SKETCHES OF SYRIA
May, 1856 - The coast of Syria has just been visited with one of the most violent storms ever known at this season of the year. The rainy season generally begins in November and ends in March or April; and from that time onward a shower is rarely known on the seacoast. The amount of rain which fell during the past winter was not as great as usual. In the month of April there was but little rain, and by the middle of May the weather became settled. The owners of mulberry gardens had built their frail summer-houses of reeds and matting in the open air; the process of feeding the silkworms was considerably advanced and all were anticipating a fine yield of silk to compensate for the losses of last season. But on Wednesday, May 28th, the air was thick with a dark cloud bank over the sea, and distant thunder, towards the south and on the mountains, threatened a storm.
Before midnight the rain fell in torrents. The thunder and lightning were fearful. The whole atmosphere seemed one sheet of flame. On Thursday the storm continued with such violence that the streets were flooded, and the beautiful river Kadisha rose to a height unprecedented at this season of the year. Above the city, it swept over vineyards and orchards, destroying property, and in one of its branches a little girt and boy were engulfed in the water and drowned. Towards evening, we walked out, upon the bank of the river. It was a terrific scene. The roar of the waters dashing through the narrow arches of the stone bridge, and thence over the dam eight feet in height now almost concealed by the volume of the water-was really fearful. The river was rushing with mad violence in its haste to mingle with the sea. Its surface was covered with grass, sticks and shrubs, uprooted by the mountain torrents, and brought from distant heights not far from the snowy valley of the "Cedars of Lebanon." But the most remarkable feature of the scene was the colour of the water. It was of deep red colour, like blood, and the angry tide seemed crested with a bloody froth. The origin of this discolouration is in the ochreous soil which abounds along the sides of Lebanon, and is washed down by the rains. The river seemed literally "laden" with it, as the Arabic term for a rise in the river imports, and at the point where the waters of the river mingle with the sea, the blue waters were discoloured by this deep red colour of the stream for a great distance, the outline between these two seemingly inharmonious elements being visible for miles. This singular colour of the water, common to many of the streams of Lebanon, gave rise to that mythological story connected with the river Adonis (now the Nahr lbrahim), between Tripoli and Beirut. Lucian says of the river Adonis, that "at certain seasons of the year, especially about the feast of Adonis, the river assumed the colour of blood, in sympathy for the death of the beautiful hunter who was killed by a wild boar on the neighbouring mountains."
Nothing could be more natural for an uncultivated, imaginative people given to creature worship, than the ascription of such an origin to this remarkable colour of the water. Even more enlightened minds have been filled with amazement at the phenomenon. The feast and worship of Adonis, which were observed extensively in ancient Phoenicia, like other systems of idolatry, stained and contaminated the character of the Jewish nation in the tumultuous days of their decline, even as the earth stains the pure water of an agitated river, and were known to the prophet Ezekiel. The fabled death of Adonis had given rise to the annual commemoration of the event, when the Phoenician maids mourned his death with every display of grief. The great feast continued some time, consisting of two parts - a season of mourning and a season of joy. As this occurred yearly in public, the Jewish women soon learned to unite in the celebration of an event so well calculated to enlist their sympathies, especially as it is an Oriental custom, preserved until the present time, for the women to lament the death of a young man with most extravagant manifestations of grief. Thammuz is the Hebrew name for Adonis, and when the prophet Ezekiel was shown the various abominations of the house of Israel, he regarded this "weeping for Thammuz" as the greatest of all.
In allusion to this is Milton's language, when summoning up the various "devils,"
"who were known to men by various names,
And various idols through the heathen world. . ."
"Thammuz came next behind,
Whose annual wound in Lebanon allured
The Syrian damsels to lament his fate,
In amorous ditties all a summer's day;
While smooth Adonis from his native rock
Ran purple to the sea, supposed with blood
Of Thammuz yearly wounded."
And in his " Hymn of Christ's Nativity," in speaking of the destruction of heathenish superstition, allusion is made to the scene :
"Peor and Baalim
Forsake their temples dim,
With that twice battered god of Palestine,
And mooned Ashtaroth,
Heaven's queen and mother both,
Now sits not girt with taper's holy shine;
The Libyan Hammon shrinks his horn,
In vain the Syrian maids their wounded Thammus mourn."
The same superstitious imagination which transformed the muddy stream of Lebanon into the blood of Adonis also invested a mountain flower of Lebanon-the scarlet Adonis - with a similar mythic character. This flower, which abounds on Mount Lebanon in the spring, was said to have sprung from the blood of Adonis, and
"From shape and hue and odour
Grieved for Adonis."
But enough of this strange, yet beautiful myth. The storms which have deluged the country and discoloured the waters of the Kadisha, in Tripoli, giving rise to this allusion to the past, were also a present reality, and were exceedingly destructive of life and property. In Beirut the storm continued a whole day. Three men were killed by lightning, one had his beard burned off, and the printers in the America Mission Press felt the shock of a heavy stroke which passed down the lightning-rod. Near Sidon, three men were killed by one stroke. A tree was struck within a few yards of the house of Rev. Mr. Eddy at Kefr Shima. During this one day three-fourths as much rain fell as during the whole previous winter. Large quantities of merchandise along the shore of the harbour at Beirut were swept into the sea and were destroyed. It was a memorable storm, and will afford material for many a story and conversation among this gossip-loving people. The old Moslems gathered in crowds at sundown along the shady banks of the river, and discussed the event with declarations of submission to the "will of God," which would be quite commendable were they not inspired by a heartless fatalism.
June 7, 1856 - There are no newspapers in Syria. The nearest approach to one is the Miscellany, published occasionally by the missionaries in pamphlet form. An Arabic newspaper has also been recently commenced in Constantinople but it is little known here and its circulation is quite limited. Hence news in Syria is traditional to an extent which is quite unpalatable to us as Protestants, to say the least. Whatever of local news is afloat is so encumbered with "new versions" and exaggerations among a people not specially attached to the truth, that it is necessary to wait several days before the exact facts can be ascertained. We have just had proof of this.
