Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]

a

pation of the Holy Land by the tribes of Judah, lay to the east of that sea.

At the time of Abulfeda, Moab Proper, south of the Arnon, bore the name of Karak, from the city so called, and which corresponds to the ancient Kir-Moab, the wall, stronghold or citadel of Moab; also called Kir-hareseth and Kir-beres, brick fortress. Since that time the accounts of this district are very meagre; for, through fear of the Arabs, few of the numerous travellers in Palestine have ventured to explore it.*

Seetzen was the first, in 1806, to shed a new and altogether unexpected light upon the topography of this region. He found a multitude of places

or at least of ruins of places--still bearing the old names, and thus set bounds to the perfectly arbitrary designations of them in the old charts. Seetzen was followed in 1812 by Burckhardt, whose explorations threw additional light upon the ancient topography of the lands of Moab and Edom. Most of the travellers who visited Petra after Burckhardt passed also through the land of Moab, but it afterwards became usual to pass from Petra direct to Hebron ; whence this country has escaped the researches of many travellers whose observations have of late years enriched the topography of Palestine. A party of English gentlemen, Captains Irby and Mangles, Mr. Bankes, and Mr. Legh, passed through the land of Moab in returning from Petra in 1818; and their observations, published in their “ Travels,” by Irby and Mangles ; and by Legh, in a Supplement to Dr. Macmichael's Journey from Moscow to Constantinople," 1819, furnish the most valuable additions which have as yet been obtained to the information of Seetzen and Burckhardt. The northern parts of the country were visited by Mr. Buckingham, and more lately by Mr. George Robinson, and by Lord Lindsay, but very little additions have been made by these travellers to our previous knowledge. The plates to Laborde's new work, " Voyage en Orient,” show that he also visited the land of Moab; but the particulars of his journey have not yet been published.

One of the results of the journey of Irby and Mangles was the determination of the position of Zoar, at the mouth of the Wady Karak, at the point where the latter opens upon the isthmus of the long peninsula which stands out from the eastern shore of the lake towards its southern end. At this point the travellers discovered the remains of an ancient town, which they identified with Zoar; and the most distinguished explorer of Palestine in modern times, the Rev. Dr. Robinson, has, after careful consideration of all the circumstances of the case (“ Bib. Researches,” ii. 480, 481 ; 648-651), sided with this view of the case.

When the destruction of the cities in the plain took place, and Lot was flying with the immediate members of his family to Zoar, it is recorded in Holy Writ that his wife looked back from behind him, and she became

Sir John Maundeville (A.D. 1322) notices Segir as set upon a hill in Edom. Some part of the town, he said, still appears above the water, and men may see the walls when is fair and clear weather. This most credulous of travellers said of the Dead Sea that nothing would die therein, which had been proved by men that have been cast therein, and left three or four days; iron, he said, would float on its waters and a feather sink; things, he justly remarks, contrary to nature. Some called it Lake Dasfetidee, others the River of Devils, and some the river that is ever stinking,

a pillar of salt. This has been not inaptly described in the “Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature:” “ As they went, being hastened by the angels, the wife, anxious for those who had been left behind, or reluctant to remove from the place which had long been her home, and where much valuable property was necessarily left behind, lingered behind the rest, and was suddenly involved in the destruction, by which-smothered and stiffened as she stood by saline incrustations—she became 'a pillar of salt.'”

It is possible that this is as nearly a correct statement of the phenomenon that took place as we can arrive at, and the expression of a pillar of salt is precisely what Oriental language and imagery would lend to the circumstances. Indeed, to use the expressions of the same writer, whatever difficulty has been connected with the subject has arisen from the ridiculous notions which have been connected with it, for which no authority is found in the scriptural narrative. It has been supposed that the woman was literally turned into a pillar of salt, and that this pillar stood for

many ages, if it does not still exist, as a standing monument of the transaction. Indeed, sundry old travellers have averred that they had seen it; and no doubt they did see something which they supposed to be the pillar into which Lot's wife was turned, or were told to be such. This notion originated with the author of the “Wisdom of Solomon,” which was regarded by the Roman Catholics as scriptural authority that might not be disputed. Therefore old pilgrims and travellers sought for this monument; and, from their example, more modern travellers have done the same : although, if Protestants, they could attach no particular weight to the authority which alone justified their predecessors in their hopes of finding it. The passage referred to is that in which the author, after alluding to the punishment of Sodom and the deliverance of Lot, adverts to the existing evidence of the former ; and then adds, somewhat vaguely, “a standing pillar of salt is a monument of an unbelieving soal.”

