« PreviousContinue »
EATING BLOOD-SYRIAN SHEEP.
How often are we reminded that it is through the blood of atonement alone that we can receive pardon and reconciliation with God. And it seems rash, to say the least, to venture needlessly upon the violation of a precept announced before the law was given, so often repeated, surrounded with so many sanctions, and suggestive of so much that should impress the heart with tenderest emotion and deepest reverence. And, finally, I believe that the apostolic council of Jerusalem solemnly reaffirms this prohibition, and with special reference to the Gentile Church. For once I am an Oriental, and, while I would not hastily judge him that eateth even blood, think they do better who refuse.
In your account of kibby, you mentioned the large tails of the sheep, which reminds me of an inquiry I have to make on this subject. Russell, in his history of Aleppo, says that these tails grow to a prodigious size, sometimes weighing fifty pounds, and that they require to be supported and defended from injury by thin boards, which have little wheels attached to them to facilitate transportation. My mother used to sing "little bo-peep” when I was a child, and of the sheep that “left their tails behind them"-a much more sensible custom than to drag them on little carriages “behind them.” But, seriously, what have you to say to this strange story? I have already seen at least a thousand "tails” since landing in Beirût, and have examined them carefully, both on the living animal and when dressed for the market, and I must say that Mr. Russell's statement seems somewhat apocryphal. None that I have yet noticed would weigh more than ten pounds.
A traveler can commit no greater error than to jump to the conclusion, soon after he arrives in a country, that nothing is possible but what he has seen. As to the particular matter in hand, Russell may have copied, not from observation, but from Herodotus. The "Father of history," however, strikes off in a bolder strain than the Aleppo chaplain deemed it safe to follow. “In Arabia," says he, “there are two kinds of sheep. One of them is remarkable for an
1 Acts xv. 20.
enormous length of tail, extending to three cubits, if not more. If they were permitted to trail them along the ground, they would certainly ulcerate from friction. But the shepherds of the country are skillful enough to make little carriages, upon which they secure the tails of the sheep.”— Thalia, 113.
As to the "boards” and the carriages,” I choose to say nothing, except that the thing is not absolutely impossible. But I have been to Aleppo repeatedly, and have inquired into this matter on the spot, yet could never hear of such an apparatus; nor have I found any sheep that needed, or would have known how to use such a locomotive. The rest of Mr. Russell's account is sufficiently accurate, and quite credible. These tails (or, as the Bible more correctly calls them, the rump) of ordinary sheep in the market do not weigh more than ten or fifteen pounds—about your own estimate—but when the sheep are well fattened, they grow to an enormous size. I have seen many in Lebanon so heavy that the owners could not carry them without difficulty, yet I never saw any that would weigh quite fifty pounds. Such a tail, however, is within the limits of possibility. The cooks use this mass of fat instead of Arab butter, and many prefer it, as it is fresh and sweet, while the other is often rancid. No doubt this is the “rump" so often mentioned in the Levitical sacrifices, which was to be taken off hard by the back-bone. It is, in fact, not properly a tail,
1 Ex. xxix. 22; Levit. iii. 9, and vii. 3, and ix. 19.
RED LEATHER WINDOWS.
but a mass of marrow-like fat, which spreads over the whole ruip of the sheep, and down the caudal extremity until near the end, which, as Russell says, turns back upon it in a kind of appendix.
Salîm led me through an entire street of shoe-shops this morning. Is the red leather which the shoemakers use the rams' skins dyed red, which formed one of the three covers of the tabernacle?
No doubt; and there is a definiteness in the name rams' skins which is worth noticing. From time out of mind the southern part of Syria and Palestine has been supplied with mutton from the great plains and deserts on the north, east, and south, and the shepherds do not ordinarily bring the females to market. The vast flocks which annually come from Armenia and Northern Syria are nearly all males. The leather, therefore, is literally rams' skins dyed red. It is pleasant to meet such perfect accuracy in the most incidental allusions and minute details of the Mosaic record.
