ART. V Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land. By an AMERICAN. New-York, Harper & Brothers. 1837. 2 vols. 12mo.
MR. Stephens has here given us two volumes of more than ordinary interest written with a freshness of manner, and evincing a manliness of feeling, both worthy of high consideration. Although in some respects deficient, the work too presents some points of moment to the geographer, to the antiquarian, and more especially to the theologian. Viewed only as one of a class of writings whose direct tendency is to throw light upon the Book of Books, it has strong claims upon the attention of all who read. While the vast importance of critical and philological research in dissipating the obscurities and determining the exact sense of the Scriptures, cannot be too readily conceded, it may be doubted whether the collateral illustration derivable from records of travel be not deserving at least equal consideration. Certainly, the evidence thus afforded, exerting an enkindling influence upon the popular imagination, and so taking palpable hold upon the popular understanding, will not fail to become in time a most powerful because easily available instrument in the downfall of unbelief. Infidelity itself has often afforded unwilling and unwitting testimony to the truth. It is surprising to find with what unintentional precision both Gibbon and Volney (among others) have used, for the purpose of description, in their accounts of nations and countries, the identical phraseology employed by the inspired writers when foretelling the most improbable events. In this manner scepticism has been made the root of belief, and the providence of the Deity has been no less remarkable in the extent and nature of the means for bringing to light the evidence of his accomplished word, than in working the accomplishment itself.
Of late days, the immense stores of biblical elucidation
derivable from the East have been rapidly accumulating in the hands of
the student. When the "Observations'' of Harmer were given to the public,
he had access to few other works than the travels of Chardin, Pococke,
Shaw, Maundrell, Pitts,
In an article prepared for this journal some months ago, we had traced the route of Mr. Stephens with a degree of minuteness not desirable now, when the work has been so long in the hands of the public. At this late day we must be content with saying, briefly, in regard to the earlier por-tion of the narrative, that, arriving at Alexandria in December, 1835, he thence passed up the Nile as far as the Lower Cataracts. One or two passages from this part of the tour may still be noted for observation. The annexed speculations, in regard to the present city of Alexandria, are well worth attention.
"The present city of Alexandria, even
after the dreadful ravages made by the plague last year, is still supposed
to contain more than 50,000 inhabitants, and is decidedly growing. It stands
outside the Delta in the Libyan Desert, and, as Volney remarks, 'It is
only by the canal which conducts the waters of the Nile into the reservoirs
in the time of inundation, that Alexandria can be considered as connected
with Egypt.' Founded by the great Alexander, to secure his conquests in
the East, being the only safe harbour along the coast of Syria or Africa,
and possessing peculiar commercial advantages, it soon grew into a giant
city. Fifteen miles in circumference, containing a population of 300,000
citizens and as many slaves, one magnificent street 2000 feet broad ran
the whole length of the city, from the Gate of the Sea to the Canopie Gate,
commanding a view, at each end, of the shipping, either in the Mediterranean
or in the Mareotic Lake, and another of equal length intersected it at
right angles; a spacious circus without the Canopie
We see no presumption in this attempt to speculate
upon the future condition of Egypt. Its destinies are matter for the attentive
consideration of every reader of the Bible. No words can be more definitive,
more utterly free from ambiguity, than the prophecies concerning this region.
No events could be more wonderful in their nature, nor more impossible
to have been foreseen by the eye of man, than the events foretold concerning
it. With the earliest ages of the world its line of monarchs began, and
the annihilation of the entire dynasty was predicted during the zenith
of that dynasty's power. One of the most lucid of the biblical commentators
has justly observed that the very attempt once made by infidels to show,
from the recorded number of its monarchs and the duration of their reigns,
that Egypt was a kingdom previous to the Mosaic era of the deluge, places
in the most striking view the extraordinary character of the prophecies
regarding it. During two thousand years prior to these predictions Egypt
had never been without a prince of its own; and how oppressive was its
tyranny over Judea and the neighbouring nations!
At Djiddeh, formerly the capital of Upper Egypt and
the largest town on the Nile, Mr. Stephens encountered two large boat-loads
of slaves probably five or six hundred collected at Dongola and Sennaar.
