Friday, 3 August 2012

'In the Steps of the Master' once more

 Herewith a few more extracts from  H.V.Morton’s  classic ‘In the Steps of the Master’, written  in the 1920s, in which he recounted his impressions and experiences whilst re-tracing the journeys of Our Lord Jesus Christ through the Holy Land.

                      ‘On the roads of Palestine, and on the hills, you see the good shepherd. He comes along at the head of his flock, generally carrying over his shoulders a lamb or an injured sheep.
He is a man burnt almost black by exposure to the sun. He wears the flowing Bedouin head-veil, the keffiyeh, bound with two black twisted cords known as the agaal.  Beneath his robes he often wears a sheepskin coat with the fleece turned next to the body.  He is one of the many characters who walk the roads of Palestine exactly as they must have done in the time of Our Lord.'

                                             Palestinian Shepherd

'A most remarkable thing is the sympathy that exists between him and his flock.  He never drives them as our own shepherds drive their sheep. He always walks at their head, leading them along the roads and over the hills to new pasture: and, as he goes, he sometimes talks to them in a loud sing-song voice, using a weird language unlike anything I have ever heard in my life. 

The first time I heard this sheep and goat language I was on the hills at the back of Jericho.  A goat-herd had descended into a valley and was mounting the slope of an opposite hill when, turning round, he saw his goats had remained behind to devour a rich patch of scrub.  Lifting his voice, he spoke to the goats in a language that Pan must have spoken on the mountains of Greece.  It was uncanny because there was nothing human about it.  The words were animal sounds arranged in a kind of order.  No sooner had he spoken than an answering bleat shivered over the herd, and one or two of the animals turned their heads in his direction. But they did not obey him. 

The goat-herd then called out one word and gave a laughing kind of whinny.  Immediately a goat with a bell around his neck stopped eating and, leaving the herd, trotted down the hill, across the valley and up the opposite slopes.  The man, accompanied by  this animal, walked on and disappeared round a ledge of rock. Very soon a panic spread among the herd. They forgot to eat. They looked up for the shepherd. He was not to be seen. They became conscious that the leader with the bell at his neck was no longer with them.  From the distance came the strange laughing call of the shepherd, and at the sound of it the entire herd stampeded into the hollow and leapt up the hill after him.

I would like to know what an English sheep-dog would make of the Palestine sheep, because our principle of droving is something that neither Arab shepherds nor their sheep-dogs understand.  It is all done by word of mouth, and the sheep follow their shepherds like dogs.  The Arab sheep-dog is used therefore not to drive sheep but to protect them against thieves and wild animals.

Early one morning I saw an extraordinary sight not far from Bethlehem. Two shepherds had evidently spent the night with their flocks in a cave. The sheep were all mixed together and the time had come for the shepherds to go in different directions. One of the shepherds stood some distance from the sheep and began to call. First one, then another, then four or five animals ran towards him; and so on until he had counted his whole flock.'

'More interesting than the sight of this was the knowledge that Jesus must have seen exactly the same sight and described it in His own words:

             “He calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers.  This parable spake Jesus unto them ........ I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep and am known of mine” '

'No animal mentioned in the Bible can compare in symbolical interest with the sheep. I believe it is mentioned over five-hundred times.  And you cannot go very far along the roads of Palestine without encountering the figure who, staff in hand, symbolises the love and compassion of Jesus Christ.’

Having visited the ruins of the synagogue of Capernaum, the author wrote:-

             Ruins of the Synagogue at Capernaum - early 1900s

‘One sits in the ruin of this building watching the blue lake, trying hard to build up a picture of Jesus as He appeared to His contemporaries.  The traditional bare-headed Jesus of Christian art cannot be correct. Perhaps Dr Stapfer has drawn a more authentic portrait in his ‘Palestine in the time of Christ’;

