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THE PRESERVATION OF EASTERN MANNERS AND CUSTOMS.
PARTICULAR INSTANCES OF IT. --CAUSES TO WHICH IT MAY BE ATTRIBUTED.-EARLY CIVILIZATION.-INFLUENCE OF MOHAMMEDANISM.
The similarity between the manners and customs depicted in the Bible and in the works of modern Oriental travellers, is most remarkable. During the four thousand years that hare well nigh elapsed since the age of Abraham, and in spite of the various political changes that have taken place, the same social habits prevail down to minute particulars, modified only in some
instances by the regulations of the Mohammedan religion. Oriental life has, as it were, been stereotyped ; and while in our own and other European countries changes of such magnitude have taken place that hardly the faintest resemblance can be traced between ourselves and our forefathers, in Palestine and Arabia, and indeed in the greater part of Western Asia, things remain much as they were, uninfluenced by the march of civilization and by the improvements in the arts and sciences that have taken place elsewhere.
Travellers have not failed to notice this singular fact. The author of the Voice from Lebanon observes
The preservation of the manners and customs (in Syria) is very striking; and this will astonish us the more when w know that the inhabitants of the country have gone through all stages of prosperity and adversity, wealth and poverty, independence and dependence, learning and ignorance, and yet preserved the names, the manners, and customs unaltered. This must be all by an overruling Providence; otherwise, as they are human beings, there is no reason why they should not be the subjects of mode and fashion, and no reason why they should not have adopted the religion and manners of their conquerors, who have offered them every earthly advantage, privilege, and liberty, if they would embrace a new religion : nevertheless they preferred to be called Nazarenes and Christians to any honour they can have. They have kept up the custom of dressing their favourite children with coats of many colours,' after the one given by Jacob to Joseph. In their matches the bridegroom sends to his bride
the pair of bracelets and the earrings, as did Isaac to his beloved Rebekah. They keep up till this day the form of the writer's inkhorn by his side, mentioned by Ezekiel. Until this very day the white asses are as favourite as in the days of the Judges of old. The teachers use the salutation of the blessed Lord, 'Salem,' or 'Peace. Until this very day the bridegroom comes at night, and a cry always precedes his coming. Until this very day they speak by parables; until now the shepherds go before their sheep, and they know his voice, and they follow no stranger's, and he calls them by their names. Until this day you see two women grinding at a mill; and when the ConsulGeneral Farren of Great Britain visited Bethlehem, the natives being very fond of him, and knowing his interest in their welfare, came out to meet him. Did they take off their turbans ? Did they salute him with the shaking of hands ? Did they sing or beat the drums? No—(I was present)—they threw off their garments, and cut branches from the trees to welcome their favourite visitor, the same as their ancestors did to the blessed Redeemer.”— Voice from Lebanon, pp. 329, 330.
Mr. Hardy also remarks, while visiting the Arab tribes: “ We are carried back at once to the age of the earliest patriarchs. The forms we see present unto us the picture of these ancient fathers, with scarcely a single alteration. We may listen to their language, number their possessions, partake of their food, examine their dress, enter their tents, attend the ceremonies of their marriage-festivals, and present
ourselves before the prince,-still all is the same. At the well they water their flocks : they sit at the door of the tent in the cool of the day; they take ' butter and milk, and the calf which they have dressed,' and set it before the stranger ; they move onward to some distant place, and pitch their tent near richer pasturage; and all the treasures they possess are in camels, kine, sheep, and goats; men-servants and womenservants; and changes of raiment. We may stand near one of their encampments; and as the aged men sit in dignity, or the young men and maidens drive past us their flocks, we are almost ready to ask if such an one be not Abraham, or Lot, or Jacob, or Job, or Bildad the Shuhite, or Rebekah, or Rachel, or the daughter of Jethro the Midianite; we seem to know them all. ... The founder of the race might come to the earth, and he would recognize without effort his own people and his own land.”—HARDY's Notices of the Holy Land, pp. 16, 17.
The reasons of this unchangeableness are to be sought mainly in the physical peculiarities of the countries in which the Bible scenes are laid. A large amount of land in and about Palestine is wholly unsuited to agriculture, and only at certain periods of the year yields a scanty herbage for the sustenance of flocks; hence arises the necessity for a pastoral and a nomadic, or wandering, life : connected with this mode of life is the patriarchal form of society, in which each tribe, be it small or great, forms a separate community, governed by traditional customs rather than definite laws, and presenting the aspect of a large
family under one father or head. The isolation thus produced the constant changes of abode—the unsettled state of life generally—the few wants and the yet fewer comforts necessary in a hot climate-all these causes combine to keep society in a stationary condition.
It must not, however, escape our observation that the state of society described in the very earliest ages of the Bible history did not admit of such advances as have taken place in our own country. Abraham lived in a simple, but by no means a barbarous age: his manners were extremely courteous : he was provided not only with the necessaries, but even the elegancies of life: jewels and personal ornaments were sufficiently common : the art of writing was probably understood ; and frequent and safe communication was carried on with the great seats of civilization and commerce, viz. : Mesopotamia in the east, and Egypt in the south-west. If, therefore, we find a considerable degree of resemblance in ancient and modern times, it does not follow that in the latter, society is so far behind what it should be, but rather that in the former it had already attained a high state of advancement. The fact, however, seems to be that in the latter, society has actually retrograded in consequence of the desolating wars and the insecure state of property, which have so long prevailed in those parts, and that, as far as real civilization is concerned, Palestine is in a less favoured condition than at the time that Abraham entered it from Haran.
The most marked differences between the ancient