From Egypt to Megiddo, and from there branching north to Asia Minor and Mesopotamia, the major transportation artery I call the International Coastal Highway covered over one thousand miles. From its origin at Memphis, it passed the Egyptian towns of Ra‘amses (Tell ed Dab‘a) and Sile before arriving at Gaza, an important fortified Egyptian provincial capital on the edge of Canaan. Gaza was sometimes a launching pad for Egyptian campaigns into Canaan and Syria. This southwestern sector of the road, from Memphis to Gaza, is known as “The Way to the Land of the Philistines” (Exodus 13:17).
From Gaza the beltway stretched to Aphek/Antipatris, located at the springs of the Yarqon River; the springs obstructed movement, forcing traffic to its inland (east) side. The road continued northward, skirting the menacing sand dunes and seasonal marshes of the Sharon plain, and eventually confronting the barrier of Mt. Carmel.
Several passes through Mt. Carmel gave access to the Jezreel Valley from the Sharon plain. The shortest of these passes, the Aruna pass (Nahal ‘Iron), was the one most frequently used. Its northern end, where it opened into the Jezreel, was dominated by the fortified city of Megiddo. The Aruna pass played a critical role in every historical period; in all the southwestern Fertile Crescent, this pass was one of the most militarily strategic points.
At Megiddo, the International Coastal Highway broke into several branches: One turned north to follow the Mediterranean coast; the other branches veered east toward the Sea of Galilee. The northward branch led to the Mediterranean Sea at Acre, and then ran along the Sea as far as Antioch, in today’s Syria. This roadway, linking Antioch with Alexandria, was later paved by the Romans, and it is essentially what is pictured on the Peutinger map (see photo of the Peutinger map).
Travelers who wished to turn inland from Megiddo had two options. The first and probably the principal one, and the 041one depicted on the Peutinger, followed the northern flanks of Mt. Carmel and Mt. Gilboa. It arrived at the strongly garrisoned city of Beth-Shean, across from the mouth of the Yarmuk river During the dry season, this section of the road most likely ran along the edge of the Jezreel Valley; during the winter months to avoid the marshiness of the lowlands, it took to the higher ground.
At Beth-Shean, the roadway veered north and proceeded up the Jordan Valley for about 15 miles, before it came to the southern end of the Sea of Galilee. The road then ran northward along the western perimeter of the Sea as far as Chinnereth/Gennesaret, near Capernaum. On occasion, however, travelers crossed the Jordan River north of Beth-Shean, south of the Sea of Galilee, and made their way to Damascus via the Yarmuk Valley and the Golan plateau.
A second inland branch from Megiddo stretched diagonally across the Jezreel Valley on a line created by a volcanic causeway. The road passed between Mt. Moreh and the hills of Nazareth and skirted around Mt. Tabor’s southeastern perimeter, before beginning its northward trek as far as the Horns of Hattin. From there the roadway veered eastward, traversing the Arbel pass with its sheer cliffs, and finally bursting onto the plain along the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. There it joined the main roadway from Beth-Shean.
At Chinnereth/Gennesaret, the international artery proceeded up the western flank of the Rosh Pinna dam, a volcanic formation responsible for creating the Hula swampland. The roadway then arrived at the fortress city of Hazor, which guarded Palestine’s northernmost sectors. One of the largest tells in the country, Hazor appears to have served as a provincial capital during the Late Bronze Age; the city figures prominently in Egyptian literature of the period, in the tablets from Tell el-Amarna, and in the Bible (Joshua 11:10). From Hazor, the roadway turned northeast in the direction of Damascus, hugging the foothills of the Anti-Lebanon range and attempting to avoid the basaltic land surface of the upper Golan and the Hauran.