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ROYAL AND SACRED PLACES.

The history of the Old Testament is mainly confined, in Palestine, to that portion below Mount Tabor, and chiefly centres round Esdraelon, Shechem, Shitoh, Beth-el, Mamre, Hebron, Jerusalem, Beer-sheba, all which towns (except the last) are on high elevations.

Beer-sheba (the seven wells; or well of the oath) lay at the foot of the range, and edge of the plain stretching from Egypt round to the vale of Siddim. It is 11 miles S. of Hebron, but 12 hours' walk. To it Abraham retired after the destruction of Sodom, and lived there 75 years, Isaac 180, Jacob 77, and Esau 100. Abraham dug there two large wells, and Isaac five more, which still exist. Here Abraham built an altar, and planted a sacred grove round it, which became the first fixed sanctuary in Palestine, at which Jacob and his whole family sacrificed, as they went down into Egypt. Here Abraham received orders to take Isaac and sacrifice him, and here were enacted all the chief events of Isaac's life:—the birth of Isaac, Esau, and Jacob; the purchase by Jacob of Esau's birthright, and his reception of his father's blessing. Here Samuel's sons sat as judges (1 Sam. viii. 2), and Elijah left his servant when fleeing to Mount Sinai (1 Kings xix. 3). It was the birthplace of one queen of Judah, Zibiah, wife of Ahaziah (2 Kings xii. 1), one place of idolatrous worship (2 Kings xxiii. 8), and the southern boundary of Israel.

Bethany lies on the eastern shoulder of the Mount of Olives, one and a half miles from Jerusalem, on the road to Jericho. It is reached by three roads: (1) winding westward to the N. of the summit of Olivet; (2) the oldest road, striking directly up the hill, and meeting the other beyond the summit; (3) winding round the eastern shoulder. All start from Gethsemane, in the bottom of the Kedron valley. Bethany is only celebrated for our Lord's visits to the house of Lazarus on three occasions: once when Mary sat at his feet (Luke x. 38–42); again when he raised Lazarus (John xi.); and again when, in Simon's house, Mary anointed his "body for the burial" (Matt. xxvi. 6, 7); from which time, till the night of his betrayal, he appears to have slept there every night. In the immediate neighbourhood, Jesus ascended to heaven.

Beth-el (Luz, anciently a Canaanite royal city) was the boundary town between Benjamin and Ephraim (Josh. xviii. 22). Situated at the entrance of two great mountain-passes, (1) by Michmash to Jericho, (2) by Beth-horon to the plains of Sharon and Philistia by the sea, it was the key to the southern kingdom—hence it was one of Joshua's first conquests, and became the border-fortress of Israel. It stands on a height midway between Shechem and Hebron, in the very centre of the land, within sight of Jerusalem, only seven miles distant. Here Abram built his second altar, received the second promise from Jehovah, returned to sacrifice after going to Egypt. Jacob, fleeing from Esau, slept under shelter of Abram's altar, had a vision of angels, and gave to the spot its name, " House of God;" returned after twenty years to perform his vow there, rebuilt the altar, set up a pillar, had his name changed. Here lie buried Deborah under 72 an oak, beneath whose shadow another Deborah (Judg. iv. 5) had her tent. Samuel made it a seat of judgment, and central place of sacrifice, to which David sent firstfruits of the spoil of Ziklag (1 Sam. xxx. 27). Jeroboam I. made it the chief sanctuary of his kingdom, setting up a calf and altar, which Josiah destroyed; but in Elijah's last visit before his translation there was a school of the prophets still existing. To it Elisha returned from Jericho, and cursed the mocking youths. Under Jeroboam II. it was a royal residence, with a royal chapel and chaplains, when the prophet Amos was sent there to warn Israel (Amos vii. 13). After the Captivity, the priest sent from Assyria to teach the settlers was stationed at Beth-el.

