Another reason for the walk to Emmaus: looking for the wrong kind of deliverance

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by Neil Godfrey

Battle of Emmaus: From BibleWalks.com http://www.biblewalks.com/Sites/NebiSamuelHasmonean.html

I thought I had nailed the reason for Luke’s choice of Emmaus (Luke 24:23-35) as the destination of the two disciples after the crucifixion when I posted on The Origin and Meaning of the Emmaus Road Narrative in Luke. That explanation hinged on Codex Bezae containing the original word, Oulammaus, and that led to the link with the place where God appeared to Jacob when he was traveling away from his home.

But now there is another possible explanation for the choice of the placename that I have come across in Classics and the Bible by John Taylor.

Firstly, he suggests the location in Luke 24:13 is “strongly probably” to be identified with the place of that name in 1 Maccabees 3:40 and Josephus in Jewish War 2.71. This places the town 160 stades distant from Jerusalem rather than the 60 in most manuscripts, though some manuscripts do say 160.

It is however much more likely that Luke intends a symbolic point than that he is preoccupied with the minutiae of geography of that there were two places of the same name.

Firstly look at the Emmaus passage to recollect a few details:

13And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was from Jerusalem about threescore furlongs.

14And they talked together of all these things which had happened.

15And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, Jesus himself drew near, and went with them.

16But their eyes were holden that they should not know him.

17And he said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?

18And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?

19And he said unto them, What things? And they said unto him, Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, which was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people:

20And how the chief priests and our rulers delivered him to be condemned to death, and have crucified him.

21But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.

22Yea, and certain women also of our company made us astonished, which were early at the sepulchre;

23And when they found not his body, they came, saying, that they had also seen a vision of angels, which said that he was alive.

24And certain of them which were with us went to the sepulchre, and found it even so as the women had said: but him they saw not.

25Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken:

26Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?

27And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

28And they drew nigh unto the village, whither they went: and he made as though he would have gone further.

29But they constrained him, saying, Abide with us: for it is toward evening, and the day is far spent. And he went in to tarry with them.

30And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took bread, and blessed it, and brake, and gave to them.

31And their eyes were opened, and they knew him; and he vanished out of their sight.

32And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?

33And they rose up the same hour, and returned to Jerusalem, and found the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them,

34Saying, The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon.

35And they told what things were done in the way, and how he was known of them in breaking of bread.

Emmaus was the site of Judas Maccabaeus’s first victory over Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Syrian king who attempted to destroy Jewish customs and their traditional Temple worship. This was the site of the battle that began the redemption of Israel.

1 Maccabees 3:40-4:25

40So they set out with their entire force, and when they arrived they encamped near Emmaus in the plain. 41When the traders of the region heard what was said to them, they took silver and gold in immense amounts, and fetters,* and went to the camp to get the Israelites for slaves. And forces from Syria and the land of the Philistines joined with them.

42 Now Judas and his brothers saw that misfortunes had increased and that the forces were encamped in their territory. They also learned what the king had commanded to be done to the people to cause their final destruction. 43But they said to one another, ‘Let us restore the ruins of our people, and fight for our people and the sanctuary.’ 44So the congregation assembled to be ready for battle, and to pray and ask for mercy and compassion. 45Jerusalem was uninhabited like a wilderness; not one of her children went in or out.The sanctuary was trampled down, and aliens held the citadel; it was a lodging-place for the Gentiles.Joy was taken from Jacob; the flute and the harp ceased to play.

46 Then they gathered together and went to Mizpah, opposite Jerusalem, because Israel formerly had a place of prayer in Mizpah. 47They fasted that day, put on sackcloth and sprinkled ashes on their heads, and tore their clothes. 48And they opened the book of the law to inquire into those matters about which the Gentiles consulted the images of their gods. 49They also brought the vestments of the priesthood and the first fruits and the tithes, and they stirred up the nazirites* who had completed their days; 50and they cried aloud to Heaven, saying,‘What shall we do with these? Where shall we take them? 51Your sanctuary is trampled down and profaned, and your priests mourn in humiliation. 52Here the Gentiles are assembled against us to destroy us; you know what they plot against us. 53How will we be able to withstand them, if you do not help us?’

54 Then they sounded the trumpets and gave a loud shout. 55After this Judas appointed leaders of the people, in charge of thousands and hundreds and fifties and tens. 56Those who were building houses, or were about to be married, or were planting a vineyard, or were faint-hearted, he told to go home again, in accordance with the law. 57Then the army marched out and encamped to the south of Emmaus.

