Emmaus during the early Roman period
Nothing is known about the history of Emmaus during the reign of Herod. Emmaus is mentioned by Flavius Josephus only in connection with social disorders caused by the death of the king.
In 4 BC Jewish rebels destroyed a detachment of Roman soldiers in the vicinity of Emmaus. The Roman legate of Syria, Varus, having been called to assist the governor of Judea, Sabinus, suppressed the revolt in country and set fire to Emmaus:
"Athronges, a person neither eminent by the dignity of his progenitors, nor for any great wealth he was possessed of, but one that had in all respects been a shepherd only, and was not known by anybody, yet because he was a tall man, and excelled others in the strength of his hands, he was so bold as to set up for king. This man thought it so sweet a thing to do more than ordinary injuries to others, that although he should be killed, he did not much care if he lost his life in so great a design. He had also four brethren, who were tall men themselves, and were believed to be superior to others in the strength of their hands, and thereby were encouraged to aim at great things, and thought that strength of theirs would support them in retaining the kingdom. Each of these ruled over a band of men of their own; for those that got together to them were very numerous. They were every one of them also commanders, but when they came to fight, they were subordinate to him, and fought for him, while he put a diadem about his head, and assembled a council to debate about what things should be done, and all things were done according to his pleasure… They once attacked a company of Romans at Emmaus (Eμμαουντα), who were bringing corn and weapons to the army, and fell upon Arius, the centurion, who commanded the company, and shot forty of the best of his foot soldiers, but the rest of them were affrighted at their slaughter, and left their dead behind them, but saved themselves by the means of Gratus, who came with the king’s troops that were about him to their assistance…
And now Judea was full of robberies, and as the several companies of the seditious lighted upon any one to head them, he was created a king immediately, in order to do mischief to the public. They were in some small measure indeed, and in small matters, hurtful to the Romans, but the murders they committed upon their own people lasted a long while.
As soon as Varus was once informed of the state of Judea by Sabinus’ writing to him, he was afraid for the legion he had left there, so he took the two other legions, (for there were three legions in all belonging to Syria,) and four troops of horsemen, with the several auxiliary forces which either the kings or certain of the tetrarchs afforded him, and made what haste he could to assist those that were then besieged in Judea ... and all along this march nothing escaped them, but all places were full of fire and of slaughter. Emmaus (Ἐμμαοῦς) was also burnt by Varus’ order, after its inhabitants had deserted it, that he might avenge those that had there been destroyed. From thence he now marched to Jerusalem…" (Flavius Josephus, “The Antiquities of the Jews” 17, 10, 7-9, see also “Jewish war" 2, 4, 3). Because of this devastation, Emmaus turns into a small village and is mentioned as such in the first century AD in Gospel of Luke 24, 13 (see below).
The following dialogue between the Jewish sage, Hillel the Elder, and a donkey driver, appearing in a collection of Jewish legends, called "Avot de Rabbi Nathan" (version B, ch. 27), must also have happened at the beginning of the 1st c. AD:
"A story is told about a donkey driver who came to Hillel the Elder. He said to him: ‘Rabbi, see how we are better off than you (Babylonians), for you are put to great trouble with all this travelling when you ascend from Babylon to Jerusalem, but I go forth from the entrance of my house and lodge in the entrance to Jerusalem’. He waited a bit and then said to him: ‘For how much would you rent me your donkey from here to Emmaus (מיאם, אמאום)’? He answered: ‘A denarius’. ‘How much to Lod?’ He answered: ‘Two’. ‘How much to Caesarea?’ He answered: ‘Three’. He said to him: ‘I see that, in so far as I increase the distance, you increase the price’. He answered: ‘Yes, price is according to distance’. He said to him: ‘And should not the reward for my own feet be (at least) the equivalent of a beast’s feet?’ This is what Hillel used to maintain: ‘According to the painstaking, the reward’...” (“Avot de Rabbi Nathan B”, A. Saladrini, trans., Leiden, 1975). The text shows that Emmaus was located halfway between Jerusalem and Lod (Lydda), at a significant distance from Jerusalem (about 30 km, 160 stadia). The price of a journey to Emmaus was equal to the daily wages of a labourer (one denarius).
