The principal competitor of Nicopolis as New Testament Emmaus is el-Qubeibeh, often referred to as Emmaus-Qubeibeh.
The site lies 8 miles northwest of Jerusalem. This fits nicely with 60 stadia as the distance between Emmaus and Jerusalem, as specified in most of the ancient copies of the Gospel of Luke. The competitive site of Emmaus-Nicopolis is a viable candidate for New Testament Emmaus only if these ancient witnesses are wrong and the texts that specify 160 stadia are right.
On the other hand, el-Qubeibeh was never identified as Emmaus until the Crusader period. The earliest reference to the site as Emmaus is in 1290. The suspicion of course is that the Crusaders decided that the site then known only as Qubeibeh was in fact Emmaus because they wanted a spot to point to for pilgrims to the Holy Land— and Qubeibeh fit the distance called for by most copies of the Gospel of Luke. (For the same reason, so the argument goes, some Crusaders also identified Abu Ghosh, just outside of Jerusalem, as Emmaus.)
Scholars who opt for Emmaus-Nicopolis sometimes say that nothing earlier has been found at Emmaus-Qubeibeh. Thus, if true, Qubeibeh was not mentioned as Emmaus until the Crusader period, and nothing has been found at the site earlier than this.
But this is not correct. Qubeibeh was excavated in the early 1940s by Bellarmino Bagatti of the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum. Bagatti describes the site as “a lovely place, marked by shady pines and green olive trees. It gives the impression of an oasis in the midst of the bare tawny hills in which it is located.”1
The site is dominated by a Crusader period triapsidal church, in one corner of which was an earlier building that may go back to the time of Jesus, according to Bagatti. (Interestingly, the location of this Roman-period house in the northwestern corner of the later church is the same as the Roman house in the church at Emmaus-Nicopolis.) He claims to have found traces of other dwellings that go back as far as the Hellenistic period.
His excavations also unearthed pottery sherds from the Roman period, including a typical Herodian oil lamp, as well as coins securely dated from the third century B.C. to the fifth century A.D. Bagatti concluded there was a village here in the Roman period, although its size could not be determined precisely.
Was this village New Testament Emmaus, as the Crusaders claimed?