426 PICTURESQUE PALESTINE.
E. H. Palmer, the most recent translator of the Koran (1880), says that the claim of the
Koran to miraculous eloquence, however absurd it may sound to Western ears, was and is to
the Arab incontrovertible, and he accounts for the immense influence which it has always
exercised upon the Arab mind, by the fact that " it consists not merely of the enthusiastic
utterances of an individual, but of the popular sayings, choice pieces of eloquence, and favourite
legends current among the desert tribes for ages before this time."
PRESENT CONDITION OF DAMASCUS.
In modern times we know very well the meaning of the term " railroad centre." Business,
enterprise, and men from all parts of the land combine to give to such places unusual interest.
But even in the far East, where the currents of life are thought to be more sluggish, great
centres of traffic and travel exist to-day; and have existed from the earliest times. It was on
account of commercial interests that Tadmor, now known as Palmyra, sprang up in the desert.
Damascus was bordered by the desert on two of its sides ; yet, in regard to the matter we are
now considering, it does not rank second to any city of the Old World. One great route led
west to Tyre and the sea-coast. Another led south-west to Jerusalem and Egypt. Another
led south through the rich countries of Bashan, Ammon, Moab, and Edom, to the Gulf of
'Akaba, passing the lines running at right-angles to it, which led to the Persian Gulf in one
direction and to the Red Sea in another. A fourth route led north-west and north to the
kingdoms of Karkor, Hamath, and Halman, or Aleppo. A fifth led north-east, past Palmyra
to Nineveh, on the Tigris. A sixth led directly east across the desert to Babylon ; while a
seventh probably led south-east past Salchad, reaching the head of the Persian Gulf through
the northern part of Arabia. That news, merchandise, and men from all parts of the world
should be found here, wTould be inevitable. This would be true through all the centuries from
the time of Christ back to the days of Abraham. The arrival and departure of immense
caravans was a sight with which the people of Damascus were constantly familiar from its
earliest history. Besides the peaceful caravans of merchants and travellers, they witnessed not
infrequently also the passing of victorious armies, or the sad spectacle of an army of captives
that were being transported from one country to another, at the caprice of some despot at
Nineveh or Babylon.
At the present time several of the ancient routes which we have indicated are traversed
by caravans, but those leading to Mecca and Bagdad are by far the most important. The time
between Damascus and Bagdad is about twelve days, which allows two days for rest at the
watering-stations. The distance is nearly five hundred miles. The overland mail to India
goes by this route, and it is taken by a few travellers who wish to save time or to avoid
a long journey by sea. The special danger in crossing the desert arises from the Bedouins,
who sometimes plunder the caravans, although in recent years this has not often happened.
While the modern yearly caravan to Mecca probably does not rival in numbers or
importance some of those that Damascus witnessed when, centuries before Christ, she was " the