Coin minted under Valerius Gratus, the Roman Procurator of Judea (15-26 AD), found at Emmaus
About 30 AD Jesus appeared after His Resurrection to two of his disciples on the way to Emmaus, explaining the Scriptures to them. They recognized him upon his breaking of the bread at the Cleopas’ house at Emmaus (Gospel according to St. Luke, chapter 24, 13-35):
"And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus (Eμμαους), which was from Jerusalem about (one hundred and) sixty stadia. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad? And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days? And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people: And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him. But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done. Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre; and when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive. And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not. Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further. But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them. And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it,
and brake, and gave to them. And their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished out of their sight. And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures? And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them, Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon. And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread."
According to the following ancient Gospel manuscripts: high quality uncial (majuscule script manuscripts: א (Sinaiticus codex), Θ, Ν, Κ, Π, 079 and minuscule manuscripts: 157, 265, 1079, 1604, 1219, 1223, the distance between Jerusalem and Emmaus, specified by St. Luke, is approximately 160 stadia (about 19 miles, 30 km), which corresponds to the location of Emmaus-Nicopolis.
Codex Sinaiticus, the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verse 13,
mentioning 160 stadia between Jerusalem and Emmaus.
Codex Sinaiticus, the Gospel of Luke, chapters 23-24
The same distance we find in some ancient translations into Latin
(some manuscripts of the Vetus latina,
the high quality manuscripts of the Vulgate), Aramaic (Palestinian
Evangeliarium) and Armenian languages. Most existing ancient manuscripts of the
Gospel have the variant of 60 stadia (about 12 km), apparently as a result of a
centuries-aged tendency which existed among the scribes to correct the
distance, in order to simplify the understanding of the text (see: Questions about Emmaus, #2)
The story about the apparition of Jesus at Emmaus is the only
instance in the writings of St. Luke (the Gospel and the Acts of the Apostles),
where the distance between two places is indicated in stadia. Luke also
names the village where the two disciples were heading. It is impossible not to
suppose that this information was related by the author of the Gospel
intentionally. In the Jewish tradition, Emmaus was
associated with the heroic history of Joshua (see Old Testament period) and Judas the Maccabee (see Hasmonean period). The holy
writer intended thus to build a parallel between the Resurrection of Jesus
Christ and the historical victories of Israel, accomplished through the
The events referred to in the Jewish commentary "Midrash Rabbah" on the book of Ecclesiastes ch. 7 verse 12, may also be dated by the 1st century AD:
"It is related of R. Johanan (ben Zakkai?) that he was once seized with faintness through hunger. He
went to Emmaus (אימוניס) and sat down to the east of a fig-tree and was cured. He was asked, ‘Whence have you [that the fig is a remedy]?’ He replied, ‘From David, as it is written, ‘And they gave him a piece of a cake of figs... and when he had eaten, his spirit came back to him (1 Sam. 30, 12)’; and they applied to him the text: ‘the excellency of the knowledge is, that wisdom preserves the life of him that has it’."
(Strack & Billerbeck, «Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud & Midrasch», München, 1924, 1989, v. II, p. 270; "ספר הישוב", עורך ש' קליין, ירושלים, תרצ"ט, v.1, p.5).
