Commentary Magazine

Article Preview

Cedars of Lebanon: Christian Traveler in the Holy Land

- Abstract

IN AN earlier number (February 1957), in this department, we set forth some fascinating entries from a journal kept by Herman Melville on a pilgrimage which he made to the Holy Land in 1857. Now, we offer an excerpt from the writings of a less famous traveler of the mid-19th century who journeyed to Palestine, among other places. JOHN LLOYD STEPHENS was a graduate of Columbia College, and in 1834 a rising young New York lawyer and Tammany politician. But when a persistent throat infection failed to clear up, his doctors prescribed a trip abroad. The editor of the American Monthly Review, a friend of his, published a long letter from Stephens describing his travels through the Levant, from Athens to Smyrna; Stephens was thus embarked on a new career as a writer of travel books, and subsequently as an archaeologist, through his discoveries of the Lost Mayan cities in Central America.

The selections below are taken from the first of Stephens’s books, Incidents of Travel in Egypt, Arabia Petraea, and the Holy Land (Harper and Brothers, 1837, Vol. II), which ran into many editions, both in England and America, and was still being reprinted in 1886. Among its enthusiastic readers in this country were Edgar Allan Poe, who reviewed it for the New York Review, and Rebecca Gratz, whose well-known letters make frequent reference to points of information she was picking up from her reading of Stephens. Only three years after the book was published, the Jews of America acted, for the first time, as a unit in the Damascus affair; it is not unlikely that Stephens’s book may have contributed to their new sense of community by making available to American Jews a vivid picture of the dis- abilities of the Jews of Palestine and the Near East under Turkish rule.-JOSEPH L. BLAU

About the Author