When we are speaking of Syrophoenicia, we are not far off from a place where the sabbatic river either was, or was feigned to be: and I hope the reader will pardon me, if I now wander a little out of my bounds, going to see a river that kept the sabbath: for who would not go out of his way to see so astonishing a thing?
And yet, if we believe Pliny, we are not without our bounds, for he fixeth this river within Judea. "In Judea (saith he) a river every sabbath day is dry."--Josephus otherwise; "Titus (saith he, going to Antioch) saw in the way a river very well worthy to be taken notice of, between the cities of Arca and Raphana, cities of the kingdom of Agrippa. Now it hath a peculiar nature. For, when it is of that nature, that it flows freely, and does not sluggishly glide away; yet it wholly fails from its springs for six days, and the place of it appears dry. And then, as if no change at all were made, on the seventh day the like river ariseth. And it is by certain experience found that it always keeps this order. Whence it is called the 'Sabbatic river,' from the holy seventh day of the Jews."
Whether of the two do you believe, reader? Pliny saith, That river is in Judea: Josephus saith, No. Pliny saith, It is dry on the sabbath days: Josephus saith, It flows then. The Talmudists agree with Pliny; and Josephus agrees not with his own countrymen.
In the Babylonian tract Sanhedrim, Turnus Rufus is brought in, asking this of R. Akibah, "Who will prove that this is the sabbath-day? [The Gloss, 'For perhaps one of the other days is the sabbath.'] R. Akiba answered, The Sabbatic river will prove this. He that hath a python, (or a familiar spirit) will prove this. And the sepulchre of his father will prove this." The Gloss writes thus: "'The Sabbatic river will prove this.' That is a rocky river, which flows and glides all the days of the week, but ceaseth and resteth on the sabbath. 'He that hath a python or a familiar spirit, will prove this.' For a python ascendeth not on the sabbath-day. And the sepulchre of Turnus Rufus, all the days of the year, sent forth a smoke; because he was judged and delivered to fire. But transgressors in hell rest on the sabbath-day." Therefore, his sepulchre sent not forth a smoke on the sabbath day.
Do you not suspect, reader, whence and wherefore this fable was invented? namely, when the brightness of the Christian sabbath was now risen, and increased every day, they had recourse to these monsters either of magic or of fables, whereby the glory of our sabbath might be obscured, and that of the Jews exalted. The various, and indeed contrary relations of historians bring the truth of the story into suspicion.