Emmaus existed as a village in Palestine until 1967, located approximately 30 km (19 miles) 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: The Hasmonean period.
The geographical position of Emmaus is described in the Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Sheviit 9.2:
“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, see the original text here
Two Roman documents testify to the location of Emmaus: The Peutinger Table, which shows that Emmaus lies 19 miles to the west of Jerusalem, and Ptolemy’s Geography (see here), which situates Emmaus at the distance of 20 miles from Jerusalem (See the article Emmaus by Louis Pirot in : Dictionnaire de la Bible, Supplément, Paris, 1934, vol. 2, column 1054).
Emmaus (Amauante) upon the Peutinger Table, XVIIII (19) miles away from Jerusalem (Hierusalem, Helya), "Weltkarte des Castorius genannt die Peutinger'sche Tafel", K. Miller, ed., Ravensburg, 1887-1888
A fragment of a map, based upon Ptolemy’s "Geography". Emmaus is shown under the name of Emmaunta .(Printed in 1482 by Lienhart Hol, Boston Public Library)
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, 9 (see: the Old Testament period) and the Midrash Rabbah for the Lamentations 1:48 (see: The late Roman period). This name was probably hellenized during the 2nd and the 1st century BC and is found in ancient Jewish literature in the forms: Emmaus, Ammaum, Emmaum, Maum, Amus...: Άμμαούμ, Άμμαούς, Έμμαούμ, Έμμαούς, ,אמאום, עמאוס, עמאום, עמוס, מאום אמאוס, אמהום, etc..
During the Hasmonean period Emmaus became a dominant settlement in the Ayalon Valley area and acquired the status of a regional administrative centre (the centre of a toparchy). During the Late Roman and Byzantine periods Emmaus’s status grew to that of a city (polis) and it was named “Nicopolis”.
Since the earliest times of Christianity, Emmaus-Nicopolis was identified as the place, where Jesus appeared to two disciples after His Resurrection (Gospel of Luke, 24, 13-35). See: Emmaus in the Christian Tradition and FAQs about Emmaus, Questions 1, 2, 4, 5, 6
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 centre.
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: Abu-Ghosh, Qubeibeh, Bet-Ulma (Bet-Tulma) near Motza. (See: FAQs about Emmaus, # 7).
St. Mary of Jesus Crucified
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, 1852; H.-V. Guérin, 1868; Charles Clermont-Ganneau, 1874, 1881; J.-B. Guillemot, 1880-1888, L.-H. Vincent and F.-M. Abel, 1924-30).
The revelations received in 1878 by St. Mary of Jesus Crucified, a local saint and a nun of the Carmelite monastery of Bethlehem agreed with the scientists’ conclusions (see: The Ottoman period). Thanks to these revelations, the Holy Place of Emmaus was bought by the Carmelite monastery from its Muslim owners.
Archaeological excavations were carried out in 1880-1888 and 1924-1930 and the arrival of pilgrims to Emmaus-Nicopolis resumed. See: The rediscovery of Emmaus
The Arab village of ‘Amwas was completely destroyed in 1967 after the Six-Day War. See: The Modern period
Since 1993, the Catholic Community of the Beatitudes has been residing on the spot and taking care of the archaeological site of Emmaus-Nicopolis.