“He had neither the fine linen nor the sumptuous raiment of those who live in kings’ houses,” he wrote, “neither had he a long flowing robe like the scribes and Pharisees. Upon His head He must have worn the turban, the national head-gear, used alike by rich and poor.  Painters make a mistake when they represent Christ bare-headed. As we have said, with everyone the head was covered. The turban He wore was probably white. It was fastened under the chin by a cord, and at the side fell down to the shoulders and over the tunic. Under His turban He wore His hair rather long and His beard uncut. His tunic, and underneath vesture, was of one piece without seam; it was therefore of some value (John xix. 23), and had probably been given Him by one of those women who ‘ministered to Him of their substance.’ Over this He wore the talith, loose and flowing.  The mantle was not white, for we are told it became white during the Transfiguration. It was not red, for that was only the military colour. It is possible it was blue, for blue was then very common, or it may have been simply white with brown stripes. In any case Jesus had at the four corners of this mantle, the Ciccith, the blue or white fringes of which we have just spoken. He wore sandals on His feet, as we learn from John the Baptist; and when He was travelling, going from place to place, He doubtless wore a girdle around the loins and carried a stick in His hand ...” '

           Jesus casting out devil  (Mathew Ch 17 v.14-20)


The author travelled to Beirut where he stayed in an hotel immediately overlooking St George’s Bay. Of his visit there he wrote:- 
            ‘I began to think of St George, that sadly libelled Saint, who was the patron of Beirut centuries before we in England placed his cross on our banners.  I think Calvin began the belittlement of St George, but Gibbon certainly started the libel. It is a curious thing that thousands of Englishman who have not read the Decline and Fall’ will tell you that St George was a villainous army contractor at Cappadocia. He was nothing of the kind. Gibbon, very strangely for a man of such meticulous accuracy, confused two men, or rather assumed that George of Laodicea, who was murdered in the reign of Julian and whose body was flung into the sea, was the Christian soldier who was martyred under Diocletian.  Gibbon’s George was indeed a bad character, a man who, as Gregory Nazianzen said, would ‘sell himself for a cake’. He became Arian archbishop of Alexandria and the retribution which overtook him must have been of a singularly brutal character, because the Emperor Julian wrote a letter of remonstrance, in which he said, “the people actually tore a man to pieces, as if they had been dogs." 

'The saint however, was a Roman officer of high standing who suffered death rather than countenance a Christian persecution ordered by Diocletian. I remember discussing him with Sir E A Wallis Budge, whose book St George of Lydda should be read by everyone interested in the saint. Sir Ernest believed that his martyrdom might have occurred as early as 200 AD, although the accepted date is 303 AD. The traditions of East and West agree that after St George was martyred in Nicomedia, a town about forty miles east of Constantinople, his body was brought to Lydda – now Ludd, near Jaffa, for burial.

The veneration he inspired among the members of the early Church was so great that hundreds of extravagant legends gathered round his name, among them the story of the Dragon, which many scholars regard as a pagan myth grafted to the Christian tree. Many an agnostic points to the ridiculous stories about saints and martyrs to prove the credulity of the early Church.  It is not generally realised that many of these stories were recognised as fiction and as nothing else. Pope Gelasius made war on such devout fictions at the Council of ‘Seventy-two  Bishops’ in Rome in 494 AD, when he ordered the faithful to discontinue the reading of such stories for the reason that they called down ridicule on the Christian Faith. Among the stories banned were those about St George.'

      St George dragged through the streets prior to martyrdom - (Bernardo Martorell 15th century)

'When the Crusaders came marching along the coast road towards which I was looking, they had already encountered St George at the very gates of the East, for the Bosphorous was called ‘the Arm of St George’.  Everywhere they went they heard stories of the Saint’s courage and holiness. In time they came to believe that he was riding beside them. Stories in no way more remarkable than that of the 'Angels of Mons', in which thousands of people believed in 1914, began to spread when the Crusaders were in trouble. A mysterious white horseman with a red cross emblazoned on his sur-coat was seen helping the cause of Christ, first at Antioch and later in many desperate battles.'

                                          Flag of St George

'The Crusaders, returning home to England, told stories of the saint and of his miraculous interventions. It was, therefore, natural that Richard should have restored the Church of St George at Lydda, should have used the name of St George for the English battle-cry, and should have returned from the Holy Land with a patron Saint who was recognised in the East and in the West as the perfect Christian soldier.'

Ack. 'In the Steps of the Master' by H.V.Morton. First published by Rich and Cowan Ltd., London, 1934.                           

Mary and Piety-- Ballade of Illegal Ornaments' by H. Belloc.

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