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The Kia ora coo-ee : the magazine for the ANZACS in the Middle East, 1918

Palestine Past and Present

page 7

Palestine Past and Present

In my last article I tried to sketch the sudden rise of Palestine under David and Solomon; and before leaving that period, I would remark, that what we now recognise as Christian saintliness can hardly be expected in the B.C. period. An intelligent recognition of this fact may help to obviate unnecessary criticisms of the kindergarten variety.

The period we shall examine in this article is almost as prosperous as any which has existed in this country. I refer to the time when the Graeco-Roman, or Byzantine, influence predominated. About the year 300 A D, the Emperor Diocletion became alarmed at the spread of Christianity as a secret society, possessing all the attractive allurements of democracy. Drastic measures were taken for its suppression.

Now, tradition tells us that a young Roman officer, named George, dared openly to profess Christianity, and was immediately executed. We are told that he had won the affection of all who had come in contact with him. The effects of his martyrdom were very soon made apparent. It would be difficult, at this distance of time, to state what was actually taking place among the people, as the incidents connected with this brief period have been smothered by later ecclesiastical influence, in volumes of miraculous events, until, in the year 325 A D., Helena, the mother of the Emperor, was converted to Christianity.

Within a very few years all Christians were able to come out of their hiding places, and Palestine became the centre of Chtistianity, with a Bishop in Jerusalem. It was fortunate that Helena was converted before Constantine. All you men (of course, I refer to married men) know that a woman will get her own way. Helena came to Jerusalem herself, and demanded from the Christians, to be shown the spot which they had venerated so long as the place of the Crucifixion. She went to Bethlehem, and prayed on the spot were Our Lord was born. Churches were built in these and other places at enormous cost. The pent up enthusiasm of 300 years was suddenly let loos"e in a riot of church building. Thesecretsign of the Christian Society, which was made by making a small sign of the cross on the breast with the right hand, concealed by the left, was now openly made with many flourishes, and has remained with us ever since. As time went on this enthusiasm increased. The pagan temples were demolished and Christian churches were built out of their material. To understand this period, there are certain dates that I must ask you to remember. Between the years 325 A.D. and 625 A.D. practically every holy spot in Palestine was covered by a church, adorned by glass mosaics on the walls and marble mosaics on the floors.

The inhabitants of Palestine of this period loved processions. They were - told that the right thing was to be baptized in the Jordan. Jericho at once became a very important city. Churches, which were veritable jewels of architecture, were built there. Now, this is where we come in. Some eight or nine weeks ago, the Turks suddenly started shelling the ancient stone aqueduct close to Ain Duk spring. One of the shells struck a small hillock near the aqueduct, and exposed the broken edge of a very ancient mosaic. I was invited by the O C. to visit the spot and examine the work, with a view to identifying its period. The width of the mosaic was over 60 feet; the length it is impossible to determine as yet, as labour for these excavations is not available. But on the south-eastern corner of this huge floor, when two feat of solid, compact earth
Mosaic discovered by New Zealanders at Ain Duk. It may be the floor of an ecclesiastical establishment, erected in the time of Constantine the Great.

Mosaic discovered by New Zealanders at Ain Duk. It may be the floor of an ecclesiastical establishment, erected in the time of Constantine the Great.

had been removed with pickaxes and spades, along inscription in some archaic Syriac language was discovered, and cleaned. The characters are very clear, as they are worked in black mosaic marble on a white eround.

The honor of making this discovery rests with the New Zealand troops. The inscription has been photographed and sent to the British Museum for translation. What contributes to making this discovery so intensely interesting, is the fact that we know that the remains of a Church were observed close to Ain Duk by Daniel, the Russian Pilgrim, and recorded by him in the year III3IA D. Another traveller, named Phocas, saw the ruins in A.D. II70. Since then it has disappeared. Both these travellers tell us that the building covered the spot which tradition indicated as being the place where Joshua established his G.H.Q., in 1500 B.C., and ccn-ferred all night with the Archangel Michael, previous to his successful offensive against the Canaanites, when he captured the Holy Land for the children of Israel.

It only remains now to state how = it was that all these magnificient churches and monasteries were swept out of existence and the centre of gravity, so far as Christianity was concerned, was shifted, once and for all, from Palestine. For a period of nearly 500 years the country had been enjoying peaceful development, beginning at the time when the Emperor Hadrian had rebuilt the Holy City. Chosroes, the second King of Persia, had developed an immense military power, and with a'huge army overran Syria and Asia Minor. They carried sword, fire and destruction everywhere. The Christians had rigorously excluded the Jews from Jerusalem. Thousands of these Jews joined the Persians. The immense Christian population which then occupied Palestine possessed no army. The defence of Jerusalem had been neglected, and in one short year, we are told by Theophanes, 90,000 persons were killed. But a monk, who escaped, has placed it on record that only 62 455 bodies were actually buried. Every Christian establishment was burned and demolished, in cluding the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; only the walls of the Church of the Nativity were left standing.

A Greek army, however, raised by the Emperor Heraculis, was able to beat back the Persians. Chosroes was taken prisoner and led in chains to Jerusalem. The few Christians who returned complained of the way in which the Jews massacred the Christians, and then a massacre of Jews in turn took place, countless numbers being put to the sword. Every thing now was in ruins. But no sooner had Heraculis settled down in Jerusalem and begun to contemplate some reconstruction policy, than Mohamed, in the year 632 A.D., presented the sacred banner to his military Commander-in-Chief, named Osana. The incursion of the Arabians was more disastrous to the progress of the world than the Persian conquest which immediately preceded it, inasmuch as the crowning iniquity of the destruction of the Alexandrian library took place in 639 A.D.

"Trooper Wheatstalk", in a letter regarding the article entitled "Those Religious Festivals", published in our last issue, says: "I would remind 'Camp Follower' that every schoolboy knows what he quoted, so it is only reasonable to suppose that Lieut.-Col. the Rev.Maitland Woods, who is renowned for his scriptural knowledge, made the statement in question with a full knowledge of these facts. Now, as everybody knows, to the members of a healthy nation, life must, in the natural order of things, be one of joy. Again, those wars, of which 'Camp Follower' makes so much, were, for the most part, frontier wars, where the warriors fought a few engagements, and returned, laden with booty, to indulge in a round of festivities. Surely 'Camp Follower' must have a gloomy outlook on life if he considers this a sorrowful existence. The Padre was right: 'Life was a joy and one. round of religious festivals'".