Around Beth-el, grouped on a cluster of hills, are Ophrah (Gideon's native place), and Rimmon (the refuge of the Benjamites, Judg. xx. 45), on the E.; Ramah (Samuel's home), Mizpeh (the great place of assembly, where Saul was elected), Gibeah (Saul's native place), and Anathoth (the birthplace of Jeremiah), in a circle to the S.

Bethlehem (House of Bread) is about four miles S. of Jerusalem. It is also called Ephrath and Ephratah (Mic. v. 2). It was the scene of Rachel's death and burial (Gen. xxxv. 19), the native place of Samuel's father (1 Sam. i. 1), the residence of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth iv. 11), and birthplace of David (1 Sam. xvii. 12). It was once captured by the Philistines (2 Sam. xxiii. 14). The house of Boaz, the patrimony of David, was bestowed by him on Chimham the Gileadite, and became the khan, or inn, on the great road to Egypt. It was the last rallying-point of the remnant of Judah after the invasion of Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. xli. 17), and the birthplace of our Lord (Luke ii. 11).

Hebron (Kirjath-Arba, four cities), consists of four villages on a cluster of heights, about six hours' walk S. of Bethlehem, and eleven miles from Jerusalem. Its foundation is as old as that of Damascus. Sarah died and was buried here, in the cave of Machpelah, to which were brought the remains of Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Leah, and Jacob. It became the inheritance of Caleb, was a Levitical city, and one of refuge. It became David's first capital, where six of his sons were born, and where Joab killed Abner, and David received from the heads of the ten tribes the offer of the kingdom, and where Absalom began his rebellion.

Jericho is distant about five and a half hours' walk from Jerusalem to the N.E., in the deep valley of the Jordan, near its mouth. It was the first acquisition of Joshua, miraculously thrown open to him, and required by God to be burnt as a first-offering (Josh. vi.); and a curse was imprecated on any one who rebuilt it, which fell upon Hiel the Beth-elite in the time of Ahab, 500 years later (1 Kings xvi. 34). In the time of Elisha there was a school of the prophets there. After the Captivity it became the property of Cleopatra, of whom Herod bought it, and built a palace, where he died. The Jericho of the New Testament (Riha) was one and a half miles to the S. of the old city; it was a small place, but was visited by our Lord, when he healed Bar-Timæus and converted Zacchaeus (Luke xviii. 35; xix. 1–9).

Jerusalem (Jebus-Salem), the ancient royal city, as is said, of Melchi-Zedek (the King of righteousness), and chief fortress of the Jebusite tribe, stands on a spur of the main range, cleft to the S. into two ridges, of which the W. (Zion) is the highest, and the E. (Moriah) the more precipitous; the former has two peaks (Zion and Acra), and the latter two (Moriah and Bezetha), each separated from the other by a shallow depression. On Moriah Abraham offered Isaac, David the expiatory sacrifice to stay the destroying angel (2 Sam. xxiv. 25), and Solomon built the Temple. It was unconquered by the Israelites till David took it and made it the capital, from which time the history centred around it. Its isolated position and natural strength made it suitable for its purpose; but its small dimensions prevented its being more than a centre of defence and government. On its western side was the deep gorge of Hinnom, on the E. that of the Kedron (also called Jehoshaphat), which two unite at the southern extremity, and run on to the Dead Sea, 15 miles distant. It is 33 miles from the Mediterranean, and at an elevation of 2,528 feet (highest point within) above its level. It remained the capital for 460 years, till burned by Nebuchadnezzar; but was rebuilt by Ezra and Nehemiah, and finally destroyed by the Romans, A.D. 71. In the time of our Lord it was little more than the centre of the priesthood and university of Judaism, inhabited by the literati and devotees; it contained 480 synagogues for instruction. The Temple was built on the crown of Moriah, "the threshing floor of Araunah" (2 Chron. iii. 1), with a surrounding platform of 612 feet square. The building, Naos, would seem to have stood on the summit of the rock, in which graduated platforms were cut, forming the courts of the Jews and women. The Naos, was small (60 by 20 cubits), was divided into the Holy of Holies and Holy Place (i.e. a chancel and nave), the former used once a year, the latter occupied only by the priests performing daily service. In the former was the ark; in the latter, the altar of incense (in the centre of the further end), with the table of shewbread on its one side and golden candlestick on the other. These two parts were separated by a veil, which was rent at the crucifixion (Matt. xxvii. 51). The court of the Gentiles surrounded the Naos, but was on a lower platform, separated off by a trellis fence. The Naos was like Mount Sinai, the sanctuary of Jehovah, fenced off (Exod. xix. 23) from the Gentiles' court, the plain below. Solomon finished his Temple, B.C. 1004; it was destroyed, B.C. 588; rebuilt under Ezra and Nehemiah, B.C. 515; polluted by Antiochus, B.C. 167: its restoration commenced by Herod, B.C. 17; finished, A.D. 29; again destroyed by Titus, A.D. 70.

