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"Helon's Pilgrimage to Jerusalem," by M. Strauss.
THE success of the Travels of THE Anacharsis has led many persons to adopt a similar method of interweaving information respecting the history and antiquities of ancient nations with the adventures of some fictitious personage. Hardly one of them, however, has obtained any permanent place in literature, and Barthelemy, we believe, owes his success chiefly to the valuable matter contained in those parts of his book in which his Scythian traveller disappears; and the learned member of the academy presents us with the fruit of his own antiquarian researches. Indeed, in adopting such a form for the communication of this kind of knowledge, it is scarcely possible to avoid either sacrificing the grace of the fiction to the didactic object, or the didactic object to the fiction. Sismondi's Julia Severa, perhaps, combines these two points in the highest degree of all the antiquarian novels which have hitherto appeared; and yet we doubt whether even his readers have not often felt that the attempt to attain two dissimilar purposes had prevented the author from accomplishing either in perfection.
The Holy Land has not, as far as we know, been chosen as the scene of such a fiction by any author before M. Strauss, of whose work, as being connected with biblical criticism and history, we propose to lay some ac
count before the readers of the Month-
accordance with historical truth; the piety, sensibility and ardour of Helon are well adapted to the author's purpose of giving an attractive picture of the Jewish people; even the circumstance of his having been recently reclaimed from the love of spiritualizing and allegory, by heightening his interest in every thing which related to the history and usages of his people, (considered by the allegorists merely as the covering of some deeper meaning,) gives an air of nature to his eager curiosity respecting things which might otherwise have appeared trifling. The Christian reader naturally wishes such a work to be made as much subservient as possible to the illustration of the New Testament, and may, perhaps, regret, that the travels of Helon had not been placed somewhat nearer to the Advent of our Saviour. But this could not have been done without injury to the fiction, and without defeating one of the chief objects of the author. A completely different character must have been given to the work, had it represented the Jewish people as degraded and oppressed under the Roman yoke: they must have been drawn with the vices of slaves, instead of the high feeling of a nation, who, under the Maccabees, had recovered their independence, and, with Hyrcanus at their head, felt themselves once more free in the land of their fathers. At the same time, it must be observed, that, except in what relates to political condition and those moral differences which it produces, the picture of the Jews given in this work may be applied to the time of our Saviour. The Temple, as it is here described, is that of Herod; the sacred usages were prescribed by an unchangeable authority; and it is not in the nature of Oriental manners to vary from one half century to another, like our own.
The first volume opens with the description of Helon's departure from Alexandria, (where he leaves his mother,) accompanied by Elisama, Myron, who is going on commercial business to the maritime cities of Palestine, and Salla, a faithful slave of the family, who, when offered his emancipation by Helon, prefers continuing his bondsman, in order to visit the Holy Land in his company. They join themselves to a carayan which is
going to Gaza, and as they journey through the dreary regions which separate Palestine from Egypt, Elisama, at each evening's halt of the caravan, relates to Myron and Helon a portion of the previous history of the Jewish people, and explains the effect which Providence designed to produce on the character of the nation, by their captivity in Egypt, their wandering in the desert, their possession of the promised land, and the subsequent vicissitudes of their fate. This occupies rather too large a part of the book, and the effect ascribed to particular series of events is not always accurately characterized and supported: there seems, for example, no good reason why the period from the reign of Rehoboam to the Captivity should be exclusively called the period of retribution. Undoubtedly, the calamities which befel the Jews, whenever they gave themselves up to idolatry, taught and at length convinced them of the folly of forsaking the living God; but many events in their earlier history, indeed the whole tenor of it, had the same tendency. We pass on, therefore, to the beginning of the second volume, which brings us to Gaza, where Myron takes his leave, engaging to meet them again at Jerusalem, when he has finished his affairs in Sidon and Damascus. Helon and Elisama begin their pilgrimage_together, to reach Jerusalem at the Passover.
