Emmaus Nicopolis was a city established in Hellenistic times, apperently because of its hot springs which also gave it its name (“Emmaus” for Aramaic = “Hammath” = warm). In the third century CE its name was extended by the Romans to “Emmaus Nicopolis” – “Emmaus, city of victory”. The city lost its importance after the Muslim conquest in the 7th century,but under the name “Imwas”, the site was populated until 1967. The Gospel of Luke (24:13-31) records Jesus appearing at Emmause after his resurrection. In the Byzantine period a church commemorated this event at the southern part of the city.
In the Crusaders period the location of Emmaus was suggested to be at Abu-Gosh or Al-Qubeiba, yet the Byzantine church at Emmaus-Nicopolis was reconstructed. The site is maintained since 1993 by the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes.
A visit to the site can be combined in a guided day tour in the Judean Foothills (the Shephelah).
Where is the Emmaus mentioned in Luke 24:13?
The resurrection of Jesus is documented by all the Gospels, but the events that follow are recorded differently by each source.
According to the Gospel of Matthew Jesus appeared to the eleven disciples in the Galilee, stating “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mat. 28:16-20). Mark reports Jesus appearing to “two of them while they were walking in the country” and again to the eleven disciples, after which he ascends to the heavens. (Mark 16:12-18). John reports on Jesus appearing to the disciples, and again at the Sea of Galilee, where he appoints Peter (John 20-21).
Luke elaborates on the version of Mark, and reports on Jesus appearing to two men who were going “to a village Emmaus” (Luke 24:13). The two invite him to join them for dinner, and as “he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them.. their eyes were opened and they recognized him”.
Yet right after – “he disappeared from their sight.”
Jesus appeared again to the eleven disciples in Jerusalem, and then ascended to the heavens (Luke 24).
Emmaus is only mentioned once in the New Testament, by Luke, when describing the events following the resurrection of Jesus. Today, 4 different traditions exist, each arguing to identify at the ancient site at a different location.
Emmaus at Emmaus-Nicopolis?
29 km west of Jerusalem was an ancient city named Emmaus. In the 3rd century the Romans added “Nicopolis” (Latin for “City of Victory”) to the name of the city, and so its full name in late antiquity was “Emmaus Nicopolis”.
Its Semitic name was preserved in name of the Arab village, ‘Imawas, which existed at the same location until 1967. Archaeological excavations at the site have also uncovered Churches from Byzantine and Crusader times. It seems that that these churches were commemorating the event recorded in Luke.
But there is one major problem with this site. Luke states Emmaus was “60 stadia” from Jerusalem (24:13). A “Stadia” is a bit less than 200 m, so Emmaus should be about 11 km from Jerusalem. But Emmaus-Nicopolis is 29 km away from Jerusalem!.
That is one of the reasons the Crusaders preferred to commemorate Emmaus at a different location, closer to Jerusalem.
Emmaus at Abu-Gosh?
During Crusaders times a chain of forts were built along main roads in the Holy Land. There purpose was to protect the Crusaders, and Christian Pilgrims, eager to visit various Holy Christian sites.
The crusaders favored commemorating the events of Emmaus at a site that is indeed “60 stadia” from Jerusalem. They built an impressive Romanesque style church next to a spring and decorated its interior with various Christian subjects. This church stands to this day, with some of its frescoes still intact. But today it is in the heart of an Arab Muslim village named Abu-Gosh.
Interestingly, the Crusaders also built a big church at Emmaus-Nicopolis. But some scholars argue that this church was probably preserving the memory of the Maccabees, who lived in that area, and not Emmaus.
Emmaus at Qubeibah?
Although today both the site at Emmaus-Nicopolis, and at Abu-Gosh, are maintained by Catholic orders, the official site according to the Roman-Catholic church is at a third site – Qubeibah. The site is also 11 km from Jerusalem, and archaeological excavations at the site have uncovered remains of a Crusaders era village with a big church. However no finds from the 1st century were recorded at this location.
Emmaus in Motza?
As if three different location are not enough, the Protestants suggest identifying Emmaus at in another, 4th location, called – Motza. Their main argument it the similarity in the sound of the place name, but this site does not bear any finds from the 1st century, and it is also too close to Jerusalem. Motza is 6 km from Jerusalem, while Luke records Emmaus being 11 km away from the city.
So where is Luke’s Emmaus?
While Emmaus-Nicopolis seems to be the best candidate of being the “Emmaus” mentioned in Luke 24:13, there is still the distance problem. Luke records Emmaus being 11 km from Jerusalem, while Emmaus-Nicopolis is 29 km away.
The key of resolving this is a careful and critical reading of Luke. The main theory is an assumption of a scribal error in one of the early copies of Luke.
The distance Luke originally documented was not “60 stadia”, but “160 stadia”. Yet, one of the early scribes who copied Luke mistakenly omitted one word, or letter, turning “160 Stadia” to “60 stadia”. And the distance of “160 Stadia” is indeed nearly 29 km!.
Furthermore, there are some rare early versions of Luke, such as the 4th century CE “Codex Sinaiticus”, which states the distance was “160 stadia”! Unfortunately the mistake was canonized and have puzzled the Christian world ever since.