17 September 2010

A Pastoral Paradise

By Timothy S. Wilkinson
Having never traveled to Palestine myself, I have often enjoyed reading descriptions of the land by those who have traveled extensively there. I have compiled a few of my favorites for this blog post. Enjoy!
The Historical Geography of the Holy Land” by George Adam Smith (1966, Harper & Row):
“There is the excellency of Carmel itself: wheat-fields from Esdraelon to the first bare rocks, then thick bush and scrub, young ilex, wild olives and pines, with undergrowth of purple thistles, mallows with blossoms like pelargoniums, stocks of hollyhock, golden broom, honeysuckle and convolvulus; then, between the shoulders of the mountain, olive-groves, their dull green mass banked by the lighter forest trees, and on the flanks broad lawns, where in the shadow of oaks you look far out to sea” (p.80).
“Even in the barest provinces you get many a little picture that lives with you—a chocolate-coloured bank with red poppies against the green of the prickly-pear hedge above it, and a yellow lizard darting across; a river-bed of pink oleanders flush with the plain; a gorge in Judea, where you look up between limestone walls picked out with tufts of grass and black-and-tan goats cropping at them, the blue sky over all, on  the edge of the only shadow, a well, a trough, and a solitary herdsman” (p.81).
“In the days of the pride of the land, what a plunge through nature it must have been, when one came down from oaks, through olives sycamores and walnuts, to palms with roots washed by the Lake [of Gennesaret]…Even now one sees proof of that luxuriance in the rich patches of garden upon Gennesaret, in the wealth of flowers on the surrounding slopes, and in the maidenhair fern that springs up wherever a stream gives water and a ruin throws shade” (p.289).
“[In Edom] elow 3000 feet flourish laurels, oleanders and tamarisks…Nubk or thorn and retem or broom abound and, in wadies running into the Arabah and Wadi Hesa, thick bush and reeds. Honeysuckle, caper, and other trailers are also found, and a flowering aloe in Wady Musa…On the limestone the olive, fig, and vine flourish…with the less frequent pomegranate, carob, and mulberry” (p.363).
“[In Damascus] you pass between orchards of figs and apricots. For hedges there are the briar rose, and for a canopy the walnut. Pomegranate blossoms glow through the shade; vine-boughs trail across the briar; a little waterfall breaks on the edge of the road. To the left the river, thirty feet of dark green water with white curls, shoots down a steep, smooth bed…For two miles more you ride between trees, through a village, over a bridge, between high banks of gardens, road and river together, flecked with light” (p.429-30).

Beverley Nichols, excerpted on his website www.beverleynichols.com:
                “You do not have to be a specially religious man to feel cleansed by Palestine; it is a country where sky and earth seem to meet; the heavens brood so closely over the hills that you feel you could stretch up your hands and just manage to touch the golden gates.
                And I wanted the flowers. Unless you have roamed through Palestine in the spring you have never seen wild flowers; like rivers of blood the scarlet anemones tumble down from the highlands that lead to the Jordan; near Nazareth there are fields so thick with crocuses that you would say the hills were draped with tapestries of blue; and only a few miles from Jerusalem there are quiet places where the little violet sword-lily—gladiolus atroviolaceus—grows so freely that you can pick an armful of it in a couple of minutes.
                And always, as you walk, you remember that on these same flowers the shadow of Jesus might have fallen, the poppy that you pluck for your buttonhole may be a direct descendant of some flower that His hands had touched as He wandered through the cornfields. Even the anemones, that riot so profusely throughout the land, may be the ‘lilies of the field’ which He made to shine so brightly in the loveliest of the parables. So, at least, maintain the majority of the scholars, and they quote the Song of Solomon to prove their contention—“My love is like a lily among the thorns.” For the tallest of the anemones, which are indeed of the lily family, are always to be found among the thorn bushes, struggling towards the light.”

For more information about life in Bible times, check out my novels Prophet of Israel and Judge of Israel, available from www.timothywilkinson.net.

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