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TRAVELS IN PALESTINE.
(From Notes of a Visit to that Country)
NaBlous, or Nâbulus, is a large and flourishing town, containing a population of probably not less than 8,000 inhabitants. It is a place of considerable importance, not only from its relative magnitude, but likewise from the central position it occupies in a country so thinly peopled as Palestine.
It is a great change of scene on coming into Nablous, and contrasting it with the solitary places through which the traveller must previously have passed, from whatever quarter he may have approached the town; and this remark is especially applicable when approaching it from the north, namely, from Galilee. As I rode through the Bazaars, the numerous shops or stalls on both sides of the long narrow avenues, or thoroughfares, through which I passed, appeared to be well supplied with commodities.
The Bazaars here were the most extensive and busy-looking by far of any town I had yet seen in Palestine. Nablous is an ancient town, and here and there might be seen evidences of its antiquity, in a broken column or other fragment of old date. The streets are arched over in some places, and the houses are built over them; thus they form vaulted or covered ways, which wear, however, a
gloomy aspect, as the traveller passes throngh them. Nablous is celebrated for the manufacture of a peculiar kind of sweetmeat, called sesame, which is held in high repute. It is so called, from the oil of sesame constituting one of its ingredients. I paid a visit to the Samaritan Synagogue, and saw an ancient MS. copy of the Pentateuch, which the Rabbi, or high priest, brought out and placed on a stand for my inspection : he unrolled the volume a little, and appeared very careful of the treasure committed to his custody. The synagogue is but a small building, though probably of considerable antiquity. The Samaritan community it seems does not now amount to more than 40 or 50 persons; their number too is gradually decreasing ; so that the Samaritans will, at no distant period, most likely become extinct as a sect. Four times a year they go up to Mount Gerizim in solemn procession to worship. These seasons are : The Feast of the Passover, when they pitch their tents upon the mountain all night, and sacrifice seven lambs at sunset; the day of Pentecost; the Feast of Tabernacles, when they sojourn here in booths built of branches of the arbutus; and lastly, the great day of Atonement in autumn. They still maintain their ancient hatred against the Jews; accuse them of departing from the law, in not sacrificing the Passover, and in various other points, as well as of corrupting the ancient text; and scrupulously avoid all connection with them. They appear to be the last isolated remnant of a remarkable people, clinging now for more than two thousand years around this central spot of their religion and history, and lingering slowly to decay, after having survived the many revolutions and convulsions, which in that long interval have swept over this unhappy land; a reed continually shaken with the wind, but bowing before the storm.
At Nablous, I met with Yakoob, or Jacob-esh-Shellabi, a wellknown member of the Samaritan synagogue, and the same indivi. dual, who some years ago, descended to the bottom of Jacob's Well, and by that means ascertained its depth.
A sad occurrence took place here about a year or somewhat more before my visit to Nablous. An American missionary it seems was met by a Mohammedan, who begged alms of him, and while doing so, he approached too near the gun which the Missionary carried with him, the consequence was, it accidentally went off, and shot the man, and was the occasion of his death. As it happened altogether unintentionally, no one could regret the lamentable result which ensued more than the Missionary himself. But it excited the rage of the Mohammedan population of Nablous to such a degree, that they were determined to be revenged on the Christians. They
attacked a young man, a seryant of the Missionary, and beat him most severely about the head, but by some means or other he escaped with his life, and afterwards went to reside in Jerusalem, where subsequently I saw and conversed with him on the sad affair, The Missionary himself providentially escaped, but much of the Mission property was destroyed.
The present town of Nablous is said to stand near, or on, the site of the ancient city of Sichem, or Shechem, of the Old Testament, or Sychar, as it is called in the New. It was here that God first appeared to Abraham, after his entrance into the land of Canaan ; and here “he builded an altar unto the Lord, who appeared unto him."-(Gen. xii. 7.) The city took its name from Shechem, the son of Hamor the Canaanite ; and near to it is the parcel of ground which Jacob bought at the hand of the children of Hamor, " for an hundred pieces of money,” and where he erected an altar to the living God.-(Gen. xxxiii. 19, 20.) Hither Joseph's bones were brought out of Egypt to be buried; (Josh. xxiv. 32 ;) here the patriarchs tended their flocks; (Gen. xxxvii. 12;) here, on the entrance of the Israelites into the Promised Land, God commanded six of the tribes to be stationed on Mount Gerizim, and six on Mount Ebal; the former to pronounce blessings on the obedient, the latter to denounce curses against the disobedient.—(Deut. ii. 29; xxvii. 12; Josh. viii. 33.) And here also is Jacob's Well, whereon our Lord, being wearied with His journey, sat down to rest Himself, when He held the memorable conversation with the woman of Samaria.—(John iv.) Shechem fell to the tribe of Ephraim, and was given to the Levites, and was a city of refuge; and here Joshua, just before his death, convened the Hebrews, to give them a solemn charge.
