Sunday, September 22, 2019

The Robbers and Bandits of Shiloh

I found it interesting that two different travellers experienced a similar event when visiting the ruins of Shiloh in the middle of the 19th century.

The first is John Newman's 1864 "From Dan to Beersheba"

It was amid the recollection of such events that the robbers of Shiloh made their appearance and commenced an unprovoked assault upon our party. We had been forewarned of the turbulent character of the people, and of the danger a visit involved. At Sinjil we had discussed the prudence of a detour to this place, and, though it was a bold and hazardous step, as the sequel proved, yet we resolved to advance. We were in search of the most important knowledge, and, trusting to a gracious Providence, we felt justified in making the attempt. Unfortunately, our servant at the time was at Nablous, awaiting our arrival there, and, being without escort or guide, we were compelled to employ a peasant whom we had chanced to meet in a neighboring field. He was a simple, inoffensive, unarmed man, and was of no advantage to us except to guide us to the site of Seilûn. Having seen us from their mountain fastnesses, the robbers rapidly congregated around the old stone tower, where, at the moment, we were reading the inspired story of the place, and recording those reflections suggested by the hour.

Such another band of villainous-looking men Nature has scarcely ever suffered to dwell upon the earth. Some were without a nose, others without an eye, while all bore scars of previous fights, and wore a vicious countenance which promised us no good. Each ruffian was armed with a long gun and a missile not unlike an Indian tomahawk. One, more reckless than the rest, began the fray by plundering my saddle-bags; but, seeing with what determination I drew my revolver, he immediately desisted. Wishing, if possible, to avoid another collision, we attempted to cross a corn-field to the hill on which Shiloh’s ruins lay scattered, but they seized us and drove us back. Knowing that every moment’s delay diminished our chances of escape, we concluded to resume our journey—peaceably if possible, but forcibly if we must. But we had no sooner mounted our horses than the brigands seized the bridles and demanded our money. Another exhibition of our well-conditioned revolvers—which by them is a dreaded weapon—again saved us from their hands, and, putting spurs to our horses, we descended a narrow valley on the south of Shiloh, keeping an eye upon the robbers, who were after us at full speed. But the bottom of the valley soon became so rough that it was impossible to proceed faster than a walk. Having overtaken us, they still clamored for money, and evinced their purpose to renew the attack. At that moment my horse stumbled, throwing me on his head; but, springing back into the saddle, and jerking the reins with all the strength at my command, I saved him from going down. My haversack, however, had fallen off, and one of the ruffians, having picked it up, refused to return it without a reward. Fortunately, the small amount I gave him satisfied him, and to that man I owe my life. Among the plants I had gathered at Shiloh was one of curious structure, which I desired to preserve. Its large bright green leaves were so folded as to resemble an embossed star, but it was a deadly poison. Having dropped it, I called to the Arab to pluck another, but he refused, assuring me in Arabic that it was poisonous.

We now dismissed the peasant previously employed, giving him the promised sum. This proved our misfortune, as the robbers, becoming exasperated at the favor shown their neighbor, came upon us with renewed fierceness in a solitary mountain pass. They had the advantage in numbers, and a base indifference to human life. Sixteen against four gave us but little hope of successful resistance; but, unwilling to yield even against such odds, we determined to resist to the last. Rushing upon us with the utmost fury, they seized our bridles, and, raising their tomahawks over our heads, demanded our money or our lives. Refusing to give the former, we resolved to protect the latter. Having never seen the countenance of a bandit in the act of violence, I shall never forget the expression of the ruffian who assailed me. His face was livid with rage, and his solitary eye blazed with murderous intent as he grasped the bridle firmly with one hand and with the other raised the weapon of death over me. Undaunted either by his rage or threats, I held a parley with him for several minutes, he demanding, and I, in turn, refusing. Trying the power of religious fear, I pointed him to heaven, and repeated the sacred name of “Allah,” but he smiled like a demon, and fiercely replied, “Give me your money!”

Our firmness would have saved us from violence had not a member of our party, in an unguarded moment, struck one of the brigands with a riding-whip, which precipitated the assault, and it was now baksheesh or death. Aware that by this act we had become the aggressors, we concluded to give each a few piastres. Happily for myself, I had not a piastre in change, but, borrowing half a one (two cents) from a companion, I gave it to the villain, whose fury had been cooled by firm looks, strong words, a Damascus blade, and a good revolver.

Grouping together, they counted the spoils, but, finding the booty less than they had expected, they attempted another pursuit, but we had eluded their grasp. Dashing down the glen, we reached in safety the small village of Lubbân—the Lebonah of the Judges,475 grateful to divine Providence that, through Arab cowardice and Christian grace, no blood had been shed.

The second is "The Pathways and Abiding places of our Lord: illustrated in the journal of a tour through the Land of Promise" by J. M. Wainwright published in 1851

He, too, was approached by a robber:

Unfortunate that those wishing to visit a former place of important spiritual and historical value were accosted and threatened and not only that, the negative reputation that spread to those who would seek to visit would have kept people away.

I can assure all those planning to visit Shiloh today that our Jewish presence assures them the required safety.


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