Home  »  The Marvellous Adventures of Sir John Maundevile Kt  »  Of the Dead Sea; and of the River Jordan. Of the Head of Saint John the Baptist; and of the Usages of the Samaritans

Sir John Mandeville. Marvellous Adventures. 1895.

Chapter IX

Of the Dead Sea; and of the River Jordan. Of the Head of Saint John the Baptist; and of the Usages of the Samaritans

AND from Jericho, a 3 Mile, is the Dead Sea. About that Sea groweth much Alum and Alkatran. Between Jericho and that Sea is the Land of Engeddi. And there was wont to grow the Balm; but Men make pull the Branches thereof and bear them to be grafted at Babylon; and Men call them yet Vines of Geddi. At a Coast of that Sea, as Men go from Arabia, is the Mount of the Moabites, where there is a Cave, that Men call Karua. Upon that Hill Balak, the Son of Boaz, led Balaam the Priest to curse the People of Israel.

That Dead Sea parteth the Land of Ind and of Arabia, and that Sea lasteth from Soara (Segor) unto Arabia. The Water of that Sea is full bitter and salt, and if the Earth were made moist and wet with that Water, it would never bear Fruit. And the Earth and the Land changeth often its Colour. And it casteth out of the Water a Thing that Men call Asphalt, also great Pieces, as the Greatness of an Horse, every Day and on all Sides. And from Jerusalem to that Sea is 200 Furlongs. That Sea is in Length 580 Furlongs, and in Breadth 150 Furlongs; and it is clept the Dead Sea, for it runneth nought, but is ever un-movable. And neither Man, Beast, nor anything that beareth Life in him may die in that Sea. And that hath been proved many times, by Men that have deserved to be dead that have been cast therein and left there 3 Days or 4, and they might never die therein; for it receiveth no Thing within him that beareth Life. And no Man may drink of the Water for Bitterness. And if a Man cast Iron therein, it will float above. And if Men cast a Feather therein, it will sink to the Bottom, and these be Things against Nature.

And also, the Cities there were lost because of Sin. And there beside grow Trees that bear full fair Apples, and fair of Colour to behold; but whoso breaketh them or cutteth them in 2, he shall find within them Coals and Cinders, in Token that by the Wrath of God the Cities and the Land were burnt and sunk into Hell. Some Men call that Sea the Lake of Asafœtida; some, the River of Devils; and some the River that is ever stinking. And into that Sea sunk the 5 Cities by the Wrath of God; that is to say, Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboim, and Zoar, for the abominable Sin that reigned in them. But Zoar, by the Prayer of Lot, was saved and kept a great while, for it was set upon a Hill; and some Part yet sheweth thereof above the Water, and Men may see the Walls when it is fair Weather and clear. In that City Lot dwelt a little while; and there he was made drunk by his Daughters, and lay with them, and engendered of them Moab and Ammon. And the Cause for which his Daughters made him drunk to lie with him was this: because they saw no Man about them, but only their Father, and therefore they trowed that God had destroyed all the World as He had done the Cities, as He had done before by Noah’s Flood. And therefore they would lie with their Father to have Issue, and to replenish the World again with People to restore the World again by them; for they trowed that there had been no more Men in all the World; and if their Father had not been drunk, he had not lain with them.

And the Hill above Zoar Men called it then Edom and after Men called it Seir, and after Idumea. Also at the right Side of that Dead Sea, dwelleth yet the Wife of Lot in Likeness of a salt Stone; for that she looked behind her when the Cities sunk into Hell.

This Lot was Haran’s Son, that was Brother to Abraham; and Sarah, Abraham’s Wife, and Milcah, Nahor’s Wife, were Sisters to the said Lot. And the same Sarah was of Age 90 Year when Isaac her Son was gotten on her. And Abraham had another Son Ishmael that he gat upon Hagar his Handmaid. And when Isaac his Son was 8 Days old, Abraham his Father made him be circumcised, and Ishmael with him that was 14 Year old: wherefore the Jews that come of Isaac’s Line be circumcised the 8th Day, and the Saracens that come of Ishmael’s Line be circumcised when they be 14 Year of Age.