A day or two since, it was currently reported that a Maronite had been imprisoned for cursing the name of Moses, one of the prophets of the Koran. Today we learn from authentic sources that it is otherwise. A Maronite, a man of bad reputation even among his own sect, took occasion, when in the company of several Moslems, to curse most violently the name of Jesus Christ. They were greatly enraged, and immediately obtained his arrest, and he now lies in prison, awaiting orders from Constantinople, whither the governor of the city has written, requesting authority for his execution. The aggravation of the offense consists in its being a curse against the name of one of the six great prophets of the Moslems: Adam, Noah, Moses, Solomon, Christ and Mohammed being of equal dignity in this respect. If the man had cursed the name of God Himself, it would have been considered a light matter, not worthy of the slightest notice, and what every Moslem is guilty of every day if not every hour of his life. Nor did the crime consist in its being an insult to Christ as God, for the Moslems deny the divinity of Christ; but it was because it was a curse upon One who is "the greatest of the prophets next to Mohammed." The reason of this is a distinction which the Moslem makes: "If you curse God," says be, "God is merciful and will forgive; if you curse a prophet he cannot forgive; therefore you are to be punished by the sons of the Prophet." This is a gross and monstrous perversion of sacred truth, and the "mercy of God" is made the general apology for every species of blasphemy and profaneness. It enters into the very texture of society, forms a seemingly inseparable element in conversation, and it is almost impossible to converse with a Moslem without hearing the name Allah in every breath. Whether this blasphemous Maronite will receive any further punishment than a month's confinement in a dark, damp, loathsome dungeon, remains to be seen. The position of the Sultan with regard to religious liberty, will, of course, prevent a decree of death; but it is a great offense in the eyes of the Moslems, and they demand a great punishment. What a disgrace to the name of Christianity, that one who is called a Christian should be punished by the enemies of Christianity for blaspheming the name of our Divine Redeemer, whom they esteem only as a prophet and a man. Truly, one does not wonder that Moslems despise such a Christianity! Yet the nominal Christians of Syria are proud, ignorant, and self-sufficient. Oh! Fallen, fallen Syria! Corrupted, marred, disrobed of thy ancient glory! Crushed to the earth by ten thousand leaden weights of form and superstition, until thy once pure throbbing heart has ceased to beat. Physical symbols speak forth in living eloquence thy glory and thy fall! Yonder snowy peak of Lebanon, pure, serene as light itself, lifts its awful form, ancient and majestic as thine own glorious past; while from his base bursts forth a turbid river, stained as it were with blood, sweeping away in its progress the lives and tenements of men, and discolouring with its ruddy tide the pure blue waters of the sea - and this is thy present, this thy fall, fair Syria! But is there no future? Is there no resurrection from thy moral death ? As certainly as the waters of yonder river mingle with the sea, and yonder sea ascends in unseen vapour, again to mingle with the sky; so certainly shall the day of thy glory come again, and thy people rejoice in the light of a preached, believed and beloved Gospel! And this is thy future, "For the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it."
Duma, Mount Lebanon, Syria, August 19, 1856
MY DEAR FATHER:
In accordance with our plan mentioned in a previous letter, and suggested no less by the interesting nature of the scenes to be visited than by a regard for our own health we set out this morning from our mountain home in Duma, for the Cedars of Lebanon and the Ruins of Baalbec. When one has been applying himself constantly to books and study for a long time in this climate, a kind of nervous weakness comes upon the system, bringing with it an indifference to mental pursuits which the experience of missionaries in years past, and our own brief experience, proves to be most effectually relieved by a change of air and occupation. This is found in Syria by travelling over the mountains, and we are just beginning a journey which will continue for a week.
Setting out upon a journey in Syria is far different from anything you have ever known, unless it were in those early days in Montrose history when all travelling was on horseback, and the lawyers accompanied the judges from town to town, carrying their baggage in saddle-bags. I think a Syrian missionary would make a very good Western pioneer.
This morning we had no railroad tickets to buy, no depot to reach, no carriage to put in order, no harness to perplex us, and no smooth plank road before us to effeminate our tastes and unfit us for the steep ascents of life. The first business in a journey is to provide animals. Lorenzo has a horse which Mrs. Lyons will ride. We must have then horses for Lorenzo and myself, a mule for Shehedan and Mennie each, and mules to carry our beds, bedsteads, kitchen apparatus, provisions and tents. He is not a wise traveller who neglects his overcoat, white umbrella, drinking cup, straps, strings, papers, drawing-paper (if he can sketch), geological hammer (if he be given to scientific research), mariner's compass, spy-glass, pamphlets for pressing flowers, and a supply of clothing adapted to the coldest and hottest extremes of weather. The pocket Bible, hymn-book, Arabic Testament and Psalter are quite indispensable.
The muleteers, having agreed the night before to be ready at sunrise, appear at that time, but without mules enough, and we were delayed until nine o'clock. Syrian muleteers are men of a character sui generis. They are like the Cretans of whom the apostles speak, proverbially faithless, and if one makes extensive calculations based upon their word, he will suffer the consequences. For our saddle animals they brought a fine mare, and a little ash-coloured, sleek-skinned mule which we thought best Lorenzo should ride as the mule was not strong enough for me. At a little before nine we set out. The "Cedars" are a little north of east from Duma, but in order to cross the fearful ravine which lies to the northeast of us, we had to make a gradual descent for an hour in a northwesterly direction and then ascend again three hours before we were out of sight of our own village. With the burning sun upon our heads and slow-paced animals, it was tedious enough. Mennie carried little Mary in her arms on the back of the mule. Arab women ride on mules without a side saddle or stirrups, having a cushion on the top of the pack-saddle and keeping themselves from falling by holding on to a rope which secures the cushion in its place. It is not surprising that they sometimes fall, especially when carrying an umbrella and a child, and travelling over a Mount Lebanon road. Mennie was thrown before we had been two hours on the road. In descending the Duma Mountain we passed terraces of mulberry, fig and grape, and the cotton plant. Irish potato, Indian corn, tobacco, beans, squashes, and eggplants were growing side by side in great luxuriance, while the hedges were covered with great clusters of ripe blackberries. This is the season of figs and grapes, both of which are now in their prime. How I would delight to welcome you to these beautiful gardens and vineyards and show you the tempting clusters of large white and purple grapes, and the red and white figs which melt like honey on the tongue. These are the native luxuries of Syria, and the season of vintage is the jubilee of the Mount Lebanon peasantry.
