ROADS. In Palestine the chief south-to-north traverse is the road via Pelusium, Rafia, and Gaza, up the Maritime Plain, the ancient invasion route used by Thutmose, Ramses, Sennacherib, Cambyses, Alexander, Pompey, Titus, Saladin, Napoleon, and Allenby. Carmel closes the northern end. Passage was possible by a rough and exposed route on the seaward side, a path used by Richard I of England and by Napoleon on his withdrawal, and known as Les Detroits by the Crusaders. On the landward side Esdraelon and Phoenicia were reached by several low passes, chiefly those that run through Megiddo, and the route through the Valley of Dothan (Gen.37.35). The latter route was used by those traveling to Jordan and Damascus.

A more easterly route from Damascus south lay through the arid deserts and mountains east of the Jordan Valley, through the tribal territories of Manasseh, Reuben, and Gad, into Moab, and down the desert valley of the Arabah (Deut.8.15). This was the so-called King’s Highway.

Lateral roads from the high country joined the north-south communications of the Maritime Plain and provided alternative routes across Palestine to Syria and Damascus. One road ran from Gaza to Hebron. Another from Jerusalem ran through Lydda (Lod) to Joppa, with a loop to Emmaus, if that town may be properly located west of Jerusalem (Luke.24.1-Luke.24.53). This road was probably Paul’s route to Caesarea (Acts.23.1-Acts.23.35), branching north at Lydda and passing through Antipatris.

North-south routes inland were naturally not so numerous as those on the easy Maritime Plain. However, a road ran up to Jerusalem from Hebron through Bethlehem and continued north from Jerusalem to Samaria, forking at Sychar (John.4.1-John.4.54).

The roads from the east into Judea crossed miles of arid and difficult wilderness. There were roads from Jericho NW to Ai and Bethel, SW to Jerusalem, and SSW to the lower Kidron and Bethlehem. The first was Israel’s invasion route, the second the road of Jesus’ last journey to Jerusalem, the third probably the route of Naomi and Ruth. There were numerous minor roads west from En Gedi and Masada.

The Negev desert lies across the southern approaches to Palestine and thrusts the highways, as indicated above, either west toward the level seacoast or east into the Wadi Arabah. Solomon’s cargoes from Ophir came, no doubt, by the Arabah route from Ezion Geber on the Gulf of Aqabah, cutting the corner of the Negev south and west of the Dead Sea and reaching Jerusalem by way of Hebron.——EMB


Roads in antiquity

The oldest trails ever found are the tracks of ancient hunters following and pursuing migrating game. The earliest domestication of sheep had certainly occurred by 9,000 b.c. and the ground beaten down by continual moving of the flocks from fold to pasture has left primitive road beds in the oldest village sites. The establishment of townships which marks the Neolithic era in the ancient Near E also brought about the purposeful improvement of road surfaces, even though this may have been nothing more than the leveling of natural faults and the removal of large stones. There is no doubt that ancient prehistoric peoples did trade goods and materials over long distances. These routes followed the natural courses of travel, rivers, streams, valleys and plains. There can be no doubt, however, that ideas and artifacts were handled over long distances by nomadic groups as early as the twenty-fifth millennium b.c. By the time writing and record keeping spread across the Near E the notions and habits of road building were already well developed. The nation building process which arose soon after the Neolithic era was extended throughout the Eurasian land mass by an international system of roads. With the centralization of authority and economic power which produced the archaic religious state, road technology became basic to survival. In time the building and upkeep of roads became a central task of government and passed into the realm of juridics, philosophy and lit.

Archeological remains of roads.

