At the start of Jeremiah we read that he comes from Anathoth (Jeremiah 1:1). In the series of novels Terror on Every Side! The Life of Jeremiah, it is common for Jeremiah to walk to Jerusalem in the morning and walk back home in the afternoon. Is this realistic? Walking in the Bible was very common – but how far did they walk?
The distance from the temple in Jerusalem to the top of the hill at Anathoth is about 5-6 kilometres. This would take about one to one and a half hours. If Jeremiah was to walk both directions in a day, that would total 10-12km and he would spend two or three hours walking.
It is believed that a day’s travel at that time, for those who had to walk (which was most people), was about 32-40km – further than many of us would ever walk in a day in our entire lives!
God made us able to walk long distances – much further than we do now that we have cars. It would have been quite reasonable for Jeremiah to walk to Jerusalem every day. So if you read or hear of Jeremiah walking to Jerusalem in Terror on Every Side! try thinking how you would go with such a walk every day.
Now what about on a Sabbath day? A “Sabbath day’s journey” in New Testament times could take you from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives (Acts 1:12), a distance of about one kilometre.
When God originally gave the people of Israel the law of the Sabbath (Exodus 16:23), some of the people went out to collect manna, despite God’s statement that there would not be any on the Sabbath. At that time, God told all the people to stay in their place on the seventh day (Exodus 16:29).
We must also remember that Jeremiah was from a family of priests. Sabbath days were fairly ordinary days of work for priests – as they were for Jesus, who is now our high priest. The work of God was still to be done on a Sabbath (John 5:16-17), as was the work of doing good (Matthew 12:11-12). On a Saturday, priests had to offer the daily sacrifices in the morning and evening (Numbers 28:3-4) as well as special sacrifices for the Sabbath (Numbers 28:9-10).
Was there a limit to how far people would travel on a Sabbath day in the time of Jeremiah? We simply don’t know.
A Day’s journey (Wikipedia)
A Sabbath day’s journey
Blog post: Roads in Old Testament Times
This article on Walking in the Bible is one of a series of articles on Jeremiah published as back-up material for the Bible-based fiction series Terror on Every Side!
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