Emmaus in Jewish Tradition

The geographical position of Emmaus is described in the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Sheviit:

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  (אמאוסit 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)

 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 and Midrash Rabbah for the Lamentations 1, 48). 

According to Midrash Zuta, spies sent by Moses to the Promised Land, passed through Emmaus:

When Moses sent spies, what did they see as they arrived to Hammat? Moses had told them: ‘Do not enter like thieves, but be courageous and take some fruit of the land’ (Numbers 13, 20). But the Amorites started to say: “Look, these people have come for no other purpose than to cut our trees and to burn our cities.” Messengers went out behind them and the Amorites attacked them. Ahiman, Shishai and Talmai pursued them till they arrived to the Valley of Hammat in Judea  (חמת יהודה), and Kaleb fell down behind a wall ... (Midrash Zuta for the Song of Songs 6, 8 )

   During the conquest of the Holy Land, ca. 1200 BC, Joshua fought the kings of Canaan between Gabaon and Azeqa, near today’s Emmaus. According to the Book of Joshua the sun and the moon stopped above the Ayalon valley, so that the Israelites would be victorious, and the darkness would not conceal their enemies: 

And the Lord said unto Joshua: ‘Fear them not; for I have delivered them into thy hand; there shall not a man of them stand against thee.’ Joshua therefore came upon them suddenly; for he went up from Gilgal all the night. And the Lord discomfited them before Israel, and slew them with a great slaughter at Gabaon; and they chased them by the way of the ascent of Beth-Horon, and smote them to Azeqa, and unto Makkedah. And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, while they were at the descent of Beth-Horon, that the Lord cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azeqa, and they died; they were more who died with the hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword. Then spoke Joshua to the Lord in the day when the Lord delivered up the Amorites before the children of Israel; and he said in the sight of Israel:  ‘Sun, stand thou still upon Gabaon; and thou, Moon, in the valley of Ayalon.’ And the sun stood still, and the moon stayed, until  the   nation  had  avenged themselves of their enemies. (The Book of Joshua 10, 12-13).


  Joshua divided the Promised Land between the twelve tribes of Israel, and the territory where Emmaus is today was given to the tribe of Dan: The seventh lot fell to the clans of the tribe of Danites. Their heritage was the territory of Zorah, Eshtaol, Ir-Shemesh, Shaalabbin, Ayalon, Ithlah, Elon, Timnah, Ekron, Eltekoh, Gibbethon, Baalath, Jehud, Bene-Berak, Gath-Rimmon, Me-Yarkon and Rakkon, with the coast at Joppa.  (The Book of Joshua 19, 40-46

  Some believe Ir-Shemesh  (“City of the Sun”), which is mentioned in the text, to be Emmaus, because in one manuscript of the Septuagint, Codex Vaticanus, Ir-Shemesh is rendered as Polis Samaus.

The Second Temple Period

The first historical reference to Emmaus is found in the 1st Book of Maccabees in the context of the Jewish revolt against the Hellenistic Syrian king Antiochus IV.

