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January 6, 2010January 6, 2010  1 comments  History

We'll begin with the ending: We may never know with certainty which of the four sites associated with "Emmaus" is the true site. Which one is the actual location where Jesus appeared to His disciples following His resurrection? The story in Luke 24 recounts how two of Jesus' disciples met Him while traveling. They were heading west from Jerusalem, to Emmaus. They spoke with the "stranger" for a while; only later, when they ate together, was Jesus' true identity revealed. Later, the two disciples headed back to Jerusalem.


The name "Emmaus" is a mispronunciation of the Hebrew word "Hammat," meaning hot springs, so the site must be near a natural spring. The distance is also crucial in identifying Emmaus. The disciples traveled in a single day from Jerusalem, to Emmaus, and back. Therefore, the biblical site of Emmaus needs to be within round-trip distance from Jerusalem. The distance in the Gospels is measured as "three-score furlongs" (Luke 24: 13), which is most commonly translated as approximately 60 "stadia," (an ancient Greek unit of length). However, there are discrepancies within the text; some translations state that the distance was 160 stadia. Depending on the translation, Emmaus can be anywhere from seven to 18 miles away.


Going on an "Emmaus" tour leads us to some fascinating sites for the Christian traveler.


We start with the most famous and most widely accepted of the four sites - Emmaus Nicopolis, or its Arab name, Imwas, located on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv road. It was the earliest site to be identified with the biblical Emmaus - in the 4th century AD - and this early identification strengthens the argument that this is the true site. Likewise, when Arabs settle in a village, they traditionally keep its original name, and the similarities between "Imwas" and "Emmaus" further bolster the claim. However, it is far from Jerusalem - a distance of 16 miles, making quite a tiring round trip journey for the disciples.



Emmaus is located in the famous Ayalon Valley, where the Israelite ruler Joshua commanded the sun and moon to stand still. Today, there is a monastery located at the site, in Latrun. Originally built as an inn for travelers on their way to Jerusalem, it is now inhabited by Trappist Monks, who sell the monastery's famous wine and honey.

Visitors can also see a 12th century Crusader fortress. In nearby Park Canada - a nature lover's dream - tourists can visit the ruins of the ancient city of Emmaus, including a Roman-Byzantine bathhouse and an amphitheater.


The next possible Emmaus is in Abu Ghosh, a Christian-Arab village located between Nicopolis and Jerusalem. This was one of the locations favored by the Crusaders as the resurrection site. Abu Ghosh is also identified as the ancient Kiryat Ye'arim, where the Ark of the Covenant rested for 20 years until King David brought it to Jerusalem. Today, one of the best-preserved Crusader churches is in Abu Ghosh. Called the Church of the Resurrection, it was built atop Roman ruins and is now a Benedictine Monastery which can be visited. The Church of Notre Dame de L'Arche de L'Alliance (Our Lady of the Ark of the Covenant) was built in the 1920s on the site of an ancient Byzantine church. A statue on the roof depicts the Virgin Mary carrying baby Jesus. On the Jewish holidays of Shavuot and Sukkoth, both churches hold spectacular music festivals. Abu Ghosh is also famous for its Middle Eastern cuisine, specifically hummus, and restaurants abound specializing in authentic regional delicacies.


We move on to Moza, likely the "Motza" mentioned in the time of Joshua and again in the Jerusalem Talmud. This is the closest of the four sites to Jerusalem, and there are Roman ruins visible. However, Moza's relationship to the resurrection is ambiguous; many conjecture that it was chosen as a possibility merely due to its close proximity to Jerusalem.


The final "Emmaus" is in El-Kubeibeh, an Arab village, located west of Nebi Samwil. The Crusaders were the first to identify this as the Biblical site, after finding a nearby fort named Castellum Emmaus. They reasoned the name could mean only one thing - this was the site of the biblical Emmaus. In addition, the village lies approximately eight miles from Jerusalem - perfect day-trip distance. The Crusaders declared it "Emmaus" and built a church on top of the site; later, the Franciscan order, at the beginning of the 20th century, built a church atop those remains. The Franciscan church is still standing and can be visited today. Archaeologists unearthed further remains dating from the Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine eras. One of those remains, possibly from Byzantine or Roman time, is identified by some scholars as the house of Cleopas, one of the two disciples. However, although the distance and archaeological remains seem to verify El-Kubeibeh as the correct site, the lateness of the identification (12th century AD) casts aspersions on its veracity; many conjecture that the Crusaders identified this as "Emmaus" in order to have a convenient stopping point for pilgrims to the Holy Land.