Artifactual evidence of roads falls into four classes: a. road beds; b. fill; c. piles of materials for building beds and fill; d. markers and distance posts. Roadbeds were originally compacted by the continual passage of feet either human or animal, the single innovation being the driving of domestic flocks over a path or precinct. The “threshing floors” (Heb. גֹּ֫רֶן, H1755, Gen 50:10 et al.) mentioned in the narratives of the patriarchal period were compacted in this fashion. Fill and piles of materials for fill are usually transports of material from former buildings of clay or stone. The erection of wayside markers as line markers or distance markers is a complex subject. There is no doubt that they must have had a cultic significance. Roadside shrines are known from almost all ancient cultures. The stone cairns (Heb. מַצֵּבָה, H5167), erected by the patriarchs were no doubt similar in nature. Elaborate road markers with extensive inscrs. came into use after the beginning of the second millennium b.c. Greek and Rom. sources frequently mention such constructions. It is exceedingly difficult to trace a mere dirt track by archeological means unless it alters the speciation or condition of the plants growing over it. In such cases it may be detected by aerial photography. A few ancient tracks were built over repeatedly through the centuries and may be detected by the course of modern roadways.

Trade and commerce on ancient roads.

It is now supposed that the making and use of tools is one of the surest signs of man’s civilization. This was the main impetus to the trade in basic materials and simple manufactures which sprung up in antiquity. Lapis lazuli, gold, silver, electrum, iron, amber and tin were prob. the earliest trade goods. There is clear evidence that some of these items were traded from group to group across Europe and the Middle E by the time of the last glaciation. It may be safely assumed that the germinal collections of human groups were in the sheltered areas below the mountains and around the shores of the great fresh-water lakes of the Eurasian continent. From Switzerland through Pal. and Turkey and on across Russia a number of these bodies of water are located. Certainly Neanderthal man and his predecessors foraged and hunted from one such locus to another, virtually following the same track with each season. The similarity of Paleolithic art and tool-making industries across this region demonstrate the degree of trade. With the rise of the Proto-Euphratean townships barter turned to commerce. The rivers were not sufficient to carry trade across the deserts and the hills of Northern Iraq, and so ancient caravan trails were developed. Generally the northern tribes traded animals, asses, horses and mules to the southerners for the products of the River Valley civilizations. See TRADE, COMMERCE AND BUSINESS.

Defense and extension of roads.

The lack of natural boundaries and defenses for overland travel rendered the caravans vulnerable to attacks from bands of marauding tribes people. The earliest political unions of Sumerians and Semites had to deal with defense and extension of the roads. To defend a road and the terrain adjacent meant to set up garrisons along its length. To punish and discourage raiders necessitated extending military expeditions ever further from the homeland. The earliest evidence for prepared roadbeds and construction over them has been found in S. Mesopotamia and in two of the Minoan centers of culture. In both cases there was no planning of the town, only the paving over of the crisscrossing streets around the market plaza which stood in front of the palace or temple complex. The ever needed task of widening and repairing the processional and market streets is frequently recorded in cuneiform tablets of all ages. There is substantial extrabiblical textual evidence of transport and travel in the Near E. Sumerian, Babylonian, Egyptian, and Hittite myths and legends all involve characters who go wayfaring, in fact this is the common literary device as in the Gil gameš cycle, to connect discrete legends into a literary framework. Texts from Egypt tell of trips to Syria-Palestine, e.g. Sinuhe (c. 1960 b.c.), and tablets from Assyria speak of roadbuilding corvees sent in advance of the army, e.g. Tiglathpileser I (c. 1115 b.c.). Although ridgeways, trackways and fords were continually improved after the horse and cavalry were introduced about 2000 b.c. yet paved roads and streets were still confined to towns. The processional streets of Assyria were set on roadbeds of gravel which were overlaid with burnt brick. A mastic or bitumen substance was employed as a binder. Carefully dressed and sized slabs of flagstone or gypsum were fitted betw een heavy curbing to form a street surface. In many towns cart tracks were cut into the street surface to act as guides, almost like rails, which guided the heavily loaded ox carts through the narrow streets. These grooves are normally from four to five ft. in width, providing a two-ox gauge standard. Log or plank roads were suitable in areas where there was sufficient timber and a cold enough winter to retard rotting, but only in the most northern areas of Pal. were such roadways possible. Stone, the ever present material of ancient man, was the most widely utilized. Across the great deserts of Sinai and Arabia there were no roads at all, only wellworn caravan tracks. Bridges and causeways of compacted stones were widely built around towns; and the foundations of such in and near Jerusalem, Jericho, Hazor and elsewhere are no doubt from the 2nd millennium b.c. Since water travel was limited to the rivers and coastal navigation until the time of Rome and Carthage, no open quays fed by networks of roads, a common Rom. plan, have been unearthed. No doubt the coming of the cart and afterward the chariot and the mounted horseman impelled the improvement of roads. The exceedingly rough terrain of the Palestinian hill country retarded this technical development, just as the lack of natural harbors never allowed Pal. to be a natural theater for Gr. colonization or trade.

