JERUSALEM, Israel – Archaeologists in Israel say they may have discovered the true location of Emmaus, the Biblical town where Jesus first appeared to two of his followers after being crucified and resurrected.
Haaretz reports that researchers found the massive 2,200-year-old walls of a Hellenistic fortification believed to have been built by the Seleucid general who defeated Judah the Maccabee, the Jewish leader spoken of in the Hanukkah story.
Since 2017, a Franco-Israeli team has been excavating a hill overlooking Jerusalem known as Kiriath Yearim, an area believed to be where the Ark of the Covenant was kept for 20 years before being taken to Jerusalem by King David.
Tel Aviv University archaeologist Israel Finkelstein and Thomas Römer, a professor of biblical studies at the College de France argue that the hill of Kiriath Yearim and the adjacent town of Abu Ghosh should be identified as Emmaus.
"The importance of this site, its dominant position over Jerusalem, was felt again and again through time: in the eighth century B.C.E., and then again in the Hellenistic period and then again after the First Jewish Revolt and the sack of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.," Finkelstein told Haaretz.
Judah the Maccabee, a priest who led a Jewish revolt against the Seleucid empire, was defeated and killed here in 160 BC by the Seleucid army led by general Bacchides. Bacchides fortified the towns surrounding Jerusalem with large walls, including the biblical town of Emmaus. Finkelstein and Römer believe they may have found the walls built to fortify Emmaus.
Their discovery has huge significance for Christians worldwide.
According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus appeared before two disciples who were walking to Emmaus.
"While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him," reads Luke 24:14.
Jesus walked with them for some time, but it was not until Jesus broke bread with them did the disciples recognize who he was.
"And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight," Luke continues.
Luke says the village of Emmaus was 60 stadia from Jerusalem, a measure that translates to approximately 7 miles, which is about the distance separating Jerusalem from the hill of Kiriath Yearim and Abu Ghosh today.
"Geographically I think that the distance to Jerusalem fits well, so I do think that Kiriath Yearim could have been the Emmaus of the New Testament," Römer concludes.
However, Benjamin Isaac, emeritus professor of ancient history from Tel Aviv University, has his doubts about the discovery.
"Finkelstein and Römer have a good case archaeologically, geographically, and topographically," he said. "However, it is a hypothesis and remains a hypothesis."
Isaac, who was not a part of the study, says there are at least two other sites nearby with strong claims to the town of Emmaus.
Finkelstein and Römer paper will publish a paper about their findings in October 24 in the journal "New Studies in the Archaeology of Jerusalem and its Region." It will also be presented at a conference of the same name in Jerusalem.