Folk-lore of the Holy Land, Moslem, Christian and Jewish, by J. E. Hanauer , at sacred-texts.com
ABOUT a quarter of a mile below the "Bìr Ayûb" near Jerusalem, on the right hand side as one goes down the valley, there is a recess in the bank which, if noticed in dry weather, might be taken for a gravel pit. Here, however, in the rainy season water comes to the surface in considerable quantities. The place is called "’Aïn el Lozeh," or the Almond Fountain. Many years ago Sir Charles Warren was told by a peasant that, according to tradition, there was a subterranean passage here approached by a stairway cut in the rock, whose lowest steps were of precious metal, and that the staircase and tunnel had been closed by order of the Egyptian Government, because the Egyptian soldiers had often hidden in the tunnel to waylay women who descended in order to fetch water. 1
From ’Aïn el Lozeh a pathway runs up the hillside towards the ruins of the village of Beit Sahur, the inhabitants of which fled one night, about eighty years ago, in order to escape the conscription. Since then their descendants have lived as Bedû in the wilderness on the western shores of the Dead Sea.
On the opposite side of the valley, and on the declivity of its northern bank, is a ruin which, though unmistakeably that of a cistern, is called by the peasantry a monastery, "Deyr es Sinneh." Close by, traces of a village and old baths were discovered a few years ago; and some curious stories are related respecting the ancient inhabitants of the convent and village who figure under the ethnic name of "Es-Sanawìneh." They are said to have been such stupid people that Allah was obliged to destroy them. They never cooked food properly, but hung it in a pot from a hole shown in the roof of the cistern above-mentioned, about twenty feet above the fire. After burning any quantity of fuel, it was raw. Their religion was a worship of the heavenly bodies, of which they knew so little that one night, when the moon was late in rising, they thought the men of Abu Dis, a neighbouring village, had stolen it, and went out against them, armed to the teeth.
From the top of the hill, which is between the two villages, they saw the moon rise, whereupon they shouted and danced in triumph, saying one to another: "Those rascals had heard we were coming and have let go our moon."
Whenever they were in difficulties or perplexed as to the course of action they should pursue, they were accustomed, instead of asking the advice of other people, to observe the actions of animals and take hints from them. "All other men but ourselves," said they, "are wicked, and therefore foolish, for which reason they cannot instruct us. The birds and beasts, however, are many of them innocent and
wise, and so we may learn from them." So it happened one day, that some of them wanted to carry a long beam of wood into a chamber where they wished to put up an oil-press. Try as they would, they could not get it in because they carried it stretching across the entrance instead. of taking it through endwise. Being greatly troubled, they sent twelve men in different directions to try to get some hint from the methods used by animals. The messengers returned after seven days, but only one had found a solution of the problem. This he got from having noticed a sparrow draw a long straw endways into a hole in which it was building its nest. As a reward for this discovery the man was made sheykh of the community.
Because they would not use the common-sense which Allah has given to the sons of Adam that they may excel other creatures in wisdom, He decreed that they should all die childless with the exception of one family, possibly that of the aforesaid sheykh, whose descendants still live at Bethany. And even on them there rests a curse, for they never have more than one son to represent them.
In the cliff that towers above the railroad on the northern side of the savage Wady Isma’ìn just east of ’Artûf, is a large cave which bears evident traces of having once served as an abode for ascetics. It
has, for some years past, been called "Samson's Cave," from the supposition that it was here that the Danite champion found shelter after the exploit of the foxes and the following slaughter. A little further east are several smaller caves which also appear to have been used as hermitages, and are known by the name of "’Alali el Benât," or the "Upper Chambers of the Maidens." 1
The fellahìn of the neighbouring village of ’Akûr say that in the times of the Infidels these caves, too high up to be reached unless by ropes and ladders, were full of beautiful girls who, having vowed to keep single, had retired hither to be out of the way of temptation. The necessaries of life were lowered to them day after day by ropes from the top of the cliff, and their seclusion appeared of the strictest. After some years, however, children were seen running from one cave to another, and it was found that the girls had lowered a rope into the valley and brought up a handsome hunter, whom they had espied from their eyrie. They are said to have been starved to death for their hypocrisy.
High up on the southern side of the Wad er Rabâbeh, the traditional Valley of Hinnom, just where it opens into the Kedron Valley, there is the
[paragraph continues] Greek Convent of St Onuphrius, erected in recent years over a number of rock-cut sepulchres containing many human bones.