This was no doubt the authority relied upon : indeed, we find it expressly quoted by some travellers as the ground of their expectation. But the testimony of Josephus is still more explicit, and with us would be quite as authoritative. He expressly says, not only that the monument existed, but that he had seen it. (Antiq. i. 11,4). His contemporary, Clement of Rome, makes a similar statement (Epist. i. $ 11); and so, in the next century, does Irenæus (iv. 51, 64). But their evidence is of little original value on a point like this. Josephus and the author of “ Wisdom” no doubt believed what they stated : and their testimony amounted to this, that in their day an object existed which was said to be the pillar into which Lot's wife was turned, and which they believed to be such. But in the present day, when the sources of historical evidence are more carefully investigated than in former times, we regard these authorities 2000 years after the event as having no particular weight, unless so far as they may be supported by anterior probabilities and documents, which in this case do not exist.

Further, it is all but impossible that if so strange a monument had existed on the borders of the Dead Sea, it should not have been noticed by the sacred historians, and alluded to by the poets. And we may almost certain, that if it had remained when the Book of Genesis was written, the frequent formula, that it was there “unto this day," would not have been omitted. Indeed, there is every probability that, if such a monument had then existed, the Canaanites would have made it one of their idols.*

The expression of our Lord, “ Remember Lot's wife,” appears from the context to be solely intended as an illustration of the danger of going back, or delaying in the day of God's judgments. From this text, indeed, it would appear as if Lot's wife had gone back, or had tarried so long behind, in the desire of saving some of their property. Then, as it would seem, she was struck dead, and became a stiffened corpse, fixed for the time to the soil by saline or bituminous incrustations. The particle of similitude must here, as in other passages of Scripture, be understood, “ like a pillar of salt.”

It has been assumed that the Vale of Siddim occupied the basin of what is now the Dead Sea, which did not previously exist, but was one of the results of the catastrophe. But in that case the river Jordan must have had at that time an elevation of upwards of 1300 to 1400 feet,t

* It would scarcely be believed that a traveller should be found so credulous in our own times as to fancy that he had found the pillar of salt into which Lot's wife was converted. So soluble is the rock-salt of the Jibal Usdum that it is constantly varying its aspect, and new pinnacles and pillars present themselves every year for the speculative surmises of superstitious travellers. One fact comes out of an identification of this kind made by Captain Lynch of the United States navy, which is, that he thereby associates the salt mountains with the district of the oft-discussed catastrophe.

M. de Saulcy has a theory of his own upon this subject. The wife of Lot, he says, must have been crushed by one of those great masses of detached rock which abound on the plain, and thus, when Lot and his children looked round, they would have seen, instead of the unfortunate woman, nothing but the mass of salt which covered her body. In his characteristic style, he adds, " Any one may give what explanation he chooses of this death; but I declare myself to be most decided, now that I have seen the place, to abide by that which I have just put forward, and which, nevertheless, I do not wish to force upon any one.' It certainly does not presuppose much sense or powers of observation on the part of the patriarchs.

| It is needless, in the present state of inquiry, to attempt a closer approximation, the results of different observations upon the depression of the Dead Sea varying so much from one another.

Lake of

Dead Sea. Tiberias. The barometric observations of De Bertou, made in Eng. ft. Eng. ft. March, 1838, and May, 1839, give ...

1374.7 755.6 The barometric observations of Russegger, made in November and December, 1838

1429.2 666.1 The barometric observations of Von Wildenbruch, made in 1845

1446.3 845.5 The trigonometrical survey by Lieut. Symonds

1312,2 328.1 The discrepancy of these observations is scarcely greater than might be expected under the circumstances; but still, the difference in level between the Lake of Tiberias and the Dead Sea is so great as to have been justly termed by Mr. Hamilton “a very remarkable phenomenon, which calls for the early attention of travellers and geographers.” Dr. Robinson suspects the possibility that some slight element of defect or inaccuracy may have entered into the observations or calculations, and thus have affected the correctness of the result (Jour. of Roy. Geo. Soc. vol. xviii. p. 84), whilst Mr. A. Petermann, remarking that the rate of depression appears to increase with the lapse of time between the observations, suggests the possibility of an existing gradual sinking of the Dead Sea.

...

...

throughout the whole length of the Al Ghur, or from the cliffs at the north end of Lake Tiberias to Al Arabah, in order to have found its way into the Red Sea, which is thirty-two feet above the Mediterranean. (See Petermann's Section from the Red Sea, through Al Arabah and Al Ghur, in Journal of Royal Geographical Society, vol. xvii.)

The historical account of the destruction of the Cities of the Plain contains no reference to the agency of water ; on the contrary, when Abraham contemplated the scene of destruction the ensuing day, “the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.”

The fire that attended upon the catastrophe has been explained by a supposed accumulation of bitumen kindled by volcanic action or lightning from heaven; and this theory has the sanction of Le Clerc, of Leopold von Buch, and of Dr. Robinson. It is not an improbable view of the case, but the combustion of subterranean deposits of bitumen must have been accompanied by the evolution of gases, some probably combustible, adding to the destructive energy, as also most probably causing earthquakes or disturbances of the soil.