"In the East,'' he writes, "slavery exists now precisely as it did in the
days of the patriarchs. The slave is received into the family of a Turk,
in a relation more confidential and respectable than that of an ordinary
domestic; and when liberated, which very often happens, stands upon the
same footing with a freeman. The curse does not rest upon him for ever;
he may sit at the same board, dip his hand in the same dish, and, if there
are no other impediments, may marry his master's daughter.''
Morier says, in his Journey through Persia "The manners of the East, amid all the changes of government and religion, are still the same. They are living impressions from an original mould; and, at every step, some object, some idiom, some dress, or some custom of common life, reminds the traveller of ancient times, and confirms, above all, the beauty, the accuracy, and the propriety of the language and the history of the Bible.''
Sir John Chardin, also, in the Preface to his Travels in Persia, employs similar language: "And the learned, to whom I communicated my design, encouraged me very much by their commendations to proceed in it; and more especially when I informed them that it is not in Asia, as in our Europe, where there are frequent changes, more or less, in the form of things, as the habits, buildings, gardens, and the like. In the East they are constant in all things. The habits are at this day in the same manner as in the precedent ages; so that one may reasonably believe that, in that part of the world, the exterior forms of things (as their manners and customs) are the same now as they were two thousand years since, except in such changes as have been introduced by religion, which are, nevertheless, very inconsiderable.''
Nor is such striking testimony unsupported. From all sources we derive evidence of the conformity, almost of the identity, of the modern with the ancient usages of the East. This steadfast resistance to innovation is a trait remarkably confined to the regions of biblical history, and (it should not be doubted) will remain in force until it shall have fulfilled all the important purposes of biblical elucidation. Hereafter, when the ends of Providence shall be thoroughly answered, it will not fail to give way before the influence of that very Word it has been instrumental in establishing; and the tide of civilization, which has hitherto flowed continuously, from the rising to the setting sun, will be driven back, with a partial ebb, into its original channels.
Returning from the Cataracts, Mr. Stephens found
himself safely at Cairo, where terminated his journeyings upon the Nile.
He had passed "from Migdol to Syene, even unto the borders of Ethiopia.''
In regard to the facilities, comforts, and minor enjoyments of the voyage,
he speaks of them in a manner so favourable, that many of our young countrymen
will be induced to follow his example. It is an amusement, he says, even
ridiculously cheap, and attended with no degree of danger. A boat with
ten men is procured for thirty or forty dollars a month, fowls for three
piasters a pair, a sheep for a half
We now approach what is by far the most interesting
and the most important portion of his tour. Mr. S. had resolved to visit
Mount Sinai, proceeding thence to the Holy Land. If he should return to
Suez, and thus cross the desert to El Arich and Gaza, he would be subjected
to a quarantine of fourteen days on account of the plague in Egypt; and
this difficulty might be avoided by striking through the heart of the desert
lying between Mount Sinai and the frontier of Palestine. This route was
beset with danger; but, apart from the matter of avoiding quarantine, it
had other strong temptations for the enterprise and enthusiasm of the traveller
- =m - temptations not to be resisted. "The route,'' says Mr. Stephens,
"was hitherto untravelled,'' and moreover, it lay through a region upon
which has long rested, and still rests, a remarkable curse of the Divinity,
issued through the voices of his prophets. We allude to the land of Idumea
the Edom of the Scriptures. Some English friends, who first suggested
this route to Mr. Stephens, referred him, for information concerning it,
to Keith on the Prophecies. Mr. Keith, as our readers are aware, contends
for the literal fulfilment of prophecy, and in the treatise in question
brings forward a mass of evidence, and a world of argument, which we, at
least, are constrained to consider, as a whole, irrefutable. We look upon
the literalness of the understanding of the Bible predictions as
an essential feature in prophecy conceiving minuteness of detail
to have been but a portion of the providential plan of the Deity for bringing
more visibly to light, in after-ages, the evidence of the fulfilment
of his word. No general meaning attached to a prediction, no general fulfilment
of such prediction, could carry, to the reason of mankind, inferences so
unquestionable, as its particular and minutely incidental accomplishment.
