There are places brining with natural beauty all over Israel. One of these locations is the Banais Nature Preserve, also known as Caesarea Philippi in ancient history.
Location of Caesarea Philippi
Caesarea Philippi is located in northern Israel at the foot of Mt Hermon, north of the Golan Heights. It is built around a spring that is part of the Banias River, a tributary of the Jordan River.
The spring has been part of religious thought and practice from the beginning of its occupancy. Prior to the Hellenistic era, the area was known as Ba’al-gad or Ba’al-Hermon. It was associated with the area’s false god spoken of in the Old Testament.
With the introduction of the Hellenistic era, the revered site was instead dedicated to the worship of Pan. It was from there known as Panias or Banias. Pan was a half goat deity which was associated with agriculture, rural music as well as sexual and spiritual possession.
The area was known for extreme cultish worship. Some believe that the cave there was used to offer sacrifices to Pan since it was seen as a gateway to the spiritual world. They would throw the sacrifice, which was often a goat and some believe may have been human at times or a goat, into the back of the cave. If there was blood in the water it was thought that the sacrifice was accepted. If there was no blood it was believed that the sacrifice was not accepted and possibly the next sacrifice was thrown in until blood was seen.
Other acts of pagan worship occurred there that were so ostensibly horrific that the area became known as an area to be avoided, especially in the spring when more festivals for Pan took place with detestable acts taking place to encourage Pan’s return.
When the Romans conquered the area, it was renamed Caesarea Philippi for Herod Phillip.
Jesus in Caesarea Philippi
This area was so known for its detestable pagan worship, it was a bit unexpected that Jesus would have avoided it completely. The cave was seen as an actual gateway to the underworld, or Hell by its believers.
In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus confronted the area and declared his power in the shadow of the pagan temples.
Now when Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you yourselves say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” Then He gave the disciples strict orders that they were to tell no one that He was the Christ.
You can just imagine Jesus pointing at the cave while saying this proclamation of authority! What an amazing thought! As you stand among the ruins of the pagan temples and seeing the carved niches that were used for the worship of a false, un-loving god you can read these words from the Bible and feel His presence and authority even today. Amen!
So when you walk in Caesarea Philippi, you can know you are walking and looking in the same areas as Jesus. This is one of the places you can know with certainty that Jesus definitely was.
Through the next two thousand years, like most of Israel, the area would be constantly in flux between conflicts in the land exchanging control between the Crusaders and Muslims and Ottomans.
Caesarea Philippi Today
Today the area is again primarily known as Banias and is a nature preserve. There you can see the remaining archeological findings of the area including ruins, niches and inscriptions related to the worship of Pan in the area.
What you won’t see is the spring the same way it was in Jesus’ time. That is because an earthquake completely changed the flow. Instead of gushing water from the “Gates of Hell”, now the water peacefully flows from the bedrock below.
Caesarea Phillipi is a highlight for many who join us on one of our Christian Holy Land Tours. Talk to one of our helpful tour operators about planning your tour today!