Sunday, August 9, 2015

Caesarea Philippi and the Cave of Pan - Israel

Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God

In the "region of Caesarea Philippi" Jesus asked his disciples who other people thought he was? He got answers from them like John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah and "one of the prophets." Then Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Peter responds, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." Jesus then called Peter "blessed" and said that it was his Father in heaven that had revealed it to Peter. Further, "[T]hou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven..." Jesus then informed his disciples that he would go to Jerusalem and eventually be put to death and on the third day raised again. (Matt. 16: 13-28)
This statue of Peter, holding the keys, is found in Capernaum. 
Farrar, in the Life of Christ, called these the most memorable words of Jesus. That this was Jesus's own testimony of himself. Farrar explained that Jesus "had never openly spoken of His Messiahship." He wanted his disciples to learn of his Messiahship  "through the quiet medium of a sinless and self-sacrificing course." To learn it gradually, from the truths he spoke and the life he lived, rather than from the miracles he performed. 

Farrar, a Protestant, went on to say that "It was the laying of the corner-stone of the Church of Christ...the promise that the Church [was] founded on the rock of inspired confession..."  For Catholics, the words are equally important, but they have another meaning. They signify that Peter was head of the earthly church, the first pope. For Mormons, the message is a kind of combination of the Protestant and Catholic interpretation: the rock was revelation and the keys Peter was to receive were the keys of the priesthood.

Caesarea Philippi and Herod Philip

In my post on Capernaum it was mentioned that Herod the Great's kingdom was divided among three of his sons after he died in 4 BCE. Herod Antipas got the tetrarchy of Galilee and established the city of Tiberias as capital and Herod Philip got the tetrarchy of Gaulanitis which included the cult center of Paneas. Philip established Paneas as his capital in 3 BCE, built a city and palace there, and renamed it Caesarea Philippi in 14 CE, after Caesar Augustus (about the time of the death of Augustus) and after himself. This also distinguished it from Caesarea Maritima built by his father on the coast, also to honor Augustus. The Via Maris, a major trade route which passed Capernaum, also passed Caesarea Philippi, which was about 25 miles distant, and may have been the route taken by Jesus and his disciples from Capernaum to Caesarea Philippi. Jesus and his disciples visited the area in about 29 CE. Herod Philip died about four years later in 33 CE.

Pan and Paneas

Caearea Philippi was located at the southwestern base of Mt. Hermon. There Josephus (in "Antiquities of the Jews," 15.10.3) described a "very fine cave in a mountain, under which there is a great cavity in the earth, and the cavern is abrupt, and prodigiously deep, and full of a still water; over it hangs a vast mountain and under the caverns arise the springs of the river Jordan." Josephus (in "Wars of the Jews," 1.21.3) also described "a mountain that is raised to an immense height, and at its side, beneath, or at its bottom, a dark cave opens itself, within which there is a horrible precipice, that descends abruptly to a vast depth. It contains a mighty quantity of water, which is immovable, and when anybody lets down anything to measure the depth of the earth beneath the water, no length of cord is sufficient to reach it. Now the fountains of Jordan rise at the roots of this cavity outwardly and, as some think, this is the utmost origin of Jordan..." Josephus was right about this spring being an origin for the Jordan River, as it is one of its three main sources.
The Cave of Pan is visible in the center. The carved cave for the niche of Pan is to its right. Water from the springs flows and eventually forms part of the River Jordan. 
In water-starved Israel, this is an extensive volume of water.
The god Baal may have originally been worshiped by the Canaanites at this site as it may have originally been known as Mt. Baal Hermon (Judges 3:3). Among other things, Baal was a fertility god and a rain god with power over waters of the earth. It is easy to see why Baal would be connected to a large spring. One of the legends of Baal is that he visited the underworld at the behest of Mot, god of the underworld. While there, Mot served Baal mud which is the food of death and Baal became trapped there. This caused a severe drought and famine on earth. Baal was saved and brought back to life by his sister and wife, Anat, who went to the underworld to rescue him. It was believed that water courses emanating from the earth were gateways to the underworld and perhaps this cave was also connected to Baal for that reason.

