Map Illustration of
Jerusalem with Five Primary Roads (See Arrows) During the First Century AD.
Highways in Ancient Israel
In ancient Israel most people traveled on foot and Israel was a difficult place
to travel. The highways and roads connected travelers to the 6 parallel
divisions in the topography, Israel's cities and villages, the Dead Sea, and the
Negev. The Hebrews generally followed their small roads but they were not into
major road construction as the Romans were. In fact the Hebrew word for road
means a beaten worn out path. Road construction would have been difficult for
any skillful engineer because of the topography of the land. When Jesus
journeyed from Jerusalem through the land of Samaria (John 4) there were no
special roads but large dirt paths with some stone. As He journeyed around
Nazareth and the surrounding villages in Galilee He was following beaten dirt
tracks, with little road making.
The Romans were skillful road makers who made
the great highways of the Empire, so that soldiers and horses could travel on
them. Most of the travelers along Roman highways were caravans, camels, horses,
In ancient Jerusalem there were five roads
leading in and out of the city (See Arrows on Map Illustration Below):
The Northern Road led to Sychem, Caesarea and Damascus.
The Northeast road led to the Mount of Olives and Bethany. It also intersected
with the road that led to Jericho and the Dead (Salt) Sea.
The Northwestern road led to Joppa and the Mediterranean Sea.
The Western road led northwest to Joppa and also southwest to Bethlehem and
The Southwestern road led to the Dead (Salt) Sea.
The roads in first century Israel in the time
of Jesus were as follows (See Map of Israel's Highways Below):
1. The road that passed northward up the coastal plain from Gaza, (the port of
the Egyptian desert), past Joppa and Caesarea round the nose of Mount Carmel up
to Tyre, and Sidon. This road, at a point due west of Jerusalem, had a fork
running north-eastward, climbing the foothills of Samaria and going through the
valleys of Samaria (including that in which Joseph was sold to the Egyptians) to
the plain of Esdraelon. Crossing that plain it climbed the Galilean hills and
passed between two strange rocky peaks called the Horns of Hattin down a ravine
in which dwelt thousands of pigeons that were captured in Jesus' day to be sold
in the Temple for the poor to use as sacrificial offerings. Then to the Plain of
Gennesaret which the road then crossed, and north through Capernaum and crossing
the Jordan with Mount Hermon on it’s left, eastward to Damascus.
2. Starting in the south from Beersheba (the other port of Palestine on the
Egyptian desert), a very ancient road climbed northward up the Judean hills to
Hebron and through Bethlehem to Jerusalem. The Flight into Egypt from Bethlehem
with the infant Jesus would probably take this route. From Jerusalem the road
forked in three directions. One ran to the left down the steep ravines of the
Judean hills to the coastal plain and to Joppa. It is down this road that Peter
would go in the journey described in Acts. The road to the east ran even more
steeply down past Bethany to the deep trench of the Jordan valley. This is the
road from Jerusalem to Jericho (a descent of 3500 feet in 14 miles) that is the
scene of the story of the Good Samaritan; and up its steep slopes Jesus came
from Transjordania, the Jordan Valley, and Jericho, to face trial and death at
3. Another road from Jerusalem ran directly northward over the hills of Judea,
passing by the site of Bethel and descending into a small plain before lifting
again to the hills of Samaria under the shadow of Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.
Through Samaria it runs past the foot of Mount Gilboa across the Plain of
Esdraelon, where one fork runs north-westward to Nazareth and another
north-eastward by the foot of Mount Tabor and the north end of the Lake of
Galilee, where it joins up with the great Way of the Sea. It will be seen that
none of these roads to and from Jerusalem is a great international highway. The
roads or tracks are there because Jerusalem exists; and they simply lead to and
from the Holy City.
