The Mount Of Olives PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
Article Index
The Mount Of Olives
City Of David
Solomon to Herod
Pater Noster Church

The Cemeteries, the Golden Gate and Judgment Day

Spreading below us (and beneath the pavement we are standing on) is a large Jewish cemetery. People are buried in the ground; what seem like stone sarcophagi are grave monuments, each with a niche for a memorial candle. It is a Jewish custom, on visiting a grave, to leave a stone. No one knows the reason for this custom. There are many theories, among them this: In the time of the second Temple, the well-to-do were buried in caves, but the regular people could not afford a cave. They were buried, therefore, in the earth. It was important to mark the grave somehow, because to step on it would make one ritually impure, and one would have to undergo a complex ceremony before one could enter the precincts of the Temple. Since the poor could not afford a monument, they simply made a pile of stones over the grave, such as we see in the cemetery of Qumran.


On the slope of the Haram , opposite, is a Muslim cemetery, and in the valley between, a Christian one. We may trace the Muslim presence to the belief that on Judgment Day, the shrine at Mecca known as the Ka'ba will be transported miraculously to the Haram, and the last judgement will take place here. The Jewish presence here too, as well as the Christian, hinges on biblical texts relating the place to the Day of the Lord. The Kidron Valley below us bears another name as well, that of King Jehoshaphat, meaning "yhwh judges" (preserved in Arabic as wadi joz). The prophet Joel (3:1-2) plays upon it: 

For, behold, in those days,
and in that time,
when I restore the fortunes of Judah and Jerusalem,
I will gather all nations,
and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat;
and I will execute judgment on them there for my people,
and for my heritage, Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations.

The Golden Gate

goldengate.jpgThe Mt. of Olives contains ancient Jewish cemeteries, as at Dominus Flevit. Before the Crusaders arrived, however, most of the city's Jews were buried across from the mountain, on the slope near the Gate of Mercy (or Golden Gate), where the Muslim cemetery is today. In the eastern wall of the Haram, we can see this grand double-arched gate (filled in), probably built by the Muslims in the early 8th century as a ceremonial entrance to the Dome of the Rock. It is not clear who filled it: some say the Crusaders, others Saladin. There are traces of an older gate beneath, perhaps the Shushan Gate of the Temple (Mishnah, Middoth 1:3). Despite the obscurity of its origins and history, this gate has gathered many traditions, which go back to Ezekiel 44: 1-3,

Then he brought me back by the way of the outer gate of the sanctuary, which looks toward the east; and it was shut. Yahweh said to me, This gate shall be shut; it shall not be opened, neither shall any man enter in by it; for Yahweh, the God of Israel, has entered in by it; therefore it shall be shut. As for the prince, he shall sit therein as prince to eat bread before Yahweh; he shall enter by the way of the porch of the gate, and shall go out by the way of the same.

Ezekiel's reference to this gate in connection with Yahweh and the prince (Messiah?) combined with the Valley of Jehoshaphat to exert an enormous attraction. In the 15th century, however, Jews chose to bury on the east side of the valley and further south. Only in the 18th century did they bury higher up on the slope, as they had in antiquity. Today the Jewish cemetery winds southward around the Mt. of Olives.