Amongst the peasantry of Silwân there exists a very curious tradition that the human remains in the above-mentioned sepulchres are those of Christian hermits massacred during the persecution carried on by the insane Fatemite Khalìfeh El Hakìm bi amr Illah, whom to this day the Druzes worship as a god, and who, in the fifteenth year of his reign (A.D. 1010), compelled his Christian secretary, Ibn Khaterìn, to write the following fatal order to the Governor of Jerusalem: "The Imâm commands you to destroy the Temple of the Resurrection, so that its heaven may become its earth, and its length may become its breadth." The order was only too literally executed, and Ibn Khaterìn, in his grief and despair, because he had been forced to write this sentence, "smote his head on the ground, broke the joints of his fingers, and died in a few days." 1
The caves in Wad er Rabâbeh were at that time the abode of a population of monks and holy men who spent their time in fasting and prayer. Now it happened that El Hâkim needed money, so sent orders to the Mutesarrif of Jerusalem to make everybody pay a tax. The Mutesarrif and his Council wrote back to say that it was impossible to do that, since there were large numbers of poor religious men in the land, who, though Christians, lived like dervishes in bare caves, and had no means wherewith to pay a tax, however small. On receiving this
news the Caliph bade his secretary write: "Number the men."
Whether the secretary was careless in his writing and placed a dot over the second letter of the first word; or whether El Hakìm in his wickedness took the order which his scribe had written and himself put in the dot, Allah alone knows, but when the order reached Jerusalem the dot was there, and the order read, not "Number," but "Mutilate the men." 1
This cruelty was literally carried out, and its victims died in consequence, and were buried where they had lived. The human bones now found in the caves in the Wad er Rabâbeh are theirs.
On a hill-side in Gilead is situated the village of Remamìn, inhabited chiefly by native Christians, who account for their preservation in this remote region, during the centuries that have elapsed since the Crusaders, by the following romantic story:--
When the Crusaders first occupied Palestine there were beyond the Jordan a great many Christians dispersed in various old towns and villages, and suffering daily martyrdom from the Moslems. Many of these migrated westwards with their families and their cattle, gladly exchanging the wooded mountains, fertile pastures and rich vineyards of the country east of Jordan for the less fruitful western districts and a Christian government. Some, however, chose
to remain, amongst them a man renowned for his integrity, who, when the Bedû entered into possession of the cultivated lands deserted by the emigrants, consented to become the "wakìl" or overseer of those which fell to the lot of a great Arab sheykh whose own followers scorned to till the lands; and who was therefore glad to secure the services of a person competent to overlook the work of his slaves, and such refugees of the fellahìn across the Jordan as had fled to his protection.
The arrangement worked well till, on an evil day, the chieftain quarrelled with the young wife he had lately married, who was the daughter of an emir of some distant tribe. As her father's tents were far away, she fled to the dwelling of the Christian, and continued there with his family, till reconciled with her husband.
For a time things went smoothly between the couple. Then a fresh quarrel arose, and the sheykh said sneeringly to his wife, "Go! again and ask for shelter in the kennel of that Christian dog." "He is no dog," retorted the woman, "but a man of stock, though a Christian. If any one is a dog, it is you;" and to these words she added expressions such as can only fall from the lips of an angry woman. Stung to fury by her bitter tongue, the chieftain resolved to avenge himself upon the Christian. He therefore mounted his mare and galloped to the abode of the latter, who received him with all courtesy and entertained him. Taking leave at length, he mounted his mare, the Christian holding the stirrup. As soon as he was in the saddle, the
[paragraph continues] Bedawi suddenly drew a dagger from his girdle, drove it up to the hilt between the shoulders of the stooping Christian, who fell to the ground. The wife and three little sons of the murdered man beheld the deed. The sheykh then galloped off.
The Christian woman thus suddenly widowed ran to help her husband; to find him dead. She drew out the dagger, which had been left in the wound, and there and then made her children swear upon it, that if Allah spared them to grow to manhood they would punish the assassin with his own weapon.
As soon as the murdered man had been buried, his widow packed up her belongings and, accompanied by one or two Christian neighbours whom her late husband had dissuaded from migrating west of the Jordan, went to live at Nazareth, where she had relatives.
Years passed. The three little boys had become men when, one day, their mother told them that it was the anniversary of their father's death, recalled to them once more every circumstance of the murder and, placing the dagger in the hands of the firstborn, bade all three go and avenge their father's death, as they had sworn to do beside his lifeless body.
That night, fully armed and well-mounted, they rode noiselessly away, having taken the precaution of tying several folds of "lubbâd," or thick felt, round their horses' hoofs. Travelling by out-of-the-way routes during the hours of darkness, and hiding, when daylight approached, in some cavern, it took them three days to reach the neighbourhood of the
upland plain where, as they had heard at Nazareth, their enemy was encamped.
