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Jericho Lowest In The World Father Louis Hartman at a Mobil gas station in Jericho, Jordan 1959. The sign says "Lowest in the World 853 ft. below sea level".

Letter 4: Christmas


Jerusalem, Jordan
December 25, 1959


Dear Folks:

It is now Christmas afternoon as I begin this, my fourth circular letter to you, and even though I shall no doubt be at it off and on for the next two days, it is honestly dated as begun, on the 25th of December. My somewhat selfish idea of writing a general letter to you all, in order to save myself the trouble of writing to you individually, has in a certain sense backfired. This Christmas I received so many letters from you on account of your reading of my previous circular letters, that I have a guilty feeling at not answering each of your letters individually. Yet, even though I have not the time to write such personal letters, please accept this general expression of my gratitude. Almost every one who sent me Christmas cards in the past, sent me cards this Christmas too, and then several others besides. My little room here is splashed with the bright colors of these lovely cards (so often obviously picked out just for me!), which I have used as "Christmas decorations." My sincere thanks to you all in remembering me, who am so far away, this Christmas, by sending me these beautiful cards. And a special word of thanks for all the postage you spent on them. Only a few of you were farsighted enough to mail cards to me a month ago with ordinary 8-cent postage. Most of you used 25-cent air-mail stamps, some even two such stamps on account of the big, heavy card. God bless you all for your kindness, which has helped to make my Christmas such a happy one.

Although it is not in the proper chronological order, it seems fitting to begin by saying something today about Christmas in the Holy Land. A couple of weeks ago the stores of Jerusalem, not only in this new section of the city, outside the walls, but even in the Moslem souk (market streets) of the Old City, began showing what is known as "the Christmas spirit"--here brave little attempts with lights and tinsel to imitate the Christmas decorations of the stores in America. Even my own little "Protestant" family at this "American School" began very early to show the proper "Christmas spirit." On the First Sunday in Advent an "Advent wreath"--an evergreen ring with four candles in it--appeared on our dining room table, and at the midday dinner on each of the four Sundays in Advent one candle after the other was lighted, to the singing of "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel." They naturally did not know the lovely Catholic Advent song, "Rorate Coeli Desuper," but they made up for it by adding some of the well known Christmas carols--with typical American anticipation of the Christmas season.

On the morning of Christmas Eve I went across the stony field opposite my house and then up the short street as far as the Mandelbaum Gate, to see a strange sight. There must have been at least a thousand people crowded into a field up there, waiting to greet their friends and relatives from "the other side." At Christmas, Christians who live in "Jewish Occupied Palestine" are permitted to come into Jordan, beginning at 7 a.m. on Christmas Eve and going back there not later than 7 p.m. on Christmas Day, or a maximum of 36 hours. Months before, these people must apply for the proper pass and prove that they are bona fide Christians. About two thousand of them come across every Christmas, so I'm told. Some of them no doubt come for the purpose of assisting at Christmas services in Bethlehem or elsewhere. But most of them probably use the opportunity merely for visiting their relatives and friends on this side. This must be the case with the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Orthodox Christians who come across on the 24th of December, for the Greek Orthodox Christmas (their 25th of December) is now on our 24th of January. (They still follow the Julian calendar.) And the Armenian Orthodox will not have their Christmas here till January 18-19. As the Christians from "the other side" emerged in dribbles out of the house where their passports and passes were examined by the Jordan police, they were usually received with warm embraces and even tears by their relatives and friends of "this side." However, I saw many Catholic Sisters coming across, who were obviously coming for the religious ceremonies at Bethlehem. Several of them were Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, who must have a place on the other side; I've never seen them before on this side, I also saw a Sister come across who looked as if she were an "extern" of the Poor Clares. The Poor Clare convent, south of Jerusalem, is just next to "no-man's land," but on "the other side." I wanted to speak to this Sister and tell her I-had a Poor Clare sister in America, but she was taken away by some waiting Franciscan Sisters before I could get through the crowd to speak to her.

