Gethsemane is the place on the Mount of Olives near Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was betrayed by Judas Iscariot and arrested while praying with his disciples after the Last Supper. The name (Matt. 26:36; Mark 14:32) may have meant "oil vat," suggesting a stand of olive trees. John's Gospel (18:1) refers to the site as a garden; hence, the composite designation, the Garden of Gethsemane. Despite several conjectures, the site is not precisely identifiable today.
Gethsemane, oil-press, the name of an olive-yard at the foot of the Mount of Olives, to which Jesus was wont to retire (Luke 22:39) with his disciples, and which is specially memorable as being the scene of his agony (Mark 14:32; John 18:1; Luke 22:44). The plot of ground pointed out as Gethsemane is now surrounded by a wall, and is laid out as a modern European flower-garden. It contains eight venerable olive-trees, the age of which cannot, however, be determined. The exact site of Gethsemane is still in question. Dr. Thomson (The Land and the Book) says: "When I first came to Jerusalem, and for many years afterward, this plot of ground was open to all whenever they chose to come and meditate beneath its very old olivetrees. The Latins, however, have within the last few years succeeded in gaining sole possession, and have built a high wall around it......The Greeks have invented another site a little to the north of it...... My own impression is that both are wrong. The position is too near the city, and so close to what must have always been the great thoroughfare eastward, that our Lord would scarcely have selected it for retirement on that dangerous and dismal night ......I am inclined to place the garden in the secluded vale several hundred yards to the north-east of the present Gethsemane."
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(Book 5, Chapter XII From Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah
by Alfred Edersheim, 1886)
(St. Matt. xxvi. 30-56; St. Mark xiv. 26-52; St. Luke xxii. 31-53; St. John xviii. 1-11.) We turn once more to follow the steps of Christ, now among the last He trod upon earth. The 'hymn,' with which the Paschal Supper ended, had been sung. Probably we are to understand this of the second portion of the Hallel, [a Ps. cxv. to cxviii.] sung some time after the third Cup, or else of Psalm cxxxvi., which, in the present Ritual, stands near the end of the service. The last Discourses had been spoken, the last Prayer, that of Consecration, had been offered, and Jesus prepared to go forth out of the City, to the Mount of Olives. The streets could scarcely be said to be deserted, for, from many a house shone the festive lamp, and many a company may still have been gathered; and everywhere was the bustle of preparation for going up to the Temple, the gates of which were thrown open at midnight.
Passing out by the gate north of the Temple, we descend into a lonely part of the valley of black Kidron, at that season swelled into a winter torrent. Crossing it, we turn somewhat to the left, where the road leads towards Olivet. Not many steps farther (beyond, and on the other side of the present Church of the Sepulchre of the Virgin) we turn aside from the road to the right, and reach what tradition has since earliest times, and probably correctly, pointed out as 'Gethsemane,' the 'Oil-press.' It was a small property enclosed [ ], 'a garden' in the Eastern sense, where probably, amidst a variety of fruit trees and flowering shrubs, was a lowly, quiet summer-retreat, connected with, or near by, the 'Olive-press.' The present Gethsemane is only some seventy steps square, and though its old gnarled olives cannot be those (if such there were) of the time of Jesus, since all trees in that valley, those also which stretched their shadows over Jesus, were hewn down in the Roman siege, they may have sprung from the old roots, or from the odd kernels. But we love to think of this 'Garden' as the place where Jesus 'often', not merely on this occasion, but perhaps on previous visits to Jerusalem, gathered with His disciples.
It was a quiet resting-place, for retirement, prayer, perhaps sleep, and a trysting-place also where not only the Twelve, but others also, may have been wont to meet the Master. And as such it was known to Judas, and thither he led the armed band, when they found the Upper Chamber no longer occupied by Jesus and His disciples. Whether it had been intended that He should spend part of the night there, before returning to the Temple, and whose that enclosed garden was, the other Eden, in which the Second Adam, the Lord from heaven, bore the penalty of the first, and in obeying gained life, we know not, and perhaps ought not to inquire. It may have belonged to Mark's father. But if otherwise, Jesus had loving disciples even in Jerusalem, and, we rejoice to think, not only a home at Bethany, and an Upper Chamber furnished in the City, but a quiet retreat and trysting-place for His own under the bosom of Olivet, in the shadow of the garden of 'the Oil-press.'
The sickly light of the moon was falling full on them as they were crossing Kidron. It was here, we imagine, after they had left the City behind them, that the Lord addressed Himself first to the disciples generally. We can scarcely call it either prediction or warning. Rather, as we think of that last Supper, of Christ passing through the streets of the City for the last time into that Garden, and especially of what was now immediately before Him, does what He spake seem natural, even necessary. To them, yes, to them all.
