Jacqueline Schaalje, Banyas, Jewish Magazine, July 2000 http://www.jewishmag.co.il/34mag/banyas/banyas.htm

The city was re-named Caesarea Philippi when Herod’s son Philip took up the rule. Philip was one of the first who made a serious attempt to determine the source of the Jordan. The story is related by Josephus (War 3: 512-13). Philip had chaff thrown in the nearby volcanic Lake Ram, and it appeared in Banyas. In reality there is no connection between the two waters; one of Philip’s courtiers must have given nature a helping hand.


Galyn Wiemers, “Caesarea Philippi, Panias, Banias: Site of the ‘Gates of Hades’,” Galyn’s Israel Photos,

The temples can be seen here. The one on the left stands infront of the cave. The platform in the middle stands in front of the niches. Temple drawing came froa display at the sight.

This was not a typical place to take young Jewish men.
Read a Blog about this subject in the saved text here

A sign at this site reads:
”THE GROTTO OF THE GOD PAN: This cave is the nucleus beside which the sacred sanctuary was built. In this ‘abode of the shepherd god,’ pagan cult began as early as
the 3rd century BCE. The ritual sacrifices were cast into a natural abyss reaching the underground waters at the back of the cave. If the victims disappeared in the water this was
a sign that the god had accepted the offering. If, however, signs of blood appeared in the nearby springs the sacrifice had been rejected.”


Shiloh Excavations: Herod the Great’s Temple to Caesar Augustus

Josephus, the First Century AD Jewish historian, mentions the location and construction of the Augusteum near Paneion in two passages. The first: ‘And when he [Herod the Great] returned home after escorting Caesar [Augustus] to the sea, he erected to him a very beautiful temple of white stone in the territory of Zenodorus, near the place called Paneion. In the mountains here there is a beautiful cave, and below it the earth slopes steeply to a precipitous and inaccessible depth, which is filled with still water, while above it is a very high mountain. Below the cave rise the sources of the river Jordan. It was this most celebrated place that Herod further adorned with the temple which he consecrated to Caesar’ (Antiq. 15: 363-364; LCL 8: 175-177).

The second: ‘When, later on, through Caesar’s bounty he received additional territory, Herod there too dedicated to him a temple of white marble near the sources of the Jordan, at a place called Paneion. At this spot a mountain rears its summit to an immense height aloft; at the base of the cliff is an opening into an overgrown cavern; within this, plunging down to an immeasurable depth, is a yawning chasm, enclosing a volume of still water, the bottom of which no sounding-line has been found long enough to reach. Outside and from beneath the cavern well up the springs from which, as some think, the Jordan takes its rise; but we will tell the true story of this in the sequel’ (Wars 1: 404-406; LCL 2: 191).

After Herod the Great died in 4 BC, his son Herod Philip was given the northern tetrachy, or the region of Gaulanitis, Batanea, Trachonitis, and Auranitis, to rule. The first of his two capitals was Caesarea Philippi, founded in 3 BC. The second capital was Bethsaida Julias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

In the fifth year of his reign (AD 1-2), Herod Philip began to mint coins for his realm. On one coin, he had the head of Caesar Augustus on the obverse and his own portrait on the reverse with the inscription ‘of Philip the Tetrarch’ (Henden 2010: 258, coin 1219). Another coin had the portrait of Herod Philip on the obverse side and the Augusteum of Paneion on the reverse. The temple is depicted as a tetrastyle (four colums) on a high platform with stairs leading up to the temple (Hendin 2010: 258, coin 1220; Reifenberg 1951: 176, coin 2; Kindler 1971: 162; Pl. 32 A). For the rest of his reign, until AD 34, his coins depicted the Augusteum of Paneion on the reverse with the portrait of either Augustus or Tiberius on the obverse side (Hendin 2010: 258-261). A. Kindler has observed: ‘Philip, ruling over a predominately non-Jewish region, was at liberty to strike coins with his own effigy and that of the ruling emperor. He could also depict what is believed to be the temple of Augustus built by Herod, his father, at Panias (Caesarea Philippi)’ (1971: 162).

Peter’s Confession

The Lord Jesus and His disciples walked the Roman road on the east side of the Hulah Valley that went from Bethsaida, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, to Caesarea Philippi. More than likely, as they walked past the Temple of Augustus at Omrit, Jesus asked His disciples, ‘Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?’ (Matt. 16: 16). It was in the shadows of this temple, dedicated to a mere mortal man who was deified upon death that Peter responded: ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God!’ Caesar Augustus was also called the ‘son of god’ (i.e. the deified Julius Caesar), yet both were dead. The Lord Jesus is alive forever more and He is Lord, not Caesar!


