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man halted so often for the tedious and unmeaning oriental salutation with his acquaintances upon the road, that we were obliged to charge him to “salute no man on the way;" plucking some ripe ears of wheat, he rubbed them between his hands and offered us the grain, saying, “eat, eat, good, good;" and thus the disciples lawfully plucked the ears of standing grain as they walked through the fields, and "did eat, rubbing them in their hands.” Our journey lay along the coast of Philistia, now made desolate by sand-drifts burying the soil, and choking the harbors; we came upon the ruins of Ashkelon, and found it “a desolation;" at evening we encamped at a thriving Arab village, near which was a “threshing floor,” and “ the oxen treading out the grain.” The Bible which we had already read with new delight upon the Nile, under the hoary monuments of Egypt, in the desert, and on the top of Sinai, was now rendered so fresh, so real, that we longed to convey to every Sabbath-school these first vivid impressions. Every Christian traveler in Palestine has a similar experience; and many recent travelers have contributed to the illustration of the Bible from their personal observations.
But the mere traveler, though he may possess the biblical learning and the annotating faculty of Robinson and Hackett, or the graphic pen of Stanley, can furnish few such illustrations, because he sees little of the domestic and social life of the people. For the complete elucidation of the Bible from the manners and customs of Palestine, it was necessary that one familiar with the Bible in its original tongues, familiar with the general topography and the chequered history of the country, familiar also with the Arabic language and the Arab character, should reside among the people long enough to become acquainted with all their customs, should travel over the land, (carefully and at different seasons,) should have a general knowledge of agriculture, botany, geology, and natural history, should be an intelligent and cautious observer, and a careful and conscientious reporter. All these qualifications are remarkably combined in Dr. W. M. Thomson, who has been for twenty-five years a Missionary of the American Board in Syria. Early in his missionary life Dr. Thomson
conceived the idea of illustrating the Bible from the manners and customs of Palestine, with special reference to Sabbathschools. In a quarter of a century he has made repeated tours of Palestine, and the fruits of his observation and study in this unique department of biblical interpretation are given in the two volumes before us. These volumes are profusely and beautifully illustrated with authentic engravings; and the letter-press itself is one series of pictorial illustrations. There is much in Dr. Thomson's book to enlighten the scholar and the antiquary; much to assist the minister and the Sabbathschool teacher, in the exposition of the Bible; and yet the work is written in a style so simple and engaging—an inartificial conversation between the author and the reader—that even children are attracted to its pages. We predict that it will become a household book of reference wherever the Bible is read.
From its innumerable illustrations of the Bible we can select but two or three. The following beautiful exposition of the story of Rebekah, is a good example of the style of the work:
“The preparation and outfit for this journey agree in all respects with the persons concerned, the nature of the country, and the habits of the people. Eliezer took ten camels loaded with provisions and presents; and such an expedition would not now be undertaken from Hebron with any other animals, nor with a less number. The diligent servant, no doubt, selected the most direct route, which would be through Palestine, along the west side of the Jordan and the lakes, into the Buk'ah, and out through the land of Hamath to the Euphrates, and thence to the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia. Such a journey is both long and dangerous, far beyond what is indicated to a Western reader by the brief statement that Eliezer arose and went into Mesopotamia ; but what befell him by the way we know not. The narrative leaps the whole distance, and so must we, with the simple assurance that the Lord God of Israel led him by the right way.
“Every phrase of the eleventh verse contains an allusion to matters Oriental. Arrived at the town of Nahor, he made his camels kneel down without the city by a well of water at the time of evening—the time that women go out to draw water. He made the camels kneel—a mode of expression taken from actual life. The action is literally kneeling ; not stooping, sitting, or lying down on the side like a horse, but kneeling on his knees, and this the camel is taught to do from his youth. The place is said to have been by a well of water, and this well was outside the city. In the East, where wells are scarce, and water indispensable, the existence of a well or fountain determines the site of the village. The people build near it, but prefer to have it outside the city,' to avoid the noise, dust, and confusion always occurring at it, and especially if the place is on the public highway. It is around the fountain that the thirsty traveler and the wearied caravan assemble; and if you have become separated from your own company before arriving at a town, you need only inquire for the fountain, and there you will find them. It was perfectly natural, therefore, for Eliezer to halt at the well. The time was evening ; but it is farther stated that it was when the women go forth to draw water. True to life again. At that hour the peasant returns home from his labor, and the women are busy preparing the evening meal, which is to be ready at sunset. Cool fresh water is then demanded, and of course there is a great concourse around the well. But why limit it to the women ? Simply because such is the fact. About great cities men often carry water, both on donkeys and on their own backs, but in the country, among the unsophisticated natives, women only go to the well or the fountain ; and often, when traveling, have I seen long files of them going and returning with their pitchers, “at the time when women go out to draw water.'
