This olive press is in the Capernaum, Jesus' home-base (Matt. 4:13), near the synagogue. The crushed olive pulp was placed in baskets (about four inches thick and two feet in diameter), which were then stacked several high. These baskets are barely visible in the distance under the wooden beam, through the slot in the press. A heavy stone slab was placed on the top basket (not visible in this picture). The beam, with one end in a hole in the wall above the press, was positioned on the stone over the olive baskets.

Great weights were suspended by ropes from the end of the beam, placing enormous pressure on the olive pulp. These weights may have been lifted by a shorter beam placed in the hole in the wall above, on the left. Over time, the pressure squeezed the juice out of the pulp. The juice ran out of the baskets and into a pit below, where it separated into water and oil. The water was drained off, and the oil was collected and placed in clay jars. These jars were often stored in a cool area in the cave near the press.

Olive oil had religious significance for the Israelites, both because it was connected with the fertility of the land (Deut. 8:6-9) and because it was used for "anointing" (Gen. 28:18). The small niche (opening) next to the press may have held an idol to whom the press and the oil were dedicated. God's people brought olives to the Temple on Shavuot (Pentecost) to indicate their recognition that Yahweh, not the pagan gods, provided the gift of fertility.

Olive oil can have religious significance for us as Christians too. A person who was anointed was a mashiach ("messiah" in English). This role was ultimately fulfilled by Jesus, God's Anointed. This imagery links Jesus to the olive tree and its rich fruit.