Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish, by J. E. Hanauer , at sacred-texts.com
ONE of the saints oftenest invoked in Palestine is the mysterious El Khudr or Evergreen One. He is said to have been successful in discovering the Fountain of Youth, which is situated somewhere near the confluence of the two seas. 1 This fountain had been vainly sought for by other adventurers, including the famous Dhu’lkarneyn, the two-horned Alexander, who with his companions came to the banks of the stream that flowed from it, and actually washed the salt fish which they had brought with them as provision in its waters, and yet, though the said fish came to life again and escaped them, failed to realise the happiness within their reach. They went on their way till they came to the place where the sun sets in a pool of black mud, and their leader built eighteen cities, each of which he called Alexandria, after himself; but neither he nor his companions became immortal, because they failed to see and use the one opportunity of a lifetime.
El Khudr, more fortunate or more observant, not only found the fountain, but drank of its waters, so he never dies, but reappears from time to time as a sort of avatar, to set right the more monstrous forms of wrong and protect the upright. He is identified with Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, with Elijah the prophet, and with St George. Jewish
mothers, when danger threatens their children, invoke him as "Eliyahu ha Navi," Christian as "Mar Jiryis," and Moslem as "El Khudr"; and his numerous shrines in different parts of the land are visited in pilgrimage by adherents of all three religions.
Though it is believed that prayers addressed to him at all these places are efficacious, yet on Fridays he himself worships Allah at different sanctuaries in succession: one Friday at Mecca, the next at Medina, and then in turn at Jerusalem, El Kûba, and Et Tûr. He only takes two meals a week, and quenches his thirst alternately at the well Zemzem in Mecca and that of Solomon in Jerusalem. He bathes in the fountain at Silwan (Siloam).
One of the shrines dedicated to El Khudr is situated about a mile to the north of Solomon's Pools near Bethlehem, and is a sort of madhouse. Deranged persons of all the three faiths are taken thither and chained in the court of the chapel, where they are kept for forty days on bread and water, the Greek priest at the head of the establishment now and then reading the Gospel over them, or administering a whipping, as the case demands.
The following legend concerning this convent was related by a native of the neighbouring village of Beyt Jala:--
"A very long time ago, in the days of the ancestors of our great-grand-fathers, the Greek priest was administering the Holy Communion in the church of El Khudr. Now, as you know, the Greeks crumble the consecrated bread into the cup of wine, and
administer both the elements at the same time, by means of a spoon. Whether the celebrant was drunk or not I cannot tell, but this much is certain, that whilst about to put the spoon into the mouth of a communicant kneeling in front of him, somehow or other he spilled its sacred contents. They fell on to his foot, made a hole right through it, and a mark on the flagstone beneath. The wound which the body and blood of the Saviour made in the foot of the priest never healed, but was the cause of his death. Some time afterwards, however, a man afflicted with a grievous disease visited this same church of Mar Jiryis, and, without being aware of the fact, knelt down on the flagstone which had received a mark from the falling upon it of the consecrated bread and wine, and prayed for recovery. To his great joy, and to the surprise of all present, he was healed on the spot. The fame of his cure brought many others who were stricken with incurable maladies to El Khudr, and, as soon as they knelt on the sacred stone, they were cured, to the glory of God and of Mar Jiryis; so that the reputation of the church became widely spread, and even reached the ears of the Sultan of the Muscovites, who, jealous that so holy a stone should be kept in such an out of the way village, coveted it for the benefit of himself and his people. He sent a man-of-war to Jaffa, bearing a letter to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, saying that the slab should be taken up at once and transported to Jaffa. As the Sultan of the Muscovites was a good friend, benefactor, and protector of the Church, the Patriarch did not
hesitate to obey his order, and had the stone conveyed to Jaffa. It was placed in a boat belonging to the war-ship in order to be taken on board, but all the efforts of the rowers to reach the vessel were vain, for Mar Jiryis himself appeared and repeatedly pushed the boat back to the shore with his lance. This happened so often that the Muscovites were obliged to desist from their purpose; and when it was reported to the Patriarch, he realised his error, and had the stone brought back and reverently deposited in the church at El Khudr, where it is shown to this day."
As already stated, there are many churches and convent-chapels dedicated to St George. Within the walls of Jerusalem there are at least two Greek and one Coptic convent of that name; whilst just outside the Jaffa Gate, and on the western side of the traditional Valley of Gihon or Upper Hinnom, nearly opposite the Citadel, is another. The Moslems believe that, at the Last Day, Christ will slay Antichrist, and some of them maintain that this convent marks the spot where that will happen. They found their opinion on the statement that what is now known as the Jaffa Gate was formerly called the Gate of Lydda.
