Mount of Olives
OLIVES, MOUNT OF (called Olivet twice in the kjv—
I. Geographical. The
Near the foot of the Mount of Olives, on the western slope above the Kidron, is the likely site of the Garden of Gethsemane. In NT times the whole area seems to have been a place of resort for those who sought relief from the heat of the crowded city streets. Dean Stanley called it the “park” of Jerusalem. In much earlier times it must have been heavily wooded, for when the Feast of the Tabernacles was restored in 445 b.c., Nehemiah commanded the people to “go out into the hill country and bring back branches from olive and wild olive trees, and from myrtles, palms and shade trees, to make booths” (
II. Historical. Historical associations have found incidental reference above, where their significance is inseparable from topography. The following points should be added. The ridge, besides being a tactical vantage point in war, was a peacetime highway into Jerusalem. It was the route of David’s flight from Absalom in the time of the palace rebellion (
Historically the Mount of Olives finds its chief interest in NT times, where it is a locality intimately connected with the Jerusalem ministry of Christ. It is important here to distinguish authentic history from the thick accretions of legend and tradition. Christ’s first sight of the city was from the summit of the Mount of Olives (
MOUNT OF OLIVES (הַר הַזֵּיתִ֜ים, τὸ ὄρος τω̂ν ἐλαιω̂ν, meaning the mount of olives; τὸ ὄρος τὸ καλούμενον ἐλαιω̂ν, meaning the mount called olives,
Names and geography.
There is reason to believe that in ancient times the Mt. of Olives had many more olive groves on it than it does today, which accounts for the derivation of its name. It is called the same in Arab. today, viz., Jebel Zaitun, literally, Mt. of Olives. The Mt. is really a ridge running parallel to the Kidron Valley E of Jerusalem. There are undulations along it separating several high points. Although the northernmost of these has been connected with Nob of
The center part of the Mt. of Olives or Olivet rises c. 100 ft. higher than Jerusalem or c. 2,700 ft. above sea level. To the E is a magnificent view of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea c. fifteen m. distant in a straight line. Beyond are the mountains of Moab. To the S and SE one can see the expansive wilderness of Judea. To the W the finest, most unforgettable, panoramic view of the old city of Jerusalem is available.
The hill is made of cretaceous limestone with a chalk-like top layer. The olive tree, which is one of the hardiest trees, thrives here, but there are many pines as well. The wind blows hard from the NW and gives many of the trees a decided bent to the SE. In fact, the southernmost peak is called by the Arabs Jebel Batn el-Hawa (the Mt. of the Belly of the Wind) because it blows so hard through that valley separating it from the central summit.
In the OT.
Considering the proximity of the Mt. of Olives to Jerusalem, there are surprisingly few mentions of it. It first occurs in
The second occurrence of the name Mt. of Olives is in
In the NT.
The Mt. of Olives is most important in the closing week of Jesus’ life on earth. Undoubtedly He crossed over it many times in His going to and from festivals in Jerusalem. Since the custom was not to pass through Samaria, Galileans prob. detoured across the Jordan in the N and then recrossed to the W bank near Jericho. This would account for Jesus’ appearances in Jericho, the geography of His parable of the Good Samaritan, and His presence in Bethany and Bethphage.
The first actual reference to the Mt. of Olives in the NT is in the questionable account of the woman taken in adultery.
Mark and Luke both mention Bethany, Bethphage, and the Mt. of Olives together in their record of the triumphal entry (
As Jesus came over the crest of the hill and caught sight of the Holy City, He wept (
The following day, after having spent the previous night in Bethany and having returned from the Temple, Jesus was sitting on the Mt. of Olives with His disciples as He discoursed about the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world (
It was in the Garden of Gethsemane on the W slopes of the Mt. of Olives that Jesus agonized with the Father (
Lastly, it was from the Mt. called Olivet that the disciples returned after witnessing the Ascension of their Lord (
The shrines on the mount.
