Lt. William Francis Lynch, U.S. Navy (Wikipedia Commons

William Francis Lynch (1801-1865) was a naval officer who served in both the U.S. Navy and the Confederate Navy.In the 1840s he proposed to the United States Government to undertake a voyage to the Holy Land to explore and map the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

Lynch conducted his mission with a crew of 16 sailors in 1847 and published his findings in his bookNarrative of the United States' Expedition to the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. Lynch did not include a photographer in his entourage, but a crewman did provide illustrations for his book.

Lynch's motives appeared to be part patriotic, religious, and scientific.  He wrote, "We [Americans] owe something to the scientific and Christian world, and while extending the blessing of civil liberty in the south and west [otherwise known as "Manifest Destiny"], may well afford to foster science and strengthen the bulwarks of Christianity in the east."  

Lynch was also a strong adherent of "restorationism" (a precursor to Christian Zionism) -- a belief that the Jewish people must return to the Holy Land to fulfill their biblical prophecy of the "Second Coming." The belief drove many Americans, including American presidents, to advocate for the establishment of a Jewish homeland.

Map of Lynch's journey from the Sea of Galilee
 to the Dead Sea, 1847. (World Digital Library)

Along the route, Lynch described raging rapids in the Jordan River, difficult terrain, strange flora and fauna, warring Arab tribes, and suffering Christian and Jewish communities.

Lynch's 170-year-old description of the Jews of Tiberias is remarkable:

Safed and Tiberias, Jerusalem and Hebron, are the four holy cities of the Jews in Palestine. Tiberias is held in peculiar veneration by the Jews, for here they believe that Jacob resided, and it is situated on the shores of the lake whence they hope that the Messiah will arise. 

Winding down the rugged road, we descended to the city, seated on the margin of the lake. Tiberias (Tubariyeh) is a walled town of some magnitude, but in ruins, from the earthquake which, in 1837, destroyed so many of its inhabitants.
We had letters to the chief rabbi of the Jews, who came to meet us, and escorted us through labyrinthine streets to the house of Heim Wiseman, a brother Israelite. It is an hotel sui generis, as well in the mode of entertaining as in the subsequent settlement with its guests. In a book which was shown to us we read the following gentle insinuation:— “I beg the gentlemen arriving at my house that, at their departure, they will have the goodness to give me, in my hands, what they please. Tibaria, APRIL 7, 1845.” The above is an exact copy of the notice referred to, in English. It is likewise written in bad Italian and worse Spanish.

A trifling circumstance will show in what thraldom the Jews are held. Our landlord, Heim Wiseman, had been kind enough to show me the way to the governor’s. On our entrance, he meekly sat down on the floor, some distance from the divan. After the sherbet was handed round to all, including many Arabs, it was tendered to him. It was a rigid fast-day with his tribe, the eve of the feast of the azymes [Passover], and he declined it. It was again tendered, and again declined, when the attendant made some exclamation, which reached the ears of the governor, who thereupon turned abruptly round, and sharply called out, “Drink it.” The poor Jew, agitated and trembling, carried it to his lips, where he held it for a moment, when, perceiving the attention of the governor to be diverted, he put down the untasted goblet.

Illustration of Tiberias in Lynch's book. (Wikisource)

The Jews here are divested of that spirit of trade which is everywhere else their peculiar characteristic. Their sole occupation, we were told, is to pray and to read the Talmud. That book, Johann Ludwig Burckhardt says, declares that creation will return to primitive chaos if prayers are not addressed to the God of Israel at least twice a week in the four holy cities. Hence the Jews all over the world are liberal in their contributions.