And ye shall understand, that the River Jordan runneth within the Dead Sea, where it dieth, for it runneth no further more, at a Place that is a Mile from the Church of Saint John the Baptist toward the West, a little beneath the Place where that Christian Men bathe them commonly. And a Mile from River Jordan is the River of Jabbok, the which Jacob passed over when he came from Mesopotamia. This River Jordan is no great River, but it is plenteous of good Fish; and it cometh out of the Hill of Lebanon by 2 Wells that be clept Jor and Dan, and of the 2 Wells hath it the Name. And it passeth by a Lake that is clept Maron (Merom). And after it passeth by the Sea of Tiberias, and passeth under the Hills of Gilboa; and there is a full fair Vale, both on that one Side and on that other of the same River. And Men go on the Hills of Lebanon, all their Length unto the Desert of Pharan; and those Hills part the Kingdom of Syria and the Country of Phœnicia; and upon those Hills grow Trees of Cedar that be full high, and they bear long Apples, and as great as a Man’s Head.

And also this River Jordan parteth the Land of Galilee and the Land of Idumea and the Land of Betron (? Arabia Petrea), and runneth under Earth a great Way unto a fair Plain and great that is clept “Meldan” in Sarmois; that is to say, Fair or Market in their Language, because that there are often Fairs in that Plain. And there becometh the Water great and large; and in that Plain is the Tomb of Job.

And in that River Jordan above-said was our Lord baptised of Saint John, and the voice of God the Father was heard saying; “Hic est Filius Meus dilectus, &c.;” that is to say, “This is My beloved Son, in the which I am well pleased; hear Him!” and the Holy Ghost alighted upon him in Likeness of a Culver; and so at His baptising was all the Holy Trinity.

And through that River passed the Children of Israel, all dry Feet; and they put Stones there in the middle Place, in Token of the Miracle that the Water withdrew him so. Also in that River Jordan Naaman of Syria bathed him, that was full rich, but he was leprous; and there anon he took his Heal.

About the River Jordan be many Churches where that many Christian Men dwelled. And nigh thereto is the City of Hay (Hazor) that Joshua assailed and took. Also beyond the River Jordan is the Vale of Mamre, and that is a full fair Vale. Also upon the Hill that I spake of before, where our Lord fasted 40 Days, a 2 Mile long from Galilee, is a fair Hill and an high, where the Enemy the Fiend bare our Lord the 3rd Time to tempt Him, and shewed Him all the Regions of the World and said, “Hec omnia Tibi dabo, si cadens adoraveris me;” that is to say, “All this shall I give Thee, if Thou fall and worship me.”

Also from the Dead Sea going Eastward, out of the Borders of the Holy Land that is clept the Land of Promise, is a strong Castle and a fair, on an Hill, that is called “Carak” in Sarmois; that is to say, Royal. That Castle made King Baldwin, that was King of France, when he had conquered that Land, and put it in Christian Men’s Hands to keep that Country; and for that Cause was it clept the Mount Royal. And under it there is a Town that is called Sobach, and there, all about, dwell Christian Men, under Tribute.

From thence go Men to Nazareth, of the which our Lord beareth the Surname. And from thence Men go by the Province of Galilee by Ramath, by Sothim and by the high Hill of Ephraim, where Elkanah and Hannah the Mother of Samuel the Prophet dwelled. There was born this Prophet; and, after his Death, he was buried at Mount Joy, as I have said to you before.

And then Men go to Shiloh, where the Ark of God with the Relics were kept long time under Eli the Prophet. There made the People of Hebron Sacrifice to our Lord, and there they yielded up their Vows. And there spake God first to Samuel, and shewed him the Mutation of the Order of Priesthood, and the Mystery of the Sacrament. And right nigh, on the left Side, is Gibeon and Ramah and Benjamin, of the which Holy Writ speaketh.

