The Complete Works of Mark Twain

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter LI

Innocents Abroad

Chapter LI

Nazareth is wonderfully interesting because the town has an air about it
of being precisely as Jesus left it, and one finds himself saying, all
the time, "The boy Jesus has stood in this doorway--has played in that
street--has touched these stones with his hands--has rambled over these
chalky hills." Whoever shall write the boyhood of Jesus ingeniously will
make a book which will possess a vivid interest for young and old alike.
I judge so from the greater interest we found in Nazareth than any of our
speculations upon Capernaum and the Sea of Galilee gave rise to. It was
not possible, standing by the Sea of Galilee, to frame more than a vague,
far-away idea of the majestic Personage who walked upon the crested waves
as if they had been solid earth, and who touched the dead and they rose
up and spoke. I read among my notes, now, with a new interest, some
sentences from an edition of 1621 of the Apocryphal New Testament.

     "Christ, kissed by a bride made dumb by sorcerers, cures her. A
     leprous girl cured by the water in which the infant Christ was
     washed, and becomes the servant of Joseph and Mary. The leprous son
     of a Prince cured in like manner.

     "A young man who had been bewitched and turned into a mule,
     miraculously cured by the infant Savior being put on his back, and
     is married to the girl who had been cured of leprosy. Whereupon the
     bystanders praise God.

     "Chapter 16. Christ miraculously widens or contracts gates, milk-
     pails, sieves or boxes, not properly made by Joseph, he not being
     skillful at his carpenter's trade. The King of Jerusalem gives
     Joseph an order for a throne. Joseph works on it for two years and
     makes it two spans too short. The King being angry with him, Jesus
     comforts him--commands him to pull one side of the throne while he
     pulls the other, and brings it to its proper dimensions.

     "Chapter 19. Jesus, charged with throwing a boy from the roof of a
     house, miraculously causes the dead boy to speak and acquit him;
     fetches water for his mother, breaks the pitcher and miraculously
     gathers the water in his mantle and brings it home.

     "Sent to a schoolmaster, refuses to tell his letters, and the
     schoolmaster going to whip him, his hand withers."

Further on in this quaint volume of rejected gospels is an epistle of St.
Clement to the Corinthians, which was used in the churches and considered
genuine fourteen or fifteen hundred years ago. In it this account of the
fabled phoenix occurs:

     "1. Let us consider that wonderful type of the resurrection, which
     is seen in the Eastern countries, that is to say, in Arabia.

     "2. There is a certain bird called a phoenix. Of this there is
     never but one at a time, and that lives five hundred years. And
     when the time of its dissolution draws near, that it must die, it
     makes itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices,
     into which, when its time is fulfilled, it enters and dies.

     "3. But its flesh, putrefying, breeds a certain worm, which, being
     nourished by the juice of the dead bird, brings forth feathers; and
     when it is grown to a perfect state, it takes up the nest in which
     the bones of its parent lie, and carries it from Arabia into Egypt,
     to a city called Heliopolis:

     "4. And flying in open day in the sight of all men, lays it upon
     the altar of the sun, and so returns from whence it came.

     "5. The priests then search into the records of the time, and find
     that it returned precisely at the end of five hundred years."

Business is business, and there is nothing like punctuality, especially
in a phoenix.

The few chapters relating to the infancy of the Saviour contain many
things which seem frivolous and not worth preserving. A large part of
the remaining portions of the book read like good Scripture, however.
There is one verse that ought not to have been rejected, because it so
evidently prophetically refers to the general run of Congresses of the
United States:

     "199. They carry themselves high, and as prudent men; and though
     they are fools, yet would seem to be teachers."

I have set these extracts down, as I found them. Everywhere among the
cathedrals of France and Italy, one finds traditions of personages that
do not figure in the Bible, and of miracles that are not mentioned in its
pages. But they are all in this Apocryphal New Testament, and though
they have been ruled out of our modern Bible, it is claimed that they
were accepted gospel twelve or fifteen centuries ago, and ranked as high
in credit as any. One needs to read this book before he visits those
venerable cathedrals, with their treasures of tabooed and forgotten

They imposed another pirate upon us at Nazareth--another invincible Arab
guard. We took our last look at the city, clinging like a whitewashed
wasp's nest to the hill-side, and at eight o'clock in the morning
departed. We dismounted and drove the horses down a bridle-path which I
think was fully as crooked as a corkscrew, which I know to be as steep as
the downward sweep of a rainbow, and which I believe to be the worst
piece of road in the geography, except one in the Sandwich Islands, which
I remember painfully, and possibly one or two mountain trails in the
Sierra Nevadas. Often, in this narrow path the horse had to poise
himself nicely on a rude stone step and then drop his fore-feet over the
edge and down something more than half his own height. This brought his
nose near the ground, while his tail pointed up toward the sky somewhere,
and gave him the appearance of preparing to stand on his head. A horse
cannot look dignified in this position. We accomplished the long descent
at last, and trotted across the great Plain of Esdraelon.