Finally, in returning to Caesarea Philippi, given the associations of this area with Greek gods, Baal, the Nephilim, and the name “place of the serpent,” it should come as no surprise that it was also associated with the realm of the dead. The Canaanites taught that the Rephaim were the dead spirits of ancient kings, thus associating Bashan with the underworld. Interestingly enough, the Cave of Pan in Caesarea Philippi was called, “The Gates of Hades.” This may be related to the idea that the cave was believed to be a bottomless pit (see comments above). Against this background, Jesus’ statement following Peter’s confession that “the gates of Hades [hell] will not prevail against it (i.e., the church),” is very illuminating!

In conclusion, the fact that Peter’s confession occurs in a pagan area is remarkable enough. But when one learns the history of the area and the traditions associated with it, Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Christ the Son of God takes on greater significance. This confession is declared in “the place of the serpent.” It is declared in an area associated with divine (the Nephilim), as well as human (worship of Baal) rebellion. In the darkest place possible, Jesus asked his disciples who they thought he was, and the light of God shone on Bashan through Peter’s confession.



During the time of the Hebrew Bible, before Banias became associated with Pan, the northeastern corner of the Kingdom of Israel was a center for Baal worship. In the nearby city of Dan. 6 miles to the west, Israelite king Jeroboam built the high place that angered God and eventually led the Israelites to worship false deities. Eventually, worship of Baal morphed into the worship of Greek fertility gods.

Strikingly, Jesus chose to bring his disciples here to this place of pagan ritual impurity to deliver a sort of ‘graduation speech.’ In this pagan setting, he encouraged them to build a Church that would overcome the most debauched idolatry.

Jesus’ disciples must have been shocked. Caesarea Philippi was infamous for its ritual sex, and Jews would have avoided any exposure to the debauched erotic spectacles put on there. It was a city of people eagerly knocking on the doors of hell. Thus Jesus challenged his followers to storm the gates of Hades.

Standing near the gleaming pagan temples of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus asked his disciples: “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” It was Simon Peter who was inspired to answer: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

In reply, Jesus continued: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:13-20)

Though various Christian traditions differ on the theological meaning of those words, it seems clear that Jesus’ words had a symbolic meaning. His Church would be built on the “rock” of Caesarea Philippi, a cliff face studded with niches for pagan idols, a setting where paganism and perversion dominated.

Andrea Berlin — Abstract

From the third century B. C. through the fifth century A. D. a sanctuary to the Greek god Pan existed at the mouth of the Jordan River. At its founding, the sanctuary served as a rural shrine for the local pagan population; when it was abandoned, it had long been the city shrine of Caesarea Philippi, whose population included Jews and Christians. While the cult’s longevity is generally seen as reflecting the stability of local religious life, fundamental historical changes suggest that cult rituals must have changed over time. Abundant ceramic remains provide evidence for reconstructing those changes. In Hellenistic times, worshipers from nearby settlements brought local household pottery in which they made dedicatory meals, suggesting that they spent some time at the site. When the sanctuary became a civic shrine in the first century A. D., simpler dedications-such as lamps-became common. By the second century, impressive buildings and sculpture transformed the sanctuary into a formal site, and private rites seem to have been abandoned. Individual patronage resumed, however, in the third and fourth centuries, as indicated by the presence of several thousand lamp dedications. The cult’s popularity at that period is impressive, although the character of the dedications indicates that worship was essentially passive. The sanctuary was abandoned by the mid-fifth century. No evidence exists for its purposeful destruction, although by that time the shrine housed a pagan cult in an increasingly Christian c

[29] The buildings include (from west to east, i.e., earliest to latest): (a) an elaborate lime- stone and marble propylon, probably the Augusteion mentioned by Josephus (Ant. 15.10.3; cf. Roller 1998: 190-92); (b) an open-air court fronting an artificial cave in the cliff face, called the “Court of Pan and the Nymphs” (after a later inscription over a niche above the cave) …

helenistic period to 2nd cent bc

[30] While these may have been proffered as dedi- catory offerings (the cooking vessels presumably holding some food), a more likely explanation is that this assortment is evidence for dining at the sanctu- ary

[31] The preparation and consumption of food and drink at the sanctuary might be characterized as “ritual dining,” but it could also be interpreted, more informally, as picnicking. During the Hellenistic pe- riod, the Sanctuary of Pan was a rural site, situated at one of the most abundant perennial water sources in the region. … The absence of such finer wares at the sanctuary suggests not only that this period’s dedicants came from the immediate environs, but also that they were neither well off nor generous. The Hellenistic sanctuary may thus be in- ferred to have been a local and fairly poor cult place …

Early Roman Period (Late First Century B.C. to Late First Century A.D.

