CHAPTER VI. SIDE TRIPS FROM JERUSALEM.
Early on Tuesday morning, the eleventh of October, I set out by carriage, with some other tourists, for a trip to Bethlehem, Solomon's Pools, and Hebron. Bethlehem is about five miles south of Jerusalem, and Hebron is a little southwest of the Holy City and twenty miles distant. We started from the Jaffa gate and passed the Sultan's Pool, otherwise known as Lower Gihon, which may be the "lower pool" of Isaiah 22:9. "The entire area of this pool," says one writer, "is about three and a half acres, with an average depth, when clear of deposit, of forty-two and a half feet in the middle from end to end." We drove for two miles, or perhaps more, across the Plain of Rephaim, one of David's battlefields soon after he established himself in Jerusalem. Here he was twice victorious over the Philistines. In the first instance he asked Jehovah: "Shall I go up against the Philistines? Wilt thou deliver them into my hand?" The answer was: "Go up; for I will certainly deliver the Philistines into thy hand." In this battle the invaders were routed and driven from the field. "And they left their images there; and David and his men took them away." But "the Philistines came up yet again, and spread themselves in the valley of Rephaim. And when David inquired of Jehovah, he said, Thou shalt not go up: make a circuit behind them, and come upon them over against the mulberry trees. And it shall be, when thou hearest the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, that then thou shalt bestir thyself, for then is Jehovah gone out before thee to smite the hosts of the Philistines." David obeyed the voice of the Lord, and smote his enemies from Geba to Gezer. (2 Samuel 5:17-25.)
On the southern border of the plain stands the Greek convent called Mar Elyas. This is about half way to Bethlehem, and the city of the nativity soon comes into view. Before going much farther the traveler sees a well-built village, named Bet Jala, lying on his right. It is supposed to be the ancient Giloh, mentioned in 2 Samuel 15:12 as the home of Ahithophel, David's counselor, for whom Absalom sent when he conspired against his father. Here the road forks, one branch of it passing Bet Jala and going on to Hebron; the other, bearing off to the left, leads directly to Bethlehem, which we passed, intending to stop there as we returned in the evening. At this place we saw the monument erected to mark the location of Rachel's tomb, a location, like many others, in dispute. When Jacob "journeyed from Bethel and there was still some distance to come to Ephrath," Rachel died at the birth of Benjamin, "and was buried in the way to Ephrath (the same is Bethlehem). * * * And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave" (Gen. 35:16-20). The spot, which for many centuries was marked by a pyramid of stones, is now occupied by a small stone building with a dome-shaped roof, at the east side of which is a room, open on the north, with a flat roof. For hundreds of years tradition has located the grave at this place, which is indeed near Bethlehem, but in 1 Samuel 10:2 it is mentioned as being "in the border of Benjamin," which has occasioned the belief that the true location is some miles farther north.
Before long we came to Solomon's Pools. We first stopped at a doorway, which looks like it might lead down to a cellar, but in reality the door is at the head of a flight of stairs leading down to what is known as the "sealed fountain" (Song of Solomon 4:12). The door was fastened, and we were not able to descend to the underground chamber, which is forty-one feet long, eleven and a half feet wide, with an arched stone roof, all of which, except the entrance, is below the surface. A large basin cut in the floor collects the water from two springs. After rising a foot in the basin, the water flows out into a channel more than six hundred feet long leading down to the two upper pools. These great reservoirs, bearing the name of Israel's wisest monarch, are still in a good state of preservation, having been repaired in modern times. The first one is three hundred and eighty feet long, two hundred and twenty-nine feet wide at one end, two hundred and thirty feet wide at the other, and twenty-five feet deep. The second pool is four hundred and twenty-three feet long, one hundred and sixty feet wide at the upper end, two hundred and fifty feet wide at the lower end, and thirty-nine feet deep at that end. The third pool is the largest of all, having a length of five hundred and eighty-two feet. The upper end is one hundred and forty-eight feet wide, the lower end two hundred and seven feet, and the depth at the lower end is fifty feet. The pools are about one hundred and fifty feet apart, and have an aggregate area of six and a quarter acres, with an average depth approaching thirty-eight feet. The upper two received water from the sealed fountain, but the lower one was supplied from an aqueduct leading up from a point more than three miles to the south. The aqueduct from the sealed fountain leads past the pools, and winds around the hills to Bethlehem and on to the Temple Area, in Jerusalem. It is still in use as far as Bethlehem, and could be put in repair and made serviceable for the whole distance. An offer to do this was foolishly rejected by the Moslems in 1870. The only habitation near the pools is an old khan, "intended as a stopping place for caravans and as a station for soldiers to guard the road and the pools." The two upper pools were empty when I saw them, but the third one contained some water and a great number of frogs. As we went on to Hebron we got a drink at "Philip's Well," the place where "the eunuch was baptized," according to a tradition which lacks support by the present appearance of the place.