At the foot of the Mount of Olives lays a beautiful grove of olive trees.
Why is this Garden so important in Christian tradition?
There are four accounts in Canonical Gospels which describe the events happened in Gethsemane. Three of them are probably taken from the same source, which historians labeled the Q source from the German Quelle (or source). This is further explained by the Marcan priority which is a hypothesis that Mark was the first Gospel written and was independently used as a source by Matthew and Luke. Because all three Gospels contain similar narratives, they are called synoptic. This term comes from the combination of Greek words syn, (together) and optic (seen).
The book of Mark was probably written around 66–70 CE, during Nero's persecution of the Christians in Rome or the Jewish revolt.
Compare the account of the Betrayal of Jesus as recorded in the three Gospels.
Here is Mark's description of the events in Gethsemane:
"They went to a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ He took Peter, James and John along with him, and He began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ He said to them, ‘Stay here and keep watch.’
Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from Him. ‘Abba, Father,’ He said, ‘everything is possible for You. Take this cup from Me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.’
Then He returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Simon,’ He said to Peter, ‘are you asleep? Could you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ Once more he went away and prayed the same thing. When He came back, He again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. They did not know what to say to Him.
Returning the third time, He said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
Just as he was speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, appeared. With him was a crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests, the teachers of the law, and the elders. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: ‘The one I kiss is the man; arrest Him and lead him away under guard.’ Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.
The men seized Jesus and arrested Him. Then one of those standing near drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear. ‘Am I leading a rebellion,’ said Jesus, ‘that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the Temple courts, and you did not arrest Me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.’
Then everyone deserted him and fled. A young man, wearing nothing but a linen garment, was following Jesus. When they seized him, he fled naked, leaving his garment behind" (Mark 14:32-52).
Luke tells us,
"Jesus went out as usual to the Mount of Olives, and His disciples followed him. On reaching the place, He said to them, ’Pray that you will not fall into temptation.’
He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if You are willing, take this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done.’
An angel from heaven appeared to Him and strengthened Him. And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ He asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’
While he was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, but Jesus asked him, ‘Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?’
When Jesus’ followers saw what was going to happen, they said, ‘Lord, should we strike with our swords?’ And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. But Jesus answered, ‘No more of this!’ And He touched the man’s ear and healed Him.
Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for Him, ‘Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on Me. But this is your hour when darkness reigns’” (Luke 22:39-51).
John's version has a few different features when compared with the accounts of Mark and Luke:
"When He had finished praying, Jesus left with His disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and He and his disciples went into it. Now Judas, who betrayed Him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with His disciples.
So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.
Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to Him, went out and asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they replied.
‘I am He,’ Jesus said.
And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.
When Jesus said, ‘I am He,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.
Again, He asked them, ‘Who is it you want?’
‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ they said.
Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am He. If you are looking for Me, then let these men go.’
This happened so that the words He had spoken would be fulfilled: ‘I have not lost one of those you gave me.’
Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. The servant’s name was Malchus.
Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given Me?’ Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus" (John 18:1-12).
And from this place, Jesus began His Way of Sorrows. His passion starts in Gethsemane, then He is brought to the trial before Sanhedrin (the religious council) and later to a secular trial led a Roman prefect Pontius Pilate.
Because of these recorded events, the ancient Christian tradition of walking the progression of the path of the cross through the streets of Jerusalem always begins at the Garden of Gethsemane.
The authenticity of the spot is obvious, according to the Gospel sources, it clearly occurred at the bottom of Mount of Olives as stated multiple times in the New Testament: Mark 14:10-11, 43-45, John 18:2-3, Acts 1:16 and possibly in
I Corinthians 11:23.
There are some questions that arise when one reads the narrative. When one reads the Gospels there are questions which arise, the first of them being what exactly did Judas betray to the authorities about Jesus?
Some question exists about the meaning of the Greek word for betray. One interpretation is that God is giving Him over to his suffering. The most probable answer is that Judas had betrayed Jesus' and his disciples' location. It seems highly unbelievable though that this place was unknown to others. Perhaps Judas betrayed to the high priest the inside information that was available to him as to of the twelve closest disciples and was used against Jesus at the court. Perhaps, it was Jesus' claim that He was the King, the Anointed One - The Messiah.
Another question is raised by John’s account of the events in the Garden: why did Judas have to use a special sign to identify Jesus to the guards? Jesus was in public ministry and well known to people by sight. In Gethsemane, Judas had to indicate who was Jesus by the previously agreed upon sign which was a kind of a hypocritical kiss. It is interesting to observe the fact that it was impossible to distinguish Jesus from His disciples which proves Jesus had an ordinary, utterly human appearance.
The first church in Gethsemane was built in Roman Byzantine period, the 4th century AD.
It was later destroyed by an earthquake in 746 AD. The Crusaders rebuilt the church in the 12th century but it was again destroyed in 1187 AD by Arab Muslims. By 1345 AD, it had been abandoned.
In 1666 Franciscan Order purchased the area but were not allowed to build anything. This situation continued till the British arrival nearly 300 years later.
The British Mandate rule made the construction of a new and magnificent edifice possible, built
The architect of the shrine was the famous Antonio Barluzzi.
The building is divided into three aisles by six columns.
The 12 domes of the Basilica represent 12 Nations who donated money for building the edifice.
The signs of every contributing country are incorporated into ceiling:
On the left: Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico
In the center: Italy, France, Spain, UK
On the right: Canada, Belgium, Germany, USA
By the entrance on the wall there is an inscription in Latin:
(the Garden of Gethsemane).
Gethsemane in Aramaic is Gath Shmanim when translated means an olive press which, perhaps, stood there at the foot of the mount covered by olive trees.
In the Garden, there are 8 old trees which have been called the “dumb and speechless witnesses of Jesus’ agony and consequent arrest”. Is it theoretically possible that olive trees live such a long life? The answer is yes, it is!
The olive tree can live such a long life and while its trunk dries out and dies, the tree can renew its life from the shoots that grow directly from the roots. Such shoots are called netsarim in Hebrew; thus, the name of Jesus’ hometown Natsereth (Nazareth) is derived from this word.
"He will be called a Nazarene..." (Matthew 2:23).
“A shoot will spring up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit” (Isaiah 11:1).
The oldest olive trees in Israel grow in Bet Jenin, a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank . There are also 5 trees in Arab villages Dir-Khana and Arabe that are considered very old.
To find out the age of the olive tree by the ordinary method of counting year rings is impossible because they do not have any. There are two other possible methods for dating the trees. The first is a historical witnesses and C-14 analysis. The Cultural Association Coltiviamo la Pace of Florence, Italy studied and updated knowledge on the olive trees in the garden. The results on the estimated age of tree the trees according to radiocarbon method of the part of the trunks date back to around the 12th century. Specific years were provided for three of the trees: tree 1 -1198, tree 4-1092 and tree 7-1166.
It might be also interesting to know that Israel produces approximately 20,000 tons of olive oil annually, a tiny percentage of global supply. Spain is responsible for 40% and together with Greece, Italy and Portugal, Europe produces about 70% of the world's olive oil. If Israel’s output is like a drop in the ocean by comparison with the rest of the world, be assured that Israeli olive oil is among the finest in the world!