On the northern slope of Mt. Carmel there is another celebrated centre of El Khudr worship. It is frequently visited by Jewish, Christian, Moslem, and Druze pilgrims who are in search of bodily or mental healing. Some very remarkable cures are said to have been performed at this place. The following
example was told me by the late Dr Chaplin, who was for many years head of the L.J.S. Medical Mission at Jerusalem. One day there was brought to him a young Jewess, suffering from a nervous complaint which he considered curable, but only by long treatment. The girl's relations at first agreed to leave her at the hospital, but afterwards took her away in spite of his remonstrances. They said that they were sure that she was not really ill, but only under the influence of a "dibbuk" or parasitical demon, and they intended to treat her accordingly.
Some months later the doctor happened to meet the girl in the street, and found to his surprise that she was well again. Asking how the cure, which seemed to him astounding, had been effected, he was told that her friends had sent her to Mt. Carmel and locked her up one night in Elijah's cave. Shut up alone, she said, she fell asleep, but was roused at midnight by a light that shone on her. Then she saw an old man all in white, who came slowly towards her, saying, "Fear not, my daughter." He laid his hand gently on her head, and disappeared. When she woke next morning she was perfectly well.
Among the Jews Elijah is considered not only as the special guardian of Israel, but as the invisible attendant at every circumcision, and as such, a special seat is prepared for him. In like manner a chair and a cup of wine are placed ready for him at the time of the Paschal anniversary. Amongst the Armenian Christians at Jerusalem there is a
belief that if, at a meal, a loaf, or even a slice of bread, happen accidentally to fall or otherwise get into such a position that it stands on edge on the table, it is a sign that Mar Jiryis is invisibly present as a guest, and has condescended to bless the repast.
The story of St George and the Dragon is, of course, well known in Palestine. The saint's tomb is shown in the crypt of the old Crusaders' Church 1 at Lydda; and at Beyrût the very well into which he cast the slain monster, and the place where he washed his hands when this dirty work was done. The following is, briefly, the tale generally told by the Christians:--
"There was once a great city that depended for its water-supply upon a fountain without the walls. A great dragon, possessed and moved by Satan himself, took possession of the fountain and refused to allow water to be taken unless, whenever people came to the spring, a youth or maiden was given to him to devour. The people tried again and again to destroy the monster; but though the flower of the city cheerfully went forth against it, its breath was so pestilential that they used to drop down dead before they came within bowshot.
The terrorised inhabitants were thus obliged to sacrifice their offspring, or die of thirst; till at last all the youth of the place had perished except the king's daughter. So great was the distress of their subjects for want of water that her heart-broken parents could no longer withhold her, and amid
the tears of the populace she went out towards the spring, where the dragon lay awaiting her. But just as the noisome monster was going to leap on her, Mar Jiryis appeared, in golden panoply, upon a fine white steed, and spear in hand. Riding full tilt at the dragon, he struck it fair between the eyes and laid it dead. The king, out of gratitude for this unlooked-for succour, gave Mar Jiryis his daughter and half of his kingdom."
As already remarked, Elijah frequently appears in Jewish legends as the Protector of Israel, always ready to instruct, to comfort, or to heal--sometimes condescending to cure so slight a complaint as a toothache, at others going so far as to bear false witness in order to deliver Rabbis from danger and difficulty. 1
The modern Jewish inhabitants of Palestine devoutly believe in his intervention in times of difficulty. Thus, among the Spanish Jewish synagogues at Jerusalem, there is shown a little subterranean chamber, called the "Synagogue of Elijah the prophet," from the following story:--
One Sabbath, some four centuries ago, when there were only a very few Jews in the city, there were not men enough to form a "minyan" or legal congregational quorum. It was found impossible to get together more than nine, ten being the minimum number needed. It was therefore announced that the customary service could not be held, and those present were about to depart, when suddenly a
reverend-looking old man appeared, donned his "talith" or prayer-shawl, and took his place among them. When the service was over, "the First in Zion," as the chief Rabbi of the Jewish community at Jerusalem is entitled, on leaving the place of worship, looked for the stranger, intending to ask him to the Sabbath meal, but he could nowhere be found. It was thought this mysterious stranger could have been no other than the famous Tishbite.
The following story, a version of one told in the Koran, 1 is related by the Moslems of El Khudr:--
The great Lawgiver was much perplexed and troubled when he thought about the apparently confused and strange dealings of Divine Providence, so besought Allah to enlighten him. He was told, in answer to his prayer, to go on a certain day to a certain place where he would meet a servant of the Merciful, who would instruct him. Mûsa did as he was told, and found at the rendezvous a venerable derwìsh, who, to start with, made him promise not to make remarks or ask questions concerning anything he might see while they journeyed together. Mûsa promised, and the pair set out on their travels.
