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THE JEWESS OF PEREA.
BY ANNA M. HEFFERNAN.
Day was fast declining into one of those beautifully tranquil evenings, which seem to belong peculiarly to Eastern skies. The softened rays of the setting sun yet lingered above the mountains of Judea, casting a broad flood of golden light across the diversified scenery of the intervening country, and gilding with radiance the domes and minarets of the once beautiful and magnificent city of Jerusalemstill beautiful in its shaded gardens, murmuring fountains, surrounded by green hills and undulating plains, consecrated by many sacred memories.
For days the Roman troops had besieged the city, while famine and desolation reigned within its walls. Piteous were the sounds of sorrow and lamentation that rent the air--grief for the dead and dying, and fearful anticipations of a worse fate for the survivors. Before the portals of their dwellings the inhabitants had prostrated themselves, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, bowing when too late before the throne of their outraged Jehovah, beseeching that his wrath might be stayed, and the wings of the destroying angel no more overshadow their Jand. But deeper fell the shadows of night, and darker became the woes of the children of Israel, the onced favored of the Most High. Resistance and prayers were alike fruitless; the soldiers had entered the city, and violence and bloodshed became universal. Weakened by starvation, the inhabitants made but a slight effort to repel the enemy; and in the streets and on the house-tops were slaughtered old and young, women and their little ones; that it might be fulfilled which was written of the prophets :
“Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee ; in making thee desolate, because of thy sins. For her wound is incurable : for it is come unto Judah ; it is come unto the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem."
“And they shall wander from sea to sea, and from the north even to the east; they shall run to and fro to seek the word of the Lord, and shall not find it."
Outside the suburbs of the city, in a miserable hut, dwelt Mara, the daughter of Eleazer.
From her birth she had been accustomed to rank and wealth ; beloved and cherished by her people, with whom she had lived in Perea, on the banks of Jordan. On the first approach of the Romans, she had fled to Jerusalem, with the little property she had been able to secure in her hasty flight. Of this she had been robbed by the rapacious guards; and Zophar, the beloved one of her youth, the chosen of her heart, was sacrificed, while striving to preserve his wife from insult and injury. Through the shades of night, with strength borrowed from her undying love, the heroic woman bore him to the banks of the Jordan, and bathed his brow in its cool waters, and strove to stay the fast gushing life-blood. But in vain. The angel of death stood beside Zophar, and the shadow of his presence fell upon the brow of the wounded man.
“Mara,” he breathed softly, " once more lay my head upon thy bosom, ere I enter the dark valley. I feel the touch of death upon my heart, and my sight grows dim, that I cannot see thee, light of my eyes. Jehovah protect thee and our little one, and soon reunite us in paradise.”
Poor Mara! her grief was indeed terrible, as she bent over the lifeless form of her beloved. But there was no time for tears, if she would preserve his body from the rude soldiery. With trembling hands she hollowed a bed in the sand and placed all that remained of her Zophar within it. She dared not trust herself with a look, but hastily filling up his grave, she bowed herself on it, until hearing some one approaching, she directed her steps towards the city, and entered it as the light of morning was first visible in the east.
Still young, and exceedingly beautiful, with her child of a year old, she sought and obtained shelter in an obscure abode outside the city, where she had remained for a year, until the time when war and famine had completed the woes of Jerusalem.
From morn until eve had she sat, with droop
THE JEWESS OF PEREA.
ing head and clasped hands, gazing listlessly out, unheeding the distant sounds of tumult from the city, or the cries of hunger, and shrieks for mercy, which the breeze of evening wafted mournfully past her dwelling. Alas! for two days the unhappy woman had not tasted food, and death was creeping slowly on. Not a morsel of bread found she wherewith to allay the piercing cravings of hunger. And a fate more dreadful than death she would meet, did she venture out to seek food for herself or child. Suddenly she started up, and casting aside the long dark hair that half veiled her face and bosom, stood beside the couch where slept her child. “My baby, my darling one," she murmured, “ pearl of my heart, thy mother is faint and weary. The wings of the destroying angel overshadow our dwelling, and his sword has entered my soul. Thou, too, art wasted and cry for food, that I, wretched one, cannot give thee. Why shouldst thou live? Why not die now? Perhaps, ere an hour, the soldiers of the inhuman Cæsar will be here, and tear thee asunder before thy mother's eyes, herself a victim of like cruelty. One slight blow and it would be all over, and thou wouldst rejoin thy father. Ah! metbinks this knife would pierce thy bosum more tenderiy, sent by thy mother's hand, than would the murderer's steel. ()! Jerusalem and Judea, that now suffer for their transgressions against the Holy One of Israel! my name shall become unto you a reproach ; my fate will be repeated by our oppressors with fear and trembling. O Jehovah, hear! ( Jehovah, forgive! hearken and do for thine own sake. O my God! for the city and people called by thy name, incline thine ear and hear. Open thine eyes and behold our desolations, and our great evil. For under the whole heaven hath not been done, as has been done unto Jerusalem.
