Friday, March 15, 2013

In The Land

Here is another in my series of short stories, this from the ending of my novel "Amanuensis" (see also last week's "The East End of London.")

In The Land
The land of Israel is covered with historic sites.  The map shows dozens of tels scattered wherever a hill would support defensible human habitation.  In this fertile crossroads, armies marched and counter-marched, destroying cities and re-settling them.  Some tels show evidence of twenty or more levels of civilization stacked one on top of the other, stretching back four thousand years through the Babylonian, Greek, Roman, Arab, Crusader, Turkish and British conquests.
I was most fascinated by the remains of the biblical period.  Three of the biggest tels occupy strategic sites controlling the coastal strip, along which all commerce proceeded.  Where the route turns inland through the Jezreel Valley, known as the via maris, stands Megiddo.  This was Solomon's northern capital, and it was destroyed in a manner so extreme that it has been enshrined in our minds as the ultimate eschatological armageddon.  The ruins of Gezer guard the foothills of the route inland to Jerusalem; and in the south, huge and forbidding, stands the largest tel, Lachish.
To the casual eye Lachish appears from the distance a strange, black, flattened mountain.  Few tourists come this way and no signs indicate how to reach it.  Closer up, it looks like nothing more than a great, if ancient, slag-heap.  Walls and terraces wander in all directions across its steep slopes.  Clambering to the top took me a half-hour of hard work.
On the top it was quite flat, but here and there were humps and holes disappearing into the depths.  Walking across the top I was confronted by a massive stone wall.  I passed through it at an opening that once must have been the gateway to a great and magnificent city.  It had been the last, and hence topmost, city on the site.  Then the location was abandoned thousands of years ago.  While there was some evidence of excavation, it was clear that modern man had only just scratched the surface, literally, of this huge mound.
            On the top there was the strange feeling I always associated with such sites.  A strong, but gusty, wind tugged intermittently at my clothing, making quiet whispering sounds.  The air was hot and dry, and dust rose in small whorls and then settled quickly.  The weight of history hung heavy, stifling, almost tangible.  The ground was littered with fragments of stone and pottery, the accumulated detrita of millennia.  I stooped and picked up one particular shard that attracted my attention.  It was warm and sharp in my hand.  It felt strangely familiar.


Post a Comment

<< Home