Israel Trip Journal- Day 5 pt. 2 :Caesarea Philippi & The Galilee

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Caesarea Philippi

After perusing the gift shop one last time, and turning down an offer for a wine tasting, we loaded onto to the bus again (Baptists frown on drinking alcohol–which is actually a denominational tradition, not a biblical mandate: Ephesians 5:18; 1 Timothy 5:23; Colossians 2:16; Romans 14:10-22). We were headed to the northernmost part of Israel, to Mt. Hermon and Caesarea Philippi.
Caesarea Philippi sits at the base of Mt. Hermon which is the source of the Jordan River. Mt Hermon is a very important mountain–actually three-peaked range–that straddles the Lebanon/Israeli/Syrian border.

It provides water to all three nations in a desert climate; due to its height there is snow on Mt. Hermon most of the year; this snow melts and feeds into tributaries. The mountain is also Israel’s first line of defense against its northern neighbors.

As such, it has also been a highly contested area. It was captured in the Six Day War in 1967, then lost to the Syrians in 1973, but Israel recaptured it a few days later. Caesarea Philippi lies in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights region, on the southern side of Mt. Hermon.
Grotto of Pan (aka Gates of Hades) – courtesy Paul S.

In ancient times, Caesarea Philippi was a center for the worship of the god Pan. Thus, it was called Panias which became corrupted in Arabic to its modern name of Banias.

Pan was the half-man half-goat god who is often depicted as playing a flute. Pan is the god of fright, giving us the word ‘panic.’ He was also the god of: victory in battle (in that he would instill panic in the enemy), hunting, goat herds, music, herding, and of sexual and spiritual possession.
Before its use for Hellenistic Grecian worship of Pan, this place was used for the worship of Ba’al-Hermon, a Semitic deity.

Long ago, a spring gushed out of the cave here, called the Grotto of Pan. This grotto became a center of pagan worship and beginning in the third century BC, sacrifices were cast into the cave as offerings to Pan.

If the victims disappeared, it meant that Pan had accepted the sacrifice; however, if there was evidence of blood in the nearby connecting springs, it meant the sacrifice had been rejected.

Since this was the main spring that fed the Jordan, it meant that people drank from sacrifice infected water. However, due to earthquakes over the centuries, this is no longer the main spring feeding the river.

Historical marker-
courtesy Paul S.

The grotto lies in what appears to be a half-cave in the sheer rock face. In ancient times a temple to Caesar Augustus stood in front of it. The water was said to be so deep that they never could measure it (Josephus’ Antiquity of the Jews). The grotto was believed to be the gates of Hades.

To the right of the grotto carved into the sheer cliff wall are five niches for idols including Pan, Hermes and Echo (Pan’s consort). There were also inscriptions naming the most generous donors to the temples. In antiquity there were temples here to the sacred goats, to Zeus and Pan as well as Caesar Augustus.

One of five sacred niches in the mountainside
In 20 BC, the Romans transferred control of then Panium to Herod the Great, who built the temple here to Caesar Augustus. This is the same Herod who rebuilt the Second Temple in Jerusalem, and though he was an Edomite, claimed to be a practicing Jew.

Later, in 4 BC upon Herod’s death, his son Philip the Tetrarch took control of the region and renamed the city Caesarea Philippi in honor of Caesar Tiberius and himself (both of whom are mentioned only once in the Bible– Luke 3:1).

Gates of Hades
Banias stream foreground,  Mt Hermon behind-
courtesy Paul S.

Caesarea Philippi was notorious for its sinfulness, so much so that any good Jew would not even enter it– it was truly the Sin City of its day.

Not only were there pagan sacrifices taking place here, but fertility rituals which included human relations with goats. This is the back drop of the Matthew 16:13-23 passage (and Mark 8:27-33).

In reading the passage in Mark 8, we see that before coming to this region, they had been in Bethsaida. This was no short distance (32 miles round trip), and it is the only recorded trip Jesus took to this region.

If Jesus desired to make a point that would be engraved in their minds, the proximity to this wicked place would be an effective way to do so. Neither passage indicates that they went into Caesarea Philipi, but near enough to drive home the point.
Artist’s rendering of Banias (Panias): far left, temple of Augustus; to the right,
Court of Pan and the Nymphs (the large niche where Pan’s statutue stood,
smaller niches above it); next on right, temple of Zeus (center white structure);
far right white structure, temple and tomb of the sacred goats
This is where Jesus takes His disciples to ask them:
“Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
This points out the importance of context. Does Jesus’ declaration (in bold) refer to the papal primacy of Peter as the Catholic tradition posits? Or is the Protestant belief correct: that it refers to Peter’s confession that Jesus is Messiah, and upon that truth, Jesus would build His church? Or may it refer to a third possibility?
Ray Vanderlaan  proposes this: what if Jesus meant that the disciples would actually build His church on this rock– the literal Gates of Hades– right in the midst of the worst, most degenerate places on earth. Was He calling upon His followers to storm the gates of hell–not remaining in ‘holy huddles’ of safety?
Possibly, for it is exactly what these men would go on to do after His death. When they were dispersed by persecution, the early church established places of worship in the most wicked places imaginable throughout Asia Minor and even unto the ‘ends of the earth'(Acts 1:8).
Mt. Hermon
Mount Hermon- snow capped

Although there is a tradition that the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-3) occurred on Mount Tabor, that is not likely.