At sunset they reached a village, and went to the house of the sheykh, a man rich and kindly, who bade them welcome and ordered a sheep to be killed in their honour. When bedtime came they were conducted to a large, well-furnished room. The "tusht and ibrìk," 2 which in most houses are of
tinned copper, were here of silver plate set with jewels. Mûsa, being tired out, soon fell asleep; but long ere daylight his companion woke him, saying they must start at once. Mûsa objected, finding the bed comfortable. He declared it ungrateful to leave so early while their host was still abed and they could not thank him. "Remember the terms of our compact," said the derwìsh sternly, while to Mûsa's amazement he coolly slipped the silver "tusht" or wash-hand-basin into the bosom of his robe. Mûsa then rose in silence and they left the house.
That evening, quite worn out, they reached another village, and were once more guests of the sheykh, who proved the very opposite of their host of the previous night. He grumbled at the necessity he was under of harbouring dirty vagrants, and bade a servant take them to a cave behind the stable where they could sleep on a heap of "tibn." 1 For supper he sent them scraps of mouldy bread and a few bad olives. Mûsa could not touch the stuff, though he was starving, but his companion made a good meal.
Next morning, Mûsa awoke very early, feeling hungry and miserable. He roused his guide and suggested that it was time to rise and start. But the derwìsh said, "No, we must not sneak away like thieves," and went to sleep again.
Some two hours later the ascetic rose, bade Mûsa put the fragments of the night's meal into his bosom, and said, "Now we must bid our host farewell."
[paragraph continues] In the presence of the sheykh, the derwìsh made a low reverence, thanking him for his hospitality towards them, and begging him to accept a slight token of their esteem. To the amazement of the sheykh, as well as Mûsa, he produced the stolen basin, and laid it at the sheykh's feet. Mûsa, mindful of his promise, said no word.
The third day's journey was through a barren region, where Mûsa was glad of the scraps which, but for the derwìsh, he would have thrown away. Towards evening they came to a river, which the derwìsh decided not to attempt to cross till next morning, preferring to spend the night in a miserable reed-built hut, where the widow of a ferryman dwelt with her orphan nephew, a boy of thirteen. The poor woman did all in her power to make them comfortable, and in the morning made them breakfast before starting. She sent her nephew with them to show the way to a ruinous bridge further down the river. She shouted instructions after the boy to guide their honours safely over it ere he returned. The guide led the way, the derwìsh followed him, and Mûsa brought up the rear. When they got to the middle of the bridge, the derwìsh seized the boy by the neck and flung him into the water, and so drowned him. "Monster! murderer!" cried Mûsa, beside himself. The derwìsh turned upon his disciple, and the prophet knew him for El Khudr. "You once more forget the terms of our agreement," he said sternly, "and this time we must part. All that I have done was predestined by Divine mercy. Our first host, though a man of the best intentions,
was too confiding and ostentatious. The loss of his silver basin will be a lesson to him. Our second host was a skinflint. He will now begin to be hospitable in the hope of gain; but the habit will grow upon him, and gradually change his nature. As for the boy whose death so angers you, he is gone to Paradise, whereas, had he lived but two years longer, he would have killed his benefactress, and in the year following he would have killed you."
The "former" rains having failed during the months of November and December 1906, prayers for rain were offered up in all places of worship, Moslem, Jewish, and Christian. About that time the following tales were circulated at Jerusalem. A woman who had just filled her pitcher, drop by drop, from a scanty spring near Ain Kârim was suddenly accosted by a horseman bearing a long lance, who ordered her to empty her vessel into a stone trough and water his horse. She objected, but yielded to his threats. To her horror it was not water but blood that ran from her pitcher. The horseman bade her inform her fellow-villagers that had Allah not sent the drought, pestilence and other calamities would have befallen them. Having given her this charge, he vanished. It was El Khudr.
A Moslem woman at Hebron, giving drink to an aged stranger at his request, was told to give to the Hebronites a message similar to the above, and to add that Allah would send rain after the Greek New Year. We certainly did have some very wet weather after that date.
51:1 The Mediterranean and the Red Sea.
56:1 If I remember rightly the tomb is half in the present Christian church and half in the adjoining mosque, the old Crusaders' Church having been thus divided.--ED.
57:1 See Edersheim's " Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah," App. viii.
58:1 Sûra xviii. 50 ff.
58:2 Vessels for ceremonial ablution.
59:1 Chopped straw.