Mount of Olives

views updated May 29 2018


MOUNT OF OLIVES (Olivet ), mountain overlooking *Jerusalem from the east, beyond the *Kidron Brook. From the orographic point of view, the Mount of Olives is part of a spur projecting near Mount Scopus (Raʾs al-Mushārif), from the country-long water divide which continues southward. The Mount of Olives ridge has three peaks. Upon the highest, 2,684 ft. (826 meters) above sea level, the original buildings of the *Hebrew University were constructed and opened in 1925. This area is commonly, although mistakenly, known as Mount Scopus. On the second peak, 2,645 ft. (814 meters) above the sea, is the site of Augusta Victoria Hospital. On the third, 2,652 ft. (816 meters) high, lies the Arab village of al-Tūr (hahar, "the mountain"), an epithet whose source is in the Aramaic name of the Mount of Olives, Tura Zita. The Mount of Olives ends in this peak, though a spur of it continues to Raʾs al-ʿAmūd (2,444 ft.; 752 meters), draining to the Kidron brook southward, to the village of *Shiloaḥ (Silwān). Even at its highest, the Mount of Olives is lower than the highest point in the Romemah district, which is the highest point of the water divide in Jerusalem (2,697 ft; 829 meters). However, since the Mount of Olives stands so very high (351 ft; 108 meters) in relation to the deep Kidron brook beneath it, it seems much higher than it actually is. From a geological point of view, the mountain is entirely within the Senonian region, while phytogeographically speaking, it is within the bounds of the Judean Desert.

In the Bible, the mountain is called the Ascent of the Olives (Heb. Ma'aleh ha-Zeitim; ii Sam. 15:30), it being said of the top of the mountain (verse 32) "that this was where David was accustomed to worship God." This sanctity is apparently what prompted Solomon to build a *high place "in the mount that is before Jerusalem" (i Kings 11:7). However, according to ii Kings 23:13, the high place which he built was "on the right hand [i.e., to the south] of the mount of corruption (i.e., the Mount of Olives)," that is, probably at Raʾs al-ʿAmūd. Ezekiel 11:23 gives an important place to the Mount of Olives in his vision of the end of days: the glory of the Lord will arise and stand "upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city." The name Mount of Olives in its present form first appears in Zechariah 14:4: "His feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east." Zechariah describes how in his vision the mountain is cleft in two. During the period of the Second Temple, the Mount of Olives was of great importance in Jerusalem: the *red heifer was burnt upon it; a bridge, or possibly two such bridges, connected its slopes with the Temple Mount. During the period of the Roman procurator Felix, thousands gathered upon it, there to be beguiled into believing the words of a false Egyptian prophet (Jos., Ant. 20:169; Wars 2:262). During the siege of Jerusalem, the Tenth Roman Legion encamped on it (Wars 5:70, where the location of the Mount of Olives is clearly established as being six ris (= 3,707 ft.; 1,110 meters) east of Jerusalem, across a deep valley called Kidron). During the period of the Second Temple, at the order of the Sanhedrin, beacons would be lit on the Mount of Olives (har ha-meshihah, "Mount of Anointing"), in order to announce the sanctification of the New Moon. These flares could be seen as far away as Sartaba (rh 2:4).

The Gospels frequently refer to the Mount of Olives (by its Greek name τὸ ὄρος ʾΕλαων). Jesus and his followers encamped on one of its peaks on their way to Jerusalem. From its slopes, he wept for Jerusalem when he foresaw its coming destruction. At its foot is Gethsemane (Heb. Gat(h)-Shemanim), where he and his disciples spent the night before his arrest, and from it Jesus rose to heaven after being crucified and resurrected. For these reasons, Christianity, upon attaining supremacy, erected several churches and monasteries on the mountain. On its summit, the Church of the Ascension was erected and further down the Church of Eleona was built by the emperor Constantine. In Gethsemane a church was constructed during the Byzantine period and was refurbished by the Crusaders. According to Muslim tradition, the caliph Omar encamped on the Mount of Olives while receiving the surrender of Jerusalem (638).