Some of us will be shot before we finish this pilgrimage. The pilgrims
read "Nomadic Life" and keep themselves in a constant state of Quixotic
heroism. They have their hands on their pistols all the time, and every
now and then, when you least expect it, they snatch them out and take aim
at Bedouins who are not visible, and draw their knives and make savage
passes at other Bedouins who do not exist. I am in deadly peril always,
for these spasms are sudden and irregular, and of course I cannot tell
when to be getting out of the way. If I am accidentally murdered, some
time, during one of these romantic frenzies of the pilgrims, Mr. Grimes
must be rigidly held to answer as an accessory before the fact. If the
pilgrims would take deliberate aim and shoot at a man, it would be all
right and proper--because that man would not be in any danger; but these
random assaults are what I object to. I do not wish to see any more
places like Esdraelon, where the ground is level and people can gallop.
It puts melodramatic nonsense into the pilgrims' heads. All at once,
when one is jogging along stupidly in the sun, and thinking about
something ever so far away, here they come, at a stormy gallop, spurring
and whooping at those ridgy old sore-backed plugs till their heels fly
higher than their heads, and as they whiz by, out comes a little potato-
gum of a revolver, there is a startling little pop, and a small pellet
goes singing through the air. Now that I have begun this pilgrimage, I
intend to go through with it, though sooth to say, nothing but the most
desperate valor has kept me to my purpose up to the present time. I do
not mind Bedouins,--I am not afraid of them; because neither Bedouins nor
ordinary Arabs have shown any disposition to harm us, but I do feel
afraid of my own comrades.

Arriving at the furthest verge of the Plain, we rode a little way up a
hill and found ourselves at Endor, famous for its witch. Her descendants
are there yet. They were the wildest horde of half-naked savages we have
found thus far. They swarmed out of mud bee-hives; out of hovels of the
dry-goods box pattern; out of gaping caves under shelving rocks; out of
crevices in the earth. In five minutes the dead solitude and silence of
the place were no more, and a begging, screeching, shouting mob were
struggling about the horses' feet and blocking the way. "Bucksheesh!
bucksheesh! bucksheesh! howajji, bucksheesh!" It was Magdala over
again, only here the glare from the infidel eyes was fierce and full of
hate. The population numbers two hundred and fifty, and more than half
the citizens live in caves in the rock. Dirt, degradation and savagery
are Endor's specialty. We say no more about Magdala and Deburieh now.
Endor heads the list. It is worse than any Indian 'campoodie'. The hill
is barren, rocky, and forbidding. No sprig of grass is visible, and only
one tree. This is a fig-tree, which maintains a precarious footing among
the rocks at the mouth of the dismal cavern once occupied by the
veritable Witch of Endor. In this cavern, tradition says, Saul, the
king, sat at midnight, and stared and trembled, while the earth shook,
the thunders crashed among the hills, and out of the midst of fire and
smoke the spirit of the dead prophet rose up and confronted him. Saul
had crept to this place in the darkness, while his army slept, to learn
what fate awaited him in the morrow's battle. He went away a sad man, to
meet disgrace and death.

A spring trickles out of the rock in the gloomy recesses of the cavern,
and we were thirsty. The citizens of Endor objected to our going in
there. They do not mind dirt; they do not mind rags; they do not mind
vermin; they do not mind barbarous ignorance and savagery; they do not
mind a reasonable degree of starvation, but they do like to be pure and
holy before their god, whoever he may be, and therefore they shudder and
grow almost pale at the idea of Christian lips polluting a spring whose
waters must descend into their sanctified gullets. We had no wanton
desire to wound even their feelings or trample upon their prejudices, but
we were out of water, thus early in the day, and were burning up with
thirst. It was at this time, and under these circumstances, that I
framed an aphorism which has already become celebrated. I said:
"Necessity knows no law." We went in and drank.

