Is Kiriath Jearim the place where it happened?
Emmaus occupies an important place in Bible history. According to the New Testament, it is where Jesus first appeared after resurrection, making himself known to two of his disciples, Cleopas and another, unnamed. It is also the site of one of the fortresses built around Jerusalem by Bacchides the Seleucid, after he defeated and killed Judah Macabee in 160 B.C.E. which is reported in both the Hebrew Bible (1 Macabees) and by the historian Josephus Flavius.
Archaeologists at Kiriath Jearim now believe they have identified Kiriath Jearim as Emmaus, thanks to the discovery of fortifications from the second century B.C.E.. The fortifications were built over the city walls, walls that were three meters thick. The excavators also found what seems to be the remains of a tower. It was a time when no major fortification construction was known to have occurred, other than that of Bacchides. The other towns in the ring of fortifications are mostly known, except for one unidentified location to the west of Jerusalem that Josephus wrote was Emmaus. Therefore, this discovery may signify that Emmaus has been identified, the city where the New Testament says Jesus first revealed himself to have returned to life.
Researchers have long been unsure where Emmaus was located. Ten years ago, Hershel Shanks wrote in “Emmaus: Where Christ Appeared” (Biblical Archaeology Review. March/April, 2008), “Many sites vie for the honor, but Emmaus-Nicopolis is the leading contender.” Ha-aretz notes that the 2nd-3rd century Christian historian Eusebius of Caesarea believed that Emmaus-Nicopolis was the site of the Emmaus of the New Testament, and it does match the description of the city where Judah the Macabee beat the Seleucids in a battle. While also fitting many of the criteria–a spring (emmaus), distance of at least 60 stadia (7 miles) from Jerusalem, and location along a major ancient road–Emmaus-Nicopolis may be, at 17 miles (nearly 150 stadia), simply too far. The Gospel of Luke states that the two disciples returned to Jerusalem with the news in an hour. Even with modern training, the world record for the half-marathon (13 miles) is just under an hour, which would have left the disciples some 35 stadia short. Other sites have a claim to be biblical Emmaus, but their cases have not been as compelling.
Kiriath Jearim, on the other hand, is located some 7 or so miles from Jerusalem, matching the biblical description, and a distance that could well have been traversed in an hour by an excited Cleopas and his fellow disciple. 12th-century Crusaders also built the Church of the Resurrection nearby, convinced as they were that they were at Emmaus.
The excavation at Kiriath-Jearim is a joint Israeli-French effort, funded by the Shmunis Family Foundation. Its leaders are Israel Finkelstein, Professor of the Archaeology of Israel in the Bronze Age and Iron Ages at Tel Aviv University, Thomas Römer, Professor and vice-administrator at Collège de France, and Christophe Nicolle, researcher at the Collège de France. Prior to the discovery of the fortifications, the focus of excavations had been mostly on the 10th century B.C.E., when it is said the Ark of the Covenant was kept at Kiriath-Jearim for twenty years, before King David brought it to Jerusalem.
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