After descending the mountain, passing the old convent of Mar Yohanna (St. John) where two poor ignorant monks eat and drink and sleep, we reached the beautiful level valley, about a mile and a half long and an eighth of a mile wide, through which flows a little river of clear cold water, irrigating the large fields of Indian corn, which seem so much like home, that I almost forget that I am in Syria. The fragrance of the tassels and silk in the morning breeze was almost equal to a visit to the old farm at home. But how soon the scene changes. Leaving the beautiful valley, we thread our way through a dirty village of the Metawilches, and find a street so narrow that the baggage animals are compelled, to return and find another route. We then ascend the mountain toward the village Kefoor - passing a large stone sarcophagus in the field, a ruined convent with its old oak tree, the almost universal accompaniment of a ruin in Syria.
You would be interested in the geological character of this goodly mountain, which we are rapidly ascending. We are now riding over strata of limestone rock all of which slope upward from the sea to the mountain top at an angle of between twenty and thirty degrees. Occasionally you come to a bed of iron ore, a vein of whitish yellow sandstone, or a trap dyke, and then come back again to the original limestone rock. These trap dykes, or masses of igneous rock, seem to stand like monuments on a great battle-field, telling the history of Lebanon in language not to be mistaken. Here is a vast black mass of trap, standing all alone among the shattered masses of the white limestone strata, seeming to exult in a consciousness of strength and to rejoice at the havoc it has made. And perhaps it would thus tell its Own story:
"Long, long ago, when the sea slept on the face of yonder mountain summit, and all these rocks reposed beneath its crystal waters, I was a molten, shapeless mass in the very centre of the earth. Heaving, restless, burning for distinction, I asked for a commission to do as others had done, in breaking up the surface of the earth. My request was granted. And forth I came, seething, bubbling, heaving up the mighty rocks, breaking through the crust of the earth, while the sea foamed and boiled, and dashed away in wild confusion as I raised on my shoulders the vast range of Lebanon. You see yonder trio of mountain peaks, Hermon, Sunneen and Makmel. On each of those the strata lie horizontal, and from the precipices at their sides were broken off those huge cliffs which now slope down to the east and west, forming a kind of parapet of defense on either side, as the great centre of the range was raised steadily up from unknown depths below. This black mass upon which you now stand extends but a few rods on the surface, and then again the white limestone seems to be the prevailing rock. But you will find again a few furlongs away a vaster extent of my own fiery substance, and journey where you will on Lebanon, you will find everywhere proofs of my presence, fragments of my shattered body. You may think me insignificant, perhaps a mere phenomenon. But go down along my black crystalline system. Follow one of these pentagonal columns, and after descending many thousand feet far below this limestone, which on the surface makes such a magnificent display, you will still wonder at my vastness and strength; and when you approach the region of perpetual fire, you will feel my throbbing pulse and understand that the same great force which, under the direction of the great Creator of the Universe, first upheaved mighty Lebanon and made it the glory of the earth, is till working far beneath the surface, and in its giant pulsations shakes the solid crust with earthquakes and devastates it with liquid volcanic fire. Now you may learn that I am Lebanon, for I elevated these giant ranges, and now sustain them upon my scarred and blackened body. Now I am hardly noticed by the hastening traveller, while yonder lofty white cliff elicits his admiration and enjoys an immortal name. Learn from my experience that one may labour and another reap the fruits of his labour. One may toil and suffer, and another receive the praise. For I, who constitute the great mass of the earth, am comparatively unknown, while this superficial film of limestone strata, which I have toiled to shatter and upheave, dwells in sunshine above the clouds, clad in a mantle of glory, a name and a praise in the earth."
In such unspoken language have these rocks discoursed to me as I have journeyed along to-day on the toilsome ascent of Lebanon. We are now on our way to the cedars which are sublime in their antiquity, and to Baalbec which is equally interesting from the strange mystery which hangs about its origin, but here are rocks, older and more venerable than either; rocks on which the cedars grow, and from which Baalbec was first built. The cedars are but the growth of a day, and Baalbec is but the child of an hour, compared with these rock-ribbed mountains, ancient as the sun.
But we must journey on. After reaching the summit of the range northeast of Duma, and in a southeasterly direction from Tripoli, we have a magnificent prospect on every side. After looking at the sea, the southerly mountains, Tripoli, and the coast sweeping in a sharply defined curve towards Latakia, you turn and gaze towards the cedars. There they lie, a little dark green clump of trees five hours or nearly fifteen miles away. On the east, north and south of them the great summits of Lebanon, smooth and round as the shaven head of a Maronite monk (begging pardon of the mountains for the comparison), look down in silence on the scene, while towards the west, the amphitheatre opens upon the sea far away and far below. The mountains are so lofty and grand that this little cluster of evergreen cedar seems like a mere spot of moss on their rocky sides in the distance. But these are the cedars and we will journey on, hoping soon to stand under their ancient boughs and enjoy their sweet, refreshing shade.
It is now two o'clock P. M., and our muleteers, who are paid by the day, seem determined to lengthen the road, and by delays innumerable contrive to disappoint our hopes of spending the night at our place of destination. We give them notice, however, that if they do not get through we shall not pay them for more than one day for the journey from Duma to the cedars. This stirs their latent energy, but they finally fall back again, and we are compelled to pitch our tent in an open field, near a little fountain. On our way, we saw in the afternoon the farmers in one field reaping and threshing their grain, and in another, plowing and sowing the wheat just taken from the threshing-floor. The season is so short on these heights, six or seven thousand feet above the sea, that harvest and seed-time come in the same week. The great part of the wheat in Syria is winter wheat. On the plains between Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon (called the Bookaa) they sow their wheat later as there is little snow, but here they hasten to put in the seed before the cold winds and the driving mountain storms prevent all outdoor labour. As we came through the wheat fields today, the little girls engaged in the harvest would bring a handful of wheat to our horses, and expect a present. The custom is peculiar to this portion of Lebanon, and some of our men who came from Southern Syria were quite offended by it, thinking it a disgrace to the people. Yet we gave a little coin to the children, and I thought it by no means so great a disgrace as these Arabs seemed to think. The mountaineers of Lebanon are an industrious, hard-working people, but they are exceedingly ignorant. When the Gospel shall have taken hold of the people, as it has in America, there will be a style of character developed here which will be truly noble and commanding. The Arab mind has capacity enough. It needs the light of truth, education and elevation. As it is now, the great part of the women think that they have no souls, and the men treat them like slaves. One learns from such a state of things how suggestive an index of the degree of the civilization and moral elevation in a country is the position of woman.
