Alroy : The Prince of the Captivity, by Benjamin Disraeli

Chapter vi.

The Learned Rabbi Zimri.

A SCORCHING sun, a blue and burning sky, on every side lofty ranges of black and barren mountains, dark ravines, deep caverns, unfathomable gorges! A solitary being moved in the distance. Faint and toiling, a pilgrim slowly clambered up the steep and stony track.

The sultry hours moved on; the pilgrim at length gained the summit of the mountain, a small and rugged table-land, strewn with huge masses of loose and heated, rock. All around was desolation: no spring, no herbage; the bird and the insect were alike mute. Still it was the summit: no loftier peaks frowned in the distance; the pilgrim stopped, and breathed with more facility, and a faint smile played over his languid and solemn countenance.

He rested a few minutes; he took from his wallet some locusts and wild honey, and a small skin of water. His meal was short as well as simple. An ardent desire to reach his place of destination before nightfall urged him to proceed. He soon passed over the table-land, and commenced the descent of the mountain. A straggling olive-tree occasionally appeared, and then a group, and soon the groups swelled into a grove. His way wound through the grateful and unaccustomed shade. He emerged from the grove, and found that he had proceeded down more than half the side of the mountain. It ended precipitously in a dark and narrow ravine, formed on the other side by an opposite mountain, the lofty steep of which was crested by a city gently rising on a gradual slope.

Nothing could be conceived more barren, wild, and terrible than the surrounding scenery, unillumined by a single trace of culture. The city stood like the last gladiator in an amphitheatre of desolation.

It was surrounded by a lofty turreted wall, of an architecture to which the pilgrim was unaccustomed: gates with drawbridge and portcullis, square towers, and loopholes for the archer. Sentinels, clothed in steel and shining in the sunset, paced, at regular intervals, the cautious wall, and on a lofty tower a standard waved, a snowy standard, with a red, red cross!

The Prince of the Captivity at length beheld the lost capital of his fathers.35

A few months back, and such a spectacle would have called forth all the latent passion of Alroy; but time and suffering, and sharp experience, had already somewhat curbed the fiery spirit of the Hebrew Prince. He gazed upon Jerusalem, he beheld the City of David garrisoned by the puissant warriors of Christendom, and threatened by the innumerable armies of the Crescent. The two great divisions of the world seemed contending for a prize, which he, a lonely wanderer, had crossed the desert to rescue.

If his faith restrained him from doubting the possibility of his enterprise, he was at least deeply conscious that the world was a very different existence from what he had fancied amid the gardens of Hamadan and the rocks of Caucasus, and that if his purpose could be accomplished, it could only be effected by one means. Calm, perhaps somewhat depressed, but full of pious humiliation, and not deserted by holy hope, he descended into the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and so, slaking his thirst at Siloah, and mounting the opposite height, David Alroy entered Jerusalem by the gate of Zion.36

He had been instructed that the quarter allotted to his people was near this entrance. He inquired the direction of the sentinel, who did not condescend to answer him. An old man, in shabby robes, who was passing, beckoned to him.

‘What want you, friend?’ inquired Alroy.

‘You were asking for the quarter of our people. You must be à stranger, indeed, in Jerusalem, to suppose that a Frank would speak to a Jew. You were lucky to get neither kicked nor cursed.’

‘Kicked and cursed! Why, these dogs ——’

‘Hush! hush! for the love of God,’ said his new companion, much alarmed. ‘Have you lent money to their captain that you speak thus? In Jerusalem our people speak only in a whisper.’

‘No matter: the cure is not by words. Where is our quarter?’

‘Was the like ever seen! Why, he speaks as if he were a Frank. I save him from having his head broken by a gauntlet, and ——’

‘My friend, I am tired. Our quarter?’

‘Whom may you want?’

‘The Chief Rabbi.’

‘You bear letters to him?’

‘What is that to you?’

‘Hush! hush! You do not know what Jerusalem is, young man. You must not think of going on in this way. Where do you come from?’

‘Bagdad.’

‘Bagdad! Jerusalem is not Bagdad. A Turk is a brute, but a Christian is a demon.’

‘But our quarter, our quarter?’

‘Hush! you want the Chief Rabbi?’

‘Ay! ay!’

‘Rabbi Zimri?’

‘It may be so. I neither know nor care.’

‘Neither knows nor cares! This will never do; you must not go on in this way at Jerusalem. You must not think of it.’

‘Fellow, I see thou art a miserable prattler. Show me our quarter, and I will pay thee well, or be off.’