In the late afternoon of Christmas Eve, shortly before sunset, I went in the School car with some of the other members of my American School over the mountains and deep valleys on the new, winding road to Bethlehem. They went for the evening "carol singing" in the Shepherds Field, which is organized by the YMCA. I went all the way with them, but roamed around at the edge of the small crowd, so as not to give the appearance of participating in the affair, though it was not much more than a sort of American and English get-together at singing old-time Christmas carols, and hardly a "religious service." The Shepherds Field is the traditional site of the scene where the angel appeared to the shepherds as they were keeping the night watch over their sheep on the first Christmas night. It is in the lower land, east of Bethlehem, and near a little village called Beit Sahur. I felt very happy to be there on Christmas Eve, and I roamed away a bit, to be all by myself, so as to enjoy all the more the lights of Bethlehem up on the hill and the brilliant stars in the moonless sky. To make the scene even more like the original one, although of course it was not planned intentionally, a shepherd just then passed by with a large flock of sheep and goats.

We all came back to Jerusalem for a late supper, even those who were to go back to Bethlehem for the Midnight Mass. You may be surprised to hear that I myself did not go to the Midnight Mass at Bethlehem. First of all, it was the matter of tickets. About a month before Christmas I presented, at the request of the Director of this School, a written petition to the Franciscans of the Custody of the Holy Land for twelve tickets for the Bethlehem Midnight Mass, where admission is by ticket only. When I called for these tickets on the day before Christmas Eve, I was told that they could give me only six tickets; requests had been made for about five thousand tickets, and they issue only one thousand, even though the church cannot hold nearly that many people. The other members of the School here insisted that I myself should get one of these six tickets. But on Christmas Eve, Father John Paterson, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, on his way to South Africa, arrived here and I was able to arrange to put him up at the School. Since he wanted to go to the Bethlehem Midnight Mass and did not have a ticket for it, I gave him my ticket. I don't want to make this look like any kind of heroic charity. Actually, I was not at all keen about going to this Mass. I had heard that even with a ticket, it was doubtful whether one could get through the crowd in front of the church, and even inside it was such a bedlam that it was hardly a place for quiet devotion. So I went instead to the Midnight Mass of the Dominican Fathers at my nearby Church of St. Stephen here in Jerusalem. Relatively few people attended this Mass, which had its own beauty in its simple Gregorian chant. It seemed to me right out of the Middle Ages. My Dominican friends will laugh at me for my ignorance of their special "Rite," which in many ways is different from our "Roman Rite," which I attended the entire service, from Matins, beginning at an hour before midnight, to Lauds at the end of the Solemn Midnight Mass. At the end of Matins, but before the singing of the Te Deum, they had something I had never even heard of before. One of the Fathers, wearing a deacon's dalmatic, sung a long sort of hymn in the manner, but not the tune, of the Easter "Exusultet." (This was Father Grollenberg, author of a recent "Atlas of the Bible," who has a fine voice.) Then, accompanied by altar boys and all the other Fathers, he carried a statue of the reclining Infant Jesus in procession through the church to the manger, where it was venerated (kissed) by all the Fathers and all the people present, including me. It was merely the manger itself, no stable or any of the other figures of the Christmas "Crib."

This morning, Christmas morning, I celebrated my three low Masses here at St. Stephen's, where I say Mass every day when I am in Jerusalem. Again, some might think that I would have gone to Bethlehem for my Christmas Masses on my only Christmas in the Holy Land. But I think I did the wise thing. Here in Jerusalem I could say my Masses with undisturbed devotion; at Bethlehem I would have had to apply ahead of tine for an altar, and then say Mass with people milling all around me. I offered up my first Mass for my relatives, my second Mass for my friends, and my third Mass for my deceased relatives and friends.

Right after breakfast I went to Bethlehem, by myself, this time by bus. Bethlehem is only about ten miles south of Jerusalem, but it takes the Wheezy old busses about forty minutes to make it, as they grind up the steep mountains and around the hairpin turns in low gear. At least the fare is low: 4 piastres, or about 11 cents. It's a lovely sunny day here today, with only a few clouds in the sky this morning. The views on the way to Bethlehem are magnificent, with the chalky limestone glistening like snow under the bright sun. Only around Bethlehem and nearby Beth-Jala are the hills covered with olive trees. Along this road there are a surprising number of caves, many of them inhabited by families, probably refugees from the other side. There is surely nothing strange in the fact that Mary and Joseph took refuge in one such cave on the first Christmas night. Between Beth-Jala and Bethlehem there is a large settlement of refugees, in the small concrete cubes that the UN built as houses for them. Bethlehem itself was swarming with refugee children begging from the many visitors. Jerusalem and the nice town of Ramallah, a dozen miles north of here, is just packed with tourists during this season. Here at the School we gave rooms or at least beds to many Americans who came here and found "there was no room for them in the inn."

