ASCENT, DESCENT. The trs. of two Heb. terms often applied to footpaths or roadways. It is the nature of the structure of Heb. that correlative terms and terms with similar semantic relationships cannot be simply developed by adding a suffix or prefix as in Eng. (e.g. “scent” to which are prefixed “a-” or “de-”). Hebrew uses two totally different and unrelated roots for the two ideas of direction. Hebrew עָלָה, H6590, “to go up,” “to ascend,” “to bring up” is common. Several nouns are developed from this verbal root, and these hiphil feminine participles are often combined to yield place names. These terms usually take the form “ascent of (place name),” as in 2 Samuel 15:30, where David goes up from Jerusalem on the “ascent of the Mount of Olives,” which is still a steep climb. The LXX uses the Gr. noun in a genitive construction, ἀνάβασις, “going up of (place name),” but such constructions are rare and the LXX is not at all consistent in the handling of this type of Heb. usage. Many such ascents and descents appear in the OT.

The Heb. root, מורד, is a similar form of a participial derivative from the common verbal root, ירד, “to go down,” “to descend,” but on rare occasions to “go up.” However, occurrences of the term “descents” as compounds of place names are much fewer than “ascents.” It is probable that in most cases the “ascent” served for both up and down traffic and only rarely, as along a stream bed, was the major impetus toward “descent.” The LXX uses another form of the same noun, κατάβασις, G2853, “going down of (place name),” and such a determination appears in the NT in Luke 19:37, “descent of the Mount of Olives.” This is quite prob. above the modern course of the Valley of Kidron, well within sight of the city and the Temple precinct. Since Pal. is broken by many ridges of hills and a number of mountains in both N to S and E to W array, it is not unusual for such terms as ascent and descent to become commonplace. A difficult text. reading is found in Joshua 8:14 where the MT reads “appointed time,” as read in KJV and JPS, while RSV follows a popular but gratuitous emendation and reads “descent.” It is unfortunate that the VSS are not consistent in treating these ancient place names uniformly, for often they are hidden by some inconsistent tr.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


(1) The rendering in the King James Version twice, the Revised Version (British and American) 14 times correctly, of Hebrew ma`aleh, "ascent," "pass," as a geographical term (the King James Version Nu 34:4; 2Sa 15:30; the Revised Version (British and American) Jos 10:10; Jud 8:13, etc.).

(2) The rendering in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) of `olah in 1Ki 10:5, "his ascent by which he went up unto the house of Yahweh"; but `olah everywhere else means "burnt-offering," and all ancient versions support the Revised Version, margin, "his burnt-offering which he offered" (caused to go up), etc.

(3) In 2Ch 9:4 (parallel 1Ki 10:5) a very slight textual correction (supported by Septuagint) gives us the same words as in 1Ki instead of the difficult `aliyah, "upper chamber," not "ascent" as the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) render it against all usage elsewhere.

(4) In the Revised Version (British and American) Eze 40:31,34,37; Ne 12:37, of a flight of steps, stairs.

(5) In the Revised Version (British and American) (Hebrew `aliyah), Ne 3:31,32, margin "upper chamber" is to be preferred to text "ascent."