‘Be off! Art thou a Hebrew? to say “be off” to any one. You come from Bagdad! I tell you what, go back to Bagdad. You will never do for Jerusalem.’

‘Your grizzled beard protects you. Old fool, I am a pilgrim just arrived, wearied beyond expression, and you keep me here listening to your flat talk!’

‘Flat talk! Why! what would you?’

‘Lead me to the Rabbi Zimri, if that be his name.’

‘If that be his name! Why, every one knows Rabbi Zimri, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, the successor of Aaron. We have our temple yet, say what they like. A very learned doctor is Rabbi Zimri.’

‘Wretched driveller. I am ashamed to lose my patience with such a dotard.’

‘Driveller! dotard! Why, who are you?’

‘One you cannot comprehend. Without another word, lead me to your chief.’

‘Chief! you have not far to go. I know no one of the nation who holds his head higher than I do here, and they call me Zimri.’

‘What, the Chief Rabbi, that very learned doctor?’

‘No less; I thought you had heard of him.’

‘Let us forget the past, good Zimri. When great men play the incognito, they must sometimes hear rough phrases. It is the Caliph’s lot as well as yours. I am glad to make the acquaintance of so great a doctor. Though young, and roughly habited, I have seen the world a little, and may offer next Sabbath in the synagogue more dirhems than you would perhaps suppose. Good and learned Zimri, I would be your guest.’

‘A very worshipful young man! And he speaks low and soft now! But it was lucky I was at hand. Good, what’s your name?’

‘David.’

‘A very honest name, good David. It was lucky I was at hand when you spoke to the sentinel, though. A Jew speak to a Frank, and a sentinel too! Hah! hah! hah! that is good. How Rabbi Maimon will laugh! Faith it was very lucky, now, was not it?’

‘Indeed, most fortunate.’

‘Well that is candid! Here! this way. ’Tis not far. We number few, sir, of our brethren here, but a better time will come, a better time will come.’

‘I think so. This is your door?’

‘An humble one. Jerusalem is not Bagdad, but you are welcome.’

‘King Pirgandicus37 entered them,’ said Rabbi Maimon, ‘but no one since.’

‘And when did he live?’ inquired Alroy. ‘His reign is recorded in the Talmud,’ answered Rabbi Zimri, ‘but in the Talmud there are no dates.’ ‘A long while ago?’ asked Alroy. ‘Since the Captivity,’ answered Rabbi Maimon. ‘I doubt that,’ said Rabbi Zimri, ‘or why should he be called king?’

‘Was he of the house of David?’ said Alroy.

‘Without doubt,’ said Rabbi Maimon; ‘he was one of our greatest kings, and conquered Julius Caesar.’38

‘His kingdom was in the northernmost parts of Africa,’ said Rabbi Zimri, ‘and exists to this day, if we could but find it.’

‘Ay, truly,’ added Rabbi Maimon, ‘the sceptre has never departed out of Judah; and he rode always upon a white elephant.’

‘Covered with cloth of gold,’ added Rabbi Zimri. ‘And he visited the Tombs of the Kings?’39 inquired Alroy.

‘Without doubt,’ said Rabbi Maimon. ‘The whole account is in the Talmud.’

‘And no one can now find them?’ ‘No one,’ replied Rabbi Zimri: ‘but, according to that learned doctor, Moses Hallevy, they are in a valley in the mountains of Lebanon, which was sealed up by the Archangel Michael.’

‘The illustrious Doctor Abarbanel, of Babylon,’ said Rabbi Maimon, ‘gives one hundred and twenty reasons in his commentary on the Gemara to prove that they sunk under the earth at the taking of the Temple.’

‘No one reasons like Abarbanel of Babylon,’ said Rabbi Zimri.

‘The great Rabbi Akiba, of Pundebita, has answered them all,’ said Rabbi Maimon, ‘and holds that they were taken up to heaven.’

‘And which is right?’ inquired Rabbi Zimri.

‘Neither,’ said Rabbi Maimon.

‘One hundred and twenty reasons are strong proof,’ said Rabbi Zimri.

‘The most learned and illustrious Doctor Aaron Mendola, of Granada,’ said Rabbi Maimon, ‘has shown that we must look for the Tombs of the Kings in the south of Spain.’

‘All that Mendola writes is worth attention,’ said Rabbi Zimri.

‘Rabbi Hillel,40 of Samaria, is worth two Mendolas any day,’ said Rabbi Maimon.

”Tis a most learned doctor,’ said Rabbi Zimri; ‘and what thinks he?’