OT roads

Roads play an important part in the narrative and instruction of the OT. The water courses of Pal. are in no case suitable for the purposes of trade or conquest, and its position between Anatolia to the N and Egypt to the S determined the central highland route and the coastal route to be the most heavily traveled in the country.


מִשְׁעֹ֖ול is a rare maqtal participle of a verb not developed in Biblical Heb. The term means “narrow defile,” and its single occurrence is in Numbers 22:24. Another morphological variation means “narrow,” and appears in a number of passages.

שְׁבִילֵ֣י occurs only in Jeremiah 18:15, and in a difficult phrase in Psalm 77:19. In both rabbinic and Christian tradition it has been tr. “path,” but no clear etymology exists for it other than its semantic relationship to morphemes of “hanging,” “trailing.” It is placed as the “B” term in a marvelous tripartite or “staircase” parallelism, “Thy way was through the sea, thy path through the great waters; yet thy footprints were unseen.”

חוּץ, H2575, a primary Heb. root, “out of doors,” “street,” “space between buildings” (Exod 12:46, et al.).

פָּשַׂע, H7314, cognate to Akkad. pašaṭu(m), “unload,” which means “strip,” or “obliterate” is used for “raiding,” and mistranslated by the KJV “road” (1 Sam 27:10). The text should read, “When Achish asked, ‘Against whom have you made a raid today?’” In most occurrences the MT employs the standard words for agricultural or structural labor to describe the act of road building. It is safe to assume that the same class of people who were pressed into the royal service for other tasks were also responsible for the royal ways and public roads in and around the capital and the environs of the royal monopolies. Nowhere in the OT is there evidence of a Judaic postal or messenger service nor is there any evidence of extensive town planning until the time of the Hel. conquest. These considerations limit the philology and semantics of the Heb. terms applied.

International roads.

Most of the road network from the Eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Northern Tigris valley ran far to the N of Israel. Even the Assyrian invaders headed across the hinterlands of Syria toward Cyprus before turning S just E of the springs of the Jordan and falling on the borders of Samaria. No doubt an early road ran through the Judean desert from the Jebusite fortress of Jerusalem down to the oasis of Jericho. From there it prob. ran over the desert to the cities of inner Jordan. However, the three major international trade routes ran from N to S through the three zones of Pal., the coastal plain, the central mountain range, and the Jordan rift. The first of these was called D.E70REK: HA/Y.FM03?, “way of the sea,” but only once (Isa 9:1) which also mentions the route as “beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations [Gentiles].” This road ran the length of the country running S from Tyre through Acco and Megiddo, Aphek to Joppa and Gaza and finally across the salt water marshes to the borders of Egypt. A main trunk ran off of this route to the NE through the wide plain of Jezreel and on up to Damascus and then to the Euphrates. It is thought that the term “way of the sea” meant not that the route followed the seacoast but that it was the way “to the sea.” Such usage would be similar to that of the phrase, דֶּ֥רֶכְ יַמ־סֽוּף, “way of (to) the sea-of-deliverance.” [The name of this body has been traditionally mistranslated either “Red Sea” or recently “Sea of Reeds,” but both are fallacious.] (Num 14:25 cf. Y. Aharoni, The Land of The Bible [1967] 41ff.) Two Egyp. sources list the towns along this route, the earlier is the series of bas reliefs of Seti I (c. 1381 b.c.) while the later is the nineteenth dynasty papyrus of Hori (Papyrus Anastasi I) both of which give reliable details of the roadway. They follow the lead of the much earlier Tale of Sinuhe which describe it as, “the way of Horus.” The towns of the more northern sector of the sea road were listed in the inscrs. of Thutmose III (c. 1490 b.c.) and often were copied or rewritten in the annals of later Pharaohs. Assyrian sources from Sennacherib (c. 704), list the cities of the road, and Megiddo its hub. In later times it became known as the Via Maris.