Shechem was twice destroyed ; first, by the sons of Jacob, who, in revenge for the violation of their sister Dinah, slew all the male inhabitants, including Hamor and Shechem, and spoiled their city; (Gen. xxxiv.); and again, 500 years after, by Abimelech, the son of Gideon, who slew all the inhabitants of the city, “ beat it down, and sowed it with salt": that is, he entirely demolished and razed it to the ground. (Judges ix.) It appears, however, to have revived before the time of Rehoboam, as that monarch was here proclaimed king over Israel. After the defection of the ten tribes, it was still further improved by Jeroboam, who made it his residence, and the capital of the kingdom of Israel. Shechem did not, however, retain this honour long; the royal residence being successively transferred to Penuel, Tirzah, and Samaria. On the expulsion of the Samaritans from Samaria by Alexander, for their having killed Andromachus, the governor of Syria, they took refuge in Shechem, which has been their chief seat ever since.
About forty years after the death of Christ, Shechem was considerably enlarged and beautified by the Emperor Vespasian, who gave it the name of Neapolis, (the new city, which has since been corrupted into Naplous, Nablous, or Napolose, as it is now variously designated. Next to Jerusalem, this is, perhaps, one of the most interesting spots in the Holy Land. It is worthy of notice, that whilst Capernaum, and the other opulent cities on the shores of the Lake of Tiberias, in which the ministry and the mighty works of Christ were rejected, are now in ruins, and these so greatly defaced that it is scarcely possible for the traveller to ascertain their sites, Sychar, where our Lord was kindly received, is still a flourishing town. The charming situation of this place, and the rich beauty of the vale, watered with numerous rivulets, and overshadowed by the twin heights of Ebal and Gerizim, have excited the wonder of all travellers, and furnished them with a theme on which they are never weary of expatiating.
Ismail being ready with the horses, we took our departure from Nablous towards Jerusalem. We went along the valley and passed by Jacob's Well into the fine open plain in which it is situated: this plain took us some time to traverse. Our journey, however, was not all plain sailing, or rather plain travelling: during our ride we had some rough, stony ground to get over in several places. We had some remarkable hills in sight; the plains too claimed notice, on account of their fine even surface, and for the marks of cultiva. tion some of them exhibited.
Palestine is a very mountainous country, and this portion of it through which we were travelling, afforded abundant evidence of the fact. Hill after hill, or rather, mountain after mountain, were passed as we proceeded. Many of these mountain-tops, from the rotundity of their shape, present a great uniformity, as I frequently had occasion to observe; they do not rise into peaks, but are rounded off in a remarkable manner. But there are plains and valleys, as well as mountains and hills to be seen here: “it is a land of hills and valleys."-(Deut. xi., 11:) and these valleys present many interesting features. The retirement and shelter they afford, as they lie deep beneath the mountain sides, and the deep rich soil underlying them, much of it probably having been swept off long since from the mountains by the winds of heaven, are characteristics belonging to them, which ought not to be overlooked ; and if they were but sufficiently irrigated and cultivated, if, indeed, the land were again what it once was, “a land of brooks
of water, of fountains and depths, that spring out of valleys and hills," how fruitful, and how goodly and pleasant a land, by the blessing of God, might the country again become! When the wicked Canaanites had possession of the land, it brought forth in such abundance, that “the men which Moses sent to spy out the land,” were constrained on their return to say, It is a good land which the Lord our God doth give us."-(Deut. i. 25.) “For the Lord thy God bringeth thee into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths that spring out of valleys and hills; a land of wheat and barley, and vines, and fig-trees, and pomegranates; a land of oil olives, and honey."—(Deut. viii. 7, 8.) But it is no longer what it once was, " the glory of all lands," in this respect. A blight, physical as well as moral, has been sent upon it for the wickedness of them that dwelt therein. In the emphatic language of Scripture, it was once "a land which God Himself cared for :"
“ A land of corn, and wine, and oil,
With ev'ry blessing blest.” It would be unjust, therefore, to estimate its former capabilities from its present appearance, as it is now under the curse of God, and its general barrenness is in full accordance with prophetic denunciation. The Israelite in our street, whose appearance was delineated with graphic precision by Moses more than three thousand years ago, is not a surer evidence of the inspiration of the Bible, than the land as it now exists; and the prophecies concerning it have been so literally fulfilled that they may now be used as actual history. "Your high-ways shall be desolate.
I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation. And I will bring the land into desolation : and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.
Then shall the land enjoy her Sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest and enjoy her Sabbaths.”—(Leviticus xxvi.) “The land shall be utterly emptied, and utterly spoiled.
Upon the land of my people shall come up thorns and briers." — (Isaiah xxiv., xxxii.) "I beheld, and lo, the fruitful place was a wilderness, and all the cities thereof were broken down at the presence of the Lord, and by His fierce anger. For thus hath the Lord said, The whole land shall be desolate."-(Jeremiah iv. 26, 27.)
There are prophecies, however, of another description, that present visions of hope to the now abject Jew, and which are too important to be passed by without notice. “And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people, which shall be left, from