58 And Judas said, ‘Arm yourselves and be courageous. Be ready early in the morning to fight with these Gentiles who have assembled against us to destroy us and our sanctuary. 59It is better for us to die in battle than to see the misfortunes of our nation and of the sanctuary. 60But as his will in heaven may be, so shall he do.’ 4 –>

The Battle at Emmaus

4Now Gorgias took five thousand infantry and one thousand picked cavalry, and this division moved out by night 2to fall upon the camp of the Jews and attack them suddenly. Men from the citadel were his guides. 3But Judas heard of it, and he and his warriors moved out to attack the king’s force in Emmaus 4while the division was still absent from the camp. 5When Gorgias entered the camp of Judas by night, he found no one there, so he looked for them in the hills, because he said, ‘These men are running away from us.’

6 At daybreak Judas appeared in the plain with three thousand men, but they did not have armour and swords such as they desired. 7And they saw the camp of the Gentiles, strong and fortified, with cavalry all around it; and these men were trained in war. 8But Judas said to those who were with him, ‘Do not fear their numbers or be afraid when they charge. 9Remember how our ancestors were saved at the Red Sea, when Pharaoh with his forces pursued them. 10And now, let us cry to Heaven, to see whether he will favour us and remember his covenant with our ancestors and crush this army before us today. 11Then all the Gentiles will know that there is one who redeems and saves Israel.’

12 When the foreigners looked up and saw them coming against them, 13they went out from their camp to battle. Then the men with Judas blew their trumpets 14and engaged in battle. The Gentiles were crushed, and fled into the plain, 15and all those in the rear fell by the sword. They pursued them to Gazara, and to the plains of Idumea, and to Azotus and Jamnia; and three thousand of them fell. 16Then Judas and his force turned back from pursuing them, 17and he said to the people, ‘Do not be greedy for plunder, for there is a battle before us; 18Gorgias and his force are near us in the hills. But stand now against our enemies and fight them, and afterwards seize the plunder boldly.’

19 Just as Judas was finishing this speech, a detachment appeared, coming out of the hills. 20They saw that their army* had been put to flight, and that the Jews* were burning the camp, for the smoke that was seen showed what had happened. 21When they perceived this, they were greatly frightened, and when they also saw the army of Judas drawn up in the plain for battle, 22they all fled into the land of the Philistines. 23Then Judas returned to plunder the camp, and they seized a great amount of gold and silver, and cloth dyed blue and sea purple, and great riches. 24On their return they sang hymns and praises to Heaven—‘For he is good, for his mercy endures for ever.’ 25Thus Israel had a great deliverance that day.

John Taylor comments:

Luke surely expects us to pick up the clue: the two companions to a site steeped in an earlier redeeming of Israel. They expect a conquering hero, and their preoccupation with battles long ago prevents them from seeing the significance of what Luke presents as the greater victory won by the unrecognized stranger who walks with them. (p. 129)

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6 thoughts on “Another reason for the walk to Emmaus: looking for the wrong kind of deliverance”

  1. Eisenman points out the similarities of the first appearance of the resurrected Jesus in this Luke passsage to the first appearance of the resurrected Jesus to James in the Gospel of the Hebrews:

    “The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews … after the account of the resurrection of the Saviour says, but the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep) … it says ‘Bring a table and bread,’ said the Lord. And immediately it is added, He brought bread and blessed and broke and it gave to James the Just and said to him, ‘my brother eat your bread, for the son of man is risen from among those that sleep'” (Jerome, Illustrious Men ch. 2).

    Both resurrection accounts involve a table and use the similar words, “he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to…”

    “When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” (Lk. 24:30).

    But in Luke it says that Jesus gave the bread to “them” instead of to James. Both gospels then mention a proclamation that Jesus had “risen.”

    “And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!'” (Lk. 24:33-34).

    Though there are other examples of Jesus blessing and breaking bread (Mk. 6:41, 14:22; Mt. 14:19, 15:36, 26:26; Lk. 9:16, 22:19), it does seem fishy that yet another element of an important event associated with James is not mentioned in the NT (like his election to lead the church and his stoning), but elements of which can be seen in other contexts (like the election of Matthias to replace Judas and the stoning of Stephen, and the “fuller” imagery and Paul’s “pillar” names in the Transfiguration).

    I suspect that the Gospel of the Hebrews was “Q,” and that Hegesippus was more faithful to it, and that “sleight of hands” like these appear to be indicate that some NT writers also knew it but chose to obfuscate certain details concerning James for some reason. It’s easier for me to imagine this than to think that a pro-Jamesian group borrowed these otherwise disparate elements from the NT and applied them to James, or that the NT writers did not know the Gospel of the Hebrews and it’s only a coincidence that these elements are elsewhere associated with James.

  2. I think your Oulammaus explanation is better than this Maccabees explanation.

    I am more interested, however, in several other features of the Emmaus story. I point out that the Emmaus story is reported only in Luke’s gospel, and I suggest that Luke liked the Emmaus story because it supported several features of Luke’s subsequent description of Jesus’s appearance to Paul.

