1. Lesson One of the Book of Daniel, Introduction to the Book of Daniel

Lesson 26, Geography Study Concerning the Scriptures, Roadways and Transportation
Roadways and Transportation


In a papyrus text dating from near the end of the thirteenth century B.C., an Egyptian official supplies eloquent details concerning the perils and the difficulties of roadways and transportation in Palestine.   

He declares: 

“Behold, the ambuscade (a place of ambush) is in a ravine 2000 cubits deep filled with boulders and pebbles.   The narrow valley is dangerous with Bedouin, hidden under the bushes.  Some of them are four or five cubits (from) their noses to their heel, and fierce of face.  Their hearts are not mild, and they do not listen to wheedling (to try to influence by flattery or beguiling words, sweet talk).  You are alone; there is no messenger with you, no army host behind you.  You find no scout, that he might make you a way of crossing.  You come to a decision to go forward, although you do not know the road.  Shuttering siezes you, (the hair of your head stands up, and your soul lies in you hand).   Your path is filled with boulders and pebbles, without a toe hold for passing by, overgrown with reeds, thorns, brambles, and “wolf-paw.”  The ravine is on one side of you, and the mountain rises on the other.  You go on jolting, with your chariot on its side, afraid to press your horse too hard.”


This is probably a reasonably accurate reflection of travel throughout Palestine prior to the time of Rome. 


(One thing that Rome did for the world is it provided good very long lasting roads. )


Because this was an Egyptian official he was most likey traveling on the international transportation artery called the Great Trunk Road.  


If this was the condition on that major artery one can imagine what the regional roads and secondary roadways were like, probably no more than narrow trodden paths. 


Remember it has not been many years in our own country since it was a common occurance to get stuck and have to get pulled out of the mud. 


But these observations by this Egyptian official give a better appreciation to the implications of certain biblical terminology concerning roads. 


Isaiah 40:3-4,  The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.   Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: 

It is interesting to note that man takes the spiritual and performs it in the natural for that is only what man is capable of.  We can make straight in the desert, we can exact a valley, we can make mountains and hill low, we can make crooked places straight, rough places plain. 

The roads of this land presented a clear backdrop for the Lord to use to compare what would happen when He was on the throne.   

Roads were not straight, roads were not smooth. 


Prepare the way entailed the clearing of obstructions and the removal of stones or boulders.  


The way of the righteous is described as a level and smooth path. 


Jesus said, Broad is the road that leads to destruction…….narrow is the road that leads to life.  I am the way.


In addition to walking, the usual means of overland travel in the biblical world was by way of donkey. 


This beast of burden was strong, even tempered, surefooted, and inexpensive.


Other animals were also used in transportation, including the camel, the horse, and the elephant. 


Wagons, chariots or even pallets were used.


Most overland travel in biblical Palestine sought to avoid the oppressive heat of the day. 


There is some evidence to suggest that especially non caravan travel may have taken place at night. 


Nighttime travel would have offered the added advantage of escaping detection by robbers and bandits. 


Most international travel was also undertaken by caravans, to avoid the bandits and robbers common along the roadways.  


It was not uncommon for caravans to include 100 to 200 donkeys, and accompanied by security guards.


There is evidence that one day’s journey in the biblical world was between 17 and 23 miles, with higher average mileage when traveling downstream by boat.   

Abraham cited Mt. Moriah on the third day of his trip from Beersheba, and the two sites were separated by approximately 50 air miles.   

In Chapter 21 of Genesis we are told that at this time Abraham was dwelling in Beersheba (well of an oath).


Genesis 22:1- 4, And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.  And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.  And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.  Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off. 

Ezra’s journey from Babylon to Jerusalem took 120 days and he traveled about 900 miles.  (7.5 miles per day) 

Ezra 7:6-10,  This Ezra went up from Babylon; and he was a ready scribe in the law of Moses, which the LORD God of Israel had given: and the king granted him all his request, according to the hand of the LORD his God upon him. And there went up some of the children of Israel, and of the priests, and the Levites, and the singers, and the porters, and the Nethinims, unto Jerusalem, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king.  And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king.  For upon the first day of the first month began he to go up from Babylon, and on the first day of the fifth month came he to Jerusalem, according to the good hand of his God upon him. For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments.


Peter journeyed 40 miles from Joppa to Caesarea and arrived at his destination on the second day.  (20 miles per day)


Cornelius later explained that his own ambassadors had journeyed round trip between Joppa and Caesarea in four days. 


Then again New Testament pilgrimages between Galilee and Jerusalem (75-95 miles) would have taken about five days.


The routes pictured on the map have been determined using geographical research considering that travel in those days required water sources at given distances apart and people with animals could only travel so far given the strength of the person and animal. 


In our own country small towns grew up simply due to the distance one was able to travel in one day. 


Many towns started out as way stations.