The second great road, דֶ֤רֶכְ הַמֶּ֨לֶכְ, “the King’s Highway,” ran the length of the Trans-Jordan highlands, specifically mentioned in Numbers 20:17 and 21:22. It was used for caravan travel from S Arabia to Damascus. It is mentioned as the route by town of the invading Elamite princes (Gen 14), and the southern section is mentioned on the Israelite march to Moab from Kadesh-barnea (Num 20). Most of the highland towns were strung out along its length but the terrain crisscrossed by deep wadis and high hills was not easily invaded and so few campaigns were fought along its length. Two periods of flourishing towns were marked along this route, at the end of the third and early second millennium and again from the 18th cent. b.c. to the beginning of the Israelite Bronze Age.

The innermost series of roads along and across the Jordan is marked only by the remains of settlements mostly on the western side of the river. Unlike either of the other two great roads it was used primarily for internal travel. Its course from Hazor through Jerusalem and then to Beer-sheba marked it as the path of pilgrimage to Jerusalem and the chief highway of Jewish trade. The section near Bethlehem is called the “way to Ephrath” (Gen 35:19; 48:7).

Intra-regional roads.

These usually crossed longitudinally through natural valleys or gaps in the mountains between the two great international routes. Specific routes in the N and S had been avenues of commerce in the most ancient times for the Canaanites in the N and the Midianites in the S. These were the routes leading out of the central hilly country into the plains and desert. Needless to say, many routes must have tied together the small towns of the Negev but are simply omitted from the written records extant.

Internal roads.

The following list is based on the work of Y. Aharoni in his several publications on Palestinian geography. Names of roads: in general order from N to S as shown on map.

D.E73REK: B.\"74YT? HA/G.F92N, dērēk bēyt haggān, “way of Beth Haggan” (2 Kings 9:27).

דֶּ֖רֶכְ הַבָּשָׁ֑ן, dērēk habbāssān, “way to Bashan” Num 21:33 (et al.).

דֶּ֖רֶכְ אֵלֹ֥ון מְעוֹנְנִֽים, dērēk ’elōwn me'ōwneniym, “way of the soothsayer’s oak” (Judg 9:37, but only in the Heb.; KJV mistakenly reads “by the plain of Meonenim.”)

דֶּ֣רֶכְ הַכִּכָּ֔ר, dērēk hakkikkār, “way of the valley” (2 Sam 18:23).

דֶּ֣רֶכְ הַיַּרְדֵּ֔ן, dērēk hayyāreden, “way of the Jordan” (Josh 2:7).

דֶּ֥רֶכְ עָפְרָ֖ה, dērēk ’ōperāh, “way of Ophrah” (1 Sam 13:17).

דֶּ֥רֶכְ הַמִּדְבָּֽר, dērēk hammidbār, “way of the wilderness,” a road near Jericho from the area of Bethel (Josh 8:15; Judg 20:42), mentioned in other passages by other names in which the wilderness is more specifically described as: דֶּ֖רֶכְ מִדְבַּ֥ר גִּבְעֹֽון, dērēk midbār gib’cōwn, “way to the wilderness of Gibeon” (2 Sam 2:24 only).

דֶּ֖רֶכְ בֵּ֣ית חֹרֹ֑ון, dērēk bēyt ḥorōwn, “way to Beth-horon” (1 Sam 13:18). This was the northernmost road ascending into the Judean hill country. Since Beth-horon was an important junction there are references to “ascent of Beth-horon” (Josh 10:10) and “descent of Beth-horon” (Josh 10:11).

דֶּ֥רֶכְ הָעֲרָבָ֖ה, dērēk ha’arābāh, “way of the Arabah,” is the familiar road from Jerusalem to Jericho of the NT (2 Sam 4:7; 2 Kings 25:4; Jer 39:4; 52:7). It passed through the narrow valley of dunes to the “ascent of Adummim” (Josh 15:7; 18:17), and on into Trans-Jordan.

