"The Mount of Olives" occurs in the Old Testament in (Zechariah 14:4) only. In (2 Samuel 15:30) it is called "Olivet;" in other places simply "the mount," (Nehemiah 8:15) "the mount facing Jerusalem" (1 Kings 11:7) or "the mountain which is on the east aide of the city." (Ezekiel 11:23) In the New Testament the usual form is "the Mount of Olives." It is called also "Olivet." (Acts 1:12) This mountain is the well-known eminence on the east of Jerusalem, intimately connected with some of the gravest events of the history of the Old Testament and the New Testament, the scene of the flight of David and the triumphal progress of the Son of David, of the idolatry-of Solomon, and the agony and betrayal of Christ. It is a ridge of rather more than a mile in length, running in general direction north and south, covering the whole eastern side of the city. At its northern end the ridge bends round to the west so as to form an enclosure to the city on that side also, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. On the north a space of nearly a mile of tolerably level surface intervenes between the walls of the city and the rising ground; on the east the mount is close to the walls, parted only by the narrow ravine of the Kidron. It is this portion which is the real Mount of Olives of the history. In general height it is not very much above-the city: 300 feet higher than the temple mount, hardly more than 100 above the so-called Zion. It is rounded, swelling and regular in form. Proceeding from north to south there occur four independent summits, called-- 1, "Viri Galilaei:" 2, "Mount of Ascension;" 3, "Prophets"--subordinate to the last and almost a part of it; 4, "Mount of Offence."
Of these the central one -the "Mount of Ascension"--is the most important. Three paths lead from the valley to the summit-one on the north, in the hollow between the two crests of the hill another over the summit, and a third winding around the southern shoulder still the most frequented and the best. The central hill, which we are now considering, purports to contain the sites of some of the most sacred and impressive events of Christian history. The majority of these sacred spots now command little or no attention; but three still remain, sufficiently sacred--if authentic--to consecrate any place. These are:
(1) Gethsemane, at the foot of the mount;
(2) The spot from which our Saviour ascended on the summit;
Next to the central summit, on the southern side is a hill remarkable only for the fact that it contains the "singular catacomb" known as the "Tombs of the Prophets," probably in allusion to the words of Christ. (Matthew 23:29)
The most southern portion of the Mount of Olives is that usually known as the "Mount of Offence," Mons Offensionis. It rises next to that last mentioned. The title "Mount of Offence," or "Scandal," was bestowed on the supposition that it is the "Mount of Corruption" on which Solomon erected the high places for the gods of his foreign wives. (2 Kings 23:13; 1 Kings 11:7) The southern summit is considerably lower than the centre one.
There remains the "Viri Galilaei," about 400 yards from the "Mount of Ascension." It stands directly opposite the northeast corner of Jerusalem, and is approached by the path between it and the "Mount of Ascension." The presence of a number of churches and other edifices must have rendered the Mount of Olives, during the early and middle ages of Christianity, entirely unlike what it was in the time of the Jewish kingdom or of our Lord. Except the high places on the summit, the only buildings then to be seen were probably the walls of the vineyards and gardens and the towers and presses which were their invariable accompaniment. But though the churches are nearly all demolished, there must be a considerable difference between the aspect of the mountain now and in those days when it received its name from the abundance of its olive proves. It does not now stand so pre-eminent in this respect among the hills in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, and you can find more about that here on st-takla.org on other commentaries and dictionary entries. It is only in the deeper and more secluded slope leading up to the northernmost summit that these venerable trees spread into anything like a forest. The cedars commemorated by the Talmud sad the date-palms implied in the name Bethany have fared still worse; there is not one of either to be found within many miles. Two religious ceremonies performed there must have done much to increase the numbers who resorted to the mount. The appearance of the new moon was probably watched for, certainly proclaimed, from the summit. The second ceremony referred to was the burning of the red heifer. This solemn ceremonial was enacted on the central mount, and in a spot so carefully specified that it would seem not difficult to fix it. It was due east of the sanctuary, and at such an elevation on the mount that the officiating priest, as he slew the animal and sprinkled blood, could see the facade of the sanctuary through the east gate of the temple.
Main reference: Smith's Bible Dictionary (1860s)
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