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2. The Locality
A view of Gethsemane

A view of Gethsemane in the Valley
from the Walls of Jerusalem

In the New Testament manuscripts, as well in the writings of the first pilgrims to the Holy Land, the name of-the place where Matthew and Mark situate Jesus' arrest is spelt in different ways. Bible scholars give various explanations as to its derivation. The common and most widely accepted spelling of the word today is "Gethsemani." It represents a slightly Hellenized form of two Hebrew words, gath (press) and shemanim (oils). This "Oils Press" was situated beyond the Kidron gully (John 18:1) in the direction of the Mount of Olives (Matthew 26 :30; Mark 14 :26; Luke 22 :39). Like most gullies or wadis in Palestine, that named Kidron is dry until the heavy winter rains flood it. Along its course it now bears different names. It has its source to the north-east of Jerusalem, follows the line of the city on the east, separating it from the Mount of Olives. It then turns south-east and ends in the Dead Sea, south of Qumran. Thus, Kidron is a little puzzling for visitors to Gethsemane. They are inclined to think of Alpine streams, with their swift currents and high banks. Here, instead, they see a kind of aqueduct, studded with rocks, in the middle of a valley which bears little resemblance to what people since the fourth century have imagined the Valley of Josaphat to be like, the place where God will sit in judgment on all nations (Joel 3 :12). This tradition is still perpetuated by the fact that the valley is a vast cemetery for Jews, Christians and Muslims.
Jesus in his solitudedetail of mosaic

Jesus in his solitude at Gethsemane - detail of mosaic in apse
Near the city walls, the Kidron gully is not as large as it is higher up and lower down, south of the walls. It is not as yet the majestic, untamed gorge which impresses visitors to the monastery of St. Sabas farther away. To be sure, it is true that since Gospel times, the bottom of the gully has been raised by some 15 metres, thanks to flood waters in Kidron's stream and to the accumulation of rubbish and debris which has, at the same time, tended to lessen the steepness of the banks. Nevertheless, Kidron is a most moving place for anyone wishing to retrace Jesus' footsteps. In fact, Jesus often crossed one of the bridges over the valley on his way from Jerusalem to Bethany or, as St. John has it, when he made his way to the garden "across Kidron."

On the night of his arrest, Jesus came down the western hill of Jerusalem, now called Mount Zion where tradition from the fourth century onwards has sited the Cenacle, the dining hall of the Last Supper. Accompanied by the eleven apostles, he would have left the city, possibly through the Fountain Gate close by the Pool of Siloe and climbed the valley slope to the north. He would have passed by funerary monuments which date back to Hasmonean times (2nd century, B.C.). The group then came to a locality which Matthew and Mark say was a choron, a property, farm, villa, and which John calls a kepos, a garden or orchard--one of those olive groves to be seen so often in the country side of Palestine. It was probably furnished with an oil press.

Bible scholars constantly query the relationship between Jesus and the owner of this property. Since Jesus and his apostles often frequented the place, the owner could not have been a stranger. The episode of the young man which Mark alone records (14 :51) seems insignificant enough, but it has been explained by some as Mark's own personal experience and as a kind of signature to the Second Gospel. Mark, however, does not state that the happening occurred in Gethsemane itself. Hence, if there is really question of the future evangelist, there is, at the same time, no definite proof that his family owned the property.

If we are to appreciate the primitive traditions attached to the place, it is necessary to distinguish the detail of the events in Gethsemane. On arrival in Gethsemane, Jesus left eight of the apostles together in one spot and withdrew further with Peter, James and John. Jesus requested these close friends, who had been witnesses of his Transfiguration, to watch with him during this hour of sadness" and "agony." He himself went further off alone and "fell on his face to the ground."

Though not stated expressly in the Gospels, it is probable that Jesus finally led the three companions back towards the others and waited for Judas to come.

spot of the suffering

Tradition indicates this spot
as being the site of the suffering of the Lord

According to the Greek of John, Jesus "went out" (exelthen) to meet the cohort and the guards. This term would seem to imply that the arrest took place outside the garden itself which had "entered" with the apostles (cfr. Jn 18 :1). It has been understood thus by many specialists. Yet, a few verses further on (Jn 18 :26), John sites the arrest in the garden proper when, following on Peter's denial, he has a relative of Malchus say, "did I not see thee with him in the garden?') A:study of the primitive traditions and of the topography of the place will help us understand the meaning of the term used by John.

© franciscan cyberspot - text written by Albert Storme

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Created / Updated Sunday, 10 October, 2004 at 11:54:33 pm by J. Abela, E. Alliata, E. Bermejo
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