He would that night be even a stumbling-block. And so had it been foretold of old, [a Zech. xiii. 7] that the Shepherd would be smitten, and the sheep scattered. Did this prophecy of His suffering, in its grand outlines, fill the mind of the Saviour as He went forth on His Passion? Such Old Testament thoughts were at any rate present with Him, when, not unconsciously nor of necessity, but as the Lamb of God, He went to the slaughter. A peculiar significance also attaches to His prediction that, after He was risen, He would go before them into Galilee. [b St. Matt. xxvi. 32; St. Mark. xiv. 28.] For, with their scattering upon His Death, it seems to us, the Apostolic circle or College, as such, was for a time broken up. They continued, indeed, to meet together as individual disciples, but the Apostolic bond was temporarily dissolved.
This explains many things: the absence of Thomas on the first, and his peculiar position on the second Sunday; the uncertainty of the disciples, as evidenced by the words of those on the way to Emmaus; as well as the seemingly strange movements of the Apostles, all which are quite changed when the Apostolic bond is restored. Similarly, we mark, that only seven of them seem to have been together by the Lake of Galilee, [a St. John xxxi. 2.] and that only afterwards the Eleven met Him on the mountain to which He had directed them. [b St. Matt. xxvii, 16.] It was here that the Apostolic circle or College was once more re-formed, and the Apostolic commission renewed, [c u.c.s. vv.18-20.] and thence they returned to Jerusalem, once more sent forth from Galilee, to wait the final events of His Ascension, and the Coming of the Holy Ghost.
But in that night they understood none of these things. While all were staggering under the blow of their predicted scattering, the Lord seems to have turned to Peter individually. What he said, and how He put it, equally demand our attention: 'Simon, Simon' [d St. Luke xxii. 31.] using His old name when referring to the old man in him, 'Satan has obtained [out-asked,] you, for the purpose of sifting like as wheat. But I have made supplication for thee, that thy faith fail not.' The words admit us into two mysteries of heaven. This night seems to have been 'the power of darkness', when, left of God, Christ had to meet by himself the whole assault of hell, and to conquer in His own strength as Man's Substitute and Representative. It is a great mystery: but quite consistent with itself. We do not, as others, here see any analogy to the permission given to Satan in the opening chapter of the Book of Job, always supposing that this embodies a real, not an allegorical story. But in that night the fierce wind of hell was allowed to sweep unbroken over the Saviour, and even to expend its fury upon those that stood behind in His Shelter. Satan had 'out-asked, obtained it, yet not to destroy, nor to cast down, but 'to sift,' like as wheat [It is very probable that the basis of the figure is Amos ix. 9.] is shaken in a sieve to cast out of it what is not grain. Hitherto, and no farther, had Satan obtained it. In that night of Christ's Agony and loneliness, of the utmost conflict between Christ and Satan, this seems almost a necessary element.
This, then, was the first mystery that had passed. And this sifting would affect Peter more than the others. Judas, who loved not Jesus at all, has already fallen; Peter, who loved him, perhaps not most intensely, but, if the expression be allowed, most extensely, stood next to Judas in danger. In truth, though most widely apart in their direction, the springs of their inner life rose in close proximity. There was the same readiness to kindle into enthusiasm, the same desire to have public opinion with him, the same shrinking from the Cross, the same moral inability or unwillingness to stand alone, in the one as in the other. Peter had abundant courage to Sally out, but not to stand out. Viewed in its primal elements (not in its development), Peter's character was, among the disciples, the likest to that of Judas. If this shows what Judas might have become, it also explains how Peter was most in danger that night; and, indeed, the husks of him were cast out of the sieve in his denial of the Christ. But what distinguished Peter from Judas was his 'faith' of spirit, soul, and heart, of spirit, when he apprehended the spiritual element in Christ; [St. John vi.68.] of soul, when he confessed Him as the Christ; [St, Matt. xvi. 16.] and of heart, when he could ask Him to sound the depths of his inner being, to find there real, personal love to Jesus. [St. John xxi. 15-17.]
The second mystery of that night was Christ's supplication for Peter. We dare not say, as the High-Priest, and we know not when and where it was offered. But the expression is very strong, as of one who has need of a thing. [1 This even philologically, and in all the passages in which the word is used. Except in St. Matt. ix. 38, it occurs only in the writings of St. Luke and St. Paul.] And that for which He made such supplication was, that Peter's faith should not fail. This, and not that something new might be given him, or the trial removed from Peter. We mark, how Divine grace presupposes, not supersedes, human liberty. And this also explains why Jesus had so prayed for Peter, not for Judas. In the former case there was faith, which only required to be strengthened against failure - an eventuality which, without the intercession of Christ, was possible. To these words of His, Christ added this significant commission: 'And thou, when thou hast turned again, confirm thy brethren.' [2 Curiously enough, Roman Catholic writers see in the prediction of his fall by implication an assertion of Peter's supremacy. This, because they regard Peter as the representative and head of the others.] And how fully he did this, both in the Apostolic circle and in the Church, history has chronicled.
