The Land of Israel in 1867

Republished March 29, 2016 (first published October 20, 2010) (Fundamental Baptist Information Service, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061, 866-295-4143,

The following is Mark Twain’s description of the Holy Land in 1867 from the book The Innocents Abroad, documenting his journey to Europe, Asia Minor, and the Middle East:

This refutes the Palestinian myth that the land was developed under Arab rule. In fact, it was a wasteland until the Jews began to return in significant numbers in the early 20th century. The Arabs never loved Canaan.

Mark Twain’s description of the land is also a dramatic description of the fulfillment of the great prophecy of Deuteronomy 28.

“And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass and the earth that is under thee shall be iron. The Lord shall make the rain of thy land powder and dust: from heaven shall it come down upon thee, until thou be destroyed” (Deut. 28:23-24).


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Excerpts from The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain, 1867:

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. ... It is a hopeless, dreary, heart-broken land.

Palestine sits in sackcloth and ashes. Over it broods the spell of a curse that has withered its fields and fettered its energies. ... 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, likes a moldering ruin, today, 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 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?


It was hard to realize that this silent plain [Jezreel] had once resounded with martial music and trembled to the tramp of armed men. ... A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action.


We traversed some miles of desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds--a silent, mournful expanse, wherein we saw only three persons--Arabs, with nothing on but a long coarse shirt like the ‘tow-linen’ shirts which used to form the only summer garment of little negro boys on Southern plantations.


We saw water, then, but nowhere in all the waste around was there a foot of shade, and we were scorching to death. ... Stirring scenes like these occur in this valley [Jezreel] no more. There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent--not for thirty miles in either direction. There are two or three small clusters of Bedouin tents, but not a single permanent habitation. One may ride ten miles, hereabouts, and not see ten human beings.


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