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Israel Archaeology: The Pilgrim’s Road

Few current archaeological digs in Israel are as exciting as the excavation of the Pilgrim’s Road. In the past, as many as 2 million pilgrims walked this road on festival days, including Jesus and his disciples.

The Jerusalem Pilgrim’s Road

To get a sense of the discovery’s significance, we turned to one of our expert guides in Jerusalem. Ido Keynan is an accomplished local archaeologist and true expert who has been guiding our tour groups for over three decades. He says archaeology answers our questions about the life of Jesus—“We don’t have to guess. We just dig!” We asked him to share insight on this archaeological discovery—and his career—with us.

First, how did you get into the field of archaeology?

Curiosity! Instead of taking items for granted or at face value, I [always] want to dig deeper. There is nothing like discovering the answers to the questions we have. It is like a jigsaw coming together as we make a discovery; suddenly the whole picture appears. 

How was the Pilgrim’s Road discovered?

In the 20th century, two British archaeologists were searching for the road and missed it by 3 feet! In 2004, a pipe burst in the middle of a neighborhood in southeast Jerusalem. When archaeologists accompanied the city’s construction workers below ground (which is standard practice), they discovered wide stairs near where the Pool of Siloam would have been. This was where a professor at Hebrew University had predicted the road would be.

The Jerusalem Pilgrim’s Road

Jewish pilgrims traveled this limestone pathway (more than a third of a mile long and 26 feet wide) as they made their way from the Pool of Siloam (where they would perform a ritual cleansing) to the Temple. The faithful were required to present sacrifices at the Temple three times a year—at Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. 

[Note: Most of modern Jerusalem is built on archaeological layers, and while the ancient road would have been out in the open 2,000 years ago, it is currently underground—with a modern neighborhood above it. Walking on it is like walking through a tunnel.]

Apart from the road itself, what other related discoveries have captured your attention?

The Pilate Stone is a limestone block with the name of Pontius Pilate [engraved on it]. The stone is physical evidence that predates even the accounts of Pilate written in Scripture. If the stones could talk about what they’ve seen, the stories they’d tell would be incredible. 

[Note: This artifact was discovered in 1961 in Caesarea Maritima. Apart from the biblical manuscripts, its inscription is the only authentic first-century reference to Pontius Pilate.]

When you guide people in Israel, are the destinations always supported by archaeology?

The sites are 80% based on tradition and 20% proven through historical evidence to be where [biblical stories] happened. Like Capernaum—we know [from Scripture] Jesus was in this village and synagogue. This is why the Pilgrim’s Road is significant. We know, beyond a doubt, Jesus was here. 

What impact does Israel have on Christian travelers?

Walking in the footsteps of Christ overwhelms you. It brings Scripture alive, from black and white to full color. It’s immersive—a spiritual journey that changes you. When I see the reaction and transformation of travelers, it feeds me. I am filled with inspiration.

Could you give us an example of how a visit to Israel can change a life?

A young man in his 20s, a nonbeliever, came to Israel with a believing family. On the first day, he was completely disconnected from the experience. On the second day, he asked many questions filled with skepticism. He became so focused on the sacred story that on the third day when we asked who wanted to be baptized, he was ready, and without hesitation raised his hand. We see stories like this time and again as people draw close to God in Israel.

The Jerusalem Pilgrim’s Road

How long have you worked with Inspiration Cruises & Tours?

At least 30 years as a guide. They are, beyond a doubt, the best pilgrimage agent to Israel. Traveling in Israel is an extremely emotional experience, and Inspiration ensures that each and every person is cared for. Their team handles everything so that their guides can focus on what they do best: teaching. The best guides are picky with who they travel with; Inspiration keeps the best guides for life. They are family to me.

What is your message for believers who have never visited Israel?

Come to the land and open Scripture. Today—and [during] the days that follow your trip—your life will be changed. God is in your heart. You will hear Him speak here and you will never be the same.