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Kidron Valley

Jerusalem

The Kidron Valley, a place of olive groves, ancient tombs and misnamed funerary monuments, divides Jerusalem’s Temple Mount from the Mount of Olives.

Kidron Valley

Olive trees in the Kidron Valley, with the Pillar of Absalom in the centre distance (Seetheholyland.net)

Once a deep ravine channelling a seasonal stream, it provided a defensive border to the original City of David — and a route to the wilderness for King David when he fled from his rebellious son Absalom (2 Samuel 15:23).

Jesus often traversed the Kidron on his way to the village of Bethany, his favourite place of rest and refuge.

After the Last Supper, he crossed the valley with his disciples to the garden of Gethsemane. Then, after he was betrayed, he was brought back the same way to the house of the high priest.

Kidron Valley

The Pillar of Absalom, with the wall of the Temple Mount on the right (Seetheholyland.net)

By the light of the Passover moon, the whitewashed tombs cut into the valley’s rock-face would have provided a stark reminder to Jesus that on the following day his own body would be laid in a tomb.

Since the 4th century, an identification of the Kidron with the Valley of Jehoshaphat (a name meaning “Yahweh shall judge”) mentioned in the book of Joel (3:2,12) has led to the belief that it will be the place of final judgement.

 

Valley descends to the Dead Sea

Across the street from the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane, a paved path leads southward to the floor of the Kidron Valley. On the right is the Greek Orthodox Church of St Stephen.

In the northerly direction, the valley continues for 35 kilometres, descending steeply through the Judaean wilderness past Mar Saba monastery to the Dead Sea.

Olive trees give this part of the valley a pastoral character.

Kidron Valley

The path to the Kidron Valley, with the Pillar of Absalom in the centre (Yoav Dothan)

On the right looms the wall of the Temple Mount, with the sealed double portals of the Golden Gate standing out. On the left, the world’s largest Jewish cemetery stretches up the Mount of Olives. Further on, the Arab village of Silwan clings to the cliffside.

The cemetery’s location follows the Jewish belief that the long-awaited Messiah will pass through the Golden Gate to begin the resurrection of the dead.

In reaction to this belief, Muslims established a cemetery in front of the gate to block the Messiah’s path — and this may also be why the Ottoman ruler Suleiman the Magnificent sealed the gate in 1541.

Kidron Valley

The sealed portals of the Golden Gate in the wall of the Temple Mount (Seetheholyland.net)

During the Second Temple period a high, two-tiered bridge spanned the Kidron Valley from the Temple Mount to the Mount of Olives. Across this bridge on the Day of Atonement each year a goat symbolically bearing the sins of the people — the original scapegoat — was led into the wilderness.

The Golden Gate may have been where Jesus entered the city on Palm Sunday. It was probably also the Beautiful Gate of Acts 3:1-10, where the apostle Peter healed a lame beggar.

 

Monuments face the Temple Mount

Proceeding along the Kidron Valley, three monuments stand out on the left, each facing towards the Temple Mount. All have been attributed to biblical figures, but they are really tombs of prominent citizens of Jerusalem in the Second Temple period.

Kidron Valley

The Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

In order, they are:

•  Pillar of Absalom. The tallest (22 metres) and most ornate of the Kidron Valley monuments, it is hewn out of the limestone rock face, with an elegant pinnacle shaped like a Moroccan tagine cooking pot.

The traditional association with Absalom — who died centuries before it was built — is because this rebellious son of King David erected for himself a memorial pillar in the King’s Valley (2 Samuel 18:18).

In 2003 a Byzantine Greek inscription was found on the south side, naming it the tomb of Zechariah the father of John the Baptist, but the authenticity of this identification is uncertain.

Behind the Pillar of Absalom is a 1st-century burial cave called the Tomb of Jehoshaphat, the fourth king of Judah (who died centuries before it existed). It is notable for the carved triangular pediment above its entrance.

Kidron Valley

The Pillar of Absalom in the Kidron Valley (© Israel Ministry of Tourism)

•  Tomb of the Sons of Hezir. About 50 metres south of the Pillar of Absalom, this has two Greek Doric columns supporting a frieze with an inscription identifying it as belonging to the priestly family of the Bene Hezir.