The name of the area changed after a major battle over the spoils of Alexander the Great's kingdom. Ptolemy 1 of Egypt and Antiochus III of Seleucid Syria fought the Battle of Panium over control of Phoenicia, Galilee, Samaria and Judea in 198 BCE in this area. The victorious Antiochus III built a shrine to the Greek god Pan. A cult center, known as Paneas, was established there soon afterwards.

Pan was the god of the wild, shepherds, flocks, fields, groves, wooded glens, desolate places, rustic music and connected to fertility and the season of spring (when things grow). Pan looked like a faun, a human form with a goat hindquarters, legs and horns. Pan was a very old Greek deity with lots of conflicting genealogies. He was often considered a son of Hermes, but was variously treated as a son of Zeus, Apollo and Dionysus as well. Pan was not usually worshiped in temples or other buildings, but in natural settings, usually caves or grottoes, known as Caves of Pan. Pan taught the secret of prophecy to Apollo. Pan is often associated with the nymph Echo, a singer and dancer that would not allow any man to love her. Pan, known for his sexual appetites, fell in love with Echo and was angered when Echo did not submit to his will. So Pan ordered his followers to tear her to pieces and spread her remains over the entire earth (one of several different versions of her death). Hera, the wife of Zeus, was jealous of the attention paid by Zeus to Echo. So Hera cursed her so that she could not speak on her own, she could only repeat the last few words spoken by someone else. Therefore, it should not be surprising that near the Caves of Pan one should find an Echo. With interesting implications for the later visit by Jesus, Pan and Asclepius were the only Greek gods to die. The death of Pan was announced during the reign of the Emperor Tiberius, possibly some time before the visit of Jesus to Caearea Philippi (Tiberius reigned from 14 to 37 CE). Thamus, a sailor on his way to Italy, heard a divine voice come to him across the waters saying, "Thamus, are you there? When you reach Palodes, take care to proclaim that the great god Pan is dead."
This sculpture of Pan teaching the shepherd of Daphnis to play the flute was found in Pompeii and dates to the second century CE. However, it is a Roman copy of a Greek original from about 100 BCE. Picture from Wikipedia. 
The Cave of Pan was probably kept in its natural state. In about 63 BCE, the Roman general Pompey defeated the Greeks and took control of Palestine. Herod, a client/king of the Romans, was given control over Judea in about 36 BCE.  In about 20 BCE, Paneas was annexed to Herod by the Emperor Augustus and Herod thereafter erected a temple at Paneas in honor of Augustus in about 19 BCE. The temple was placed in front of the Cave of Pan. The front facade had four Ionic columns supporting an unbroken pediment. And it appears that the temple did not have a back wall, but that the adyton, the small area at the far end of the temple which normally housed the image of the deity (the holy of holies) was the cave itself.  This allowed animal sacrifices to Pan to be thrown directly into the chasm of the cave. If the sacrifice disappeared into the water it was a sign that Pan had accepted the sacrifice. If blood appeared in the nearby springs, however, it was a sign that the sacrifice had been rejected. The Cave of Pan and the Temple to Augustus were there when Jesus visited the area with his disciples. None of the other cult structures discussed below were here then. They all came afterwards. Augustus was known as a son of god, as Julius Caesar his adopted father was a god, the descendant of Aeneas. Aeneas was a founder of Rome and a son of the goddess Venus/Aphrodite. Augustus, like other emperors after him, was also treated as a god. By the time Jesus arrived, Augustus was dead (he died in 14 CE) and Tiberius was the Emperor of the Roman Empire.
This painting of the temple complex is a photo from the site. The Cave of Pan, covered by the Temple of Augustus (far left), was what was here when Jesus came with his disciples. The other structures to the right were all developed later. 
Some pieces of the Temple of Augustus have been found and are visible in this picture. Much of the temple is believed to be entombed in the un-excavated cavern. 
Part of the west wall of the Temple of Augustus exists in front of the mouth of the cave. 
An Ionic capital, similar to those that were on the columns of the Temple of Augustus. This was found elsewhere in Caesarea Philippi. 