דֶּ֨רֶכְ בֵּ֣ית שֶׁ֔מֶשׁ, dērēk bēyt sēmēs, “way of Beth-Shemesh” (1 Sam 6:9, 12), a sector of the road from Lachish to Hebron via the valley of Sorek (Judg 16:4) and the valley of Rephaim (2 Sam 5:18, et al.), possibly also called, דֶּ֣רֶכְ תִּמְנָ֑תָה, dērēk timenātāh, “way to Timnah” (Gen 38:14).

דֶּ֖רֶכְ בֵּ֣ית הַיְשִׁמֹ֑ות, dērēk bēyt hayesimōwt, “way to Beth-jeshimoth” (Josh 12:3).

֚דֶּרֶכְ הַשְּׁכוּנֵ֣י בָֽאֳהָלִ֔ים, dērēk hasekūwnēy bā’ohālīym, “way of the tent dwellers” (Judg 8:11), a very difficult phrase referring to the modern “way of the nomads,” a pass frequently traveled by Bedouin, possibly the Wādi Sirḥan.

דֶּ֖רֶכְ מִדְבַּ֥ר מוֹאָֽב, dērēk midbār mōw’āb, “way of the wilderness of Moab” (Deut 2:8, 9, 18).

דֶּ֣רֶכְ אֱדֹ֑ום, dērēk ’ēdōwm, “way of Edom” (2 Kings 3:20), taken by some authors to be a mistake in the MT for the longer form of the name, דֶּ֖רֶכְ מִדְבַּ֥ר אֱדֹֽום, dērēk midbār ’ēdōwm, “way of the wilderness of Edom” (2 Kings 3:8). There is, however, no absolute necessity that the two roads be the same; in fact the question asked by Jehoram indicates that a choice of routes was open to the allied kings. It is clear that parallel longitudinal routes are in evidence in these and many similar passages.

דֶּ֣רֶכְ חוֹרֹנַ֔יִם, dērēk ḥōwronāīym, “way of Horonaim” (Isa 15:5), prob. part of the “ascent of Horonaim” (Jer 48:5).

דֶּ֖רֶכְ הָאֲתָרִ֑ים, dērēk hā’atārīym, “way of the Atharim” (Num 21:1), traditionally interpreted by the rabbis as “the way the spies had gone.”

דֶּ֥רֶכְ שֽׁוּר, dērēk sūwr, “way of Shur” (Gen 16:7), a place between Hebron and Beer-sheba on the road toward Egypt, the resting place of Hagar.

֚דֶּרֶכְ הַ֣ר הָֽאֱמֹרִ֔י, dērēk hār hā'ēmoriy, “way of the hill country of the Amorites” (Deut 1:19), a road beginning in Kadesh-barnea and passing into the southern coastal desert.

דֶּ֖רֶכְ הַר־שֵׂעִ֑יר, dērēk har-se’īr, “way of mount Seir” (Deut 1:2), possibly part of one of the great international highways, but more likely a smaller alternate to the Sea road, passing through the wilderness from Edom to Kadeshbarnea, which marked the northernmost terminus of the desert. Other partial references to roads, ascents, and descents are given in the OT, but most of these must have been part of the roads mentioned or else local trails used by the villagers in specific parts of the country. The subject is a difficult one.

Religious and political uses of roads.