A mistaken tradition says it is the tomb of James the Just, the first bishop of Jerusalem, who was thrown off the highest corner of the Temple Mount, then stoned and clubbed to death. In earlier times a chapel in the area honoured this early martyr.

•  Tomb of Zechariah. A few metres further south, this freestanding cube carved out of bedrock is decorated on each side with Ionic columns and is topped by a sharply pointed pyramid. Again, the identification is unreliable.

In the time of Jesus, these monuments would have been whitewashed. Perhaps they inspired his outburst: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth.” (Matthew 23:27)

Kidron stream carries sewage

Kidron Valley

The Tomb of the Sons of Hezir (left) and the Tomb of Zechariah (Seetheholyland.net)

In modern times the Kidron has become one of the most polluted valleys in Israel. The Kidron stream still flows (except in summer), but it now carries most of Jerusalem’s sewage. Fortunately, the stretch near the city is piped underground.

Rubbish dumps also abound in the valley, continuing a practice referred to several times in the Bible. As long ago as seven centuries before Jesus, when King Hezekiah cleansed the Temple, his priests “brought out all the unclean things that they found in the temple of the Lord . . . and the Levites took them and carried them out to the Wadi Kidron” (2 Chronicles 29:16).

 

In Scripture

Kidron Valley

Polluted Kidron stream flowing past Mar Saba monastery in the Judaean desert (Seetheholyland.net)

King David flees from Absalom: 2 Samuel 15:23

Absalom builds his own monument: 2 Samuel 18:18

Judgement in the Valley of Jehoshaphat: Joel 3:2, 12

Jesus enters the city on Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11

Jesus crosses the Kidron Valley: John 18: 1

Peter heals a lame man at the Beautiful Gate: Acts 3:1-10

 

 

References

Bourbon, Fabio, and Lavagno, Enrico: The Holy Land Archaeological Guide to Israel, Sinai and Jordan (White Star, 2009)
Bourbon, Fabio: Yesterday and Today: The Holy Land: Lithographs and Diaries by David Roberts, R.A. (Swan Hill, 1997)
Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: Keys to Jerusalem (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Prag, Kay: Jerusalem: Blue Guide (A. & C. Black, 1989)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Tomb of Avshalom (BibleWalks)
Zechariah Tomb (BibleWalks)
Bnei-Hezir tombs (BibleWalks)

Mount of Olives

Jerusalem

Mount of Olives

Church of St Mary Magdalene (left) and Church of Dominus Flevit on Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Olives, one of three hills on a long ridge to the east of Jerusalem, is the location of many biblical events. Rising to more than 800 metres, it offers an unrivalled vista of the Old City and its environs.

The hill, also called Mount Olivet, takes its name from the fact that it was once covered with olive trees.

In the Old Testament, King David fled over the Mount of Olives to escape when his son Absalom rebelled (2 Samuel 15:30).

After King Solomon turned away from God, he built pagan temples there for the gods of his foreign wives (1 Kings 11:7-8).

Ezekiel had a vision of “the glory of the Lord” ascending from the city and stopping on the Mount of Olives (Ezekiel 11:23).

Zechariah prophesied that in the final victory of the forces of good over the forces of evil, the Lord of hosts would “stand on the Mount of Olives” and the mount would be “split in two from east to west” (Zechariah 14:3-4).

 

Jesus knew it well

In the New Testament, Jesus often travelled over the Mount of Olives on the 40-minute walk from the Temple to Bethany. He also went there to pray or to rest.

He went down the mount on his triumphal entry to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, on the way weeping over the city’s future destruction (Luke 19:29-44).

In a major address to his disciples on the mount, he foretold his Second Coming (Matthew 24:27-31).

He prayed there with his disciples the night before he was arrested (Matthew 26:30-56). And he ascended into heaven from there (Acts 1:1-12).

 

A place for pilgrims to sleep

Mount of Olives

Jewish cemetery on Mount of Olives (Seetheholyland.net)

Until the destruction of the Temple, the Mount of Olives was a place where many Jews would sleep out, under the olive trees, during times of pilgrimage.