I must not forget to allude to one of the notable things of to-day's experience. Many people think that the "Cedars of Lebanon" are found in but one place. This is a mistake. On our road today, we have passed thousands of young cedars, and some of considerable size, all growing vigorously. They are green and beautiful, identical in bark, leaves, and cones with what I have seen and heard of specimens of the true cedar. Tomorrow will decide.
Wednesday, August 20th - This morning we arose early, struck our tents, ate our breakfast, mounted, and were off for the Cedars. They were in sight all the time, yet we were nearly two hours in going about in a zigzag course among the little hills, or rather, rounded knolls, which abound in the vicinity of the cedars. The ground was covered with fragments of basaltic rock and iron ore, fossils and crumbling limestone. There are wheat and barley fields within twenty rods of the ancient trees. As you approach the cedars, you are astonished at their almost entire isolation. There is hardly a tree visible for miles, excepting those which grow in the villages scattered here and there down the valley towards the sea. There is certainly but one other tree to my knowledge within two miles. The surface of the ground is of a light yellow colour, the prevailing stone being limestone, and a more arid, dry, uninviting soil could hardly be conceived. Thorns and thistles abound. There are great thickets of a dwarfed species of the barberry high up under the ledges near the summit of the loftiest mountains. There is one peculiar species of thorn (for almost every shrub on Mount Lebanon produces thorns) which grows in little mounds, about a foot in diameter and perhaps eight inches high, of a pea green colour and covered with beautiful flowers. The flowers are dry like silk paper, and are very tempting, but the moment your hand approaches them it is met by innumerable thorns or spines like needles, which teach you circumspection in the future.
We are now entering the ancient grove of the cedars. The muleteers are far behind and in the still, sweet air of the morning, we enter the sacred shade. Sacred indeed-but not as these superstitious people believe, on account of any sanctifying virtue in the trees themselves - for this is a blasphemy - but sacred in their history, their interesting associations, their wondrous antiquity. The birds are singing in their branches, and the slight breeze sighs in plaintive, melancholy rnusic, like the voice of the pine in November nights, as we ride slowly through the grove, over the undulating surface, to the level spot used from time Immemorial as a camping ground by travellers from all parts of the world. The tent is soon pitched, a woman is dispatched to bring a jar of water from the fountain more than a half hour distant, our things are all arranged, and away we go, one to one place, another to another, to take measurements, to sketch, to meditate, to wonder, and to praise.
The results of our investigations are somewhat as follows: The grove of the cedars stands in a vast amphitheatre of lofty mountains which border it in grand magnificence on the north, east and south. The slope of these mountains downward is at an angle of nearly forty-five degrees, being covered with a loose, sliding soil, of a light yellow colour. The cedars are nearer to the northern range than to the southern. It is perhaps 100 rods to the base of the slope on the north side. The width of the valley from north to south, I should think, must be about two and a half miles, perhaps less. The surface of the valley between these three ranges is very uneven, consisting of innumerable small, rounded hillocks or moraines, covered with loose stones, thorns and thistles, but without rocks of any large size, though some of them are simply rough ledges of limestone rounded by the action of the sun and snows and storms of ages. The ground on which the cedars stand is of the same general character. They occupy about six of these mounds, the distance from outside to outside in an easterly and westerly direction being about fifty rods, and nearly the same from north to south. The difference in elevation between the top of the highest hillock and the lowest intervening valley in the grove is about 20 feet. I infer this from the fact that we could look down from our encampment, which was on about the highest level, upon the tops of some quite tall cedars in the valley below. The number of cedars is about 400. Of these, the greater part are quite large and high, many of them being straight enough for a ship's mast and spars. The leaves and bark are exactly like the American fir tree, and the cones of the younger trees also resemble them. One peculiarity of these trees is their angular appearance. The limbs of the older trees grow at right angles with the trunk, and that too at the very top of the tree, where the limbs are often very large, giving the tree top the appearance of a mushroom, or an umbrella. The top of one of the twelve largest trees sends out branches horizontally so numerous and regular that one might make a floor of great uniformity and almost perfectly level, by simply laying boards from branch to branch. The top of the tree above the limbs, where the silvery green leaves seem matted together and sprinkled with the dark brown cones, is like a Damascus carpet of the finest texture, and is remarkably beautiful. The twelve largest trees are natural wonders. The people have a tradition with regard to these twelve trees that Christ and the eleven apostles once visited the spot, and stuck down their walking staves in the earth, and from them sprang the greatest and oldest trees. Mr. Calhoun, who has often visited this spot, and has counted the rings which indicate each successive year's growth, infers from this indication, as well as from the fact that these old trees have not increased in size for 200 years, as is known from a name carved in the solid wood, that the trees are at least as old as the days of Solomon. If I were to give names to the twelve trees it would be those of the twelve patriarchs, and not of the apostles.
I have enjoyed this day's visit beyond description, and I shall ever treasure up the meditations and memories connected with my first visit to the Cedars of Lebanon. Who can imagine a more glorious scene than this goodly Lebanon when all its mountain valleys were filled, and its hilltops crowned with such trees as these ? The "glory of Lebanon" must have been something glorious indeed. But how much of this glory has departed, and this solemn, solitary grove, 6,500 feet above the sea, in the region of the snows, on a sterile soil, without a fountain or a stream to give it vigour, seems to flourish in perpetual verdure and everrenewed strength, a memorial of the past, a glory in the present, and a promise for the future; showing forth the greatness, the majesty and the sovereignty of God, to all generations. The Cedar of Lebanon in its glory was used by the Psalmist as the symbol of a righteous man, and the judgment of God upon the unrighteousness of His people is given thus in the tenth chapter of Isaiah: "The rest of the trees of his forest shall be few, that a child may write them."
I would gladly linger longer here and speak of the numerous allusions to these ,cedar trees, "cedars of Lebanon," the "trees of the Lord which He hath planted," etc., but time will not permit.
I have numerous sketches of the cedars from various points of view, and the cones, mosses, stones, gum from the trees and flowers from the grove, I will send on to you in due time. I have omitted to mention that the two largest trees are about fifty feet in circumference, and ten others vary from twenty to fifty feet. The people are very careful not to mutilate the trees, and an old monk lives in the trunk of one of the trees, making it his business to furnish honey, milk, fruit and water to the travellers, and then expect a bukhsheesh in return. There is a church for saint and image worship under one of the trees, and the ignorant people come here to receive a blessing. Thank God we come to these scenes without that idolatrous superstition, which while it professes to expect the blessing, brings down the curse of the Almighty.
