Oddly, the discovery of a ritual bath, also known as a mikveh, at the Church of Gethsemane (officially called The Church of All Nations and the Basilica of the Agony) may confirm that this is the site of the Garden of Gethsemane that was visited often by Jesus and His disciples
The church and associated garden, located outside the walls of Old Jerusalem, is one of the most famous pilgrimage sites in Israel and is typically visited by millions each year.
The word Gethsemane means oil press and its location at the base of the Mt of Olives makes sense as the ancient Jews built their oil presses near where the olives were grown to limit handling and transportation.
Speaking for the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), archaeologist Amit Re’em explains:
“Two thousand years ago, it was a field outside the walls of Jerusalem, full [of] olive trees and in the middle of the field was some kind of olive press for making oil.”
As often happens in Israel, the discovery of the ritual bath occurred during construction and renovations. The owners of the site were building an information centre across the street from the Church of Gethsemane and wanted an underground tunnel to connect the two sites.
During the tunnel’s construction the dirt suddenly collapsed in front of the workers revealing the ancient bath.
Though the church has traditionally believed for hundreds of years that this is the site of Gethsemane, there has been little archaeological evidence confirming this.
The discovery of the mikveh actually changes that.
First, the mikveh is dated to the second temple, and the time when Jesus was ministering in Jerusalem 2,000 years ago. It reveals that this area was being used during that period.
Secondly, these purification baths were required at sites where olives were being pressed into oil, as Re’em explains:
“According to the Jewish law, when you are [making] wine or olive oil you need to be purified. For the first time, we have archaeological evidence that something was here in the Second Temple period, the days of Jesus. […]
The discovery of the ritual bath probably confirms the place’s ancient name Gethsemane.”