At the foot of the Mount of Olives, near the church of Gethsemane—the garden where, according to the New Testament, the Romans arrested Jesus—archaeologists have discovered a 2,000-year-old mikveh, or ritual bath. The garden’s name derives from the Hebrew words meaning “oil press,” and this is exactly what experts believe existed there once. In an interview by Hannah Brown, Amit Re’em, the director of archaeology in Jerusalem for the Israel Antiquities Authority, explains:
The discovery of the ritual bath probably confirms the place’s ancient name, Gethsemane. Most ritual baths from the Second Temple period have been found in private homes and public buildings, but some have been discovered near agricultural installations and tombs, in which case the ritual bath is located in the open.
The discovery of this bath, unaccompanied by buildings, probably attests to the existence of an agricultural industry here 2000 years ago—possibly producing oil or wine. The Jewish laws of purification obliged workers involved in oil and wine production to purify themselves. The discovery of the ritual bath may therefore hint at the origin of the place’s ancient name, Gethsemane, a place where ritually pure oil was produced near the city.