The Mountain of Judah
and the Shephelah
69. Nicopolis - ('Amwas-Emmaus)
EMMAUS. Many places bore the name in antiquity, but in the NT Emmaus was a village where the risen Christ appeared to two disciples, one named Cleopas (Luke 24:13ñ35). Efforts to identify this site have focused on its distance from Jerusalem. There are two figures in the textual tradition in Luke for the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus. The better reading is sixty stadia. This is the reading in Papyrus Bodmer (P75), Codex Alexandrinus, Codex Vaticanus, Codex Bezae Cantabrigiensis, the second corrector of Codex K, Codex Regius, the Freer Gospels, Codex X, Codex Delta, Codex Psi, and uncials 063 and 0124. Sixty stadia also appears in minuscule families one and thirteen, in twenty-one other minuscule manuscripts, in the menologion of Byzantine Lectionary 185, in eight manuscripts of the Old Latin tradition, and also in several ancient versions: in the Vulgate, in the Curetonian, Sinaitic, and Harclean Syriac, in the Peshitta, in both the Boharic and Sahidic Coptic, in the Ethiopic, and in the Georgian. The poorer reading one hundred and sixty stadia appears in Codex Sinaiticus, the original of Codex K, Codex Koridethi, Codex p, probably in uncial manuscript 079, certainly in minuscule 1079, in the Palestinian Syriac, in the Armenian, and in Eusebius, Jerome, and Sozomen. Codex Palatinus of the Old Latin reads seven stadia. The Editorial Committee of the United Bible Societies' Greek New Testament feels that the reading 160 stadia arose with patristic identifications of Emmaus with Amwas-Nicopolis W of Jerusalem (Metzger 1971: 184). Since a stadium was 600 Roman feet, sixty stadia was about 7.5 miles, while 160 stadia was about 19.5 miles. The committee dismisses seven stadia as a scribal blunder.
According to Luke, the disciples journeyed to Emmaus, meeting up with Jesus on the way, ate a meal, and returned to Jerusalem, where they found the disciples still awake. These events therefore took place in one day, which makes a one-way distance of 160 stadia surely wrong. This distance would indeed place the traveler at ancient Emmaus-Nicopolis (modern Khirbet Imwas; M.R. 149138), which lies about 17.4 miles or 153 stadia from Jerusalem on the S road and 18.3 miles or 161 stadia from Jerusalem on the N road to Joppa. Nicopolis is assumed in almost all Christian Pilgrim texts from the 4th century onward. In 221 c.e. the emperor Heliogabalus (Elagabalus) gave Emmaus the title of city and the name Nicopolis or City of Victory at the petition of Sextus Julius Africanus, a Christian, who headed a delegation from Emmaus to the emperor. The Bordeaux pilgrim about 333 c.e. visited Nicopolis, but he merely listed it as a staging post. But in 404 c.e. St. Jerome describes his journey eight years earlier with Paula and her daughter Eustochium to the holy places, including Emmaus, which he names Nicopolis, formerly called Emmaus (Letter 108; Wilkinson 1977: 47). Nicopolis is Emmaus in Eusebius' Onomasticon (90:16). In 440 c.e. Hesychius of Jerusalem was aware that Nicopolis was too far from Jerusalem to be the Emmaus in Luke 24, if the distance was 60 stadia (Problems and Answers; Wilkinson 1977: 156). Extensive remains of Roman Jewish, Christian, and Samaritan buildings have been found at Khirbet Imwas.
Other sites that have been recommended as ancient Emmaus are first el-Qubeibeh (M.R. 163138), 65 stadia from Jerusalem on the road to Khirbet Imwas. This was a site favored by the Crusaders, who found an old Roman fort near el-Qubeibeh named Castellum Emmaus. A Byzantine church was excavated here by the Franciscans beginning in 1873.
Second, Abu Ghosh (M.R. 160134) is about nine miles or 83 stadia W of Jerusalem on the S road to Khirbet Imwas. It is also known as Kiryat el-'Anab (City of Grape[s]), and has been identified as OT Kiriath-jearim. There is a Roman fort at Abu Ghosh with a Greek inscription that mentions the Tenth Legion stationed there.
Third, Qaloniyeh, or ancient Colonia, lies about four miles or 35 stadia W of Jerusalem on the same S road as Abu Ghosh. It is often identified with the Motza (M.R. 165134) of the Jerusalem Talmud (Avi-Yonah 1976: 82; Sukkah 54b). Motza could be the Latin Amassa or Greek Ammaous of Josephus (JW 7.10.9 §217), who tells us that Titus settled eight hundred Roman veterans at Motza after the First Jewish Revolt. Josephus also tells us that Ammaous was 30 stadia from Jerusalem. Although the distance is wrong, it is not impossible as a candidate for NT Emmaus. There is no scholarly consensus.