So which one of these is "it?" We don't know for certain. But as so often happens, while the results of the journey may be inconclusive, hopefully the journey itself brought us meaning and fulfillment.

Tags: holy land emmaus history 

April 9, 2012April 9, 2012  2 comments  Food & Drinks

As a recent Jewish immigrant to Israel and wine consultant, I tend to focus my own sojourns on sites that have more to do with the history of the Jewish people and the local wine industry. Yet, Christian shrines do  intrigue me and they have a significant place within the history of Israel and are an important part of the landscape in this land. Consequently, when I recently  had the opportunity to tour some of the Christian holy sites and wineries for Travelujah, I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about Chrisitan holy sites in Israel.


castel winery

Domaine du Castel Vineyards; photo courtesy Travelujah


Within a fifteen minute drive southwest  of Israel's ancient & modern capitol, Jerusalem, we  stopped first at the Church of John the Baptist in the lovely village  of Ein Karem. This ancient site is thought to be where Jesus's most influential disciple was born and raised in the house of his parents Zachariah and Elizabeth. Initially a Byzantine church was built on the site in the fourth century as a tribute to St Elizabeth before being destroyed in the seventh century by conquering Muslim hordes from the Arabian peninsula.


Church of John the Baptist

Church of St. John the Baptist, Ein Karem, photo courtesy David Rhodes for Travelujah


The church would be rebuilt in the 16th century and survive under more tolerant Ottoman governors until today although signs of its ancient and older origins are evident to the trained eye or one listening to a trained guide. There is a vibrant neighborhood surrounding the church in Jerusalem's outskirts so its a nice area to dine for lunch or, as we did, partake in some of Israel's many amazing boutique ice cream and gourmet chocolate shops.


After soaking in the site and its tranquility, a welcome respite for anyone living and working in the hustle and bustle of modern Israel, we carried on to one of Israel's most celebrated boutique wineries, Domaine du Castel, one of the first and one of the brightest stars in Israel's recent renaissance of its resurgent wine industry. The Castel Winery, as its also called, was founded in 1992 by Egyptian born and European educated Eli Ben Zaken on what was then a family farm which raised chickens. The almost immediate success and recognition his wine was something special had him suspend his poultry production in 1996 and from then when he was producing about 2,000 bottles his winery now employs his two sons and daughter and now produces about 100,000 bottles a year of highly desirable and expertly crafted wine. It is  one of the most internationally recognized Israeli wineries producing principally three wines, two premium Bordeaux red blends and a Chardonnay and is often on most wine writer's list as one of the top ten wineries in Israel and frequently mentioned as either the top one or two.  Having written hundreds of articles about Israeli wine, when asked, Castel is always one of the wineries I mention as a favorite and it has been a benchmark for other aspiring Israeli boutique wineries to emulate for the last twenty years.


One such aspiring boutique is the Nachshon Winery, in the Ayalon Valley, located on Kibbutz Nachshon. This winery is still in its early stages and is currently making about 10,000 bottles of year although the kibbutz, a communal farm, grows most of its grapes for Israel's 2nd largest winery and its largest exporter Barkan. They're still finding their way but are showing promise experimenting with both red blends, which made `Castel famous, and with single varietal wines such a Cabernet Franc, a promising Bordeaux varietal, that about 20 wineries have released in the last ten years as an alternative to more typical Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot offerings.


Another interesting stop in the region, Emmaus Nicropolis, is situated djacent to the ancient hot springs for which is was named (which

have since dried up). 

The site is considered by some to be where Jesus's apparition was first sighted after he was to have been resurrected on Easter three days after his crucifixion on Good Friday. The sprawling grounds and church were a serene respite for anyone out in about in Israel the week before the week celebrating Passover, the celebration of ending 400 years of bondage in Egypt and the Jewish people returning to Israel after 40 years in the wilderness.


All in all, the excursion was a welcome reminder of not only what I and other Jews value about Israel, or why I and other wine lovers are applauding Israeli winemakers but why such a small country like Israel is on the minds of so many in the Western world, Jews and Christians alike.


If you go:

Castel Winery - +972 2 534 22 49  - visit by appointment

Nachshon Winery - Friday 09:00-15:00 and Saturday 10 - 5 pm  08 -927-8641

Church of St. John the Baptist in Ein Karem- Monday through Friday and Sunday 8:30 - 12 and 2:30- 5, closed on Saturday,

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David Rhodes is a local wine expert and writes regularly for Travelujah-Holy Land Tours, the leading Christian social network focused on travel to the Hoily Land. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah.


Tags: emmaus castel nachshon 

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