Tour Banias: A Mountain, a Cave, and a Spring

A Prime Location for a Temple…or 4

Visit Banias, the site of 4 ancient temples

In the northernmost part of Israel stands Mount Hermon, the highest mountain in Israel. At the foot of Mount Hermon lies the city of Banias, a city whose history dates back to the ancient Canaanites. Throughout its history, this site served as the location for at least 4 temples and experienced several name changes.

When approaching Banias, one immediately notices three things: rocks, lush greenery and a cave. The lush greenery is a result of a gushing, nearby spring, which is also one of the main sources of the Jordan River. One can imagine how this site would be the perfect location to build a temple to a god…and that is what the ancient Canaanites, Greeks and Romans did.

4 Stories about 4 Temples

1.     The ancient Canaanites built a temple to Baal at the foot of Mount Hermon. Baal, the weather god and the fertility god, was one of the most well-known gods in the Canaanite pantheon (or collection of gods). Baal was also a regional god and as such there were other names associated with him depending on location. Thus, the Canaanites called the place Baal-Hermon (see Judges 3:3 and 1 Chronicles 5:23).

2.     The Greeks (in the 3rd century BC) were the next to build a temple to a god…their god Pan. In the Greek pantheon, Pan was the son of Hermes. Being the god of the wild and of hunting, Pan was worshipped in natural settings…settings exactly like the one found at Banias…in a cave. The Greeks dedicated their temple to Pan and accordingly changed the name of the place to Paneas (or Panias) in honor of Pan.

3.     Following the Greeks, the Romans gained control over Palestine and thus over Paneas. Caesar Augustus, the first emperor over the Roman Empire (1st century BC) gave Paneas to Herod the Great. As a way of honoring Augustus, Herod built a temple dedicated to Augustus in front of the cave of Pan.

4.     When Herod the Great died, Paneas passed on to Herod’s son, Philip the Tetrarch. Philip made Paneas his capital city, built a temple honoring his emperor Caesar Tiberius, and renamed the city Caesarea Philippi incorporating his own name with Caesar’s name. It is by the name Caesarea Philippi that the city is known during the time of Jesus.

It was also at Caesarea Philippi where Jesus asked his disciples, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter of course answered saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” As you stand at the site of ancient Caesarea Philippi, hear the words of Jesus in a new way: “…you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church…” (see Matt. 16:13-20).

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