"From Gaza, two roads conduct to Jerusalem. One passes by Eleutheropolis and the plain of Sephela; the other, through the hills by Hebron. Although the former was the easier and more customary, Elisama preferred the latter. He had a friend in Hebron whom he had not seen for many years, and in whose company he wished to perform the pilgrimage, and he was desirous of making Helon's first entrance into the Land of Promise as solemn and impressive as possible. By taking the easier road, they must have gone a long way through the country of the Philistines, and not have been joined by pilgrims till they reached Morescheth, and then only in small numbers. On the other road, they entered immediately on the Jewish territory, and their way conducted them through scenes adorned with many an historical remembrance.→→
They had not proceeded far inward from the sea, in the direction of the river Besor, when they reached the confines of Juda; they stood at the foot of its hills, and the land of the Heathen lay behind them. Helon seemed to feel for the first time what home and native country mean. In Egypt, where he had been born and bred, he had been conscious of no such feeling; for he had been taught to regard himself as only a sojourner there. Into this unknown, untrodden native country he was about to enter, and before he set his foot upon it, at the first sight of it, the breeze seemed to waft him froin its hills a welcome to his home. 'Land of my fathers,' he exclaimed, land of promise, promised to me also from my earliest years!' and quickened his steps to reach it. He felt the truth of the saying, that Israel is Israel only in the Holy Land. 'Here,' said Elisama, 'is the boundary of Juda.' Helon, unable to speak, threw himself on the sacred earth, kissed it and watered it with his tears, and Salla, letting go the bridle of the camels, did the same. Elisama stood beside them, and as he stretched his arms over them, and in the name of the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob, blessed their going out and their coming in, his eyes too overflowed with tears, and his heart seemed to warm again as with the renewal of a youthful love. They proceeded slowly on their way; Helon gazed around him on every side, and thought he had never seen so lovely a Spring. The latter rains had ceased, and had given a quickening freshness to the breezes from the hills, such as he had never known in the Delta. The narcissus and the hyacinth, the blossoms of the apricot and the peach, shed their fragrance around. The groves of terebinth, the oliveyards and vineyards stood before them in their living green: the corn, swollen by the rain, was ripening fast for the harvest, and the fields of barley were already yellow. The wide meadows covered with grass for the cattle, the alternation of hill and valley, the rocks hewn out in terraces, and filled with earth and planted, offered a constant variety of delightful views. You might see that this was a land, the dew of which Jehovah had blessed, in which the prayer of Isaac over Jacob had
to begin. Refreshments were offered to the travellers, and especially to Elisama, but he declared with earnestness, that, even amidst the idolaters of Egypt, he had scarcely ever allowed himself to taste food early in a morning, and much less would he do so in Israel, and in the city of David, and on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The commotion in the streets became greater and greater, and it was scarcely dawn when they set forth. All the doors of the houses were open, all the roofs were covered with persons watching their departure. Helon, as he passed through the streets of Hebron in the ruddy light of the dawn, and by the palm trees at the gate, was reminded that Hebron was one of the oldest cities in the world, even older than Zoan in Egypt; that it had been conquered by Joshua, and given as a portion to Caleb, the bravest and most faithful of the explorers of the land; that it had afterwards become a city of the priests, and had been for seven years the residence of David; that it had been taken by the Idumeans, and reconquered by the Maccabees, and once more incorporated with Juda. But when he had passed the gate, and gained a view of the lovely valley in which it stands, full of vineyards and corn-fields, and looked around on the region where patriarchs had tended their flocks and pitched their tents, and lived in friendly communion with Jehovah, all the high and enthusiastic feelings of the preceding day were renewed in his inind. From all the cross-roads, men, women and children were streaming towards the highway that led to Jerusalem. They had scarcely proceeded a Sabbath-day's journey, when they saw the grove of terebinths; cymbals, flutes and psalms resounded from the midst of it, and hundreds were standing under the turpentine tree of Abraham, a tree of immense size and wide-spreading branches. Helon entered the grove of Mamre with feelings of religious veneration. Here Abraham had dwelt; here the angels had appeared to him; beneath these trees Isaac had been promised, and the rite of circumcision instituted; here Ishmael had been born and driven from his father's tent; and not far off was the cave of Macpelah, where Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah
were buried. And on the spot consecrated by so many recollections, the children of these patriarchs were now preparing to depart on their festal pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The occasion and the place seemed to banish from all hearts every other feeling but piety and good-will: mutual greetings were exchanged, friends and relatives sought each other out, and associated themselves for the journey, and all faces beamed with joy. The priests and elders led the procession; the people followed, and the slaves with the camels were placed in the midst of them; the Levites had distributed themselves with their instruments among the multitude, and as they set forward they sung this Psalm (cxxii.):
"It is impossible to conceive of the soul-felt exultation with which this Psalm was sung, and of its effect on old and young. Now the voices rose like the notes of the mounting lark upon the summits of the hills, now sunk again in the depths of the valleys. How differently did it operate now upon the heart of Helon, and when he had sung it before to his solitary harp on his roof in Alexandria! How did he bless the memory of Samuel, who had given his schools of the prophets the harp and the flute; and of David, who, bred up among them, did not forget them even when seated on his throne, but appointed Levites for the cultivation of music, and himself often laid down his sceptre to assume the harp!"