“Food! yes; the inhuman wretches asked for food; and when I had it not to give, struck me to the ground-me, a noble Jewess, who abhors their accursed race. They shall have their request, aye, they shall have a sumptuous feast, fit for their imperial tyrant, the great Cæsar!"
Sadly, but without tears, the wretched woman, thus goaded on to desperation, gazed on her sleeping child, all unconscious of its impending fate. Not one embrace did she permit herself. Now it must be done ; now, while it slumbers : how could she, should it wake, and smile, and call her mother! One
swift blow-one stifled cry—and still the child slept on!
The vast city lay shrouded in darkness—the work of carnage for awhile had ceased : sated with liorrors, the soldiers dispersed about the city in bands, to pillage whatever came within their reach. For awhile a deathlike stillness prevailed, only broken by the distant carousal of the troops, or a groan of agony froin among the heaps of dying and dead that strewed the lanes and by-ways! Yet over all this suffering and woe, the moon shed down her glorious light into garden and grove, and the placid waters of Jordan reflected on their bosom the innumerable stars of heaven; and the soft evening breeze, bearing perfumes from the Mount of Olives, swept soothingly over the desolate city of Jerusalemn, as though it might bring the balm of healing on its wings. Some half intoxicated soldiers were passing the dwelling of the woman of Judea. They entered her abode, and seating themselves, commanded her to bring forth the food she had prepared for herself.
Silently she bowed her head, and prepared to do their bidding; and when the table was garnished, unheeding their coarse jests, or allusions to her beauty, she said unto them, “ Eat! This is the remnant of the meal of a Jewish mother, who for the transgressions and desolation that have come upon her people, has been forced to slay for food her own son ! Nay, start not ! nine own hand hath done this! Eat; for I have partaken of it myself. Why do ye turn pale, and place your hands upon your weapons ?-are ye Roman soldiers, and yet pretend to be more tender and delicate than a woman-or to possess greater compassion than a mother ? Thus would I feed you! thus would I do with every child, ere they should become slaves to the Roman yoke! Yet a little while, and the proud usurper shall feel the chains wherewith he has fettered my people ! Yet a little while, and ye shall become divided, and your glory and power will be but shadows of things that were! Go, tell your tyrantí Casar that "one of the soldiers sprang forward to seize her with the intention of putting her to death. She eluded his grasp, and drawing a knife from her bosom, quick as thought she aimed a blow at the man's breast, and drawing it instantly out, pierced her own heart, and fell dead! Horror-struck at this
tragedy-accustomed as they were to scenes of bloodshed and violence-the soldiers
The Moslem writers are fond of marvellous details concerning the birth and mission of their prophet. The least that can be said concerning Mohammed is, that he was an extraordinary man. He seemed intuitively to perceive that the world was ripe for bold imposture, and he forthwith set himself to the accomplishment of his wicked idea.
The stories told of Mohammed from his birth to his death, savor of more than Oriental extravagance. Those wicked spirits who had stationed themselves in the various constellations and signs of the zodiac, to find out what was transpiring in heaven, at the prophet's birth were suddenly and forever dislodged, and shorn of their power to animate idols and utter prophecies on the earth. A large lake suddenly was dried up, so that a city was built there ; the sacred fire of the Persians, having burned without intermission more than a thousand years, was extinguished miraculously; and a tremendous earthquake also occurred, when the great event, the prophet's birth, took place! When Mohammed was twelve years old, the monk Sergius asserted that he saw around the boy's head a luminous cloud, preserving him from the intense heat of the sun, and the seal of prophecy was also to be seen between his shoulders. Kissing the boy's garment the monk said to Mohammed's uncle, " Depart with this child, and take care that he does not fall into the hands of the Jews; for your nephew will one day become a very extraordinary person.”
This monk without doubt instructed Moham
med in those fundamental notions of the Jewish and Christian religion which he afterwards incorporated into his own. He began his work of imposture about the close of the sixth century, and brought to his aid the most unbending resolution, splendid talents, and that intuitive insight into the weaknesses of men, which enabled him easily to lead them where he chose.
