Has the Village of Emmaus Been Found?

According to a news report published in Haaretz, Israeli archaeologists may have found the village of Emmaus, the place here Jesus appeared to two of his disciples after the resurrection: “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:13 NIV). One of the two disciples was named Cleopas (Luke 24:18).

According to James Stranger (1992: 498), the problem in locating the correct site for Emmaus hinges on its distance from Jerusalem. Stranger said that there are two different distances in the textual tradition of the gospel of Luke for the distance from Jerusalem to Emmaus. One reading says “sixty stadia” and another reading says “one hundred and sixty stadia.” Sixty stadia is about 7 miles, while 160 stadia is about 19.5 miles. Most translations have adopted the view that Emmaus was seven miles from Jerusalem.

Below is an excerpt taken from the article published in Haaretz:

Archaeologists have uncovered the massive walls of a 2,200-year-old Hellenistic fortification that may have been built by the Seleucid general who defeated Judah the Maccabee, the famed Jewish leader at the center of the Hanukkah story. In an unexpected twist, the discovery could also help identify the location of the biblical town of Emmaus, where the Gospels say Jesus made his first appearance after being crucified and resurrected.

Since 2017, a Franco-Israeli expedition has been digging at Kiriath Yearim, a hill overlooking the approach to Jerusalem a few kilometers west of the city, next door to the town of Abu Ghosh. The site is mainly known for being the spot where the Ark of the Covenant was kept for 20 years before being taken to Jerusalem by King David, according to the Bible.

Given that there are no other known major Hellenistic strongholds west of Jerusalem, Finkelstein and Römer suggest that the hill of Kiriath Yearim and the adjacent town of Abu Ghosh should be identified as the Emmaus that was fortified by Bacchides.

Of course, a village of this name also plays an outsize role in Christian history because, according to the Gospels, it was on the road to Emmaus that Jesus first appeared to two of his disciples following his crucifixion and resurrection. In the story told in Luke 24:13-35, the two followers did not immediately recognize Jesus, but once they reached Emmaus and broke bread with him over supper “their eyes were opened and they knew Him.”

Usefully, Luke tells us that the village of Emmaus was 60 stadia from Jerusalem, a measure that translates well to the 11 kilometers (7 miles) that separate the city from the hill of Kiriath Yearim and Abu Ghosh.

Still, we cannot be sure that Luke and other early Christians believed that this was indeed the spot where the Messiah made his miraculous post-mortem appearance. “Finkelstein and Römer have a good case archaeologically, geographically, and topographically,” says Benjamin Isaac, emeritus professor of ancient history from Tel Aviv University. “However, it is a hypothesis and remains a hypothesis.”

Archaeologists cannot say with certainty whether this site is the village of Emmaus mentioned in the gospel of Luke. According to the gospel of Luke, as the two disciples traveled to Emmaus, they talked about the events that had occurred in Jerusalem, probably including the crucifixion and the resurrection,

During their discussion, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them. Jesus ate with them and after they recognized that they had met Jesus, “they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem” (Luke 24:33). Since all these events took place in one day, then it is possible that the correct distance between Emmaus and Jerusalem was 60 stadia or seven miles.

Thus, it is possible that archaeologists have discovered the village of Emmaus, the place where Jesus met two of his disciples after the resurrection.

NOTE: The information about the discovery of Emmaus was also published by The Christian Post and by CBN News.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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James F. Strange, “Emmaus (Place),” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 498.

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