When I first looked upon the distant Plain of Jericho from the mountains east of Jerusalem, it appeared remarkably beautiful, and I could understand why it had once been called the "Garden of the World," and Jericho itself the "City of Palms." In fact, palms are known to have been in existence here as late as the time of the Crusaders, who also found under them some lovely flowers, which they called "Jericho roses."
The Dead Sea.
But, with the exception of the site of Ephesus, in Asia Minor, it would be difficult to find a more impressive contrast between past magnificence and present squalor than at Jericho. Its history has been eventful. It was the first city conquered by the Jews when they entered Palestine, fifteen hundred years before the birth of Christ; and from that time, for nearly twenty centuries, it was noted for its wealth and luxury. Under the Roman conquerors of Syria it was rebuilt, and Antony, who for the sake of Cleopatra had "madly flung a world away," gave Jericho to that enchantress of the Nile, as her special property, as one might offer to one's love a costly gem. Its palm-girt and well-irrigated plain was made world-famous by its palaces, gardens and amphitheatres, and here the Roman governor, Herod, died. When Christ passed through it on His last journey to Jerusalem, it was at the height of its splendor and prosperity, - but to-day, of all its opulence not a trace remains. Some wretched huts clinging, like barnacles, to the Moslem tower called the House of Zacchaeus, are all that now remain to hint to us that this was once inhabited by man, and the occupants of these hovels are the most repulsive and degraded inhabitants of Syria.
Not far from Jericho, a short ride brings the traveler to the River Jordan. It is by no means an imposing stream, being here only about thirty or forty feet wide, and as muddy as the Tiber. The current is impetuous, and dangerous for bathers, unless they are expert swimmers. A considerable number of pilgrims are drowned in it every year, and we saw one dead body caught in the bushes on the opposite shore.
Thousands of Christian pilgrims come annually, especially at Easter time, to bathe in the sacred stream ; each sect having a different bathing-place, which each affirms to be the exact spot where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist. On the occasions of these pilgrimages, the Turkish Government guarantees, as it has done for centuries, the protection of the Christians from the Bedouins. To most of the pilgrims to the Holy Land baptism, or even a bath, in the Jordan is one of the most sacred and important events of their lives, and they religiously cherish the robes in which they have been immersed, to serve ultimately as their winding-sheets. Most of them also take back to their homes bottles filled with water from the sacred river. The Jordan has been sometimes praised as being beautiful and limpid, and such perhaps it may be in the earlier portion of its course, but we agreed that we had never seen a stream more desolate and dreary. One might imagine that it has a presentiment here of the awful fate which awaits it close at hand, of being stifled in the brine of the Dead Sea. Swift and sullen, it here rolls through a land of desolation to a sea of death.
A Midday Heal In Palestine.
The first glimpse of the Dead Sea, as we descended toward it from the site of Jericho, was a great surprise. It seemed to us as fair a sheet of bright green water as we had ever looked upon, and it sparkled in the sunlight like a limpid lake. Could it be possible, we asked ourselves in astonishment, that this was the Dead Sea? When we arrived at its shore, however, there was no longer any doubt. It was the climax of the dreary plain over which we had come. There was no sail upon its surface, no sign of life within its waves. Some shrub-like vegetation fringed the shore, but that, like everything else in the vicinity, was covered with a white, salt crust, and looked as if it had been smitten with leprosy, while branches of dead trees, brought hither by the Jordan, lay on the sterile shore like the distorted limbs of monsters that had died in agony.