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Panoramic of the Mount of Olives

The Mount of Olives (also Mount Olivet, Hebrew: הר הזיתים‎, Har HaZeitim ;Arabic: جبل الزيتون, الطور‎, Jebel az-Zeitun) is a mountain ridge in east Jerusalem with three peaks running from north to south.[1] The highest, at-Tur, rises to 818 meters (2,683 ft).[2] It is named for the olive groves that once covered its slopes. The Mount of Olives is associated with Jewish and Christian traditions.

Religious significance

Biblical references

Absalom's Tomb (Yad Avshalom)

The Mount of Olives is first mentioned in connection with David's flight from Absalom (II Samuel 15:30): "And David went up by the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went up." The ascent was probably east of the City of David, near the village of Silwan.[1] The sacred character of the mount is alluded to in the Ezekiel (11:23): "And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city."[1] Solomon built altars to the gods of his wives on the southern peak (I Kings 11:7-8). During the reign of King Josiah, the mount was called the Mount of Corruption (II Kings 23:13).

The New Testament, tells how Jesus and his friends sang together - "When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" Gospel of Matthew 26:30. Jesus ascended to heaven from the Mt of Olives as recorded in the book of Acts 1:9-12. It will be the Mt of Olives to which he is to return as stated in the book of Acts 1:11.

Jewish customs

The religious ceremony marking the start of a new month was held on the Mount of Olives in the days of the Second Temple.[3] After the destruction of the Temple, Jews celebrated the festival of Sukkot on the Mount of Olives. They made pilgrimages to the Mount of Olives because it was 80 meters higher than the Temple Mount and offered a panoramic view of the Temple site. It became a traditional place for lamenting the Temple's destruction, especially on Tisha B'Av.[3] In 1481, an Italian Jewish pilgrim, Rabbi Meshulam Da Volterra, wrote: "And all the community of Jews, every year, goes up to Mount Zion on the day of Tisha Be-’Av to fast and mourn, and from there they move down along Yoshafat Valley and up to Mount of Olives. From there they see the whole Temple (the Temple Mount) and there they weep and lament the destruction of this House."[4]

New Testament references

The Mount of Olives is frequently mentioned in the New Testament (Matthew 21:1;26:30, etc.) as the route from Jerusalem to Bethany and the place where Jesus stood when he wept over Jerusalem. Jesus is said to have spent time on the mount, teaching and prophesying to his disciples (Matthew 24-25), including the Olivet discourse, returning after each day to rest (Luke 21:37), and also coming there on the night of his betrayal (Matthew 26:39). At the foot of the Mount of Olives lies the Garden of Gethsemane.

Jewish cemetery

Mount of Olives viewed from the Old City showing the Jewish cemetery.

From biblical times until today, Jews have been buried on the Mount of Olives. There are an estimated 150,000 graves on the Mount, including tombs traditionally associated with Zechariah and Avshalom (Absalom). Rabbi Chaim ibn Attar, author of Ohr Hachaim Hakadosh, is also buried there. Important rabbis from the 15th to the 20th centuries are buried there, among them Abraham Isaac Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel, and his son Zvi Yehuda Kook. Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin asked to be buried on the Mount of Olives near the grave of Etzel member Meir Feinstein, rather than Mount Herzl national cemetery.[5]

Roman era

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

Jordanian rule

Jewish burials were halted in 1948, and massive vandalism took place from 1948-1967. During the nineteen years of Jordanian rule, 40,000 of the 50,000 graves were desecrated.[6] King Hussein permitted the construction of the Intercontinental Hotel at the summit of the Mount of Olives together with a road that cut through the cemetery which destroyed hundreds of Jewish graves, some from the First Temple Period. [7] [8][9][10] After the Six-Day War, restoration work began, and the cemetery was re-opened for burials.


The Arab neighborhood of at-Tur is located on the mountain's summit. Landmarks on the Mount of Olives include Yad Avshalom, the Tomb of Zechariah, the Church of all Nations, the Church of Maria Magdalene, Dominus Flevit Church, Gethsemane, Mary's Tomb, the Mount of Olives Hotel and the Seven Arches Hotel. At the base of the slope is the Emek Tzurim National Park and the Temple Mount Antiquities Salvage Operation.[11]

Cultural references

Christ on the Mount of Olives is the title of an oratorio by Ludwig van Beethoven, and of a painting by Caravaggio. Mount of Olives is the title of two poems by Henry Vaughan.

