River Jordan and Bethlehem
Out of bed before 4, and mounted on our way to Jordan soon after 5. Reached Gilgal in one hr - just a few huts and a house said to be on site of Zacchaeus' pointed out. This is supposed to be Jericho when Christ was on earth. Had a shower on the way, first real one we have had, it lasted half hr., and was pleasant, followed by a fine rain. Hour almost in walking to zenith. Sun just rising over mountains of Moab very fine.
2 hrs brought us to Jordan ford, where Jesus was baptised; and, to our surprise, one of the party, Mr Dodge, was baptised by Dr Gale; also Mrs Blake by her husband. Rather solemn time; but preparation and accompaniments not quite to my mind. All the party except one or two bathed in Jordan. The plain is alluvial and surface all from overflow of river. The banks of Jordan are deep and precipitous, and of white clay or mud, about 30 yards wide, and it rushes along at about 7 or 8 miles an hour. The bank is lowest on W. side and is covered with trees and shrubs.
The whole district is infested with Bedouins: and parties are frightened to encamp near banks. Went on to Dead Sea, an hour's ride from ford: and most of us bathed again - beautiful and novel effect - we were like corks bobbing about - could not sink lower than our shoulders if we kept feet down. The best swimmer could not go fast, the water being so heavy. It was a jolly bathe altogether. Margin of sea at North end is fine pebble, and the water very clear. It is abt. 12 miles broad and 40 long, being a continuation of the Jordan valley. Its length is N and S: on E. mountains of Moab and on W. mountains of Judaea like two great walls with 3 or 4 projections in them. No vegetation immediately around; but shrubs a little distance off. Had a fine morning for the work, the sun being obscured by clouds part of the time. But he came out and we got it hot.
Made our way to mountains of Judea. Again lunched under a rock - nothing like one for shade in this country - and then started for four more hours. Our road was generally on the ascent, and very wild and occasionally grand. All these parts are called the wilderness. Crossed bed of Kedron - quite dry - it winds through a narrow rocky gorge about 300 ft deep.
Convent of Morsaba is built on side of gorge, and near to it we encamped. Altogether a good interesting day.
Easy day. Breakfast at 7 before journey. Went through monastery of Morsaba, founded by ? and also by St Lawrence, who, legend says, went into a cave in which was a lion, and asked same to go, which he duly did. Saw cave. It has two chapels, old and new, and shews a lot of skulls of monks in St Lawrence's time. It is on side of Kedron gorge and is very much up and down. Now 60 monks and favourite amusement of them is to feed birds. When food is thrown up the birds invariably catch it flying. A 3 hour ride over rounded hills and narrow valleys brought us to Bethlehem, situated on the top of a hill and looking, as we approached it like in form of a crescent. The Convent is very noticeable and large. We lunched in it and here first time for days that one had a comfortable seat. Orangeade given, very good. Convent divided between Latins, Greeks and Armenians, and a company of soldiers to keep them in order. It is built over house of Nativity, the principal building being the Church of Helena, the roof of which is supported by marble columns said to have been taken from Jerusalem Temple. Went through Grotto, each supplied with a candle, and saw place where Angel spoke to Joseph, and Jerome's study, where he translated Bible - also some other tombs, each having an altar and shrine above, and generally lighted by oil lamps.
Place shewn where Christ was born is a small Chapel, and used alternately by various sects. The place actually is a small recess, not larger than a large cupboard, hung round with lighted lamps. The place of stable and manger is a few feet lower, and only a few ft square.
Great numbers of bead and cross traders attacked us; and I bled pretty freely. Town is substantial and shade better than some others; women are best looking that I have noticed.
Came on to Solomon's Pool along the vale of Etham?. Pools are 3 reservoirs, one above other in usual style, and were for supplying Temple at Jerusalem.
(When at Jericho, had Bedouins down to dance and sing, both men and women. Both music and action very poor. One took the lead with sword and made passes and shouted and pranced. The others played and shouted up to him with swaying body and clapping hands. Same with women, and line of them came to front and ? swords - some like Indian club exercise. Soon got tired of it.)