This morning I spent about two hours at Bethlehem before taking the bus back to Jerusalem, where I arrived just in time for our one-o'clock dinner. The main thing, of course, at Bethlehem is the Basilica of the Nativity, the best preserved of the churches erected by Constantine in the first half of the fourth century, though actually most of this church dates from Justinian in the sixth century. There is an interesting story about how it was spared at the beginning of the seventh century, when the Persians destroyed every other Christian building in Palestine. On the facade of this Bethlehem church there was a mosaic of the Magi, dressed in Persian costume. The invaders mistook this for a picture of their ancient kings, and so let this church, remain standing. I failed to find any trace of this particular mosaic, although there are large remnants of medieval mosaics on the walls and paintings on the Justinian columns that were executed there in the time of the crusaders. This basilica, however, belongs to the Greek Orthodox, and so there is no special religious service here today, except at the altar belonging to the Latins in the "grotto" or crypt under the sanctuary. I made my way through the crowd in this grotto and kissed the star that marks the spot where Jesus was born. The Latin altar is next to it, at the traditional spot of the manger. Down below here there are several other connecting caves, each with an altar for us "Latins," one of these caves being traditionally connected with St. Jerome's monastery, where he translated the Hebrew Bible into Latin (the Latin Vulgate Bible). At each of these altars Latin priests were saying Mass all morning and would continue doing so all afternoon. In one of the corners of these caves, where I could get a bit away from the crowds, I prayed for a while. But the air was oppressively foul dorm there. If I had said three Masses down there, I would have ended up with a splitting headache. Next to the Basilica of the Nativity is the Latin Church of St. Catherine, in charge of the Franciscan Fathers and looking for all the world like a country church in Italy. This is the church in which the jampacked Midnight Mass is celebrated. On the other side of St. Catherine's Church is the Terra Sancta College, a boys school run by the Franciscan Fathers.

After satisfying my devotion in these churches, I roamed a while about the town itself of Bethlehem. It is still a quaint little oriental village of small stone houses crowded along narrow crooked streets. It probably was not much different when the Holy Family was there. The center of this village, on top of the hill, is where that young hero lived who grew up to be King David. The women were still wearing their bright-colored dresses, richly embroidered on the breast, and still showing the "toga" stripe of a different color, just as they did in Roman times. Our Lady no doubt used to dress something like this, although she certainly did not wear the headgear that now only the older women of Bethlehem wear. This high pointed hat under the white veil was the kind of headgear worn by the women of Europe in the 12th and 13th centuries and was introduced here at the time of the Crusaders. Bethlehem is strictly conservative. The majority of its people are still Christians, though the Moslems have built a large mosque here in honor of their "prophet" David. Ah, little town of Bethlehem, how still I don't see thee lie along thy main street today which looks like a carnival!

I have never been a great stickler about, being just on the exact spot where something happened. I had to go to Bethlehem this morning because it was the right and proper thing to do. But the quiet peace of my part of Jerusalem at midnight was more like my idea of what Bethlehem was like on the first Holy Night. As I walked across the stony field opposite my house here, there was nothing to disturb the starry night except some skyrockets, which, surprisingly enough, were being sent up in the air from some part of the Old City. Could it be that there was some unreconstructed Confederate there? I've heard that they used to shoot off fireworks on Christmas in our Southern States. On the way home after Midnight Mass I stopped for a while in the same field, now that there was nothing in the sky but the same jewels of the heavens that can be seen all over the earth, and I thought to myself: Why go to the Holy Land in order to be at Bethlehem. The marvel is not so much that the Savior was born in the City of David that is called Bethlehem; the real wonder is that the Son of God came as a creature into His creation on this speck of dust in the universe that we call the Earth. Bethlehem is everywhere on earth where the faithful come and adore Him and where for love of Him they forget themselves long enough to bring peace and joy to loved ones on this, His blessed Birthday.

