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SECOND SERIES, NO. VIII.-WHOLE NO, XL.
THE JORDAN AND ITS VALLEY.
By Edward Robinson, D. D., Prof. of Bib. Lit. in the Union Theol. Sem. New York,
INTRODUCTORY Note BY THE EDITORS.
As introductory to the present article, the attention of the reader is directed to the “Brief Report," by Prof. Robinson, of his “ Travels in Palestine," etc. in 1838, accompanied by the Rev. Eli Smith, which was published in the Repository for April, 1839. In that Report, (pp. 419, 420,) the writer gives a very
brief account of the “ Jordan and its Valley,” which has since been brought into some discussion in the newspapers. Its authority has been appealed to by Mr. Buckingham in con. firmation of his own account of the exceeding fertility of the Valley of the Jordan, and also to discredit the statements of Mr. Smith on the same subject, which appeared, some time since, in the New-York Observer. The single passage quoted by Mr. Buckingham, however, when read in its connections, affords no support to his representations, but is quite confirmatory of the statements of Mr. Smith. The passage, therefore, needs no. defence, from us, against the use to which it has been perverted by Mr. B. Yet the interest which has been awakened in the subject by the discussions referred to, it is presumed, will render a more accurate and full description of the Jordan highly acceptable to our readers. On this account, in part, but mainly on account of the intrinsic interest of the subject, we have great satisfaction in committing to our pages SECOND SERIES, VOL. IV. NO. II.
the following additional statements of Dr. Robinson, which were prepared several months since, but have been necessarily delayed.
In the passage referred to, in his former Report, it is manifest that the writer was speaking cursorily, and without regard to scientific exactness. He was accordingly guided, in some measure, by his remembrance of the language of the English Bible. In the present communication he reports accurately the results of his own observations in company with Mr. Smith, together with what has been ascertained by other travellers, not forgetting the account formerly given by Mr. Buckingham himself.-EDITORS.
Saturday, May 12th, 1838.-We had come this morning from our encampment on the cliffs over 'Ain Terabeh on the western coast of the Dead Sea. At 12 o'clock we were directly opposite the northwest corner of the sea, proceeding on our way towards the village Eriha, the modern representative of the ancient Jericho.
The earth as we advanced was in many places white with a nitrous crust; and we picked up occasionally small lumps of pure sulphur, of the size of a nutmeg or walnut. In some parts the surface was damp, so that the horses slipped ; in others it was more like ashes, and they sunk in at every step. We now found that we still had enough of the day left to pay a visit to the Jordan before going to Jericho ; and as this would be a great saving of time, and we should thereby avoid the inconvenience of an escort from the garrison, we determined to take this course. On proposing it to our guides, some of the younger ones hesitated for fear of robbers; but the sheikh assented at once. We therefore turned more to the right for a time; and then proceeded about N. E. by E. This brought us at 12. 30' into the midst of a thicket of shrubs and canes around the northernmost point of the sea, watered by another brackish fountain called 'Ain Jehair. On the flats and shoals along the shore in this part, there is in summer a deposit of salt, as at Birket el-Khủlîl beyond 'Ain Jidy. We were soon clear of the thicket; and at 12. 45' crossed a small sluggish stream of salt water running through marshy ground towards the sea.
Beyond this point the plain assumed a new character. All traces of vegetation ceased, except occasionally a lone sprig of the Hubeibeh or alkaline plant which we had seen at 'Ain Jidy. The surface was almost a dead level, covered with a thin smooth nitrous crust, through which the feet of men and horses broke and sunk as in ashes up to the ankles. The tract continued of this character, with a few gentle swells, until we reached the banks of the Jordan at 1. 40', at a ford called el-Helu, considerably below the place usually visited by the pilgrims and travellers. It is indeed the lowest ford upon the river.
The upper or outer banks of the Jordan, where we thus came upon it, are not more than one hundred rods apart; with a descent of fifty or sixty feet to the level of the lower valley in which the river flows. There was here no sign of vegetation along the upper banks, nor in the valley below; except a narrow strip of canes along the brink of the channel on each side, intermingled occasionally with tamarisks and the species of willow called by the Arabs Rishrash, the Agnus casius of botanists; from which the pilgrims usually carry away branches for staves, after dipping them in the Jordan. Looking down upon the river from the high upper bank, it seemed a deep sluggish discolored stream winding its way slowly through a cane-brake. Higher up the river, we could see that the upper banks were further apart, and the border of vegetation much broader, with many trees.* We descended the high outer bank some rods above the ford; but found it impossible to reach the channel at that point, partly on account of the thickness of the cane brake, and partly because the stream was now swollen, filling its banks to the brim, and in some places slightly overflowing them so as to cover the bottom of the brake. At this point, and as far as we could see, this strip of vegetation occupied a still lower part of the lower valley, being skirted by low
Among the trees and shrubs higher up are said to be the Rhamnus (Núbk) and Oleander. Hasselq. p. 152. Buckingham, p. 315.-Jacob de Vitry speaks of the canes growing along the Jordan as used for building huts; they are so used at the present day. “Et ripas idoneas ad arundines seu cannas procreandas, ex quibus tecta domorum tegunt, et parietes contexunt;" c. 53, p. 1076.
banks two or three feet high. So that here the river might strictly be said to have three sets of banks, viz. the upper or outer ones, forming the first descent from the level of the great valley; the lower or middle ones enclosing the tract of vegetation ; and the actual banks of the channel.