The religious texts of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Elamites, Persians, Egyptians, and Hittites all include details of religious processions and festivals in which the idol of the city-cult was manifest to the populace. Since the precincts of the various gods were clearly defined in the archaic-religious states, the traveler was at a grave disadvantage. This was the more perilous because of the frequent attacks by raiders and highwaymen common to all the thinly populated areas of the Near E. It is for this reason that the patriarchs traveled in small squads of armed men (Gen 14:14, 15, et al.). In the early dynastic inscrs. from Mesopotamia, the maintenance and safety of the roads was a boon from the tutelary deity and a sign of the king’s prowess and a surety of his legitimacy to rule, e.g. Sennacherib’s boasting of the roads he built in Nineveh. However, the excavations at Nimrud and elsewhere demonstrate that these paved and arched roads did not proceed far beyond the city walls. The W Sem. ruler, Azitawadda, states the security of his reign in terms of security on the roads, “In my times there were in all the borders of the Plain of Adana, from the rising of the sun to the setting, peaceful pursuits [lit. work of spinning] even in places where previously a man was fearful to walk, but in my days even a woman could go, through the favor of Ba’al and the gods.” (Phoen. and Hitt. bilingual from Karatepe, c. 9th cent. b.c.) Although the Assyrians and their allies certainly improved and employed roads for military transport, the principal motivation for land travel beyond the narrow confines of the Tigris and Euphrates toward the W was the Old Babylonian tamkārum or merchant, whose trading posts were spread across the Near E no later than the early second millennium b.c. Howe ver, it was the Hurrian and the Hittite who seemed to have held their confederacies together by the use of Babylonian cuneiform and military roads. Such terms as the familiar NT κη̂ρυξ, G3061, “herald,” from which the Koinē term for “gospel” is derived, arose from the Hurrian messenger system. Ultimately it was the Gr. cities of the coast of Asia Minor where town planning and access roads were first tried; and it was the Pers. royal house which instituted road and postal systems as necessities for administration. In the closing centuries of the ancient world, Rome was to embrace both innovations and weld from the ancient states a world empire. Ultimately the processional street of the capital served not only to disseminate the state cult, but also to draw pilgrims from across the empire into it. This simple situation did as much as anything to erode the archaic religious-states and bring about the rise of individualism in the Hel. age.

Literary and figurative use of “road.”

In the ancient Near Eastern lit. the idea of “road of life,” “one’s philosophical and moral course of action” does occur. The most striking example of this type of usage is in the poem, Ludlul bēl nēmeqi, “Who has learned the plan of the heavenly gods? Who knows the scheme of the Nether World? Where have mortals comprehended the road of the gods?” (author’s A Babylonian Anthology [1966] 32ff.). The doctrines of dispersed people, wayfaring prophets and a messenger-Messiah are found in the OT alone. In the OT, the idea of turning down a road is used specifically of one’s willful decision: “Get you out of the road, turn aside out of the path. Make the Holy One of Israel to cease from in front of us” (Isa 30:11 KJV). In similar fashion, to follow the commands of the covenant God are to “learn his path” (Isa 2:3, et al.). The idea of “cleansing the path” morally and physically is one that is developed in the Mosaic legal codification but comes to center on the preparation for the Messiah in the major prophets (Isa 40, et al.). The exhortations to entertain strangers given concrete example with Abraham (Gen 18, et al.), is focused in the later writers and finally in the teaching of John the Baptist as entertaining the Messiah, the stranger par excellence.

NT roads


Unlike the OT, the NT has a very restricted vocabulary for specific objects and constructions. There are two major and three minor terms referring to roads in the NT, and these terms continue in the usage of the preand post-Nicene patristic writers. Since the Greeks of classical antiquity were a seafaring rather than a caravaning people the classical Gr. dialects are nowhere as rich in semantic equivalents for “road” and “travel” as the agglutinative and Sem. languages of the ancient Western Asian land mass. This narrower linguistic spectrum is reflected in the NT, ὁδός, G3847, the common term since Homeric times in all dialects for “road,” “highway” and the like. It appears nearly 100 times in the NT, in three specific senses: 1. “road” (Matt 2:12, et al.); 2. “conduct” (Matt 21:32, et al.); 3. “teaching” (Acts 24:14, et al.).

τρόπος, G5573, “manner,” “way,” but rarely if ever actually a “road.” Interestingly enough the word is used widely in the LXX and the patristic writers of the postapostolic period, but only in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34 of the gospels and Acts, Romans, 2 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, and Jude of the rest of the NT.

τροχία, “wheel-track,” “course for wheels,” “narrow path,” appears only in Hebrews 12:13; “and make straight paths for your feet.” It is an extension of the classical Gr. term, τροφή, G5575, “wheel,” commonly used since Homeric times. The specific semantic development is Hellenistic in origin and no older than Philo of Alexandria (3rd cent. b.c.), and is prob. a tr. of some non-Indo-European usage.

