Old Testament Period (until 167 BC)
The village of Emmaus is not mentioned in the Hebrew books of the Old Testament. It is not known when it was founded and information about it throughout the Old Testament period can only be drawn from legends:
According to the Midrash (a Jewish commentary to the Scriptures), 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 ...”
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:
Painting by Esteban March, 17th c.
“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.”
Joshua 10: 12-13, KJV , see the Hebrew text here
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:
“And the seventh lot came out for the tribe of the children of Dan according to their families. And the coast of their inheritance was Zorah, and Eshtaol, and Irshemesh, And Shaalabbin, and Ajalon, and Jethlah, And Elon, and Thimnathah, and Ekron, And Eltekeh, and Gibbethon, and Baalath, And Jehud, and Beneberak, and Gathrimmon, And Mejarkon, and Rakkon, with the border before Japho.”
Joshua 19: 40-46, KJV Bible, see the Hebrew text here
Some believe Ir-Shemesh (“City of the Sun”), which is mentioned in this text, to be Emmaus, because in one manuscript of the Septuagint, Codex Vaticanus, Ir-Shemesh is rendered as Polis Samaus, see the Greek text here. See: Hadrian Reland, Palestina ex monumentis veteribus illustrata, Trajecti Batavorum (Utrecht), 1714, v. II, pp. 656-657 (see here) ; Vincent & Abel, Emmaüs, sa Baslique, son histoire, Paris, 1932, p.p. 285-286, 412-413 (see here); Edward Robinson, Researches in Palestine, Mount Sinai and Arabia Petrae, v. III, London, 1841, p.19, footnote 6 (see here) .
The writings of St. Jerome seem also to affirm that Emmaus existed during the Old Testament period and that the town belonged to the tribe of Dan:
“The seventh [tribe] of Dan up to Joppa, there are the towns [Turres in the original Latin text] of Ayalon, Selebi and Emmaus, which is called today Nicopolis.”
Commentary for the Book of Ezekiel 48: 22, written in 414 AD, PL XXV, 488, the translation is ours, see the original text here
“The inhabitants of the Shephelah, that is, of the coastal plain [at the time of prophet Obadiah] lived at Lydda and Emmaus, that is, in Diospolis and Nicopolis, they lived in five Philistine cities, Gaza, Ascalon, Azotus, Accaron and Geth located on the coast, called Saron in the Acts of the Apostles”.
Commentary for the Book of Obadiah, written in 396 AD, PL XXV, 1113, the translation is ours, see the original text here
However, most researchers believe that Ir-Shemesh and Emmaus are two different places.
An interesting legend concerning Emmaus during the Old Testament period comes from the Moslem tradition:
“At the time of Solomon, the rock of Bayt al-Maqdis [the Jerusalem Temple] was 12 cubits high. It was the ‘good’ cubit equivalent to a cubit, a span and a handbreadth. The height of the dome was 18 miles above the rock. It is reported [by others] that it was only twelve.
At the top of the dome there stood a golden gazelle, having between its eyes a pearl or a red hyacinth. Thanks to the bright light of this stone, women of al-Balqâ’ [in Transjordan] could spin during the night. This region of al-Balqâ’ is more than two stages away from Jerusalem. The residents of ‘Amawâs [Emmaus] used to shelter at the shadow of the dome, when the sun was rising in the East... ‘Amawâs is close to Ramlah of Palestine. It is a barid and a half [ca. 18 miles, 29 km] away from Jerusalem. At sunset, it was the people of Bayt ar-Râmah and other residents of al-Gawr [Jordan valley] who used to shelter in the shadow of the dome. Bayt ar-Ramah is further away from Jerusalem than ‘Amawâs …”
Mudjir ad-Din, The History of Jerusalem and of Hebron (late 15th - early 16th c.), translated by us from:
A.-S. Marmardji, Textes geographiques arabes sur la Palestine, Paris, 1951, p. 245.