General statements, except in rare instances, are susceptible of misinterpretation
or misapplication: details admit no shadow of ambiguity. That, in many
striking cases, the words of the prophets have been brought to pass in
every particular of a series of minutiae, whose very meaning was unintelligible
before the period of fulfilment, is a truth that few are so utterly stubborn
as to deny. We mean to say that, in all instances, the most strictly
literal interpretation will apply. There is no doubt much unbelief founded
upon the obscurity of the prophetic expression; and the question
is frequently demanded "wherein lies the use of this obscurity? why
* We cannot do better than quote here the words of a writer in the London Quarterly Review. "Twenty years ago we read certain portions of the prophetic Scriptures with a belief that they were true, because other similar passages had in the course of ages been proved to be so; and we had an indistinct notion that all these, to us obscure and indefinite denunciations, had been we knew not very well when or how accomplished; but to have graphic descriptions, ground plans, and elevations showing the actual existence of all the heretofore vague and shadowy denunciations of God against Edom, does, we confess, excite our feelings, and exalt our confidence in prophecy to a height that no external evidence has hitherto done."
Many prophecies, it should be remembered, are in a state of gradual fulfilment a chain of evidence being thus made to extend throughout a long series of ages, for the benefit of man at large, without being confined to one epoch or generation, which would be the case in a fulfilment suddenly coming to pass. Thus, some portion of the prophecies concerning Edom has reference to the year of recompenses for the controversy of Sion.
One word in regard to the work of Keith.
Since penning this article we have been grieved to see, in a New-York daily
paper, some strictures on this well-known treatise, which we think unnecessary,
if not positively unjust; and which, indeed, are little more than a revival
of the old story trumped up for the purposes of its own, and in the most
bitter spirit of unfairness, by the London Quarterly Review. We allude
especially to the charges of plagiarism from the work of Bishop Newton.
It would be quite as reasonable to accuse Dr Webster of having stolen his
Dictionary from Dr. Johnson, or any other compiler of having
Having expressed our belief in the literal fulfilment of prophecy in all cases,* and having suggested, as one reason for the non-prevalence of this belief, the improper point of view from which we are accustomed to regard it, it remains to be seen what were the principal predictions in respect to Idumea.
* Of course it will be understood that
a proper allowance must be made for the usual hyperbolical tendency of
the language of the East. [[This footnote appears at the bottom of page
"From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it for ever and ever. But the cormorant and the bittern shall possess it; the owl also and the raven shall dwell in it; and he shall stretch out upon it the line of confusion and the stones of emptiness. They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing. And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof; and it shall be a habitation for dragons and a court for owls. The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech-owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest. There shall the great owl make her nest, and lay and hatch, and gather under her shadow; there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate. Seek ye out of the Book of the Lord, and read; no one of these shall fail, none shall want her mate; for my mouth it hath commanded, and his spirit it hath gathered them. And he hath cast the lot for them, and his hand hath divided it unto them by line; they shall possess it for ever and ever, from generation to generation shall they dwell therein.'' Isaiah: xxxiv. 5, 10 17. "Thus will I make Mount Seir most desolate, and - cut off from it him that passeth out and him that returneth.'' Ezekiel: xxxv. 7.
In regard to such of the passages here quoted as
are not printed in Italics, we must be content with referring to the treatise
of Keith already mentioned, wherein the evidences
He says that Volney, Burckhardt, Joliffe, Henniker, and Captains Irby and Mangles, adduce a variety of circumstances, all conspiring to prove that Idumea, which was long resorted to from every quarter, is so beset on every side with dangers to the traveller, that literally none pass through it; that even the Arabs of the neighbouring regions, whose home is the desert, and whose occupation is wandering, are afraid to enter it, or to conduct any within its borders. He says, too, that amid all this manifold testimony to its truth, there is not, in any single instance, the most distant allusion to the prediction that the evidence is unsuspicious and undesigned.