I do not propose to give an extended account of this great impostor, but have given this brief outline as prefatory to a description of Mohammed's journey to heaven, an event which is chronicled by Moslem writers with the greatest reverence. A cave near Mecca was the place of interview between the prophet and the angel Gabriel, whose first appearance was so glorious that Mohammed fainted. The angel saluted him with this flattering announcement, “ () Mohammed, thou art the Apostle of God, and I am Gabriel !"
His journey to heaven is set down as having occurred in the tenth year of his mission. The singular extravagances here detailed are gathered from various sources, and the narrative will be made out as far as possible in the language of the Koran and Mohammedan chroniclers. The principal facts are derived from the Universal History, a work so bulky and rare as to be confined almost entirely to our large libraries.
On a certain night Gabriel and another angel accosted Mohammed, who was lying on the ground near Mecca. A noted author assures us that Gabriel forthwith opened the prophet's heart, and washed from it the black drop of
MOHAMMED'S JOURNEY TO HEAVEN.
original sin. In the place of this he inspired that same heart with wisdom and faith, and then returned it to the breast of Mohammed. The angel now expanded his seventy pairs of wings and carried the honored man to the beast al Borak, which had conveyed on his back all the prophets of God when sent to execute some urgent command. Mohammed says this beast was smaller than a mule and larger than an ass, and white as milk. His face was like a man's, and he had jaws like a horse. His eyes were extremely brilliant. His movements were rapid as lightning, and he was said to have a rational soul.
When the prophet approached this animal to mount, he commenced a furious kicking, and would not suffer him to mount, until Gabriel addressed him thus, “ Stand still, O Borak, and be obedient to Mohammed, for a greater favorite of God never got on thy back.” After some altercation, and some pledges on the part of the prophet, he was suffered to mount, and in the twinkling of an eye was carried to Jerusalem. On his arrival there he found Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, with a great number of prophets and saints, who all saluted him, and went to prayer with him. By a ladder of light he ascended to the first heaven, leaving Al Borak at Jerusalem. Gabriel still accompanied him. The gates of the first heaven opened to them. This heaven was made of pure silver, and the prophet was not a little surprised to find stars pendant by chains of gold from this silver canopy as large as mountains. The angels occupy these stars as watch towers, to defend heaven from the approach of evil spirits. Here dwells Adam, the parent of our race, a decrepit old man, who respectfully saluted Mohammed as the best of the prophets, and begged his powerful intercession with God. He saw many angels there also, but nothing more curious than a cock,
of such prodigious size that with his head he touched the second heaven, although this was five hundred years' journey from the first. Some Mohammedan writers carry this story still further, and assert that this cock reaches from the first to the seventh heaven, although each is distant from the other five hundred years' journey. At any rate there were angels without number who reverently regarded this greatest son of earth now passing among them.
The second heaven was made of a sort of iron, and this is the abode of Noah, John and Jesus. Here there was a prodigious number
of angels. The third heaven was made of another kind of iron, and the greatest curiosity the prophet saw here, was an angel of such size that the distance between his eyes is seventy thousand days' journey. It was the Angel of Death, and he was writing in a book constantly some names and blotting out others. David, Solomon and Joseph were also seen here. The fourth heaven is made of very fine silver, but some assert it to be made of emeralds. Here the prophet was greeted very affectionately by Enoch, and he saw an angel whose proportions were so great as to reach from one heaven to the next. He spends his time in weeping and lamentation, for the sins and miseries which men bring on themselves. The fifth heaven Mohammed found built of very fine gold, and here Aaron and Moses met him; the latter recommended himself to the prophet's prayers. The sixth heaven “was a precious stone.” The Mohammedans commonly assert that Moses met the prophet here, calling him brother, and weeping at sight of him. His reasons for weeping were, that a mere stripling succeeding him should bring to Paradise more of his own nation than there were happy Israelites. John the Baptist also met the prophet, having in this particular become vastly "preferred before” Jesus.
The seventh heaven was composed of " divine light,” but some say its substance was red hyacinth. Here Mohammed saw one of the largest angels created. This angel had seventy thousand heads; each head had seventy thousand faces, each face had seventy thousand tongues, and each tongue spake seventy thousand languages, with all which this singularangel was uttering the praises of Allah the Almighty. Here he met Abraham, so highly honored as to be elevated to the Lote Tree, beyond which no mortal man is allowed to go, except the prophet of Allah. Gabriel himself could accompany Mohammed no further, and now he is committed to the care of the angel Israfil, whose wondrous capacities are much greater than the angel of seventy thousand heads. This one has a million heads, each head a million faces, each face a million mouths, each mouth a million tongues, and each tongue a million languages, all of which are incessantly used in praising God.
