Early Arab period (637-1099 AD)

The Holy Land was conquered by Arab tribes between 634 and 640 AD at the initiative of the caliphs Abu Bakr (d. 634) and Umar (d. 644) who continued the conquests of Muhammad (d. 632). The Arab armies were commanded by generals ‘Amr ibn al-‘As, Yazid ibn Abi Sufyan, Shurahbil ibn Hassana and Abu ‘Ubaida ibn al-Jarrah.

Emmaus (‘Amawas) is mentioned by the Persian historian Al-Baladhuri (9th c.) among the cities captured by the Muslims in the year 634:

“Abu-Hafs ad-Dimashki from learned sheikhs: - The first conflict between Moslems and Greeks took place in the caliphate of abu-Bakr in the province of Palestine, the one in chief command over the Moslems being ‘Amr ibn-al-’Âsi. Later on in the caliphate of abu-Bakr, ‘Amr ibn-al-’Âsi effected the conquest of Ghazzah, then Sabastiyah [Samaria] and Nâbulus [Neapolis] with the stipulation that he guaranteed to the inhabitants the safety of their lives, their possessions and their houses on condition that they pay poll-tax, and kharâj on their land. He then conquered Ludd [Lydda] and its district, and then Yubna [Jabneh or Jabneel], ‘Amawâs [Emmaus] and Bait-Jabrîn [Eleutheropolis, Beit-Guvrin] where he took for himself an estate which he named ‘Ajlân after a freedman of his. He then conquered Yâfa [Jaffa]…”

Al-Baladhuri, The Book of Conquests, 138 (9th c.), quoted from:

The origins of the Islamic state, being a translation from the Arabic

accompanied with annotations, geographic and historic notes of the

Kitâb futûh al-buldân of al-Imâm Abu-l Abbâs, Ahmad ibn-Jâbir al-Balâdhuri,

by Philip Khûri Hitti, NY, 1916, p. 213

During the previous, Roman-Byzantine period, Emmaus was officially called Nicopolis, and the fact that the Arab sources mention it as ‘Imwas, ‘Amwas or ‘Amawas shows that its original Semitic name has been preserved in the folk memory for centuries. Among the local Arab population of Palestine, this name of Emmaus - ‘Amwas - has survived up to our day. Emmaus Nicopolis is thus the only Christian Holy place to have borne the name of Emmaus without interruption over the ages. (see: FAQs about Emmaus, questions 3 and 7).

According to the modern historian Moshe Gil, “We have little knowledge of what went on in Palestine during the rule of the ‘rightly guided’ caliphs or ‘al-Rashidun’: Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab (killed in 644), Uthman ibn Affan (killed in 656) and Ali ibn Abi Talib (killed in 661).” ( Moshe Gil, Palestine under Moslems, Cambridge, 1997, p. 75).

Map of the Holy Land under the Caliphs. Emmaus is indicated as ‘Amwas

An important testimony about the events of this period is found in The Sermon on the Holy Baptism, pronounced by the Jerusalem Patriarch St. Sophronius during the feast of Epiphany of 636 or 637 AD, at the time of the Arab invasion. The Patriarch describes the situation in the Holy Land with the following words:

“The Saracens [...] overrun the places which are not allowed to them, plunder cities, devastate fields, burn down villages, set on fire the holy churches, overturn the sacred monasteries [...].

Α. Παπαδοπουλος-Κεραμευς (A. Papadopoulos-Kerameus), ed., Ανάλεκτα Ιεροσολυμιτικής σταχυολογίας, vol. 5, Saint Petersburg, 1898, p. 166,

Translation: Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, Princeton, 1997, pp. 72-73, see the original text here.

It is known that villages and churches, refusing to pay the tribute to the conquerors, were destroyed by Muslims. Thus, the southern Byzantine basilica of Emmaus could have been destroyed in the first half of the 7th c. According to L.-H. Vincent, the building of the northern Byzantine basilica served as a mosque at a period that “can be placed anywhere between the middle of the seventh until the late eleventh century”. The archaeological excavations on the spot revealed “a reshuffling produced by Arabs, who annihilated the narthex, changed the orientation of the anterior wall of the naves, replaced the apse by a platform of uncertain form and damaged the mosaic floor, deleting all the images and thus making the building suitable for the Islamic cult.” (Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, pp. 248-249, 268, see here).