A Roman road passed directly through Idumea from Jerusalem to Akaba, and another from Akaba to Moab; and when these roads were made, at a time long posterior to the date of the predictions, the conception could not have been formed, or held credible by man, that the period would ever arrive when none should pass through it. Indeed, seven hundred years after the date of the prophecy, we are informed by Strabo that the roads were actually in use. The prediction is yet more surprising, he says, when viewed in conjunction with that which implies that travellers should pass by Idumea "every one that goeth by shall be astonished.'' The routes of the pilgrims from Damascus, and from Cairo to Mecca, the one on the east and the other towards the south of Edom, along the whole of its extent, go by it, or touch partially on its borders, without going through it.
Not even, he says, the cases of Seetzen and Burckhardt
can be urged against the literal fulfilment, although Seetzen actually
did pass through Idumea, and Burckhardt traversed a considerable
portion of it. The former died not long after the completion of his journey;
and the latter never recovered from the effects of the hardships endured
on the route dying at Cairo. "Neither of them,'' we have given the precise
words of Mr. Keith, "lived to return to Europe. I will cut off from
Mount Seir him that passeth out and him that returneth. Strabo mentions
that there was a direct road from Petra to Jericho, of three or four days'
journey. Captains Irby and Mangles were eighteen days in reaching it from
Jerusalem. They did not pass through Idumea, and they did return.
"The words of the prediction,'' he elsewhere observes, "might well be understood as merely implying that Idumea would cease to be a thoroughfare for the commerce of the nations which adjoined it, and that its highly-frequented marts would be forsaken as centres of intercourse and traffic; and easy would have been the task of demonstrating its truth in this limited sense which scepticism itself ought not to be unwilling to authorize.''
Here is, no doubt, much inaccuracy and misunderstanding; and the exact boundaries of ancient Edom are, apparently, not borne in mind by the commentator. Idumea proper was, strictly speaking, only the mountainous tract of country east of the valley of El-Ghor. The Idumeans, if we rightly apprehend, did not get possession of any portion of the south of Judea till after the exile, and consequently until after the prophecies in question. They then advanced as far as Hebron, where they were arrested by the Maccabees. That "Seetzen actually did pass through Idumea,'' cannot therefore be asserted; and thus much is in favour of the whole argument of Dr. Keith, while in contradiction to a branch of that argument. The traveller in question (see his own Narrative), pursuing his route on the east of the Dead Sea, proceeded no farther in this direction than to Kerek, when he retraced his way afterwards going from Hebron to Mount Sinai, over the desert eastward of Edom. Neither is it strictly correct that he "died not long after the completion of his journey.'' Several years afterwards he was actively employed in Egypt, and finally died; not from constitutional injury sustained from any former adventure, but, if we remember, from the effects of poison administered by his guide in a journey from Mocha into the heart of Arabia. We see no ground either for the statement that Burckhardt owed his death to hardships endured in Idumea. Having visited Petra, and crossed the western desert of Egypt in the year 1812, we find him, four years afterwards, sufficiently well, at Mount Sinai. He did not die until the close of 1817, and then of a diarrha brought about by the imprudent use of cold water.
But let us dismiss these and some other instances
of misstatement. It should not be a matter of surprise that, perceiving,
as he no doubt did, the object of the circumstantiality of prophecy,
clearly seeing in how many wonderful cases its minutiæ had been fulfilled,
and withal being thoroughly imbued with a love of truth, and with that
zeal which is becoming
But in regard to the possibility of the actual passage
through Edom, we might now consider all ambiguity at an end, could we suffer
ourselves to adopt the opinion of Mr. Stephens, that he himself had at
length traversed the disputed region. What we have said already, however,
respecting the proper boundaries of that Idumea to which the prophecies
have allusion, will assure the reader that we cannot entertain this idea.
It will be clearly seen that he did not - pass through the Edom of Ezekiel.
That he might have done so, however, is sufficiently evident. The indomitable
perseverance which bore him up amid the hardships and dangers of the route
actually traversed, would, beyond doubt, have sufficed to ensure him a
successful passage even through Idumea the proper. And this we say, maintaining
still an unhesitating belief in the literal understanding of the prophecies.