On his way to the throne of God he passed over two seas of light and one of dark color, all of them of immense extent. This space was crowded with cherubims and“ spirituals."
white as snow,
MOHAMMED'S JOURNEY TO HEAVEN.
Having traversed this amazing space, he approached God's immediate presence, and heard a voice saying, “O Mohammed, advance and approach the glorious and powerful God." Ascending higher he saw "a luminous appearance of most transcendant brightness, and at the divine command drew so near to the Almighty that he was scarce two bows' length from him.” The prophet saw on the right of the throne these words in Arabic, “ There is no God but God, and Mohammed is his Prophet.” Mohammed declares that these same words were written on all the gates of the several heavens. The Almighty now beneficently placed one hand on the prophet's breast and the other on his shoulder, and the coldness pierced through and through him. This piercing coldness was succeeded by the most delicious sensations and the most perfect pleasure.
After this the prophet enjoyed a long conversation with Allah, which was certainly crowded very full of serious matter. Among other things God expounded the mysteries of his law, gave him some special rules by which to regulate his conduct and communicate knowledge to the people. Many special privileges were also conferred on him, among which were, that lie should be the most perfect of all men, should be honored above all men, should be the redeemer of all believing on him, should speak all languages, and exclusively possess the spoils of all nations conquered in war.
Perhaps not the least singular part of this parcel of extravagances wa this. The prophet received the command to enjoin all his followers to pray fifty times a day, but afterwards on his descent, meeting the great Jewish Lawgiver, who told him that such tedious and multiplied duties could not be exacted, at his persuasion he returned to the presence of God and prevailed with him to abate the exaction of fifty prayers to five a day. This satisfactorily arranged, the honored prophet returned to the earth the same way he came, accompanied by Gabriel. At Jerusalem he found bis milk-white Al Borak, who now made no resistance, but like a flash of lightning conveyed him back to Mecca.
Mohammed seems to have feared the skepticism of his followers even, and thus he addressed Gabriel: “I apprehend my people will accuse me of telling lies, if I communicate to them the particulars of my night-journey to heaven!” To this Gabriel is said to have replied, “ Abu Becr, O Mohammed, the faithful
witness in that case, will sufficiently justify all the particulars of that wonderful event you shall please to enumerate to them.” And sure enough, when Mohammed told the story to his uncle and cousin, altogether faithless, they strove to dissuade him from publishing it. But he persisted, until a bitter enemy at last heard it, and ridiculed it so keenly that some of the prophet's followers actually forsook him. His countrymen were on the point of using him harshly, when “the true witness,” Abu Becr, miraculously and indisputably established its truth, and thus closed all cavilling mouths. To such an extent did he carry his boldness, that in one chapter of the Koran God is made to swear the whole narration of that journey to be true.
The speed of Al Borak was great, since he galloped from Mecca to Jerusalem, a distance of six hundred miles, in the twinkling of an eye. Such speed as that would almost be sufficient to do what Dr. Beecher once said of the materiality of Gabriel's wings, “had they been material, going at that rate, they would have been torn to atoms !" It is not a little entertaining to set figures to the distances indicated in this wonderful journey. It was five hundred years' travel from earth to the first heaven, and the same distance between the several heavens; that is, from earth to the seventh heaven, was thirty-five hundred years' travel. This reduced to days gives us the respectables number of one million two hundred and seventyseven thousand five hundred. Forty miles for a day's travel is surely small enough, which will make the distance from earth to the Lote Tree fifty-one million one hundred thousand miles. Beyond the Lote Tree the prophet with Israfil passed over “infinite tracts of space,” but we will not mention this indefinite number, since we have definite figures enough to deal with. He must return as he came. Whether the descent was easier than the ascent we do not know, but one thing is certain, the prophet in that eventful night travelled from Jerusalem upward and back again on “a ladder of light," one hundred and two million, two hundred thousand miles! The distance from Mecca to Jerusalem and back again, being only twelve hundred miles, ought hardly to be mentioned in so large a travel !
Allowing the prophet's night to have been ten hours long, he travelled at the comfortable rate of twenty-eight hundred miles a second, or one hundred and seventy thousand a minute,