Once the Jews were authorized to return to Jerusalem by the Arab conquerors, the pilgrimages to Jerusalem were also resumed. These pilgrimages generally took place during the month of Tishri. In these, the Mount of Olives held an important place, especially from the end of the eighth century, when the Jews were no longer allowed to enter the Temple Mount. On the festival of *Hoshana Rabba, they circled the Mount of Olives seven times, in song and prayer. On Hoshana Rabba, the Palestinian rosh yeshivah announced the "Proclamation of the Mount of Olives" concerning the new moons, the festivals, and the intercalation of years, a practice which was based on the ancient kindling of beacons on new moons on the Mount of Olives. On this same day, the rosh yeshivah appointed members to the "Great Sanhedrin" and accorded titles of honor to those who had worked in favor of the Palestinian academy. Bans on the unobservant and on those who rebelled against authority, especially against the Karaites, were not lacking on such occasions. The clashes with the Karaites resulted in the intervention of the authorities, and they even prohibited the rashei yeshivah from issuing bans.

The choice of the Mount of Olives as the site of pilgrimages and gatherings was based on midrashic tradition: "The Divine Presence traveled ten journeys, from the cover of the Ark to the Cherub … and from the Town to the Mount of Olives" (rh 31a; Lam. R., Proem 25). In the letters of the rashei yeshivah, the Mount of Olives is referred to as "the site of the footstool of our God." A tenth-century guidebook found in the Cairo Genizah points out "the site of the footstool of our God" on "a stone whose length is ten cubits, its breadth two cubits, and its height two cubits." The armchair of the Palestinian roshyeshivah was placed on this "stool" during the gatherings and the festive ceremonies which accompanied the pilgrimages. From this spot, the rosh yeshivah addressed the celebrants, and it was here that he received their contributions.

The site of the prayers and the gatherings was, according to the documents of the Genizah, above "Absalom's Monument," "opposite the Temple and the Gate of the Priest," which was situated along the southern third of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount. This corresponds to the open space above the slope of the Mount of Olives, which is today covered with Jewish graves, to the south of the Mount's summit. Here according to a medieval tradition, was the site "on which the priest who burnt the [Red] Heifer stood, sought out, and saw the Temple when he sprinkled the blood" (Mid. 2:6; Yoma 16a). The Arabs call this area "al-Qa'da" ("The Sitting Place"). This name might be an echo of the seat of the Palestinian rosh yeshivah during the pilgrimages to Jerusalem during the Arab period.

[Joseph Braslavi (Braslavski) and

Michael Avi-Yonah]

At the foot of the mountain, in the area of Silwan Village, rock-hewn tombs are known from the time of the First Temple (Tomb of Pharaoh's Daughter) and Second Temple (so-called Tomb of Zechariah, Tomb of the Sons of Hezir, and Tomb of Absalom). Consequently, this spur of the Mount of Olives became, with the passage of time, especially from the Middle Ages, a burial place for the Jews of Jerusalem. Because the Ma'aseh Daniel (A. Jellinek, Bet ha-Midrash, vol. 5, 128) states that at the end of days the Messiah will ascend the Mount and it will be there that Ezekiel shall blow his trumpet for the resurrection of the dead (Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 6 (1959), 438), through the years the graves spread over the slopes and up to the top. At the end of the 19th century, the Russians erected the Church of Gethsemane at the foot of the mount, and on the al-Tūr summit, a monastery and tower. Kaiser William ii of Germany, after visiting Jerusalem in 1898, erected a hospice for pilgrims known as Augusta Victoria on the second peak. The Englishman, Sir John Grey Hill, built a house on the third peak ("Mount Scopus"), which was later acquired by the Hebrew University for one of its buildings. During Israel's War of Independence, the university buildings remained in Israel hands even though they were surrounded by Arab held territory. This situation was frozen by the Armistice agreement, causing friction and many incidents. Israel was permitted to keep a number of policemen on the mount and these were changed every two weeks in a convoy which had to pass under un auspices through Jordan-held territory. The Jewish cemeteries and monuments on the Mount of Olives, now outside Israeli territory, were vandalized by the Arabs. The entire Mount was captured by Israel troops in the Six-Day War (1967) and arrangements were subsequently made for the restoration of the Jewish cemeteries on its western flanks, and the Hebrew University returned to its earlier location on Mount Scopus.


J. Braslavi, in: Eretz-Israel, 7 (1964), 69–80; idem, in: Israel Exploration Society, Yerushalayim le-Doroteihah (1968), 120–44 (Eng. summ. 63); H.Z. Hirschberg, in: bjpes, 13 (1947), 156–64; Mann, Egypt, index; Mann, Texts, index s.v.Mount Olivet; L.H. Vincent and F.M. Abel, Jérusalem nouvelle, 2 (1914), 3ff.; G.H. Dalman, Jerusalem und sein Gelaende (1930), 25–55; F.M. Abel, Géographie de la Palestine, 1 (1933), 372–4; S. Assaf and L. Meir (eds.), Sefer ha-Yishuv, 2 (1944), index s.v.Har Ha-Zeitim; Press, Ereẓ, 2 (1948), 207; M. Avi-Yonah (ed.), Sefer Yerushalayim (1956), illust. btwn. 16–17.