And after Men go to Sichem, some-time clept Sichar; and that is in the Province of Samaritans. And there is a full fair Vale and a fructuous; and there is a fair City and a good that Men call Neople (Neapolis). And from thence is a Day’s Journey to Jerusalem. And there is the Well, where our Lord spake to the Woman of Samaria. And there was wont to be a Church, but it is beaten down. Beside that Well King Rehoboam had made 2 Calves of Gold and made them to be worshipped, and put the one at Dan and the other at Bethel. And a Mile from Sichar is the City of Luz; and in that City dwelt Abraham a certain Time. Sichem is a 10 Mile from Jerusalem, and it is clept Neople; that is to say, the New City. And nigh beside is the Tomb of Joseph the Son of Jacob that governed Egypt: for the Jews bare his Bones from Egypt and buried them there, and thither go the Jews often-time in Pilgrimage with great Devotion. In that City was Dinah, Jacob’s Daughter, ravished, for whom her Brethren slew many Persons and did many Harms to the City. And there beside is the Hill of Gerizim, where the Saracens make their Sacrifice: in that Hill would Abraham have sacrificed his Son Isaac. And there beside is the Vale of Dotaim. And there is the Cistern, where Joseph, which they sold, was cast in of his Brethren; and that is a 2 Mile from Sichar.

From thence go Men to Samaria that Men call now Sebast; and that is the chief City of that Country, and it sits between Hills as Jerusalem doth. In that City were the Sittings of the 12 Tribes of Israel; but the City is not now so great as it was wont to be. There was buried Saint John the Baptist between 2 Prophets, Elisha and Abdon; but he was beheaded in the Castle of Macharim (Machærus) beside the Dead Sea, and after he was translated by his Disciples, and buried at Samaria. And there Julian the Apostate had him digged up and his Bones burnt, (for he was at that time Emperor) and the Ashes winnowed in the Wind. But the Finger that shewed our Lord, saying, “Ecce Agnus Dei;” that is to say, “Lo! the Lamb of God,” would never burn, but is all whole;—that Finger Saint Thecla, the holy Virgin, had born unto the Hill of Sebast; and there make Men great Feast.

There was wont to be the Head of Saint John Baptist, enclosed in the Wall. But the Emperor Theodosius had it drawn out, and found it wrapped in a little Cloth, all bloody; and so he had it born to Constantinople. And the hinder Part of the Head is yet at Constantinople; and the fore Part of the Head, to under the Chin, is at Rome under the Church of Saint Silvester, where be Nuns Cordelers: and it is yet all broiled, as though it were half-burnt, for the Emperor Julian above-said, of his Cursedness and Malice, had that Part burnt with the other Bones, and it sheweth yet; and this Thing hath been proved both by Popes and by Emperors. And the Jaws beneath, that hold to the Chin, and a Part of the Ashes and the Platter that the Head was laid in, when it was smitten off, are at Genoa; and the Genoese make for it great Feast, and so do the Saracens also. And some Men say that the Head of Saint John is at Amiens in Picardy; and other Men say that it is the Head of Saint John the Bishop. I wot never, but God knoweth; but in whateverwise wise Men worship it, the blessed Saint John holds himself a-paid.

From this City of Sebast unto Jerusalem is 12 Mile. And between the Hills of that Country there is a Well that 4 Times in the Year changeth his Colour, sometime green, sometime red, sometime clear and sometime troubled; and Men call that Well, Job. And the Folk of that Country, that Men call Samaritans, were converted and baptized by the Apostles; but they hold not well their Doctrine, and always they hold Laws by themselves, varying from Christian Men, from Saracens, Jews and Paynims. And the Samaritans believe in one God, and they say well that there is but one God that formed all, and All shall doom; and they hold the Bible according to the Letter, and they use the Psalter as the Jews do. And they say that they be the right Sons of God. And, among all other Folk, they say that they be best beloved of God, and that to them belongeth the Heritage that God plighted to His beloved Children. And they have also different Clothing and Shape to look on than other Folk have; for they wrap their Heads in red Linen Cloth, in Difference from others. And the Saracens wrap their Heads in white Linen Cloth; and the Christian Men, that dwell in the Country, wrap them in blue of Ind; and the Jews in yellow Cloth. In that Country dwell many of the Jews, paying Tribute as Christian Men do.

And if ye will know the Letters that the Jews use they be such, and the Names be as they call them here written above, in manner of A. B. C.: Aleph, Beth, Gymel, Deleth, He, Vau, Zay, Cy, Thet, Joht, Kapho, Lampd, Mem, Nun, Sameth, Ey, Fhee, Sade, Coph, Resch, Son, Tau.