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.

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

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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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

This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on January 18, 2016.


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  • 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.

  • 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?

  • Tom says

    I’m pleasantly surprised. Well done.

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