Emmaus (Greek: Ἐμμαούς, Latin: Emmaus, Hebrew: חמת Hammat, meaning "warm spring", Arabic: عِمواس Imwas) was an ancient town located approximately 7 miles (11 km) northwest of present day Jerusalem. The New Testament reports that Jesus appeared before two of his followers on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection.
Emmaus in the New Testament
The author of the Gospel of Luke, at Luke 24:13-35, writes that Jesus appeared to two disciples who were walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which is described as being 60 stadia from Jerusalem (10.4 to 12 km depending on what definition of stadia is used), after his resurrection. One of the disciples is named as Cleopas in verse 18, while his companion remains unnamed.
The author of Luke places the story on the evening of the day of Jesus' resurrection. The two disciples have heard the tomb of Jesus was found empty earlier that day. They are discussing the events of the past few days when a stranger asks them what they are discussing. "Their eyes were kept from recognizing him." He soon rebukes them for their unbelief and gives them a Bible study on prophecies about the Messiah. On reaching Emmaus, they ask the stranger to join them for the evening meal. When he breaks the bread "their eyes were opened" and they recognize him as the resurrected Jesus. Jesus immediately vanishes. Cleopas and his friend then hasten back to Jerusalem to carry the news to the other disciples, and arrive in time to proclaim to the eleven who were gathered together with others that Jesus truly is alive. While describing the events, Jesus appeared again to all who were there, giving them a commission to evangelize. Then he took them out as far as Bethany and blessed them before ascending back into heaven.
A similar event is mentioned in the longer ending of Mark (Mark 16:12) although the disciples' destination is not stated. This passage is believed to be a late addition derived from the gospel of Luke. The incident is not mentioned in the gospels of either Matthew or John.
References in other sources
According to 1 Maccabees 3:55-4:22, around 166 BC Judas Maccabeaus fought against the Seleucids in the region of Emmaus, and was victorious at the Battle of Emmaus; later, the town was fortified by Bacchides, a Seleucid general (1 Macc 9:50). When Rome took over the land it became a toparchy, and was burnt by order of Varus after the death of Herod in 4 BC. During the First Jewish Revolt, before the siege of Jerusalem, Vespasian’s 5th legion was deployed there while the 10th legion was in Jericho. The town was renamed Nicopolis in 221 AD by Emperor Elagabalus, who conferred the title of “city” following the request of a delegation from Emmaus. The Plague of Emmaus in 639 AD is claimed to have caused up to 25,000 deaths in the town.
Many sites have been suggested for the biblical Emmaus, among them Emmaus Nicopolis (ca. 160 stadia from Jerusalem), Kiryat Anavim (66 stadia from Jerusalem on the carriage road to Jaffa), Coloniya (36 stadia on the carriage road to Jaffa), el-Kubeibeh (63 stadia, on the Roman road to Lydda), Artas (60 stadia from Jerusalem) and Khurbet al-Khamasa (86 stadia on the Roman road to Eleutheropolis). The oldest identification that is currently known is Emmaus Nicopolis.
The first modern site identification of Emmaus was by the explorer Edward Robinson, who equated it with the Palestinian Arab village of Imwas. Before its destruction in 1967, the village of Imwas was located at the end of the Ayalon Valley, on the border of the hill country of Judah, at 153 stadia (18.6 miles) from Jerusalem via the Kiryat Yearim Ridge Route, 161 stadia (19.6 miles) via the Beth-Horon Ridge Route and 1,600 feet (490 m) lower by elevation.
Eusebius was probably the first to mention Nicopolis as biblical Emmaus in his Onomasticon. Jerome, who translated Eusebius’ book, implied in his letter 108 that there was a church in Nicopolis built in the house of Cleopas where Jesus broke bread on that late journey. From the 4th century on, the site was commonly identified as the biblical Emmaus.
Archaeologically, many remains have been excavated at the site of the former Palestinian village, now located inside Canada Park, which support historical and traditional claims. Five structures were found and dated, including a Christian basilica from the 3rd century, another basilica from the 6th century and a 12th-century Crusader church. Emmaus Nicopolis is a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church.