    I assume that during the first, mystical period of Christianity, the very first Christians participated in their mystical experiences under the organized guidance of the prior, experienced mystics and participated with the expectation that they too would experience a mystical vision of Jesus Christ. In other words, new converts were instructed in advance about the vision and then traveled to a special place (e.g. the summit of Mount Hermon or a particular place in the Jordan River) and then experienced the expected mystical vision.

    The mystical vision was the culmination of a process that began with acquaintanship, discussion, recruitment, instruction, testing and pilgrimage. The new person gradually became an approved member of the group before he was allowed to experience the vison.

    The vision, when it finally did happen, did not involve the person in a direct conversation with Jesus Christ. Rather, the person perceived a passion play that took place on the Firmament, where Jesus Christ went through a crucifixion, burial and resurrection. During this passion play, God the Father explained with a voice from above that Jesus Christ had been sent down to the Firmament to demonstrate God the Father’s love for lower beings.

    By the time Paul became involved with the Christians, the arrangement of such mystical visions had been terminated by the Christian leadership. New converts would have to be satisfied with the stories told to them by the first Christians who had gone through the process of experiencing the mystical visions.

    By necessity, therefore, Paul’s own claimed mystical experience differed from the first Christians’ mystical experiences. He had not been accepted into the group and had not gone through the organized preparations. No Christian mentors accompanied him to a special place and guided him through the rite of the vision experience.

    Rather, Paul experienced his own mystical vison as a solitary individual in an isolated location. He himself wrote later, in Galatians, that he did not tell anybody else at all about his experience for at least three years.

    According to Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, Paul experienced his own vision while traveling on a road in a non-urban area. The people traveling around Paul did not recognize that Paul was experiencing a mystical vision. Acts reports also that the only communication to Paul during the vision was a communication not from God the Father, but rather from Jesus Christ (Why are you persecuting me? I am Jesus. Go to the city.)

    Many years passed, and Paul died, and many more years passed, and some Christians wrote a lot of gospels that turned Jesus Christ from a mystical being on the Firmament into a human-like being on the Earth. Eventually Luke assembled those gospels into his own, long Gospel of Luke and wrote also his Acts of the Apostles, which emphasized the role that Paul had played in the founding of Christianity.

    Luke’s story about Jesus’s appearance to the two men traveling to Emmaus foreshadows Jesus’s appearance to Paul.

    In both cases, Jesus appeared to people who did not belong to the Christian inner circle. The two men traveling to Emmaus did not belong to the twelve disciples. Likewise Paul did not belong to the current Christian organization — on the contrary, he was considered to be an enemy.

    In both cases, the communication to the persons was from Jesus Christ, not from God the Father.

    In both cases, the appearance happened on a non-urban road, and there were no nearby witnesses who recognized that an appearance of Jesus Christ was happening.

    In both cases, the appearance of Jesus Christ happened unexpectedly to the persons, who had not been prepared by any foretelling or instruction.

    1. Classicist John Taylor sees in the Emmaus narrative more literary functions to explain its features. It forms a nice rounding off of the Gospel by reaching back to some of the themes and motifs with which the Gospel opened — Taylor describes it as a “ring composition”. We have the same return to a primitive patriarchal Genesis/Judges type of setting and story (I think that comes from the authors of the Oulammaus article I discussed earlier). Taylor observes:

      1. divine visitor at Emmaus corresponding to Gabriel at Annunciation

      2. recognition scene at Emmaus corresponds to recognition of unborn Jesus by the unborn John — recognitions of Jesus thus extend beyond the span of his life at both ends, as do failures of recognition or acceptance

      3. the impaired vision on the Emmaus road perhaps balancing the striking dumb of Zechariah

      4. the two companions echo the shepherds who likewise rush eagerly into town to tell the news after a divine visitation

      “At the end of his gospel as also at its opening, Luke deliberately adopts the style and manner of the Septuagint.” p. 130)

      (This sort of ring composition is a feature of classical literature, too.)

      Are we certain Paul did not even speak of his revelation to anyone? Is that the connotation of the word used in Galatians 1:16? προσανεθέμην, prosanatithemi, http://www.biblestudytools.com/lexicons/greek/kjv/prosanatithemi.html

    2. I would like to elaborate on the idea that in the Emmaus story Jesus Christ appeared to two travelers who were not in the religion’s inner circle, the twelve disciples. As the story develops, the two travelers return to Jerusalem, where they inform and prepare the twelve disciples to experience the appearance of Jesus Christ.