Persian and Hellenistic roads.

The fine road system inherited by the Herodian rulers was built by the Hel. rulers under Pers. influence. Herodotus, Xenophon and other Gr. writers of the Classical period found the efficiency of the Pers. posts and their elaborate system of desert tracks to be a source of admiration. However, there is no evidence that the Persians of the Achaemenid regime ever actually built a “high” or paved road between towns. The archeological evidence points to the fact that they paved only the royal and ceremonial avenues around the capital cities. No Pers. roads actually entered Pal., but they went due W from Khorsabad to the northeas-ternmost tip of the Mediterranean and then on to Ephesus. The Hel. rulers utilized this main highway across the desert and added to it trunks connecting the Via Maris. The Persians continued the Babylonian practice of building roadways with burnt bricks and bituminous mortar. The inherent efficiency of the satrapical system, with its semi-autonomous governors, kept the transportation system in operation long after the central royal authority had been swept away. The Hellenists thus inherited a system after 322 b.c. which functioned well and which needed little attention if allowed to repair itself through tax levies. In Egypt the postal system was maintained up to Rom. times. A road was built from Alexandria to the Red Sea. Even after the harbors on the coast of Turkey were abandoned, the roads still bore their share of traffic well into Byzantine times.

Roman roads.

The origin of the Rom. road technology lies in the mists of Etruscan antiquity. It is basic to Rom. engineering that the rudiments of drainage, embanking and paving were all well-developed before the Romans built their roads. The essence of the roads was the fact that they were designed and built with all three of these other aspects in consideration. Town planning, hilly terrain, and a sense of communal organization all combined to motivate the building of firm road beds with carefully graded paving. The web of Rom. roads began in the 3rd cent. b.c. and spread out a little more each decade until it encompassed Europe, Britain, North Africa, Greece and the Middle E. It was under Augustus that the roads of Syria-Pal. were paved for the usual Rom. reasons: to drain the economic riches of the area by taxation and franchise, and to protect Rom. interest against robbers and independent hill people. The executors of this Rom. policy were the Herodians.

Herodian roads.

Both the NT and Josephus bear witness to the building enterprises of Herod the Great and his successors. The great Temple in Jerusalem, the palaces in Galilee, and the many fortifications, e.g. Masada, were built with Rom. engineering and Jewish craftsmen. The magnificent royal causeway across the valley from the palace to the Temple is being unearthed at its foundations by Israeli archeologists, the plazas and palaces of the sea coast and the fortifications inland, all ordered by Herod, lend evidence to his fame and ability as a builder. However, it is implicit in the gospel narratives that Jesus and His disciples stuck to the footpaths and country tracks on foot, rather than travel the main roads. This can be deduced from the names of the hamlets and villages through which they passed. The towns in most cases have disappeared and the actual courses of the paths only surmised. But, the intimate knowledge of so many places, the slight references to topography, are so intimate with the environment that the knowledge of the writer cannot be questioned.

The internal roads.

The roads of the OT are frequently those traveled in the NT. The severity of the terrain is such that in many places no other ascent, descent or passage is possible. The chief post-commonwealth development in Palestinian roads was in the area of Galilee which was added to the Jewish domains after the close of the OT. Therefore none of the common places of Jesus’ northern ministry are mentioned in the OT, and all the trackways and pathways are new. It was not until Trajan (a.d. 98-117) that the Jordanian road system was built and the Bedouins employed as police. The Judea of Jesus’ time was an underdeveloped rural area pressured by a mighty external empire which renovated, rebuilt and exploited with relentless precision, and held materialism as its highest good. The OT economy and community perished from Pal. by being rendered obsolete.

International roads.

The roads which brought Rome’s imperial designs to Pal. were destined to carry the Gospel out. The Rom. army built in excess of 50,000 m. of roads in the area of Syria-Pal. and banished by the sword the robbers who had troubled Israel from patriarchal times. The Christians were not blind to this fact and many gave Rom. statecraft its due: “The Romans have given the world peace, and we travel without fear along the roads and cross the seas wherever we wish” (Iren Adv. Haer, iv. 30. 3ff.).