After the above emotional outburst, which I now blush to reread, I called off my typing on Christmas. We had had a tremendous big Christmas dinner, with no less than two large turkeys. Our cook and major domo, Omar Abdullah Jibril, and his valiant kitchen help outdid themselves in preparing even a better dinner than we had on Thanksgiving Day. This evening we had cold turkey, etc. in the Director's House. After sitting a while around the open fireplace with its long-burning olive tree logs, I thought they would sing some Christmas carols. But they did not. I guess they had sung enough of them during Advent. Instead, they played charade, an innocent and amusing parlor game in which you have to guess at some word or saying from pantomiming gestures. A good time was had by all.

Today the men of the School went on a trip to Ajlun, north of Amman, along with some scholars from Beirut who are visiting us for Christmas. They wanted me to go along, but I begged off, in order to stay home and finish this letter. I don't know how much time I may have tomorrow--and after that the deluge!

There is not much to tell you about my doings here in November, after we returned from our Syrian safari of October. For most of November we actually functioned something like a "school." On two or three days each week we spent the morning in a sort of "seminar" or discussion of some scholarly matters. All joined in, but I ran the one on North Semitic Inscriptions (isn't that some title?), and Dr. Pope, the Director, ran the one on the Ancient Myths of Ugarit (North Canaanite pagan poetry in a language similar to Hebrew). We also went on several one-day field trips. Most of these were to places where archaeological excavations had been made in the recent or more distant past. I'm afraid these would not interest you. However, one of our one-day trips might be worth speaking about.

On that day, besides visiting a couple of other places of Biblical interest, we went to the two different sites that have some claim of being the Emmaus where Christ made Himself known to two of His disciples on the first Easter Sunday. The trouble is that, while most of the Greek manuscripts, including the best one of all, Codex Vaticannus, say that Emmaus was sixty stadia, or about seven miles from Jerusalem, a few manuscripts, including the second best one, Codex Sinaiticus, put the distance at 160 stadia. From the 4th to the 12th century, Christians venerated this event in the life of the risen Christ at a place called Emmaus, still known as Imwâs, which, however, is 176 stadia, or about 20 miles northwest of Jerusalem. But in the 12th century, the Crusaders erected a church in honor of this event at a place now called Qubeibeh ("Little Domes"), which is 63 stadia, or about 7 miles northwest of Jerusalem. This church was later destroyed by the Moslems. But at the end of the last century and the beginning of this century, the Franciscans rebuilt this church on its old foundations, and since then they have made some interesting excavations here. On our trip, then, which I still remember as being on November 18th, we went to investigate both sites which lie near the border of "the other side." At Qubeibeh, the Franciscans have a lovely place in the midst of large trees and plenty of shrubs-- a rarity in this country. The friar, Father Dominic, who was deputed to show us around, proved to be from Providence, Rhode Island. The church has been restored approximately as it was in Crusader times. Along the Gospel side of the nave are the foundations of a house from Roman times which is considered the house of Cleophas, where Jesus made Himself known to the disciples "in the breaking of the bread." Since this last phrase was probably meant by St. Luke to signify the Holy Eucharist, the principal motif in the pictures and windows of this lovely church is concerned with our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament. Outside the church Father Dominic showed us the Roman street along which are foundations of houses from the time of Christ. Since this site, Qubeibeh, is therefore right along the Roman road from Jerusalem to the port of Jaffa and since it is just the right distance, according to most manuscripts, from Jerusalem, all of our group from the American School were soon convinced that it is the genuine place of this charming Easter story, in which the two disciples invited the unknown Stranger into their house with the touching words: "Stay with us, because it is towards evening and the day is now far spent."