During the Siege of Jerusalem which led to the destruction of the city in AD 70, Roman soldiers from the 10th Legion camped on the mount.

In Jewish tradition, the Messiah will descend the Mount of Olives on Judgement Day and enter Jerusalem through the Golden Gate (the blocked-up double gate in the centre of the eastern wall of the Temple Mount, also known as the Gate of Mercy, or the Beautiful Gate).

For this reason, Jews have always sought to be buried on the slopes of the mount. The area serves as one of Jerusalem’s main cemeteries, with an estimated 150,000 graves.

Among them is a complex of catacombs called the Tombs of the Prophets. It is said to contain the graves of the prophets Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi, who lived in the 6th and 5th centuries BC, but the style of tombs belongs to a later time.

From Byzantine times the mount became a place of church-building. By the 6th century it had 24 churches, surrounded by monasteries containing large numbers of monks and nuns.

 

Several major pilgrimage sites

Mount of Olives

Church of All Nations on Mount of Olives (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The Mount of Olives is the location of several major sites for pilgrims. They include:

• Church of All Nations (Basilica of the Agony): A sombre church at Gethsemane, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony the night before he was crucified.

• Church of St Mary Magdalene: A Russian Orthodox church whose seven gilded onion domes, each topped by a tall cross, make it one of Jerusalem’s most picturesque sights.

• Church of Dominus Flevit: A church in the shape of a teardrop, commemorating the Gospel incident in which Jesus wept over the future fate of Jerusalem.

• Church of Pater Noster: Recalling Christ’s teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, this church features translations of the prayer in 140 languages, inscribed on colourful ceramic plaques.

• Dome of the Ascension: A small shrine, now a mosque marking the place where Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven.

The garden and grotto of Gethsemane: The ancient olive grove identified as the place where Jesus went to pray the night before he was crucified, and the cave where his disciples are believed to have slept.

• Tomb of Mary: A dimly-lit, below-ground church where a Christian tradition says the Mother of Jesus was buried.

Related sites:

Church of All Nations

Church of St Mary Magdalene

Church of Dominus Flevit

Church of Pater Noster

Church of the Ascension

Dome of the Ascension

Gethsemane

Tomb of Mary

 

In Scripture:

King David flees over the Mount of Olives: 2 Samuel 15:30

King Solomon builds pagan temples: 1 Kings 11:7-8

“Glory of the Lord” stops on Mount of Olives: Ezekiel 11:23

Splitting of mount prophesied: Zechariah 14:3-4

Jesus enters Jerusalem: Luke 19:29-44

Jesus foretells his Second Coming: Matthew 24:27-31

Jesus prays before his arrest: Matthew 26:30-56

Jesus ascends into heaven: Acts 1:1-12

 

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Mackowski, Richard M.: Jerusalem: City of Jesus (William B. Eerdmans, 1980)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

External links

Mount of Olives (BiblePlaces)
Mount of Olives (Studium Biblicum Franciscanum)

Gethsemane

Jerusalem

Gethsemane

Old olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The garden of Gethsemane, near the foot of the Mount of Olives, is named in the New Testament as the place where Jesus went with his disciples to pray the night before he was crucified.

The garden, about 1200 square metres in area, was well known to the disciples as it is close to the natural route from the Temple to the summit of the Mount of Olives and the ridge leading to Bethany.

The name in Hebrew means “oil press”. Oil is still pressed from the fruit of eight ancient and gnarled olive trees that give the garden a timeless character.

Beside the garden is the Church of All Nations, built over the rock on which Jesus is believed to have prayed in agony before he was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and arrested.

About 100 metres north of the church is the Grotto of Gethsemane, where Jesus and his disciples often camped at night. In this natural grotto, it is believed, the disciples slept while Jesus prayed.

Near the grotto is the Tomb of Mary, where a Christian tradition holds that the Mother of Jesus was buried after she “fell asleep” in death.


How old are the trees?

