Peeps into Palestine – Introduction by James Neil

Let me land you in imagination on the shore of Palestine. In doing so, allow me to impress upon you in the strongest manner possible three most important facts, which would seem to be known to comparatively few, and fully realised by scarcely any. First,

The Bible is an Eastern Book;

as much an Eastern book, be it said reverently, as the Arabian Nights — a work indeed fully inspired by the Holy Spirit, but, as to its human side, written in the East, by Easterns, and for Easterns — indeed, as to a great part of it, during ages for Easterns alone — and, therefore, only to be rightly interpreted in the light and colouring of the East. Secondly,

The Life of Palestine is Most Ancient.

Its modern manners, customs, rites, modes of speech, climate, and natural features are all essentially the same as those seen and heard by Abraham 4,000 years ago. The origin of its customs is lost in remote ages. All that members of the oldest families can tell, when asked to account for anything that now goes on, is “our fathers did thus,” “it is from ancient times,” “it always was done so,” “it is our ’adeh, or custom.” Perhaps the strangest and strongest instance of the changeless life of Bible lands is afforded by the dress of the women, which is positively the same in every particular as that worn from the earliest times in the memory of man. Truly has it been said “immutability is the most striking law of Eastern life.” The word, the idea, that governs them with absolute and despotic rule is ’adeh, “custom.” All-powerful ’adeh! Constantly is it on their lips; like an iron chain it binds their lives. To their ideas it is wrong, morally wrong, to act differently from their ancestors. The people will not — cannot — change! The third highly important fact is that

Palestine Life is Most Uniform.

Not only is everything most ancient, but at the same time most uniform. In all matters there may be said to be a perfect agreement. The tiny handleless cup, with its egg-cup-like stand, out of which, as a guest, you sip your host’s coffee, is of the same shape and size, in every house you enter, and so is the copper ewer and bason, with which his slave, when he has taken a towel and “girded himself” (John 13:4), comes forward to wash your hands, and, should you go barefoot, as all peasants do, or wear sandals, like many of the Bedaween, your feet. If one speaks of a plough, then from the north of Syria to the south of Egypt, the light, one-handled, simple instrument is in every village precisely the same. In the rural districts, small towns, and wherever purely Oriental usages prevail, men and women respectively, if of the same class of life, dress exactly alike; and the material, colour, and style of a woman’s apparel to-day is not only, as I have said, just the same as that of her great, great, great grandmother, but also as that of all her neighbours and acquaintances! No different modes, no passing fashions change, or ever have changed, the simple features of Palestine life. To Western minds, and in an age like ours, this seems little less than a standing miracle. Thus wonderfully has the power and goodness of God afforded us, throughout the lands of the Bible, as it were, a living, accurate, divinely preserved commentary on its inspired pages!