Bibliography: Avi-Yonah, M. 1976. Gazetteer of Roman Palestine. Qedem 5. Jerusalem. Metzger, B. M. 1971. A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament. Stuttgart. Wilkinson, J. 1977. Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades. London. Idem. 1978. Jerusalem as Jesus Knew It: Archaeology as Evidence. London.
James F. Strange, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ad v. "Emmaus"
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 64)
The author of the Madaba map has ignored the identification of that city with the Emmaus of the New Testament (St. Luke xxiv, 13), although this was the view of Eusebius (On. 90,15), followed by St. Jerome (Peregr. Paulae V; In Ezech. xlviii, 22-Patr. Iat. 25, col. 488; In Dan. xi, ib., col. 574) and others (Theodosius, ed. Geyer, p. 139). An exception is the Bordeaux pilgrim (25, ed. Geyer) who passes over it in silence. Apparently this sign of independence in the Madaba map is a result of the reading of 60 stadia in the author's version of the Gospels (for the problems connected with the identification of Emmaus see H. Vincent F.-M. Abel, Emmaus, sa Basilique et son histoire. Paris, 1923). The basilica in the map with its triangular pediment and domed apse is like the more detailed representation of the same church in the Ma'in mosaic (De Vaux, Rev. Biblique, 1938, Pl. XII); but the way in which it is hidden inside the city shows the author's disapproval of its supposed localization on a sacred site.
Herbert Donner (The Mosaic Map of Madaba, Kampen 1992, 58)
Luke 24:13; Eus.0n. 90:15-17; also mentioned by nearly all Christian pilgrims and Early Fathers, and in other sources as well. The site is identical with present 'Amwas (coord. 149-138). Biblical Emmaus was named Nikopolis by the Roman emperor Heliogabalus in 220/1 A.D. It is difficult to interpret the representation. The city seems to be walled up, with three or more towers and some gates belonging either to the wall or to peculiar buildings. The church in the center of the city is certainly the basilica, built earlier than 529 and destroyed - to what extent? - by the Samaritans in 529. The emperor Justinian built a smaller church immediately north of it. Is it identical with the red-roofed building in the northern edge of the representation? It is not quite definite whether the basilica was dedicated to St. Cleopas - or even built above the place of his supposed house. The southern church - or two churches? - is unknown and unidentified For all these problems see H. Vincent - F. -M. Abel, Emmaus, sa basilique et son histoire (1923).
Israel Roll (in The Madaba Map Centenary, 112)
Several sites depicted on the mosaic map of Madaba indicate that its makers used data drawn from road-maps and itineraria. Between Jerusalem and Jaffa, a series of places known to be located along the two connecting highways between them, are shown on that map. These are: Bethoron, Kaperouta, Modeim, Adita and Lydda/Diospolis, which bordered, in that sequence, the northern highway - known as the Bethoron road. Also are mentioned Nicopolis, Enataba and Betoannaba, that belonged to the parallel southern road, via Emmaus. The very mentioning of two mile-stations, the fourth (to tetarton), and the ninth (to ennaton), clearly indicate a road-map origin. Those two sites could be identified with two traditional road-stations of the southern highway which possessed plenty of water, that is, Colonia (today Motza) located at the distance of four miles from Jerusalem, and Kiriat Jearim (today Abu Ghosh) - at nine miles from it. (See also the complete article)
Different Roman Roads from Jerusalem to Nicopolis
Leah Di Segni ("The Onomastikon of Eusebius and the Madaba Map", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 117)
Along the southern road to Diospolis, which passed through Nicopolis, the Madaba map ignores Kiriath Yearim, located by the Onomastikon at the ninth or tenth milestone from Jerusalem, visited by Egeria who associated it with the Ark of the Lord - an association celebrated also in the Armenian and Georgian Lectionaries. The distance is sharply foreshortened, and Nicopolis appears as the first place on the western outskirts of Jerusalem. Curiously enough, and contrary to the consistent use of double names on the Madaba map - X which is Y - in this case the issue of identification is evaded. Nicopolis, former Emmaus, was identified by Eusebius and by all the Christian commentators after him with Emmaus of the Gospel, where Jesus broke the bread with Cleophas after the Resurrection (Luke 24:13, where its distance from Jerusalem is given as 60 or 160 stadia: the former, ca. 11 km, would fit Moza or Emmaus, later called Colonia, while the latter, ca. 30 km, would fit Emmaus-Nicopolis). The silence of the map seems pointed: apparently its source preferred the reading 60 stadia and thus rejected the location of the meeting at Nicopolis. It is worth mentioning that one author, Hesychius of Jerusalem in the fifth century, discussed the question, whether Nicopolis was not too far away to be identified with Emmaus of the Gospel. Although Hesychius rejected the objection that the journey to Nicopolis was too long to be made in one day from Jerusalem and back again, 'because in their joy they went back running to announce the miracle', nevertheless the fact that the question was raised indicated that in Jerusalem at least not everybody was satisfied with the identification of Emmaus with Nicopolis. (See also the complete article)
Noël Duval ("Essai sur la signification des vignettes topographiques", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 139-140)
Nikopolis, Emmaüs - Amwas (nº 69). Pour cet important centre de pèlerinage, la représentation de la carte est un alignement assez informe de huit éléments : deux édifices à frontons (le flanc de l'un est visible à gauche, l'autre est vu de face au centre), d'autres à toitures en tuiles à une seule pente, semble-t-il , d'autres en terrasse (?), deux tours, mais qui semblent situées derrière les édifices du premier plan (le flanc de ceux-ci empiète sur l'élément vertical). Rien n'est caractérisé. Donner, n°73, reconnaît quatre églises, dont celle qui a été fouillée au centre. Je n'en vois au maximum que deux dont celle de gauche est la plus reconnaissable.
