People and Land of Israel: 4. Travels in Sinai and Palestine

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Sinai and Palestine, in Connection with their History. By Arthur Penrhyn Stanley, M.A., Canon of Canterbury, with Maps and Plans. Third Edition. London: John Murray, Albemarle Street. 1856.
Our object in the present paper is to cite some passages in the most able and interesting of recent works on the Holy Land, and at the same time to afford evidence whether or not it ought to have the confidence of the Christian and the Christian household.
Mr. Stanley's preface is devoted to his view of the connection of sacred history with the geography of the promised land. He attempts to trace its influence on national character, on forms of expression, the explanation it offers of particular events, and the evidence afforded of historical truth, with its illustrative, poetical, or proverbial uses. Most of our readers will feel that it is an attempt to invest what at best is but Gibeonite labor, “hewing wood and drawing water,” with a grandeur to which it is in no way entitled. Still as such servitude had its place towards Israel and the sanctuary, the believer may reap good if he know how to turn to account these efforts, earthly as they are.
The introduction treats of Egypt in relation to Israel Part I., on the peninsula of Sinai, is a fair sample of Mr. S.'s graphic and comprehensive pen. This peninsula is, in certain respects, one of the most remarkable districts on the face of the earth.” It combines the three grand features of earthly scenery—the sea, the desert, and the mountains. It occupies also a position central to three countries, distinguished not merely for their history, but for their geography, amongst all other nations of the world, Egypt, Arabia, Palestine. And lastly, it has been the scene of a history as unique as its situation; by which the fate of the three nations which surround it, and through them the fate of the whole world, has been determined. It was a just remark of Chevalier Bunsen, that 'Egypt has, properly speaking, no history. History was born on that night when Moses led forth his people from Goshen.' Most fully is this felt as the traveler emerges from the valley of the Nile, the study of the Egyptian monuments, and finds himself on the broad tract of the desert. In these monuments, magnificent and instructive as they are, he sees great kings and mighty deeds—the father, the son, and the children—the sacrifices, the conquests, the coronations. But there is no before and after, no unrolling of a great drama, no beginning, middle, and end of a moral progress, or even of a mournful decline. In the desert, on the contrary, the moment the green fields of Egypt recede from our view, still more when we reach the Red sea, the farther we advance into the desert and the mountains, we feel that everything henceforward is continuous, that there is a sustained and protracted interest, increasing more and more, till it reaches its highest point in Palestine, in Jerusalem, on Calvary, and on Olivet. And in the desert of Sinai by the fact that there it stands alone. Over all the other great scenes of human history—Palestine itself, Egypt, and Italy—successive tides of great recollections have rolled, each, to a certain extent, obliterating the traces of the former. But in the peninsula of Sinai there is nothing to interfere with the effect of that single event. The Exodus is the one stream of history that has passed through this wonderful region—a stream which has for its background the whole magnificence of Egypt, and for its distant horizon the forms, as yet unborn, of Judaism, of Mahometanism, of Christianity.” (pp. 3, 4). This extract exemplifies our author, and not least his unhappy practice of blending things divine and human, heavenly and earthly, which may fascinate the natural mind, but is abhorrent to the spiritual man.