Mamre is situated half an hour's walk above Hebron, on the highest elevation in Palestine, overlooking the vale of Siddim and the Mediterranean. This was Abraham's dwelling-place, when news came to him of Lot's capture. Here he had the vision of God's spiritual Presence,—the lamp of fire (Gen. xv. 17); here Ishmael was born, the rite of circumcision was ordered, the promise by the three angels of Isaac's birth, and revelation of the destruction of Sodom were made (Gen. xviii.).

Samaria, the second capital of Israel, was built by Omri (Ahab's father), on the hill of Shemer (a little N.W. of Shechem), and was the scene of many events of the monarchy. It was occupied by the Syrians (1 Kings xx. 34), taken (B.C. 720) by Assyrians, and rebuilt by Herod the Great.

Shechem (Nabulus), on the side of Gerizim, was the first spot on which Abram built an altar (Gen. xii. 6); hence it is the most anciently sacred place in Hebrew history. This altar Jacob rescued from the Amorites (Gen. xlviii. 22), rebuilt and surrounded with a parcel of land he bought (Gen. xxxiii. 18–20), which became the burial-place of the Patriarchs (Acts vii. 16). It was the scene of the slaughter of the Shechemites by Simeon and Levi (Gen. xxxiv. 25); under a famous oak Jacob buried the Aramite gods, around which 73 oak Joshua assembled the Israelites for sacrifice, and to read out the blessings (from Gerizim) and curses (from Ebal) of the Law, immediately on entering the Promised Land; and here again he assembled them to renew the covenant before he died, when he set up a pillar as a witness (Josh. xxiv. 26). At this pillar Abimelech was made king, and Rehoboam met the heads of tribes, who sought redress. Here the ten tribes revolted, and made Jeroboam their king. Its site is still known as "The Pillar." At that well of Jacob (300 paces S.E.) our Lord conversed with the Samaritan woman (John iv.). It was then the chief city of the Samaritan sect, a remnant of whom still reside there. A mile from it to the E. is Joseph's tomb.

Shiloh lies a little off the road, on a knoll rising out of a secluded dell, "on the north side of Beth-el, on the east of the highway that goeth up from Beth-el to Shechem, and on the south of Lebonah" (Judg. xxi. 19). Here Joshua set up the tabernacle, made the allotment of Canaan to the tribes, dismissed them with his benediction to their possessions. It became the first great sanctuary; priests' houses sprang up round it, till it was called "the temple" (1 Sam. iii. 3). Here Eli lived and died, Samuel ministered before the Lord, and an annual festival was held in honour of the ark (Judg. xxi. 19–24). After the capture of the ark by the Philistines, Shiloh declined; but Ahijah prophesied there (1 Kings xiv. 1–17). Its destruction was made a warning to Jerusalem (Jer. vii. 12–14; xxvi. 6).

Tirzah, the first capital of Israel, lies a little to the N.E. of Shechem, and is beautifully situated on a ridge projecting from Mount Ebal (Cant. vi. 4). It was originally the seat of a Canaanite king (Josh. xii. 24). Here Zimri murdered Elah; and burnt his palace over his head when Tirzah was taken by Omri (1 Kings xvi. 10, 18).

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