Thus, although such may come in the regular moral order of things, Satan has not even power to 'sift' without leave of God; and thus does the Father watch in such terrible sifting over them for whom Christ has prayed. This is the first fulfillment of Christ's Prayer, that the Father would 'keep them from the Evil One.' [d St. John xvii. 15] Not by any process from without, but by the preservation of their faith. And thus also may we learn, to our great and unspeakable comfort, that not every sin - not even conscious and willful sin - implies the failure of our faith, very closely though it lead to it; still less, our final rejection. On the contrary, as the fall of Simon was the outcome of the natural elements in him, so would it lead to their being brought to light and removed, thus fitting him the better for confirming his brethren. And so would light come out of darkness. From our human standpoint we might call such teaching needful: in the Divine arrangement it is only the Divine sequent upon the human antecedent.
We can understand the vehement earnestness and sincerity with which Peter protested against of any failure on his part. We mostly deem those sins farthest which are nearest to us; else, much of the power of their temptation would be gone, and pate are our falls. In all honesty - and not necessarily with self elevation over the others - he said, that even if all should be offended in Christ, he never could be, but was ready to go with Him into prison and death. And when, to enforce the warning, Christ predicted that before the repeated crowing of the cock [1 This crowing of the cock has given rise to a curious controversy, since, according to Rabbinic law, it was forbidden to keep fowls in Jerusalem, on account of possible Levitical defilements through them (Baba K. vii. 7). Reland has written a special dissertation on the subject, of which Schottgen has given a brief abstract. We need not reproduce the arguments, but Reland urges that, even if that ordinance was really in force at the time of Christ (of which there is grave doubt), Peter might have heard the cock crow from Fort Antonia, occupied by the Romans, or else that it might have reached thus far in the still night air from outside the walls of Jerusalem. But there is more than doubt as to the existence of this ordinance at the time.
There is repeated mention of 'cock-crow' in connection with the Temple-watches, and if the expression be regarded as not literal, but simple a designation of time, we have in Jer. Erub. x. 1 (p. 26 a, about middle) a story in which a cock caused the death of a child at Jerusalem, proving that fowls must have been kept there.] ushered in the morning, [2 St. Matthew speaks of 'this night,' St. Mark and St. Luke of 'this day,' proving, if such were needed, that the day was reckoned from evening to evening.] Peter would thrice deny that he knew Him, Peter not only persisted in his asseverations, but was joined in them by the rest. Yet, and this seems the meaning and object of the words of Christ which follow, they were not aware terribly changed the former relations had become, and what they would have to suffer in consequence. [a St. Luke xxii. 35-38] When formerly He had sent forth, both without provision and defence, had they lacked anything? No! But now no helping hand would be extended to them; nay, what seemingly they would need even more than anything else would be 'a sword', defence against attacks, for at close of His history He was reckoned with transgressors. [3 Omit the article.] The Master a crucified Malefactor, what could His followers expect? But once more they understood Him in a grossly realistic manner.
These Galileans, after the custom of their countrymen, [b Jos. War iii. 3, 2] had provided themselves with short swords, which they concealed under their upper garment. It was natural for men of their disposition, so imperfectly understanding their Master's teaching, to have taken what might seem to them only a needful precaution in coming to Jerusalem. At least two of them, among them Peter, now produced swords. [1 The objection has been raised, that, according to the Mishnah (Shabb. vi. 4), it was not lawful to carry swords on the Sabbath. But even this Mishnah seems to indicate that there was divergence of opinion on the subject, even as regarded the Sabbath, much more a feast-day.] But this was not the time of reason with them, and our Lord simply put it aside. Events would only too soon teach them.
They had now reached the entrance of Gethsemane. It may have been that it led through the building with the 'oil-press,' and that the eight Apostles, who were not to come nearer to the 'Bush burning, but not consumed,' were left there. Or they may have been taken within the entrance of the Garden, and left there, while, pointing forward with a gesture of the Hand, He went 'yonder' and prayed (a). According to St. Luke, He added the parting warning to pray that they might not enter into temptation.