In the garden of Gethsemane, behind a fence of iron tracery with Byzantine motifs, stand the gnarled trunks of eight hoary olive trees. They create a spiritual atmosphere for visitors to the garden of Gethsemane, although the flower beds and paths around them introduce an artificial element.

Gethsemane

Gnarled trunk in the Garden of Gethsemane (© Tom Callinan / Seetheholyland.net)

The trees also generate conjecture about their age. Were they silent witnesses to the Agony of Jesus the night before he died?

Israel has many ancient olive trees. Two in the town of Arraba and five in Deir Hanna have been determined to be over 3000 years old.

The present Gethsemane trees, however, were not standing at the time of Christ. The historian Flavius Josephus reports that all the trees around Jerusalem were cut down by the Romans for their siege equipment before they captured the city in AD 70.

Research reported in 2012 showed that three of the eight ancient trees (the only ones on which it was technically possible to carry out the study) dated from the middle of the 12th century, and all eight originated as cuttings from a single parent tree.

The Gethsemane olives are possibly descendants of one that was in the garden at the time of Christ. This is because when an olive tree is cut down, shoots will come back from the roots to create a new tree.

In 1982 the University of California carried out radiocarbon-dating tests on some root material from Gethsemane. The results indicated that some of the wood could be dated at 2300 years old.

What happens to the fruit from the Gethsemane olive trees? When it is harvested each year, the oil is pressed for Gethsemane’s sanctuary lamps and the pits are used to make rosary beads, given by the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land to notable pilgrims.

Grotto where the disciples slept

Access to the Grotto of Gethsemane is along a narrow walled passageway leading to the right from the open courtyard in front of the Tomb of Mary.

Gethsemane

Grotto of Gethsemane (© Custodia Terrae Sanctae)

The natural grotto, about 190 square metres in area, is basically unchanged from the time of Jesus. It is believed to be where the disciples slept while Jesus prayed, and where Jesus was betrayed by Judas and arrested. It may also be the location of Jesus’ night-time meeting with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21).

Over the main altar is a representation of Jesus Praying among the Apostles, while the paintings over the side altars depict the Assumption of the Virgin and the Kiss of Judas.

On a more mundane level, bronze figures beneath the main altar depict two of the sleeping disciples.

The grotto is also known as the Cave of the Olive Press. To the right of the right-hand altar is a hole in the wall. It is just at the right height to hold one end of a wooden beam which, when weighted at the other end, pressed crushed olives piled in loosely woven baskets.

In the 4th century the grotto became a chapel. The floor was paved with white mosaic through which graves were subsequently dug. More than 40 graves, mainly from the 5th to 8th centuries, have been discovered.

The inscriptions on the wall have been interpreted in various ways. The line around the sanctuary seems to mean: “Here [in these representations]: The King sweated blood. Christ the Saviour frequented [this place with his apostles]. My Father, if it is your wish, let this chalice pass from me.”

Related site:

Church of All Nations

 

In Scripture:

Jesus prays in Gethsemane: Matthew 26:36-46; Mark 14:32-42; Luke 22:39-46; Mark 32-42

Jesus is arrested: Matthew 26:47-56; Mark 14:43-50; Luke 22:47-53; John 18:1-12

 

Administered by: Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land

Tel.: 972-2-6266444

Open: Church 8am-noon, 2-6pm (5pm Oct-Mar); Grotto 8.30am-noon, 2.30-5pm (3.40pm Sun and Thur)

 

References

Bar-Am, Aviva: Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem (Ahva Press, 1998)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Maier, Paul L. (trans.): Josephus: The Essential Writings (Kregel Publications, 1988)
Millgram, Abraham Ezra: Jerusalem Curiosities (Jewish Publication Society, 1990)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Dillon, Edward: “The Sanctuaries at Gethsemane”, Holy Land, spring 1998
Storme, Albert: Gethsemane (Franciscan Printing Press, 1970)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Gethsemane (Custody of the Holy Land)
Gethsemane (Christus Rex)
Olive Tree (Wikipedia)
The Olive Trees of Gethsemane, results of scientific research published (Custody of the Holy Land)
The Church of All Nations panorama (Jesus in Jerusalem)
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