Their first care was to find some place of shelter for their animals to ensure their having an undisturbed rest before the return journey. Such a place having been found, they lay there concealed until the sun had sometime set, and they had reason to think that the encamped Bedû were asleep. The three preceding days and nights had been intensely hot, but now a refreshing west-wind, bringing dew-clouds, had come up. Having left their steeds ready-saddled for immediate. flight, the avengers of blood drew near the Arab camp. It was buried in silence and darkness, the very dogs being asleep, not a sound to be heard.
Approaching, two crouched down behind a boulder, while the eldest, armed with the dagger, crept in among the tents. The sheykh's was easily found. His spear, the tip adorned with a bunch of ostrich feathers, was planted in the ground before the entrance, and the owner's priceless mare was tethered close by. Loosening one of the tent-pegs, the young man lifted the curtain, and crawled beneath it into the tent. There lay his father's murderer, now an aged man with a long white beard, asleep on the ground before him. Beside the chief lay his wife and children, all fast asleep. By the faint light of stars shining in through interstices of the tent-curtains, the visitor perused the old assassin's features. Having made sure that it was indeed the murderer he raised the dagger in act to strike. But at that moment, weakness came upon him. He
could not kill thus, in cold blood, an old man lying unconscious. That would be murder. With a prayer to the saints that he might meet his foe, face to face, and so punish him openly, he sheathed the dagger and crawled back to the spot where his brothers waited.
Having heard his tale the second took the dagger, and crept forward into the camp; to return in due course with the same story. The youngest then advanced. He also entered the enemy's tent, and found him sleeping, but could not resolve to kill him on the spot. He therefore crept out of the tent again, and went up to the mare. With the foeman's dagger, he cut off her beautiful mane and the long locks of hair hanging forward between her ears. He then cut all the hair off her sweeping tail, and, wrapping the dagger in the horse-hair, re-entered the tent and laid the dagger on the chieftain's pillow.
Leaving the tent, he drew his own dagger, and cut every other tent-rope, leaving just enough to keep the structure from collapsing. Then, drawing the spear out of the ground he carried it off, and, returning to his brothers, told them that their father was avenged. The three then returned to the place where they had left their horses, and before daybreak were beyond pursuit. Pressing on by day and night, they reached their home in safety.
Great was the consternation in the Arab camp when the terrible insult to the sheykh was discovered. It was clear that the miscreants must be deadly enemies, thus to disfigure the sheykh's mare, cut his tent-ropes, and remove his lance. It was likewise
evident that the chieftain's life had been at their mercy, but why had they refrained from slaying him? Lastly, what did this dagger wrapped in the mare's mane and tail hairs signify? The sheykh himself did not recognise the weapon, nor indeed, as it was passed from hand to hand, did anybody else, till it reached the chief's younger brother, who, after closely examining it, suggested that it was that with which the Christian wakìl had been killed years ago at Remamìn. Then the sheykh remembered, and understood how he owed his life to the magnanimity of his deadliest enemies.
He had known remorse for the murder of their father. Now he resolved to do what he could to get the matter accommodated without its becoming a regular blood-feud.
Accordingly, accompanied by the elders of the tribe, he rode to Nazareth, and got a friend there to act as intermediary. He paid a "dìyeh" or compensation-fine for the murder, and, what was more, assured the family of the murdered man that, in case they chose to return to their father's land at Remamìn, they, their descendants, and Christian neighbours, should be allowed to live there respected and unmolested. His terms were accepted, and ever since then there has been a Christian Community at Remamìn.
Some four centuries ago, when Sultan Selìm took Palestine, he set a garrison of Kurds at Hebron, 1
who used the proud inhabitants of the city with great arrogance. The Arabs, disunited by the feud between the Keys and Yemen factions, could not oppose their tyranny. The Kurds became lords of Hebron, and espousing neither party hectored both. They built fine houses on the hill-side north of the Haram, and planted orchards of foreign trees till then unknown. Now, it is a custom in Palestine for anyone passing along a road to pick fruit hanging over an orchard wall without rebuke. 1 But the Kurds, if they caught a man gleaning from the skirts of their plantations, would cut off both his hands. They were hateful in all their ways. At last, their tyranny grew so unbearable that the two rival factions were at one in the determination to have done with it, only waiting an occasion for a general rising. On an evening, of the feast of Bairam, the Kurds and their Agha were drinking coffee in the market-place, when the Agha suggested that they should send for Budrìyeh, the daughter of a notable of the city, to make fun for them. The men of Hebron flew to arms at this insult, which was soon washed out in blood, for the Kurds were unprepared, having always regarded the townsmen as unwarlike dogs. Most of them were killed. A remnant, including the Agha, fled to Beyt Ummar, Beyt Fejjar, and other villages.