An important event connected to Emmaus and mentioned by many ancient Muslim historians, was an epidemic of plague in 639 AD. At this point, the area of Emmaus had apparently become an administrative centre and home to a large number of Arab troops. This explains the fact that this plague that raged across Syria was called “that of ‘Amawas”.

The Persian historian Al-Baladhuri (9th c.) describes the plague in this way:

“The plague of ‘Amawâs occurred in the year 18. To it a great many Moslems fell victim, among them was Abu ‘Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrâh (who was 58 years old and a commander in the army) and Mu‘âdh ibn Jabal of the banu-Salimah of al-Khazraj who was surnamed abu-‘Abd-ar-Rahmân and who died in the district of al-Ukhuwanah in the province of Jordan aged 38. Abu ‘Ubaidah had appointed Mu‘âdh as his successor while he was dying. According to others, he appointed ‘Iyâd ibn-Ghanm al-Fihri. Some others say he appointed ‘Amr ibn-al-’Âsi, who appointed his own son as successor and departed for Egypt. Al-Fadl ibn-al ‘Abbâs ibn-‘Abd-al-Muttabib, surnamed abu-Muhammad, fell, according to some, as martyr in Ajnâdin, but the truth is that he was victim to the plague at ‘Amawas. Other victims were Shurahbil ibn Hassanah, surnamed abu-‘Abdallah (who died 69 years old), Suhail ibn-‘Amr of the banu-‘Amir ibn-Lu’ai, surnamed abu-Yazîd; and al-Hârith ibn-Hisham ibn-al-Mughîrah-l-Makhzumi (who according to others, fell martyr in the battle of Ajnâdin)…”

Al-Baladhuri, The Book of Conquests, 139 (9th c.) , quoted from:

The origins of the Islamic state, being a translation from the Arabic

accompanied with annotations, geographic and historic notes of the

Kitâb futûh al-buldân of al-Imâm Abu-l Abbâs, Ahmad ibn-Jâbir al-Balâdhuri,

by Philip Khûri Hitti, NY, 1916, p.215

The Arab historian and geographer of the 9th c., al-Yaqubi, also testifies:

“The plague was raging in Syria. It was that of ‘Amawas. That year twenty-five thousand men died from the plague of ‘Amawas, besides those among them who were not counted. The prices went up. People monopolized. But ‘Umar forbade the monopoly.”

al-Yaqubi,Tarikh (History), 2nd half of the 9th century.

Translated by us from: A.-S. Marmardji, Textes géographiques arabes sur la Palestine, Paris, 1951, p. 150.

The plague likely resulted from infected springs. Back in the early 20th century, a filled well near Emmaus was still called “the plague well” by the locals (in Arabic, Bir at-Ta’un). (see: Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932, p. 357, see here). Due to the plague, Emmaus residents left their homes and moved closer to the sea (to the area of Lydda). In the 10th c. the Arab geographer al-Muqaddasi writes:

’Amwas—It is said that this place was in ancient days the capital of the province, but that the population removed therefrom, to be nearer to the sea, and more in the plain, on account of the wells; for the village lies on the skirt of the hill-country.”

Al-Muqaddasi, Description of the Moslem Empire, ca. 985 AD,

Part 1, Description of the Province of Syria, including Palestine,

quoted from: Guy Le Strange, Palestine under Moslems, Beirut, 1965, p. 393, see the Arabic text here.

Women at a well in ‘Amwas, photo ca. 1890

The veneration at Emmaus of numerous tombs of Muhammad’s companions, the victims of the plague of ‘Amwas, has been mentioned for the first time in the late 12th- early 13th century by the Persian traveller al-Harawi. See: The Crusader period.