Peaceful is our sleep under this cool shade, for our covenant-keeping God is here.
I preached my first Arabic sermon in January, 1857, in Tripoli. This sermon was finished December 15, 1856, just ten months and eight days after my arrival. It was the fruit of weeks of labour on the Arabic, with my teacher, Mr. E. Saadeh. He was only a novice in Arabic grammar at the time, but in after years he became an authority. The congregation numbered about thirty. I read from the manuscript. I was greatly complimented, but that was from the true politeness of the company. They listened respectfully, but how much good they received I would not dare to conjecture. I did not preach another sermon for three months. I continued to preach from manuscripts for a year, and then broke loose from the bondage and ever since, excepting on rare occasions, have used only an English outline, or an Arabic skeleton. I still keep that first sermon as a curiosity, but could not be hired to preach it again exactly as it is written, for love or money. Preaching in Arabic has been my delight. For forty-nine years it has been my joy. It is now much easier for me to preach in Arabic than in English. Coming to Syria fresh from the seminary, I had only six written English sermons' and I have not written more than a dozen since. In Arabic preaching I have always aimed at simplicity in thought and language. Our Syrian native preachers are apt to use "high" Arabic. Now high Arabic is beautiful. It is ringing and poetical, and, to an audience of Arabic scholars, is a literary treat. But the common people do not understand it. They wonder and admire but they are not fed. I have often heard them say after listening to a sophomorical sermon, "The man was 'Shatir' (smart) but we did not understand him." I have always aimed at the common mind. And simple Arabic in a religious discourse is enjoyed as much by the scholars as the classical would be. A manuscript in Arabic preaching is a clog and hamper. You cannot write the simple colloquial and hence you fall into a stilted semi-classical style. I always watch to see whether the women and children are paying attention. If not, I let down my style at once to their comprehension. It was said of Dr. Eli Smith, as a proof of his great accomplishments, that the women of Bhamdoun could understand his preaching. I have been accustomed for all these years to address Sunday-school children and speak every Friday forenoon to our Girls' Boarding-School and the British Syrian Girls' School, and the constant practice of speaking to the young has not only kept my heart young, but has kept my tongue young and simple. I heartily recommend all foreign missionaries to practice speaking to the women and children, especially the children. It is no small part of my comfort in retrospect, to think of the thousands of Syrian children to whom I have preached during fifty years. And the love and confidence of the children, in a land where there is so much of priestly tyranny and fanatical bitterness against us as missionaries, is a source of joy and comfort indescribable.
Tripoli was a quaint old city, with its snow-white houses, surrounded on three sides with green olive and orange groves, and above it the brown sandstone castle of Raymond of Toulouse, on a range of low hills which is cut through by the dashing river Kadisha or Abu Aali which comes down through deep rocky gorges from the Cedars of Lebanon and runs through the city, through the orange gardens to the sea, which is a mile distant. The people were three-fourths Moslems and one-fourth Orthodox Greeks, and a few Maronites and Papal Greeks and about fifteen Jews. Several of the mosques were once Oriental churches and the Great Mosque had a spacious court, paved with stone, hundreds of feet in extent.
The keeper of this mosque was Sheikh Rashid, a man of great dignity and nobility of bearing, who was a model of courtesy and a friend of the Christians and had several times prevented an uprising of the Moslems against the Christians. His son Sheikh Aali succeeded him and was very friendly to all Americans, though conceited and conscious of his dignity as "Mikaty" or time-keeper for the mosques of Syria. He had half a dozen clocks, English, French, German, Swiss, and American, and was often put to it to keep them running together. His maktab or office was near the north gate of the Great Mosque, and there, seated on his cushion on the Turkish and Persian rugs, he received his visitors and furnished tobacco and coffee. One day a Maronite from Lebanon was driving a hog to the Maronite quarter of the city, when it broke away and ran into the court of the Great Mosque around the corridors, by the minbar (pulpit) and the quiblah or mihrab (niche towards Mecca) and thence out into the street Sheikh Aali was horror-struck.
The sacred mosque had been defiled, polluted beyond remedy, by an unclean animal whose very name could not be mentioned without using the word "Ajellak Allah," may God exalt you above the contamination of so vile a subject. A council was called. The mufti came and the kadi, and the chief sheikhs and Ulema. They sat around in solemn silence, until at length Sheikh Aali cautiously broached the awful subject, concluding with, "the holy place has been polluted and must be closed and never used again for prayer to Allah." Then silence until the mufti cheerfully reassured the desponding faithful as follows : "My children, no harm has been done. When that creature, Ajellakum Allah, entered the mosque, the great holiness of the place at once transformed it into a lamb, and it remained a lamb until it went out at the gate when it resumed its original character." All exclaimed, "El Hamdu Lillah, Sabhan El Khalik. Praise to Allah. Praise to the Creator." Mutual congratulation followed. That mufti should have been made an honorary member of the Philadelphia bar.
Another interesting character in Tripoli was Saleh Sabony, a devout Moslem, but one of the truest and most self-sacrificing friends the American Mission ever had in Syria. He was a confectioner making jezariyeh and buklawa and lived in great simplicity. Being a friend of Mr. E. Saadeh, my teacher, he often came to see us and offered his services in anything we might need. When we leased, for seventy years, a room to be used as a chapel, he superintended the repairs and then acted as sexton to keep unruly street boys quiet.
