RUINS IN BASHAN. 361
q no- vii. 4, " the tower of Lebanon which looketh towards Damascus," could refer to none
other than this sacred mountain.
Kin^ Oo", who " reigned in Mount Hermon (see page 375), and in Salcah and in all
Bashan" (Josh. xii. 5), could from this natural watch-tower overlook every part of his wide
dominions. Those ancient cities of the giants, " fenced with high walls, gates, and bars"
(Deut. iii. 5), would appear like dark masses on the distant plain. At a later time Bashan
became a land of temples, and its ruins are justly regarded as among the finest in the East, if
not in the world. Were they as accessible as those of Greece and Rome, the tide of admirers
of all that is splendid in ancient architecture would be turned from Athens and the Tiber to
the monuments that exist on the east of the Jordan. We ourselves have visited and measured
eleven of its thirteen great theatres. We have also examined scores of its ruined churches,
for in the early centuries of our era Christianity had a strong hold upon all this vast and fertile
region. There is abundant evidence that this part of Palestine has been densely populated,
and that the inhabitants were not only possessed of wealth and intelligence, but enjoyed also
an unusual degree of prosperity. At present, however, wandering tribes roam here at will,
and the cities are in desolation.
In Bible times the " oaks of Bashan" seem to have enjoyed a special fame. The
Phoenicians of Tyre used them in building their ships (Ezekiel xxvii. 6). These trees have
for the most part disappeared, for, between the Arab and the Turk, their struggle for existence
has been in vain. Yet among the Gilead hills fine forests are still to be found. Travellers
visit western Palestine, which is denuded of trees, and report that none exist in the country.
In the section east of the Jordan just referred to there are even groves of timber—a strange
sight in that land, where forests have for the most part been swept away. Occasionally a
group of very ancient oaks is met with, in which the single trees, not being confined by others,
have sent out wide-spreading branches. One of the most picturesque and beautiful oak-groves
in Syria exists not far east from the castle of Subeibeh or Banias. Under its delightful shade
the traveller may pitch his tent and enjoy the upland breeze, or the view of the hillside which
slopes gradually westward towards the Huleh Plain. Beneath these oaks there are a number
of Moslem graves, the most revered of which is that of Sheikh Othman el Hazury. The trees
above them are sacred, and hence are allowed to stand (see page 359).
Ancient graves beneath ancient and sacred trees are a common sight throughout Palestine.
s not always, however, that a saint whose grave is honoured has the luxury of a stately tree
e his resting-place. There is often but a rude pile of stones; yet in the settled portions of
-ountry the grave is usually marked by a tomb that has been built with some care. These
vary in size; they have a dome which is whitewashed and a door by which the large
room is entered. In the grove just described the graves are marked by a platform of
with an oval coping made of stone and mortar. Of the more elaborate kind to which we
> e wely of El Khidr or St. George, just above the grotto at Banias (see page 348), is
ample. But, whether marked by rude stones, a well-built tomb, or a sacred tree, the