First, Mount Tabor is generally considered to be too far away, as the Transfiguration occurs soon after the events at Caesarea Philippi. However, since it was six days later, it can be argued that they had time to reach Mount Tabor (Matthew 17:1 and Mark 9:2).

Secondly, at this point in history, Mt. Tabor was occupied and a Hasmonean fortress stood atop it (Josephus), but the Mark passage states they were ‘all alone.’

Many scholars argue that the Transfiguration occurred on Mt. Hermon instead. First, it was much closer to the events of the preceding chapter (Matthew 16:13 and Mark 8:27). Second, Matthew 17:1 states that Jesus took His disciples “up a high mountain.” Mount Hermon is the highest mountain in Israel.
Banias stream- one of the many ‘falls’ as the water moves
towards the Jordan River

When we arrived, Raouf instructed us to sit along some rock ruins which faced the Banias stream. Raouf spoke on the history and significance of the place. Then he announced that Jim, our tour leader, usually washes the feet of every person in the tour group here at the ruins of Caesarea Philippi.

However, due to Jim’s health he could no longer do so. Therefore, our youth pastor Doug, would wash all of our feet. We were told that we did not have to allow him to wash our feet, but that he would be honored to do so.

Jim washing Doug’s feet

It obviously takes humility to wash someone’s feet, but it takes just as much to allow someone to do so. I struggled with this situation, as I thought, I don’t want anyone to wash or touch my feet– how embarrassing.

However, I also realized that it would be prideful to refuse, since it takes humility to accept. So, I did. I understood then, Peter’s reaction to his Lord’s intention to wash his feet (John 13:8)

Lastly, Jim washed Doug’s feet.  It was a sweet sight, as Jim, who has ALS (Lou Gehrig’s) knelt down despite the encumbrance of a head brace, to wash Doug’s feet. Then all the men of our group laid hands on Jim and prayed over him.

In John 13:1-17 Jesus set us an example of humility by washing the disciples’ feet. The Maker of the universe wrapped Himself in a towel and washed the filthy feet of His followers. This was to demonstrate how Christians should serve one another with humility.

After the foot washing ceremony, we were standing around talking when a Jewish woman came and asked us what we had been doing. My sister and I explained the biblical significance, and she was very interested in this tradition set by Christ. Her boyfriend was wearing a yamaka, but both were very interested and neither of them knew much about Christianity.

We then joined the rest of our group as we all headed up the moutain to see the grotto and temple ruins.
After investigating the mountainside, we walked down by the falls and enjoyed refreshments at the gift shop near the parking lot.

When we got back from the Gates of Hell, at the hotel, we all said goodbye to Raouf. He had another tour group to meet in Tel Aviv. His replacement, Sussanah had been accompanying us since we left Jerusalem the day before. She would now be our tour guide for the remainder of our tour.

The Galilee

When we got back to the hotel, we freshened up and had dinner. As always, the dinner buffet was extensive and scrumptious. After dinner most of us decided to attend the Galilee Experience movie.

While waiting for the theatre to open, we milled about the Galilee Experience gift shop. My sister and I struck up a conversation with the young lady behind the counter. We were wondering why she sounded American, a bit Southern even. It turned out that she is from Tennessee; her family moved to Israel when she was 12. Her mother is Jewish, so they moved here. She said she loves it.Later, she offered us all a free calendar. They were beautiful calendars. They gave us a choice of two: Fortresses of Israel and The Names of God . However, in the end the store owners told us to just take either or both. Soon it was time for the show to start.

It was actually quite interesting; the film explained the historical background and significance of The Galilee. I did not realize before this that the region is called The Galilee here, not Galilee. I was so exhausted by this time that it was all I could do to stay awake, but I somehow managed.

The Galilee is in the northern part of Israel and is divided into two main parts, the Upper Galilee and the Lower Galilee. This area is well watered with fertile soil and so it is lush and green. The Galilee was my favorite part of Israel. I had expected all of Israel to be rocky and dry like Jerusalem and its surrounding region, but this area has such breathtaking natural views.

From the time we entered this region, I could see why Jesus would choose to spend so much of His time in this part of Israel. It also puzzled me as to why so many ‘Jesus’ movies when I was growing up showed Him walking about in rocky dry places when the Galilee is so green and well watered. More modern versions may do a better job of using real locations, but not the ones I remember from my younger years.

Sea of Tiberias, Tiberias as seen from our hotel-
courtesy Dorothy L.

The Galilee Experience is in the same store front as the ‘50% off everything’ store that we had visited the night before. Specifically, it is upstairs above ‘our’ favorite store. So, my sister, daughter and I could not resist perusing it one more time for souvenirs.

Afterwards, we returned to our hotel room and ‘watched’ TV in Hebrew before going to sleep. We ended up watching soccer, mostly because my daughter is a soccer fanatic and because we couldn’t understand anything else. Although all the programs had subtitles, they weren’t especially helpful to us given that they too were in Hebrew.

However, we did learn something about the language that we had not known before– Hebrew is written from right to left (as is Arabic), so the punctuation comes first! I found this quite interesting and endeavored to discover why Hebrew is written right to left, and found a great explanation here. In short, it’s easier to chisel from right to left when you’re right handed (which most people are). Read the link and you’ll understand why.

Next post: Day 6 pt. 2: Megiddo