The Mount of Olives is part of a ridge east of Jerusalem directly across the Kidron Valley in the direction of Bethany and Jericho (Map 9); the ridge's northern extension is called Mount Scopus (Josephus, War 2.19.527), and its lower slopes Gethsemane. With an elevation of approximately 850 m (2,800 ft), the ridge is higher than the Temple Mount across the Kidron Valley to the west.

In the Hebrew Bible the Mount of Olives is mentioned by name twice. In 2 Samuel 15.30–32 we are told of a sanctuary there (cf. 1 Kings 11.7; 2 Kings 23.13). Zechariah 14:4 claims this is where the Lord's feet will stand on the apocalyptic day of the Lord.

In the Gospels, the Mount of Olives is the place where Jesus goes for rest or prayer when he is in or around Jerusalem (Matt. 24.3; 26.30 par; Luke 21.37; John 8.1). Jesus enters Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives (Matt. 21.9 par.), and it is there that the apocalyptic discourses in Mark and Matthew are set; Mark 13.3 may be an allusion to Zechariah 14.4. In Acts 1:12 the Mount is implied as the site of Jesus' ascension. These events in the narrative of the last days of Jesus in and around the Mount of Olives has made it a site for pilgrims to Jerusalem since the fourth century CE, when a small church was founded there; this may have been the basilica built by Constantine's mother Helena, mentioned by Eusebius (Vita Const. 3.43).

J. Andrew Overman