Gethsemane




According to Luke (21:37) and John (18:2), Jesus frequently retreated to this hillside and “garden” for rest, prayer, and fellowship with His disciples. He did so on the night of His betrayal. After the Last Supper and the singing of the Passover hymn, He left the upper room, (possibly located in S Jerusalem near the Zion Gate), crossed the Kidron Valley, and ascended the Mt. of Olives, across the valley from the Temple. Upon entering the area, Jesus spoke to the disciples about their being scattered as sheep, His resurrection and reunion with them in Galilee, and the temptation of Peter and of their going to deny Him (Mark 14:26-31). Then He took Peter, James, and John on into the “garden” of Gethsemane, and charged them to watch. Going a stone’s throw further, He prayed three times for deliverance (Mark 14:32-42). His prayer-agony complete, He went out to meet His betrayer.

The precise site of Gethsemane is a matter of contention in Christian tradition; different sites are identified by Western, Russian, Armenian, and Greek Orthodox Church authorities (cf. Kraeling’s map, p. 396). It is generally agreed that Gethsemane was situated on the hillside above the road from Jerusalem to Bethany, but the precise site can be ascertained only by tradition. The oldest tradition, dating from Empress Helena’s visit to Jerusalem in a.d. 326, fixed the site of Gethsemane at the Church of the Tomb of the Virgin, and the place of Jesus’ prayer a stone’s throw up the hill (Luke 22:41). This would place the site about equal distance from St. Stephen’s Gate and the Golden Gate. It would have been directly across from the Temple.

The tradition that eight very ancient olive trees mark the site is prob. not well founded, since Josephus records that Titus (a.d. 70) cut down all the trees E of the city (Jos. War VI. i. 1).

Bibliography

Hastings, HDCG, I, 646, 647; E. G. Kraeling, Rand McNally Bible Atlas (1956), 394-404; The Westminster Historical Atlas to the Bible (1956), 107-109.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(Gethsemanei (for other spellings and accents see Thayer, under the word); probably from the Aramaic gath shemanim, "oil press"): Mentioned (Mt 26:36; Mr 14:32) as a place (chorion), margin "enclosed piece of ground," to which Jesus and the disciples retired after the last supper; in Joh 18:1 it is described as a "garden" (kepos), while Lu (22:40) simply says "place" (topos). From Joh 18:1 it is evident that it was across the Kidron, and from Lu 22:39, that it was on the Mount of Olives. Very possibly (Lu 21:37; 22:39) it was a spot where Jesus habitually lodged when visiting Jerusalem. The owner--whom conjecture suggests as Mary the mother of Mark--must have given Jesus and His disciples special right of entry to the spot.

Tradition, dating from the 4th century, has fixed on a place some 50 yds. East of the bridge across the Kidron as the site. In this walled-in enclosure once of greater extent, now primly laid out with garden beds, by the owners--the Franciscans--are eight old olive trees supposed to date from the time of our Lord. They are certainly old, they appeared venerable to the traveler Maundrell more than two centuries ago, but that they go back to the time claimed is impossible, for Josephus states (BJ, VI, i, 1) that Titus cut down all the trees in the neighborhood of Jerusalem at the time of the siege. Some 100 yards farther North is the "Grotto of the Agony," a cave or cistern supposed to be the spot "about a stone’s cast" to which our Lord retired (Lu 22:41). The Greeks have a rival garden in the neighborhood, and a little higher up the hill is a large Russian church. The traditional site may be somewhere near the correct one, though one would think too near the public road for retirement, but the contours of the hill slopes must have so much changed their forms in the troubled times of the first and second centuries, and the loose stone walls of such enclosures are of so temporary a character, that it is impossible that the site is exact. Sentiment, repelled by the artificiality of the modern garden, tempts the visitor to look for a more suitable and less artificial spot farther up the valley. There is today a secluded olive grove with a ruined modern olive press amid the trees a half-mile or so farther up the Kidron Valley, which must far more resemble the original Gethsemane than the orthodox site.