In 1837 an earthquake caused the cave to collapse and filled its deep chasm with rock and rubble from the Temple of Augustus. The cave itself has not yet been excavated by archaeologists. The earthquake disrupted the spring and substantially reduced its flow. As best I can tell, the water did not flow from the mouth of the cave, but somewhere below it, seeping through the rocks. The disrupted spring now flows off through the bedrock more to the right and in substantially smaller volume. The water flows into the stream Nahal Senir and is one of three springs at the base of Mt. Hermon that feed the Jordan River. One of the other sources is the Dan River, a place we also visited and subject of a later post.
The once deep chasm in the Cave of Pan is now full of rubble from the 1837 earthquake.
Next to the Temple of Augustus and the Cave of Pan was the Court of Pan and the Nymphs, a stepped courtyard with an artificial cave quarried into the face of the cliff. The cave contained a statue of Pan. This was likely created some time shortly after the visit of Jesus and his disciples. In 67 CE the Roman general Vespasian, who later became emperor, rested his troops in this area for 20 days during the First Jewish War. He left there with his troops to capture Tiberias from the Jewish resistance. The Court of Pan was probably in existence then.
The Court of Pan and the Nymphs.
The largest carved niche, bottom, housed the statue of Pan. The niche above housed the statue of Echo.
The entire back-wall of the Court of Pan.
In about 148 CE two additional niches were carved into the rock face, one to house a sculpture of Echo and the other for Pan's father, Hermes. The niche carved right above the artificial cave housing the Pan statue has carved fluted pillars and an arched top and housed the statue of Echo. Underneath is an inscription in Greek which reads: "The priest Victor, son of Lysimachos, dedicated this goddess to the god Pan, lover of Echo."
A close-up of the niche of Echo above the larger niche for Pan.
A close-up of the Greek inscription at the base of the niche.
Further to the right is another niche with an inscription carved to its left which reads, in Greek, "For Pan and the nymphs, Victor son of Lysimachos with his children dedicated a likeness in stone of Hermes, child of Maia, son of Zeus, having vowed it, the year 150."
The niche to the furthest right housed the statue of Hermes. 
The Greek caption is to the upper left of the niche.
To the right of the Court of Pan and the Nymphs was a Temple dedicated to Zeus and to Pan. It was built around 98 CE during the reign of the Emperor Trajan for the 100th anniversary of the city (founded by Herod Philip). The temple had a portico fronted by four Corinthian columns, the remains of a portion of one stands there today, with a cella behind it.
The Temple of Zeus
A portion of a pillar from the Temple of Zeus with a Corinthian capital.
Part of the foundation of the Temple of Zeus, looking back toward the Court of Pan and the Cave of Pan.
To the right of the Temple to Zeus was the Court of Nemesis, built in 178 CE. Nemesis was the goddess of vengeance and Roman imperial justice. A niche behind her long and narrow court housed her statue. A Greek inscription above the niche mentions the goddess and the name of the donor. The stone pavers of the court were in a checkered pattern of white and reddish stones.
The Court of Nemesis.
The niche in the Court of Nemesis is visible in the center/back.
To the right of the Court of Nemesis was a Tomb Temple of the Sacred Goats erected in 220 CE during the reign of the Emperor Elagabalos. The bones of goats used in the rituals were buried in niches inside the building, along with offerings of pottery, glass vessels and coins. The rituals themselves were conducted on the roof in front of the niche carved in rock behind it.
Tomb and Temple of the Sacred Goats
Foundations of the Temple and the niche above, which was above the roof of the Temple. 
A different view of the temple foundations and the niche above the roof. 
Beneath this temple was a Temple of Pan and the Dancing Goats built around the same time, 220 CE. Parts of the north wall survive, as well as part of a semicircular hall and a semicircular niche behind it. On coins from this period Pan is in the niche playing the flute to three dancing goats in the hall. Musicians sat nearby while the sacred goats danced. This rite assured the fertility of the goat herds.
Temple of Pan and the Dancing Goats
A portion of the north wall and the semi-circular hall and niche.
Another view of the complex, looking from east to west. 
Later Christian History

