Emmaus during the Early Arab Period (637-1099)


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.), cited 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

 

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

 

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 name was preserved in the folk memory for centuries, and was taken over by Muslims. In the mouth of the Arab population of Palestine, this name of Emmaus - ‘Amwas - has survived up to our day. Emmaus Nicopolis is thus the only one of the contenders for the title of the Gospel’s Emmaus to have borne the name of Emmaus without interruption over the ages. (Cf.: Frequently Asked Questions about Emmaus, questions 3 and 7).             

 

The modern historian Moshe Gil writes: “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). An important testimony about the events of this period is found in The Sermon on the Epiphany, pronounced by the Jerusalem Patriarch St. Sophronius (d. in 638) 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...

 Translation: Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It, Princeton, 1997, p.73). It is known that villages and churches, refusing to pay the tribute to the conquerors, were destroyed by Muslims. It is not excluded then that the Byzantine church complex at Emmaus was destroyed in the first half of the 7th c.



                                                                






Arabic earthenware oil lamps (ca. 7th c. AD) found in excavations at Emmaus



 

An important event connected to Emmaus and mentioned by many ancient Muslim historians, was an epidemic of plague of 639 AD. At this point, the area of Emmaus, apparently, had become an administrative center 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 the Jordan aged 38. This Mu‘âdh, Abu  ‘Ubaidah on his death had appointed as his successor. 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 fact is that he was victim to the plague at ‘Amawas. Other victims were Shurahbil ibn Hasanah, 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.) , cited 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.

 Tarikh (History), 2nd half of the 9th century. Translated from : A.-S. Marmardji, Textes géographiques arabes sur la Palestine, Paris, 1951, p. 150.)

 

  The plague likely resulted from infected water 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”) (cf.: Vincent and Abel, Emmaüs, sa Basilique, son histoire, Paris, 1932, p. 357). 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-Mukaddasi 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-Mukaddasi, 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, cf. also: Vincent and Abel, op. cit., p. 420)

 

                                                                                                Muslim women at a well in ‘Amwas (Emmaus), photo ca. 1890

 

 


The veneration of tombs of Muhammad’s companions, the victims of the plague at Emmaus, has been mentioned for the first time in the 13th century by the Persian traveler al-Harawi:

One sees at ‘Amwas the tombs of a great number of companions of the Prophet and of Tabi’in who died here of the plague. Among them are mentioned Abder Rahmân ibn Muadh ben Jabal and his children, Harith, son of Hisham, Souhail, son of Amr, and many others whose graves’ emplacement is not exactly known.

Aboul Hassan Ali ibn Abi Bakr al-Harawi, Guide for the Places of Pilgrimages, written in the early 13th century, translated from: “Archives de l’Orient latin”, vol. 1, Paris, 1881, p.609, cf. also: Moshe Sharon, Corpus Inscriptionum Arabicarum Palestinae , vol. 1, p. 82, Leiden-NY-Köln, 1997

                                                               

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

The tomb of Abu Ubaida at Emmaus is in fact a Roman-Byzantine bathhouse, which was re-used by Crusaders as a warehouse (cf.: Mordechai Gichon, The Roman Bath at Emmaus: Excavations in 1977, in: “Israel Exploration Journal”, Vol. 29, No. 2 (1979), p.p. 101-110). According to the Yakut’s Geographical Dictionary, III, 722 (early 13th c.), Abu Ubaida’s tomb is found either at ‘Amta in Jordan or at Tabaria (Tiberias) (cf.: A.-S. Marmardji, op. cit., p. 150 ; M.J. De Goeje, Mémoires d'histoire et de géographie orientales, № 2, Leiden, 1900, pp. 161-162). Al Harawi’s book(13th c.), that has already been quoted above, mentions three different traditions, placing the Abu Ubaida’s tomb respectively in Tiberias (Tabaria), in Transjordan and in Beit Shean (Beysan) (cf.: 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 tomb of Abu Ubaida at Emmaus (Park Canada)

 

According to the historian Al-Baladhuri (9th c.), Ibn Jabal did not die at Emmaus, but in the Jordan area (cf. the text above about the plague of ‘Amwas by Al-Baladhuri). Ibn Jabal’s tomb at Emmaus dates back to 1288 (According to the inscription above the entrance to the tomb, now lost) (cf.: Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological researches in Palestine during the years 1873-1874, London, 1896, vol. 1, pp. 491-493; Moshe Sharon, op. cit., pp. 81-82, 83-85).


  

 The tomb 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, a jashankir (Mamluk 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 tomb.

 

As a result of the plague, which entailed the relocation of the inhabitants of Emmaus to Lydda (Lod), and then to Ramla, Emmaus lost its function as a regional center and the episcopal see. In a Medieval Byzantine list of the civil, military and ecclesiastical offices, known as the 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 and Abel, op. cit., pp. 357-358).



 

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, they 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), Palestine Pilgrims’ Text Society, vol.3 (2), The Hodoeporicon of Saint Willibald, translated by Rev. Canon Brownlow, London, 1891, p. 48. Cf. also: : T. Tobler, A. Molinier,  Itinera Hierosolymitana, Geneve, 1879, vol. 1, p. 293, Vincent and Abel, op. cit., p. 419.


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

   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 (Cf.: 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 (cf.: 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, op.cit., p.p. 243 et seq., 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).


 


 

 

An Arab coin, 7-8th centuries, found in excavations at Emmaus

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




An Arab coin, 7-8th centuries, found during excavations at Emmaus

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”






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 Charlemagne of the Francs 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 (Cf.: Moshe Gil, op. cit., page 474, footnote 50), and Christian pilgrims could once again visit the Holy Land.





 

Emperor Charlemagne (ca. 742-814)                               Caliph Harun al-Rashid (ca. 763-809)

 

 

  In the 9th century, a French 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, 314, ca. 870, translated by. J. Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims before Crusades, Warminster 1977, p. 142.

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 Kulthoum al-Kindy: “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 from: De Goeje, M. J., Bibliotheca geographorum Arabicorum, Vol. 6, 1889, p. 58


 

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?). (Cf.: Moshe Sharon, op. cit., p. 82-83)




 

 During the 10th century, the situation in Palestine was troubled; there were constant wars between various Muslim forces for the control of the country. Starting with 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 (cf.: Moshe Gil, op. cit., 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 Sepulcher (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 (cf.: Moshe Gil, op. cit., pp. 373-379). It is possible then that the Byzantine church complex at Emmaus was also destroyed during this period (cf. Carsten Peter Thiede, «The Emmaus Mystery», London-NY, 2005, p. 59). Since the late 11th century, the constant attacks on the churches and the oppression of Christians in the Holy Land provoked a vehement reaction in Europe, which culminated in the Crusades (cf.: Crusader Period).





Throughout the early Arab period, Emmaus Nicopolis continued to be identified with the Gospel story of Emmaus. To this testifies, in particular, The Account about The Holy City and the Holy Places written in Greek by the monk Epiphanius of Jerusalem and dating from the 7-11th centuries, according to which the New Testament 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 (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; Jerusalem Pilgrims before Crusades,   Trans. J. Wilkinson, Warminster, 1977, p. 119.

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

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, translated from: Vincent and Abel, op. cit., p. 419.

The existence of several opinions concerning the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus explains the fact that during the 12-13th centuries, Crusaders identified Emmaus-Nicopolis at several different locations: at Motza, at Abu Ghosh and, later, at al-Qubeiba. (Cf.: Crusader Period and Frequently Asked Questions about Emmaus, questions 3 and 7).

 

 

CONTINUATION