They never came back in force to Hebron, but their leader one day disguised himself as a woman and presented himself at the door of the father
of Budrìyeh at nightfall. He called for the master of the house, and, on the latter stepping out to see what was wanted, struck him dead and departed.
It was about the same time that the Kurds were at Hebron that the now ruined castle close to Solomon's Pools, and the aqueduct conveying water from the said pools to the Haram at Jerusalem, were constructed. The people of the village of Artass were entrusted with the care of the pools and aqueduct, and, as a recompense for this service, were exempted by the Government from paying of taxes. In consequence of these privileges the fellahìn of this place grew rich, and their sheykh gained considerable power in the district. So great grew his influence that disputes amongst the peasants were frequently submitted to his arbitration; and in time he even had a prison for offenders in the tower he had erected in the village. Prosperity, however, begat pride and arrogance in a generation or two, and the Artassites became so insolent that their downfall could not be averted.
At that time faction-fights between the people of different villages were frequent. When a battle was to take place, the warriors of the respective parties used to go forth accompanied by their wives, daughters or sisters, shouting their respective battle-cries. When the fighting was in progress it was no uncommon thing for a hero to crouch or stand behind his female companion and fire at the enemy over her shoulder or from between her feet, because he knew that his fire would not be returned; it being an
understood thing that the persons of women were to be respected. If a woman got killed it was by accident.
Now, one day, the people of Idhna, a village west of Hebron, but allied to the Artassites, having been worsted in a fight and forced to retreat to their village where they were besieged by their enemies, sent some of their women to Artass to ask for succour. The envoys reached the village safely, but instead of hastening to the help of the men of Idhna, the men of Artass insulted the women and sent them home to their husbands.
Justly incensed the people of Idhna made peace with their enemies, and waited for an opportunity for avenging the dishonour done to them. Hearing that on a certain day a great wedding was to take place at Artass, they quietly mustered their forces and suddenly fell upon the unprepared villagers at a time when they were unarmed and disporting themselves in the gardens. Only a few escaped, 1 and with their families found refuge in the castle at the Pools, where their descendants continued to live till some fifty years ago, when, the country having become more settled, they returned to the adjacent valley of Artass, and built new dwellings amid the ruins of the former village.
During the early part of the last century the Hebron district was misruled by a petty despot named Sheykh ’Abd-ur-Rahman, who committed the most horrible crimes with impunity. The following story is told by the fellahìn to illustrate his character.
[paragraph continues] "A certain poor fellâh of Hebron had a handsome wife desired of ’Abd-ur-Rahman. In order to attain his object he so intimidated her husband that the latter, to save his life, divorced her. The woman, however, abhorred the tyrant, and absolutely refused to assent to his proposals of marriage. At last, being greatly pressed, she, in a fury, said before witnesses that she would rather have a dog than him for a husband. Now, according to Moslem law, a man who has divorced his wife, cannot take her back until she has legally been married and divorced again by some other man; and in order to get out of this difficulty husbands, who have divorced their wives and regret having done so, get them married to some person who is physically unfit for marriage, but who, for payment, consents to go through a form of marriage followed by divorce. Seeing therefore that his suit was vain, and being full of rage, the despot took the poor woman at her word, and, in order to prevent her from ever going back to her husband, he had a legal marriage-contract drawn up between her and his greyhound Rishân, and signed by witnesses who had heard her imprudent speech, and lacked courage to oppose his will. In consequence of this high-handed procedure, the woman was known till the day of her death as "the wife of Rishân."
105:1 This is indeed not the exact tradition as related by Sir Charles Warren, but it is what the fellahìn told J. E. Hanauer, and the latter, who was at the time interpreter on Sir C. Warren's staff, related to him. For a description of the wonderful tunnel which Sir Charles discovered at ’Aïn el Lozeh, see "The Recovery of Jerusalem," p. 257 ff.
108:1 The following legend may be assigned to the period between 312 and 614 A.D. when the Holy Land was covered with convents and hermitages, and swarmed with recluses of both sexes.
109:1 Renaudot, quoted in footnote to Williams’ "Holy City," p. 349.
110:1 Akhsa er-rijâl instead of Ahsa er-rìjâl, the difference in the Arabic being of a dot only.--ED.
115:1 This story was told me by the sheykh of the village of Dûra, south of Hebron.
116:1 For the corresponding provision of the Mosaic law, see Deut. xxiii. 24, ff.
118:1 Cf. 1 Maccabees ix. 37-42.