We got away from the noisy wretches, finally, dropping them in squads and
couples as we filed over the hills--the aged first, the infants next, the
young girls further on; the strong men ran beside us a mile, and only
left when they had secured the last possible piastre in the way of

In an hour, we reached Nain, where Christ raised the widow's son to life.
Nain is Magdala on a small scale. It has no population of any
consequence. Within a hundred yards of it is the original graveyard, for
aught I know; the tombstones lie flat on the ground, which is Jewish
fashion in Syria. I believe the Moslems do not allow them to have
upright tombstones. A Moslem grave is usually roughly plastered over and
whitewashed, and has at one end an upright projection which is shaped
into exceedingly rude attempts at ornamentation. In the cities, there is
often no appearance of a grave at all; a tall, slender marble tombstone,
elaborately lettred, gilded and painted, marks the burial place, and this
is surmounted by a turban, so carved and shaped as to signify the dead
man's rank in life.

They showed a fragment of ancient wall which they said was one side of
the gate out of which the widow's dead son was being brought so many
centuries ago when Jesus met the procession:

     "Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold there was a
     dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a
     widow: and much people of the city was with her.

     "And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said, Weep

     "And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood
     still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, arise.

     "And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered
     him to his mother.

     "And there came a fear on all. And they glorified God, saying, That
     a great prophet is risen up among us; and That God hath visited his

A little mosque stands upon the spot which tradition says was occupied by
the widow's dwelling. Two or three aged Arabs sat about its door. We
entered, and the pilgrims broke specimens from the foundation walls,
though they had to touch, and even step, upon the "praying carpets" to do
it. It was almost the same as breaking pieces from the hearts of those
old Arabs. To step rudely upon the sacred praying mats, with booted
feet--a thing not done by any Arab--was to inflict pain upon men who had
not offended us in any way. Suppose a party of armed foreigners were to
enter a village church in America and break ornaments from the altar
railings for curiosities, and climb up and walk upon the Bible and the
pulpit cushions? However, the cases are different. One is the
profanation of a temple of our faith--the other only the profanation of a
pagan one.

We descended to the Plain again, and halted a moment at a well--of
Abraham's time, no doubt. It was in a desert place. It was walled three
feet above ground with squared and heavy blocks of stone, after the
manner of Bible pictures. Around it some camels stood, and others knelt.
There was a group of sober little donkeys with naked, dusky children
clambering about them, or sitting astride their rumps, or pulling their
tails. Tawny, black-eyed, barefooted maids, arrayed in rags and adorned
with brazen armlets and pinchbeck ear-rings, were poising water-jars upon
their heads, or drawing water from the well. A flock of sheep stood by,
waiting for the shepherds to fill the hollowed stones with water, so that
they might drink--stones which, like those that walled the well, were
worn smooth and deeply creased by the chafing chins of a hundred
generations of thirsty animals. Picturesque Arabs sat upon the ground,
in groups, and solemnly smoked their long-stemmed chibouks. Other Arabs
were filling black hog-skins with water--skins which, well filled, and
distended with water till the short legs projected painfully out of the
proper line, looked like the corpses of hogs bloated by drowning. Here
was a grand Oriental picture which I had worshiped a thousand times in
soft, rich steel engravings! But in the engraving there was no
desolation; no dirt; no rags; no fleas; no ugly features; no sore eyes;
no feasting flies; no besotted ignorance in the countenances; no raw
places on the donkeys' backs; no disagreeable jabbering in unknown
tongues; no stench of camels; no suggestion that a couple of tons of
powder placed under the party and touched off would heighten the effect
and give to the scene a genuine interest and a charm which it would
always be pleasant to recall, even though a man lived a thousand years.
Oriental scenes look best in steel engravings. I cannot be imposed upon
any more by that picture of the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon. I shall
say to myself, You look fine, Madam but your feet are not clean and you
smell like a camel.

Presently a wild Arab in charge of a camel train recognized an old friend
in Ferguson, and they ran and fell upon each other's necks and kissed
each other's grimy, bearded faces upon both cheeks. It explained
instantly a something which had always seemed to me only a farfetched
Oriental figure of speech. I refer to the circumstance of Christ's
rebuking a Pharisee, or some such character, and reminding him that from
him he had received no "kiss of welcome." It did not seem reasonable to
me that men should kiss each other, but I am aware, now, that they did.
There was reason in it, too. The custom was natural and proper; because
people must kiss, and a man would not be likely to kiss one of the women
of this country of his own free will and accord. One must travel, to
learn. Every day, now, old Scriptural phrases that never possessed any
significance for me before, take to themselves a meaning.

