THE SOUTH COUNTRY OF JUD&A.
push forward into the Philistian plain. Between two of these spurs we ride, and on our left
is a low " tell," with stones strewn about in all directions. This is all that is left of Lachish.
The hill seems almost formed of broken pottery, which covers the ground like gravel. A few
half-choked wells and lines of foundations of very thick walls are all that is left to tell of the
city, whose capture forms the chief feature of Sennacherib's slabs. There the city is represented as surrounded by palm-trees. Now not a tree or a shrub remains for miles distant.
Commanding the country around, and secure by its situation from surprise, the farthest
elevation projecting into the plain, it is the natural position for a frontier outpost fortress.
Three miles farther on, on a similar "tell," we reach Ajlan, the ancient Eglon, a simple
repetition of Lachish, but much better preserved. The whole enceinte of the keep can be
easily traced, now a field of onions protected by a cactus hedge. Several wells and an old
cistern remain, and some excavations, recently made, have brought to light some: fine
substructures of dressed stone, attesting its former importance.
Two hours' ride from Eglon, across a level plain, brings us to Arak el Menshlyeh, tin-
ancient Libnah. A wide valley from the south winds round the spur of Eglon, and we are
soon on a rich corn plain again. Far ahead we can see an isolated rock, with a white wely
in one corner, standing up out of the plain, and a large mud village at its foot. This is Libnah.
Just to the north-east of the village, separated from it by a narrow stream, close by which
are several ancient wells, with fragments of sculptured marble strewn around, and surmounted
by the rude and cumbrous apparatus for lifting the water, such as we see in Egypt, rises die
rock Arak el Menshiyeh, on which was the citadel of the Jewish town. It had originally been
a completely isolated rock, intended by nature for a fortress, absolutely impregnable before
the introduction of firearms. Its perpendicular sides stand out from the plain without the
slightest connection with any neighbouring ridge, and about one hundred feet high. The old
rubbish of former buildings has been thrown down the south side, and forms a steep slope,
by which we climb to the top. This is perfectly flat, about four acres in extent, and utterly
deserted, forming a fig orchard surrounded by a cactus hedge. The panorama all around for
miles is unbroken. The whole plain is corn or pasture, not a shrub or tree, not a house, not a
feature to break the green expanse, save here and there a Bedawin encampment, with fires
beginning to twinkle in the distance as the shades of evening creep on. It is an impressive
sight, and we can picture how the host of the Assyrians marched from the distant ridge of
Lachish, and were spread over this wide plain, and how impossible was the capture of this
place, even by such an army, otherwise than by starvation. Hence the beleaguered garrison
looked down on the plain to the west and saw the whole strewn with the thousands of corpses
smitten by the angel of the Lord :
" For the angel of death spread his wings on the blast,
And breathed on the face of the foe as he passed,
And the eyes of the sleepers wax'd deadly and chill,
And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever were still."
From Arak el Menshiyeh the route to Beit Jibrin (see page 180) is for the most part