‘Hillel proves that there are two Tombs of the Kings,’ said Rabbi Maimon, ‘and that neither of them are the right ones.’

‘What a learned doctor!’ exclaimed Rabbi Zimri.

‘And very satisfactory,’ remarked Alroy.

‘These are high subjects,’ continued Maimon, his blear eyes twinkling with complacency. ‘Your guest, Rabbi Zimri, must read the treatise of the learned Shimei, of Damascus, on “Effecting Impossibilities.”’

‘That is a work!’ exclaimed Zimri.

‘I never slept for three nights after reading that work,’ said Rabbi Maimon. ‘It contains twelve thousand five hundred and thirty-seven quotations from the Pentateuch, and not a single original observation.’

‘There were giants in those days,’ said Rabbi Zimri; ‘we are children now.’

‘The first chapter makes equal sense, read backward or forward,’ continued Rabbi Maimon. ‘Ichabod!’ exclaimed Rabbi Zimri. ‘And the initial letter of every section is a cabalistical type of a king of Judah.’

‘The temple will yet be built,’ said Rabbi Zimri. ‘Ay, ay! that is learning!’ exclaimed Rabbi Maimon; ‘but what is the great treatise on “Effecting Impossibilities” to that profound, admirable, and ——’

‘Holy Rabbi!’ said a youthful reader of the synagogue, who now entered, ‘the hour is at hand.’

‘You don’t say so! Learned Miamon, I must to the synagogue. I could sit here all day listening to you. Come, David, the people await us.’

Zimri and Alroy quitted the house, and proceeded along the narrow hilly streets to the chief temple of the Hebrews.

‘It grieves the venerable Maimon much that he cannot join us,’ said Rabbi Zimri. ‘You have doubtless heard of him at Bagdad; a most learned doctor.’ Alroy bowed in silence.

‘He bears his years well. You would hardly believe that he was my master.’

‘I perceive that you inherit much of his erudition.’

‘You are kind. If he have breathed one year, Rabbi Maimon will be a hundred and ten next Passover.’

‘I doubt it not.’

‘When he is gathered to his fathers, a great light will be extinguished in Israel. You wanted to know something about the Tombs of the Kings; I told you he was your man. How full he was! His mind, sir, is an egg.’

‘A somewhat ancient one. I fear his guidance will hardly bring me the enviable fortune of King Pirgandicus.’

‘Between ourselves, good David, talking of King Pirgandicus, I cannot help fancying that the learned Maimon made a slight mistake. I hold Pirgandicus was only a prince. It was after the Captivity, and I know no authority for any of our rulers since the destruction assuming a higher title. Clearly a prince, eh? But, though I would whisper it to no one but you, I think our worthy friend grows a little old. We should remember his years, sir. A hundred and ten next Passover. ’Tis a great burden.’

‘Ay! with his learning added, a very fearful burden indeed!’

‘You have been a week in Jerusalem, and have not yet visited our synagogue. It is not of cedar and ivory, but it is still a temple. This way. It is only a week that you have been here? Why, you look another man! I shall never forget our first meeting: you did not know me. That was good, eh? And when I told you I was the chief Rabbi Zimri, how you changed! You have quite regained your appetite. Ah! ’tis pleasant to mix once more with our own people. To the left. So! we must descend a little. We hold our meetings in an ancient cemetery. You have a finer temple, I warrant me, in Bagdad. Jerusalem is not Bagdad. But this has its conveniences. ’Tis safe, and we are not very rich, nor wish to seem so.’

A long passage brought them to a number of small, square, low chambers41 leading into each other. They were lighted by brass lamps, placed at intervals in vacant niches, that once held corpses, and which were now soiled by the smoky flame. Between two and three hundred individuals were assembled in these chambers, at first scarcely distinguishable by those who descended from the broad daylight; but by degrees the eyesight became accustomed to the dim and vaporous atmosphere, and Al-roy recognised in the final and more illumined chamber a high cedar cabinet, the type of the ark, and which held the sacred vessels and the sanctified copy of the law.

Standing in lines, with their heads mystically covered,42 the forlorn remnant of Israel, captives in their ancient city, avowed, in spite of all their sufferings, their fidelity to their God, and, notwithstanding all the bitterness of hope delayed, their faith in the fulfilment of his promises. Their simple service was completed, their prayers were read, their responses made, their law exhibited, and their charitable offerings announced by their high priest. After the service, the venerable Zimri, opening a volume of the Talmud, and fortified by the opinions of all those illustrious and learned doctors, the heroes of his erudite conversations with the aged Maimon, expounded the law to the congregation of the people.43

‘It is written,’ said the Rabbi, ‘“Thou shalt have none other God but me.” Now know ye what our father Abraham said when Nimrod ordered him to worship fire? “Why not water,” answered Abraham, “which can put out fire? why not clouds, which can pour forth water? why not the winds, which can produce clouds? why not God, which can create winds?”’