Eight did He leave there. The other three, Peter, James and John, companions before of His glory, both when He raised the daughter of Jairus [b St. Mark v. 37] and on the Mount of Transfiguration [c St.Matt. xvii. 1], He took with Him farther. If in that last contest His Human Soul craved for the presence of those who stood nearest Him and loved Him best, or if He would have them baptized with His Baptism, and drink of His Cup, these were the three of all others to be chosen. And now of a sudden the cold flood broke over Him. Within these few moments He had passed from the calm of assured victory into the anguish of the contest. Increasingly, with every step forward, He became 'sorrowful,' full of sorrow, 'sore amazed,' and 'desolate.' [2 We mark a climax. The last word (used both by St. Matthew and St. Mark seems to indicate utter loneliness, desertion, and desolateness.] He told them of the deep sorrow of His Soul even unto death, and bade them tarry there to watch with Him. Himself went forward to enter the contest with prayer. Only the first attitude of the wrestling Saviour saw they, only the first words in that Hour of Agony did they hear. For, as in our present state not uncommonly in the deepest emotions of the soul, and as had been the case on the Mount of Transfiguration, irresistible sleep crept over their frame.
But what, we may reverently ask, was the cause of this sorrow unto death of the Lord Jesus Christ? Not fear, either of bodily or mental suffering: but Death. Man's nature, created of God immortal, shrinks (by the law of its nature) from the dissolution of the bond that binds body to soul. Yet to fallen man Death is not by any means fully Death, for he is born with the taste of it in his soul. Not so Christ. It was the Unfallen Man dying; it was He, Who had no experience of it, tasting Death, and that not for Himself but for every man, emptying the cup to its bitter dregs. It was the Christ undergoing Death by man and for man; the Incarnate God, the God-Man, submitting Himself vicariously to the deepest humiliation, and paying the utmost penalty: Death, all Death. No one as He could know what Death was (not dying, which men dread, but Christ dreaded not); no one could taste its bitterness as He. His going into Death was His final conflict with Satan for man, and on his behalf. By submitting to it He took away the power of Death; He disarmed Death by burying his shaft in His own Heart. And beyond this lies the deep, unutterable mystery of Christ bearing the penalty due to our sin, bearing our death, bearing the penalty of the broken Law, the accumulated guilt of humanity, and the holy wrath of the Righteous Judge upon them. And in view of this mystery the heaviness of sleep seems to steal over our apprehension.
Alone, as in His first conflict with the Evil One in the Temptation in the wilderness, must the Saviour enter on the last contest. With what agony of soul He took upon Him now and there the sins of the world, and in taking expiated them, we may learn from this account of what passed, when, with strong crying and tears unto Him that was able to save Him from death,' He 'offered up prayers and supplications.' [a Heb. v. 7.] And, we anticipate it already, with these results: that He was heard; that He learned obedience by the things which He suffered; that He was made perfect; and that He became: to us the Author of Eternal Salvation, and before God, a High-Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Alone, and yet even this being 'parted from them', [b St. Luke xxii. 41.] implied sorrow. [c Comp. Acts. xxi.] [1 The Vulgate renders: 'avulsus est.' Bengel notes: 'serio affectu.'] And now, 'on His knees,' prostrate on the ground, prostrate on His Face, began His Agony. His very address bears witness to it. It is the only time, so far as recorded in the Gospels, when He addressed God with the personal pronoun: 'My Father.' [d St. Matt. xxvi. 39, 42.] [2 St. Jerome notes: 'dicitqueblandiens: Mi Pater.']
The object of the prayer was, that, 'if it were possible, the hour might pass away from Him.' [e St. Mark xiv. 36.] The subject of the prayer (as recorded by the three Gospels) was, that the Cup itself might pass away, yet always with the limitation, that not His Will but the Father's might be done. The petition of Christ, therefore, was subject not only to the Will of the Father, but to His own Will that the Father's Will might be done. [1 This explains the [ ] of Hebr. v. 7.] We are here in full view of the deepest mystery of our faith: the two Natures in One Person. Both Natures spake here, and the 'if it be possible' of St. Matthew and St. Mark is in St. Luke 'if Thou be willing.' In any case, the 'possibility' is not physical, for with God all things are possible, but moral: that of inward fitness. Was there, then, any thought or view of 'a possibility,' that Christ's work could be accomplished without that hour and Cup? Or did it only mark the utmost limit of His endurance and submission? We dare not answer; we only reverently follow what is recorded.