Today Muslims still venerate the tombs of Abu ‘Ubaida and of Ibn Jabal at Emmaus (park Canada). These graves are apparently fictitious:

The mausoleum of Abu ‘Ubaida at Emmaus is in fact a Roman-Byzantine bathhouse, which was re-used by Crusaders as a storehouse (see: Mordechai Gichon, The Roman Bath at Emmaus: Excavations in 1977, IEJ 1979, p. 177ff, see here.). The first and the only Mediaeval author to mention Abu ‘Ubaida’s tomb at ‘Amwas is Ibn Sa’d (early 9th c.). (Ibn Sa’d, Muhammad, at-Tabaqāt al-Kabīr, E. Sachau, ed., Leiden, 1918, 7 (2), see also: M. Sharon, The Arabic Inscription on Abu Ubayda’s shrine in Jordan, PEQ 2011, p. 33). Most Muslim writers from the Middle Ages situate this tomb in other places. According to the Yakut’s Geographical Dictionary, III, 722 (early 13th c.), Abu ‘Ubaida’s tomb is found either at ‘Amta in Transjordan or at Tabaria (Tiberias). ( see: A.-S. Marmardji, Textes géographiques arabes sur la Palestine, Paris, 1951, p. 150; M. J. De Goeje, Mémoires d'histoire et de géographie orientales, № 2, Leiden, 1900, pp. 161-162). Al Harawi’s work (13th c.), mentioned above, speaks about three different traditions, placing the Abu ‘Ubaida’s tomb respectively at Tabaria (Tiberias), in Transjordan and at Beit Shean (Beysan).( see: Aboul Hasan Aly el Herewy, Description des lieux saints de la Galilée et de la Palestine, trans. by Charles Schefer, Gênes, 1881, p.9).

The mausoleum of Abu ‘Ubaida at Emmaus (Park Canada-Ayalon)

According to the historian Al-Baladhuri (9th c.), Ibn Jabal did not die at Emmaus, but in the Jordan area (see the text above about the plague of ‘Amwas by Al-Baladhuri). Ibn Jabal’s mausoleum at Emmaus dates back to 1288 (According to the inscription above the entrance to the tomb, now lost), see: Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during years 1873-74, vol. 1, pp. 491-493, see here; Moshe Sharon, Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palestinae, vol. 1, Leiden - NY- Köln, 1997, pp. 81-82, 83-85, see here.

The mausoleum of Ibn Jabal at Emmaus (Park Canada). According to the inscription above the entrance (lost nowadays), the tomb was built in 1288 by the ruler of Jerusalem citadel, jashankir (Mameluke minister) named Mankuwirs. The minister’s personal symbols - a triangle inside a circle with pitchers on both sides of it - are visible above the entrance to the mausoleum.

Arabic coins from the 7th and 8th centuries, found in excavations at Emmaus (see here: K.-H. & Louisa Fleckenstein, Emmaus-Nicopolis Ausgrabungen 2001-2005, Novum publishing, 2010):

The inscription on the obverse side: “El Malek”, “King”

The inscription on the reverse side:Masjid”, “Mosque”

The inscription on the obverse side: “La ilaha illa Allah wahdahu” – “There is no God except Allah alone”

The inscription on the reverse side: “Muhammad Rasul Allah” – “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”

As a result of the plague, the inhabitants of Emmaus moved to Lydda (Lod) and to Ramla, and Emmaus lost its importance as a regional centre and the episcopal see. In a Medieval Byzantine list of the civil, military and ecclesiastical offices, known as Taktikon (Greek manuscript No 326 in the Library of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem), Emmaus is not found on the list of episcopal sees, but rather on the list of towns and villages under the pastoral care of archpriests belonging to the jurisdiction of the Patriarch of Jerusalem ( Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, Paris, 1932. pp. 357-358, see here).