From Qubeibeh we backtracked a bit in our ear and went down the Vale of Ajalon, where Josue once "made the sun stand still," down past Upper and Lower Beth-Horon, till we came to a neck of Jordan-held land that sticks like a sore thumb into "Jewish Occupied Palestine." In the war of 1948 the Arab soldiers were able to hold out here and thus protect the road up the Vale of Ajalon, the easiest invasion route from the level seacoast up into the mountains of Samaria and Judea. From there we could see the Jewish-held towns of Ramleh and Lydda, the latter with its airport for Tell Aviv. With Jewish settlers on almost all sides of them there are two little Arab towns here, very close to each other: Imwâs and Latrûh. We had intended to visit the mosaic floors and other remnants of the early Byzantine church at Imwâs which had been discovered in the excavations made by the Dominican Fathers some decades ago. But by this time we were all convinced that Imwâs is entirely too far from Jerusalem to be the Emmaus of the Easter story, even though there was another town of the same name here which the Christians of the 4th century mistook for the Emmaus nearer Jerusalem. What actually happened was that we drove a little too far and came to the border at Latrûn, so we decided first to visit the Trappist monastery and then later examine the ruins at Imwâs. But we got such a glorious welcome by the Trappist monks that, when we left their monastery, it was too dark to see the Imwâs ruins, and so we drove right back to Jerusalem. Strange to say, for an Arab country like Jordan, where good Moslems drink no alcohol, the main support of the Latrûn Trappists comes from the making of wine and brandy (cognac), although they also raise a certain amount of table grapes in their extensive vineyards. None of us had ever been, in a big winery before, so we all enjoyed the guided tour through the long dark cellars where the various kinds of wines that these monks make are aged in tremendously big vats. We were also shown all through the monastery to the utter amazement of my Protestant companions, who had never been in any kind of a Catholic monastery, to say nothing of a Trappist monastery. Everything was spotlessly clean, and I had nothing to feel embarrassed about. Of course, even though I was in my rough "campaign" clothes, I told the Father Guest-master that I was a Redemptorist priest. My companions thought that was the reason why we got the red-carpet treatment. We even went to the balcony at the back of the big monastic church to hear the monks sing the first part of Vespers. Their magnificent chant greatly impressed my "heathen" companions. Naturally it was not a one-sided affair. After we had been given glasses of their wine to sample, we (I especially) bought a large supply of their wine and brandy--at ridiculously low prices. A fifth of Latrûn cognac, and its darn good too, costs 35 piastres at Latrûn, 40 piastres at Jerusalem, and by this time you ought to know that one piastre is worth 2.8 cents. Figure it out yourself. A bottle of good sherry or port costs 15 piastres at Latrûn. An interesting fact is that a good part of the Trappist vineyards lies in Jewish occupied territory, yet the Jews have not stolen the Trappists' lands here, and the UN allows the monks (not their Arab, workers) to cross the border to tend their vineyards.

About the only other happening of November worth recording was our attendance at a Moslem wedding at Jericho one evening, or at least our attempt to attend it. The bridegroom had been one of the workers at the excavation of Old Testament Jericho last year and was known to some of the members of our School; hence, the invitation. After visiting the sites of New Testament Jericho and Old Testament Jericho during the day, as well as the large, model "Musa Alami" farm in the Jordan Valley, we went in the late afternoon to the house of the bridegroom in modern Jericho. The festivities were already in process in front of the house. There was an "orchestra" consisting of a lute, a shepherd's pipe, and a tabbouka or Arab drum. The lute, a sort of medieval mandolin, was used merely to give rhythmic chords in the manner of a guitar but with a much weaker sound. The shepherd's pipe was held halfway between the position of n flute and that of a clarinet, that is, at a slant; the player blew in its upper end with his lips at an angle to it, and ran his fingers over the holes in a seemingly haphazard way to produce a doodely-doodely sound. Actually, these two instruments could hardly be heard above the loud beat of the tabbouka. This is a baked clay vessel in the form of a flaring mouth, which is covered with a taut skin, and with its less flaring base left open. It is held under the left arm while the player taps the taut skin at its head with the fingers of his right hand. The resonance of this simple instrument is surprisingly loud. The purpose of this "band" was of course to give the beat for the dancers. Arabic dancing is hard to describe. There may be one or more dancing at the same time, and certain dances are done by two facing each other, but hardly ever touching each other. These dancers move their feet in a certain shuffling movement which produces exaggerated wagging of the hips. Meanwhile, both arms are slowly moved about in strange snaky motions. The Arabs can keep up such dancing for hours--as we found out. We members of the American School were the honored guests and given the few available chairs in the circle that surrounded the dancers, while the ordinary townsfolk crowded behind us, the children often climbing up our backs to get a better view of the performance. Then a table with various barber instruments was placed at one side of the dancers' circle, and there, in the sight of all the people, the bridegroom was given a haircut and a shave--really part of the ceremony. It got later and later in the evening and we were given Arabic dainties, if that word can be used for the concoctions that were served us. But there was still no sign of the bride. Some of our members were sure we would pick up various diseases from the unwashed gentry and their unbelievably dirty children, and they insisted that we should go home. I didn't care personally, although the smell of the smoke that came from the camel-dung fires of the neighboring houses, where supper was being cooked, was not exactly pleasant. At length, the "best man" (also a worker at the excavation) admitted that it would be near midnight before the bride would be ready. However, for us they made an exception arid let us go to the bride's house. The same kind of dancing was taking place in front of her house. After much waiting here, we were finally admitted into the house to meet the bride. As far as we could see in the dim light of the lantern, she was dressed in a beautiful gown. But the astonishing thing was that her heavily painted face had little silver dots sprinkled on it. After wishing her well, we hastened back to Jerusalem without waiting for the midnight meeting of the bride and bridegroom, while the M.D. with us was sure we had all picked up enough germs to catch every disease known to man. But they must have been benign germs; none of us got sick from the experience.