Mount of Olives

views updated May 21 2018


The Mount of Olives lies east of the city of jerusalem. A long ridge, running north and south for about two miles, separated from Jerusalem by the Kidron Valley, it is slightly higher in elevation than the city itself. The hill is part of the central Judean range that falls off sharply to the Jordan Valley on the east and more gradually to the Mediterranean Sea on the west. The term "Mount of Olives" refers most properly to the southernmost of the ridge's three sections. The northernmost section is known as Mt. Scopus. The middle section is probably the site of the Old Testament Nob (1 Sm 21.1). The southern section, directly east of the Temple area, now called Jebel et-Tur, is, properly, the Mount of Olives, the traditional site of Jesus' Ascension into heaven. The village Kefr et-Tur, on the eastern slope, is believed to be the site of Bethphage, while farther down the southeastern end of the slope stood Bethany.

In the Old Testament. The Mount of Olives is mentioned only once in the Old Testament and only in a rather late post-exilic book, the Apocalypse of Zechariah (Zec 14.4), but it must be the same hill that was the scene of David's flight from Absalom (2 Sm 15.23). In Ez 11.23, the hill to the east of the city on which "the glory of the Lord took a stand" after leaving the Temple must also have been the Mount of Olives. In Zec 14.4, on the day of the Lord's return to Jerusalem, " his feet shall rest upon the Mount of Olives, which is opposite Jerusalem to the east. The Mount of Olives shall be cleft in two from east to west by a very deep valley, and half the mountain shall move to the north and half to the south."

In the New Testament. The Mount of Olives is mentioned frequently in the Gospels, either as τ ρος τ[symbol omitted]ν λαι[symbol omitted]ν (the mountain of the olive trees) or τ ρος τ καλούμενον 'Ελαιών (the hill called "The Olive Grove"). The vicinity of the hill was frequented by Jesus whenever He visited Jerusalem. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem passed over this ridge. It was along this road that His triumphal entry into Jerusalem took place (Lk 19.37). When He came over the brow of the hill and saw the city, He wept because of the suffering in store for it (Lk 19.4144). Jesus delivered his eschatological discourse while sitting on the Mount of Olives (Mt 24.3; Mk 13.3). He spent the last nights before His death on the Mount (Lk 21.37), at Bethany, or Bethphage, or in the Garden of Gethsemani just across the Kidron (Jn 18.1) at the foot of the Mount. The Ascension of Jesus into heaven took place from the Mount of Olives, according to Acts 1.12.

Shrines and Archeology. The Mount of Olives is dotted with Christian shrines commemorating these events in Our Lord's life. Evidence of shrines and literary witnesses go back to very early times. The pilgrim Etheria, shortly before 400, mentioned that she took part in the liturgical services at Eleona, a church erected by the Empress Helena, to commemorate the spot where Our Lord taught; she mentions the place whence Our Lord ascended to heaven; she also mentions Gethsemani and Bethany. Today a modern basilica at Gethsemani is built upon the foundations of earlier churches. Halfway up the hill is a small chapel commemorating Our Lord's weeping over Jerusalem. In his excavations there B. Bagatti has found numerous ossuaries dating from early Christianity. Farther up the hill is the church and convent of Carmelite nuns, called the Pater Noster Monastery in

memory of Luke's account of the Lord's Prayer (Lk 11.14). On top of the hill are the restored remains of an octagonal church, now in the possession of Muslims, and believed to occupy the spot from which Jesus ascended into heaven.

Bibliography: l. heidet, Dictionnaire de la Bible, ed. f. vigouroux (Paris 18951912) 4.2:177993. b. bagatti, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot, et al. (Paris 1928) 6:688699. h. vincent and f. m. abel, Jérusalem Nouvelle, v.2 of Jérusalem: Recherches de topographie, d'archéologie et d'histoire, 2 v. (Paris 191226).

[s. musholt]

Mount of Olives

views updated May 21 2018

Mount of Olives ( Beethoven). See Christus am Ölberge.

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Mount of Olives

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Mount of Olives