We were foolish enough to visit the so-called tomb; and descending by candle-light twenty-five slippery steps, we reached what seemed to have been originally the bottom of a well.
Again, therefore, at Bethany, as in so many other places in the Holy Land, we see that "the letter killeth, the spirit giveth life." In a broad sense, Palestine is still the land of Jesus. In a narrow sense, it is not so at all. It is a picture of which only the grand outlines are satisfactory. It is sublime in its entirety, but tawdry in detail. Even supposing that the precise localities connected with the life and death of Christ are still capable of identification after the dreadful sieges and disasters that have come upon them, the question arises, Which guide or scholar should we follow of all who have written on Jerusalem? There are hardly two of them who do not fight each other fiercely, like ecclesiastical gladiators in an arena of uncertainty. The part of wisdom, therefore, in such a country, where almost every stone is made to indicate some sacred spot, which every other sect immediately disputes, is to fix one's gaze upon the unchanging natural features and draw from them the interest their unrivaled history inspires.
House Of Lazaris.
Tomb Of The Virgin.
The religion of Jesus, which still lives in the hearts of millions, is not dependent on the existence of old sepulchres and shrines. Its essential monuments are not tombs, but characters; not perishable temples upon earth, but a city of God, "not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." Returning from Bethany and Olivet, and walking down the valley of the Kedron, beyond the reputed Tomb of the Virgin, we came upon a singular monument, - the greater part of which is a mass of solid rock, about twenty feet square, completely detached from the adjoining cliff. Within it is a compartment, eight feet square, with spaces on the sides for two sarcophagi. Originally, it must have been imposing, for it is fifty feet in height, and was adorned with columns and a delicately sculptured frieze. As we were passing it, our guide picked up a stone and hurled it at the monument, spitting meantime upon the ground and uttering a curse. "What are you doing?" we inquired: "what is the meaning of that heap of stones to which you have just added one?" He turned and spat again. "It is the tomb of Absalom," he said. In fact, both Jews and Moslems believe that this surmounts the grave of David's disobedient son, and they take a singular delight in showing thus their detestation of treachery to a father.
At The Base Of Olivet.
Not far from this, we paused to notice on the side of Olivet two other monuments. One, like the tomb of Absalom, is an enormous block of stone hewn out of the adjoining cliff; the other is distinguished by a colonnade, behind which, in the hillside, is a kind of catacomb. Nothing is known with certainty about these sepulchres. The names assigned to them are based on no authority save that of vague tradition. But they, of course, must have some legendary history to satisfy the memento - craving pilgrim. Hence one is called the "Tomb of Zachariah;" the other, the "Grotto of St. James," from the belief that the Apostle James concealed himself there after the Crucifixion.
We lingered here some time absorbed in thought; for although nothing is known of those who were originally buried here, one interesting fact gives to these tombs along the slope of Olivet a priceless value. It is that they were undoubtedly standing here at the time of Christ. Ruin, we know, soon overtook alike the glorious Temple and the buildings of the city, of which, as Holy Writ affirms, not one stone was to be left upon another; but these old rock-hewn sepulchres remain almost unchanged since Jesus walked beside them. Upon these very structures, therefore, He must have looked; and this fact gives to them a value shared, with certainty, by nothing else of human workmanship in the world. Around them, for some distance, the hill is almost concealed under prostrate tombstones. They mark the burial-place of Jews who have by thousands toiled back to Jerusalem, content if finally their dust might mingle with the soil of their native land.