Take another specimen. “It is between those two gulfs, the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Abaka, that the peninsula of Sinai lies. From them it derives its contact with the sea and therefore with the world, which is one striking distinction between it and the rest of the vast desert of which it forms a part. From hardly any point of the Sinaitic range is the view of the sea wholly excluded; from the highest points both of its branches are visible; its waters blue with a depth of color more like that of some of the Swiss lakes than of our northern or midland seas, its tides imparting a life to the dead landscape, familiar to modern travelers from the shores of the Atlantic or German ocean, but strange and inexplicable to the inhabitants of the ancient world, whose only knowledge of the sea was the vast tideless lake which washed the coasts of Egypt, Palestine, Greece, and Italy. It must have always brought to the mind of those who stood on its shores that they were on the waters of a new and almost unknown world. Those tides come rolling in from the great Indian Ocean; and with Indian Ocean these two gulfs are the chief channels of communication from the northern world. The white shells which strew their shores, the forests of submarine vegetation, which gave the whole sea its Hebrew appellation of the Sea of weeds, the trees of coral, whose huge trunks may be seen even on the dry shore, with the red rocks and red sand, which especially in the gulf of Akaba bound its sides, all bring before us the mightier mass of the Red or Erythrean Ocean, the coral strands of the Indian Archipelago, of which these two gulfs, with their peculiar products, are the northern off-shoots. The peninsula itself has been the scene of but one cycle of human events. But it has, through its two watery boundaries, been encircled with two tides of history which must not be forgotten in the associations which give it a foremost place in the geography and history of the world; two tides never flowing together, one falling as the other rose, but imparting to each of the two barren valleys through which they flow a life and activity hardly less than that which has so long animated the valley of the Nile. The two great lines of Indian traffic have alternately passed up the eastern and the western gulf, and though unconnected with the greater events of the peninsula of Sinai, the commerce of Alexandria, and the communications of England with India, which now pass down the Gulf of Suez, are not without interest, as giving a lively impression of the ancient importance of the twin gulf of Abaka. That gulf, now wholly deserted, was in the times of the Jewish monarchy the great thoroughfare of the fleets of Solomon and Jehoshaphat, and the only point in the second period of their history which brought the Israelites into connection with the scenes of the earliest wanderings of their nation. Such are the western and eastern boundaries of this mountain tract; striking to the eye of the geographer, as the two parallels to that narrow Egyptian land from which the Israelites came forth: important to the historian, as the two links of Europe and Asia with the great ocean of the south, as the two points of contact between the Jewish people and the civilization of the ancient world. From the summit of Mount St. Catherine, or of Um-Shomer, a wandering Israelite might have seen the beginning and the end of his nation's greatness. On the one side lay the sea through which they had escaped from the bondage of slavery and idolatry—still a mere tribe of the shepherds of the desert. On the other side lay the sea, up which were afterward conveyed the treasures of the Indies, to adorn the palace and the temple of the capital of a mighty empire.”
Here the reader may observe the good and bad points of Mr. S. In all that is external, and that touches on human affairs, there is much which is valuable and masterly; but when he approaches the ways of God, as revealed in Scripture, there is a melancholy falling off. No Israelite has yet seen “the end of his nation's greatness,” nor can see it, we may add. Indeed, that nation's sun has never yet reached its meridian, and, once risen, shall never set. “Thy sun shall no more go down.” The reign of Solomon was but the partial and transient prefiguration of this destiny when a greater than Solomon, the true Son of David, whom. himself typified, “shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
Very unsatisfactory too is his mode of dealing with the passage of the Red Sea. The magnificence of the crisis, and its long train of associations are frankly admitted. But there is a careful insinuation of all that might reduce the fact to the level of the extraordinary but natural.
With very different feelings would we refer to chapter 2 pp. 112-117, which exemplifies Mr. S.'s happiest manner in linking together the external features with the history and calling of the people.
The rest of the chapter traces the peculiarities of Palestine as a land of ruins, its present condition as compared with the past, its climate and volcanic phenomena, its physical configuration, scenery, and geological features, as illustrations of scripture phrases.
Chapter III. is devoted to Judea and Jerusalem, as is chapter IV. to the heights and passes of Benjamin; chapter V. to Ephraim and Manasseh; chapter VI. to the maritime plain; chapter VII. to the Jordan and the Dead Sea; chapter VIII. to Perna and the transjordanic tribes; chapter IX. to the plain of Esdraelon; chapter X. to Galilee; chapter XI. to the Lake of Merom and the source of the Jordan; chapter XII. to Lebanon and Damascus; chapter XIII. to the gospel history and teaching, viewed in connection with the localities of Palestine; and chapter XIV. to the Holy places, with an appendix of Hebrew and topographical words, arranged under different heads. It is curious that the finest sketches of the Canon of Canterbury are the battle scenes of ancient and mediaeval times, with which his accounts of cities and rivers, hill and dale, are plentifully bestrewed. His most frequent and perilous fault is habitual exaggeration of secondary causes, the suppression or veiling of the divine actings in the scripture history of the chosen people. We have only to add that the illustrative maps, which convey the coloring and nature of the ground, rocks, &c., of the Desert and Palestine, are interesting and valuable. With our author's corrections of the Authorized Version (save of appellatives) we do not agree. Fuller knowledge, we are persuaded, would dispose of not a few which are apparently the offspring of foreign criticism, and this is a most suspicious source, except for verbal minutiæ.