It is essential, however, that these prophecies be literally rendered;
and it is a matter for regret as well as surprise, that Dr. Keith should
have failed to determine so important a point as the exactness or falsity
of the version of his text. This we will now briefly examine.
|XXX "For an eternity,''
XXX "of eternities,''
XXX "moving about,"
XXX "in it."
|XXX "and I will give,''
XXX "the mountain,''
XXX "for a desolation,"
XXX "and a desolation."
XXX "and I will cut off,"
XXX "from it,"
XXX "him that goeth,"
XXX "and him that returneth."
Mr. Stephens was strongly dissuaded from his design. Almost the only person who encouraged him was Mr. Gliddon, our consul; and but for him the idea would have been abandoned. The dangers, indeed, were many, and the difficulties more. By good fortune, however, the sheik of Akaba was then at Cairo. The great yearly caravan of pilgrims for Mecca was assembling beneath the walls, and he had been summoned by the pacha to escort and protect them through the desert as far as Akaba. He was the chief of a powerful tribe of Bedouins, maintaining, in all its vigour, the independence of their race, and bidding defiance to the pacha, while they yielded him such obedience as comported with their own immediate interests.
With this potentate our traveller entered into negotiation. The precise service required of him was, to conduct Mr. Stephens from Akaba to Hebron, through the land of Edom, diverging to visit the excavated city of Petra, a journey of about ten days. A very indefinite arrangement was at length made. Mr. Stephens, after visiting Mount Sinai, was to repair to Akaba, where he would meet the escort of the Bedouin. With a view to protection on his way from Cairo to the Holy Mountain, the latter gave him his signet, which he told him would be respected by all Arabs on the route.
The arrangements for the journey as far as Mount
Sinai had been made for our traveller by Mr. Gliddon. A Bedouin was procured
as guide who had been with M. Laborde to Petra, and whose faith, as well
as capacity, could be depended upon. The caravan consisted of eight camels
and dromedaries, with three young Arabs as drivers. The tent was the common
tent of the Egyptian soldiers, bought at the government factory, being
very light, easily carried and pitched. The bedding was a mattress and
coverlet: provision, bread, biscuit, rice, macaroni, tea, coffee, dried
apricots, oranges, a roasted leg of mutton, and two large skins containing
the filtered water of the Nile. Thus equipped, the party struck immediately
into the desert lying between Cairo and Suez, reaching the latter place,
with but little incident, after a journey of four days. At Suez, our traveller,
wearied with his experiment of the dromedary, made an attempt to hire a
boat, with a view of proceeding down the Red Sea to Tor, supposed to be
the Elino, or place of palm-trees mentioned in the Exodus of the Israelites,
and only two
"I am aware,'' says Mr. Stephens, "that there is some dispute as to the precise spot where Moses crossed; but having no time for skepticism on such matters, I began by making up my mind that this was the place, and then looked around to see whether, according to the account given in the Bible, the face of the country and the natural landmarks did not sustain my opinion. I remember I looked up to the head of the gulf, where Suez or Kolsum now stands, and saw that almost to the very head of the gulf there was a high range of mountains which it would be necessary to cross, an undertaking which it would have been physically impossible for 600,000 people, men, women, and children, to accomplish, with a hostile army pursuing them. At Suez, Moses could not have been hemmed in as he was; he could go off into the Syrian desert, or, unless the sea has greatly changed since that time, round the head of the gulf. But here, directly opposite where I sat, was an opening in the mountains, making a clear passage from the desert to the shore of the sea. It is admitted that from the earliest history of the country, there was a caravan route from the Rameseh of the Pharaohs to this spot, and it was perfectly clear to my mind that, if the account be true at all, Moses had taken that route; that it was directly opposite me, between the two mountains, where he had come down with his multitude to the shore, and that it was there he had found himself hemmed in, in the manner described in the Bible, with the sea before him, and the army of Pharaoh in his rear; it was there he had stretched out his hand and divided the waters; and probably on the very spot where I sat the children of Israel had kneeled upon the sands to offer thanks to God for his miraculous interposition. The distance, too, was in confirmation of this opinion. It was about twenty miles across; the distance which that immense multitude, with their necessary baggage, could have passed in the space of time (a night) mentioned in the Bible. Besides my own judgment and conclusions, I had authority on the spot, in my Bedouin Toualeb, who talked of it with as much certainty as if he had seen it himself; and, by the waning light of the moon, pointed out the metes and bounds according to the tradition received from his fathers.''
