December 2010


I continue a thread on one of the numerous 19th century Bible customs travel accounts by Christian enthusiasts able to travel to their “Holy Land.” The author, Frank S. DeHass, served as the United States Consul in Palestine in the mid 19th century. His text is aptly entitled Buried Cities Recovered, or, Explorations in Bible Lands, giving the results of recent researches in the Orient, and recovery of many places in sacred and profane history long considered lost. My copy, handed down from my grandmother, was published in 1886 in Philadelphia by Bradley & Company; the tenth edition no less! This is a wonderful read and it is worth reading the entire book online, thanks to Google Books.

An eastern inn, or khan, never was a house of entertainment in the sense that Americans understand a hotel to be. Such accommodations as provision, bed, and other comforts at an inn are unknown int he Orient, and belong exclusively to western civilization. In the East all travelers carry their own bedding and provision with them, and must dress their own food, kindle their own fire, and spread their own table. An Oriental inn is merely a place of shelter from the storm, or protection from robbers, where a man and his beast can safely lodge for the night free of charge. A portion of the khan was assigned to the beasts, generally one side, and travelers who came in late, if they found the khan full, would have to make their beds in the manger with the horses and camels, as Joseph and Mary were forced to do. These caravansaries, or inns, were sometimes very rude, simply a rough wall built around a house, or natural caves int he rocks, as appears to have been the case at Bethlehem. Many of these grottoes are used as stables in the neighborhood, and some of them as dwellings by the Arabs. (more…)


Long before Lady Gaga or even Ella Fitzgerald there was the belle of Edison Record vaudeville. This was the warbler Ada Jones, who often sang duets with the indefatigable Billy Murray. One of her early songs, from 1909, was entitled “An Arab Love Song.” You can hear it on an original Gramophone on Youtube. A better recording is available here.



A new book has appeared by Michael Korda entitled
The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia (Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, 762 pages). A review by Ben MacIntyre was published in yesterday’s New York Times, the beginning of which I attach here.

Lowell Thomas, the pioneering American journalist and filmmaker, was buying dates on a Jerusalem street soon after the holy city had been wrested from Turkish control by British forces in 1917, when he spotted a group of Arabs, led by a most remarkable figure. “A single Bedouin who stood out in sharp relief from his companions; . . . in his belt was fastened the short curved sword of a prince of Mecca, . . . marking him every inch a king. . . . This young man was blond as a Scandinavian. . . . His expression was serene, almost saintly, in its selflessness and repose.”

The robed figure was T. E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, Laurens Bey to his Arab comrades in arms, the “Uncrowned King of Arabia” according to his boosters. And if Thomas’s description seems sensationalist, that is hardly surprising, for the American did more than any other single person to turn Lawrence into a glittering multimedia global celebrity, a fable, a saint and a myth.

Lawrence was an ambiguous figure in his lifetime, and has remained so ever since, in part because the fog of fame made it virtually impossible to see him clearly, then and now. He was a scholar and warrior, an imperialist and supporter of Arab independence, a politician and rebel, a publicity seeker and recluse. Fighting alongside Arab irregulars in the revolt against Turkish Ottoman rule during World War I, he was fanatically brave and chillingly ruthless. He was fastidious, inconsistently vegetarian, sexually repressed, allergic to physical contact and addicted to danger, flagellation and roasting baths. He was fabulously weird. (more…)

Yesterday, I began a thread on one of the numerous 19th century Bible customs travel accounts by Christian enthusiasts able to travel to their “Holy Land.” The author, Frank S. DeHass, served as the United States Consul in Palestine in the mid 19th century. His text is aptly entitled Buried Cities Recovered, or, Explorations in Bible Lands, giving the results of recent researches in the Orient, and recovery of many places in sacred and profane history long considered lost. My copy, handed down from my grandmother, was published in 1886 in Philadelphia by Bradley & Company; the tenth edition no less! This is a wonderful read and it is worth reading the entire book online, thanks to Google Books.

Bethlehem, and Hill Country of Judea

Situated on a fruitful ridge about six miles south of Jerusalem, overlooking the Valley of the Kedron on the north, and the deep chasm of the Dead Sea on the east, is Bethlehem of Judea, to the Christian the holiest place on earth.

It is one of the oldest villages in Palestine, and associated with some of the most stirring events in the religious history of the world. Here Ruth gleaned after the reapers of Boaz; here the youthful David kept his father’s flocks, and was annointed King of Israel; here, also, Jeremiah, after denouncing God’s terrible judgments upon the people, foretold the coming of “The Lord of Righteousness;” and here the shepherd’s who watched their flocks by night were startled by the angelic song announcing the Messiah’s birth, and proclaiming the evangel of “peace on earth, and good-will toward men.”

The name signifies the Hosue of Bread, and truly it may be said, Bethlehem has given to our perishing race the bread of eternal life. What countless millions have feasted on this heavenly loaf!