 Then Lysias chose Ptolemy the son of Dorymenes, Nicanor, and Gorgias, mighty men of the king’s friends, and with them he sent forty thousand footmen and seven thousand horsemen to go into the land of Judah and to destroy it, as the king commanded. So they went forth with all their power, and came and pitched camp by Emmaus (depending upon the manuscripts: Aμμούν, Αμμαου, Αμμαυ) in the plain country. And the merchants of the country, hearing the fame of them, took very much silver and gold, with servants, and came into the camp to buy the children of Israel for slaves. A power also of Syria and of the land of the Philistines joined themselves unto them. Now when Judas and his brethren saw that miseries were multiplied, and that the forces were encamped in their borders (for they knew how the king had given commandment to destroy the people and utterly abolish them), they said one to another, ‘Let us restore the decayed estate of our people, and let us fight for our people and the sanctuary.’ Then was the congregation gathered together, that they might be ready for battle and that they might pray and ask mercy and compassion. Now Jerusalem lay void as a wilderness, there was none of her children that went in or out. The sanctuary also was trodden down, and aliens kept the stronghold. The heathen had their habitation in that place; and joy was taken from Jacob, and the pipe with the harp ceased. Therefore the Israelites assembled themselves together and came to Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem; for in Mizpah was the place where they prayed in former time in Israel ... So the camp removed, and pitched upon the south side of Emmaus (Αμμαούμ, Αμμαους, Εμμαους). And Judas said, ‘arm yourselves, and be valiant men, and see that ye be in readiness against the morning, that ye may fight with these nations, that are assembled together against us to destroy us and our sanctuary: For it is better for us to die in battle, than to behold the calamities of our people and our sanctuary. Nevertheless, as the will of God is in heaven, so let him do.’  Then Gorgias took five thousand footmen and a thousand of the best horsemen, and removed out of the camp by night, to the end that he might rush in upon the camp of the Jews and smite them suddenly. And the men of the fortress were his guides. Now when Judas heard thereof, he himself removed, and the valiant men with him, that he might smite the king’s army which was at Emmaus (Έμμαούμ, Ναμμαουμ, Αμμαουμ), while as yet the forces were dispersed from the camp. In the meantime came Gorgias by night into the camp of Judas, and when he found no man there, he sought them in the mountains, for he said, ‘These fellows flee from us.’ But as soon as it was day, Judas showed himself in the plain with three thousand men, who nevertheless had neither armour nor swords to their liking. And they saw the camp of the heathen, that it was strong and well fortified and compassed round about with horsemen, and these were expert in war. Then said Judas to the men who were with him, ‘Fear ye not their multitude, neither be ye afraid of their assault. Remember how our fathers were delivered at the Red Sea when Pharaoh pursued them with an army. Now therefore let us cry unto heaven, if perhaps the Lord will have mercy upon us and remember the covenant of our fathers and destroy this host before our face this day, so that all the heathen may know that there is One who delivereth and saveth Israel.’ Then the strangers lifted up their eyes and saw them coming over against them. Therefore they went out of the 

camp to battle, but those who were with Judas sounded their trumpets. So they joined in battle, and the heathen, being discomfited, fled into the plain. However all the hindmost of them were slain with the sword, for they pursued them unto Gazara, and unto the plains of Idumea, and Azotus, and Jamnia, so that there were slain of them some three thousand men. This done, Judas returned again with his host from pursuing them and said to the people, ‘Be not greedy for the spoils, inasmuch as there is a battle before us, and Gorgias and his host are here by us in the mountain. But stand ye now against your enemies and overcome them, and after this ye may boldly take the spoils.’ As Judas was yet speaking these words, there appeared a part of them looking out from the mountain, who, when they perceived that the Jews had put their host to flight and were burning the tents, for the smoke that was seen declared what was done when therefore they perceived these things, they were sore afraid and, seeing also the host of Judas in the plain ready to fight, they fled every one into the land of strangers.   (1st Book of Maccabees 3:38-4, 25)


 Other stories from the Second Temple period: 

According to the Talmud, among the musicians who played in the Jerusalem Temple there were people from Emmaus:  

And they (who played the flute before the altar) were the priests’ slaves. So Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Yose says, ‘They were from the Bet Hapegarim and Bet Tziporyah families and from Emmaus (depending upon manuscripts:  עימאוס, עמאוסאמאוס); they married priests (i.e. their daughters were accepted as wives by the priests)’.  Rabbi Hanina ben Antignos says, ‘They were Levites’.     (tractate Arakhin, ch. 2, Mishnah 4)

  A  story is told about a donkey driver who came to Hillel the Elder. He said to him: ‘Rabbi, see how we are better off than you (Babylonians), for you are put to great trouble with all this travelling when you ascend from Babylon to Jerusalem, but I go forth from the entrance of my house and lodge in the entrance to Jerusalem’. He waited a bit and then said to him: ‘For how much would you rent me your donkey from here to Emmaus (מיאם, אמאום)’? He answered: ‘A denarius’. ‘How much to Lod?’ He answered: ‘Two’. ‘How much to Caesarea?’ He answered: ‘Three’. He said to him: ‘I see that, in so far as I increase the distance, you increase the price’. He answered: ‘Yes, price is according to distance’. He said to him: ‘And should not the reward for my own feet be (at least) the equivalent of a beast’s feet?’ This is what Hillel used to maintain: ‘According to the painstaking, the reward’... (Avot de Rabbi Nathan B, ch.27).  