Today traveling distance is so great as to bypass small towns and take away one of the reasons for their existence.   


But roads were established in certain places in those days for reasons that today would not be counted as important.


The routes used in those days remained relatively unchanged for long periods of time except when things were disrupted by geo-politics.


Today canyons are forded at ease by bridges but in biblical days canyons and rivers could only be crossed at places where there was a minimum of difficulty. 


Swamps, badlands, congealed lava flows were never traversed but always avoided and traveled around.

Passes through mountains regardless of how narrow they were, were used in lieu of going over the mountains. 

There was no such thing as a tunnel or bridge across a gorge. 

There was always a need to travel between copious sources of fresh water during these periods. 

Animals needed large amounts of water so roads were not built unless water was available on a regular basis.

Even though we do not have a map of the roads as they existed in ancient times the location of the roads can be inferred with a high degree of probability, especially when the above factors are joined with ancient tablets that speak to travel.

The most important international artery of the Fertile Crescent is known as the Great Trunk Road. 

This road began near Memphis in Egypt and passed the cities of Ra’amses and Sile before arriving at Gaza.

Gaza was a fortified emplacement on the edge of Canaan that was an important Egyptian provincial capital and that sometimes served as a launching pad for Egyptian campaigns through Palestine and Syria.


From there the road stretched to Aphek/Antipatris, located at the springs of the Me Jarkon River, the effusion of those springs forced the Trunk Road to pass on its inland (east) side.


Continuing in a northward direction and skirting the menacing sand dunes and seasonal marsh of the Sharon plain, the Great Trunk Road was inevitably confronted by the barrier of Mt. Carmel. 


It was normally through the main pass in the Carmel range, known as the Aruna pass (W. ‘Iron) that the artery ran.


It appears that the Trunk Road had two branches between Meggido and Capernaum. 


Most likely the principal branch turned eastward from Meggido and followed the course of the northern flanks of Mt. Carmel and Mt. Gilboa before arriving at the strongly garrisoned city of Beth-shan, across from the mouth of the Yarmuk River.


That section of the road most likely ran along the edge of the valley during the dry season, but took to the higher ground during the winter months to avoid the marshiness of the lowlands. 


But at Beth-shan the roadway veered northward and proceeded up the Jordan valley for about 15 miles, before it encountered the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.


This branch of the road then ran northward along the western perimeter of the Sea as far as Capernaum.


The second branch from Meggido stretched diagonally across the Jezreel valley, passed between Mt. Tabor and the hills of Nazareth, ran past the “Horns of Hattin”, cut across the Arbel pass with its sheer cliffs, and finally burst onto the plain along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. 


There it joined the main roadway from Beth-shan.


At Capernaum, the Great Trunk Road proceeded up the western flank of the Hulu valley and approached the fortress city of Hazor, which guarded Palestine’s northernmost sectors. 


From there, the road way turned northeast in the direction of Damascus, hugging the outliers on the Anti-Lebanon range and attempting to avoid the basaltic land surface of the Golan and Hauran.


The Great Trunk Road continued past Damascus and eventually followed the Euphrates flood plain to point just north of Babylon, where the river could be forded. 


Continuing southward through Babylonia, the roadway trekked past Uruk and Ur, before finally arriving at the head of the Persian Gulf.


A second route of importance that intersected the promised land is known in the Old Testament as the King’s Highway. 


Numbers 21:21-22, And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, saying, Let me pass through thy land:  we will not turn into the fields, or into the vineyards; we will not drink of the waters of the well:  but we will go along by the king’s highway, until we be past thy borders.


Outside of the Bible it is known as the Sultan’s Highway or Trajan’s Highway.


It was the emperor Trajan who converted this route from a track into a bona fide road in the second century A.D. 


This road stretched from the head of the Red Sea at Ezion-geber and essentially rode the water shed of Edom and Moab, past the cities of Bozah, Kir-hareseth, Dibon, and Heshbon, before coming to Amman. 


It made its way from Amman across the Gilead and Bashan plateaus to Damascus, where it joined the Great Trunk Road.


Some of the more important regional thoroughfares and secondary roadways within Palestine are marked by name on Map 19.


It is important to observe the cities though which those roads passed, and how the roads may have conferred additional importance upon otherwise rustic villages. 


In any event, one should correlate the information of the two road maps with various routes  charted on maps in chapter two of this atlas.


Sea travel appears not to have varied much during the biblical period, though its description must be slightly modified in the New Testament, owing to larger cargo vessels built during the Roman Empire.


During most of the biblical period it was normal for sea travel to occur seasonally and in the daylight, and seaways were generally not far away from the mainland. 


Sailors apparently cast anchor at night, and the distance between anchorages averaged about 40 miles. 


So God placed the Mediterranean Sea as a primary school for sailors to operate in until He was ready to let them go further.