It was in this extreme Agony of Soul almost unto death, that the Angel appeared (as in the Temptation in the wilderness) to 'strengthen' and support His Body and Soul. And so the conflict went on, with increasing earnestness of prayer, all that terrible hour. [a St. Matt. xxvi. 40.] For, the appearance of the Angel must have intimated to Him, that the Cup could not pass away. [2 Bengel: 'Signum bibendi calicis.'] And at the close of that hour, as we infer from the fact that the disciples must still have seen on His Brow the marks of the Bloody Sweat [3, The pathological phenomenon of blood being forced out of the vessels in bloody sweat, as the consequence of agony, has been medically sufficiently attested. See the Commentaries.] His Sweat, mingled with Blood, [4 No one who has seen it, can forget the impression of Carlo Dolce's picture, in which the drops as they fall kindle into heavenly light.] fell in great drops on the ground. And when the Saviour with this mark of His Agony on His Brow [5 They probably knew of the Bloody Sweat by seeing its marks on His Brow, though those who did not follow Him on His capture may have afterwards gone, and in the moonlight seen the drops on the place where He had knelt.] returned to the three, He found that deep sleep held them.
While He lay in prayer, they lay in sleep; and yet where soul-agony leads not to the one, it often induces the other. His words, primarily addressed to 'Simon,' roused them, yet not sufficiently to fully carry to their hearts either the loving reproach, the admonition to 'Watch and pray' in view of the coming temptation, or the most seasonable warning about the weakness of the flesh, even where the spirit was willing, ready and ardent [ ].
The conflict had been virtually, though not finally, decided, when the Saviour went back to the three sleeping disciples. He now returned to complete it, though both the attitude in which He prayed (no longer prostrate) and the wording of His Prayer, only slightly altered as it was, indicate how near it was to perfect victory. And once more, on His return to them, He found that sleep had weighted their eyes, and they scarce knew what answer to make to Him. Yet a third time He left them to pray as before. And now He returned victorious. After three assaults had the Tempter left Him in the wilderness; after the threefold conflict in the Garden he was vanquished. Christ came forth triumphant. No longer did He bid His disciples watch. They might, nay they should, sleep and take rest, ere the near terrible events of His Betrayal, for, the hour had come when the Son of Man was to be betrayed into the hands of sinners.
A very brief period of rest this, [1 It will be noticed that we place an interval of time, however brief, between St. Matt. xxvi. 45 (and similarly St. Mark xiv. 41) and the following verse. So already St. Augustine.] soon broken by the call of Jesus to rise and go to where the other eight had been left, at the entrance of the Garden, to go forward and meet the band which was coming under the guidance of the Betrayer. And while He was speaking, the heavy tramp of many men and the light of lanterns and torches indicated the approach of Judas and his band. During the hours that had passed all had been prepared. When, according to arrangement, he appeared at the High-Priestly Palace, or more probably at that of Annas, who seems to have had the direction of affairs, the Jewish leaders first communicated with the Roman garrison.
By their own admission they possessed no longer (for forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem) the power of pronouncing capital sentence. [a Sanh. 41.] It is difficult to understand how, in view of this fact (so fully confirmed in the New Testament), it could have been imagined (as so generally) that the Sanhedrin had, in regular session, sought formally to pronounce on Jesus what, admittedly, they had not the power to execute. Nor, indeed, did they, when appealing to Pilate, plead that they had pronounced sentence of death, but only that they had a law by which Jesus should die. [b St. John xviii. 31; St. John xix. 7.] It was otherwise as regarded civil causes, or even minor offences. The Sanhedrin, not possessing the power of the sword, had, of course, neither soldiery, nor regularly armed band at command. The 'Temple-guard' under their officers served merely for purposes of police, and, indeed, were neither regularly armed nor trained. [c Jos. War iv. 4. 6.] Nor would the Romans have tolerated a regular armed Jewish force in Jerusalem.
We can now understand the progress of events. In the fortress of Antonia, close to the Temple and connected with it by two stairs, [d Jos. Warv. 5, 8.] lay the Roman garrison. But during the Feast the Temple itself was guarded by an armed Cohort, consisting of from 400 to 600 men, [2 The number varied. See Marquardt, Rom. Alterthumsk. vol. v. 2, pp. 359, 386, 441. Canon Westcott suggests that it might have been, not a cohort, but a 'manipulus' (of about 200 men); but, as himself points out, the expression as used in the N.T. seems always to indicate a cohort.] so as to prevent or quell any tumult among the numerous pilgrims. [a Jos. Ant. xxv.5, 3.] It would be to the captain of this 'Cohort' that the Chief Priests and leaders of the Pharisees would, in the first place, apply for an armed guard to effect the arrest of Jesus, on the ground that it might lead to some popular tumult. This, without necessarily having to state the charge that was to be brought against Him, which might have led to other complications. Although St. John speaks of 'the band' by a word [ ] which always designates a 'Cohort' in this case 'the Cohort,' the definite article marking it as that of the Temple, yet there is no reason for believing that the whole Cohort was sent.
