Ancient road sheds light on Jewish pilgrimage to Jerusalem
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.
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.
Subscribers: Read the full Archaeological Column “Walking Roads” by Yotam Tepper and Yigal Tepper in the January/February 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.
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This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on January 18, 2016.
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