Mondays on the Mount of Olives

Since 1973 I have been working with academic groups in Israel.  Often the first 4 or 5 days in Israel are spent in and around the city of Jerusalem visiting sites associated with biblical events and the whole gamut of the history of Jerusalem and its surroundings.  At the end of this sequence I like to visit the top of the Mount of Olives—early, before the tourist buses arrive.  This gives us a chance to sit and enjoy the early sunlight as it illumines “Jerusalem of Gold.”  At this time the students review and identify what they know about Jerusalem and its surrounds—sweeping from Nebi Samwil in the northwest, south through the Old City to Har Gilo in the southwest (see partially the photo in the header above!).  Pride of place certainly goes to the walls of the Old City, the Temple Mount (Haram esh-Sharif), the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and now(!) the Hurva Synagogue—not to mention the Dormition Abbey and Mount Zion.

After reviewing the “stones” and the history of Jerusalem I like to take about 20(!) minutes to reflect on the “theology of Jerusalem” as it is presented in the Bible (my favorite deaf mute vendor patiently waits until I am finished—and I promote his wares!).  I begin in Genesis 2:15 and end in Revelation 22—yes, all of it 2o minutes!  This reflection is based upon a summary of a class that I taught to university students for 15+ years entitled “Jerusalem: Earthly City Heavenly Symbol.”  It was one of the most popular classes that I taught.  I have been amazed at how much of the Bible can be tied into the City of Jerusalem!

At one point I had hoped to write a book on this topic but I have never had the time to do all of the relevant scholarly research for such a project.  And indeed over the years others have approached this topic in somewhat similar but different ways.

Because of the importance of a “a biblical theology of Jerusalem,” and its usefulness to those I have shared it with in the past, I invite you to join me every Monday for “Mondays on the Mount of Olives.”


7 responses to “Mondays on the Mount of Olives

  1. Hi, I remember you from the then American Institute for HL Studies. I was there with Grace Seminary the year Saddat visited Israel. I really enjoyed your field trips as well as Jim Monson. Keep up the great work

    • Hi Randy,

      Yes, the late 1970’s were “heady” with Sadat’s visit to Jerusalem! I also remember Jimmy Carter visiting St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church as he was visiting the Middle East (I was the treasure at the Church). We seated him behind the seat labeled “Cairo”—where he was going next!
      BTW Jim Monson is still very active producing creative and quality materials at

  2. Errata? Gen. 3.15 instead of 2.15 is surely what you mean since 2.15 is before the fall.
    Also, Dr. Rassmussen, as I have never been to Israel (was planning to go next years but current event reder this doubtful). You mention “Jerusalem of gold” in the morning sun, Could the Solomonic or the Second Temple have been seen from the trade routes in the Arava? I am thinking that in the evening sun the golden temple could have been seen from the Via Maris. I think Josephus might have mentioned this but I cannot find it now. Anyway, it seems to really make sense that “Jerusalem was a city set on a hill” to shine its light to travelers transversing this land bridge of Israel (Ezk. 5.5). Also Ezk. 26.2 mentions Jerusalem as a “gateway” to regions north and south in the Fertile Crescent that engaged in trade with each other. Jesus mentioned that the disciples were now like a city set on a hill completing this imagery.

    • Hi Alex,

      Thanks for your comments/suggestions.

      Actually I did mean Genesis 2:15 (more to come in a future post).

      As for “Jerusalem of Gold”—this is a hint/reference to the song written by Naomi Shemer and produced just before the Six Day War in 1967—I’ll follow up in my next post.

      The Temple Mount is roughly 2,438 ft. above sea level. The hill to the west rises to 2,534 ft. above sea level and to the east the Mount of Olives rises to 2,641 ft. above sea level. Also, the hills to the north and the south are higher than the Temple Mount. Thus the Temple Mount is lower than all the hills surrounding it. It is like a like bump in the bottom of the bowl—not rising above the “rims” of the bowl.

      FWIW the Temple could not be seen from the Rift Valley nor from what you call the “Via Maris” (the ID of the “Via Maris” is a different discussion; I prefer to call the road along the Coastal Plain between Egypt and Damascus the “International Coastal Highway”).

      With reference to my “the Temple Mount is a bump in the bottom of a bowl with hills surrounding it” contrast Isaiah Is. 2:2 “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”

      Also, since the “Sermon on the Mount”—Matthew 5:14 (“city set on a hill”)—was “preached” in Galilee it seems to me more probable that a city in that region is a more probable reference than Jerusalem.

      You will love it when you travel to Israel and Jerusalem — with all of your background/knowledge/study you will get so much out of a trip like this!!

      • Thank you Dr. Rasmussen for your detailed response. Yes, I recognize in myself an over-enthusiasm toward linkage on the surface of the account when in fact more study is the call.
        Your description of the geography of Jerusalem was very valuable as was the setting of the “Sermon of the Mount”. I agree that a trip to Israel will help to illumine many aspects of my book learning.
        I did think you were possibly referring to Gen. 2.15 but since the judgment and prophecy of 3.15 is developed in redemptive history with Abraham and David, this is what you meant. The Rev. 22 passage should have told me this as Rev. 20 probably fulfills all the aspects of judgment of Gen. 3.15.

  3. Carl, I look forward to Mount of Olives Monday, my husband and I were part of a group that you led in April and that talk on the Mount of Olives was a highlight for us.

  4. Mount of Olives…

    “Christ is ascended !
    Bliss hath invested Him, —
    Woes that molested Him,
    Trials that tested Him,
    Gloriously ended…”

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