One hundred years after the Arab conquest, Emmaus is mentioned again as a place of Christian pilgrimage in a description of St. Willibald’s travel to the Holy Land:

“…And then, crossing Mount Libanus, and passing through the coast town of Tripoli, he visited Damascus again, and came to Emmaus, a village of Palestine, which the Romans after the destruction of Jerusalem called, after the event of the victory, Nicopolis. There, in the house of Cleopas, now changed into a church, he adored Him, who was in that house known by the breaking of bread; and desiring the well of living water, he saw the fountain which is on the high road, in which Christ, on the same day on which He rose again from the dead, walked with the two disciples, and turned aside as though to another town. For there is the fountain at which Christ, when He lived on earth, is said to have come, and having made a certain journey, washed His feet in it; and from that time the same water has been made by God efficacious in various medicinal ways, so that when it is drunk it infuses the presence of health from any ailments both of man and beast.”

Anonymous author, The Itinerary of Saint Willibald, ch. 13 (written in the 8th century), translation published in: Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society, vol.3 (2),

The Hodoeporicon of Saint Willibald, translated by Rev. Canon Brownlow, London, 1891, p. 48. See the original text in: T. Tobler, A. Molinier, Itinera Hierosolymitana, Geneve, 1879, vol. 1, p. 293 (see here).

St. Willibald, bishop of Eichstätt in Bavaria (lived ca. 700 – ca. 787

It should be noted that this account of St. Willibald’s visit to Emmaus is in fact just a set of quotes from Byzantine authors describing Emmaus (see: The Byzantine period). In another account of St. Willibald’s journey, Hodoeporicon, recorded from his own words by the nun Huneberc, the visit of Emmaus is not mentioned at all. See: Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society, vol. 3(2), The Hodoeporicon of Saint Willibald, translated by Rev. Canon Brownlow, London, 1891, p.p. 1-36; T. Tobler, A. Molinier, Itinera Hierosolymitana, p.p. 243ff.; C. H. Talbot, The Anglo-Saxon Missionaries in Germany, Being the Lives of SS. Willibrord, Boniface, Leoba and Lebuin together with the Hodoepericon of St. Willibald and a selection from the correspondence of St. Boniface, London- NY, 1954.

The 7th and the 8th centuries in Palestine were marked by harassments and persecutions of Christians. Nevertheless, during the reign of the Baghdad Caliph Harun al-Rashid (786-809), the Emperor Charles the Great (Charlemagne) was allowed to restore Jerusalem’s churches, to build a hotel for pilgrims and a library in Jerusalem, and to financially support the Christians of the Holy Land. Between 815 and 923, the persecution of Christians in Palestine ceased (See: Moshe Gil, Palestine under Moslems, Cambridge, 1997, page 474, footnote 50), and Christian pilgrims could once again visit the Holy Land.

In the 9th century, a Frankish pilgrim monk Bernard visits Emmaus:

“Then we reached el Ariza (el-Arish), and from el Ariza we came to Ramla, near which is the monastery of Blessed George the Martyr in which he lies buried. From Ramla we hurried on to the village of Emmaus, and from Emmaus we reached the holy city of Jerusalem, where we stayed in the hospice of the Most Glorious Emperor Charles.”

Bernard the Monk, Itinera, X, ca. 870, translated by J. Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims before Crusades, Warminster 1977, p. 142, see the original text here.

In the second half of the 9th century, the area of Emmaus is referred to by a Persian geographer as a populous and a prosperous countryside:

“ ‘Amawâs, whereof speaks the poet Ibn Kulthum al-Kindi: ‘Aren’t there so many young people generous and handsome like the moon, so many young women virtuous and white-faced in the valley of ‘Amawâs!’”

Ibn Khordadbeh, The Book of Roads and Kingdoms, Description of Palestine, years 846-886,

translated by us from: De Goeje, M. J., Bibliotheca geographorum Arabicorum, Vol. 6, 1889, p. 58.

(courtesy: Israel Antiquity Authority)

Marble slab with a Kufic-style inscription in Arabic, discovered at Emmaus (years 845-854):

“In the Name of Allah. Allah has testified that there is no god but He. Likewise, the angels and the people of knowledge; dispensing justice, there is no god but He, the Sublime, the Wise [Quran 3:18]. This is the tomb of Abu al-Qasim Ali son of ‘Isa son of Ja’far son of Ibrahim son of Subh al-... The mercy of Allah be upon him. He died on Monday… Muharram the year ...and thirty and [two hundred?]