A murmur of approbation sounded throughout the congregation.

‘Eliezer,’ said Zimri, addressing himself to a young Rabbi, ‘it is written, that he took a rib from Adam when he was asleep. Is God then a robber?’

The young Rabbi looked puzzled, and cast his eyes on the ground. The congregation was perplexed and a little alarmed.

‘Is there no answer?’ said Zimri.

‘Rabbi,’ said a stranger, a tall, swarthy African pilgrim, standing in a corner, and enveloped in a red mantle, over which a lamp threw a flickering light; ‘Rabbi, some robbers broke into my house last night, and stole an earthen pipkin, but they left a golden vase in its stead.’

‘It is well said; it is well said,’ exclaimed the congregation. The applause was loud.

‘Learned Zimri,’ continued the African, ‘it is written in the Gemara, that there was a youth in Jerusalem who fell in love with a beautiful damsel, and she scorned him. And the youth was so stricken with his passion that he could not speak; but when he beheld her, he looked at her imploringly, and she laughed. And one day the youth, not knowing what to do with himself, went out into the desert; and towards night he returned home, but the gates of the city were shut. And he went down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and entered the tomb of Absalom and slept;44 and he dreamed a dream; and next morning he came into the city smiling. And the maiden met him, and she said, “Is that thou; art thou a laugher?” and he answered, “Behold, yesterday being disconsolate, I went out of the city into the desert, and I returned home, and the gates of the city were shut, and I went down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and I entered the tomb of Absalom, and I slept, and I dreamed a dream, and ever since then I have laughed.” And the damsel said, “Tell me thy dream.” And he answered and said, “I may not tell my dream only to my wife, for it regards her honour.” And the maiden grew sad and curious, and said, “I am thy wife, tell me thy dream.” And straightway they went and were married and ever after they both laughed. Now, learned Zimri, what means this tale, an idle jest for a master of the law, yet it is written by the greatest doctor of the Captivity?’

‘It passeth my comprehension,’ said the chief Rabbi.

Rabbi Eliezer was silent; the congregation groaned.

‘Now hear the interpretation,’ said the African. ‘The youth is our people, and the damsel is our lost Sion, and the tomb of Absalom proves that salvation can only come from the house of David. Dost thou hear this, young man?’ said the African, coming forward and laying his hand on Alroy. ‘I speak to thee, because I have observed a deep attention in thy conduct.’

The Prince of the Captivity started, and shot a glance at the dark visage before him, but the glance read nothing. The upper part of the countenance of the African was half concealed by masses of dark matted hair, and the lower by his uncouth robes. A flashing eye was its only characteristic, which darted forth like lightning out of a black cloud.

‘Is my attention the only reason that induces you to address me?’ inquired Alroy.

‘Whoever gave all his reasons?’ replied the African, with a laughing sneer.

‘I seek not to learn them. Suffice it, stranger, that how much soever you may mean, as much I can understand.’

”Tis well. Learned Zimri, is this thy pupil? I congratulate thee. I will match him against the hopeful Eliezer.’ So saying, the lofty African stalked out of the chamber. The assembly also broke up. Alroy would willingly have immediately followed the African, and held some further and more private conversation with him; but some minutes elapsed, owing to the officious attentions of Zimri, before he could escape; and, when he did, his search after the stranger was vain. He inquired among the congregation, but none knew the African. He was no man’s guest and no man’s debtor, and apparently had never before been seen.

The trumpet was sounding to close the gates, as Alroy passed the Zion entrance. The temptation was irresistible. He rushed out, and ran for more than one hundred yards without looking back, and when he did, he had the satisfaction of ascertaining that he was fairly shut out for the night. The sun had set, still the Mount of Olives was flushed with the reflection of his dying beams, but Jehoshaphat at its feet was in deep shadow.

