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The Road to Emmaus

August 4, 2021

by: Kate Norman, BFP Staff Writer

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It is a privilege for Bible-believers to visit Israel, the Land of the Bible, and watch the black and white pages of their Holy Book transform into color before their very eyes. Not only are they reading the ancient accounts on the pages, they are now seeing the land and scenery up close, experiencing it for themselves.

The newly minted Emmaus Trail is a wonderful opportunity for Christians to walk where Jesus (Yeshua) walked, or simply for any hiker to experience the Holy Land up close and personal.

The Biblical Account

Emmaus trail

Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:13).

This is the only time Emmaus is specifically mentioned in the Bible, but this site is significant because of what happened next. Luke’s Gospel account says that Jesus (Yeshua) had just been crucified, but had already risen and appeared to a few of His followers.

Then He appeared to these two travelers, of whom the text tells very little, except that one was named Cleopas. When Jesus joined them on their journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus, Luke says they were prevented from recognizing Him.

Along the way, Cleopas and his companion discussed the previous events of Jesus’ trial, execution and rumored resurrection, which had taken Jerusalem by storm—not knowing that they were speaking to the subject of all the excitement. Jesus then discussed Scripture with them until they reached Emmaus and the two travelers convinced Him to stay for the night and break bread with them.

Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight” (Luke 24:30–31).

Retracing the Ancient Path

This story is being brought back to life in Israel today, as a new hiking trail where modern-day pilgrims can follow in the ancient footsteps of Jesus (Yeshua) and the two travelers is sure to attract avid hikers and Christian wayfarers alike.

The trail begins at the Saxum Visitor Center in Abu Ghosh, just 9 miles (14 km.) outside Jerusalem. The visitor center, part of a nonprofit foundation based out of Italy, houses a courtyard surrounded by a wall with a timeline of biblical history in the Land, as well as a multimedia tour that includes interactive maps and models of Israel throughout history. After spending time in the center, the trailhead for the Emmaus Trail lies just nearby.

The hike spans 11 miles (19 km.) from the visitor center through the Judean Hills, eventually spitting out into the Ayalon Canada Park. The Aijalon valley is mentioned several times throughout the Tanakh (Gen.–Mal.), most notably in the account of Joshua 10, when the Lord made the sun stand still over the battle of Gibeon in the Aijalon Valley. The modern-day Ayalon Canada Park includes a myriad of crisscrossing trails to enjoy, as well as the lush, tropical Ayalon Spring, where hikers can stop and rest.

A quick crossing over a highway brings the pilgrims to the final stop: Emmaus Nicopolis. Run by the Catholic Beatitudes community, which has been taking care of the site since 1993, this site includes ruins of Byzantine mosaics, basilicas and apses as well as tombs and ancient baths from the Roman period. Nestled atop a nearby hill lies a monastery that houses a beautiful chapel as well as a museum that chronicles Emmaus’s history over the centuries, including the Tanakh period and throughout the occupation of the Romans, Byzantines, Crusaders and Ottomans. Even the name Nicopolis hints at the site’s history, as Emmaus was renamed Nicopolis by the Romans after they destroyed Jerusalem and conquered Judea.

One Glaring Question

Luke’s account says the journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus is seven miles (11 km.), though the original Greek actually says threescore furlongs (60 stadia), the common unit of measurement at the time. So why is the distance from Jerusalem to the modern-day site of Emmaus Nicopolis longer, at (18.6 mi./30 km.)? The short answer, scholars argue, is textual discrepancies. Some versions of the original manuscripts said 160 stadia instead of 60 stadia, which matches the 18-mile (30 km.) distance from the capital city to Emmaus Nicopolis.

Walking in Ancient Shoes, Getting Perspective

Nicopolis Site

No matter which way you measure it, it’s a relatively long distance to walk. And bear in mind, the Gospels say that Jesus (Yeshua) was crucified at the time of Passover, which typically takes place during March or April. It’s not the worst time of year for a hike in Israel, but it likely wasn’t a cool, easy or comfortable walk for Jesus and His companions.

The hike from the Saxum Visitor Center in Abu Ghosh to Emmaus Nicopolis takes about five hours, though it is possible to break the hike into smaller segments, depending on time limitations and preferences. Nonetheless, hiking even a small part of this trail—walking where Jesus likely walked—is filled with beauty and meaning. The journeys we read about in the Scriptures are something we often skim over and take for granted—until we actually find ourselves hiking in Jesus’ footsteps. Suddenly, a simple passage casually mentioning three people traveling seven miles (11 km.) takes on a new meaning.

Despite the heat, the sand between your toes and the sweat rolling down your back, you can’t help but feel privileged to have the opportunity to walk these ancient paths and get a small taste of biblical life. Nonetheless, I can’t help but wonder along the way whether Jesus would have just driven a van if He had the option.

Photo Credit: Click on photo to see photo credit

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