An Israeli blogger recounts:
... a book has been found which may shed further light on the history of the Jews in Palestine well before the Moslems arrived.
A resident of Caesarea who is a lover of antiquarian books and Judaica found in Budapest an old book, in Latin, which had been written by a Christian named Reland, chronicling his trip in the land of Israel in 1695/6.
The writer, Reland, a man of many talents - a geographer, a cartographer and a philologist – knew Hebrew, Arabic and Ancient Greek, as well as the European languages, perfectly. The book was written in Latin. In the year 1695, Reland was sent on a tour of the land of Israel or, as it was then called, Palestine. During that trip, he visited approximately 2500 places which had been inhabited and mentioned in the Bible or in the Mishnah (a collection of early oral interpretations of the scriptures compiled about A.D. 200.).
No settlement in the land of Israel has a name of Arabic extraction. The names of settlements are mostly of Hebrew extraction; some of Greek or Latin-Roman. In fact, no Arab settlement (except for Ramla) has had an original Arabic name to this day. Most names of Arab settlements are of Hebrew or Greek extraction which have been impaired and replaced by meaningless names in Arabic.
The land was, on the whole, empty and desolate;* the inhabitants were few and concentrated in the cities of Jeusalem, Acre, Safed, Jaffa, Tiberius and Gaza. Most of the inhabitants of the cities were Jews, the others were Christian; there were very few Moslems, mostly nomadic Bedouins. Nablus (Schem) was different, with a population of about 120 people from the Moslem Natsha family and about 70 Shomronites. In Nazareth, the capital of the Galilee, there were approximately 700 people – all Christians.
It is interesting that Reland mentions all the Muslims as nomadic Bedouin tribes who arrived in the area as seasonal workers, in both agriculture and construction. In Gaza, for example, there were approximately 550 people; fifty per-cent of them were Jews, the rest Christians. The Jews engaged in flourishing agriculture, owning vineyards and olive orchards and growing wheat (like in Gush Katif) and the Christians engaged in commerce and the transportation of the produce.
In Tiberius and in Safed there were Jewish settlements, though their occupations, on the whole, were not mentioned. The only exception was fishing in the Kinneret – a traditionally Tiberian activity. A city such as Um el-Phachem, for example, was then a village of 10 families, all Christian, consisting of about 50 people; a small Maronite church was also mentioned. (The Shehadah family)
* In 1867 Mark Twain travelled to the holy land. He set his impressions in a travelogue. Here is one chapter.
Of all the lands there are for dismal scenery, I think Palestine must be the prince. The hills are barren, they are dull of color, they are unpicturesque in shape. The valleys are unsightly deserts fringed with a feeble vegetation that has an expression about it of being sorrowful and despondent. The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee sleep in the midst of a vast stretch of hill and plain wherein the eye rests upon no pleasant tint, no striking object, no soft picture dreaming in a purple haze or mottled with the shadows of the clouds. Every outline is harsh, every feature is distinct, there is no perspective--distance works no enchantment here. It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.
Small shreds and patches of it must be very beautiful in the full flush of spring, however, and all the more beautiful by contrast with the far-reaching desolation that surrounds them on every side. I would like much to see the fringes of the Jordan in spring-time, and Shechem, Esdraelon, Ajalon and the borders of Galilee--but even then these spots would seem mere toy gardens set at wide intervals in the waste of a limitless desolation.
Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. Where Sodom and Gomorrah reared their domes and towers, that solemn sea now floods the plain, in whose bitter waters no living thing exists--over whose waveless surface the blistering air hangs motionless and dead-- about whose borders nothing grows but weeds, and scattering tufts of cane, and that treacherous fruit that promises refreshment to parching lips, but turns to ashes at the touch. Nazareth is forlorn; about that ford of Jordan where the hosts of Israel entered the Promised Land with songs of rejoicing, one finds only a squalid camp of fantastic Bedouins of the desert; Jericho the accursed, lies a moldering ruin, to-day, even as Joshua's miracle left it more than three thousand years ago; Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and their humiliation, have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Saviour's presence; the hallowed spot where the shepherds watched their flocks by night, and where the angels sang Peace on earth, good will to men, is untenanted by any living creature, and unblessed by any feature that is pleasant to the eye. Renowned Jerusalem itself, the stateliest name in history, has lost all its ancient grandeur, and is become a pauper village; the riches of Solomon are no longer there to compel the admiration of visiting Oriental queens; the wonderful temple which was the pride and the glory of Israel, is gone, and the Ottoman crescent is lifted above the spot where, on that most memorable day in the annals of the world, they reared the Holy Cross. The noted Sea of Galilee, where Roman fleets once rode at anchor and the disciples of the Saviour sailed in their ships, was long ago deserted by the devotees of war and commerce, and its borders are a silent wilderness; Capernaum is a shapeless ruin; Magdala is the home of beggared Arabs; Bethsaida and Chorazin have vanished from the earth, and the "desert places" round about them where thousands of men once listened to the Saviour's voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes.
Palestine is desolate and unlovely. And why should it be otherwise? Can the curse of the Deity beautify a land?
Palestine is no more of this work-day world. It is sacred to poetry and tradition--it is dream-land.