Jun 6, 2019

Review of The Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel

Dorsey, David A. The Roads and Highways of Ancient Israel. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2018.

If there are books that identify one as a Bible nerd this might be one of them. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. As the title suggests, this work is a thoroughgoing examination of the roads and highways of Iron Age Israel (ca. 1200-586 BC). It is based on the author’s doctoral dissertation and although first published in 1991 still provides the best work on the subject.

The book is divided into eleven chapters. The first two are introductory and methodological in nature. Chapter one discusses the nature of roads in ancient Israel and covers topics such as travel methods, width of roads, construction methods, and naming and marking. It is a comprehensive and interesting overview of the subject. In chapter two, four types of sources are identified for providing data to reconstruct ancient roads: (1) historical sources (written), (2) archaeological, (3) later routes, and (4) geographical and topographical conditions.

The next eight chapters examine the roads and highways of Israel by dividing the material into major routes and regions. Each chapter begins with an introductory overview followed by a more specific and detailed discussion. Maps are also included.

The final chapter provides a brief but interesting set of observations and is followed by a helpful appendix related to road terminology in the Old Testament.

Overall, Dorsey has provided an essential resource for those seeking to understand the roads and highways of Iron Age Israel. There is a nice blend of interaction with the four sources noted above and also the secondary literature. There is a wealth of information here and much to build upon by those who want to bring newer discoveries to the discussion. (The most recent source in the extensive bibliography dates to 1988.)

My criticisms are relatively minor and one has to keep in mind that this is a reprinted work. First, I do wish that footnotes rather than endnotes would have been utilized. Flipping back and forth gets old in a hurry and a book like this is not likely to be read by the casual reader who finds footnotes a hindrance. Second, I do wish that the Hebrew would have been employed rather than transliteration. Third, the maps can be quite busy and a bit difficult to read. But again, these are minor issues.

In sum, one is grateful that Wipf & Stock has chosen to reprint this excellent resource at a reasonable cost. The nature of the work does not lend itself to those casually interested in the Old Testament or the Holy Land but those who are interested in such things as roads and highways will have an invaluable resource.

Thanks to the folks at Wipf & Stock for providing the copy used in this unbiased review.

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