We journeyed around the base of the mountain--"Little Hermon,"--past the
old Crusaders' castle of El Fuleh, and arrived at Shunem. This was
another Magdala, to a fraction, frescoes and all. Here, tradition says,
the prophet Samuel was born, and here the Shunamite woman built a little
house upon the city wall for the accommodation of the prophet Elisha.
Elisha asked her what she expected in return. It was a perfectly natural
question, for these people are and were in the habit of proffering favors
and services and then expecting and begging for pay. Elisha knew them
well. He could not comprehend that any body should build for him that
humble little chamber for the mere sake of old friendship, and with no
selfish motive whatever. It used to seem a very impolite, not to say a
rude, question, for Elisha to ask the woman, but it does not seem so to
me now. The woman said she expected nothing. Then for her goodness and
her unselfishness, he rejoiced her heart with the news that she should
bear a son. It was a high reward--but she would not have thanked him for
a daughter--daughters have always been unpopular here. The son was born,
grew, waxed strong, died. Elisha restored him to life in Shunem.

We found here a grove of lemon trees--cool, shady, hung with fruit. One
is apt to overestimate beauty when it is rare, but to me this grove
seemed very beautiful. It was beautiful. I do not overestimate it. I
must always remember Shunem gratefully, as a place which gave to us this
leafy shelter after our long, hot ride. We lunched, rested, chatted,
smoked our pipes an hour, and then mounted and moved on.

As we trotted across the Plain of Jezreel, we met half a dozen Digger
Indians (Bedouins) with very long spears in their hands, cavorting around
on old crowbait horses, and spearing imaginary enemies; whooping, and
fluttering their rags in the wind, and carrying on in every respect like
a pack of hopeless lunatics. At last, here were the "wild, free sons of
the desert, speeding over the plain like the wind, on their beautiful
Arabian mares" we had read so much about and longed so much to see! Here
were the "picturesque costumes!" This was the "gallant spectacle!"
Tatterdemalion vagrants--cheap braggadocio--"Arabian mares" spined and
necked like the ichthyosaurus in the museum, and humped and cornered like
a dromedary! To glance at the genuine son of the desert is to take the
romance out of him forever--to behold his steed is to long in charity to
strip his harness off and let him fall to pieces.

Presently we came to a ruinous old town on a hill, the same being the
ancient Jezreel.

Ahab, King of Samaria, (this was a very vast kingdom, for those days, and
was very nearly half as large as Rhode Island) dwelt in the city of
Jezreel, which was his capital. Near him lived a man by the name of
Naboth, who had a vineyard. The King asked him for it, and when he would
not give it, offered to buy it. But Naboth refused to sell it. In those
days it was considered a sort of crime to part with one's inheritance at
any price--and even if a man did part with it, it reverted to himself or
his heirs again at the next jubilee year. So this spoiled child of a
King went and lay down on the bed with his face to the wall, and grieved
sorely. The Queen, a notorious character in those days, and whose name
is a by-word and a reproach even in these, came in and asked him
wherefore he sorrowed, and he told her. Jezebel said she could secure
the vineyard; and she went forth and forged letters to the nobles and
wise men, in the King's name, and ordered them to proclaim a fast and set
Naboth on high before the people, and suborn two witnesses to swear that
he had blasphemed. They did it, and the people stoned the accused by the
city wall, and he died. Then Jezebel came and told the King, and said,
Behold, Naboth is no more--rise up and seize the vineyard. So Ahab
seized the vineyard, and went into it to possess it. But the Prophet
Elijah came to him there and read his fate to him, and the fate of
Jezebel; and said that in the place where dogs licked the blood of
Naboth, dogs should also lick his blood--and he said, likewise, the dogs
should eat Jezebel by the wall of Jezreel. In the course of time, the
King was killed in battle, and when his chariot wheels were washed in the
pool of Samaria, the dogs licked the blood. In after years, Jehu, who
was King of Israel, marched down against Jezreel, by order of one of the
Prophets, and administered one of those convincing rebukes so common
among the people of those days: he killed many kings and their subjects,
and as he came along he saw Jezebel, painted and finely dressed, looking
out of a window, and ordered that she be thrown down to him. A servant
did it, and Jehu's horse trampled her under foot. Then Jehu went in and
sat down to dinner; and presently he said, Go and bury this cursed woman,
for she is a King's daughter. The spirit of charity came upon him too
late, however, for the prophecy had already been fulfilled--the dogs had
eaten her, and they "found no more of her than the skull, and the feet,
and the palms of her hands."

