Major routes in the Land of the Bible including the Via Maris (International Coastal Highway), the Way of the Patriarchs, the Jordan Rift Valley Route, the King’s Highway, and the Jezreel Valley. Routes are important since many biblical, historical events occurred at locations and towns along the routes.
Via Maris (International Coastal Highway) is the name for an ancient trade route, dating from the early Bronze Age, linking Egypt with the northern empires of Syria, Anatolia and Mesopotamia. In Latin, Via Maris means “way of the sea” – דֶּרֶךְ הַיָּם. See Isaiah 8:23 in the Bible. It is a historic road that runs in part along the Israeli Mediterranean coast. It was the most important route from Egypt to the Fertile Crescent which followed the coastal plain before crossing over into the plain of Jezreel and the Jordan valley.
Way of the Patriarchs
Way of the Patriarchs is an ancient north south route traversing the land of Israel. The name refers to mentions in biblical narratives that it was frequently travelled by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The Way of the Patriarchs follows the watershed ridge line of the Samarian and Judaean Mountains, running south through: Megiddo, Hazor, Shechem, Bethel, Jerusalem, Ephrath and Hebron to Beersheba .
Unlike the Via Maris and the King’s Highway which were international roads crossing the territories of many peoples, the Way of the Patriarchs was wholly within the territory of ancient Israel.
The ancient road of the patriarchs is now known as Highway 60. Highway 60 runs from north to south through Israel and passes through some of the most notable biblical sights including: Shiloh, Bethel, Elon Moreh, Jerusalem, and Hebron.
The Jordan Rift Valley Route
The Jordan Valley is part of the Levantine corridor and constitutes a route for animal migration, including in the past for the developing human species. The Jordan Valley still is an essential part of one of the main migration routes for birds in the world allow an estimated 500 million birds belonging 200 species to fly across Israel twice a year.
The Jordan Rift Valley is a significant topographic feature over which a few narrow paved roads and difficult mountain tracks lead. Even so, the Jordan Rift Valley has traditionally been a North-South transport corridor, and is crossed by important land routes in the East-West direction.
The King’s Highway was a trade route of vital importance connecting Africa with Mesopotamia. It ran from Egypt across the Sinai Peninsula to Aqaba, then turned northward across Transjordan, to Damascus and the Euphrates River.
After the Muslim conquest of the Fertile Crescent in the 7th century CE it was the darb al-hajj or pilgrimage road for Muslims from Syria, Iraq, and beyond heading to the holy city of Mecca.
Driving the King’s Highway in Jordan
The valley formed an easier route through the Levant than crossing the mountains on either side, and so saw a large amount of traffic, and was the site of many historic battles. Via Maris passed through Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley until it reached Tiberias on the Sea of Galilee.
The Jezreel Valley is located at the southern end of the Lower Galilee bordered to the south by the Samarian Highlands, the south east by Mount Gilboa, the west by Mount Carmel, and the country of Jordan to the east. The valley’s strategic location meant that throughout history, armies and travelers along the Via Maris would pass through the valley.
The valley once was the channel by which the Mediterranean Sea, at the north-western end of the valley, connected to the Sea of Galilee, the Jordan Valley and ultimately to the Dead Sea. About two million years ago, as the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan Rift Valley rose, this connection was lost, and the periodic floods from the Mediterranean Sea ceased.
This resulted in the Dead Sea no longer having a connection to the ocean, and over time, due to greater evaporation than precipitation plus surface water inflow, it has become heavily saline. The Sea of Galilee, on the other hand, consists of fresh water.
Land of the Bible Routes
The lay of the land (avoiding steep hillsides and deserts) determines where roads run. Roads transmitted wealth, knowledge and power. These factors determine where cities were built and where armies campaigned. Though there are few descriptions of roads in the Bible their location shapes the story of Scripture.