The above mention of Arabic dancing reminds me that I forgot to mention the dancing at the Christmas party we gave to our household employees and their families the Sunday before Christmas. Instead of each of us giving gifts and tips individually to these good employees, four men and one woman, we pooled our offerings of money so that each employee received the same bonus; toys and useful gifts such as clothes were given to the employees children--about fifteen of them in all. These Arab children enjoyed the party immensely. One of our men employees brought his Arab drum and another his shepherd's pipe, and there was dancing not only by the grown-ups, but also by the children. One little four or five year old girl was the cutest little hip-wagger you ever saw.

The letter, I'm afraid, has gone on long enough. Yet, I must still say something of the work that I have been engaged in since December 4th and shall be engaged in till February 20th--if my spirit can hold out that long. This is the archaeological excavation or "dig" in the Jordan Valley near the Dead Sea. The site is called "Teleilât Ghassûl," which means "the little hills of the ghassûl plant." We call it just "Ghassûl" for short. It was an unwalled farm settlement of irrigation culture around the middle of the Chalcolithic ("copper-and-stone") Age, that is about 3500 B.C., when men first began to use copper (but not bronze) for tools, but were still making much use of stone instruments, as in the Neolithic ("new stone") Age. This site, which was probably inhabited only for about one or two centuries, abounds in crudely made pottery, almost all, of course, broken pieces of pottery or potsherds. It had been excavated by the Jesuits of the Pontifical Biblical Institute of Home in six winter campaigns during the 1930s. The Jesuits of this Institute now decided to put one more winter campaign on it, and appointed Father Robert North. S.J., to direct this job. But Fr. North is badly in need of assistant "supervisors" so he enlisted the volunteer help of Herb Bess, the "fellow" at my American School, and myself, to help him. The actual "diggers" are fifty Arab men and boys, mostly Beduin of the neighborhood, who are hired at an extremely low salary.

To get some idea of the location of this dig, you must know a little of Palestinian geology and geography. At the risk of boring you, I will try to explain this very briefly. In the far-distant geological past, millions of years ago; this part of the world was under the sea and several deep limestone deposits were laid. Then the land here was raised high above sea level with some cracking and tilting of the limestone strata. Two big cracks or faults, some miles apart, in the north-south direction took place and the land between these cracks sunk down into the earth for a considerable distance. This caused the Great Rift, which runs from northern Syria, through Palestine, down into the middle of Africa. The deepest part of this Great Rift is the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea in Palestine. The land at the shore of the Dead Sea is 1290 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea, the deepest place on the surface of the earth. In the relatively recent geological age of the Glacial Period, only a hundred thousand years ago, more or less, the present Jordan Valley was all a great inland lake. This lake left a deposit of sterile clay at the bottom, but above this a layer of silt which is now a dusty desert, except where it is artificially irrigated into fertile farmland. The Dead Sea is the remnant of this great inland sea. Where the dry rift valley north of it is cut by the River Jordan, this stream in its winding course has eroded down through the upper layer of dirt into the lower clay, and thus for several hundred yards on both sides of the Jordan there are "bad lands," hills of sterile clay. Our dig at Ghassûl is about one mile east of the Jordan, just south of the new road to Amman, and therefore about one mile north of the Dead Sea. Ghassûl is not much more than 200 feet above the Dead Sea, which makes it a little more than 1,000 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. Now, where I live at Jerusalem we are about 2,600 feet above the level of the Mediterranean. There is, therefore, a tremendous difference In altitude between the two places. As the crow flies (presuming he flies in a straight line) Jerusalem is only about a dozen miles west of the Jordan Valley, but the road that goes down from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley must twist and wind in many hairpin turns down the wadies (Palestinian ravines) and up over hills (the wadies not running down in a straight line), so that it takes almost an hour to drive between Ghassûl and Jerusalem. Jerusalem lies almost at the top of the long ridge that forms the mountains west of the Jordan. Around Jerusalem and to the west, towards the Mediterranean, the land is mostly the upper limestone that makes wonderful building material and fertile soil where it has been broken down by the weather. But the land east of Jerusalem, towards the Jordan, has been worn down to the lower chalky limestone, which makes the barren land known as the Desert of Juda. Besides, there is relatively little rain on this eastern side of the ridge. The winter rains, coming from the Mediterranean, deposit most of their water on the western side of the ridge.