He wandered among the mountains for some time, beholding Jerusalem from a hundred different points of view, and watching the single planets and clustering constellations that gradually burst into beauty, or gathered into light. At length, somewhat exhausted, he descended into the vale. The scanty rill of Siloah45 looked like a thread of silver winding in the moonlight. Some houseless wretches were slumbering under the arch of its fountain. Several isolated tombs of considerable size46 rose at the base of Olivet, and the largest of these Alroy entered. Proceeding through a narrow passage, he entered a small square chamber. On each side was an empty sarcophagus of granite, one with its lid broken. Between these the Prince of the Captivity laid his robe, and, wearied by his ramble, soon soundly slept.

After some hours he woke. He fancied that he had been wakened by the sound of voices. The chamber was not quite dark. A straggling moonbeam fought its way through an open fretwork pattern in the top of the tomb, and just revealed the dim interior. Suddenly a voice spoke, a strange and singular voice.

‘Brother, brother, the sounds of the night begin.’

Another voice answered,

‘Brother, brother, I hear them, too.’

‘The woman in labour!’

‘The thief at his craft!’

‘The sentinel’s challenge!’

‘The murderer’s step!’

‘Oh! the merry sounds of the night!’

‘Brother, brother, let us come forth and wander about the world.’

‘We have seen all things. I’ll lie here and listen to the baying hound. ’Tis music for a tomb.’

‘Choice and rare. You are idle. I like to sport in the starry air. Our hours are few, they should be fair.’

‘What shall we see, Heaven or Earth?’ ‘Hell for me, ’tis more amusing.’ ‘As for me, I am sick of Hades.’ ‘Let us visit Solomon!’ ‘In his unknown metropolis?’

‘That will be rare.’

‘But where, oh! where?’

‘Even a spirit cannot tell. But they say, but they say, I dare not whisper what they say.’

‘Who told you?’

‘No one. I overheard an Afrite whispering to a female Ghoul he wanted to seduce.’

‘Hah! hah! hah! hah! choice pair, choice pair! We are more ethereal.’

‘She was a beauty in her way. Her eyes were luminous, though somewhat dank, and her cheek tinged with carnation caught from infant blood.’

‘Oh! gay; oh! gay; what said they?’

‘He was a deserter without leave from Solomon’s body-guard. The trull wriggled the secret out.’

‘Tell me, kind brother.’

‘I’ll show, not tell.’

‘I pr’ythee tell me.’

‘Well, then, well. In Genthesma’s gloomy cave there is a river none has reached, and you must sail, and you must sail —— Brother!’

‘Ay.’

‘Methinks I smell something too earthly.’

‘What’s that?’

‘The breath of man.’

‘Scent more fatal than the morning air! Away, away!’

In the range of mountains that lead from Olivet to the river Jordan is the great cavern of Genthesma, a mighty excavation formed by the combined and immemorial work of Nature and of Art; for on the high basaltic columns are cut strange characters and unearthly forms,47 and in many places the natural ornaments have been completed by the hands of the sculptor into symmetrical entablatures and fanciful capitals, the work, they say, of captive Dives and conquered Afrites for the great king.

It was midnight; the cold full moon showered it brilliancy upon this narrow valley, shut in on all sides by black and barren mountains. A single being stood at the entrance of the cave.

It was Alroy. Desperate and determined, after listening to the spirits in the tomb, he resolved to penetrate the mysteries of Genthesma. He took from his girdle a flint and steel, with which he lighted a torch and then he entered.

The cavern narrowed as he cautiously advanced, and soon he found himself at the head of an evidently artificial gallery. A crowd of bats rushed forward and extinguished his torch 48 He leant down to relight it and in so doing observed that he had trod upon an artificial pavement.

The gallery was of great extent, with a gradual declination 49 Being in a straight line with the mouth of the cavern, the moonlit scene was long visible, but Alroy, on looking round, now perceived that the exterior was shut out by the eminence that he had left behind him. The sides of the gallery were covered with strange and sculptured forms.

The Prince of the Captivity proceeded along this gallery for nearly two hours. A distant murmur of falling water, which might have been distinguished nearly from the first, increased in sound as he advanced, and now, from the loud roar and dash at hand, he felt that he was on the brink of some cataract. It as very dark. His heart trembled. He felt his footing ere he ventured to advance. The spray suddenly leaped forward and extinguished his torch.

His eminent danger filled him with terror, and he receded some paces, but in vain endeavoured to reillumine his torch, which was soaked with water.

His courage deserted him. Energy and exertion seemed hopeless. He was about to deliver himself up to despair, when and expanding lustre attracted his attention in the opposing gloom.

A small and bright red cloud seemed sailing towards him. It opened, discharged from its bosom as silvery star, and dissolved again into darkness. But the star remained, the silvery star, and threw a long line of tremulous light upon the vast and raging rapid, which now, fleet and foaming, revealed itself on all sides to the eye of Alroy.

