Emmaus Nicopolis


The name Emmaus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Hamat which indicates that hot baths were here. There is no doubt today that Emmaus which became famous in the battles of the Jewish dynasty named Hasmoneans, is the same city that was known in Roman-Byzantine periods as Emmaus Nicopolis (https://www.emmaus-nicopolis.org).

During the great revolt of the Jews against the Romans between 66-70 CE, the Roman fifth Legion named Macedonia settled in Emmaus. After the suppression of the revolt, Emperor Vespasian turned Emmaus into a colony and changed its name to Emmaus Nicopolis which means the city of victory – named after Nike, the goddess of victory. The hot springs at Emmaus attracted many settlers and a large Roman bath was built there. In the Byzantine period Emmaus importance as a religious spiritual city grew following the adoption of Christianity and following the description in the New Testament where Jesus met two of his disciples three days after his crucifixion and resurrection. The city flourished and prospered.

With the Muslim conquest in the early 7th century CE, the Muslims destroyed the city. During the conquest of the country in 636, Abu Obeida, the commander of the Muslim troops along with twenty-five thousand Muslim soldiers and residents, died here, and Emmaus was abandoned because of a plague. A severe earthquake that struck the area led to the abandonment and disappearance of the hot springs. When the Crusaders conquered the country in the 11th century, they restored the churches and the city of Emmaus, Christianity returned to the city, until the conquests of Saleh a-Din in 1187 leading to the destruction and final abandonment of Emmaus.

Zone 1 – The building here is a combination of a Byzantine basilica from sometime between the 3rd and 6th century, and a Crusader church from the 12th century. In early Christianity, the basilica was adopted as the central cult structure of the new religion. Furthermore, in Catholicism, the term basilica is part of the official hierarchy of importance of churches granted special cultic rights by the pope, regardless of the architectural style. The video illustrates what was built in the Byzantine period and what is from the Crusader period.

Zone 3 – opposite the apse which is a niche, usually semicircular, located in the eastern wall of classical churches. Here too you can see that part was built in the Roman-Byzantine period and part in the Crusader period. Usually, the main altar will be located in the apse, on which the priest performs the prayer ceremony. The word apse in Greek, means “arch”. Ancient Christian churches took the apse model from the Roman basilica.

Zone 4 – The Byzantine baptistery is a bathing facility used in Christianity at baptismal ceremonies. Most of the baptismal basins used for the ceremony are intended for baptism into Christianity by spraying holy water and are not intended for the baptism of the whole body unlike the mikveh in Judaism. The basins are made of stone (usually marble) or wood or metal, their shape and size vary, and they are decorated with various ornaments. Sometime the basins have eight sides, and sometimes the basins have three sides symbolizing the Holy Trinity. Earlier basins were used to baptize the whole body, just like the one here. These basins have a triangular or cross shape, and were used from early Christianity to the Middle Ages, and are now used among sects in Christianity, who believe in the baptism of the whole body.

Zone 6 – Magnificent mosaic floors.

In the 4th century Christianity dominated the city. At the end of the 4th century, Emmaus Nicopolis began to be identified with Emmaus where Jesus met two of his disciples immediately after his resurrection. The city began to serve as a destination for pilgrimages and a large church was established here. The revelation of Jesus to his two disciples on the road to Emmaus is described in detail in the Gospel of Luke, in chapter 24, verses 13-32. The New Testament mentions two versions of Emmaus’ distance from Jerusalem: in some of the manuscripts Emmaus is mentioned at a distance of 60 stadia from Jerusalem (11 km) and in some at a distance of 160 stadia (29 km). In the 4th century, Eusebius, who was the Archbishop of Caesarea and is considered the father of ecclesiastical history due to his writings, documenting the early history of the Christian Church – he adopted the number 160 stadia and ruled that Emmaus in the New Testament is Emmaus Nicopolis in the Ayalon Valley.

We will not expand on the other places mentioned as an alternative, in particular the Byzantine Church in Abu Ghosh or the Church of the Ark of the Covenant in Kiryat Yearim

Emmaus is mentioned in the book of Joseph Flavius, who wrote that in the 1st century BCE it was a small town, whose inhabitants were sold by a Roman ex-military/politician named Gaius Cassius into slavery. At 4 BCE after the death of Herod the great, another Roman ex-military/ politician named Publius Varus destroyed the city that was the center of the revolt under the leadership of a Jewish shepherd named Athrongaius, and set it on fire.

Remains from the Second Temple period, as well as from later periods were discovered here. Tools, candles, and coins from the third year of the Bar Kochba revolt period which occurred between 132-136 CE, were found as well as many hiding caves. Two burial caves of Jews who were residents of Emmaus were also exposed, in addition to two limestone ossuaries with Jewish inscriptions engraved on them. And finally, as usual, a question for you – How many soldiers included in a Roman legion. The answer is provided at the end of the video.

How to get there?

Those coming from the direction of Tel Aviv on Road No. 1, exit at the Latrun Interchange, at the junction turn left in the direction of Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut on Road No. 3. 200m after the turn, on the right is the entrance to Emmaus. Parking is limited to a small number of vehicles. For additional parking you can continue 300m and turn right into Park Ayalon Canada Park, where there is plenty of parking.

Coming from the southwest, from the direction of Tal Shahar, after crossing the Latrun junction while you are still on Road No. 3, 100m after the junction on the right is the entrance to Emmaus.

Information Sources

  1. Book: The Jewish War, Author: Josephus Flavius

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