FIRST OF ALL, let us take a journey to the land where Jesus lived. We will sail in one of the big ocean steamers across the Atlantic, heading our prow a little to the south, and in eight days will pause at the Rock of Gibraltar, which stands on guard at the gate of the Mediterranean Sea. Do you know what “Mediterranean” means? It means, “among the lands”; and when you look at this sea on the map, you see that it has lands around it on every side, with only a narrow opening at Gibraltar, where its blue waters pour into the Atlantic Ocean.
We will enter the Mediterranean Sea, and sail its entire length, past Spain and France and Italy on the left . We just miss touching the toe of Italy, for you know Italy runs into the sea like a great leg with a high-heeled boot upon its foot. And just beyond Italy we sail by Greece, which looks somewhat like a hand with fingers wide apart.
While we are passing by these lands on the left, we are also sailing past Morocco and Algiers, and Tunis and Tripoli on the right. We stop at Alexandria in Egypt, at one of the mouths of the river Nile, and soon after we leave the big steamer at Port Said, where the great Suez Canal begins.
There in the afternoon about ten days after our leaving America, we go on board a smaller ship, and sail northward past the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. The next morning we awake to find our ship at anchor in front of a city on a hillside, rising up in terraces from the water.
That city is now called Jaffa, or Yafa; and it is the place where the steamers stop to send ashore those who are about to visit the Holy Land, for that is the name given to the land where Jesus lived. Do you remember in the Old Testament the story of Jonah, the prophet who tried to run away from God’s call to preach in the city of Nineveh? Well, it was from this city of Jaffa, then called Joppa, that Jonah started on his voyage, which ended inside the big fish. Perhaps you remember also the story of Dorcas, in the New Testament, that good woman who helped the poor; and after dying was raised to life through the prayer of the Apostle Peter. Dorcas too lived at Joppa; and they show the house where, it is said, Peter stayed while he was visiting in that city.
Here at Jaffa or Joppa we end our long sea-voyage of about six thousand miles. We go ashore in a small boat, tossing up and down on the waves, for there is no wharf where a steamer can land its passengers. And now we are standing on the soil of the Holy Land, where Jesus lived. In Christ’s time this land was called Judea. In our day its name is Palestine.
It is a small country. If you will turn to the map of the United States, and look at New Hampshire, you will see a state in form quite like Palestine, and only a little smaller in size; for Palestine, or the Holy Land, contains about twelve thousand square miles, and New Hampshire a little more than nine thousand.
From Joppa we must go across Palestine if we would look at the part of the land among the mountains where Jesus lived. We can now ride in a railroad train, Something that Jesus never saw while he lived on the earth; or we can go in a carriage, or on a horse, or on the back of a camel, as you will see some people riding, or in what they call “a palm–keen,” which is something like a coach-body set not on wheels, but between two pair of shafts, one in front, the other behind, and a mule harnessed in each pair, so that the rider has one mule in front and the other back of him.
As we ride over the land we notice that at first it is very level. This part of the country is called “the Sea Coast Plain,” and a plain it surely is, almost as level as a floor. All around, you see gardens and farms, orange trees and fig trees. If you could pluck one of these golden oranges and taste it, you would find that it is one of the sweetest and richest and juiciest that you have ever eaten, for the Jaffa oranges are famous for their flavor. You ride between great fields of wheat and rye and barley, for this Sea Coast Plain is a rich farming land.
But after a few miles, ten or fifteen, we notice that we have left the plain and are winding and climbing among hills. In place of the farm-lands, we see here and there flocks of sheep with shepherds guarding them, just as the boy David watched over his flock three thousand years ago. Indeed, in our journey we might pass over the very brook where David found the round, smooth stones, one of which he hurled with a sling into the giant Goliath’s forehead. This is the region of low hills, the foothills of the higher mountains beyond. It is called “the Shephelah,” a name not easy to remember. In the Old Testament days, many battles were fought on these hills between the Israelites and the Philistines, their fierce enemies.
These foothills of the Shephelah are not many miles wide; and beyond them we come to the real Mountain Region of Palestine. Mountains rise on every hand, bare, stony, with scarcely any soil upon their steep sides, and with not a tree to be seen for miles. They are rocky crags, with here and there a village perched on their summits or clinging to their wails. This mountain land, more than the hills and plains below, was the home of the Israelites, the people from whom Jesus came. We wonder how they could ever have found a living in such a desolate land; but everywhere we see the ruins of old cities, showing that once the land was filled with people. In those times, two thousand and more years. ago, all these mountain-sides, now bleak and rock-bound, were covered with terraces, where grew olive trees, fig trees and vineyards; where gardens blossomed and great crops were raised to feed the people. Even now in the spring and early summer, the valleys between these mountains are coveered with flowers of every color. Scarcely another land on earth has as many wild flowers as this land of Palestine. This mountain-belt, running from the north to the south throughout the land was the part of Palestine where nearly all the great men of Israel lived and died. Here among the mountains in the south is Bethlehem, where Jesus was born. In a mountain village in the north, Nazareth, was the home of Jesus during nearly all his life; and over these mountains everywhere in the land, Jesus walked in the three years of his preaching and teaching.
We pass over these mountains from east to west, and then from the heights we look down to a valley which runs north and south, the deepest in all the world, where we can see a little river with many windings, and rapids and falls, rolling onward to drop at last into a blue lake in the south. This river, as you know, is the Jordan, crossed by the Israelites when they first came to this land; the river where Naaman washed away his leprosy, where Elijah struck the waves with his mantle and parted them, and in whose water Jesus was baptized.
We journey across this Jordan valley, from ten to twenty miles wide, and then we climb again high and steep mountains. This region is called the Eastern Table Land, because the mountains gradually sink down to a great desert plain on the east. Here we see the ruins of once great cities, where now only a few wandering Arabs pitch their tents.
We have now crossed the land of Palestine, and we have found that it contains five parts lying in a line: first, the Sea Coast Plain; second, the Shephelah, or foothills; third, the Mountain Region; fourth, the Jordan valley; and fifth, the Eastern Table Land.
But we must keep in mind that the land when Jesus lived there was very different from the land as we see it. Now it is a poor land; then it was rich.
Now its villages are made of miserable mud-houses, where live people who look half starved; then it was a land of well-built towns and happy people. Now we find roads that are mere tracks over the stones; then there were good roads everywhere. Now the hills rise bare and rocky; then they were covered with gardens. Now scarcely a tree can be seen in miles of travel; then the olive and the vine and the palm grew everywhere. We see the land in its ruin; Jesus saw it in its riches.