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Emmaus (Greek: Ἐμμαούς, Latin: Emmaus; Hebrew: אמאוס) is a town mentioned in the Gospel of Luke from the New Testament. Luke reports that Jesus appeared, after his death and resurrection, before two of his disciples while they were walking on the road to Emmaus.[1]

Its geographical identification is not clear, several locations having been suggested throughout history. We only know that it was connected by a road with Jerusalem; the distance given by Luke varies in different manuscripts and the figure given has been made even more ambiguous by interpretations.[2]


  • Name 1
  • Emmaus in the New Testament 2
  • References in other sources 3
  • Historical identification 4
    • Emmaus-Nicopolis/Imwas 4.1
    • Al-Qubeiba/Castellum Emmaus/Chubebe/Qubaibat 4.2
    • Abu-Ghosh/Kiryat Anavim 4.3
    • Emmaus/Colonia/Motza/Ammassa/Ammaous/Beit Mizzeh 4.4
  • Symbolic identification 5
  • References 6


The place name Emmaus is relatively common in classical sources about the Levant and is usually derived through Greek and Latin from the Semitic word for "warm spring", whose Hebrew form is hamma or hammat (חמת). There are many sites with the name Hama, Hamath and variations thereof in the ancient and present-day Middle East.[3]

In the case of one possible candidate for Luke's Emmaus, namely modern Motza, another evolution of the name has been suggested (see there).

Emmaus in the New Testament

Emmaus is the town in which Jesus and his disciple travelled through to get out of Jerusalem. The Gospel of Luke, at Luke 24:13-35, records 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 stadium is used), after his resurrection. One of the disciples is named as Cleopas in verse 18, while his companion remains unnamed. Cleopas is a disciple who followed Jesus and who reminded Jesus of all of the people who believed in him and the Lord. The Gospel 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 explains prophecies about the Messiah to them. 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 Gospel of Mark (Mark 16:12[4]) although the disciples' destination is not stated. This passage is believed by some to be a late addition derived from the Gospel of Luke.[5] The incident is not mentioned in the gospels of either Matthew or John, or in the list of witnesses to the Resurrection given in 1 Corinthians 15.

References in other sources

There are several places in Judea and the Galilee called Emmaus in the Bible, the works of Josephus Flavius and other sources from the relevant period. The one most often mentioned is a town of some importance situated in the Valley of Ajalon (today Ayyalon), later called Emmaus Nicopolis (see its own paragraph below). Another Emmaus mentioned by Josephus is a village placed closer to Jerusalem at what is today the town of Motza (see its own paragraph below).

Historical identification

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 (ca. 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 (Arabic: عِمواس‎), near the Latrun monastery. 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 6th century and a 12th-century Crusader church.[6] Emmaus Nicopolis is a titular see of the Roman Catholic Church.[2]

There are several sources giving information about this town's ancient history, among them the First Book of Maccabees, the works of Josephus, and chronicles from the Late Roman, Byzantine and Early Muslim periods. According to 1 Maccabees 3:55-4:22, around 166 BC Judas Maccabeus fought against the Seleucids in the region of this particular Emmaus, and was victorious at the Battle of Emmaus; later, this town was fortified by Bacchides, a Seleucid general (1 Macc 9:50). When Rome took over the land it became the capital of a district or 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 Emmaus Nicopolis in AD 221 by Emperor Elagabalus, who conferred it the title of polis ("city") following the request of a delegation from Emmaus. The Plague of Emmaus in AD 639, mentioned in Muslim sources, is claimed to have caused up to 25,000 deaths in the town.

Al-Qubeiba/Castellum Emmaus/Chubebe/Qubaibat

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. However, there is no source from the Roman, Byzantine or Early Muslim periods naming it as "Emmaus" for the time of Jesus.

In the 12th century, the Crusaders of the Kingdom of Jerusalem called the site "Small Mahomeria," in order to distinguish it from the "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, Byzantine, and Crusader periods.

Abu-Ghosh/Kiryat Anavim

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 former Minorite convent with a Gothic church 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 supported the identification with Fontenoid, a site the Crusaders held for a while to be Emmaus before accepting Nicopolis as the "real" Emmaus.

