The Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.
The Mount of Olives, together with the Garden of Gethsemane, takes its name
from the profusion of olive trees which undoubtedly flourished here in earlier
times. Many can still be seen here and there, on the
mountain itself and more especially within the fenced-off Garden of Gethsemane,
where the oldest of them - considerably more than just a few hundreds of years,
still grow and bear fruit. The word "gethsemane" is the Greek corruption of
"gat shemanim" the Hebrew for oil press.
The two-mile long range of hills,
running north-south, of which the Mount of Olives is a major part, forms the
eastern protective bulwark of Jerusalem and is the dividing-line between the
Judean Hills, westwards and the Judean Desert eastwards.
The Mount of Olives is
referred to many times in both the Old and New Testaments, and is of great
importance to both faiths. David flew from before his son, Absalom to the Mount
of Olives, (2 Samuel XV: 30-34). Solomon angered the Lord by building altars to
pagan gods on the Mount of Olives (I Kings XI: 7-8) The burning of the red
heifer for purification - an act commenced according to the word of God, by the
Children of Israel while still in the desert is, too, associated in later times,
with the Mount of Olives (Numbers XIX). The Mount of Olives is also clearly
referred to in Ezekiel XI: 23. It is also named in Zechariah XIV: 2-4.
the period of the Second Temple (ca 480 BCE-69 CE), fires were lit on the Mount
of Olives to signal the commencements of the New Months and festivals throughout
the Jewish world. The fires were seen from other high hills and mountains and
they, in their turn signalled onwards.
There has been a Jewish cemetery on the
Mount of Olives and its slopes from the Bronze Age up until the present
Christianity has exceptionally strong attachments to the Mount of
Olives: the Gospels remind us repeatedly of incidents concerning Jesus; the
number of times he visited the Mount, and prayed there especially - and most
important - the night of his arrest. From the Mount of Olives Jesus was afforded
a vision of the destruction of Jerusalem, mourning and weeping over the fate of
the city. Many are the churches and other Christian establishments on the Mount
of Olives which symbolize and recall these events. (See my notes on The Church of
the Agony and the Church of Dominus Flevit).