He then volunteered to go with us on journeys, acting as muleteer, guard and companion. He loved to bear the Gospel and often said, "I love Jesus Christ, but I cannot understand the Trinity." He defended us against Moslems, Greeks, Catholics, and Jews and they could not answer him. He acted as assistant to Dr. G. B. Danforth, then to his brother-in-law, Dr. Charles William Calhoun, and has now, 1907, been for twenty-two years the constant friend and helper of Dr. Ira Harris at the Meena or Port of Tripoli. It is a beautiful sight to see this gray-bearded and white-turbaned Moslem acting as hospital usher and keeper, comforting and encouraging the poor Moslem women who throng the clinics of Dr. Harris. His fidelity, strict integrity and veracity are wonderful and he regards all Americans as his brothers and sisters. His intellectual difficulty about the Trinity does not prevent his offering prayers to Christ. In June, 1906, Saleh called on me at the house of Rev. Paul Erdman in Tripoli. His eyesight is feeble and his strength failing, but he was as cheerful as when I first knew him. I asked him about his means of support. He said, "I have lost all my property and live by simple doctoring of the people's sore eyes and earn a few piastres now and then. A loaf in the morning and another in the evening is all I need. Allah is good." I then said to him, "Saleh, you have always said you could not become a Christian because we believed in the Trinity. Now you know we do not believe that God begets and is begotten, as Moslems, assert. Does not the New Testament say that the Father is God, Christ the Word is God and the Holy Spirit is God?" "Yes." "Well, you need not worry to explain it. The Bible asserts it and you can leave it there. Do you believe that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners?" "Yes." "You have read this invitation, 'Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest'?" ,Yes." "Do you think He can save you?" "Yes," said he, "I have known that for forty years." "Will you accept the call and come to Him?" "Yes, I can." "'Very well," said I. "If you can put yourself in His hands you will be safe. Let the philosophical question alone." He assured me that he prays to Christ as his Saviour. Dear man, may he be "accepted in the Beloved."
Sheikh Yusef El Asir, who was a graduate of the Azhar University in Cairo, and laboured eight years with Dr. Van Dyck in translating the Bible into Arabic, helped me to translate into Arabic several beautiful children's hymns and then taught them to his' sons and brought them to me to recite them. Years after, I met one of them, a telegraph operator, and he assured me that he had not forgotten the hymn, "Jesus, tender Shepherd. hear me."
When the Lord comes to make up His "jewels," I doubt not there will be many saved from among the Moslems of Syria. A Moslem sheikh once said to Miss Taylor, "Many Christians will rise from Moslem graves in Syria."
January 11, 1857 - Dr. Eli Smith passed away January 11, 1857, as stated in the sketch of his life; Dr. Van Dyck succeeded him in the work, removing from Sidon to Beirut in October. Mr. Eddy removed to Sidon in September, 1857, and Mr. Ford in August, 18S9, on Dr. Thomson's return from America to join Dr. Van Dyck in Beirut. In February, 1857, I accepted Dr. Thomson's invitation to accompany him and Mr. Aiken on a tour through Palestine. It was the opportunity of a life-time to go with such an experienced traveller, explorer and author, and such a genial companion as Dr. Thomson. He made the land expound the Book all the way from Sidon to Hebron, and from Capernaum to Jericho. Every hill and valley, every rock and stream, every ruined wall and temple became vocal and eloquent. The whole land was stamped on my memory and the Bible became a new book. I learned from that saintly scholar, what I never ceased to urge on young pastors and theological students, that the best preparation for the Christian pastorate is not a fellowship of two years spent amid the bogs and clouds of German university speculation, but a tent life of six months under the clear sky of Palestine, where the land will confirm the Book, and both Old and New Testaments sparkle with divine light and human life and reality. When Professors Park, Hitchcock and H. B. Smith visited Syria and Palestine together in May, 1870, they came to Abeih to visit the missionaries and visit the theological class. They all expressed deep regret that they had not visited Palestine in the beginning of their ministerial life, and declared that they should henceforth urge upon their students to make the tour of Palestine. The older missionaries assured me that a tour with Arab muleteers and servants, after the first year of language study, was an excellent way of learning the colloquial Arabic. And I found it to be so.
On the 16th of June, 1857, I sailed for America to be married, and acted as the escort of Mrs. Eli Smith and her five children. The three boys were Charles (now professor in Vale), Edward Robinson (a connoisseur in art), and Benjamin Eli (editor of the Century Dictionary). All of them inherited their father's scholarly tastes.
We crossed the Atlantic in the side wheeler, The Vanderbilt, which was afterwards given to the United States government and transformed into a war cruiser. We sailed from Havre July 8th and reached New York on the 19th, having had constant fogs. We ran by "dead reckoning"' 3,000 miles without seeing sun or stars, and when we stopped on the 19th the fog suddenly lifted and we were near the Sandy Hook light-ship.
I took Mrs. Smith and the children to Brooklyn and then crossed to Jersey City where my father and sister, Mrs. J. B. Salisbury, were awaiting me. I then went on to Montrose, and after journeyings oft, I was married, October 7th, to Miss Caroline Bush in Branchport, New York. After our marriage we visited my old friend and my father's friend, Rev. Dr. S. H. Cox, then chancellor of Ingham University, at Leroy, New York. The doctor gave us a reception, and read us a poetical address which was followed by an Arabic address by Professor Roerig of the university, to which I replied in Arabic. He had studied in Constantinople and Cairo, and his Arabic was stiff and stilted. I was amused at his calling a girls' school. "El Madriset el Mo'annisiyet," i. e., the feminine school, whereas it should have been " Madriset el Binat"-girls' school.
We had expected to sail from Boston in the new sailing bark, Henry Hill, in December, but learned that it did not leave Smyrna until October 31st. It reached Boston December 29th and was advertised to sail January 30th, but did not sail until February 23d. During this visit home I met again that apostolic missionary, Dr. Henry A. De Forest, whom I first met in Hartford in September, 1854 on his arrival from Syria. He loved Syria as I do now and his descriptions of Syrian scenery and climate, its mountains and skies, the blue sea and the wild flowers, were simply fascinating. He died November 24, 1858, in Rochester, his wife surviving him nearly forty years.
Our voyage to Syria was long. We were becalmed frequently. On March 21st, Captain Watson told us we had only made one hundred miles in a week. On March 29th we entered the Straits of Gibraltar. It was a dead calm and nearly fifty sailing vessels' like ourselves, were being carried eastward by the current, which dashed and boiled almost like the rapids above Niagara. There being no wind, the rudder was useless and we drifted, sometimes stern foremost, and other vessels were drifting around us, and in danger of collision. At 7 P. M., a five-knot breeze filled the sails and we went gaily on our course, reaching Malta April 4th. Rev. Mr. Wiseley, the Scotch chaplain, took us to visit the capuchin monastery of dried monks. Each holy monk on his death is desiccated, and then dressed in his monkish robes and set up in a niche to grin in a ghastly way at all brethren and visitors, The monk who showed us about was a corpulent and jolly brother and talked freely in Italian with Mr. Wiseley. We asked Mr. Wiseley to ask the monk how long it takes to dry a monk. He said that depended on the man's physique. Mr. Wiseley dryly remarked, "It will take a long time to dry you." The old monk shook with laughter, as if he were enjoying thinking what a time his successors would have in reducing him to the mummy condition. Captain Watson was greatly chagrined that the new bark, Henry Hill, proved to be slower than the old Sultana.