Emmaus/Colonia/Motza/Ammassa/Ammaous/Beit Mizzeh

Colonia, between Abu Ghosh and Jerusalem on the Kiryat Yearim Ridge Route, is another possibility. At a distance of ca. 8 km from Jerusalem, it was referred to as Motza in the Old Testament (Joshua 18:26). One mile to the north of modern Motza 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). Motza was identified as the Emmaus of Luke in 1881 by William F. Birch (1840-1916) of the PEF, and again in 1893 by Paulo Savi.[7]

Promising excavations in 2001-2003 headed by Professor Carsten Peter Thiede were cut short by his sudden death in 2004. Thiede, an established if controversial scholar, was a strong proponent of Motza as the real Emmaus. He offered that the Latin Amassa and the Greek Ammaous are derived from the biblical Hebrew name Motza: Motza – ha-Motza ("ha" is the Hebrew equivalent of the definite article "the") – ha-Mosa – Amosa – Amaous – Emmaus. Unfortunately, his excavation summaries have since been removed from the website of the Basel college he was teaching at, but a book and at least one article he published on the topic are available.[8][9][10] He contended that neither Nicopolis, Abu Ghosh, or Al-Qubeiba can be earnestly considered, because the first was located too far from Jerusalem, while the two others were not called Emmaus at the time of Jesus.[11]

Josephus Flavius, almost a contemporary of Luke, writes in Antiquities of the Jews about a city called Emmaus in the context of the Maccabean wars, which corresponds well with the large city later called Emmaus Nicopolis, located at over 170 Roman stadia from Jerusalem, while in The Jewish War he brings up another Emmaus, just 60 Roman stadia from Jerusalem, where Vespasian settled 800 Roman legionnaires after the First Jewish Revolt.[9][12] To be precise, the ancient Latin manuscripts use "Amassa", while the medieval Greek manuscripts use "Ammaous". The newly created Roman "colonia" soon made the old name disappear: even the Jewish works of the 3rd-5th centuries, the Mishnah, the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud, talk about "Qeloniya", an Aramaic distortion of "colonia".[9] This name survived into modern times in Arabic as "Qalunya".[9] This was indeed always a village, not a city like Emmaus Nicopolis, and thus fits the description by Luke (κωμη "village") much better than the latter.[9] The difference in distance to Jerusalem between Luke's and Josephus' Emmaus, 60 vs. 30 stadia, is still much smaller than the one to Nicopolis, which lays full 176 stadia down the Roman road from Jerusalem.[9] Thiede recalculated the actual distance between Jerusalem's western city gate at the time, and his excavation site at Motza which unearthed the Jewish village that predated the Roman veterans colony, and came up with a figure of 46 stadia.[9] That would put it squarely in the middle between Luke's and Josephus' stated distances, which Thiede considers a good approximation for the time.[9] To fit in the last piece of the puzzle, Thiede's excavation produced Jewish artifacts of the time preceding the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE, giving substance to his claim to have found Luke's Emmaus, which had necessarily to be settled by Jews.[9] Thiede further affirms that there is no other Emmaus in the vicinity of Jerusalem, making Motza the only credible candidate.[9]

Symbolic identification

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.[13] 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 AD 100. Thus, a theory has been put forward,[14] 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.


  1. ^ Holy Bible: St. Luke 24: 13-35; Encyclopedia Judaica, Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1972, "Emmaus," Vol. 6, pp. 726-727
  2. ^ a b Siméon Vailhé (1909). "Emmaus". The Catholic Encyclopedia 5. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 11 April 2015. 
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Hooker, M. D. (1991). The Gospel according to Mark. London: A & C Black.
  6. ^ Emmaus Nicopolis, official site
  7. ^ W. F. Birch, "Emmaus", Palestine Exploration Fund, Quarterly Statement 13 (1881), pp. 237-38; Paulo Savi, "Emmaus", Revue Biblique 2 (1893), pp. 223-27.
  8. ^ Carsten Peter Thiede. "Ausgrabung einer jüdisch-römischen Siedlung aus biblischen Zeiten in Israel: Emmaus (Moza / Colonia)" (PDF). Staatsunabhängige Theologische Hochschule Basel (STH). Retrieved 27 August 2005. 
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Carsten Peter Thiede (†) (2005). "Die Wiederentdeckung von Emmaus bei Jerusalem [German: Rediscovering Emmaus near Jerusalem]".  
  10. ^ Carsten Peter Thiede (2006). The Emmaus Mystery: Discovering Evidence for the Risen Christ. Bloomsbury Academic.  
  11. ^ Identification of New Testment-era Emmaus (in German)
  12. ^ Jewish War 7:6:6
  13. ^ See Genesis 28:10-19.
  14. ^ 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.
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