Mr. Stephens is here greatly in error, and has placed
Resuming his journey to the southward, our traveller passed safely through a barren and mountainous region, bare of verdure, and destitute of water, in about seven days to Mount Sinai. It is to be regretted, that in his account of a country so little traversed as this peninsula, Mr. Stephens has not entered more into detail. Upon his adventures at the Holy Mountain, which are of great interest, he dwells somewhat at length.
At Akaba he met the Sheik as by agreement. A horse of the best breed of Arabia was provided, and, although suffering from ill health, he proceeded manfully through the desert to Petra and Mount Hor. The difficulties of the route proved to be chiefly those arising from the rapacity of his friend, the Sheik of Akaba, who threw a thousand impediments in his way with the purpose of magnifying the importance of the service rendered, and obtaining, in consequence, the larger allowance of bucksheesh.
The account given of Petra agrees in all important particulars with those rendered by the very few travellers who had previously visited it. With these accounts our readers are sufficiently acquainted. The singular character of the city, its vast antiquity, its utter loss, for more than a thousand years, to the eyes of the civilized world; and, above all, the solemn denunciations of prophecy regarding it, have combined to invest these ruins with an interest beyond that of any others in existence, and to render what has been written concerning them familiar knowledge to nearly every individual who reads.
Leaving Petra, after visiting Mount Hor, Mr. Stephens
returned to the valley of El-Ghor, and fell into the caravan route for
Gaza, which crosses the valley obliquely. Coming out from the ravine among
the mountains to the westward, he here left the road to Gaza, and pushed
immediately on to Hebron. This distance (between the Gaza route and Hebron)
is, we believe, the only positively new route accomplished by our
The latter part of our author's second volume is occupied with his journeyings in the Holy Land, and, principally, with an account of his visit to Jerusalem. What relates to the Dead Sea we are induced to consider as, upon the whole, the most interesting, if not the most important portion of his book. It was his original intention to circumnavigate this lake, but the difficulty of procuring a boat proved an obstacle not to be surmounted. He traversed, nevertheless, no little extent of its shores, bathed in it, saw distinctly that the Jordan does mingle with its waters, and that birds floated upon it, and flew over its surface.
But it is time that we conclude. Mr. Stephens passed through Samaria and Galilee, stopping at Nablous, the ancient Sychem; the burial-place of the patriarch Joseph; and the ruins of Sebaste; crossed the battle-plain of Jezreel; ascended Mount Tabor; visited Nazareth, the Lake of Genesareth, the cities of Tiberias and Saphet, Mount Carmel, Acre, Sour, and Sidon. At Beyroot he took passage for Alexandria, and thence, finally returned to Europe.
The volumes are written in general with a freedom, a frankness, and an utter absence of pretension, which will secure them the respect and good-will of all parties. The author professes to have compiled his narrative merely from "brief notes and recollections,'' admitting that he has probably fallen into errors regarding facts and impressions errors he has been prevented from seeking out and correcting by the urgency of other occupations since his return. We have, therefore, thought it quite as well not to trouble our readers, in this cursory review, with references to parallel travels, now familiar, and whose merits and demerits are sufficiently well understood.
We take leave of Mr. Stephens with sentiments of hearty respect. We hope it is not the last time we shall hear from him. He is a traveller with whom we shall like to take other journeys. Equally free from the exaggerated sentimentality of Chateaubriand, or the sublimated, the too French enthusiasm of Lamartine on the one hand, and on the other from the degrading spirit of utilitarianism, which sees in mountains and waterfalls only quarries and manufacturing sites, Mr. Stephens writes like a man of good sense and sound feeling.
[The table of contents for this issue lists the review as article V: "STEPHENS' TRAVELS [[/]] Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land. By an AMERICAN."]
[S:0 - NYR, 1837]