and went away, and we expected to start.
Not at all; they came back presently and did it all over again, only louder. Then our dragoman appeared, and bloodshed seemed imminent. When they went away again he said it was nothing—just the usual business of getting started.
By-and-by some of us discovered that our bags had not been put on the train, so we drifted out to look for them. We found them here and there, with from two to seven miscreants battling over each as to which should have the piastre or two of baksheesh collectible for handing our things from the carriage to the train. Such is the manner of graft in the Holy Land. It lacks organization and does not command respect.
The station was a hot, thirsty place. We loaded up with baskets of oranges, the great, sweet, juicy oranges of Jaffa—the finest oranges in the world, I am sure—then we forgot all our delays and troubles, for we were moving out through the groves and gardens of the suburbs, entering the Plains of Sharon
"a fold for flocks, a fertile land, blossoming as the
That old phrase expresses it exactly. I have never seen a place that so completely conveyed the idea of fertility as those teeming, haze-haunted plains of Sharon. Level as a floor, the soil dark, loose, and loamy; here green with young wheat, there populous with labor-men and women, boys and girls, dressed in the old, old dress, tilling the fields in the old, old manner; flocks and herds tended by such shepherds as saw the Star rise over Bethlehem; girls carrying water - jars on their heads; camel trains swinging across the horizon - a complete picture of primal husbandry, it was—a vast allegory of increase. I have seen agricultural and pastoral life on a large scale in America, where we do all of the things with machinery and many of them with steam, and would find it hard to plough with a camel and a crooked stick; but I have somehow never felt such a sense of tillage and production-of communing with mother earth and drawing life and sustenance from her bosom-as came to me there crossing the Plains of Sharon, the garden of Syria.
It is a goodly tract for that country-about fifty miles long and from six to fifteen wide. The tribes of Dan and Manasseh owned it in the old days, and to look out of the car-window at their descendants is to see those first families that Joshua settled there, for they have never changed.
Our dragoman began to point out sites and landmarks. Here was the Plain of Joshua, where Samson made firebrands of three hundred foxes and destroyed
the standing corn of the Philistines. The tower ahead is at Ramleh, and was built by the crusaders nearly a thousand years ago — Ramleh being the Arimathea where lived Joseph, who provided the Saviour with a sepulchre. Also, it is said to be the place where in the days when Samuel judged Israel the Jews besought him for a king, and acquired Saul and the line of David and Solomon as a result. To the eastward lies the Valley of Ajalon, where Joshua stopped the astronomical clock for the only time in a million ages, that he might slaughter some remaining Amorites before dark.
We are out of the Plains of Sharon by this time, running through a profitless-looking country, mostly rock and barren, hardly worth fighting over, it would seem. Yet there were plenty of people to be killed here in the old days, and as late as fifteen hundred years after Joshua the Roman Emperor Hadrian slaughtered so many Jews at Bittir (a place we shall pass presently) that the horses waded to their nostrils in blood, and a stone weighing several pounds was swept along by the ruby tide. The guide told us this, and said if we did not believe it he could produce the stone.
Landmarks fairly overlap one another. Here, at Hill Gezer, are the ruins of an ancient city presented to Solomon by one of his seven hundred fathers-inlaw. Yonder at Ekron so much history has been made that a chapter would be required to record even a list of the events. Ekron was one of the important cities which Joshua did not capture, perhaps because he could not manage the solar system permanently.