The great difference in altitude between Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley causes a big difference in temperature between these two neighboring places. Jerusalem lies at about 31° 60' north of the equator, or about the same latitude as southern Georgia (U.S.A.). But since its height is similar to that of the Catskill Mountains, its winters can be pretty chilly and its summers not too hot. On the other hand, the depth of the Jordan Valley at this latitude makes for really tropical temperatures. At Ghassûl, even at this time of the year, the temperature seems to go up into the 80's around noontime, and while there is a big drop in temperature after sunset, the nights are not nearly as cold there as they now are here in Jerusalem. Behind the little mud-brick farmhouse where we live at Ghassûl, there is a grove of young banana trees and the fields are now covered with nice ripe tomatoes. Our fanner host has sunk a well to irrigate his fields. But the land all around our dig, an eight-minute walk from our house, is still barren desert. There are some forty tents of a Beduin tribe pitched near our dig. These people are refugees from the desert of the Negeb (southern Palestine) and live partly on meager hand-outs from the UN and partly on their small flocks of sheep and goats.

Since this letter has already gone on too long, I shall have to let go for a later letter an account of the nature of our dig, what we are finding, my experiences with the Arab workmen and with the rather rough life we are forced to live. Only for the sake of asking your good prayers will I now admit that I find this life pretty hard and I don't know how long I can take it. I played hooky from it ever since last week end, in order to have a good Christmas at Jerusalem. Anyway, Father North has been getting some assistance this week from a few Jesuit Fathers on their Christmas vacation from Beirut. But I promised him I would be back on the dig this Monday, December 28th, and work all week with him till next Saturday evening, including therefore even New Years Day; and so on from early morning on Mondays till late evening on Saturdays for all the remaining weeks of the dig, coming back to Jerusalem only for Sundays--IF I can take it!

It is not so much the physical hardships. Actually, we have it much better here than other archaeologists have who must live in tents, far from civilization. But in general I find it all a terrible waste of time and an extremely tedious life, standing for hours and hours supervising workmen to whom I can speak only in the most atrocious Arabic and whom I can hardly understand when they ask me questions. At least it's a wonderful place for meditation. Just above us to the east is Mount Nebo in Moab, from which peak Moses viewed the Promised Land. To the west, but much further off, is the Mountain of Temptation, above Jericho, where our Lord, according to the traditional site, fasted for forty days and was tempted by the Devil. South of that, also to the west, just above the Dead Sea, is Qumran, the home of the Jewish "monks" at the time of Christ, where the famous Dead Sea scrolls were found. Whenever I feel lonesome out there in the desert of the Jordan Valley, I look up to the Mount of Temptation and think of our Lord all alone "with the beasts" for forty days. My good Arab workmen are not "beasts"-- and yet! Or perhaps I did not like it there, for the couple of weeks I was there, because of the liturgical season of the year, the pre-Christmas time of Advent, which I have always loved in anticipation of Christmas. But now that Christmas has come and gone, perhaps I can return with greater peace to my solitude in the desert. As St. Teresa says, "Everything passes away, but God does not change." The bad times as well as the good ones must pass away. Eight weeks won't seem so long, once they are over. After all, my whole trip abroad cannot be a pleasure junket. I must do something to give the appearance of earning a little of the money which my outfit here as well as the Catholic University and the Catholic Biblical Association of America have invested in me.

Although it will probably be late in January before you read these lines, it is still December now while I am writing them; so let me close by wishing you all God's best blessing throughout the New Year. Asking a remembrance in your good prayers,

Cordially yours,
Louis F. Hartman, C.SS.R.

American School of Oriental Research
Jerusalem, Jordan


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