Tradition has it that the woman who was healed of an issue of blood, by touching the hem of Jesus's garment in Capernaum, was from Caesarea Philippi. In honor of that event a statue of Jesus was erected in Caesarea Philippi. When Julian the Apostate became emperor of Rome in 361, he tried to reverse the Christianization of the empire begun by Constantine the Great and return it to a pagan state. Julian had the statue of Jesus torn down and one of himself erected in its place. Christian tradition claims that a fire from heaven fell upon the statue of Julian, breaking it into pieces.

A Byzantine basilica was later built in Caesarea Philippi honoring the woman that was healed. Portions of it can be found today in the area of the city further to the south (which unfortunately we did not get to visit). It is near the remains of the palace of Herod Philip. 

Tradition holds that the first bishop of Caesarea Philippi was a man named Erastus, mentioned by Paul in Romans 16:23 ("the city's director of public works"). A later bishop, Philocalus, was at the First Council of Nicaea held by Constantine in 325. A later, bishop, Martyrius, was burned to death under Julian the Apostate. The Bishop Baratus attended the First Council of Constantinople in 381 and the Bishop Olympius attended the Council of Chalcedon in 451.

The Muslims could not pronounce "Paneas," they had a hard time with p, and it came to be known as Banias, what it is known as today.

Cave of Pan and Temple of Augustus - Context for Jesus and his Disciples

The context of the Cave of Pan and the Temple of Augustus give added meaning to the events in Matthew 16. This was the furthest north Jesus brought his disciples and he may have brought them here intentionally to teach one of his most important lessons. Augustus, the most powerful man on earth when he died about 15 years earlier, was believed to be a son of god, and divine in his own right, a man/god. How powerful for Peter to acknowledge Jesus as a son of God in that setting.

Pan taught prophecy to Apollo and here, where Pan was worshiped, Jesus taught Peter the importance of revelation. Further, where this chasm believed to be a gate to the underworld existed, the Cave of Pan, Jesus taught his disciples that the "gates of hell" would not prevail against the church. Pan was a god of shepherds and Jesus often portrayed himself as a shepherd watching over his sheep.

Finally, Jesus taught his disciples here that he would die, but would rise again after three days. Both Pan and Augustus, both gods, had recently died, bringing this message home so forcefully to his disciples that Peter objected and had to be rebuked by Jesus.

It is also interesting to note that six days later Jesus led Peter, James and John to the Mount of Transfiguration. That may have occurred just north of here on Mount Hermon. More about this in a later post. 


  1. Fascinating connection between this place and Christianity. I love your insights at the end.

  2. Great information. I wonder if areas like these in the Middle East will be excavated in our lifetime.

  3. Outstanding commentary and photos. I visited this site twice yet never gleaned the depth that you have shared. Thank You!

  4. It is now 2021 , 6 years after this post , and it becomes more relevant today as we are realising that most of the teachings of Jesus was set in place for the times we find ourselves in today , and it would seem that the actions of Jesus, where also to be interpreted as much as his words as we are brought to his revelations of whats to come before during and after that Great Day . Caves and undergroud DUMB;s , Jesus beat the UnderWorld masters of the elite and their in pocket Geo Political figure heads , we are in the times spoken of by Jesus , in the transfiguration Jesus shows that he and his followers will rise above it all . Praise be to the Lord God and Jesus .

  5. I am currently reading Josephus. 2,000 years and nothing changes.

    It is likely that the cave still exists. The earthquake may have only collapsed the facing. However, reopening it is fraught with danger. A stabilized cave is earthquake resistant. However, the facings may alternately collapse and reopen. That said, 200 years may not be enough time for the overlying facing to stabilize.