It is related of Rabbi Johanan (ben Zakkai?) that he was once seized with faintness through hunger. He went to Emmaus (אימוניס) and sat down to the east of a fig-tree and was cured. He was asked, ‘Whence have you [that the fig is a remedy]?’ He replied, ‘From David, as it is written, ‘And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs... and when he had eaten, his spirit came back to him (1 Sam. 30, 12)’; and they applied to him the text: ‘the excellency of the knowledge is, that wisdom preserves the life of him that has it’.

 (Midrash Rabbah on the Book of Ecclesiastes, 7, 25).

Late Roman period

 A collection of the Jewish comments for the Law Mekhilta de Rabbi Ishmael (Mekhilta for the Book of Exodus)  describes the hard situation of the Jewish people after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple:

 Once Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai was going up to Emmaus in Judea (depending from manuscripts: מאוסמעון יהודה, מעים) and he saw a girl who was picking barleycorn out of the excrements of a horse. Said Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai to his disciples: ‘What is this girl?’ They said to him: ‘She is a Jewish girl.’ ‘And to whom does this horse belong?’ ‘To an Arabian horseman, the disciples answered him. Then said Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai to his disciples: ‘All my life I have been reading this verse and I have not realized its full meaning: If thou know not, O thou fairest among women,’ etc. (Song of Songs 1:8) - you were unwilling to be subject to God, behold now you are subjected to the most inferior of the nations... You were unwilling to pay the head-tax to God, ‘a beka a head (Ex. 38:26); now you are paying a head-tax of fifteen shekels under a government of your enemies. You were unwilling to repair the roads and streets leading up to the Temple; now you have to keep in repair the posts and stations on the road to the royal cities... ( Mechilta d’Rabbi Ismael, tractate Bahodesh A)

  Following the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai gathered his disciples in Yavne (Jamnia), where he founded an Academy and reformed the Judaism, enabling it to exist in the absence of the Temple. Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai finished his life in the village of Berur Hail ca. 72 AD . The Jewish tradition has preserved the following story:

  Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai had five disciples, and as long as he lived they sat before him. When he died, they went to Yavne. Rabbi Eleazar ben Arach, however, joined his wife at Emmaus (אמאוס), a place of good water and beautiful aspect. He waited for them to come to him, but they did not come. As they failed to do so, he wanted to go to them, but his wife did not let him. She said, ‘Who needs whom?’ He answered, ‘They need me.’ She said to him, ‘In the case of a vessel [containing food] and mice, which goes to which? Do the mice go to the vessel or does the vessel come to the mice?’ He listened to her and remained there until he forgot his learning…

(Midrash Rabbah for Ecclesiastes, 7, 15)

  The same story is mentioned in the collection of Jewish legends, Avot de Rabbi Nathan (B):

  Why did he (Rabbi Eleazar ben Arach) not attain fame for learning? Because when they left Jerusalem, (each of) them said: ‘Where shall I go?’ Now he said: ‘Let us go to Emmaus (מאוס), a beautiful town whose waters are sweet’. His name did not become famous for learning. But those who said: ‘Let us go to Jamnia, a place where people love the Torah, a place where scholars are numerous, attained fame for learning’....

(Avot de-Rabbi Nathan B, ch. 29)

 Due to the presence of a Roman garrison at the end 1th c. AD at Emmaus, the first Roman baths were built here, probably, in the same period. In a parallel version (Version A) of the text mentioned above, Avot de Rabbi Nathan, version B, ch. 29, instead of the word Emmaus appears demosit, which in Greek means public baths. 

   (The location of Emmaus of Rabbi Eleazar ben Arach is subject to debate, some believe that this was the place of the hot springs near Tiberias, on the shore of the sea of Kinnereth in Galilee, also known as Hammat and Emmaus in the ancient Jewish literature).



The event mentioned in the Mishnah, tractate Keritot also belongs to the end of the 1st century:

Rabbi Akiba said: I asked Rabban Gamaliel and Rabbi Joshua in the market of Emmaus

 (אימאום ,עימאוס ,מימוס ,אימאוס ,אימעום ,מעאוס ,אימוס עימאום ,עימעיס ,עימאום), where they went to buy a beast for the wedding-feast of the son of Rabban Gamaliel, [and I said,] If a man had connexion with his sister and his father's sister and his mother's sister during one spell of forgetfulness, what happens ?—is he liable to one offering for them all or to one offering for each of them?’  They said to me, We have heard no tradition about this, but we have heard a tradition that if a man had connexion, during one spell of forgetfulness, with his five wives that were menstruants, he is liable for each one of them; and we consider that this applies still more so in the other case’...

