The six parallel divisions of Palestine described above, and Israelís
embracing sea and desert were connected with one another in Jesus' day not only by the
highways already mentioned, but also by the local tracks that Joined the towns
and villages of the hill-land. The Hebrew people were never road makers. The
Hebrew word for road means a beaten track. The structure of Palestine presents
difficult problems even to the skilled road engineer. When we see Jesus going from Nazareth to Bethsaida and then over the hills into the regions of Tyre and Sidon, His feet walked for the most part on old tracks where no road-making had
been done. In contrast with these were the great highways which the Romans made,
so that the Roman chariots could pass over them. But most of the traffic,
whether commercial or diplomatic, was camels, donkeys, and horses. Really only a few
of these highways were suited to chariot traffic. The roads in Palestine in the
time of Jesus were as follows.
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 its left, eastward to Damascus.
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 Jerusalem.
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.
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 avoided Samaria.
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 John the Baptist was imprisoned by Herod Antipas, John himself may have been led in chains
along that route.
"I marvel that whereas the
ambitious dreams of myself, Caesar, and Alexander should have
vanished into thin air, a Judean peasant - Jesus should be able to
stretch his hands across the centuries and control the destinies of
men and nations." - Napoleon
I Bonaparte (1809)