The beautiful interposition in his favour reanimated the adventurous pilgrim. A dark shadow in the foreground, breaking the line of light shed by the star upon the waters, attracted his attention. He advanced, regained his former footing, and more nearly examined it. It was a boat, and in the boat, mute and immovable, sat one of those vast, singular, and hidden forms which eh had observed sculptured on the walls of the gallery.

David Alry, committing his fortunes to the God of Israel, leapt into the boat.

And at the same moment the Afrite, for it was one of those dread beings,50 raised the oars, and the barque moved. The falling waters suddenly parted in the long line of the star’s reflection, and the barque glided through their high and severed masses.

In this wise they proceeded for a few minutes, until they entered a beautiful and moonlit lake. In the distance was mountainous country. Alroy examined his companion with a feeling of curiosity not unmixed with terror. It was remarkable that Alroy could never succeed in any way in attracting his notice. The Afrite seemed totally unconscious of the presence of his passenger. At length the boat reached the opposite shore of the lake, and the Prince of the Captivity debarked.

He debarked at the head of an avenue of colossal lions of red granite,51 extending far as the eye could reach, and ascending the side of the mountain, which was cut into a flight of magnificent steps. The easy ascent was in consequence soon accomplished, and Alroy, proceeding along the avenue of lions, soon gained the summit of the mountain.

To his infinite astonishment he beheld Jerusalem. That strongly-marked locality could not be mistaken: at his feet were Jehoshaphat, Kedron, Siloah; he stood upon Olivet; before him was Zion. But in all other respects, how different was the landscape from the one that he had gazed upon a few days back, for the first time! The surrounding hills sparkled with vineyards, and glowed with summer palaces, and voluptuous pavilions, and glorious gardens of pleasure. The city, extending all over Mount Sion, was encompassed with a wall of white marble, with battlements of gold; a gorgeous mass of gates and pillars, and gardened terraces; lofty piles of rarest materials, cedar, and ivory, and precious stones; and costly columns of the richest workmanship and the most fanciful orders, capitals of the lotus and the palm, and flowing friezes of the olive and the vine.

And in the front a mighty Temple rose, with inspiration in its very form; a Temple so vast, so sumptuous, that there needed no priest to tell us that no human hand planned that sublime magnificence!

‘God of my fathers!’ said Alroy, ‘I am a poor, weak thing, and my life has been a life of dreams and visions, and I have sometimes thought my brain lacked a sufficient master; where am I? Do I sleep or live? Am I a slumberer or a ghost? This trial is too much.’ He sank down, and hid his face in his hands: his over-exerted mind appeared to desert him: he wept.

Many minutes elapsed before Alroy grew composed. His wild bursts of weeping sank into sobs, and the sobs died off into sighs. And at length, calm from exhaustion, he again looked up, and lo! the glorious city was no more! Before him was a moon-lit plain, over which the avenue of lions still advanced, and appeared to terminate only in the mountainous distance.

This limit the Prince of the Captivity at length reached, and stood before a stupendous portal, cut out of the solid rock, four hundred feet in height, and supported by clusters of colossal Caryatides.52 Upon the portal were engraven some Hebrew characters, which upon examination proved to be the same as those upon the talisman of Jabaster. And so, taking from his bosom that all-precious and long-cherished deposit, David Alroy, in obedience to his instructions, pressed the signet against the gigantic portal.

The portal opened with a crash of thunder louder than an earthquake. Pale, panting, and staggering, the Prince of the Captivity entered an illimitable hall, illumined by pendulous balls of glowing metal. On each side of the hall, sitting on golden thrones, was ranged a line of kings, and, as the pilgrim entered, the monarchs rose, and took off their diadems, and waved them thrice, and thrice repeated, in solemn chorus, ‘All hail, Alroy! Hail to thee, brother king! Thy crown awaits thee!’

The Prince of the Captivity stood trembling, with his eyes fixed upon the ground, and leaning breathless against a column. And when at length he had a little recovered himself, and dared again to look up, he found that the monarchs were reseated; and, from their still and vacant visages, apparently unconscious of his presence. And this emboldened him, and so, staring alternately at each side of the hall, but with a firm, perhaps desperate step, Alroy advanced.

And he came to two thrones which were set apart from the others in the middle of the hall. On one was seated a noble figure, far above the common stature, with arms folded and downcast eyes. His feet rested upon a broken sword and a shivered sceptre, which told that he was a monarch, in spite of his discrowned head.

