Page images

vated temples were known in Egypt. The character of the front of the beautiful Khúzneh, is decidedly that of a temple. So also was, probably, the structure described by Irby and Mangles, as having arched substructions built up in front, and afterwards used as a Christian church.

Dr. Robinson and Mr. Smith visited the Dead Sea on two occasions ; in the first instance, carefully examining the western shore from Ain Jidy (Engeddi) to Jericho and the entrance of the Jordan ; and in the second case, visiting the southern end, in their journey up the Ghôr and the Arabah to Wady Mûsa.

We select some interesting facts, respecting this Sea, from various parts of the “Researches."

The whole length of the Dead Sea is about fifty English miles. The length appears to vary not less than two or three miles in different years, or seasons of the year, according as the water extends up, more or less, upon the flats towards the south. The bed of the Dead Sea is only a portion of the Ghôr, or great valley, which here retains its usual breadth, and does not spread out into an oval form, as is the case around the Lake of Tiberias. The breadth, at Ain Jidy, was estimated at eleven or twelve miles. At the same point the height of the western cliffs was judged to be fifteen hundred feet; and that of the highest ridges of the eastern mountains, lying back from the shore, at from two thousand to two thousand five hundred feet above the water. The Sea lies in its deep caldron, surrounded by lofty cliffs of naked limestone rock, and exposed for seven or eight months in each year to the unclouded beams of a burning sun. Nothing but sterility and death-like solitude can be looked for upon its shores, except in those parts where there are fountains or streams of fresh water. The stories, so long current, of the pestiferous nature of the Dead Sea and its waters, are merely fabulous. The coasts of the Sea have been inhabited from time immemorial, and are yet so in a degree. The Arabs, who accompanied Dr. Robinson, had never seen or heard of any noxious vapor arising from its bosom. The burning heat of the climate is, in itself, unhealthy ; and, in connexion with the marshes, gives rise in summer to frequent intermittent fevers. Many circumstances testify to the volcanic nature of the whole region. The buoyancy of the waters of the sea is owing to the great specific gravity of the water, arising from the heavy solution of various salts contained in it, chiefly those of magnesia and soda. According to the testimony of all antiquity, and of most modern travellers, there exists within the waters of the Dead Sea no living thing, — no trace, indeed, of animal or vegetable life. “Our own experience,” says Dr. Robinson, goes to confirm the truth of this testimony. We perceived no sign of life within the waters.” The shells, which travellers have met with, were probably those of land animals or, if they belonged to the lake, they existed only near the mouth of the Jordan, where there is a large intermixture of fresh water. At the south end of the Sea is a mountain, the whole body of which is a solid mass of rock-salt. The ridge is in general very uneven and rugged, varying from one hundred to one hundred and fifiy feet in height. The very stones beneath the feet of the travellers were pure salt.

This continued to be the character of the mountain, more or less distinctly marked, through its whole length, - about five geographical miles. The existence of this immense mass of fossil salt, accounts for the excessive saltness of the Dead Sea.

In the vicinity of this mountain lay, doubtless, the City of Salt,” where the Hebrews, on two occasions, gained decisive victories over Edom.

It has been commonly assumed, that the Dead Sea has existed only since the destruction of Sodom, as recorded in Genesis ; and the favorite hypothesis of late years had been, that the Jordan, before that iime, had flowed into the Elanitic branch of the Red Sea, the Gulf of Akabah, leaving the present bed of the Dead Sea a fertile plain. But this obviously could not have been the case. On the contrary, the waters of the Arabah itself, and also those of the high western desert, south of the Akabah, all flow north into the Dead Sea.* Every circumstance goes to show, that a lake must have existed in this plain, into which the Jordan poured its waters, long before the catastrophe of Sodom. It is very manisest, that the main features in the configuration of this region, are coëval with the present condition of the surface of the earth in general, and not the effect of any local catastrophe at a subsequent period. It should seem, also, that the Dead Sea ancienily covered a less extent of surface than at present. The cities which were destroyed, must have been situated on the south of the lake as it then existed; for Lot fied to Zoar, wbich was near to Sodom, and Zoar lay almost

* See also North American Review, Vol. XLVIII. p. 221.

at the southern extremity of the present sea. The fertile plain of Sodom, therefore, lay also south of the lake “ as thou comest to Zoar.” "It was well watered, like the land of Egypt.” So more streams now Aow into the valley at the south end of the Sea, from wadys of the eastern mountains, than are 10 be found so near together in all Palestine. In the same plain were “slime-pits,” wells of bitumen or asphaltum, which appear to have been of considerable extent. Did these disappear in consequence of the catastrophe of the plain ?

The southern part of the Dead Sea has a remarkable configuration. There is a long and singular peninsula connected with the eastern shore by a broad, low neck; the bay extending up further south, is, in many parts, very shallow ; while beyond, there are low, flat shores, over which the lake, when swollen by the rains of winter, sets up for several miles. The whole of this part of the Sea is like the winding estuary of a large American river, when the tide is out and the shoals are dry. Masses of asphaltum, floating in the Sea, sometimes appear suddenly ; a phenomenon occurring at the present day only rarely, and immediately after earthquakes, and confined, as it should seem, to the southern part of the Sea.

