The following is an excerpt from a travel log written by a Mr. B.W. Johnson who journeyed to the Land of Israel several times in the late 19th Century.  This passage contains an interesting reference to the landscape from Jerusalem to Bethlehem and Rachel's Tomb, as well as a reference to the number of Jews living there at that time. The Webmaster to this site, a resident of Judea for some twenty years, has noted that the style of driving the carriage by their Arab "Dragoman", as described in Johnson's book, is identical to the driving style of that population in this area today.  Some things don't change!










....After Jerusalem and Nazareth there was no place that we were so eager to see; hence when Mr. Crunden announced that we were to take an afternoon drive to Bethlehem, the boys raised a shout of joy.

      "But can we make a visit in an afternoon?" asked Will. "How far is it?"

      "We surely ought to," replied Bayard. It is only six miles south of here, on the road to Hebron.

      "O, yes," retorted Will. "I will suspect you have just got that out of Baedeker; I saw you studying up a moment ago."

      We were not going on horseback. We were going to vary our usual style of travel by taking our first drive in Palestine. Hence, just after noon a lot of rickety-looking carriages were drawn up near the Jaffa Gate, for our party. Keep in mind that Jerusalem is surrounded by lofty stone walls, and that all who go in and out must pass through one of the gates. The boys were elated over the thought of a carriage ride. We had gone over the country, here and there, from the Lebanon Mountains, at the north of Palestine, to the river Jordan, the Dead Sea, and Jerusalem, but we had always journeyed on horseback. Indeed, we had found no roads, in
this ride of three hundred miles, where one could travel any other way than on horseback, unless he went on foot. But here, for the first time, at Jerusalem we had found roads on which a carriage could be used. One of these roads had been made lately from Jerusalem south to Bethlehem, and from thence towards Hebron where Abraham lies buried, and another runs down from Jerusalem to Jaffa on the sea.

      I have before stated that David was very sick the day we reached Jerusalem. The poor fellow had been in the hands of the doctor ever since. The day we visited the temple site he got up out of bed and wearily attended us for a while, suffering much, but resolute to see the sacred spot after [330] journeying so far. Before a great while he gave out, and had to be sent back to his bed, but now he had secured his doctor's permission to go with us to Bethlehem. The doctor said that he was out of danger, gave him some strengthening medicine, and told him that it would be better for him to go than fret over the disappointment. You may be sure that we were delighted.


      It was with great curiosity that we examined the curious-looking vehicles which were drawn up for us. They may have been fine barouches once, but they all now showed, like the famous "One Horse Shay," "the general flavor of mild decay." The boys insisted that there were a part of the outfit that Noah took into the Ark. Three horses, all harnessed abreast, were hitched to each other, and a driver who looked like a Bedouin, handled the whip and lines. As we found after we had started, their great delight was to race, and to try to drive around each other. I believe that we passed other carriages, and were also driven around by others, a dozen times. Our driver would be poking along slowly in the rear of another, and in an unsuspecting moment, would suddenly lash his horses, raise his lines and cry, "Hi! Hi!" and would be dashing around at a rate that would make the rickety old thing trembled in every joint. We would have enjoyed it more if we had not feared that the vehicle would shake to pieces as we went lumbering over the stones. Indeed, before we got back to Jerusalem two of the six carriages in our company had become demoralized so much that their occupants had to get out and walk the rest of the way. This was a good joke for those whose vehicles held out, but neither the boys nor myself enjoyed it, for the joke was on us. All aboard! In a moment we were all in our carriages, and our wild Arab Jehus drivers started off on the gallop, holding up their reins and shouting, "Hi! Hi!" to encourage their horses. A terrible clatter the old, tumble-down carriages made as they bumped along over the stones, creaking, bumping, clattering and shivering continually. We rolled away from the Jaffa Gate, along the side of Mount Zion, into the valley of the Gihon, past the lower Pool of Gihon, a vast artificial reservoir covering several acres, across a stone bridge and up the Hill of Evil Counsel on the south, amid a cloud of dust stirred up by our lumbering coaches.

     Our course was south. If you will look on a map of Palestine, you will see that Bethlehem lies about six miles away, in the direction of Hebron. All central Palestine is one high mountain, which rises, here and there, into higher peaks, and of course Jerusalem and Bethlehem are on this mountain chain, which reaches from Galilee to Beersheba. They are elevated about a half mile above the level of the sea. When we had ascended the hill south of the Gihon, our drivers stopped for a moment to let the horses breathe after climbing the long ascent. We turned and looked back upon the city and its environs.

      "How different," said David; "are the surroundings from what I had supposed! I had read that Palestine was made up of barren hills, but it looks from here as if all the country around Jerusalem was a forest."

      "I learn," said I, "that a great part of the trees have been planted in the last ten or twelve years. A great impulse has been given to the cultivation of the olive, and some one told me that three million olive trees had been planted in that time. It is said to pay very well, and it does well on hills that are too stony for other crops.

      "What are those large buildings in a great olive orchard southwest of the Jaffa Gate?"

      "Those are a great agricultural and industrial school for young Jews. It was founded by Sir Moses Montefiore, a very benevolent and rich Jew, who died a few years ago, when one hundred years old. His object was to teach Jews how to make a living in Palestine by industry."

      "How many Jews are there in Palestine?"

      "Dr. Selah Merrill, who was long U.S. Consul in Jerusalem, says that there are about 42,000. Of these, over 25,000 are in Jerusalem. In Tiberias there are about 3,000; in Safed, about 6,000; but elsewhere the Jews are not numerous."


      By this time we were again moving rapidly forward, and our drivers were, wherever the road permitted, racing and shouting to each other and to their horses in true Arab style. Our course led over an undulating plain, partly planted in olive trees, partly used for grain fields, here and there broken into rocky ravines and pasture lands. This is called the Plain of Rephaim, and was the scene of some of King David's battles.

     Driving rapidly over the plain, gazing on either hand on hills, plains, valleys, and places which have been the scenes of sacred story, we pause about a mile from Bethlehem at a fountain by the roadside, shaded with trees, under which stands a curious Mohammedan mosque. "What place is this?" "This," was the reply of our Dragoman, "is the Tomb of Rachel."

      There is something very touching in the simple Bible story of her death. Jacob, after serving fourteen years for the love that he bore Rachel, was returning from his long sojourn in Haran, and when "there was but a little way to Ephrath," (Bethlehem, which was called Bethlehem Ephrata,) Rachel's sickness came upon her, and "Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath, which is Bethlehem. And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave, which is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day" (Gen. 35:16-20). Years after, when Jacob was a very old man, he refers very tenderly to the story of his loss: "As for me, when icame from Padan, Rachel died by me in the land of Canaan in the way, when yet there was but a little way to Ephrath, and I buried her there in the way of Ephrath; the same is Bethlehem" (Gen. 48:7). The pillar placed here by the mourning old patriarch has long since passed away, but Jew and Mohammedan and Christian are agreed that it is the spot where the mother of Joseph and Benjamin was buried. How real old Jacob and his family seem to us as we read the Bible story and see them weeping over their beloved dead. Human hearts thirty-five hundred years ago were much the same as now, and human sorrows have always been the same....

The Friends of Rachel's Tomb
Dale Baranowski, Director, P.O. Box 24, 9094200 Elazar, Israel

Rachel's Tomb:  A Capsule History       A Photographic Tour Of Rachel's Tomb     Searching For Every Rachel       More Recent History

Rachel's Yahrzeit  News Update      Articles

Midnight At The Tomb     Prayers For Those In Need   Donations   Links Webmaster

Return To Main Page