Emmaus existed as a village in Palestine until 1967, located approximately 30 km west of Jerusalem, on the border between the mountains of Judea and the valley of Ayalon, not far from where the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem splits into two branches: northward through Beth-Horon and southwards, through Kiryat Yearim. Due to its strategic position, Emmaus played an important administrative, military and economic role in the region at certain points of its history. The first textual reference of Emmaus is found in the 1st Book of Maccabees, chapters 3-4, in the context of the war of Judas Maccabee against the Greeks (the 2nd c. BC)., see Hasmonean period.
“From Bet Horon to the Sea is one domain. Without regions? Rabbi Johanan said, ‘still there is Mountain, Lowland, and Valley. From Bet Horon to Emmaus (אמאוס) it is Mountain, from Emmaus to Lydda Lowland, from Lydda to the Sea Valley. Then there should be four stated? They are adjacent’.” (Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Sheviit 9, 2; H. Guggenheimer, trans., Berlin-N.Y. 2001, p.609)
Two Roman maps testify to the location of Emmaus: The Peutinger Table, which shows that Emmaus lies approximately 19 miles to the west of Jerusalem, and Ptolemy’s map, which shows the town’s location at around 20 miles from Jerusalem.
Emmaus (Amauante) upon the Peutinger Table,
XVIIII (19) miles away from Jerusalem (Hierusalem, Helya)
The name “Emmaus” most likely comes from the Hebrew word “Hammat” or “Hamta”, which means “hot spring” (under this name Emmaus is mentioned in the Midrash Zuta for the Song of Songs 6: 8 (see Old Testament period) and the Midrash Rabbah for the Lamentations 1: 45(see late Roman period). This title was probably hellenized during the 2nd and the 1st century BC and is found in ancient Jewish literature in the forms: Emmaus, Ammaum, Emmaus, Emmaum, Maum, Imonis, Amus...:
Άμμαούμ, Άμμαούς, Έμμαούμ, Έμμαούς,
אמאוס, אמאום, עמאוס, עמאום, עמוס, מאום , אימוניס, אמהום, etc..
During the Hasmonean period Emmaus became a dominant settlement in the Ayalon Valley area and acquired the status of a regional administrative center (the center of the toparchy). During the late Roman and Byzantine periods Emmaus’s status grew to that of a city ("polis") and it was named “Nicopolis”.(See: Early and Late Roman and Byzantine periods)
Following the arrival of Muslim conquerors in the 7th century AD, during the Early Arab period, Emmaus regained its original name, in Arabic: “Amwas”, “Imwas”, but lost its significance as a regional center.
During the period of the Crusades, the memory of the apparition of Jesus Christ at Emmaus began to be celebrated by Christians in other places of the Holy Land: Ha-Motza, Qubeibe, Abu-Gosh. (See: Question 3 and Question 7)
The Arab village of Amwas was again identified as the biblical Emmaus and the Roman Byzantine Nicopolis in modern times by scientific research (Edward Robinson, 1838-1852; M.-V. Guérin, 1868; Clermont-Ganneau, 1874; J.-B. Guillemot, 1880 -1887) . The revelations received in 1878 by Mariam of Jesus Crucified, a local saint and a nun of the Carmelite monastery of Bethlehem agreed with the scientists’ conclusions. . Thanks to these revelations, the Holy Place of Emmaus was bought by the Carmelite monastery from its Muslim owners. Archaeological excavations were carried out and the arrival of pilgrims to Emmaus-Nicopolis resumed (see: Information for visitors). The Arab village of Amwas was completely destroyed in 1967 during the Six-Day War.
Since 1993, the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes has been residing on the spot and taking care of the archeological site of Emmaus-Nicopolis.