Nicopolis figure sur la bordure de Ma'in comme un édifice décomposé en trois parties32, mais la recomposition d'une église unique avec sa façade, sa nef et son chevet ne pose pas de problème. (See also the complete article)
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Samaria, Jerusalem - in the press)
In the year 70 the Emmaus of the Maccabees was renamed 'Nicopolis,' that is, 'the Victorious', by the Roman conquerors The title was confirmed by Elagabalus in 220. On this occasion the famous Christian writer Julius Africanus, who, although a native of Jerusalem, lived in Emmaus at the time, was sent as ambassador to Rome. He had made a brilliant military career and then had retired to dedicate himself to study. There he wrote hisChronicon and later the Kestoi, and sent Origen two epistles on biblical questions. We do not know how many Christians lived in Emmaus at that time nor whether they had all come from Judaism or from paganism and Samaritanism.
In the period between the first Jewish war and the sixth century, Jews too resided in Emmaus, among them Rabbi Nehunia ben Haqaneh and Rabbi Jose ben Haninah, as can be learned from the discussions held there.
Also Samaritans lived in Emmaus, as can be inferred from Samaritan inscriptions found in the town. One, 'His name be blessed for ever,' is carved on one side of a capital which has a Greek inscription on the other side, reading 'One god only.' Two other inscriptions were discovered, with verses from Exodus and Genesis in Samaritan characters and according to the Samaritan version. The pagans are also represented by monumental ruins and inscriptions.
In the sixth century we find the Christians organized in a community led by a bishop. The first known bishop was of Gentile stock; he was called Peter and took part in the Council of Nicea in 325. A second bishop is known in the same century: he attended the Council of Constantinople in 381 and is called Rufus in the Latin proceedings, but Priscianus according to the original Greek version (C.H. Turner, Journal of Thological Studies 15 , 168, and cf. Fedalto, 'Liste vescovili,' 39).
From the sources that have come down to us we learn that since the fourth century the city was identified with the Emmaus of the gospel (Luke 24:13-35), and pilgrims had the satisfaction of venerating there the home of lucky Cleophas. Eusebius notes in the Onomasticon: (p. 90) 'Emmaus, whence was Cleophas, he who [is mentioned] in the Gospel of Luke, is today Nicopolis, a noteworthy city of Palestine.' St. Jerome wrote in 404, in his Epitaph of Paula, that in their pilgrimage together in 386/7 they had visited 'Nicopolis, once called Emmaus, where the Lord, recognized in the breaking of bread, consecrated the house of Cleophas into a church' (Ep. 108, 8, PL 22, 883). Once the memory of the event had been localized in this monument-of which no trace is preserved-the tradition held firm for many centuries, in spite of the different readings of the distance from Jerusalem (60 or 160 stadia) in the passage from Luke that was read in the church, and despite the appellative 'village' applied in the gospel to Emmaus, instead of the rightful title of city.
According to the fifth-century Church historian Sozomen, there was a spring at the crossroads of Emmaus at which the Lord had washed his feet and from that moment the waters had acquired powers to heal the sick, both men and animals (Historia Ecclesiastica V, 21; for all the texts quoted here, see Enchi., Nos. 960-986). According to Theophanes, who lived in the ninth century, this spring was blocked up in 362 by order of Julian the Apostate; but in this case one wonders how it cuold be still active in Sozomen's time, almost a century later.