As we rode along the well-beaten path leading from Jerusalem, crowded with pilgrims from all lands going up to visit the place that gave birth to the Saviour of mankind, what old memories were awakened! (more…)

“The author’s object in accepting an appointment under the United States Government was not the honor or emoluments of office, but a desire to visit the lands of the Bible, that he might see for himself how far the manners, customs, and traditions of the people and topography of those countries agreed with the inspired word.”

So begins one of the numerous 19th century Bible customs travel accounts by Christian enthusiasts able to travel to their “Holy Land.” The author is Frank S. DeHass, who served as the United States Consul in Palestine in the mid 19th century. His text is aptly entitled Buried Cities Recovered, or, Explorations in Bible Lands, giving the results of recent researches in the Orient, and recovery of many places in sacred and profane history long considered lost. My copy, handed down from my grandmother, was published in 1886 in Philadelphia by Bradley & Company; the tenth edition no less! This is a wonderful read and you can read the entire book online, thanks to Google Books.

Like so many other Bibliophiles of his generation, DeHass extols the virtue of actually visiting the land where Jesus was born and died. In his own words:

Recent explorations in the East have resulted in the recovery of many places in sacred and profane history long regarded as lost; and as the facts brought out by these researches are not accessible to the general reader, the author has compiled them in this concise form, and at the request of numerous friends gives them to the public, not as a scientific work for the antiquarian, but as a humble contribution to Biblical archaeology for the home circle, believing that such a volume will add greatly to the elucidation of the Scriptures, and serve to correct some of the errors which many travellers have fallen into by a too hasty or superficial view of the places visited. (more…)


” Turkish Bank Guard” (left), “Even Algeria Sends its Quota to America” (right)

Like many Americans, my father was born in this country, but his father came from Sicily in the 1890s. The year my father was born, 1917, National Geographic Magazine published a lead article entitled “Our Foreign-Born Citizens.” Given the current anti-immigration sentiment of many Americans today, it is useful to look back at the same issue that rocked American politics almost a century ago. Given the optimistic note below that our territory could hold 900 million people, the latest census results showing the U.S. population is now over 300 million is a hopeful, even if not well documented, sign. Here is a sample from the article:

Never in the history of the American people has a measure been passed by Congress as often and vetoed by the President as many times as the immigration bill recently enacted into law. Three presidents of the United States have felt so keenly that the founders of the government and their successors were right in holding that the lack of opportunity to learn to read and write should not bar an alien from freedom’s shores, that they have overridden the will of the four Congresses and have interposed their veto between the congressional purpose and the unlettered immigrant’s desire. (more…)

In a recent post on Yemeni cooking the steps for making barley bread were illustrated. One of the staple dishes of the Yemeni highlands, and one that I enjoyed while living in a rural setting in al-Ahjur in the late 1970s, is the sorghum porridge called ‘asîd. The recipe is above and the steps illustrated below. Sorghum flour is available in the United States, most easily at Indian food stores, but also on the Internet. (more…)


Unnamed tulip from the Turkish ‘The Book of Tulips’, ca. 1725

Webshaykh’s Note: With winter snow buffeting Europe and the Middle East, what better time to think about tulips, an Ottoman treasure that took Europe by storm almost half a millennium ago. There is an excellent book on The Tulip by Anna Pavord (Great Britain: Bloomsbury, 1999), but one of my favorite articles is one that Jon Mandaville wrote for ARAMCO World over three decades ago. The full article is available online, but I provide the first part below.]

Turbans and Tulips
Written by Jon Mandaville. ARAMCO World Magazine, May/June, 1977

Tulips come from Holland. Right? Wrong! Or at least, they haven’t always. Tulips come from Turkey, the only country in the world to call one of its major eras of national history—the years 1700 to 1730—the “Tulip Period.” And how that era got its name . . . thereby hangs a tale.

Tulips, even in the early 18th century, were nothing new to Turkey. Along with other bulbous plants such as the narcissus, the hyacinth and the daffodil, tulips had grown there for centuries, both wild and domesticated for house and garden. The Tulip Period took its name from an established hobby, which started as court fashion, grew into a generalized fad and fancy, and finally became an explosion of unrestrained international speculation in bulbs which buyers never even saw.

It all began when tulips first went to Europe. In 1550, no one in Holland had heard of tulips. Different varieties do grow wild in North Africa and from Greece and Turkey all the way to Afghanistan and Kashmir. Very occasionally they are even found in southern France and Italy, usually in vineyards or on cultivated land, which has led some botanists to speculate that they may have been brought back by the Crusaders.

The Persians were familiar with tulips, but they didn’t domesticate them as thoroughly as the Turks. For centuries they admired the flowers wild. Even as decorative motifs in Persia, they were never as popular as the narcissus, iris or rose.

In Turkey it was different. (more…)

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