Notable graves

  • Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935); Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the British Mandate of Palestine; founder of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav.
  • Aharon Soloveichik (1917-2001); Rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Brisk, Chicago.
  • Aryeh Kaplan (1934-1983); Rabbi, author of The Living Torah
  • Avigdor Miller (1908-2001); American rabbi, thinker and lecturer
  • Ben Ish Chai (1832-1909); posek and kabbalist
  • Chaim ibn Attar (1696-1743); Talmud scholar and kabbalist
  • Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922); Linguist
  • Eliyahu Asheri (1988-2006); Israeli student kidnapped and murdered by Palestinians[12]
  • Gabriel A. Shrem (1916-1986); Chief cantor of the Sephardic Syrian Jewish Community in New York.[13]
  • Haim Moussa Douek (1905-1974); last Chief Rabbi of Egypt[14]
  • Immanuel Jakobovits (1921-1999); Chief rabbi of Great Britain and the Commonwealth
  • Meir ben Judah Leib Poppers (1624-1662); rabbi and kabbalist
  • Meir Feinstein (1927-1947); Irgun fighter
  • Meyer Rosenbaum, Chief Rabbi of Cuba from 1942 to 1958
  • Menahem Begin (1913-1992); Israel prime minister
  • Ephraim Urbach, Talmudist
  • Moshe Biderman (1776-1851); Hassidic rabbi
  • Moshe Halberstam (1932-2006); Rosh yeshivah of the Tschakava yeshivah and dayan
  • Moshe ben Nahman Gerondi - also known as 'Ramban'/'Nahmanides' (1194-1270); Catalan rabbi, philosopher, physician and biblical commentator[12]
  • Pesach Stein (1918-2002); Head of Telz yeshiva
  • Princess Alice of Battenberg (1885-1969); Mother of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
  • Robert Maxwell (1923-1991); British media tycoon
  • Shaul Yedidya Elazar Taub (1886-1947); Second Modzitzer rebbe (last person to buried on the mount until 1967). His son, Rebbe Shmuel Eliyahu, was buried there in 1984; and his grandson, Rebbe Yisrael Dan, was buried there in 2006
  • Shlomo Goren (1917-1994); Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel
  • Shmuel Yosef Agnon (1888-1970) ;first Hebrew writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature[12]
  • Shmuel Salant (1816-1909); Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Jerusalem
  • Uri Zvi Greenberg (1896-1981); poet
  • Yechezkel Sarna (1890-1969); Head of Slabodka yeshiva
  • Yechiel Yehoshua Rabinowicz (1900-1981); Grand Rabbi of the Biala dynasty
  • Yisrael Eldad (1910-1996); philosopher
  • Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss (1902-1989); Talmudic scholar, posek and chief rabbi of Edah HaChareidis
  • Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (1849-1932); Co-founder of Edah HaChareidis in Jerusalem and its first chief rabbi
  • Zundel Salant (1786-1866); rabbi
  • Shlomo Moussaieff (1852-1922)- Merchant and co-founder of the Bukharian Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem
  • Zvi Yehuda Kook (1891-1982); Leader of the Mizrachi movement in Israel and head of Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav
  • Gavriel Holtzberg (1979-2008)
  • Rivka Holtzberg (1980-2008)

Image gallery

See Also

  • Church of the Pater Noster


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 This is Jerusalem Menashe Har-El, Canaan Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1977, p.117
  2. Hull, Edward (1885). Mount Seir, Sinai and Western Palestine. Richad Bently and Son, London. pp. 152. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Har-el, Menashe (1977). This is Jerusalem. Jerusalem: Canaan. pp. 120–123. 
  4. Nom de Deu, J. (1987). Relatos de Viajes y Epistolas de Peregrinos Jud.os a Jerusalén. Madrid. pp. 82. 
  5. The good jailer - Haaretz - Israel News
  6. City of Stone, Meron Benvenisti
  8. "Israel 1948-1967: Holy Sites Desecrated". Retrieved 2007-06-27. 
  9. "Fact Sheets #8 - Jerusalem". Jewish Virtual Library. May 19, 2005. Retrieved 2007-06-27. 
  10. Alon, Amos (1995). Jerusalem: Battlegrounds of Memory. New York: Kodansha Int'l. pp. 75. ISBN 1568360991. "After 1967, it was discovered that tombstones had been removed from the ancient cemetery to pave the latrines of a nearby Jordanian army barrack." 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "Mt. of Olives National Authority to be Formed". Israelnationalnews. 2007-08-23. Retrieved 2007-08-26. 
  13. Gabriel A. Shrem
  14. Rabbi Haim Moussa Douek

This entry incorporates text from the public domain Easton's Bible Dictionary, originally published in 1897.

External links

Coordinates: 31°47′00″N 35°15′03″E / 31.7833333°N 35.25083°E / 31.7833333; 35.25083

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