We reached Smyrna April 13th. Mr. Dodd met us on board with news of the wonderful revivals all over the United States and we rejoiced together. We remained in Mr. Dodd's house until April 20th, when we took passage in the Messageries French steamer, Ganges, for Tripoli. On Sunday the 18th, I heard Mr. Dodd preach in Turkish and I preached at 4 P. M. in English. I enjoyed hearing little Hetty Dodd singing the children's hymns I taught her two years ago, and the families were enjoying the melodeon I had ordered for them at that time from Mr. Theodore Lyons at Montrose.
We sailed by Chios, Samos and Patmos and anchored a few hours at Rhodes. Two years before I had visited the old castle north of the town. We went again to see it and found only an immense funnel-shaped cavity in the ground. The powder magazine under the castle had been exploded by lightning and the castle walls, foundations and all went flying over the town leaving only a gaping crater. As we sailed along the coast of Cilicia the snow-capped range of Taurus seemed far more beautiful than either the Sierra Nevada of Spain, the white mountains of Crete or Mount Elias of Greece.
On Monday, April 27th, we landed in Tripoli, our Syrian home. We were greeted by our colleagues, Mr. and Mrs. Lyons and loved friend, Mr. A. Yanni. Many Syrian friends called to welcome us, among them Elias Saadeh and Abu Selim Diab, my old teachers, and Saleh Sabony, the Moslem.
Letters came from Rev. D. M. Wilson in Hums telling of bitter opposition by the Greek bishop who has knocked down a young inquirer with his cane, and the city is in an uproar. One young Greek girl, who came to hear Mrs. Wilson read the Bible, was seized and dragged by her hair through the streets and Mrs. Wilson fears for the life of her husband. Young men come in crowds to argue with him but they find him mighty in the Scriptures. One of his favourite texts is, "To the law and the testimony: if they speak not according to this word it is because there is no light in them " (Isa. 8: 20).
As I write these words in June, 1907, there is a flourishing Protestant Church in Hums, with a native pastor and a prosperous self-supporting boarding-school. The Greek bishop of today was himself taught, when a child, in a mission school in Lebanon, and be has the New Testament as a text-book in his own schools.
In May, we leased for seventy years a vaulted room to be used as a chapel. During the repairs the huge stone lintel over the old door had to be taken down, and Saleh, our Moslem friend, had it slid off upon his head and then he lowered it to the ground. It was a compact limestone slab, seven feet long and a foot square rose and massacred the foreign consuls and nearly all the Christian population. The Moslems of Tripoli reported that firearms had been landed by a French gunboat, whereupon they bought five hundred muskets and the government in Beirut sent ten pieces of cannon to Tripoli to protect the city against the' Maronite Christians of Zgharta. Southern Lebanon was also in a state of unrest and misrule, a condition which continued through the whole of the next year and finally culminated in the outbreak of 1860.
Last Sabbath (7th of November) I preached for the first time in the new chapel. Mr. Lyons preached the two previous Sabbaths. The chapel is situated in one of the principal streets, and the people say it is like a fisherman's net, for it catches everybody who passes by. The consequence is that there is generally a great crowd around the door, and many passing in and out.
On Sunday last, there were about fifty in their seats, and the attention was good. I preached from Gal. 6: 14, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." I had the heads written out, but preached extempore, and succeeded better than I anticipated. We are now waiting for the curtain which is probably on its way from Boston to Smyrna. At present no Arab women come, or at least only a few, but when the curtain is up, the women can come and be shielded from the gaze of the men.
We are very thankful that vie have so good a room for religious worship. It looks as though it were originally built for a church, although it was first a store, and then a grog-shop. We are obliged to preach in very simple language, as the majority of the people cannot understand the classic Arabic, and in reading the Scriptures we are obliged to explain carefully the meaning. I trust that the opening of our chapel will prove a dawning of a new day in Tripoli.
"Wednesday, November 10th - Mercury A.M., 79 degrees; P. M., 75 degrees. Wilson writes from Hums that two great Arab tribes, the Mowalee and the Hadadee, have had a battle just outside of the city gate of Hums. Mr. Wilson witnessed the battle. The Mowalee were beaten. The villages about Hums are being plundered, and the people are flying to the city to get protection within the walls. Mr. Wilson well remarks that it is well for the Sultan's government that these wild denizens of the desert expend their strength in fighting each other rather than in rebelling against the government. The troops of the Pasha of Beirut which passed through here some days ago are now among the Nusairiyeh trying to find and kill Ismaeel Khire Beg, who was governor of Safita, and who had the battle near Tripoli in June. The only charge I can hear of as made against him is that he is not a Moslem and will not pay bribes enough to the government.
Tuesday, November 16th - We hear today that Ismaeel Khire Beg, the Nusairiyeh chieftain, has been slain by his own mother's brother. Ismaeel fled from the Turkish pasha who came after him, and took all his goods, household furniture, and valuables on five or six hundred mules to the north. While stopping at the village "Ain Keroom" one of his party died, and the funeral was attended at once. While they were weeping at the funeral, the uncle of Ismaeel approached and asked why they were weeping. "We are weeping for the dead," said Ismaeel. "Who will weep when you are dead?" said the uncle, and drawing his pistol, shot Ismaeel through the heart. He fell and as he was expiring, pled with his uncle to take care of his son. The ruffianly, heartless uncle seized the boy and shot him before his dying father's eyes, and then seized all his property and his wife whom he made his own wife at once. The Turkish pasha, who wished to take Ismaeel alive, has seized the uncle, but will not probably inflict any punishment upon him. One can hardly conceive a more brutal act, yet such things are too frequent to be noticed in this land. This man who was killed bad committed deeds during the last few months which will hardly bear recording. He seized rebellious subjects, burned out their eyes, cut off their ears and noses, and flayed them alive. Truly, "the dark places of the earth are full of the habitations of cruelty." The physical miseries of the unevangelized nations arc surely enough to awaken the sympathies of philanthropists in every land.