Another possibility is the village of al-Qubeiba, west of Nabi Samwil on the Beit Horon road northwest of Jerusalem. The town, meaning “little domes” in Arabic, is located at about 65 stadia from Jerusalem. A Roman fort subsequently named Castellum Emmaus (from the Latin root castra, meaning encampment) was discovered at the site in 1099 by the Crusaders. In the 12th century, the Crusaders of the Kingdom of Jerusalem called the site "Small Mahomeria," in order to distinguish it from “Large Mahomeria” near Ramallah. Sounding similar to “Mahommed,” the term was used in medieval times to describe a place inhabited or used for prayer by Muslims. It was referred to as Qubaibat for the first time at the end of that same century by the writer Abu Shama, who writes in his Book of Two Gardens about a Muslim prince falling into the hands of the Crusaders at this spot. The Franciscans built a church here in 1902, on the ruins of a Crusader basilica. Excavations in 1943 revealed artifacts from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.
Abu Ghosh is located in the middle of the Kiryat Yearim Ridge Route between Nicopolis and Jerusalem, nine miles (83 stadia) from the capital. A convent of Minorites with a Gothic church in Abu Ghosh was turned into a stable. Robinson dated it to the Crusader period and declared it "more perfectly preserved than any other ancient church in Palestine." Excavations carried out in 1944 corresponded with Crusader identification of the site as Emmaus.
Colonia, between Abu Ghosh and Jerusalem on the Kiryat Yearim Ridge Route is another possibility. At a distance of 35 stadia (four miles) from Jerusalem, it was referred to as Motza in the Old Testament, the Talmud and the writings of Josephus Flavius. One mile to the north is a ruin called Beit Mizzeh, identified as the biblical Motza. Listed among the Benjamite cities of Joshua 18:26, it was referred to in the Talmud as a place where people would come to cut young willow-branches as a part of the celebration of Sukkot (Mishnah, Sukkah 4.5: 178). According to Josephus, Amassa (ancient Latin manuscripts) or Ammaous (medieval Greek manuscripts) was about 3.5 Roman miles (30 stadia) or 7 miles (60 stadia) from Jerusalem. A group of 800 soldiers settled here after the First Jewish Revolt. It is believed that the Latin Amassa and the Greek Ammaous are derived from the Hebrew name Motza. Motza was identified as the biblical Emmaus by Birch, and later Savi.
One of the oldest extant versions of the Gospel of Luke, preserved in the Codex Bezae, reads "Oulammaus" instead of Emmaus. In Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament scriptures, Oulammaus was the place where Jacob was visited by God in his dream, while sleeping on a rock. However, Oulammaus was not a real place name at all, but created only by an unfortunate translation mistake. The original name in Hebrew was "Luz". This mistake has long been corrected, but it was still there at the time when the Gospel was written around 100 AD. Thus, a theory has been put forward, that the story in the Gospel was merely symbolic, wanting to draw a parallel between Jacob being visited by God and the disciples being visited by Jesus. This symbolic significance, however, would not preclude the account being historically accurate.
- Holy Bible: St. Luke 24: 13-35; Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1972, "Emmaus," Vol. 6, pp. 726-727
- Hooker, M. D. (1991). The Gospel according to Mark. London: A & C Black.
- Emmaus Nicopolis, official site
- Emmaus - Catholic Encyclopedia article
- Jewish War 7.10.9
- See Genesis 28:10-19.
- Jenny Read-Heimerdinger: ‘Where is Emmaus?’, in Studies in the Early Text of the Gospels and Acts, D.J. Taylor (ed.), Birmingham University Press, pp. 229-44. Jenny Read-Heimerdinger with J. Rius-Camps: ‘Emmaous or Oulammaous? Luke’s Use of the Jewish Scriptures in the Text of Luke 24 in Codex Bezae’, Revista Catalana de Teologia 27, pp. 23-42.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.