National Geographic : 1926 Dec
AMONG THE BETHLEHEM SHEPHERDS A Visit to the Valley Which David Probably Recalled When He Wrote the Twenty-third Psalm BY JOHN D. WHITING AUTHOR OF "FROM JERUSALEM TO ALEPPO," "VILLAGE LIFE IN THE HOLY LAND," "JERUSALEM'S LOCUST PLAGUE," AND "THE LAST ISRAELITISH BLOOD SACRIFICE," IN THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE PALESTINE, the background for most of the Bible story and history, has been called "The Unchanging East," but steam and motor are supplant ing the camel, the ass, and the "two women at the mill"; tractors are taking the place of the ox and ass yoked to the crooked, oaken, one-handled plow; me chanical reapers are supplanting the sickle, and the airplane now flies with the eagle. But the shepherd life of the Holy Land has remained unchanged since the days of Abraham and of the first Christmas. The natives of Palestine are composed of three distinct classes. Their homes, food, clothing, and customs are dissimilar, but they are united by language and tra dition. The Bedouin tent-dweller is a nomad and warrior; to him flocks and herds are a main source of livelihood. The fellah, or peasant, is a farmer, living in a stone house, huddled with others in a village. To him flock-raising is an integral part of his occupation, varying in importance with the location of his village. The madany class, living in walled cities and open towns, is made up of the artisans and merchants. Few city folk keep flocks; those that do are the local dairymen. It is the peasant shepherd with whom this narrative is concerned. THE YOUNGEST BOY OF THE FAMILY TENDS THE SHEEP The peasant shepherd boy is usually the youngest male laborer of the family. As the oldest son grows up to help the father with the sowing, plowing, reaping, thresh ing, and olive picking, a younger takes his place with the flock; and so on down the line until the lot of being the family shepherd finally falls to the youngest. Thus it was with the youth David, who, even when in later life he became psalmist and king, failed not to recall his boyhood shepherd days, and in thinking thereon to weave their romance into his sublime poetry. The shepherd boy wears a simple robe of cotton; this is strapped around his body by "a leathern girdle about his loins"; and still, like John the Baptist in the Wilder ness, has his raiment or coat of camel's hair or of coarse handspun wool. This aba, or outer garment, is warm, sheds the hardest rain, and takes the place of a blanket. When the youth is out with the flocks at night he wraps his aba about him and, with a stone for a pillow, sleeps like Jacob of old, at Bethel. No wonder, then, that Moses, the lawgiver, commanded that "if thou at all take thy neighbor's raiment to pledge, thou shalt deliver it unto him by that the sun goeth down: for that is his covering only, it is his rai ment for his skin: wherein shall he sleep ?" MEN AND BOYS SPIN THEIR OWN YARN FOR COATS Not the women, but more especially the men in their leisure hours, and the shep herd boys, as they lead the flocks on the mountains, spin the long, coarse wool into yarn for their own coats. That the spinner spins as he walks along precludes the use of a wheel; even the simple spinning wheel of our fore fathers is beyond the ingenuity and needs of a fellah. A small contrivance of oak wood, into which he can wind the yarn like a ball, suffices. He gives the ball a dexterous whirl, and it spins about, twist ing the separate wool strands into a coarse yarn. The yarn is taken to the village weaver. Most of it is a natural white; a smaller portion is of undyed black to produce the customary wide stripe. In making the better and finer garments, the cloth is woven wide enough for the required length of the aba.