See here: Moshe Sharon, "Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palestinae", v.1, Leiden-NY-Koln, 1997, pp. 82-83.

In the 10th century, Emmaus (‘Imwas) is still mentioned as a place, found on the main road between Ramla and Jerusalem:

‘The labour 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 Bayt al-Maqdis [Jerusalem], 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...”

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

quoted by: Moshe Gil, Palestine under Moslems, Cambridge, 1997, p.203.

Throughout the 10th century, the situation in Palestine was troubled; there were constant wars between various Muslim forces for the control of the country. After the year 923, the destruction of churches and the persecution of Christians resumed. From the second half of the 10th century, Palestine came under the control of the Fatimids, the new rulers of Egypt, who originated from the Maghreb and waged endless wars for the control of Palestine against various Arab tribes as well as Turks and Byzantines. These wars destroyed Palestine. (see: Moshe Gil, Palestine under Moslems, Cambridge, 1997, p. 336). From 960 till the early 11th century there was a continuous and brutal persecution of Christians in Palestine, provoked partially by the wars between the Fatimids and the Byzantine Empire. In the early 11th century, upon the orders of the Fatimid Caliph Hakim, many churches in Palestine were destroyed, and many Christians were forced either to adopt Islam or to leave the caliphate. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Resurrection) in Jerusalem was destroyed in 1007 (according to other sources, in 1009). Shortly after it, the church of St. George in Lydda was also destroyed (see: Moshe Gil, Palestine under Moslems, Cambridge, 1997, pp. 373-379). It is possible then that the Byzantine church complex at Emmaus was also destroyed during this period (See: Carsten Peter Thiede, The Emmaus Mystery, London-NY, 2005, p. 59).

The years 1071 and 1076 were marked by the capture of Jerusalem by warlike tribes of Seljuk Turks, who succeeded in ousting the Fatimids from the region. Christian pilgrimages to the Holy Land became impossible. The threat hanging over the Holy Places of Christendom and the oppression of Christians throughout the Middle East provoked a vehement reaction in Europe, which culminated in the Crusades (see: The Crusader period).

Throughout the early Arab period, Emmaus Nicopolis continued to be identified with the Gospel story of Emmaus. The Account about The Holy City and the Holy Places by the monk Epiphanius of Jerusalem (7-11th centuries), testifies to the fact that Emmaus is located at the distance of 18 miles from Jerusalem, and 8 miles from Ramla:

“And to the west of the Holy City, close beside it, are two caves containing the remains of the holy Infants murdered by Herod. Also, to the west of it and six miles away is Mount Carmel [i. e. Ein Karem], the family home of the Forerunner. Eighteen miles to the west of Mount Carmel is Emmaus: there Cleopas journeyed with Christ, and he did not know that it was Christ. And again, from that place eight miles away is Ramla, and near Ramla the place Diospolis.”

PG CXX, 264, see the original text here ; translation: J. Wilkinson: Jerusalem Pilgrims before Crusades, Warminster, 1977, p. 119.

The evidence of various opinions about the location of the New Testament Emmaus appears for the first time at the end of the Early Arab period, shortly before the Crusades:

“As to the words the village, which was from Jerusalem about sixty stadia, some extend far this distance, while others only reduce it to thirty stadia, arguing that this is the exact distance between Emmaus and Jerusalem...”

St. John Mauropous, Metropolitan of Euchaita, Letter 117, written in 1050, the translation is ours.

the original text was published in:

I. Bollig, P. De Lagarde,

Iohannis Euchaitorum Metropolitae quae in Codice Vaticano Graeco 676 Supersunt,

Gottingae, 1882, p. 63, see here.

The variety of opinions concerning the location of Emmaus produced the appearance of several places other than Emmaus-Nicopolis which were identified as the New Testament Emmaus during the Crusader period: Abu Ghosh and, later, Qubeibeh and possibly Bet-Ulma (Bethulme) near Motza-Colonia. (See: FAQs about Emmaus, questions 3 and 7).