Following the Road to Emmaus (before it’s too late)

It was the first Easter, two thousand years ago. Two confused, disheartened disciples are on their way out of Jerusalem, encounter a stranger on the road, and quickly find themselves as students in the infant Church’s first Sunday School class! — taught by the risen, but as-yet unrecognized, Jesus no less! That never-to-be-forgotten encounter — as “he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” — captivates us, as it has believers down through the ages, with both its mystery and immediacy, in a way that we easily imagine ourselves there!

But where is — or was — the Emmaus of Luke 24? From the recorded beginnings of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land at least 1700 years ago, it has remained one of the classic conundrums of sacred geography, with at least four sites being identified over the centuries. With a little effort, we can discern how the vexing confusion arose.  For various reasons — because certain places can flourish and then disappear over the span of a few centuries, because the names of places change over time, and common place-names (like “The Springs”) are sometimes affixed to different locales — the church fathers as early as the 4th Century may have gotten it wrong. One of them apparently even altered the gospel text slightly to comport with what they thought they knew!

And what about the Roman road itself, the other focus of this post? Well, the remains are still there, descending from the western outskirts of Jerusalem — if one knows where to look. (In all my years in Jerusalem I never had a good fix on the location, thus never ventured out in search of them.) What’s interesting, too, is that this stretch of ancient roadway “works” as the road to Emmaus for most of the various places identified over time as the site of the NT village.

Emmaus Road remains

Western outskirts of Jerusalem, near Road 1. The pink shading indicates where traces of the Roman road can still (with difficulty) be found. (Map: Jerusalem Perspective)

My real purpose here is to point you to a fine new article published on-line by David Bivin and the folks at Jerusalem Perspective. (Most JP content is by subscription — well worth digging into — but this piece has been made available to all, free.) Bivin helpfully unravels all the issues involved in identifying the site of NT Emmaus (including the problematic distance from Jerusalem), deftly “connecting the dots” among all the relevant ancient textual sources. As a sample, Bivin summarizes some of the linkages:

If the identification of Luke’s Emmaus with the Emmaus mentioned by Josephus as the location of a Roman colony is correct, and if the identification of this Emmaus with the Motza-Kalonya known from rabbinic literature is accepted, then we are able to pinpoint the approximate location of Luke’s Emmaus, since the Hebrew-Latin name Kalonya was retained as Qalunya by the Arabic speakers who resided in this location until modern times.

Following his treatment of the “Where is Emmaus?” question, Bivin takes us on a tour of the remaining bits of the “Road to Emmaus”, drawing on his years of guiding people to the site; throughout, his presentation is rich with embedded photos, slideshows, maps, videos (and footnotes). Bivin especially documents how the road’s traces, despite the recommendations of an Israeli government commission several years ago, are disappearing at an alarming rate, under the impact of development and unchecked erosion, and through sheer neglect.

To treat yourself to this thoroughly researched and well-rendered offering, go HERE:

As an adjunct to this textual sleuthing and on-the-ground look at the ancient road, some may be interested in the history and results of excavations carried out in recent years at Emmaus- Qaloniyeh-Motza. The most recent (2012-13) were rescue excavations carried out by the IAA in advance of the widening of Road 1; after documentation, the exposed areas were back-filled. Short version: Excavations have revealed evidence of settlement remains dating to the Neolithic, Iron II (First Temple period), Roman-Byzantine, Crusader and Ottoman periods, including those of an upper-class, first-century Jewish village.

* * *

[NOTE: The above-referenced IAA report refers to the Arab village of Qalunya being “abandoned” in 1948. That is not the whole story–not even close. Yes, many of the 1,000-plus residents fled on 02 April 1948, in response to nearby fighting. But the following day Zionist troops occupied the village and forced the remaining populace out. Then on 11 April Haganah demolition teams entered the village and blew up 50 of its 250-plus houses.

Qalunya_panorama_10 APR 1948

Panoramic view of Qalunya, 10 April 1948. (Wikimedia Commons)

The former villagers of Qalunya thus joined the ranks of some 750,000 Palestinian refugees who — regardless of why or how they left (the historical record shows that most were forcibly displaced) — were never allowed to return to their former homes. Most of their 500 or so towns and villages, like Qalunya, were utterly destroyed. The State of Israel expropriated all such lands and houses under its self-serving Absentee Property Law in 1950. For example, much of the sprawling Jerusalem suburb of Mevasseret Tziyyon is built upon former village lands of Qalunya. For more about this once-thriving, now-destroyed village, see HERE and HERE.]


Qalunya in 1918.

This entry was posted in Antiquities, Easter, Jerusalem Antiquities, Josephus, New Testament, Roman Period, VIDEOS and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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