In the fifth and sixth centuries the city was still inhabited by Christians, Jews, and Samaritans, as we gather from an episode narrated by John Moschus, who died in 619 (Pratum Spirituale , ch. 165). He tells of a highwayman acting in these parts, called Cyriacus who, although Christian, had collected a gang of Christians, Jews, and Samaritans. Once his companions cruelly attacked some families returning from Jerusalem after having baptized their babies there during the Holy Week.
At the beginning of the sixth century Saint Sabas founded a monastery near Emmaus, placing as its head a monk native of the place, called Severus; he was succeeded by Domnus, and the latter several years later by Sabaron, a contemporary of Cyril of Scythopolis (Life of Sabas, ch. 35, ed. Schwartz, 120-122).
With the Arab occupation, Emmaus-Nicopolis declined. Immediately after the Moslem conquest in 639 a plague decimated the city. In a monumental work dedicated to Emmaus(L.H. Vincent, F.M. Abel, Emmaus, Paris, 1932, 357), Father Abel notes that a well in the city was called by the local Arabs 'Bir et-Ta'un,' i.e., 'The well of the plague,' which 'recalls that dismal period to this very day.' With the complete destruction of the village, which occurred after 1967, even this memory has disappeared.
The town was desolate when the Crusaders arrived. Abbot Daniel, the Russian pilgrim, writes: 'Once there was a great town and a church had been built there, but now everything had been destroyed by the unbelievers and the town of Emmaus is deserted.' The Crusaders, perhaps the Templars, rebuilt the church; but then it remained without staff because the village had become Moslem. Thus on his visit in 1674, the Jesuit Father Nau saw the church abandoned, although almost intact. The inhabitants kept their animals there. The same information was supplied by Don Giovanni Mariti writing in 1767.
The ruins at Amwas
as delineated by Bazzocchini (1905)
The Monuments. With the feverish research of the Holy Place in the last century, also the ruins of Emmaus were acquired by the Christians in 1875 through the generosity of Mademoiselle de Saint-Cricq. Many scholars strove to investigate and explain the ruins, which were finally excavated in full by the Dominicans. Their hefty volume gives a detailed report on the work and its results. The identification and chronology of the buildings proposed by Vincent and Abel gave rise to discussions among scholars. The excavators had uncovered a three-nave Christian basilica, 46.4 x 24.4 m long, with three great apses, which they ascribed to the late Roman period (3rd-4th centuries). The church utilized some mosaic pavements which the Dominicans dated to ca. AD 200, regarding them as part of an earlier structure, namely a Roman villa. More recent studies have made clear that the three-nave church belongs to the Byzantine period (5th-6th centuries) and its mosaic floors fit the ordinary repertory of the period.
In a Tabula ansata in the southern aisle is a Greek inscription, badly ruined: 'Under Pr[aylos (?) the most holy] bishop [the work of the] mosaic was completed' (Emmaus, 155-156). The reading Pr[aylos] is suggested by the editors by way of hypothesis
One of the funerary chapels south of the church was paved with a beautiful mosaic of geometric patters alternated with figurative medallions. Five medallions have survived: two with scenes of struggle between wild beasts and tame animals, two with birds, and one containing part of an inscription. The inscription began within another medallion, which is lost, and continues in the surviving one, which thus gives us the second part of the text and mentions the 'sweet brothers Pelagius and Thomas.' The first part probably consisted of one of the usual formulas: 'For the salvation' or 'for the repose of..' (Bagatti, Rivista di Archeologia Cristiana 35 , 71-80). To avoid the destruction of the mosaics with the animal scenes, subject as they were to the indiscretion of visitors, in May 1977 they were 'torn up' and laid on a new bed. On this occasion it was ascertained that they all rested on the same bed of plaster. In some places a pavement of white tesserae also surfaced, which lay under the mosaic with the animals. The lifting of the floor has thus conclusively disproved the excavators' high dating of the figured mosaic.
A slab of white marble from 'Amwas, broken into three fragments and long kept in the Museum of St. Anne in Jerusalem, bears a Greek inscription which reads: '+ In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Beautiful is the city of the Christians" (Emmaus, 429).
From the Crusaders period the walls of the church still survive: it has one nave and measures 32 x 14 m. The Crusader walls are attached to the ancient Roman apse. They are the usual massive walls built to sustain the vaults. The church partially covers the side chapels of the old Byzantine church.
Today these sacred ruins are the only evidence of the existence of the city in this site.
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Nicopolis", 119.
Editors' note: New archaeological research and explorations were recently undertaken under the direction of M. Piccirillo, K. H. Fleckenstein and V. Michel.
Map Section 6 Place Sources