And on the opposite throne was a venerable personage, with a long flowing beard, and dressed in white raiment. His countenance was beautiful, although ancient. Age had stolen on without its imperfections, and time had only invested it with a sweet dignity and solemn grace. The countenance of the king was upraised with a seraphic gaze, and, as he thus looked up on high, with eyes full of love, and thanksgiving, and praise, his consecrated fingers seemed to touch the trembling wires of a golden harp.

And further on, and far above the rest, upon a throne that stretched across the hall, a most imperial presence straightway flashed upon the startled vision of Alroy. Fifty steps of ivory, and each step guarded by golden lions,53 led to a throne of jasper. A dazzling light blazed forth from the glittering diadem and radiant countenance of him who sat upon the throne, one beautiful as a woman, but with the majesty of a god. And in one hand he held a seal, and in the other a sceptre.

And when Alroy had reached the foot of the throne, he stopped, and his heart misgave him. And he prayed for some minutes in silent devotion, and, without daring to look up, he mounted the first step of the throne, and the second, and the third, and so on, with slow and faltering feet, until he reached the forty-ninth step.

The Prince of the Captivity raised his eyes. He stood before the monarch face to face. In vain Alroy attempted to attract his attention, or to fix his gaze. The large dark eyes, full of supernatural lustre, appeared capable of piercing all things, and illuminating all things, but they flashed on without shedding a ray upon Alroy.

Pale as a spectre, the pilgrim, whose pilgrimage seemed now on the point of completion, stood cold and trembling before the object of all his desires and all his labours. But he thought of his country, his people, and his God; and, while his noiseless lips breathed the name of Jehovah, solemnly he put forth his arm, and with a gentle firmness grasped the unresisting sceptre of his great ancestor.

And, as he seized it, the whole scene vanished from his sight!

Hours or years might have passed away, so far as the sufferer was concerned, when Alroy again returned to self-consciousness. His eyes slowly opened, he cast around a vacant stare, he was lying in the cavern of Genthesma. The moon had set, but the morn had not broken. A single star glittered over the brow of the black mountains. He faintly moved his limbs; he would have raised his hand to his bewildered brain, but found that it grasped a sceptre. The memory of the past returned to him. He tried to rise, and found that he was reposing in the arms of a human being. He turned his head; he met the anxious gaze of Jabaster!

35At length beheld the lost capital of his fathers. The finest view of Jerusalem is from the Mount of Olives. It is little altered since the period when David Alroy is supposed to have gazed upon it, but it is enriched by the splendid Mosque of Omar, built by the Moslem conquerors on the supposed site of the temple, and which, with its gardens, and arcades, and courts, and fountains, may fairly be described as the most imposing of Moslem fanes. I endeavoured to enter it at the hazard of my life. I was detected, and surrounded by a crowd of turbaned fanatics, and escaped with difficulty; but I saw enough to feel that minute inspection would not belie the general character I formed of it from the Mount of Olives. I caught a glorious glimpse of splendid courts, and light aify gates of Saracenic triumph, flights of noble steps, long arcades, and interior gardens, where silver fountains spouted their tall streams amid the taller cypresses.]

36Entered Jerusalem by the gate of Zion. The gate of Zion still remains, and from it you descend into the valley of Siloah.]

37King Pirgandicus. According to a Talmudical story, however, of which I find a note, this monarch was not a Hebrew but a Gentile, and a very wicked one. He once invited eleven famous doctors of the holy nation to supper. They were received in the most magnificent style, and were then invited, under pain of death, either to eat pork, to accept a pagan mistress, or to drink wine consecrated to idols. After long consultation, the doctors, in great tribulation, agreed to save their heads by accepting the last alternative, since the first and second were forbidden by Moses, and the last only by the Rabbins. The King assented, the doctors drank the impure wine, and, as it was exceedingly good, drank freely. The wine, as will sometimes happen, created a terrible appetite; the table was covered with dishes, and the doctors, heated by the grape, were not sufficiently careful of what they partook. In short, the wicked King Pirgandicus contrived that they should sup off pork, and being carried from the table quite tipsy, each of the eleven had the mortification of finding himself next morning in the arms of a pagan mistress. In the course of the year all the eleven died sudden deaths, and this visitation occurred to them, not because they had violated the law of Moses, but because they believed that the precepts of the Rabbins could be outraged with more impunity than the Word of God.]

38And conquered Julius Cæsar. This classic hero often figures in the erratic pages of the Talmud.]

