Jerusalem's Four Hills
Ps 87:1 "His foundation is in the holy mountains." Jerusalem rests upon four hills or mountains, but only two of them have biblical names, Mount Zion and Mount Moriah. Between these mountains there is a large valley that the Romans called the Tyropoean. Mount Zion was referred to geographically as the southwestern hill of Jerusalem. But Zion has much greater significance in the Bible and it is frequently mentioned as the place of the Temple and of the King. When David said that he would not rest until he "has found out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty God of Jacob," the Lord replied with this Scripture:
Ps 132:13-14 "For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His dwelling place: "This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it."
The hill on the north was called Bezetha, Or the New City. The hill on the east was called the Akra, or Fortress, the according to tradition this was the "stronghold of Zion."
Jerusalemís Surrounding Mountains
Beyond the valleys of Jerusalem were the mountains round about. The most famous mountain was the Mount of Olives which stood about 300 feet higher than the Temple Mount and over 100 feet higher than any part of the city. On the north side of the city stood the awesome Mizpeh of Benjamin. There was also Gibeon and Ramah and the ridge near Bethlehem in the distant east.
On the night when Jerusalem was captured by the Roman armies, it is told that the mountains "echoed back" the screams of the people who were being slaughtered and also the victorious shouts of the soldiers of Titus.
Mount Acra is located in Jerusalem on the north side of Mount Zion between the Tyropoeon Valley and the Hinnom Valley. it is interesting that Simon Maccabeus nearly filled up the Tyropoeon Valley which is located between Mount Bezetha and Mount Acra. He also reduced the height of Mount Acra in order to make it lower than Mount Moriah where the Temple stood. Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of the Seleucid Empire built a fortress in Jerusalem on Mount Acra after he conquered the city in 168 BC. It was here that the Syrians governed the Jews. Later this fortified compound was destroyed by Simon Maccabeus. Mount Acra was important in the Maccabean Revolt and the formation of the Hasmonean Kingdom.
Mount Bezetha is located in Jerusalem west of Acra and in the first century it was north of the Antonia fortress. Mount Bezetha was not included in the city of Jerusalem until the first century after the third wall was built, and therefore received the name "New City."
The Lord had appeared to David at the threshing floor of the Jebusite and this is the exact spot where David instructed his son Solomon to build the house of the Lord, at Mount Moriah. This was also the place in Hebrew history were Abraham bound his son Isaac upon an altar in order to sacrifice him according to the word of the Lord, but an angel of the Lord held back his hand when he drew the knife, for this was only a test of Abraham's obedience and a wonderful picture of God's plan of redemption with the sacrificing of His own Son, the Jewish Messiah Jesus Christ.
Today in 2003 Mount Moriah, the top of the Temple hill, is where the Mosque of Omar, more correctly, the Dome of the Rock, now stands. The Arabs call it the Sakhrah Rock. It is a strangely shaped mass of rock, protruding 10 feet above the ground, and is about 50 feet in diameter. It is believed to be the actual site of the altar of burnt offering in Solomon's Temple. Jews, Christians, and Muslims, according to tradition have regarded it as "the stone of foundation," the Foundation Rock of which the Jews claim that it was the precise site of the Holy of Holies of Solomon's Temple and the place where Godís Schekinah glory appeared between the Cherubim, above the Ark of the Covenant and the Mercy Seat.
Mount Moriah is located to the northeast of Mount Zion, in the southeast side of Jerusalem between the Kidron Valley and Tyropoeon Valley. It is 2440 feet high. The Bible sometimes calls Mount Moriah by the name of Zion as well. King Solomon increased the size of Mount Moriah who built a high platform and wall on three sides (east, south, and west) and this formed an extremely high summit on the southeast corner. This summit is where the Temple was built, the highest point was the location of the Holy of Holies, the same spot where Abraham was tested to offer his son Isaac (Gen. 22:2). The southern slope of Mount Moriah, extending from the southern wall down to the point where the three valleys meet, was called Ophel (Neh. 3:26, 27).
Mount of Olives in first century Jerusalem
The ridge of hills east of Jerusalem, separated from it by the Jehoshaphat Valley.
THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
The Mount of Olives where Jesus prayed was outside the city, opposite the eastern wall of the Temple . Here was the garden of Gethsemane which means "olive press."
A north-to-south ridge of hills east of Jerusalem where Jesus was betrayed on the night before His crucifixion. This prominent feature of Jerusalem's landscape is a gently rounded hill, rising to about the height of 830 meters (2,676 feet) and overlooking the Temple.
The closeness of the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem's walls made this series of hills a grave strategic danger. The Roman commander Titus had his headquarters on the northern extension of the ridge during the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. He named the place Mount Scopus, or "Lookout Hill," because of the view which it offered over the city walls. The whole hill must have provided a platform for the Roman catapults that hurled heavy objects over the Jewish fortifications of the City.
In ancient times the whole mount must have been heavily wooded. As its name implies, it was covered with dense olive groves.
The Mount of Olives is also mentioned in a reference by the prophet Zechariah to the future Day of the Lord: "In that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, which faces Jerusalem on the east. And the Mount of Olives shall be split in two from east to west, making a very large valley; half of the mountain shall move toward the north and half of it toward the south" (Zech 14:4).
In the New Testament the Mount of Olives played a prominent part in the last week of our Lord's ministry. Jesus approached Jerusalem from the east, by way of Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives (Mt 21:1; Mk 11:1). On the night of His betrayal, He and His disciples sang a hymn and went out to the Mount of Olives (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26), to the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26:36; Mk 14:32). In this garden, on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, Jesus was betrayed by Judas and delivered into the hands of His enemies.
