To Jerusalem: Pilgrimage Road Identified?

Ancient road sheds light on Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem


Are these curved stone steps at Beit Horon, about 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem, part of an ancient Jerusalem pilgrimage road? Photo: Courtesy of Yotam Tepper and Yigal Tepper.

Before the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E., Jewish pilgrims would make their way to Jerusalem for numerous festivals and occasions. The command to “appear before the Lord” is referenced in relation to the three festivals of Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles), Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Festival of Weeks) in the Bible (Exodus 34:22–23; Deuteronomy 16:16). Ancient literary sources, additionally, describe throngs of Jews singing and playing music during their pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

In their Archaeological Views column “Walking Roads” in the January/February 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, archaeologists Yotam Tepper and Yigal Tepper describe what they believe to be a stone road on which ancient Jews would make their Jerusalem pilgrimage.

Many different types of roads crossed through Judea-Palestine in the Roman period. The methodically planned imperial “highways” were standardized across the Roman Empire, with milestones placed at fixed intervals listing the names of the builders as well as the distance and destination of the roads. These highways linked major urban areas and military bases, supporting commercial activities, communication and the transportation of supplies. There were also “agricultural roads” that connected settlements with their fields and “rural roads” that connected villages with nearby sites, such as springs.

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There is another type of ancient road: the road on which Jews would travel during their Jerusalem pilgrimage. One such pilgrim road can be found at an upward pass at Beit Horon, about 10 miles northwest of Jerusalem, according to BAR columnists Yotam Tepper and Yigal Tepper (who are son and father, respectively). This road is comprised of curved rock-cut steps measuring 5.5 feet wide. Alongside the modest road is a Roman imperial road more than double the width of the pilgrim road; both led to Jerusalem.

“We assume that the curved steps were constructed first for walking, and only later a paved road was constructed beside them,” explain Tepper and Tepper, who published an analysis of Jerusalem pilgrimage roads in their book The Road That Bears the People—Pilgrimage Roads to Jerusalem in Second Temple Times (Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad Publishing House Ltd., 2013) [Hebrew]. “The paved road had a low incline and a serpentine design, suitable for animal-drawn wagons.”

Carved stone steps are found throughout what was Roman Judea-Palestine. While Tepper and Tepper do not argue that all of these represent Jerusalem pilgrimage roads, they do contend that the steps at the Beit Horon ascent were used by ancient Jews making their way to the Temple in Jerusalem—and that the road was not made by the Romans.

To learn what textual and archaeological evidence Tepper and Tepper use to identify a Jerusalem pilgrimage road at Beit Horon, read the full Archaeological Column “Walking Roads” in the January/February 2016 issue of BAR.

BAS Library Members: Read the full Archaeological Column “Walking Roads” by Yotam Tepper and Yigal Tepper in the January/February 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

Update, January 25, 2016: This article has been edited with regard to its description of the location of Beit Horon.—Ed.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder?

A Road Well Traveled: Roman Road Discovered in Jerusalem

What Did Herod’s Temple in Jerusalem Look Like?

Jewish Captives in the Imperial City

Pilgrims’ Progress to Byzantine Jerusalem


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8 Responses

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  1. ADAM says

    “Ancient jews”? Did the Teppers mean ‘ancient Judahites’ or ‘ancient Israelites’ or ‘ancient Judeans’ or even ‘ancient Hebrews’ when they used the misnomer “ancient jews”?

    As the “1980 Jewish Almanac” on page 3 said, “Strictly speaking, it is incorrect to call a contemporary jew an Israelite or Hebrew or an ancient Israelite a jew”.

  2. Rob says

    What they sang on the way way up to Jerusalem is in the songs of ascents (Psalms 120 -134).

  3. Tom says

    Balking at the term “ancient Jews” (comment #1) seems to me rather nit-picking. However, another glaring mis-statement isn’t: The article claims that the ancient stepped road is located “in Israel”, which it absolutely is not– except in some peoples’ wished-for reconfiguration of political-legal realities. Beit Horon, which I have visited and photographed, lies within the Israeli-occupied West Bank, a region the United Nations officially designates as “occupied Palestinian territory” (oPt). Every Israeli (whether they acknowledge it or not), and certainly every Palestinian, knows the difference. BAS writers and editors should learn–and say–the difference, too.

  4. Robin says

    Dear Tom, thank you for your comment. The article has been edited.


    Robin Ngo
    Web Editor
    Biblical Archaeology Society

  5. David says

    Because, after all, everything belongs to the “Palestinians”.

  6. Tom says

    I’m pleasantly surprised. Well done.

  7. Mair says

    Spot-on David. Because people like Tom with their leftist ideology have an unfortunate blind spot as to the configuration of a ‘Palestinian’ identity. Say, Tom, where *were the Palestinians in 70 AD, anyway?

  8. Tom says

    Mair (and David): Do you really object to an archaeological report in 2016 using accurate, commonly-accepted geographical terminology? If that’s “leftist”, so be it. You are the ones injecting political and historical interpretations where they don’t belong. (By the way, there were no Palestinians in 70 AD because there was no region officially known as “Palestine”– that actually happened in the next century, after about 135.) You know, the Land (and its people), which we all obviously have a deep interest in, possess rich and complex overlays of history and culture– some of which may surprise you! The challenge is to delve into the layers with discernment–and hopefully cast aside our glib and shallow characterizations.

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