Emmaus is a town mentioned in the Gospel of Luke of 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. Although its geographical identification is not certain, several locations having been suggested throughout history, chiefly Emmaus Nicopolis. It is known only that it was connected by a road to Jerusalem; the distance given by Luke varies in different manuscripts and the figure given has been made even more ambiguous by interpretations.
Emmaus Nicopolis in the New Testament
Emmaus Nicopolis is mentioned in the Gospel of Luke as the village where Jesus appeared to his disciples after his crucifixion and resurrection. Luke 24:13-35 indicates that he appears after his resurrection to two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus, which is described as being 60 stadia (10.4 to 12 km depending on what definition of stadion is used) from Jerusalem. One of the disciples is named Cleopas (verse 18), while his companion remains unnamed:
That very day two of them were going to a village (one hundred and) sixty stadia away from Jerusalem called Emmaus, and they were speaking about all the things that had occurred. And it happened that while they were speaking and debating, Jesus himself drew near and walked with them, but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him … As they approached the village to which they were going, he gave the impression that he was going on further. But they urged him, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening and the day is declining.” So he went in to stay with them. And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him.Luke 24: 13-35
More Emmaus Nicopolis in the New Testament
According to the gospel, the story takes place on the evening of the day of Jesus’s resurrection. The two disciples hear that 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 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 [are] opened” and they recognize him as the resurrected Christ. Jesus immediately vanishes. Cleopas and his friend then hasten back to Jerusalem to carry the news to the other disciples.
The Location of Emmaus Nicopolis
Emmaus Nicopolis appears on Roman geographical maps. The Peutinger Table situates it about 31 kilometers (19 mi) west of Jerusalem, while the Ptolemy map shows it at a distance of 32 kilometers (20 mi) from the city. The Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke seems to lie some 12.1 kilometers (7.5 mi) from Jerusalem, though a textual minor variant, conserved in Codex Sinaiticus, gives the distance between the New Testament Emmaus and Jerusalem as 160 stadia. The geographical position of Emmaus is described in the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Sheviit 9.2.
The History of Emmaus Nicopolis
Due to its strategic position, Emmaus played an important administrative, military and economic role in history. The first mention of Emmaus occurs in the First Book of Maccabees, chapters 3–4, in the context of Judas the Maccabee’s wars against the Greeks (2nd century BCE). The first battles of the Maccabees are traditionally believed to have occurred in this area.
Then in the Roman period, Josephus Flavius mentions Emmaus in his writings several times. In fact, he speaks about the destruction of Emmaus by the Romans in the year 4 BCE. The importance of the city was recognized by Emperor Vespasian; who established a fortified camp there in 68 CE to house the fifth (“Macedonian”) legion, populating it with 800 veterans. Though this may refer to another site rather than Emmaus Nicopolis. Archaeological works indicate that the town was cosmopolitan, with a mixed Jewish, pagan, and Samaritan population; the presence of the last group being attested by the remains of a Samaritan synagogue!
The Founding of Nicopolis
The city of Nikopolis was founded on the ruins of Emmaus in early 3rd century CE, after Julius Africanus, who said he had interviewed descendants of Jesus’ relatives, headed an embassy to Rome and had an interview with the Roman emperor Elagabalus on behalf of Emmaus, then a small Palestinian village. St. Eusebius writes “Emmaus, whence was Cleopas who is mentioned by the Evangelist Luke. Today it is Nicopolis, a famous city of Palestine.”
In 222 CE, a basilica was erected there, which was rebuilt first by the Byzantines and later modified by the Crusaders. During the Byzantine period, Emmaus-Nicopolis became a large city and a bishopric. A substantial church complex was erected on the spot where tradition maintained the apparition of the risen Christ had occurred, a site which then became a place of pilgrimage, and whose ruins are still extant.
Emmaus Nicopolis in the Crusader Period
During the Crusader period, the Christian presence resumed at Emmaus, and the Byzantine church was restored. However, the memory of the apparition of the risen Jesus at Emmaus also started to be celebrated in three other places in the Holy Land: Motza (c. 6 kilometres (4 mi) west of Jerusalem), Qubeibe (c. 11 kilometres (7 mi) northwest of Jerusalem) Abu Ghosh (c. 11 kilometres (7 mi) west of Jerusalem).
The Arab village of Amwas was identified once again as the biblical Emmaus and the Roman-Byzantine Nicopolis by scholars in the 19th century, including Edward Robinson(1838–1852),  M.-V. Guérin (1868), Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau (1874), and J.-B. Guillemot (1880–1887). In 1930, the Carmelite Order built a monastery, the House of Peace, on the tract of land purchased in 1878. In November 1947, the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine attributed the area to the Arab State. Prior to the outbreak of hostilities in the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, Emmaus Nicopolis (ʻImwâs) had a population of 1,100 Arabs.
Archaeology at Emmaus Nicopolis
Archaeological excavations in Imwas started in the late 19th century and continue nowadays: Clermont-Ganneau (1874), J.-B. Guillemot (1883–1887); Dominican Fathers L.-H. Vincent & F.-M. Abel (1924–1930), Y. Hirschfeld (1975); M. Gichon (1978), Mikko Louhivuori, M. Piccirillo, V. Michel, K.-H. Fleckenstein (since 1994). During excavations in Canada Park (Ayalon forest) ruins of Emmaus fortifications from the Hasmonean era were discovered, along with a Roman bathhouse from the 3rd century CE, Jewish burial caves from the 1st century CE, Roman-Byzantine hydraulic installations, oil presses, and tombs.
Also other findings were coins, oil lamps, vessels, jewelry. The eastern (rear) three-apsidal wall of the Byzantine church was cleared, with an external baptistery and polychrome mosaics, as well as walls of the Crusader church which were built against the central Byzantine apse (12th century). In the area of Emmaus, several Hebrew, Samaritan, Greek, and Latin inscriptions carved on stones have been found.