Yes, it is indeed satisfactory to find every thing about this home of the Bible just as it should be; and the testimony seems all the stronger when the incident is so minute as to exclude the very possibility of design. Here is another illustration of the same kind. Your boy has just let down a basket through the window by the wall, to get oranges from this garden outside the city. So Paul tells the Corinthians, at the close of that long list of perils and persecutions which he had encountered, that he was let down through a window, in a basket, by the wall, when Aretas, the governor of Damascus, kept the city with a garrison, desirous to apprehend him.3
Certainly the illustration is entirely to the point, and there are seventeen windows of our house on the wall of the city, from any one of which we also could easily escape, as Paul did, if the governor of Sidon should watch the gates of the city to apprehend us.
In our visit to the consul to-day, did you notice the writing over the door and all round the room? 1 Ex. xxv. 5.
3 2 Cor. xi. 33.
2 Acts ix. 25.
I did; and it reminded me of the recommendation to the people of Israel: These words which I command thee this day, thou shall write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates. I was delighted to meet with this very ancient custom.
Moses probably did not originate, but, as in many other cases, merely availed himself of the custom, in order to keep the precepts of the Lord ever before the eyes and in the hearts of the people. Indeed, it is certain that the Egyptians observed a similar practice from the most remote antiquity. But, whatever may be its origin, it has been perpetuated down to the present day, and among all classes in this country. The Moslems are particularly fond of it. They never set up a gate, cover a fountain, build a bridge, or erect a house, without writing on it choice sentences from the Koran, or from their best poets. Christians also do the same. The consul, as you saw, has adorned his best room with a multitude of extracts from the Psalms, written in large characters, very much involved, which is considered particularly ornamental, and is, besides, a constant puzzle to exercise the skill of the visitor. Indeed, very few can decipher these intricate mazes of Arabic caligraphy. This custom is certainly not objectionable in itself, and may be useful at all times, but it was more appropriate when books were few, and only within the reach of the learned and the wealthy. Like every other good practice, however, it could be, and was, early perverted into a hurtful superstition. These sentences were and are inscribed as charms to keep off evil spirits, and to afford protection against disease and other calamities. The same is true of the customs referred to in the 8th verse: Thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thy hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes. These signs and frontlets, of every kind, whether engraved on signets, written on parchments, and inclosed in silver cases, or simply tattooed on the hands, the forehead between the eyes, or on other parts of the body, are universally regarded as charms possessing talismanic virtues. The Mos
1 Deut. vi. 9, and xi. 20.
lems, Nusairîeh, and Bedawîn Arabs attach great importance to them, and never venture abroad without them. But Moses certainly did not in any case, countenance superstition, and probably intended by these precepts to appropriate to a valuable purpose customs he could not eradicate, and ornaments which he could not induce the people to lay aside. We learn from Herodotus, and other ancient writers, that the people throughout all these countries were universally attached to such superstitions.
The Jews have always observed this precept, I suppose, but not always in the same way. In the times of their national prosperity, when they could act out their religion without fear of enemies, they literally engraved the “laws of the Lord” on their gate and door-posts. But for generations, no one knows how many, they have been in the habit of writing certain of these laws on small rolls of parchment, which they inclose in some sort of case, and insert into a niche made in the post, or in the plaster upon it. Even in cities like Safet and Tiberias, where the Jews are the majority, they still do the same, and, although the parchments are not absolutely hidden, yet they are so adjusted that it was not until after many years' residence in this country that I was aware of their existence, or knew where to find them. This parchment is called medzuzah, and the passages written are generally Deuteronomy vi. 4–9, and xi. 13-30. The ceremonies accompanying the operation are different in different places, sometimes puerile, always superstitious.
Come to the kiosk, and tell me what is going forward in the street.
That is a funeral procession, which, like most other things purely Oriental, is without order—a confused medley of men and boys, in all sorts of costume, rolling on somehow or other toward the cemetery. The only thing solemn about it is the low, sad monotone in which they chant that eternal truth, La illah illa Allah-no god but God, accompanied by that necessary lie, as Gibbon calls it, W'Muhammedhū russal Allah—and Mohammed is the prophet of God. This, and