Text: Edgar Allan Poe (ed. J. A. Harrison), “Review of Stephens' Arabia Petraea,” The Complete Works of Edgar Allan PoeVol. X: Literary Criticism - part 03 (1902), pp. 1-25


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[Text: New York Review, October, 1837.]

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. [page 2:] 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, and D’Arvieux, with perhaps those of Nau and Troilo, and Russell’s “Natural History of Aleppo.” We have now a vast accession to our knowledge of Oriental regions. Intelligent and observing men, impelled by the various motives of Christian zeal, military adventure, the love of gain, and the love of science, have made their way, often at imminent risk, into every land rendered holy by the words of revelation. Through the medium of the pencil, as well as of the pen, we are even familiarly acquainted with the territories of the Bible. Valuable books of eastern travel are abundant — of which the labors of Niebuhr, Mariti, Volney, Porter, Clarke, Chateaubriand, Burckhardt, Buckingham, Morier, Seetzen, De Lamartine, Laborde, Tournefort, Madden, Maddox, Wilkinson, Arundell, Mangles, Leigh, and Hogg, besides those already mentioned, are merely the principal, or the [page 3:] most extensively known. As we have said, however, the work before us is not to be lightly regarded: highly agreeable, interesting, and instructive, in a general view, it also has, in the connexion now adverted to, claims to public attention possessed by no other book of its kind.

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 portion 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 [page 4:] length of the city, from the Gate of the Sea to the Canopic 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 Canopic Gate for chariot-races, and on the east a splendid gymnasium more than six hundred feet in length, with theatres, baths, and all that could make it a desirable residence for a luxurious people. When it fell into the hands of the Saracens, according to the report of the Saracen general to the Calif Omar, ‘it was impossible to enumerate the variety of its riches and beauties;’ and it is said to ‘have contained four thousand palaces, four thousand baths, four hundred theatres or public edifices, twelve thousand shops, and forty thousand tributary Jews.’ From that time, like everything else which falls in the hands of the Mussulman, it has been going to ruin, and the discovery of the passage to India by the Cape of Good Hope gave the death-blow to its commercial greatness. At present it stands a phenomenon in the history of a Turkish dominion. It appears once more to be raising its head from the dust. It remains to be seen whether this rise is the legitimate and permanent effect of a wise and politic government, combined with natural advantages, or whether the pacha is not forcing it to an unnatural elevation, at the expense, if not upon the ruins, of the rest of Egypt. It is almost presumptuous, on the threshold of my entrance into Egypt, to speculate upon the future condition of this interesting country; but it is clear that the pacha is determined to build up the city of Alexandria if he can: his fleet is here, his army, his arsenal, and his forts are here; and he has forced and centred here a commerce that was before divided [page 5:] between several places. Rosetta has lost more than two thirds of its population. Damietta has become a mere nothing, and even Cairo the Grand has become tributary to what is called the regenerated city.” Vol. I. pp. 21, 22.

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 Judæa and the neighbouring nations! It, however, was distinctly foretold that this country of kings should no longer have one of its own — that it should be laid waste by the hand of strangers — that it should be a base kingdom, the basest of the base — that it should never again exalt itself among the nations — that it should be a desolation surrounded by desolation. [page 6:] Two thousand years have now afforded their testimony to the infallibility of the Divine word, and the evidence is still accumulative. “Its past and present degeneracy bears not a more remote resemblance to the former greatness and pride of its power than the frailty of its mud-walled fabrics now bears to the stability of its imperishable pyramids.” But it should be remembered that there are other prophecies concerning it which still await their fulfilment. “The whole earth shall rejoice, and Egypt shall not be for ever base. The Lord shall smite Egypt; he shall smite and heal it; and they shall return to the Lord, and he shall be entreated of them, and shall heal them. In that day shall Isaac be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land.” Isa. xix. 19-25. In regard to the present degree of political power and importance to which the country has certainly arisen under Mohammed Aly (an importance unknown for many centuries,) the fact, as Mr. Keith observes in his valuable “Evidence of Prophecy,” may possibly serve, at no distant period, to illustrate the prediction which implies, that however base and degraded it might be throughout many generations, it would, notwithstanding, have strength sufficient to be looked to for aid or protection even at the time of the restoration of the Jews to Judæa, who will seek “to strengthen themselves in the strength of Pharaoh, and trust in the shadow of Egypt.” How emphatically her present feeble prosperity is, after all, but the shadow of the Egypt of the Pharaohs, we leave to the explorer of her pyramids, the wanderer among the tombs of her kings, or the fragments of her Luxor and her Carnac.