39The Tombs of the Kings. The present pilgrim to Jerusalem will have less trouble than Alroy in discovering the Tombs of the Kings, though he probably would not as easily obtain the sceptre of Solomon. The tombs that bear this title are of the time of the Asmonean princes, and of a more ambitious character than any other of the remains. An open court, about fifty feet in breadth, and extremely deep, is excavated out of the rock. One side is formed by a portico, the frieze of which is sculptured in a good Syro–Greek style. There is no grand portal; you crawl into the tombs by a small opening on one of the sides. There are a few small chambers with niches, recesses, and sarcophagi, some sculptured in the same flowing style as the frieze. This is the most important monument at Jerusalem; and Dr. Clarke, who has lavished wonder and admiration on the tombs of Zachariah and Absalom, has declared the Tombs of the Kings to be one of the marvellous productions of antiquity.]

40—‘Rabbi Hillel was one of the most celebrated among the Jewish Doctors, both for birth, learning, rule, and children. He was of the seed of David by his mother’s side, being of the posterity of Shephatiah, the son of Abital, David’s wife. He was brought up in Babel, from whence he came up to Jerusalem at forty years old, and there studied the law forty years more under Shemaiah and Abtalion, and after them he was President of the Sanhedrim forty years more. The beginning of his Presidency is generally conceded upon to have been just one hundred ‘years before the Temple was destroyed; by which account he began eight-and-twenty years before our Saviour was born, and died when he was about twelve years old. He is renowned for his fourscore scholars.’—Lightfoot, vol. ii. p. 2008.

The great rival of Hillel was Shammai. Their controversies, and the fierceness of their partisans, are a principal feature of Rabbinical history. They were the same as the Scotists and Thomists. At last the Bath Kol interfered, and decided for Hillel, but in a spirit of conciliatory dexterity. The Bath Kol came forth and spake thus: ‘The words both of the one party and the other are the words of the living God, but the certain decision of the matter is according to the decrees of the school of Hillel. And henceforth, whoever shall transgress the decrees of the school of Hillel is punishable with death.’]

41A number of small, square, low chambers. These excavated cemeteries, which abound in Palestine and Egypt, were often converted into places of worship by the Jews and early Christians. Sandys thus describes the Synagogue at Jerusalem in his time.]

42Their heads mystically covered. The Hebrews cover their heads during their prayers with a sacred shawl.]

43Expounded the law to the congregation of the people. The custom, I believe, even to the present day, among the Hebrews, a remnant of their old academies, once so famous.]

44The Valley of Jehoshaphat and the Tomb of Absalom. In the Vale of Jehoshaphat, among many other tombs, are two of considerable size, and which, although of a corrupt Grecian architecture, are dignified by the titles of the tombs of Zachariah and Absalom.]

45The scanty rill of Siloah. The sublime Siloah is now a muddy rill; you descend by steps to the fountain which is its source, and which is covered with an arch. Here the blind man received his sight; and, singular enough, to this very day the healing reputation of its waters prevails, and summons to its brink all those neighbouring Arabs who suffer from the ophthalmic affections not uncommon in this part of the world.]

46Several isolated tombs of considerable size. There are no remains of ancient Jerusalem, or the ancient Jews. Some tombs there are which may be ascribed to the Asmonean princes; but all the monuments of David, Solomon, and their long posterity, have utterly disappeared.]

47Are cut strange characters and unearthly forms. As at Benihassan, and many other of the sculptured catacombs of Egypt.]

48A crowd of bats rushed forward and extinguished his torch. In entering the Temple of Dendara, our torches were extinguished by a crowd of bats.]

49The gallery was of great extent, with a gradual declination. So in the great Egyptian tombs.]

50The Afrite, for it was one of those dread beings. Beings of a monstrous form, the most terrible of all the orders of the Dives.]

51An avenue of colossal lions of red granite. An avenue of Sphinxes more than a mile in length connected the quarters of Luxoor and Carnak in Egyptian Thebes. Its fragments remain. Many other avenues of Sphinxes and lion-headed Kings may be observed in various parts of Upper Egypt.]

52A stupendous portal, cut out of the solid rock, four hundred feet in height, and supported by clusters of colossal Caryatides. See the great rock temple of Ipsambul in Lower Nubia. The sitting colossi are nearly seventy feet in height. But there is a Torso of a statue of Rameses the Second at Thebes, vulgarly called the great Memnon, which measures upwards of sixty feet round the shoulders.]

53Fifty steps of ivory, and each step guarded by golden lions. See 1st Kings, chap. x. 18–20.]

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:19