The geological structure of the country around the Dead Sea is precisely similar to what we observe in other parts of Western Asia, where we find bitumen fountains, as near Dair and Hit, on the Euphrates, and in the Kifri Hills, in Southern Kurdistan-viz., marles, gypsum, clay, with bitumen, salt, and red sandstones, all supracretaceous. Where these bitumen fountains exist they are generally thermal, always salt, and they mostly give off naphtha or petroleum, which concretes by exposure into bitumen or asphalt. They also evolve hydrosulphureous acid, sulphur itself being found in the bituminous clays, and sometimes the waters deposit sulphur, as near Musul.

The most remarkable phenomenon illustrative of what may possibly have occurred in the valley of Siddim, presents itself in the existing fires at Abu Gagir, near Kirkuk, and which appear to owe their origin to the subterranean combustion of bitumen and sulphur brought about by chemical action.

The Dead Sea, it is well known, obtained its name of Lacus Asphaltites from the quantities of asphalt which it afforded. It presents the features of a common bitumen fountain on a large scale. The waters are saltmuch more so than the waters of the sea. Sulphur, in pieces as large as walnuts, and even larger, are found on the borders, as also a compact asphalt or jet. The neighbourhood is liable to earthquakes, and most asphalt floats to the surface of the waters on those occasions. This has been supposed to arise from solid asphalt being detached by such movements from the bottom of the sea; but it is more likely that the substance is liberated at the time from the subjacent formations, and that the earthquakes are results of the chemical operations going on which effect that liberation. The evolution of asphalt attended by an earthquake would also, most probably, if carefully watched, be found to be accompanied by the evolution of gases.

The order of things to which the volcanic actions that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha, which keep alive the fires of Kirkuk, and the hot saline, sulphureous, and bituminous springs around the Dead Sea and in other places, are of a different order and class of phenomena to those which produced the lavas and pumice-stones which are found in the same neighbourhood.

As Russegger, and Strabo long before him, justly remark, the mountains between Jerusalem and the Jordan, in the valley of the Jordan itself, and those around the Dead Sea, bear unequivocal evidence of volcanic agency, such as disruptions, upheaving, faults, &c., &c., proofs of which agency are still notorious in the continual earthquakes, hot springs, and formations of asphalt, but which do not belong to the same category as the volcanic agencies of former times.

Dr. Robinson, admitting that a lake to receive the Jordan and other waters must have occupied the basin of the Dead Sea long before the catastrophe of Sodom, and arguing that the waters could not have passed more southward, as was at one time supposed, he assumes, also, that the Dead Sea anciently covered a much less extent of surface than at present. The doomed cities being situated at what was then the south end of the lake, they were all buried by an encroachment of the waters, which took place in a southward direction-probably from a subsidence in the soil admitting the extension of the waters in that direction. Such an encroachment involved the submergence of Sodom, Gomorrha, Admah, and Zeboim; and the promontory, or rather peninsula, towards the south, upon which the ruins of Zoar are situated, and which is so distinct a feature of the Dead Sea, is thus supposed to mark the original boundary of the lake in that direction, and shows the point at which the waters broke into the plain beyond.

This view of the case is countenanced by the disappearance and hence probable submergence of the slime or bitumen pits of the vale of Siddim, as also by the non-discovery of the sites of the four lost cities ; but it is not countenanced by Scripture, which does not say anything about the country being converted into a tract of waters, nor is it countenanced by the incrustation of Lot's wife with salt, a soluble substance, nor with what Abraham is described as witnessing the ensuing day, a country covered with smoke. These are, however, difficulties of no great import, and most of the facts and circumstances in the case are in favour of Dr. Robinson's theory. If, as Captain Allen still argues, a communication formerly existed between the Jordan and the Red Sea, it is not impossible that an elevation took place in the Arabah at the very moment that a corresponding subsidence occurred in the depression of the Dead Sea ; and that hence, what was before the destruction of the cities, the plain of Jordan became the Salt Sea, or the Sea of the Plain. It is sufficient answer to such an hypothesis, that we are expressly told (Gen. xiv. 3) that at the very time that Lot was in the vale of Siddim, the Salt Sea existed. We are therefore left to two alternatives either that the ruins of the destroyed cities are buried in the waters of a southerly extension of the Dead Sea, or that the traces of such had not as yet been discovered by travellers.

Under such circumstances the identifications lately established by M. de Saulcy between certain ruins of the western side of the Dead Sea and the lost cities, claim serious consideration. M. de Saulcy is a member of the Institute of France; he bears a high reputation as an archæologist, an Oriental scholar, and a man of integrity, and anything

« AnteriorContinuar »