with Roman control continued to grow among the Jews and led to an uprising in
66 AD, which developed into a war for independence. During the uprising, the
Jewish military commander John the Essene was entrusted with the governance of
the toparchy, which consisted of Lydda (Lod), Joppa (Jaffa) and Emmaus:
The Emperor Nero sent a military commander, named Vespasian and 60.000 soldiers to quell the rebellion in Judea in 67 AD. During the suppression of the Jewish revolt, Vespasian posted the 5th Macedonian Legion at Emmaus in 68 AD, and built here a fortified camp to control of the strategic crossroads that connected Jerusalem with other parts of Judea:
"At the beginning of the spring [Vespasian] took the greatest part of his army, and led it from Caesarea to Antipatris, where he spent two days in settling the affairs of that city, and then, on the third day, he marched on , laying waste and burning all the neighbouring villages. And when he had laid waste all the places about the toparchy of Thamnas, he passed on to Lydda and Jamnia, and when both these cities had come over to him, he placed a great many of those that had come over to him [from other places] as inhabitants therein, and then came to Emmaus (Aμμαουντα), where he seized upon the passage which led thence to their metropolis, and fortified his camp, and leaving the fifth legion therein, he came to the toparchy of Bethletephon. He then destroyed that place, and the
neighbouring places, by fire, and
fortified, at proper places, the strong holds all about Idumea, and when he had
seized upon two villages, which were in the very midst of Idumea, Betaris and
Caphartobas, he slew above ten thousand of the people, and carried into
captivity above a thousand, and drove away the rest of the multitude, and
placed no small part of his own forces in them, who overran and laid waste the
whole mountainous country, while he , with the rest of his forces, returned to
Emmaus (Aμμαουν), whence he came down through the country of Samaria,
and hard by the city, by others called Neapolis, (or Sichem), but by the people
of that country Mabortha, to Corea, where he pitched his camp, on the second
day of the month Desius [Sivan]…" (Flavius Josephus “Jewish War” 4, 8, 1)
During the archaeological excavations in the late 19th c. in the region of Emmaus (at Latrun) burial stones of the soldiers of the 5th Macedonian Legion were found. This could confirm that it was Emmaus of the Ayalon valley, that Flavius Josephus was referring to in his text (see: Charles Clermont-Ganneau,“Archaeological Researches in Palestine 1873-1874”, London, 1899, p.p. 468-469 (see here), P. M. Séjourné, “Nouvelles de Jérusalem”, RB 1897, p.131 (see here); B. Bagatti, “Guida al Museo”, Flagellazione, 1939, Gerusaleme (see here); E. Michon , “Inscription d’Amwas”, RB 1898 p.p. 269-271 (see here); J. H. Landau, “Two Inscribed Tombstones”, “Atiqot”, v. XI, Jerusalem, 1976, for the latter see the picture).
Having been informed about the death of the Emperor Nero which took place on June 9 of 68 AD, Vespasian suspended his campaign and waited for the outcome of the struggle for the throne. At the end of June of 69 AD, he resumed hostilities and submitted the whole of Judea, except Jerusalem and three fortresses. Proclaimed Emperor on July 1, he went to Rome, leaving his son Titus with the troops in order to seize and destroy Jerusalem and to bring the Jewish rebellion to an end.
In 70 AD Titus summoned the 5th Legion from Emmaus to make it participate in the siege of Jerusalem:
"… Titus, when he had gotten together part of his forces about him, and had ordered the rest to meet him at Jerusalem, marched out of Caesarea. He had with him those three legions that had accompanied his father when he laid Judea waste, together with that twelfth legion which had been formerly beaten with Cestius, which legion, as it was otherwise remarkable for its valour, so did it march on now with greater alacrity to avenge themselves on the Jews, as remembering what they had formerly suffered from them. Of these legions he ordered the fifth to meet him, by going through Emmaus (Aμμαους), and the tenth to go up by Jericho, he also moved himself, together with the rest, besides whom, marched those auxiliaries that came from the kings, being now more in number than before, together with a considerable number that came to his assistance from Syria…" (Flavius Josephus, “Jewish War”, 5, 1, 6)
Emmaus is mentioned a dozen of times by Flavius Josephus in his work, always without any explanation about its geographical position, which means that the reader was supposed to understand the geographical reference. It can thus be deduced, that in the 1st c. AD there was only one place called “Emmaus” in the Jerusalem area. (Concerning the village of Ha-Motza, 30 stadia away from Jerusalem, whose name is rendered as “Emmaus” in the medieval manuscripts of “ Jewish War” see: Questions about Emmaus #3 ).