At Djiddeh, formerly the capital of Upper Egypt and the largest town on the Nile, Mr. Stephens [page 7:] encountered two large boat-loads of slaves — probably five or six hundred — collected at Dongola and Senuaar. “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 [page 8:] 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 or three quarters of a dollar, and eggs for the asking. “You sail under your own country’s banner; and when you walk along the river, if the Arabs look particularly black and truculent, you proudly feel that there is safety in its folds.”

We now approach what is by far the most interesting [page 9:] 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 — 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 Idumæa — 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 [page 10:] 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 are not the prophecies distinct?” — These words, it is said, are incoherent, unintelligible, and should be therefore regarded as untrue. That many prophecies are absolutely unintelligible should not be denied — it is a part of their essence that they should be. The obscurity, like the apparently irrelevant detail, has its object in the providence of God. Were the words of inspiration, affording insight into the events of futurity, at all times so pointedly clear that he who runs might read, they would in many cases, even when fulfilled, afford a rational ground for unbelief in the inspiration of their authors, and consequently in the whole truth of revelation; for it would be supposed that these distinct words, exciting union and emulation among Christians, had thus been merely the means of working out their own accomplishment. It is for this reason that the most of the predictions become intelligible only when viewed from the proper point of observation — the period of fulfilment. Perceiving this, the philosophical thinker, and the Christian, will draw no argument from the obscurity, against [page 11:] the verity of prophecy. Having seen palpably, incontrovertibly fulfilled, even one of these many wonderful predictions, of whose meaning, until the day of accomplishment, he could form no conception; and having thoroughly satisfied himself that no human foresight could have been equal to such amount of foreknowledge, he will await, in confident expectation, that moment certainly to come when the darkness of the veil shall be uplifted from the others.(1) [page 12:]

Having expressed our belief in the literal fulfilment of prophecy in all cases,(1) 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 Idumæa.

“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 [page 13:] 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 of the fulfilment of the predictions in their most minute particulars are gathered into one view. We may as well, however, present here the substance of his observations respecting the words — “none shall pass through it for ever and ever,” and “thus I will make Mount Seir desolate, and cut off from it him that passeth out and him that returneth.”

He says that Volney, Burckhardt, Joliffe, Henniker, and Captains Irby and Mangles, adduce a variety of circumstances, all conspiring to prove that Idumæa, 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 [page 14:] 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 Idumæa 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 Idumæa — “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 Idumæa, 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 [page 15:] did not pass through Idumæa, and they did return. Seetzen and Burckhardt did pass through it, and they did not return.”

“The words of the prediction,” he elsewhere observes, “might well be understood as merely implying that Idumæa 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. Idumæa proper was, strictly speaking, only the mountainous tract of country east of the valley of El-Ghor. The Idumæans, if we rightly apprehend, did not get possession of any portion of the south of Judæa 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 Idumæa,” 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 [page 16:] 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 Idumæa. 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 diarrhœa 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 in a Christian, Dr. Keith should have plunged somewhat hastily or blindly into these inquiries, and pushed to an improper extent the principle for which he contended. It should be observed that the passage cited just above in regard to Seetzen and Burckhardt is given in a footnote, and has the appearance of an after-thought, about whose propriety its author did not feel perfectly content. It is certainly very difficult to reconcile the literal fulfilment of the prophecy with an acknowledgment militating so violently against it as we find in his own words — “Seetzen actually did pass through Idumæa, and Burckhardt travelled through a considerable portion of it.” And what we are told subsequently in respect to Irby and Mangles, and Seetzen and Burckhardt — that these did not pass through Idumæa and did return, while those did pass through and did not return — where a passage from Ezekiel is brought to sustain collaterally [page 17:] a passage from Isaiah — is certainly not in the spirit of literal investigation; partaking, indeed, somewhat of equivoqué.

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 Idumæa 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 Idumæa 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.

Isahia xxxiv. 10.

לכצח — “For an eternity,’ {“For an eternity of eternities,”

כעחם — “of eternities,’

אז — “not,’ {“passing over or through,”(1)

עבר — “moving about,’

:בה — “in it.’ [page 18:]

“For an eternity of eternities (there shall) not (be any one) moving about in it.” The literal meaning of “בה” is “in it,” not “through it.” The participle “עבר” refers to one moving to and fro, or up and down, and is the same term which is rendered “current,” as an epithet of money, in Genesis xxiii. 16. The prophet means that there shall be no marks of life in the land, no living being there, no one moving up and down in it: and are, of course, to be taken with the usual allowance for that hyperbole which is a main feature, and indeed the genius of the language.

Ezekiel xxxv. 7.

[[Hebrew]] — “and I will give,”

[[Hebrew]] — “the mount.”

[[Hebrew]] — “Seir,”

[[Hebrew]] — “for a desolation,”

[[Hebrew]] — “and a desolation,”

[[Hebrew]] — “and I will cut off,”

[[Hebrew]] — “from it,”   through”]

[[Hebrew]] — “him that goeth,” [“him that passeth

[[Hebrew]] — “and him that returneth.”