In this way the train of pilgrims to the Passover proceeds; they halt at mid-day beside the pools of Solomon, the reservoirs of an aqueduct by which Jerusalem had formerly been supplied. In the evening they enter the Holy City, and are hospitably received by Iddo, an old friend of Elisama's family. The description of the City and Temple, of the day of Preparation, the feast of the Passover itself, the Sabbath and the remaining days of the solemnity, occupy the remainder of this volume. The following description of the Paschal meal may serve as a specimen of the antiquarian part of the work.
"In the middle of the room stood the table, which in the East is always low, because the guests either lie around it on divans, or sit on cushions. On this occasion, however, there was neither divan nor cushion, and the table stood apart, as if the preparations were but half finished. It was about the middle of the second hour of evening (half-past seven) when the company, consisting of nineteen persons, assembled around the table. Every one, though splendidly clad, appeared prepared for a journey. With sandals on their feet, which at other times were not worn in a room, but given to the slaves to be placed at the door, with their garments girt and a staff in their hands, they surrounded the table. A large vessel, filled with wine immediately from the cask, stood upon it, and the meal began by the master of the house blessing it. He laid hold of it with both hands, lifted it up with the right, and said, 'Praised be Thou, O Lord our God, Thou King of the world, who hast given us the fruit of the vine;' and the whole assembly said, 'Amen.' Next he blessed. the day, and thanked God for having given them his passover; and then, drinking first himself from the cup, sent it round to the rest. When this was over, he began again; Praised be Thou, O Lord our God, Thou King of the world, who hast sanctified us by thy precepts, and commanded us to wash our hands.' He and the whole company then washed their hands in a silver bason, with water poured from an ewer of the same metal. This was the emblem of purification, and implied, that every one should come with a pure heart, as well as clean
hands, to partake of the paschal meal. The unleavened bread, (flat cakes with many small holes in them,) the bitter herbs, a vessel with vinegar, the paschal lamb, were then placed upon the table, and last of all the charoseth, a thick pottage of apples, nuts, figs, almonds and honey, boiled in wine and vinegar, and not unfrequently made in the form of a brick or tile, to remind the Israelites of their Egyptian slavery, and strewed with cinnamon in imitation of the straw which was mixed with the clay. The master of the house then spoke again, ‘Praised be Thou, O Lord our God, who hast given us the fruits of the earth.' He dipped one of the herbs in vinegar, and the whole company did the same. At this moment, the mistress touched her little grandson, a child of ten years old. Children were always present at this festival, and one design of its establishment was, that the son should learn from the lips of his father the events to which it referred, and the remembrance of them might thus be propagated to the most distant posterity. The child understood the hint, and asked his grandfather why on this night only unleavened bread and bitter herbs were to be eaten; why on this night alone the guests stood around the table, instead of sitting or lying. With dignity and solemnity, the grandfather, turning to the child, related to him how their forefathers had been oppressed in Egypt, and how the Lord had brought them out thence with a mighty arin. He described to him the evening which preceded their flight from Goshen, their busy preparation, and their anxiety to conceal it from the Egyptians. The lamb was slain and the blood sprinkled on the. door-posts, that the destroying angel of the Lord might pass by their houses, when he slew the first-born of the Egyptians. It was to be roasted, not boiled, that it might be sooner ready, and strengthen more those who partook of it; it was to be eaten in a standing posture, as by men prepared for instant departure; it was to be consumed entire; for the whole people were to quit their dwellings and never to return to them: and no bone of it was to be broken; for this is the act of men who have time and leisure for their meal. The bitter herbs and unleavened bread were then eaten, and