Still, its commander would scarcely have sent a strong detachment out of the Temple, and on what might lead to a riot, without having first referred to the Procurator, Pontius Pilate. And if further evidence were required, it would be in the fact that the band was led not by a Centurion, but by a Chiliarch, [b St. John xviii. 12.]which, as there were no intermediate grades in the Roman army, must represent one of the six tribunes attached to each legion. This also explains not only the apparent preparedness of Pilate to sit in judgment early next morning, but also how Pilate's wife may have been disposed for those dreams about Jesus which so affrighted her.
This Roman detachment, armed with swords and 'staves', with the latter of which Pilate on other occasions also directed his soldiers to attack them who raised a tumult [c Jos. War ii. 9, 4.] was accompanied by servants from the High-Priest's Palace, and other Jewish officers, to direct the arrest of Jesus. They bore torches and lamps placed on the top of poles, so as to prevent any possible concealment. [d St. John xviii. 3.]
Whether or not this was the 'great multitude' mentioned by St. Matthew and St. Mark, or the band was swelled by volunteers or curious onlookers, is a matter of no importance. Having received this band, Judas proceeded on his errand. As we believe, their first move was to the house where the Supper had been celebrated. Learning that Jesus had left it with His disciples, perhaps two or three hours before, Judas next directed the band to the spot he knew so well: to Gethsemane. A signal by which to recognize Jesus seemed almost necessary with so large a band, and where escape or resistance might be apprehended. It was, terrible to say, none other than a kiss. As soon as he had so marked Him, the guard were to seize, and lead Him safely away.
Combining the notices in the four Gospels, we thus picture to ourselves the succession of events. As the band reached the Garden, Judas went somewhat in advance of them, [a St. Luke.] and reached Jesus just as He had roused the three and was preparing to go and meet His captors. He saluted Him, 'Hail, Rabbi,' so as to be heard by the rest, and not only kissed but covered Him with kisses, kissed Him repeatedly, loudly, effusively. The Saviour submitted to the indignity, not stopping, but only saying as He passed on: 'Friend, that for which thou art here;' [b St. Matt xxvi. 49; comp. St. Mark xiv. 45.] [1 We cannot, as many interpreters, take the words in an interrogative sense. I presume that Christ spoke both what St. Matthew and what St. Luke record. Both bear internal marks of genuineness.] and then, perhaps in answer to his questioning gesture: 'Judas, with a kiss deliverest thou up the Son of Man?' [c St. Luke xxii. 48.] If Judas had wished, by thus going in advance of the band and saluting the Master with a kiss, even now to act the hypocrite and deceive Jesus and the disciples, as if he had not come with the armed men, perhaps only to warn Him of their approach, what the Lord said must have reached his inmost being. Indeed, it was the first mortal shaft in the soul of Judas. The only time we again see him, till he goes on what ends in his self-destruction, is as he stands, as it were sheltering himself, with the armed men. [d St. John xviii. 5.]
It is at this point, as we suppose, that the notices from St. John's Gospel [e xviii. 4-9.] come in. Leaving the traitor, and ignoring the signal which he had given them, Jesus advanced to the band, and asked them: 'Whom seek ye?' To the brief spoken, perhaps somewhat contemptuous, 'Jesus the Nazarene,' He replied with infinite calmness and majesty: 'I am He.' The immediate effect of these words was, we shall not say magical, but Divine. They had no doubt been prepared for quite other: either compromise, fear, or resistance. But the appearance and majesty of that calm Christ, heaven in His look and peace on His lips, was too overpowering in its effects on that untutored heathen soldiery, who perhaps cherished in their hearts secret misgivings of the work they had in hand. The foremost of them went backward, and they fell to the ground. But Christ's hour had come. And once more He now asked them the same question as before, and, on repeating their former answer, He said: 'I told you that I am He; if therefore ye seek Me, let these go their way,', the Evangelist seeing in this watchful care over His own the initial fulfillment of the words which the Lord had previously spoken concerning their safe preservation, [f St. John xvii. 12.] not only in the sense of their outward preservation, but in that of their being guarded from such temptations as, in their then state, they could not have endured.
