The first description of the Promised Land given to Moses captures the essence of Palestine's geography: "The land you are crossing the Jordan to take possession of is a land of mountains and valleys that drinks rain from heaven." Palestine itself was only the size of modern New Jersey, but its dramatic changes in elevation were only one of the countless perils for travelers.

Nevertheless, travel was a major part of first-century Palestinian life, as the Gospels record: Mary left Nazareth to visit Elizabeth in the hills of Judea; foreign dignitaries came to pay homage to the new king of the Jews; Jesus attended the wedding feast at Cana and visited with Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. In fact, the travel narratives form a large proportion of the Gospels.

Getting around

The least expensive mode of transportation was, of course, walking. Walking speed depended on the climate, season, and terrain, but one could generally walk about 20 miles in a day. Itineraries and travelogues of ancient Egyptians suggest that such a rate was typical for millennia. People walking the Persian Royal Road from Persepolis to Sardis (1,560 miles) averaged 18 miles a day, completing the entire journey in three months; government couriers changing horses at posting stations could cover the same distance in nine days. The Book of Acts recorded Peter walking 40 miles from Joppa to Caesarea in two days. Of course, Jews did not permit travel on the Sabbath, when walking was limited to 2,000 cubits (about three-fifths of a mile).

Jesus, like many of his contemporaries, crisscrossed the country numerous times. Assuming he went from Nazareth to Jerusalem annually for each of the three required annual feasts using the shortest route through Samaria, a ...

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