      As I imagine the first period of Christianity — during which the first, experienced mystics informed and prepared the new recruits — the Emmaus story presents a perverse narrative where fringe characters are subjected unexpectedly to appearances by Jesus, and then these fringe characters inform and prepare the religion’s core, initial members, This reversed narrative illustrated the idea that “the first shall be last, and the last shall be first” and enabled a latecomer like Paul to challenge the authority of the founder Peter.

      I think that the relevant sequence of stages was that 1) the Christian leadership terminated the program of inducting new converts to experience mystical visions of Jesus Christ in the Firmament, 2) new members, deprived of the personal mystical experience, began to create stories in which Jesus Christ descended to Earth and belatedly showed his compassionate mercy to various humans whose infirmities (blindness, lameness, mental derangement, etc.) had prevented them from completing the organized pilgrimages that culminated in the mystical experiences, 3) the new members developed varied other stories that developed a fan-fiction fantasy that Jesus Christ had done many deeds and taught many lessons continuously during several years on Earth.

      Paul became involved in the religion during the second stage defined in the above paragraph. Paul had adopted the idea that Jesus Christ descended to Earth and appeared unexpectedly to a few, various people who had been deprived of the original mystical experiences that had been arranged by the first Christian mystics, but Paul always remained ignorant of all the other deeds and teachings that eventually would be attributed to Jesus Christ during the third stage.

      I think that the very first gospel story was Jesus Christ’s appearance to and healing of the blind man in Bethsaida, which was Peter’s home town and so was the base of Peter’s growing cult. The blind man represented 1) recruits with physical infirmities that prevented them from climbing to the summit of Mount Hermon and 2) recruits who climbed to the summit and tried to experience the mystical vision there but failed because of their rational skepticism. So, Jesus felt sorry for such a “blind” failure and descended to Earth and cured the “blind” failure’s “blindness”.

      This first gospel was known to Paul, and so the story that he eventually told about his own mystical encounter with Jesus Christ was that Paul too was blind for a while and then was healed from his blindess during his own experience.

      In the Emmaus story, the two travelers likewise suffered for a blindness of a figurative kind. The two travelers spent several hours walking, talking and eating with Jesus Christ, whom they knew from previous meetings, but the travelers remained blind to the recognition that their traveling companion was Jesus Christ. At the very end of their encounter, however, Jesus Christ cured their “blindness” and then they recognized that the companion was Jesus Christ.

      Similarly, the stories of Jesus Christ’s post-resurrection appearances to Mary Magdelene and various disciples includes the element that those people remained blind to recognizing Jesus Christ during those encounters until Jesus cured their “blindness” and then they recognized Jesus belatedly.

  3. Another possible explanation for the Emmaus destination was suggested by R. E. Lay in his article “Paul and Damascus” (http://www.christianorigins.com/pauldamascus.html).

    Lay suggested that the name “Emmaus” was a corruption of the name “Damascus” and argued furthermore that the name “Damascus” referred not only to the “city Damascus” but also to a “land of Damascus”, which was a large wilderness area northeast and east of the Jordan River. For several centuries before the Christian era, this “land of Damascus” had served as a refuge for religious dissidents who had to flee from Judea and Israel.

    During the early Christian era, many Christians likewise were compelled to flee from Jerusalem to the east side of the Jordan River — to the “land of Damascus”. Lay in his article writes:


    Eusebius reports that the Jerusalem Community leadership went to “Pela in Perea.” Since Pela was not actually in Perea, but just to the north of it, Eusebius may have slightly mistransmitted a source that actually said that they went to a place in Perea which was near Pela. Eusebius would certainly have known where Pela was, but he was likely hazy on Perea, which probably had long ceased to exist as a geographical unit by his time. Neither the city of Pela nor any place within its territorial jurisdiction would itself have been the “Damascus” that was the target of Saul/Paul’s persecutory expedition for the same reasons as we have already applied to the city of Damascus itself. Pela, like Damascus, was a free city.


    The main thrust of Lay’s article is to argue that various referrences to Paul being in or going to Damascus were referrences to Paul being in or going to this “land of Damascus”, not to the city of Damascus.

    At the end of his article, Lay also raises the question of whether in the Emmaus story, the two travelers were fleeing Jerusalem not to a place called “Emmaus” but rather to this same “land of Damascus” that and served and would serve as a refuge for many religious dissidents.

    1. Now you are talking, Mike (just an expression, not to imply that you weren’t “talking” before). This is is right up my alley (I’m all expressions today), at least the part about the name Damascus in early “Christianity” not being the city but the “land of Damascus” (like in the Dead Sea Scrolls, where the “New Covenant” was being practised). Perhaps there is some sort of play on this with Emmaus -I couldn’t say, but it wouldn’t surprise me- but there is also something plausible about what Taylor/Neil are saying.

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