The words of Christ about those that were with Him seem to have recalled the leaders of the guard to full consciousness, perhaps awakened in them fears of a possible rising at the incitement of His adherents. Accordingly, it is here that we insert the notice of St. Matthew, [a St. Matt. xxvi. 50 b.] and of St. Mark, [b St. Mark xiv. 46.] that they laid hands on Jesus and took Him. Then it was that Peter, [c St. John xviii. 11. 26.] seeing what was coming, drew the sword which he carried, and putting the question to Jesus, but without awaiting His answer, struck at Malchus, [1 The name Malchus, which occurs also in Josephus (Ant. i. 15. 1.; xiv. 5.2; 11. 4; War i. 8. 3), must not be derived, as is generally done, from a king. Its Hebrew equivalent, apparently, is Malluch, 'Counsellor,' a name which occurs both in the Old Testament and in the LXX. (1 Chron. vi. 44; Neh. x. 4, &c.), and as a later Jewish name in the Talmud. But both Frankel (Einl. in d. Jer. Talm. p. 114) and Freudenthal (Hell. Stud. p. 131) maintain that it was not a Jewish name, while it was common among Syrians, Phoenicians, Arabians, and Samaritans. The suggestion therefore lies near, that Malchus was either a Syrian or a Phoenician by birth.] the servant [2 The definite article here marks that he was, in a special sense, the servant of the High-Priest, his body-servant.] of the High-Priest, perhaps the Jewish leader of the band, cutting off his ear.
But Jesus immediately restrained all such violence, and rebuked all self-vindication by outward violence (the taking of the sword that had not been received), nay, with it all merely outward zeal, pointing to the fact how easily He might, as against this 'cohort,' have commanded Angelic legions. [d St. Matthew.] [3 A legion had ten cohorts.] He had in wrestling Agony received from His Father that Cup to drink, [e St. John.] [4 This reference to the 'cup which the Father had given Him to drink' by St. John, implies the whole history of the Agony in Gethsemane, which is not recorded in the Fourth Gospel. And this is, on many grounds, very instructive.] and the Scriptures must in that wise be fulfilled. And so saying, He touched the ear of Malchus, and healed him. [f St. Luke.]
But this faint appearance of resistance was enough for the guard. Their leaders now bound Jesus. [g St. John.] It was to this last, most underserved and uncalled-for indignity that Jesus replied by asking them, why they had come against Him as against a robber, one of those wild, murderous Sicarii. Had He not been all that week daily in the Temple, teaching? Why not then seize Him? But this 'hour' of theirs that had come, and 'the power of darkness', this also had been foretold in Scripture!
And as the ranks of the armed men now closed around the bound Christ, none dared to stay with Him, lest they also should be bound as resisting authority. So they all forsook Him and fled. But there was one there who joined not in the flight, but remained, a deeply interested onlooker. When the soldiers had come to seek Jesus in the Upper Chamber of his home, Mark, roused from sleep, had hastily cast about him the loose linen garment or wrapper [1 This, no doubt, corresponds to the Sadin or Sedina which, in Rabbinic writings, means a linen cloth, or a loose linen wrapper, though, possibly, it may also mean a night-dress (see Levy, ad voc.).] that lay by his bedside, and followed the armed band to see what would come of it. He now lingered in the rear, and followed as they led away Jesus, never imagining that they would attempt to lay hold on him, since he had not been with the disciples nor yet in the Garden. But they, [2 The designation 'young men' (St. Mark xiv. 51) is spurious.] perhaps the Jewish servants of the High-Priest, had noticed him. They attempted to lay hold on him, when, disengaging himself from their grasp, he left his upper garment in their hands, and fled.
So ended the first scene in the terrible drama of that night.
Gethsemani (Hebrew gat, press, and semen, oil) is the place in which Jesus Christ suffered the Agony and was taken prisoner by the Jews. Saint Mark (xiv, 32) calls it chorion, a "a place" or "estate"; St. John (xviii, 1) speaks of it as kepos, a "garden" or "orchard". In the East, a field shaded by numerous fruit trees and surrounded by a wall of loose stone or a quickset hedge forms the el bostan, the garden. The name "oil-press" is sufficient indication that it was planted especially with olive trees. According to the Greek version and others, St. Mathew (xxvi, 36) designates Gethsemani by a term equivalent to that used by St. Mark. The Vulgate renders chorion by the word villa, but there is no reason to suppose that there was a residence there. St. Luke (xxii, 39) refers to it as "the Mount of Olives", and St. John (xviii, 1) speaks of it as being "over the brook Cedron". According to St. Mark, the Savior was in the habit of retiring to this place; and St. John writes: Judas also, who betrayed him, knew the place; because Jesus had often resorted thither together with his disciples".