“And I will give mount Seir for an utter desolation, and will cut off from it him that passeth and repasseth therein.” The reference here is the same as in the previous passage, and the inhabitants of the land are alluded to as moving about therein, and actively employed in the business of life. The meaning of “passing and repassing” is sanctioned by Gesenius, s. v. vol. 2. p. 570, Leo’s Trans. Compare Zachariah vii. 14, and ix. 8. There is something analogous in the Hebrew-Greek phrase occurring in Acts ix. 28. Και ην μετ’ αυτων εισπορευομενος και εκπορευομενος εν [page 19:]’Ιερουσαλημ. “And he was with them in Jerusalem coming in and going out.” The Latin “versatus est” conveys the meaning precisely; which is, that Saul, the new convert, was on intimate terms with the true believers in Jerusalem, moving about among them to and fro, or in and out. It is plain, therefore, that the words of the prophets, in both cases, and when literally construed, intend only to predict the general desolation and abandonment of the land. Indeed, it should have been taken into consideration, that a strict prohibition on the part of the Deity, of an entrance into, or passage through, Idumæa, would have effectually cut off from mankind all evidence of this prior sentence of desolation and abandonment; the prediction itself being thus rendered a dead letter, when viewed in regard to its ulterior and most important purpose — the dissemination of the faith.

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 [page 20:] 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 days’ journey from Mount Sinai. The boats, however, were all taken by pilgrims, and none could be procured — at least for so long a voyage. He accordingly sent off his camels round the head of the gulf, and crossing himself by water, met them on the Petrean side of the sea. [page 21:]

“I am aware,” says Mr. Stephens, “that there is some dispute as to the precise spot where Moses crossed; but having no time for scepticism 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 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 [page 22:] 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 himself in direct opposition to all authority on the subject. It is quite evident, that since the days of the miracle, the sea has “greatly changed” round the head of the gulf. It is now several feet lower, as appears from the alluvial condition of several bitter lakes in the vicinity. On this topic Niebuhr, who examined the matter with his accustomed learning, acumen, and perseverance, is indisputable authority. But he merely agrees with all the most able writers on this head. The passage occurred at Suez. The chief arguments sustaining this position are deduced from the ease by which the miracle could have been wrought, on a sea so shaped, by means of a strong wind blowing from the northeast.

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. [page 23:]

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 American tourist. We understand that, in 1826, Messieurs Strangeways and Anson passed over the ground, on the Gaza road from Petra, to the point where it deviates for Hebron. On the part of Mr. [page 24:] Stephens’s course, which we have thus designated as new, it is well known that a great public road existed in the later days of the Roman empire, and that several cities were located immediately upon it. Mr. Stephens discovered some ruins, but his state of health, unfortunately, prevented a minute investigation. Those which he encountered are represented as forming rude and shapeless masses; there were no columns, no blocks of marble, or other large stones, indicating architectural greatness. The Pentinger Tables place Helusa in this immediate vicinity, and, but for the character of the ruins seen, we might have supposed them to be the remnants of that city.

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, Tyre, and Sidon. At Beyroot he took passage for Alexandria, and thence, finally returned to Europe. [page 25:]

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 following footnote appears at the bottom of page 11, running to the bottom of page 12:]

1.  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 recompense 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 plundered any other. But the work of Keith, as we learn from himself, was written hastily, for the immediate service, and at the urgent solicitation, of a friend, [page 12:] whose faith wavered in regard to the “Evidences of Prophecy,” and who applied to the author to aid his unbelief with a condensed view of these Evidences. In the preface of the book thus composed, with no view to any merits of authorship, and, indeed, with none except that of immediate utility, there is found the fullest disclaimer of all pretension to originality — surely motives and circumstances such as these should have sufficed to secure Dr. Keith from the unmeaning charges of plagiarism, which have been so pertinaciously adduced. We do not mean to deny that, in the blindness of his zeal, and in the firm conviction entertained by him of the general truth of his assumptions, he frequently adopted surmises as facts, and did essential injury to his cause by carrying out his positions to an unwarrantable length. With all its inaccuracies, however, his work must still be regarded as one of the most important triumphs of faith, and, beyond doubt, as a must lucid and conclusive train of argument.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 12:]

1.  Of course it will be understood that a proper allowance must be made for the usual hyperbolical tendency of the language of the East.

[The following footnote appears at the bottom of page 17:]

1.  The R. V. is correct, “None shall pass through it for ever and ever.” [[— ED.]]





[S:1 - JAHCW, 1902] - Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore - Editions - The Complete Works of Edgar Allan Poe (J. A. Harrison) (Review of Stephens' Arabia Petraea)