Article in "The Bible Today"

If you subscribe or have access to the biblical journal The Bible Today, you’ll find an article I wrote entitled “The Garden as a Place of Agony” in the current issue (May/June).  It is based on my blog post "Agony in the Garden," which one of the editors read and asked me to expand for the journal.  The issue includes other “garden-themed” articles, exploring topics such as the Garden of Eden, garden imagery in the prophets, and John’s use of creation/garden motifs.

Below is an excerpt from the article.  This section explains the gospels’ use of the term “Garden of Gethsemane” (or lack of use, really!) and what we know about its location based on the gospel accounts.

 

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Parallel accounts of Christ’s suffering in what is commonly referred to as “the Garden of Gethsemane” can be found in Matthew 26:30-56, Mark 14:26-52 and Luke 22:39-53.  While John’s gospel does not narrate the suffering of Christ in the garden, it does place his arrest there (John 18:1-12).  Interestingly, none of the four accounts actually identifies the place as the “Garden of Gethsemane.”  Matthew and Mark write of Jesus and his disciples going to “the Mount of Olives” (a place mentioned with some frequency in the Gospels) after their last meal together, and then coming to “a place called Gethsemane,” probably a smaller part of the larger Mount of Olives area (Matt 26:36; Mark 14:32).  Luke refers only to “the Mount of Olives” and makes reference to the fact that it was “his [Jesus’] custom” to go there (Luke 22:39).  Notably, only John refers to the place as “a garden,” which he describes by mentioning its location as “across the Kidron Valley” (John 18:1), a vague geographical note that corresponds with the location of the Mount of Olives.  John also mentions that this was a place Jesus often went with his disciples (John 18:2). 

While it is important to note the distinctions among the gospel accounts, it is also fair to conclude that Gethsemane was indeed a garden-like area within the larger land area known as the Mount of Olives.  Clearly the indigenous olive tree was the dominant plant of the region (fittingly, “Gethsemane” means “oil press”), and one might imagine a secluded grove of these trees coexisting with other naturally growing vegetation.  This place would be peaceful and semi-private, a suitable place for Jesus and his disciples to withdraw from time to time for quiet and refreshment.  Although the exact location of the actual garden is unknown, it is reasonable to place it at or near the current site of Gethsemane, which is located on the lower west slope of the Mount of Olives. 

 -- The Bible Today, May/June 2015, Vol. 53, No. 3