( Mishnah, tractate Keritot, 3.7

The following text from the Midrash Rabbah for the book of Lamentations speaks of the extermination of the Jewish population in the area of Emmaus after the suppression of the Bar-Kochba revolt:

  Hadrian the accursed set up three garrisons, one in Hamta (חמתא), a second in Kefar Lekatia, and the third in Beth-El of Judea. He said, ‘Whoever attempts to escape from one of them will be captured in another and vice versa’...

 (Midrash Rabbah for the book of Lamentations (1,48).

Jewish amulet (silver scroll) found at Emmaus (L.-H. Vincent, «Amulette judéo-araméenne», RB 1908, pp. 382-394.)

Byzantine period

During the Byzantine period Jewish and Samaritan populations are present at Emmaus.

Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Avoda Zara (events of the 4th c. AD): 
Rabbi Aha went to Emmaus  (מאוס) and ate their pastries (Samaritans’)

(Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Avoda Zara, 5, 4)


During the excavations of the late 19th c. in the area of Emmaus  there was discovered a tombstone 

 with a Hebrew inscription: Mekom menuhato shel Elazar ben Yehoshua. Shalom me-Emmaus (אמאוס). Shalom The resting place of Elazar, the son of Joshua, peace from Emmaus, peace (today found in Jaffa Archaeological Museum).

For all the mentions of Emmaus in the ancient rabbinic literature see:

Strack & Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch, München, 1924, 1989, v. II, p. 270; ספר הישוב, עורך ש' קליין, ירושלים, תרצ"ט, v. 1, p. 5-6 and 47-48, as well as: K.-H. Fleckenstein, M. Louhivuori, R. Riesner, Emmaus in JudäaBasel, 2003, p. 40-86.

Middle Age  

Salmon ben Yeruhim, Commentary on Ecclesiastes, (10th century Karaite author) 

The labor of the foolish wearieth every one of them, because he knoweth not how to go to the city” (Ecclesiastes 10, 15), like a man who leaves Ramla for Jerusalem (Bayt al-Maqdis), which is quite a famous road; if he wants to make a short-cut, he will pass through ‘Imwâs (Emmaus) and Qaryat al-‘anab; but he [the fool] will not go this way but will go towards Gaza and turn towards Bayt Jibrin and from there to Zughar and afterwards return to ‘Eyn Gedi and from there to Jericho and from there to Jerusalem . . .  (cited by Moshe Gil in  A History of Palestine, Cambridge, 1997, p.203).

Benjamin of Tudela visits the region of Emmaus ca. 1170, he is the first mediaeval traveller to mention the castle of Latrun (Toron de los Caballeros), built about 30 years earlier:

…It is five parasangs hence to Beit Jaberim, the ancient Mareshah, where there are but three Jewish inhabitants. Five parasangs farther bring us to Toron de los Caballeros, which is Shunem, inhabited by three hundred Jews. We then proceed three parasangs to St. Samuel of Shiloh, the ancient Shiloh, within two parasangs of Jerusalem… (The travels of Benjamin of Tudela (2nd half of the 12th c., translation taken from: Early Travels in Palestine, Thomas Wright, ed., London, 1848, p. 87, see the original text here).

Rabbi Isaac Helo of Aragon, Roads of Jerusalem, Chapter 2, From Jerusalem to Jaffa, written in 1334:

 ...The way which leads from the city of Jaffa, at the outskirt of the tribe of Dan, is as follows:  From Jerusalem to Sarea, the fatherland of Samson.  Today, they call this Surah and there one shows you the tomb of Samson.  It is a very old monument, adorned with the jawbone of the ass with which Samson had killed the Philistines. From there, we find Emmaus, a location well-known to our sages, may their memory be blessed.  Now, this is no more than a poor village inhabited by a few Ishmaelites who live in miserable houses.  There is an ancient sepulcral monument at Emmaus, which is said to be the tomb of a Christian Lord, who fell in the war with the king of Persia.   From Emmaus, we come to Ghimzo, the fatherland of Rabbi Nachum, citizen of Ghimzo...  (I. D. Eisenstein אוצר מסעות, A Compendium of Jewish Travels, NY 1926, p. 74).