In an aperture of the western wall of Jerusalem hang the "oaken
valves" called the Bethlehem or Joppa Gate. The area outside of
them is one of the notable places of the city. Long before David
coveted Zion there was a citadel there. When at last the son of
Jesse ousted the Jebusite, and began to build, the site of the
citadel became the northwest corner of the new wall, defended by
a tower much more imposing than the old one. The location of the
gate, however, was not disturbed, for the reasons, most likely,
that the roads which met and merged in front of it could not
well be transferred to any other point, while the area outside
had become a recognized market-place. In Solomon's day there was
great traffic at the locality, shared in by traders from Egypt
and the rich dealers from Tyre and Sidon. Nearly three thousand
years have passed, and yet a kind of commerce clings to the spot.
A pilgrim wanting a pin or a pistol, a cucumber or a camel, a house
or a horse, a loan or a lentil, a date or a dragoman, a melon or
a man, a dove or a donkey, has only to inquire for the article at
the Joppa Gate. Sometimes the scene is quite animated, and then
it suggests, What a place the old market must have been in the
days of Herod the Builder! And to that period and that market
the reader is now to be transferred.
Following the Hebrew system, the meeting of the wise men described
in the preceding chapters took place in the afternoon of the
twenty-fifth day of the third month of the year; that is say,
on the twenty-fifth day of December. The year was the second of
the 193d Olympiad, or the 747th of Rome; the sixty-seventh of
Herod the Great, and the thirty-fifth of his reign; the fourth
before the beginning of the Christian era. The hours of the day,
by Judean custom, begin with the sun, the first hour being the
first after sunrise; so, to be precise; the market at the Joppa
Gate during the first hour of the day stated was in full session,
and very lively. The massive valves had been wide open since dawn.
Business, always aggressive, had pushed through the arched entrance
into a narrow lane and court, which, passing by the walls of
the great tower, conducted on into the city. As Jerusalem is
in the hill country, the morning air on this occasion was not a
little crisp. The rays of the sun, with their promise of warmth,
lingered provokingly far up on the battlements and turrets of the
great piles about, down from which fell the crooning of pigeons
and the whir of the flocks coming and going.
As a passing acquaintance with the people of the Holy City, strangers
as well as residents, will be necessary to an understanding of some
of the pages which follow, it will be well to stop at the gate and
pass the scene in review. Better opportunity will not offer to get
sight of the populace who will afterwhile go forward in a mood very
different from that which now possesses them.
The scene is at first one of utter confusion--confusion of action,
sounds, colors, and things. It is especially so in the lane and court.
The ground there is paved with broad unshaped flags, from which each
cry and jar and hoof-stamp arises to swell the medley that rings
and roars up between the solid impending walls. A little mixing
with the throng, however, a little familiarity with the business
going on, will make analysis possible.
Here stands a donkey, dozing under panniers full of lentils,
beans, onions, and cucumbers, brought fresh from the gardens
and terraces of Galilee. When not engaged in serving customers,
the master, in a voice which only the initiated can understand,
cries his stock. Nothing can be simpler than his costume--sandals,
and an unbleached, undyed blanket, crossed over one shoulder
and girt round the waist. Near-by, and far more imposing and
grotesque, though scarcely as patient as the donkey, kneels a
camel, raw-boned, rough, and gray, with long shaggy tufts of
fox-colored hair under its throat, neck, and body, and a load
of boxes and baskets curiously arranged upon an enormous saddle.
The owner is an Egyptian, small, lithe, and of a complexion which
has borrowed a good deal from the dust of the roads and the
sands of the desert. He wears a faded tarbooshe, a loose gown,
sleeveless, unbelted, and dropping from the neck to the knee.
His feet are bare. The camel, restless under the load, groans and
occasionally shows his teeth; but the man paces indifferently to
and fro, holding the driving-strap, and all the time advertising
his fruits fresh from the orchards of the Kedron--grapes, dates,
figs, apples, and pomegranates.
At the corner where the lane opens out into the court, some women
sit with their backs against the gray stones of the wall. Their dress
is that common to the humbler classes of the country--a linen
frock extending the full length of the person, loosely gathered
at the waist, and a veil or wimple broad enough, after covering
the head, to wrap the shoulders. Their merchandise is contained
in a number of earthen jars, such as are still used in the East for
bringing water from the wells, and some leathern bottles. Among the
jars and bottles, rolling upon the stony floor, regardless of the
crowd and cold, often in danger but never hurt, play half a dozen
half-naked children, their brown bodies, jetty eyes, and thick
black hair attesting the blood of Israel. Sometimes, from under
the wimples, the mothers look up, and in the vernacular modestly
bespeak their trade: in the bottles "honey of grapes," in the
jars "strong drink." Their entreaties are usually lost in the
general uproar, and they fare illy against the many competitors:
brawny fellows with bare legs, dirty tunics, and long beards,
going about with bottles lashed to their backs, and shouting
"Honey of wine! Grapes of En-Gedi!" When a customer halts one
of them, round comes the bottle, and, upon lifting the thumb
from the nozzle, out into the ready cup gushes the deep-red
blood of the luscious berry.
Scarcely less blatant are the dealers in birds--doves, ducks, and
frequently the singing bulbul, or nightingale, most frequently
pigeons; and buyers, receiving them from the nets, seldom fail
to think of the perilous life of the catchers, bold climbers
of the cliffs; now hanging with hand and foot to the face of
the crag, now swinging in a basket far down the mountain fissure.
Blent with peddlers of jewelry--sharp men cloaked in scarlet
and blue, top-heavy under prodigious white turbans, and fully
conscious of the power there is in the lustre of a ribbon and
the incisive gleam of gold, whether in bracelet or necklace,
or in rings for the finger or the nose--and with peddlers of
household utensils, and with dealers in wearing-apparel, and with
retailers of unguents for anointing the person, and with hucksters
of all articles, fanciful as well as of need, hither and thither,
tugging at halters and ropes, now screaming, now coaxing, toil the
venders of animals--donkeys, horses, calves, sheep, bleating kids,
and awkward camels; animals of every kind except the outlawed swine.
All these are there; not singly, as described, but many times repeated;
not in one place, but everywhere in the market.
Turning from this scene in the lane and court, this glance at
the sellers and their commodities, the reader has need to give
attention, in the next place, to visitors and buyers, for which
the best studies will be found outside the gates, where the
spectacle is quite as varied and animated; indeed, it may be
more so, for there are superadded the effects of tent, booth,
and sook, greater space, larger crowd, more unqualified freedom,
and the glory of the Eastern sunshine.