Returned the visit of the Rabbis. They have two synagogues, the Sephardim and Askeniazim, but live harmoniously together. There are many Polish Jews, with light complexions, among them. They describe themselves as very poor, and maintained by the charitable contributions of Jews abroad, mostly in Europe. More meek, subdued, and unpretending men than these Rabbis I have never seen. The chief one illustrated the tyranny of the Turks by a recent circumstance. In consequence of the drought of the preceding year there had been a failure of the crops, and the Sultan, whose disposition is humane, ordered a large quantity of grain to be distributed among the fellahin for seed. The latter were accordingly called in; — to him whose portion was twenty okes (1 oke = approx. 2 3/4 lbs.) was given ten, and to him whose portion was ten, five okes were given, — after each had signed a paper acknowledging the receipt of the greater quantity. How admirably the scriptures portray the manners and customs of the east! Here is the verification of the parable of the unjust steward. It is true, that in this instance the decree was issued by the Turks — a comparatively modern people, — but it was carried into effect by the descendants of the ancient Gentile races of the country.

In the evening we visited several of the synagogues. It was impressive yet melancholy to witness the fervid zeal of the worshippers. In gabardines, with broad and narrow phylacteries, some of them embroidered, the men were reading or rather chanting, or rather screaming and shouting, the lamentations of Jeremias — all the time swaying their bodies to and fro with a regular and monotonous movement. There was an earnest expression of countenance that could not have been feigned. The tones of the men were loud and almost querulous with complaint; while the women, who stood apart, were more hushed in their sorrow, and lowly wailed, moving the heart by their sincerity. In each synagogue was an octagon recess, where the Pentateuch and other sacred works were kept. Whatever they may be in worldly matters, the Jews are no hypocrites in the article of faith.

The females marry very early. There was one in the house, then eleven and a half years of age, who, we were assured, had been married eighteen months. Mr. Wiseman pointed out another, a mere child in appearance, ten years of age, who had been two years married. It seems incredible. The unmarried wear the hair exposed, but the married women studiously conceal it. To make up for it, the heads of the latter were profusely ornamented with coins and gems and any quantity of another’s hair, the prohibition only extending to their own. Their dress is a bodice, a short, narrow-skirted gown, and pantalettes gathered at the ankles. Unlike the Turkish and the Arab women, they sometimes wear stockings. The bodice is open in front, and the breasts are held, but not restrained, by loose open pockets of thin white gauze.

There are about three hundred families, or one thousand Jews, in this town. The Sanhedrin consists of seventy rabbis, of whom thirty are natives and forty Franks, mostly from Poland, with a few from Spain. The rabbis stated that controversial matters of discipline among Jews, all over the world, are referred to this Sanhedrin.

The Lynch caravan taking their boats to the Sea of Galilee

After visiting a town with a Christian community, Lynch wrote about Christians, Jews and Turks:

Christians of Kerak...there were from 900 to 1000 Christians here, comprising three-fourths of the population. They could muster a little over 200 fighting men; but are kept in subjection by the Muslim Arabs, living mostly in tents, without the town. He stated that they are, in every manner, imposed upon. If a Muslim comes to the town, instead of going to the house of another Muslim, he quarters himself upon a Christian, and appropriates the best of every thing; that Christian families have been two days at a time without food — all that they had being consumed by their self-invited guests. If a Muslim sheikh buys a horse for so many sheep, he makes the Christians contribute until the number be made up. Their property, he said, is seized without there being any one to whom to appeal; and remonstrance, on their part, only makes it worse.

It needs but the destruction of that power which, for so many centuries, has rested like an incubus upon the eastern world, [emphasis added]to ensure the restoration of the Jews to Palestine. The increase of toleration; the assimilation of creeds; the unanimity with which all works of charity are undertaken, prove, to the observing mind, that, ere long, with every other vestige of bigotry, the prejudices against this unhappy race will be obliterated by a noble and a God-like sympathy....the time will come. All things are onward; and, in God’s providence, all things are good. How eventful, yet how fearful, is the history of this people! The Almighty, moved by their lamentations, determined, not only to relieve them from Egyptian bondage, but to make them the chosen depositary of his law.

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