Thursday, November 18th - We have letters again from Hums. There has been another battle between the Arab tribes. The Mowalee who were beaten in the first battle sent to the Metawileh sheikhs of Baalbec for help. The Metawilehs came with a large force and joined the Mowalee against the Hadadee, but the Hadadee routed them both, and about fifty were killed. Zano, the muleteer who is our letter-carrier, lives in a village only five minutes from the gates of Hums, and yet through fear he has removed his family and property into the city. Hums is in a barbarous region. Tripoli is civilized in comparison with it.
Monday, November 22nd - Today we have been writing and studying, and I have been out among the People. I found a company of men from the neighbouring village, none of whom could read or write. They never heard of America, and wished to know how many days' journey it would be to one riding a mule. I told them about four hundred and sixty-six days, but as it is by sea and not by land, we go in thirty days by steamer, and sixty or seventy by sailing vessel. They wondered at the very thought of such a stupendous distance, and asked me what I came here for, leaving all my friends behind. I spent half an hour in talking about Christ, and several Moslems were in the crowd. You can hardly conceive the ignorance and mental vacuity of such men as these.
The missionary work went on with little interruption. At Alma, southeast of Tyre, a village of 500 souls, forty bad become Protestants, and a church was dedicated on November 7th. The new converts were violently persecuted. A Moslem inquirer from Bagdad was rescued from the Jesuits in Tripoli and sent to the Malta Protestant College. During that year there were thirty-two schools, and 1,065 pupils, 268 of them being girls. The number of pages printed was 2,258,000, about one twenty-ninth of the pages printed in 1905.
The work of female education received a new impulse in the arrival of Misses Temple and Johnson at Suk el Gharb, and -Mr. and Mrs. Daniel Bliss removed from Abeih to that village to aid them in opening a girls' boarding-school. Miss Johnson's health failed and she returned to America in 1859.
In May, 1858, Rev. R. J. Dodds and his family, later of the Reformed Presbyterian Mission in Latakia, went to Zahleh to found a mission. They were forcibly driven out by a mob led by a dozen priests. They were shamefully treated and grossly insulted. The government of Lebanon was at that time divided and weak, and the Zahlehites defied it. They boasted of their prowess, of their 1,000 men armed with guns, and gloried in the protection of the Virgin to whom their cathedral church was dedicated. The Orthodox Greeks, who were in the minority, were more liberal than their Papal Greek townsmen, but in opposing Protestantism they were a unit. They had no schools and cared nothing for education. They were brave, rough, and hospitable to everything but the Bible. Their business was chiefly in sheep, wheat and barley, which they bought from Kurdish shepherds and the Hauran Arabs. For this purpose they made frequent trips to the plains about Hamath and Hums and to Hauran, going in bodies of twenty armed men and fearing no foe. They boasted that no Druse or Moslem could live in Zahleh. Some of the families became wealthy and all were industrious. In religion their bishops and priests were supreme. They had heard of the, "Bible men" from America, and occasional native colporteurs had visited the town, but when Mr. Dodds arrived with his family, the town was in consternation and the priest-led mob made short work of driving them down to Moallakah, where, under a Moslem governor, they were allowed to rest in peace. Mr. Dodds then withdrew to Latakia and founded the mission which has continued to the present time. In 1859, just one year later, Rev. W.A. Benton of Bhamdoun (only five hours on horseback from Zahleh), who had met many of the Zahleh merchants and muleteers during his ten years of Syrian life, resolved to beard the Zahleh lion in his den. So, taking his wife, who was a noted doctress, and his little children, with beds and clothing and books, he entered Zahleh as guest of an Orthodox Greek. The priests soon heard of it, and raising a mob went to the house and literally carried them all, bag and baggage, out of the town down the valley until they were beyond the sacred soil of Zahleh, and then dumped them in the wilderness.
Zahleh was not yet open. It needed the discipline of God's hand in war and disaster and humbling defeat by their merciless Druse foes, to teach them their weakness and open the way for messengers of peace. One solitary man, Musa Ata, a Greek Catholic (or Papal Greek), had become a Protestant, but owing to his family and position was able to hold out in spite of boycotting and priestly anathemas. In 1872, I conducted his funeral and preached to a curious and noisy crowd of 1,000 Zahlehites in the schoolhouse of Miss Wilson, the brave Scotch lady, who alone at that time held the Gospel fort in Zahleh. The Lebanon School's committee had a school previous to that time in Moallakah, and in 1871 the Syria Mission voted to establish a regular station in Zahleh.
In June, 1859, Dr. Thomson arrived from America and transferred his residence from Sidon to Beirut. Rev. J. A. Ford removed to Sidon. On leaving Beirut Mr. Ford expressed his great relief in leaving the Beirut church, which a few ambitious men had controlled, and in which self-support had been persist persistently opposed. It was hoped that Dr. Thomson from his age and experience, would be able to guide the church in ways of wisdom. In fact, no effort had been made up to this time to enforce or induce self-support in the feeble native churches. Nothing was paid for their preaching or education. Abeih Seminary, the leading school, gave board and tuition without charge. The same was true of all the schools in the land. The churches were weak and education was such a discredited exotic that parents rather expected to be paid for allowing us to experiment on their children. The value of preaching and teaching was yet to be learned. The teaching of Mr. Calhoun in Abeih was thorough and spiritual, as narrated elsewhere, and its fruits are now seen all over the land.
At the opening of 1859, Dr. Van Dyck had the whole of the new translation of the four Gospels in type. Five thousand nine hundred and sixty-two volumes and tracts were issued from the press in 1858 and 3,638,000 pages were printed. Seven stations were occupied: Beirut by Dr. Thomson, Dr. Van Dyck and Mr. Hurter, mission printer; Abeih by Mr. Calhoun; Deir el Komr by Mr. Bird; Bhamdoun by Mr; Benton; Sidon by Messrs Ford and Eddy; Tripoli by Messrs. Lyons and H. H. Jessup, and Hums by Mr. Wilson; in all ten missionaries and one printer.
But clouds were gathering in the political sky and there were ominous mutterings of the coming storm. On August 3oth a quarrel between a Druse and a Maronite boy about a chicken in the village of Beit Mirri, on a mountain ridge east of Beirut, led to a bloody affray between the two sects which raged a whole day. The Druses lost twenty-eight more than their opponents and vowed vengeance.
- << Prev