The Garden of Gethsemane at the entrance to Jerusalem is believed to be the place where Judas betrayed Jesus. Now archaeologists have first discovered the remains from the time of Jesus Christ. During the excavations they came during a Jewish ritual bath, among other things. Its existence provides a first indication that an olive particle was actually located at this point for the production of ritual oil.
According to the New Testament account, Gethsemane at the gate of Jerusalem is the place where Jesus said goodbye to his disciples and was betrayed by Judas. This slope in the Kidron Valley is said to have been a garden or olive garden at that time. “Gethsemane is one of the most important holy places in Israel because this place is traditionally considered to be the place where Jesus prayed before the last salvation,” explains Francesco Patton, Franciscan Custodian for the Holy Land. “Millions of devotees visit this place every year.”
2000 year old Jewish ritual bath
The pilgrim’s destination is the Gethsemane Church, usually built between 1919 and 1924, which is today the place where biblical events are told about 2000 years ago in a good place. To make this site more attractive for tourists and pilgrims, in the future a tunnel is to be built from the center there and the church in Kidran Valley. During construction, however, workers came across ancient relics. Therefore, immediately under the direction of Amit Reim and David Yeager of the Israel Antiquities Authority and with the help of scientists of Studium biblicum Franciscanum, a salvage excavation was started.
As part of these excavations, archaeologists entered an underground cave in December 2020, which on closer examination turned out to be the remains of an old Jewish ritual bath. According to the researchers, this bath was used for religious cleansing dates from the time of the second temple and thus from the time in which Jesus was said to be living. While remains of the Crusade and Byzantine era have been found in the region, it is the first discovery 2000 years ago, according to archaeologists. “These excavations confirm Christian traditions and the traditions associated with this place,” says Patton.
Indication of oil production in Gethsemane
As excavator Amit Reim points out, the discovery of the ritual bath supports the notion that olive oil was extracted for religious purposes in Gethsemane in the time of Jesus. “Most of the ritual baths of this period were found in private homes and public buildings, but some were found near agricultural facilities,” Ream said. “Because according to Jewish regulations, workers involved in the production of oil and alcohol had to undergo cleanliness.” Ritual baths performed for this purpose were mostly not in one building, but were mostly in the open air – Jewish rite baths were now discovered in Gethsemane, as was the case.
Says Reem, “Once upon a time the ritual of bathing on the street suggests that 2000 years ago this place had facilities for agricultural production for oil or alcohol.” It can also explain the name Gethsemane, derived from the Gait Shemanigam – oil press or oil press. According to archaeologists, the discovery of this Jewish ritual bath supports the traditional belief that oil was once produced for religious purposes on this hill outside the city’s gates.
Ruins of a Byzantine Church
In addition to the 2000-year-old ritual bath, archaeologists also discovered the remains of a Byzantine church during excavations in the Kidran Valley. The building, decorated with finely chiselled reliefs, was built in the sixth century according to the dates and used as a place of worship until the eighth century. This church was still in use when Jerusalem was already under Islamic rule. The building was not destroyed until the 12th century, probably during the conquest of Jerusalem by Sultan Saladin of Job. He is said to have ordered the use of stones to destroy churches and other buildings on the Mount of Olives and to repair the city walls.
“The excavation at Gethsemane is a classic example of the complex archeology of Jerusalem, with different traditions and beliefs coming together,” says Reethem. As they point out, the new discoveries are to be integrated into the visitor center currently under construction and thus also accessible to pilgrims and tourists.
Quelle: Friends of Israel Antiquities Authority