Ahab, the late King, had left a helpless family behind him, and Jehu
killed seventy of the orphan sons. Then he killed all the relatives, and
teachers, and servants and friends of the family, and rested from his
labors, until he was come near to Samaria, where he met forty-two persons
and asked them who they were; they said they were brothers of the King of
Judah. He killed them. When he got to Samaria, he said he would show
his zeal for the Lord; so he gathered all the priests and people together
that worshiped Baal, pretending that he was going to adopt that worship
and offer up a great sacrifice; and when they were all shut up where they
could not defend themselves, he caused every person of them to be killed.
Then Jehu, the good missionary, rested from his labors once more.

We went back to the valley, and rode to the Fountain of Ain Jelud. They
call it the Fountain of Jezreel, usually. It is a pond about one hundred
feet square and four feet deep, with a stream of water trickling into it
from under an overhanging ledge of rocks. It is in the midst of a great
solitude. Here Gideon pitched his camp in the old times; behind Shunem
lay the "Midianites, the Amalekites, and the Children of the East," who
were "as grasshoppers for multitude; both they and their camels were
without number, as the sand by the sea-side for multitude." Which means
that there were one hundred and thirty-five thousand men, and that they
had transportation service accordingly.

Gideon, with only three hundred men, surprised them in the night, and
stood by and looked on while they butchered each other until a hundred
and twenty thousand lay dead on the field.

We camped at Jenin before night, and got up and started again at one
o'clock in the morning. Somewhere towards daylight we passed the
locality where the best authenticated tradition locates the pit into
which Joseph's brethren threw him, and about noon, after passing over a
succession of mountain tops, clad with groves of fig and olive trees,
with the Mediterranean in sight some forty miles away, and going by many
ancient Biblical cities whose inhabitants glowered savagely upon our
Christian procession, and were seemingly inclined to practice on it with
stones, we came to the singularly terraced and unlovely hills that
betrayed that we were out of Galilee and into Samaria at last.

We climbed a high hill to visit the city of Samaria, where the woman may
have hailed from who conversed with Christ at Jacob's Well, and from
whence, no doubt, came also the celebrated Good Samaritan. Herod the
Great is said to have made a magnificent city of this place, and a great
number of coarse limestone columns, twenty feet high and two feet
through, that are almost guiltless of architectural grace of shape and
ornament, are pointed out by many authors as evidence of the fact. They
would not have been considered handsome in ancient Greece, however.

The inhabitants of this camp are particularly vicious, and stoned two
parties of our pilgrims a day or two ago who brought about the difficulty
by showing their revolvers when they did not intend to use them--a thing
which is deemed bad judgment in the Far West, and ought certainly to be
so considered any where. In the new Territories, when a man puts his
hand on a weapon, he knows that he must use it; he must use it instantly
or expect to be shot down where he stands. Those pilgrims had been
reading Grimes.

There was nothing for us to do in Samaria but buy handfuls of old Roman
coins at a franc a dozen, and look at a dilapidated church of the
Crusaders and a vault in it which once contained the body of John the
Baptist. This relic was long ago carried away to Genoa.

Samaria stood a disastrous siege, once, in the days of Elisha, at the
hands of the King of Syria. Provisions reached such a figure that "an
ass' head was sold for eighty pieces of silver and the fourth part of a
cab of dove's dung for five pieces of silver."

An incident recorded of that heavy time will give one a very good idea of
the distress that prevailed within these crumbling walls. As the King
was walking upon the battlements one day, "a woman cried out, saying,
Help, my lord, O King! And the King said, What aileth thee? and she
answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him to-
day, and we will eat my son to-morrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat
him; and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son that we may eat
him; and she hath hid her son."

The prophet Elisha declared that within four and twenty hours the prices
of food should go down to nothing, almost, and it was so. The Syrian
army broke camp and fled, for some cause or other, the famine was
relieved from without, and many a shoddy speculator in dove's dung and
ass's meat was ruined.

We were glad to leave this hot and dusty old village and hurry on. At
two o'clock we stopped to lunch and rest at ancient Shechem, between the
historic Mounts of Gerizim and Ebal, where in the old times the books of
the law, the curses and the blessings, were read from the heights to the
Jewish multitudes below.

< Back
Forward >

Index Index

Other Authors Other Authors

Mark Twain. Copyright 2008,
Contact the webmaster
Disclaimer here. Privacy Policy here.