Woman Of Bethlehem.
Grotto Of The Nativity,.
From Bethlehem our route led on, a few miles farther, to Hebron, the earliest seat of civilization in Palestine, and one of the oldest cities in the world. Here Abraham resided; here he received the three celestial visitors, and here his tomb is to this day. Hebron was also David's capital for the first seven years of his reign, till he transferred the seat of his sovereignty to Jerusalem. It is, accordingly, gratifying to find in a town of such antiquity some relics of the past whose genuineness cannot be questioned, although their age surpasses that of all the other genuine memorials of Bible characters. To see these with safety, as soon as we arrived in Hebron, we made arrangements with the chief of the community, Sheik Hamza. He did not look like one possessing much authority. In one hand he held a pipe to solace his old age, while with the other he grasped a knotty stick, which served him in turn as a sceptre and an instrument of discipline. The favor of this Sheik is, nevertheless, quite essential, for the Arabs of the place are noted for their hatred of all unbelievers; and the old spirit of intolerance, which once prevailed throughout the whole of Palestine and made the entrance of a Christian to the Mosque of Omar an impossibility, still burns in Hebron bosoms undiminished by the lapse of years.
Pilgrims At Bethlehem.
Properly protected, however, we made our way without difficulty to one of Hebron's famous relics,- its ancient reservoir of water, constructed of huge blocks of carefully hewn stone. Accustomed, as we were, to find fictitious names and dates assigned to almost everything in Palestine, it startled us to learn that this reservoir was probably built in the time of David, three thousand years ago. Such, at all events, is the opinion of most archaeologists; for cisterns like this and the celebrated "Pools of Solomon" were absolutely essential even in earliest times in a land like Palestine. Built with such solidity, they could last for centuries, and repairs, when needed, could be easily made without disturbing the original site. The Bible states that David put to death within this town the murderers of the son of Saul, and hung their lifeless bodies by the Pool of Hebron. It may, therefore, be surmised that, since no trace of other ruined reservoirs has been discovered anywhere in this vicinity, this is the identical basin described.
But of far greater interest than this Pool of Hebron is an object now enclosed by the massive walls of a Moslem mosque. The Christian traveler may survey their exterior at a respectful distance, but if he places the slightest value on his life, he should not try to enter the enclosure. Beneath the mosque, which these high battlements surround, there is a cave. It is the cavern of Machpelah, which Abraham, on the death of his wife Sarah, purchased as a family burial-place, nearly four thousand years ago. Here he himself was also buried; and, later on, within this cave were laid to rest Isaac and Jacob, with their wives, - Jacob's body having, at the patriarch's request, been brought from Egypt to be placed here by the side of his wife, Leah. Moreover, since it was embalmed, after the manner of Egyptians, his features probably remain well-nigh intact to-day.
Tool Of Hebron.
It is humiliating to admit that neither Jew nor Christian can to-day stand beside the tombs in which repose the founders of the Hebrew nation. But such is the fact; for the Mohammedans guard with jealous reverence the tomb of Abraham, for whom their name is "The Friend of God."
It is a singular coincidence that such a title should be given him by Moslems, for in the Epistle of St. James we read these words: "Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God." Of course, no illustrations of the tombs themselves can be obtained so long as such restrictions exist; but one may view at least the entrance to the patriarch's sepulchre, guarded by solid masonry and iron bars. By a special firman from Constantinople, in 1862, the Prince of Wales was admitted here, attended by Dean Stanley. In 1866, a similar favor was accorded to the Marquis of Bute; and three years after to the Crown Prince of Prussia, the late Emperor Frederick. One can imagine, therefore, what chance there is for ordinary tourists to enter.