We proceeded therefore to the place of the ford, where there was an opening through the canes and trees. Here the banks of the channel were broken or worn away for the convenience of passing, and were now covered by the water. There was a still though very rapid current; the water was of a clayey color, but sweet and delightfully refreshing after the water to which we had been confined for the last two days since leaving 'Ain Jidy—either rain-water standing in holes in the Wadies and full of animalculæ, or the brackish waters of 'Ain el-Feshkhah. I estimated the breadth of the stream to be from 80 to 100 feet; my companion notes it at from 30 to 40 yards. The guides supposed it to be now 10 or 12 feet deep. 'I bathed in the river, without going out into the deep channel; the bottom here (a hollow place in the bank) was clayey mud with also blue clay. I waded out ten or twelve feet, and thus far the water was not over the hips; but a little further, several of the party who swam across, found it suddenly beyond their depth. The current was so strong that even our servant Komeh, a stout swimmer of the Nile, was carried down several yards in crossing. At this time, of course, this ford was impassable for animals except by swimming; and the Aga of Jericho afterwards told us, that he was accustomed to swim his horse in crossing higher up:
The sand hills, which here for the upper banks, are of the same naked character as the desert we had crossed in coming to this spot. From them we could distinguish, some miles higher up the river, the ruined convent of St. John the Baptist, standing upon the brow of the upper bank, or first descent from the plain, near the place where the Latin pilgrims bathe in the Jordan. The Arabs call it Kŭsr el-Yehûd, 'Jews' Castle.' The bathing-place of the Greek pilgrims is two or three miles below the convent; yet each party claims to bathe at the spot where our Lord was baptized by John. Far in the north a sharp conical peak was seen standing out like a bastion from the western mountains; our Arabs called it Kůrn Sürtübeh. Opposite to us across the river lay the plains of Moab; the eastern mountains here retire in a small arc of a circle, forming a sort of recess, and leaving the eastern plain much broader than in any other part. It is apparently covered with shrubs, especially towards the mountains, which seemed to be two or three miles distant. Just below the ford, the Wady Hesbân comes in from the same mountains, descending through a verdant region at their foot, which indeed owes its fertility to the Wady. Further north, the similar Wady Sha'ib comes down from the vicinity of es-Salt, and enters the Jordan nearly east of Jericho. At its mouth is the ordinary ford of the river.-From the high bank near the ford, JebelezSalt or Gilead bore N. 30° E., Kŭsr el-Yehûd N., Kúrn Sŭrtūbeh N. 8° W., 'Ain es-Sultàn beyond Jericho, about N. 50° W., Kŭsr Hajla N. 70° W.
The present Arabic name for the Jordan is esh-Sherîát, “the watering-place;' to which the epithet el-Kebîr, the great,' is sometimes annexed.* The form el-Urdan, however, was not unknown among Arabian writers.t The common name of the great valley through which it thus flows below the lake of Tiberias, is el-Ghôr, signifying a de. pressed tract or plain, usually between two mountains; and the same name continues to be applied to the valley quite across the whole length of the Dead Sea and for some distance beyond. I
It has so happened, that until the present century most pilgrims and travellers have visited the valley of the Jordan only at Jericho; so that we have had no account of the features of its upper part in the vicinity of the lake of Tiberias. Of the earlier pilgrims indeed, Antoninus Martyr at the
* To distinguish it from the Sheriát el-Mandhûr or Yarmûk, the ancient Hieromax, which joins it from the east about two hours below the lake of Tiberias. Burckhardt, pp. 273, 274. Edrisi ed. Jaubert, p. 338. Abulfed. Tab. Syr. p. 148.
† Abulfedae Tab. Syr. p. 147. Schultens Index in vit. Saladin, art. Fluvius Jordanes.
# It thus corresponds to the Auton of Eusebius and Jerome; see Onomast.—On the Ghôr, see Edrisi par Jaubert, pp. 337, 338. Abulfedae Tab. Syr. ed. Kohler, pp. 8, 9. Schultens Index in Vit. Salad. art. Algaurum. Reland Palaest. P:
365. Abulfedae says correctly that the same valley extends to Ailah.