Apart from the city of Jerusalem, there is prob. no greater concentration of shrines than on the Mt. of Olives. To trace the history, significance, and denominational connection of each would be an impossible task. About the only things that are certain are the location of the hill itself and the location of Bethany to the SE. There are three “Palm Sunday” trails over the hill, three Gardens of Gethsemane, two or three sites for the Ascension, two Jericho roads, and so forth. Faithful devotees of Jesus and the land on which He walked have marked with the church of Dominus Flevit the exact spot where He wept over Jerusalem, and have recovered the stone on which He stepped as He mounted the donkey on Palm Sunday in Bethphage. A Muslim shrine called Inbomon, built within the ruins of an octagonal church originally constructed in 375, later destroyed but restored by the crusaders, contains a footprint in the rock floor reputed to be the last footprint of Christ on earth. The credit for the most gross abomination or the most extravagant enterprise must go, however, to the Arab selling rides on a white donkey which he says is a direct descendant of the one Jesus rode!
The first sanctuary on the Mt. was begun in a.d. 325 by Helena, the mother of Constantine, on the S end of the central hill. Called the Eleona (Olives), the structure sheltered a grotto in which Jesus was to have taught the disciples. The Persians destroyed it in the 7th cent., but over it in 1869 was built the Church of the Pater Noster on the assumption that the Lord’s Prayer (the “Our Father”) was given there (
In addition to the Inbomon, with its footprint, is the Russian Orthodox Monastery of the Ascension with its tall and most distinctive bell tower. Another monastery, a Gr. Orthodox one called Viri Galilaei, may be named from the words in
On the W slope of the hill near the bottom are the Gardens of Gethsemane. Three churches with three gardens are there for the pilgrim’s choice. Nearer the center of the hillside is the Russian church of a.d. 455 over the supposed tomb of Mary. It is operated by the Greeks and the Coptics.with its typical Byzantine architecture. Below it is the famous Roman Catholic Church of All Nations sheltering the “Rock of Agony.” This site has a long tradition behind it. In the garden to the N are 1,000-year old olive trees. Further N is a church built c.
On the N end of the ridge of the Mt. of Olives is the magnificent Augusta Victoria Hospital built by Kaiser Wilhelm II. It is not intended to mark a Biblical site, however, although in the digging of the foundations in 1907 remains of a very ancient settlement were discovered. A modern luxury hotel now dominates the S end of the central ridge overlooking the many tombstones of the centuriesold Jewish cemeteries.
G. Dalman, Sacred Sites and Ways (1935), 261-270; K. Kraeling, Bible Atlas (1956), 396-398; G. A. Barrois in Interpreter’s Bible Dictionary, IV (1962).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
2. Situation and Extent
(1) David’s Escape from Absalom
(2) The Vision of Ezekiel
(3) The Vision of Zechariah
5. Olivet and Jesus
6. View of the City from Olivet
7. Churches and Ecclesiastical Traditions
Olivet comes to us through the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) Oliverum, "an oliveyard."
Josephus frequently uses the expression "Mount of Olives" (e.g. Ant, VII, ix, 2; XX, viii, 6; BJ, V, ii, 3; xii, 2), but later Jewish writings give the name har ha-mishchah, "Mount of Oil"; this occurs in some manuscripts in
To the natives of Palestine today it is usually known as Jebel et Tar ("mountain of the elevation," or "tower"), or, less commonly, as Jebel Tur ez zait ("mountain of the elevation of oil"). The name Jebel ez-zaitun ("Mount of Olives") is also well known. Early Arabic writers use the term Tur Zait, "Mount of Oil."
2. Situation and Extent:
The mountain ridge which lies East of Jerusalem leaves the central range near the valley of Sha`phat and runs for about 2 miles due South. After culminating in the mountain mass on which lies the "Church of the Ascension," it may be considered as giving off two branches: one lower one, which runs South-Southwest, forming the southern side of the Kidron valley, terminating at the Wady en Nar, and another, higher one, which slopes eastward and terminates a little beyond el-`Azareyeh (modern Bethany). The main ridge is considerably higher than the site of ancient Jerusalem, and still retains a thick cap of the soft chalky limestone, mixed with flint, known variously as Nari and Ka`kuli, which has been entirely denuded over the Jerusalem site (see JERUSALEM, II, 1). The flints were the cause of a large settlement of paleolithic man which occurred in prehistoric times on the northern end of the ridge, while the soft chalky stone breaks down to form a soil valuable for the cultivation of olives and other trees and shrubs. The one drawback to arboriculture upon this ridge is the strong northwest wind which permanently bends most trees toward the Southeast, but affects the sturdy, slow-growing olive less than the quicker-growing pine. The eastern slopes are more sheltered. In respect of wind the Mount of Olives is far more exposed than the site of old Jerusalem.