4. Moving still farther east we come upon another series of routes important in
the life of Jesus. The Gospels tell us that He took the road from Galilee to
Jerusalem through Samaria on at least one occasion. The fierce hostility of the
Samaritans to the Jews, however, led Jews when traveling from the north to
Jerusalem to turn eastward at Jezreel (the eastern gap from the Plain of
Esdraelon into the Jordan Valley), and go down into that valley to join a road
running southward on the western side of the river to Jericho. There the
pilgrims to Jerusalem would turn west again to climb up to Jerusalem, having
5. Still farther east, on the Transjordania side of the Jordan River, roads ran
in Jesus' time between the Graeco-Roman cities of Decapolis. It is highly
probable that in His last journey (associated in Luke with the parables of the
lost money, the lost sheep, and the prodigal son) Jesus walked upon these roads,
which ran through Philadelphia, Gerasa, Gadara and up to Damascus. The road from
Amman also ran southward. Jesus did not take this road; but as it ran near to
the Castle of Machaerus, in which Herod Antipas imprisoned John the Baptist,
John himself may have been led in chains along that route.
Map of the Roads in ancient Israel during the First Century AD.
in ancient Israel
"Whoever has not seen Jerusalem in its splendor has never seen a fine city."–
Babylonian Talmud (Succah, 51b)
Click around on the Picture
Primary Sources for the Study of First Century Jerusalem:
Josephus, The Mishnah, The New Testament,
First Century Jerusalem
The Jerusalem of Herod the Great
The Jerusalem Jesus
knew nowhere near resembled the city David conquered in the tenth century BC. At
that time, it had been a small, isolated hill fortress, valued more for its
location than its size or splendor. Yet from that time on it was known as the
City of David, and the kings of David's dynasty, especially his son Solomon, had
enlarged and beautified it.
In the sixth
century BC, the army of Nebuchadnezzar leveled Jerusalem and drove its citizens
into exile. During the long years of captivity in Babylon, the Jews in exiles'
prayers and longings focused on the distant Holy City. But the city rebuilt by
the Jews who returned a century later was far inferior to its former splendor.
It was, ironically, the hated tyrant Herod the Great who restored Jerusalem to
its former grandeur.
In the 33 years of
his reign (37-4 B.C.), Herod transformed the city as had no other ruler since
Solomon. Building palaces and citadels, a theatre and an amphitheatre, viaducts
(bridges) and public monuments. These ambitious building projects, some
completed long after his death, were part of the king's single-minded campaign
to increase his capital's importance in the eyes of the Roman Empire.
No visitor seeing
Jerusalem for the first time could fail to be impressed by its visual splendor.
The long, difficult ascent from Jericho to the Holy City ended as the traveler
rounded the Mount of Olives, and suddenly caught sight of a vista like few
others in the world. Across the Kidron Valley, set among the surrounding hills,
was Jerusalem, "the perfection of beauty," in the words of Lamentations, "the
joy of all the world."
The view from the
Mount of Olives was dominated by the gleaming, gold-embellished Temple which was
located in the most holy spot in the Jewish world and really God's world. This
was the Lord's earthly dwelling place, He mediated His throne here and raised up
a people to perform rituals and ceremonies here that would foreshadow the coming
of His Messiah kinsman redeemer who would be the lamb of God, slain for the sins
of the whole world.
The Temple stood
high above the old City of David, at the center of a gigantic white stone
To the south of the
temple was THE LOWER CITY, a group of limestone houses, yellow-brown colored
from years of sun and wind. Narrow, unpaved streets and houses that sloped
downward toward the Tyropean Valley, which ran through the center of Jerusalem.
Rising upward to
the west was THE UPPER CITY, or Zion, where the white marble villas and palaces
of the very rich stood out like patches of snow. Two large arched passageways
spanned the valley, crossing from the Upper City to the temple.
A high, thick, gray
stone wall encircled Jerusalem. It had been damaged, repaired and enlarged over
the centuries, and in Jesus' day it was about 4 miles in circumference, bringing
about 25,000 people into an area about a square mile. At intervals along the
wall were massive gateways. Just inside each gate was a customs station, where
publicans collected taxes on all goods entering or leaving the city.
Bible History Online
© Bible History Online (http://www.bible-history.com)