Again ; the description of Rebekah, the account she gives of herself, and the whole dialogue with Eliezer, agree admirably with Oriental customs. Even the statement as to the manner of carrying her pitcher, or rather jar, is exact-on her shoulder. The Egyptian and the negro carry on the head, the Syrian on the shoulder or the hip. She went down to the well; and nearly all wells in the East are in wadies, and many of them have steps down to the water—fountains of course have. Eliezer asks water to drink; she hastens and lets down the pitcher on her hand. How often have I had this identical act performed for myself, when traveling in this thirsty land! Rebekah's address to the 'servant,' Drink, my lord—Ishrub ya seedy—will be given to you in the exact idiom by the first gentle Rebekah you ask water from. But I have never found any young lady so generous as this fair daughter of Bethuel. She drew for all his camels, and for nothing, while I have often found it difficult to get my horse watered even for money. Rebekah emptied her pitcher into the trough—an article always found about wells, and frequently made of stone. The jewels, also, for the face, forehead, and arms, are still as popular among the same class of people as they were in the days of Abraham. Not only are the head, neck, and arms adorned with a profusion of gold and silver rings, chains, and other ornaments, but rings are suspended on the face, from the side of the nose, etc., etc.
“Laban's address, Come in, thou blessed of the Lord, is still in good taste. I have often been welcomed in set phrases even more complimentary and sacred. The camels, as appears from the 32d verse, were included in the invitation, and were brought into the house ; and I have often slept in the same room with these peaceful animals, in company with their owner and all his family. Straw and provender were given to them ; that is, tibn, and some kind of pulse or grain. There is no hay in the East. Water to wash the feet of the wearied travelers was of course given and the same kind act will be done to you under similar circumstances. So, also, the mode of negotiating the marriage contract, the presenting of gifts, etc, are all in perfect accordance with modern usages. The parents manage the whole affair, often, however, with the advice of the eldest son and heir, as Laban was in this case. And if the father be dead, the eldest son takes bis place, and assumes his authority in the disposal of his sisters. Presents are absolutely essential in betrothals. They are given with much ceremony before witnesses, and the articles presented are described in a written document, so that, if the match be broken off, the bridegroom can obtain them back again, or their value, and something more as a compensation for the injury.
“Finally, the behavior of Rebekah, when about to meet Isaac, was such as modern etiquette requires. It is customary for both men and women, when an emeer or great personage is approaching, to alight some time before he comes up with them. Women frequently refuse to ride in the presence of men, and when a company of them are to pass through a town, they often dismount and walk. It was, no doubt, a point of Syrian etiquette for Rebekah to stop, descend from her camel, and cover herself with a veil in the presence of her future husband. In a word, this Biblical narrative is so natural to one familiar with the East, so beautiful also, and life-like, that the entire scene seems to be an affair in which he has bimself been but recently an actor."*
Another fine example of this mode of illustrating Scripture is given in the various allusions to the shepherd, which Dr. Thomson thus groups together into one picture, making Lebanon its central scene.
