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The Olive Press Garden

The most popular style of olive press used in ancient times. Credit: Sue Cantan/Flickr/Creative Commons

The most popular style of olive press used in ancient Israel. Credit: Sue Cantan/Flickr/Creative Commons

In Jerusalem, one of the sites considered to be the Garden of Gethsemane mentioned in the gospels is found at the base of the Mount of Olives. This should not surprise us because the word Gethsemane literally means “olive press” which suggests that the garden also housed an olive press to squeeze the oil out of the olives growing on the hill above.

Both Mark (Mark 14:32-42) and Mathew (Matthew 26:36-56) refer to it as the garden of Gethsemane, while Luke only describes it as a garden where Jesus prayed.

Squeezing the valuable golden oil out of olives was a two-step process. In the first stage, they crushed the olives, including the pits, which they then deposited into a basket. The second step involved exerting pressure on the basket to extract the olive oil that was used as fuel for cooking and lighting. It had also had religious and medicinal usages.

There were various types of presses, but the most common version (seen above) involved a long beam or pole with one end lodged into a stone wall. This worked as a fulcrum. The basket was placed on a grooved stone grate that allowed the oil to flow into a large collecting pot below.

A large flat stone or log was placed on top of the basket and then with one end of the pole lodged in the wall, the farmer pressed down on the other end to put pressure on the basket and squeeze out the oil.

There were other styles used as well including large round millstones that were rolled on the crushed olives or a large wooden screw with handles that was turned to put pressure on the crushed olives.

Gethsemane was where Jesus went to pray just before His crucifixion. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that this was also a place with an olive press, but probably not.

It was here that Christ came under tremendous pressure as He wrestled to do the will of God.

As Jesus prayed, Luke says Christ sweated blood:

43 Now an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. 44 And being in agony (Greek “agonia”) He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground. (Luke 22:43-44 NASV)

Jesus realized what lay ahead. The Greek word “agonia” refers to “extreme mental distress” or “intense sorrow and agony.”

“Blood sweat” is a rare condition known as hematohidrosis, that takes place when the capillaries around the sweat glands break during times of extreme fear or stress. Health journals reported cases of it during the bombings in World War II and even before executions.

In the olive press garden, Christ’s blood was being squeezed out of Him. As the pressure slowly began to build, Jesus struggled with what lay ahead:

39 And He went a little beyond them, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will.” (Matthew 26:39 NASV)

What was this pressure?

Some believe that God placed the sin of the world on Christ in the garden even as He prayed. Then in a few hours, Jesus would be rejected, betrayed by one of His disciples and then brutally killed in one of the most torturous forms of execution of the day, crucifixion, that typically took days for a person to die.

In the midst of this agonizing personal crisis, Jesus chose to do the right thing.

Life is not easy. We all go through struggles and trials.

During these times of crisis, we will similarly face our personal olive press. How will we react under pressure? What kind of oil will we produce?


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