A place so memorable, to which all the Evangelists direct attention, was not lost sight of by the early Christians. In his "Onomasticon," Eusebius of Caesarea says that Gethsemani is situated "at the foot of the Mount of Olives", and he adds that "the faithful were accustomed to go there to pray". In 333 the Pilgrim of Bordeaux visited the place, arriving by the road which climbs to the summit of the mountain, i.e. beyond the bridge across the valley of Josaphat. In the time of the Jews, the bridge which spanned the torrent of Cedron occupied nearly the same place as one which is seen there today, as is testified by the ancient staircase cut in the rock, which on one side came down from the town and on the other wound to the top of the mountain. Petronius, Bishop of Bologna (c. 420), and Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem, speak of this immense staircase and two other pilgrims counted the steps. Traces of it are still to be seen on the side towards the city, and numerous steps, very large and well-preserved, have been discovered above the present Garden of Gathsemani. The Pilgrim of Bordeaux notes "to the left, among the vines, the stone where Judas Iscariot betrayed Christ". In translating the "Onomasticon" of Eusebius, St. Jerome adds to the article Gethsemani the statement that "a church is now built there" (Onomasticon, ed. Klostermann, p. 75). St. Sylvia of Aquitania (385-388) relates that on Holy Thursday the procession coming down from the Mount of Olives made a station at "the beautiful church" built on the spot where Jesus underwent the Agony. "From there", she adds, "they descend to Gethsemani where Christ was taken prisoner" (S. Silviae Aquit. Peregr., ed. Gamurrini, 1888, pp. 62-63). This church, remarkable for its beautiful columns (Theophanes, Chronogr. ad an. 682), was destroyed by the Persians in 614; rebuilt by the Crusaders, and finally razed, probably in 1219. Arculf (c. 670), St. Willibald (723), Daniel the Russian (1106), and John of Wurzburg (1165) mention the Church of the Agony. The foundations have recently been discovered at the place indicated by them, i.e. at a very short distance from the south-east corner of the present Garden of Gethsemani.
A fragmentary account of a pilgrimage in the fourth century, preserved by Peter the Deacon (1037), mentions "a grotto at the place where the Jews the Savior captive". According to the tradition it was in this grotto that Christ was wont to take refuge with his disciples to pass the night. It was also memorable for a supper and a washing of the feet which, according to the same tradition, took place there. Eutychius, Patriarch of Constantinople (d. 583), says in one of his sermons that the Church commemorates three suppers. "The first repast", he says, "together with the purification, took place at Gethsemani on the Sabbath day, the first day, i.e. when Sunday was already begun. That is why we then celebrate the vigil" (P. G., LXXXVI, 2392). The second supper was that of Bethany, and the third was that was that of Holy Thursday at which was instituted the Holy Eucharist. Theodosius (c. 530) describes this grotto in these terms: "There [in the valley of Josaphat] is situated the basilica of Holy Mary, Mother of God, with her sepulchre. There is also the place where the Lord supped with his disciples. There he washed their feet. There are to be seen four benches where Our Lord reclined in the midst of His Apostles. Each bench can seat three persons. There also Judas betrayed the Saviour. Some persons, when they visit this spot, through devotion partake of some refreshment, but no meat. They light torches because the place is in a grotto". Antonius of Plaisance (570), Arculf, Epiphanius the Hagiopolite, and others make mention of the well known pasch of which the grotto of Gethsemani was witness. In the Church of the Agony the stone was preserved on which, according to tradition, Jesus knelt during His Agony. It is related by the Arculf that, after the destruction of the church by the Persians, the stone was removed to the grotto and there venerated. In 1165 John of Wurzburg found it still preserved at this spot, and there is yet to be seen on the ceiling of the grotto an inscription concerning it. In the fourteenth century the pilgrims, led astray by the presence of the stone and the inscription, mistakenly called this sanctuary the Grotto of the Agony.
In ancient times the grotto opened to the south. The surrounding soil being raised considerably by earth carried down the mountain by the rains, a new entrance has been made on the north-west side. The rocky ceiling is supported by six pillars, of which three are in masonry, and, since the sixth century, has been pierced by a sort of skylight which admits a little light. The grotto, which is irregular in form, is, in round numbers, 56 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 12 feet high in its largest dimentions. It is adorned with four altars, but of the pictures which formerly covered the walls, and of the mosaic floor, traces only can be found. At a distance of about 130 feet to the south of the grotto is the Garden of Gethsamani, a quadrangular-shaped enclosure which measures about 195 feet on each side. Here are seven olive trees, the largest of which is about 26 feet in circumference. If they were not found there in the time of Christ they are at least the offshoots of those which witnessed His Agony. With the aid of historical documents it has been established that these same trees were already in existence in the seventh century. To the east of the garden there is a rocky mass regarded as the traditional spot where the three Apostles waited. A stone's throw to the south, the stump of a column fitted in a wall pointed out to the native Christians the place where Jesus prayed on the eve of his Passion. The foundations of the ancient Church of the Agony were discovered behind this wall.
Publication information Written by Barnabas Meistermann. Transcribed by Joseph P. Thomas. Dedicated to Mrs. Hildegard Grabowski The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VI. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, September 1, 1909. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York
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