"Owing to the wild wadies covered with dense forests of oak and underwood, the country above us has ever been a favorite range for sheep and goats. Those low, flat buildings out on the sheltered side of the valley are sheepfolds. They are called mârâh, and, when the nights are cold, the flocks are shut up in them, but in ordinary weather they are merely kept within the yard. This, you observe, is defended by a wide stone wall, crowned all around with sharp thorns, which the prowling wolf will rarely attempt to scale. The nimer, however, and fahed-the leopard and panther of this country—when pressed with hunger will overleap this thorny hedge, and with one tremendous bound land among the frightened fold. Then is the time to try the nerve and heart of the faithful shepherd. These humble types of Him who leadeth Joseph like a flock never leave their helpless charge alone, but accompany them by day, and abide with them at night. As spring advances, they will move higher up to other mârâhs and greener ranges; and in the hot months of summer they sleep with their flocks on the cool hights of the mountains, with no other protection than a stout palisade of tangled thornbushes. Nothing can be more romantic, Oriental, and even Biblical than this shepherd life far away among the sublime solitudes of goodly Lebanon. We must study it in all its picturesque details. See, the flocks are returning home as the evening draws on, and how pretty the black and spotted goats, with their large, liquid eyes, and long, pendent ears-now in bold relief on the rocks, now hid among the bushes, but all the while rolling along the hill side like a column of gigantic ants! If some sharp-witted Jacob should take all the spotted, ringstreaked, and speckled of these flocks, he would certainly get the lion's share ; nor do I wonder that the countenance of that money-loving father-in-law of his should not be toward him as yesterday and the day before. These bushy hills are the
Vol. II, pp. 404–406.
very best sheep-walks, and they are mostly abandoned to herds and flocks. They are now converging to this single point from all quarters, like the separate squadrons of an army. The shepherd walks before them, and they follow after, while the dogs that Job talks of bring up the rear. These Oriental shepherddogs, by the way, are not, like those in other lands, fine faithful fellows, the friend and companion of their masters, and fit to figure in poetry. This would not suit Job's disparaging comparison. They are a mean, sinister, ill-conditioned generation, kept at a distance, kicked about and half starved, with nothing noble or attractive about them. Still, they lag lazily behind the flocks, make a furious barking at any intruder among their charge, and thus give warning of approaching danger.
“As you mentioned at the Damûr the other day, I notice that some of the flock keep near the shepherd, and follow whithersoever he goes without the least hesitation, while others stray about on either side, or loiter far bebind; and he often turns around and scolds them in a sharp, stern cry, or sends a stone after them.
“Not altogether unlike the good shepherd. Indeed, I never ride over these hills, clothed with flocks, without meditating upon this delightful theme. Our Saviour says that the good shepherd, when he putteth forth his own sheep, goeth before them and they follow. This is true to the letter. They are so tame and 80 trained that they follow their keeper with the utmost docility. He leads them forth from the fold, or from their houses in the villages, just where he pleases. As there are many flocks in such a place as this, each one takes a different path, and it is his business to find pasture for them. It is necessary, therefore, that they should be taught to follow, and not to stray away into the unfenced fields of corn which lie so temptingly on either side. Any one that thus wanders is sure to get into trouble. The shepherd calls sharply from time to time to remind them of his presence. They know his voice, and follow on; but, if a stranger call, they stop short, lift up their heads in alarm, and, if it is repeated, they turn and filee, because they know not the voice of a stranger. This is not the fanciful costume of a parable; it is simple fact. I have made the experiment repeatedly. The shepherd goes before, not merely to point out the way, but to see that it is practicable and safe. He is armed in order to defend his charge, and in this he is very courageous. Many adventures with wild beasts occur not unlike that recounted by David, and in these very mountains; for, though there are now no lions here, there are wolves in abundance; and leopards and panthers, ex. ceeding fierce, prowl about these wild wadies. They not unfrequently attack the flock in the very presence of the shepherd, and he must be ready to do battle at a moment's warning. I have listened with intense interest to their graphic descriptions of downright and desperate fights with these savage beasts. And when the thief and the robber come, (and come they do,) the faithful shepberd has often to put his life in his hand to defend bis flock. I have known inore than one case in which he had literally to lay it down in the contest. A poor faithful fellow last spring, between Tiberias and Tabor, instead of fleeing, actually fought three Bedawîn robbers until he was hacked to pieces with their khanjars, and died among the sheep he was defending.
“Some sheep always keep near the shepherd, and are his special favorites. Each of them has a name, to which it answers joyfully, and the kind shepherd is