The lofty ridge of Olivet is visible from far, a fact now emphasized by the high Russian tower which can be seen for many scores of miles on the East of the Jordan. The range presents, from such a point of view particularly, a succession of summits. Taking as the northern limit the dip which is crossed by the ancient Anathoth (`anata) road, the most northerly summit is that now crowned by the house and garden of Sir John Gray Hill, 2,690 ft. above sea-level. This is sometimes incorrectly pointed out as Scopus, which lay farther to the Northwest. A second sharp dip in the ridge separates this northern summit from the next, a broad plateau now occupied by the great Kaiserin Augusta Victoria Stiftung and grounds. The road makes a sharp descent into a valley which is traversed from West to East by an important and ancient road from Jerusalem, which runs eastward along the Wady er Rawabeh. South of this dip lies the main mass of the mountain, that known characteristically as the Olivet of ecclesiastical tradition. This mass consists of two principal summits and two subsidiary spurs. The northern of the two main summits is that known as Karem es Sayyad, "the vineyard of the hunter," and also as "Galilee," or, more correctly, as Viri Galilaei (see below, 7). It reaches a height of 2,723 ft. above the Mediterranean and is separated from the southern summit by a narrow neck traversed today by the carriage road. The southern summit, of practically the same elevation, is the traditional "Mount of the Ascension," and for several years has been distinguished by a lofty, though somewhat inartistic, tower erected by the Russians. The two subsidiary spurs referred to above are:
(1) a somewhat isolated ridge running Southeast, upon which lies the squalid village of el `Azareyeh--Bethany;
(2) a small spur running South, covered with grass, which is known as "the Prophets," on account of a remarkable 4th-century Christian tomb found there, which is known as "the tomb of the Prophets"--a spot much venerated by modern Jews.
A further extension of the ridge as Batn el Hawa, "the belly of the wind," or traditionally as "the Mount of Offence" (compare
The notices of the Mount of Olives in the Old Testament are, considering its nearness to Jerusalem, remarkably scanty.
3. Old Testament Associations:
(1) David’s Escape from Absalom:
David fleeing before his rebellious son Absalom (
It is highly probable that David’s route to the wilderness was neither by the much-trodden Anathoth road nor over the summit of the mountain, but by the path running Northeast from the city, which runs between the Viri Galilaei hill and that supporting the German Sanatorium and descends into the wilderness by Wady er Rawabi.
(2) The Vision of Ezekiel:
Ezekiel in a vision (11:23) saw the glory of Yahweh go up from the midst of the city and stand "upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city" (compare 43:2). In connection with this the Rabbi Janna records the tradition that the shekhinah stood 3 1/2 years upon Olivet, and preached, saying, "Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near"--a strange story to come from a Jewish source, suggesting some overt reference to Christ.
(3) The Vision of Zechariah:
In addition to these direct references, Jewish tradition associates with this mount--this "mount of Corruption"--the rite of the red heifer (
4. High Places:
5. Olivet and Jesus:
On the lower slopes of Olivet, in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Gethsemane), Jesus endured His agony, the betrayal and arrest, while upon one of its higher points--not, as tradition has it, on the inhabited highest summit, but on the secluded eastern slopes "over against Bethany" (
6. View of the City from Olivet:
The view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives must ever be one of the most striking impressions which any visitor to Jerusalem carries away with him. It has been described countless times. It is today a view but of ruin and departed glory compared with that over which Jesus wept. A modern writer with historic imagination has thus graphically sketched the salient features of that sight:
"We are standing on the road from Bethany as it breaks round the Mount of Olives and on looking northwest this is what we see. .... There spreads a vast stone stage, almost rectangular, some 400 yards. North and South by 300 East and West, held up above Ophel and the Kidron valley by a high and massive wall, from 50 to 150 ft. and more in height, according to the levels of the rock from which it rises. Deep cloisters surround this platform on the inside of the walls. .... Every gate has its watch and other guards patrol the courts. The crowds, which pour through the south gates upon the platform for the most part keep to the right; the exceptions, turning westward, are excommunicated or in mourning. But the crowd are not all Israelites. Numbers of Gentiles mingle with them; there are costumes and colors from all lands. In the cloisters sit teachers with groups of disciples about them. On the open pavement stand the booths of hucksters and money-changers; and from the North sheep and bullocks are being driven toward the Inner Sanctuary. This lies not in the center of the great platform, but in the northwest corner. It is a separately fortified, oblong enclosure; its high walls with their 9 gates rising from a narrow terrace at a slight elevation above the platform and the terrace encompassed by a fence within which none but Israelites may pass. .... Upon its higher western end rises a house `like a lion broad in front and narrow behind.’ .... From the open porch of this house stone steps descend to a great block of an altar perpetually smoking with sacrifices. .... Off the Northwest of the Outer Sanctuary a castle (the Antonia) dominates the whole with its 4 lofty towers. Beyond .... the Upper City rises in curved tiers like a theater, while all the lower slopes to the South are a crowded mass of houses, girded by the eastern wall of the city. Against that crowded background the sanctuary with its high house gleams white and fresh. But the front of the house, glittering with gold plates, is obscured by a column of smoke rising from the altar; and the Priests’ Court about the latter is colored by the slaughterers and sacrifices--a splash of red, as our imagination takes it, in the center of the prevailing white. At intervals there are bursts of music; the singing of psalms, the clash of cymbals and a great blare of trumpets, at which the people in their court in the Inner Sanctuary fall down and worship" (extracts from G.A. Smith’s Jerusalem, II, 518-20).
7. Churches and Ecclesiastical Traditions:
To the Bible student the New Testament is the best guide to Olivet; tradition and "sites" only bewilder him. Once the main hilltop was a mass of churches. There was the "Church of the Ascension" to mark the spot whereby tradition (contrary to the direct statement of Luke) states that the Ascension occurred; now the site is marked by a small octagonal chapel, built in 1834, which is in the hands of the Moslems. There a "footprint of Christ" is shown in the rock. A large basilica of Helena was built over the place where it was said that Christ taught His disciples. In 1869 the Princess de Latour d’Auvergne, learning that there was a Moslem tradition that this site was at a spot called el Battaniyeh south of the summit, here erected a beautiful church known as the Church of the Pater Noster and around the courtyard she had theinscribed in 32 languages. When the church was in course of erection certain fragments of old walls and mosaics were found, but, in 1911, as a result of a careful excavation of the site, the foundations of a more extensive mass of old buildings, with some beautiful mosaic in the baptistry, were revealed in the neighborhood; there is little doubt but that these foundations belonged to the actual Basilica of Helena. It is proposed to rebuild the church.
Mention has been made of the name Viri Galilaei or Galilee as given to the northern summit of the main mass of Olivet. The name "Mount Galilee" appears to have been first given to this hill early in the 4th century and in 1573 AD Rawolf explains the name by the statement that here was in ancient times a khan where the Galileans lodged who came up to Jerusalem. In 1620 Quaresmius applies the names "Galilee" and Viri Galilaei to this site and thinks the latter name may be due to its having been the spot where the two angels appeared and addressed the disciples as "Ye men of Galilee" (
The Russian enclosure includes a chapel, a lofty tower--from which a magnificent view is obtainable--a hospice and a pleasant pine grove. Between the Russian buildings to the North and the Church of the Ascension lies the squalid village of et tur, inhabited by a peculiarly turbulent and rapacious crowd of Moslems, who prey upon the passing pilgrims and do much to spoil the sentiment of a visit to this sacred spot. It is possible it may be the original site of BETHPHAGE (which see).
PEF, Memoirs, "Jerusalem" volume; G. A. Smith, Jerusalem; Robinson, BRP, I, 1838; Stanley, Sinai and Palestine; Baedeker’s Palestine and Syria (by Socin and Bensinger); Tobler, Die Siloahquelle und der Oelberg, 1852; Porter, Murray’s Palestine and Syria; R. Hofmann, Galilaea auf dem Oelberg, Leipzig, 1896; Schick, "The Mount of Olives," PEFS, 1889, 174-84; Warren, article "Mount of Olives," in HDB; Gauthier, in EB, under the word; Vincent (Pere), "The Tombs of the Prophets," Revue Biblique, 1901.