Gospel narratives.

Acts and the epistles.

The travel accounts of the Acts contain the highest frequency of the word, nineteen occurrences. The first usage of the term as generic of all the followers of the Gospel occurs in the context of Saul’s persecution of the Church (Acts 9:2). Almost all the epistolary usages involve the abstract meaning. It seems that the further the center of the church moved from Pal. the less emphasis upon the concrete meaning of “paths” and “ways” was necessary. People not familiar with the scenes of the OT, could hardly be expected to appreciate Hebraic usage.

Literary and figurative use of “roads.”

The occurrences in the NT are clearly derived primarily from the literary usages of the OT. The Rom. road system is simply assumed in the later NT books and the term is used as a reference for the “life” or “custom” of Christian obedience.

Eschatological notion of “road.”

Two occurrences of the term odos are found in Revelation: 15:3 is a quotation from the LXX of a number of passages skillfully woven together; 16:12 is a topographical reference. Since the overall economy of the heavenly city as seen in Revelation is that of the OT and not the interim arrangement of the NT, the references are interesting. The “way” of the Gospel leads all nations, both Jew and Gentile, to the feet of Christ, dwelling in the restored Jerusalem. It must be summarized that the roads of the Bible are in the end eschatological and that this notion is never far from any specific meaning of the text, but undergirds them all.


(The reader is advised to refer to the individual place names mentioned in OT and NT passages in this encyclopedia.) The many aspects of Rom. roads and travel are all detailed in separate articles in: A. D. Pauly, G. Wissowa, W. Kroll, eds., Real-encyclopäedie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft (1894ff.); G. A. Smith, The Historical Geography of the Holy Land (1894); J. G. C. Anderson, “The Road System of Eastern Asia Minor,” Journal of Hellenic Studies, xvii (1897); C. Skeel, Travel in the First Century after Christ with Special Reference to Asia Minor (1901); W. H. Burr, Ancient and Modern Engineering (1903); F. Buhl, “Roads and Travel (OT)” 368-375; W. M. Ramsay, “Roads and Travel (NT)” 375-402; in J. Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible, extra vol. (1904); U. A. Forbes, Our Roman Highways (1904); W. W. Mooney, Travel Among the Ancient Romans (1920); M. P. Charlesworth, Trade Routes and Commerce of the Roman Empire (1924); G. K. Chesterton, The End of the Roman Road (1924); B. Landsberger, Assyrische Handelskolonien in Klein Asien (1925); R. C. C. Clay, “Some Prehistoric Ways,” Antiquity, Vol. I (1927), 54ff.; G. Kuhl, “Römische Strassen...,” Palästinajahrbuch, Vol. 24 (1928), 112-140; H. P. Vowles, “The Origins of Road Transport, 3000-500 b.c.,” Roads and Road Construction, vii (1929), 85 ff.; R. J. Forbes, Notes on the History of Ancient Roads and Their Construction (1934); J. Simons, Handbook for the Study of Egyptian Topographical Lists Relating to Western Asia (1937); J. Wiesner, “Fahren und Reiten in Alteuropa und im alten Orient,” Der alte Orient, Vol. 38 (1939); W. Andrae, Alte Festrassen im Nahen Orient (1941); W. F. Leemans, Old Babylonian Me rchant (1950); A. Salonen, Die Landfahrzeuge des alten Mesopotamiens (1951); R. J. Forbes, “Land Transport and Road-Building,” Studies in Ancient Technology, Vol. XI (1955), 126-176; W. F. Leemans, Foreign Trade in the Old Babylonian Period (1960); K. Miller, Itineraria romana (1964); G. Waker, Die Römischen Strassen (1967); V. W. van Hagen, The Roads That Led to Rome (1967); P. Fustier, La Route, voies antiques chemins anciens, chaussées modernes (1968); the author’s “Finance” in The Catacombs and the Colosseum (1971).