Name. Its descriptive appellation is "the Mount of Olives" (Heb. har hazzetim, only in Zech 14:4; Grk. to oros tou elaiov, the mount on which the olive grew; Matt 21:1; 24:3; 26:30; Mark 11:1; Luke 19:37; John 8:1). It is referred to (2 Sam 15:30) as "the ascent of the Mount of Olives"; "the mountain which is east of Jerusalem" (1 Kings 11:7); "the mount of destruction" (2 Kings 23:13), from the heathen altars erected there by Solomon (cf. 1 Kings 11:7); "the hills" (Neh 8:15), and "the mount called Olivet" (Acts 1:12). The hill has now two names, Jebel et-Tur, i.e., "the Mount," and Jebel et-Zeitun, "Mount of Olives."
Physical Features. The Mount of Olives is a limestone ridge, rather more than a mile in length, running in general direction N and S and covering the whole eastern side of the city of Jerusalem. At the N the ridge bends to the W, enclosing the city on that side also. At the N about a mile intervenes between the city walls, while on the E the mount is separated only by the valley of Kidron. It is to the latter part that attention is called. At a distance its outline is almost horizontal, gradually sloping away at its southern end; but when seen from below the eastern wall of Jerusalem, it divides itself into three or perhaps four independent summits or natural elevations. Beginning at the N they are: Galilee or Viri Galilaei, from the address of the angel to the disciples (Acts 1:11); Mount of Ascension, now distinguished by the minaret and domes of the Church of the Ascension, in every way the most important; Mount of the Prophets, subordinate to the former; and Mount of Offense. Three paths lead from the valley to the summit. The first passes under the N wall of the enclosure of Gethsemane and follows the line of the depression between the center and the northern hill. The second parts from the first about fifty yards beyond Gethsemane and, striking off to the right up the very breast of the hill, surmounts the projection on which is the traditional spot of the lamentation over Jerusalem and thence proceeds directly upward to the village of Bethany. The third leaves the other two at the NE corner of Gethsemane and, making a considerable detour to the S, visits the so-called "Tombs of the Prophets" and, following a slight depression that occurs at that part of the mount, arrives in its turn at Bethany. Every consideration is in favor of the first path being that which David took when fleeing from Absalom, as well as that usually taken by our Lord and His disciples in their morning and evening walks between Jerusalem and Bethany, and that also by which the apostles returned to Jerusalem after the ascension. Tradition assigns many sacred sites to the Mount of Ascension, Gethsemane, and the place of lamentation. The third of the traditional spots mentioned-that of the lamentation over Jerusalem (Luke 9:41-44)-has been shown to have been badly chosen and that the road of our Lord's "triumphal entry" was not by the short and steep path over the summit but the longer and easier route around the southern shoulder of the southern of the three divisions of the mount.
Scripture Notices. The Mount of Olives is mentioned in connection with the flight of David from Absalom (2 Sam 15:30); with the building there of high places by Solomon (2 Kings 23:13); and with the vision of the Lord's departure from Jerusalem (Ezek 10:4,19; 11:23), in which last passage the prophet said, "And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood over the mountain which is east of the city." The command to "go out to the hills, and bring olive branches," etc. (Neh 8:15), indicates that the mount, and probably the valley at its base, abounded in various kinds of trees. In the time of Jesus the trees were still numerous (Mark 11:8). The only other OT mention of the Mount of Olives is in Zechariah's prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the preservation of God's people (Zech 14:4). The NT narrative makes Olivet the scene of four remarkable events in the history of Jesus: the triumphal entry-its scene being the road that winds around the southern shoulder of the hill from Bethany to Jerusalem (Matt 21:1,8-10; Mark 11:1,8-10; Luke 19:29,36-37,41); the prediction of Jerusalem's overthrow (Mark 13:1-2); Gethsemane-after the institution of the Lord's Supper, Jesus led His disciples "over the ravine of the Kidron" and "out to the Mount of Olives," to a garden called Gethsemane (John 18:1; Matt 26:30,36)
Mount Zion is the largest of the hills in Jerusalem, it stands 2,550 feet high. Mount Zion is mentioned throughout the Old Testament but only once in the New Testament (Revelation 14:1). Mount Zion is located on the southwest side of Jerusalem between the Tyropoeon Valley and the Hinnom Valley and this is the location of the Upper City where the wealthy lived during the time of Jesus. This is also the hill where the Jebusites built a stronghold but were eventually conquered by David. David built palace here on Mount Zion it became the palace and home for the kings of Israel. David and most of his successors (14) were buried on Mount Zion (1 Kings 2:10; 9:43; 14:31).
The Hill of Evil Counsel
The Hill of Evil Counsel is located on the south side of Mount Zion on the other side of the Valley of Hinnom. This hill is the traditional place of Aceldama, the Field of Blood (Acts 1:19).
The Mount of Olives
The Mount of Olives is located east of the Temple Mount just across the Kidron Valley. On the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives was the village of Bethany, the home of Mary and Martha and Lazarus. From here at the Mount of Olives Jesus looked over the beautiful city and wept because of Jerusalem's rebellious leaders. Overlooking the Temple on the Mount of Olives was the garden of Gethsemane, where Christ suffered his agony, betrayal and arrest. In the center of the mount the so-called Church of Ascension stands at about 2,682 feet high where it is traditionally taught that Christ ascended from here into heaven.