“In the view of all these facts,” says Dr. Robinson, "there is but a step to the obvious hypothesis, that the 'fertile plain of Sodom' is now occupied in part by the southern bay ; and that, by some convulsion of nature, connected with the miraculous destruction of the cities, either the surface of this plain was scooped out, or the bottom of the sea was heaved up, so as to cause the waters to overflow and cover permanently a larger tract than formerly. In either case it would follow, that the sources of bitumen would, in like manner, be covered by the sea; and the slimy substance becoming hardened and fixed by contact with the waters, might be expected to rise occasionally, and float upon the surface of this heavy flood.” Ibid. p. 604.

The country is subject to earthquakes, and exhibits also frequent traces of volcanic action. It would have been no uncommon effect of either of these causes, to heave up the bottom of the ancient lake, and thus produce the phenomenon in question. The historical account implies also the agency of fire. Perhaps both causes were at work ; for volcanic action and earthquakes go hand in hand, and the accompanying electric discharges usually cause lightnings to play and thunders to roll. In this way we have all the phe

nomena, which the most literal interpretation of the sacred records can demand. * We regret

that we cannot proceed further in the presentation of these deeply interesting facts and observations. We would gladly follow our learned and indefatigable country men in their discoveries in the “ South country," where the five lords of the Philistines once ruled, in the sacred places around the holy city, in the unvisited region of Bethel and Ai, in their wanderings to “ Jacob's well," in their ascent of Gerisim and Tabor, and in the graphic details of their visit to the lake of Galilee, the " sea-coasts” of Zebulon, and the “ haven of ships” of Asher ; but we must forbear.

The disproportion between the size of these volumes (almost two thousand octavo pages,) and the brief time employed in the researches, may strike the reader as a serious objection; as implying the introduction of irrelevant matters, or the employment of a common device of a mere book-maker. But to such an objection there are several satisfactory replies. In the first place, instead of being the basty result of a six months' ramble, they may be viewed as the well-considered conclusions of six years' observations. These journals are made up in part from Mr. Smith's notes. That gentleman, as we have before stated, had been long a resident in the Holy Land ; the vernacular language of which, he could use with the utmost readiness. He had before travelled in Egypt; had crossed the great desert in various routes ; had followed Burckhardt's steps in the countries on the east of the Jordon; had traversed Mount Lebanon, and the hills and valleys between it and Damascus in every direction ; and had kept notes of these various journeys. With such a companion, Dr. Robinson had advantages which no other traveller in Palestine has enjoyed. From this circumstance alone, bis researches must have been followed with rich fruits. In consequence of Mr. Smith's acquaintance with the Arab language and manners, much time was gained in the present journey, and many serious inconveniences were prevented.

*" It is quite probable, that this accumulation (of bitumen at the bottom of the Dead Sea) may have taken place in remote times, as well as in our day; and if some volcanic action, an elevation of the soil, or shocks of earthquakes, have brought to light masses of asphaltum analogous to that which you describe, (a phenomenon of the highest importance, hitherto un. known,) we can very well conceive of the conflagration of entire cities, by the inflammation of materials so eminently combustible.”—Extract of a lei. ter to Dr. Robinson, from L. Von Buch, a distinguished geologist of Berlin, Vol. 11. p. 674.

Again, we have been continually struck with the enthusiasm and spirit of indefatigable perseverance which marked the course of our countrymen.

No time was wasted in indolent repose, in vacillating between one place and another, or in over-hasty movements. They possessed the genuine spirit of Christian scholars ; who felt that they were treading on sacred ground; who had no desire to trifle with the feelings of the Christian or the scholar; and who were willing to submit to any reasonable hardship, that they might be the means of throwing light on the venerable records of the Jewish and the Christian faith. We may here adduce a single instance of their zeal in overcoming difficulties. This was an effort to, determine whether there is a subterranean passage between the Fountain of the Virgin, near Jerusalem, and Siloam. They first attempted it at Siloam. At the end of eight hundred feet, the passage became so low that they could advance no further, without crawling on all fours, and bringing their bodies close to the water. They then traced their names on the roof as a mark of their progress, and concluded to try again another day from the other end. This they did three days afterwards. The passage here was in general much lower than at the other end. In several places, they could get forward only by lying at full length and dragging themselves along on their elbows. The way seemed interminably long ; and they were for a time suspicious, that they had fallen upon a passage different from that which they had before entered. At length, after having measured nine hundred and fifty feet, they arrived at their former mark of eight hundred feet traced with smoke on the ceiling.

Once more, a principal feature in these “Researches " is the elaborate historical and topographical investigations which they contain, and which, in our opinion, impart to them an inestimable value. The actual observations were completed in the summer of 1838. The two following years Dr. Robinson resided at Berlin, exclusively occupied in preparing his manuscripts for the press. The Prussian capital, it is well known, is the fountain head of knowledge on Oriental subjects. In the unrestricted use of that noble institution, the Royal Library, and of the very valuable private collections of Ritter, Neander, and Hengstenberg, he had access to all the literary means which he could desire. These volumes are not, therefore, mere journals of travels. They are a digest of the

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »