The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918
Palestine, Past And Present
Palestine, Past And Present
All of us, on entering the Holy Land, try to reconstruct the scene as it was in the time of our Lord. An immense number of books have been written by travellers, and it is only possible to effect a reconstruction by carefully gleaning the results of their investigations.
First of all, we must dismiss from our minds that the Bedouins represent in any way the inhabitants of Palestine in the time of Christ. They have drifted in here from the Desert, and for many centuries have been a source of great danger to pilgrims. In New Testament times, Palestine carried an enormous population; the portion which we occupy now, was then known as Benjamin, Dan and Juda, and carried a population of 1000 to the square mile. Further north, towards the Sea of Galilee and Nazareth, Professor Gillispie states, the country carried 1500 people to the square mile.
The whole scene then was a dream of beauty—terraced hills, vines, olives and pomegranates, flocks and herds, flat-roofed stone houses, and endless vistas of small villages connected by mountain tracks. Strict sanitary laws were vigorously enforced, in order to ensure health for people who lived in such dense masses. The Jewish Priest was first a sanitary officer, and secondly a teacher of religion.
Life was a joy, and one round of religious festivals. The sanitary code of the Pentateuch is the most perfect that has ever been drawn up; and the dirt and filth which we see in isolated villages to-day is the result of 400 years of Turkish misrule. I have been told that the Jewish settlements in Palestine to-day have been charged by the Turkish Government exhorbitant taxes for any attempts at sanitary improvement. At the same time, we must remember, that the almost perfect sanitary system in England is hardly one hundred years old. When the lepers were cleansed, Our Lord said, "Go show yourselves to the Priests ". They had not far to go, and soon received a clean "Bill of Health", from the only authority competent to give it. The three main festivals were Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. Each of these necessitated a process of scrupulous house cleaning, and careful dieting, the latter in order to combat a possible tendency to gross feeding. The Feast of Tabernacles was a clever scheme, by which, towards the end of Summer, the inhabitants everywhere in Palestine were obliged by the sanitary code to leave their house permanently for many days, and to live in the open air, in bowers of fig and vine. During this period, every moveable object was taken from the house, which was washed—ceiling, walls, and floor. The house was then examined for "leprosy", i.e., decomposition of plaster, which might cause flakes occasionally to fall on the inhabitants and which might contain germs. These defects in the walls were hammered out and fresh plaster put in.
We can easily understand, how so wealthy and beautiful a country excited the covetous desires of neighbouring Great Powers, lying as it did on the open road between Syria, Mesopotamia and Asia Minor on the one side, and Egypt on the other. Mahomet himself, in his earliest writings, expresses astonishment at the enormus wealth and beauty of Palestine. In my next article, I shall try to show how Jerusalem itself prospered in those times.
(The second of the series of articles that Lieut.-Col. Woods is writing for the " Kia Or a Coo-ee'' will appear in the next issue. Ed.)