[31-33] Herod introduced not only another “deity” to the sanctuary, but also a certain amount of offi- cial attention, money, and status. Shortly thereaf- ter, in 2 B.C., Herod Philip, the youngest of Herod’s sons and successors, chose the area below the Pan- ion springs for the location of his new capital city, Caesarea Philippi. With this event, the sanctuary was transformed from a rural to an urban cult, its prestige and reputation connected to that of the new capital city.8 None of the buildings dated to this period (the Augusteion, the Court of Pan and the Nymphs, and the Temple of Zeus and Pan) contained pottery that may be associated with their use. Rather, as with the Hellenistic ceramic assemblage, that of the early Roman period is unstratified and very fragmentary. Almost all of this pottery was found in soil pockets in and around the bedrock boulders of the terrace edge, and it probably comprises debris cleared from the cave and/or the terrace.

… Lamps are an easier type of dedica- tion than a cooked offering. The startling rise in the number of lamps reflects an increase in brief visits and more casual gifts. This circumstance may be a result of the sanctuary’s new status as an urban cult. In the previous period, when the site was a simple rural shrine, dedicants traveled some distance to visit, and would thus have more readily chosen to linger. Now public buildings replaced the forest just below the spring, and a beautiful stone building stood before the grotto. Some of this period’s dedicants were surely residents of the new city, perhaps stop- ping at the sanctuary while in the center of town, and giving the token offering of a lamp to either Augus- tus or Pan. A large number of e

[33] The plates, dishes, and bowls that have been found (fig. 8.1-3) could have served sev- eral similar functions: for individuals’ drinking and dining while visiting the sanctuary, for the more el- egant presentation of a cooked offering, or as dedi- cations in and of themselves. The continuation of dining within the setting of the sanctuary is con- sistent with Phoenician cult practices elsewhere

[42] The quantity of Hellenistic finds from the Panion demonstrates that in those years the cult was a focus of continuous individual worship. By the early first century A.D., the sanctuary had become both a royal and a civic cult spot. Deities and visitors continued to enjoy cooked meals, however, which is evidence that the terrace retained some of its rural aspect, and that worshipers must have felt welcome to linger. The large number of early Roman ceramics shows that individuals continued to sup- port the cult. At the same time its new status as both a royal and a civic cult spot encouraged a few more generous offerings, as well as faster, less onerous dedications.

Sakoulas —

Pan was the god of fertility, and the special patron of shepherds and huntsmen; he presided over all rural occupations, was chief of the Satyrs, and head of all rural divinities.

he usual offerings to Pan were milk and honey in shepherds’ bowls. Cows, lambs, and rams were also sacrificed to him.

Custodia Terrae Sanctae

Fr. Giuseppe Gaffurini OFM, Curator of the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre “The Lord Jesus wished that his identity as Messiah would not be misunderstood and wanted to know how the people and the pagans identified him. That is, it would have been an open Church, with an open identity of Jesus and an identity of Peter and of the Church itself, very open. These two themes, the divinity of Christ and the primacy of Peter, are today the terms of discussion of ecumenical dialogue between Christian confessions and interreligious dialogue with other religious confessions, ready to recognize in Jesus a prophet, a messiah, but certainly not his divinity “.

John Francis Wilson


Works Cited

“The ancient Caesarea Philippi, the place in which Jesus entrusted Peter with the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven,” Christian Media Center, Custodia Terrae Sanctae, Sept. 10, 2018 https://cmc-terrasanta.org/en/media/terra-santa-news/15621/the-ancient-caesarea-philippi,-the-place-in-which-jesus-entrusted-peter-with-the-keys-to-the-kingdom-of-heaven.

Andrea Berlin, “The Archaeology of Ritual: The Sanctuary of Pan at Banias/Caesarea Philippi,” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 315 (August 1999), https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271802402_The_Archaeology_of_Ritual_The_Sanctuary_of_Pan_at_BaniasCaesarea_Philippi.

“Herod the Great’s Temple to Caesar Augustus,” Shiloh Excavations, Associates for Biblical Research, Akron, Pa. https://biblearchaeology.org/research/new-testament-era/3473-the-temple-of-caesar-augustus-at-caesarea-philippi.

Randy McCracken, “Caesarea Philippi and the Nephilim?,” Bible Study With Randy, March 24, 2016 https://www.biblestudywithrandy.com/2016/03/caesarea-philippi-nephilim/.

Thomas Sakoulas, “Pan (or Panas),” Ancient-Greece.org, https://ancient-greece.org/culture/mythology/pan.html.

Jacqueline Schaalje, Banyas, Jewish Magazine, July 2000 http://www.jewishmag.co.il/34mag/banyas/banyas.htm.

Galyn Wiemers, “Caesarea Philippi, Panias, Banias: Site of the ‘Gates of Hades’,” Galyn’s Israel Photos, Generation Word http://www.generationword.com/Israel/caesarea_philippi.htm.

John Francis Wilson, “Paneas/Caesarea Philippi and the World of the Gospels,” Forum, third series, 3, no. 1 (Spring 2014), 7-26.  https://westarinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/Wilson-Paneas-Caesarea-Philippi-and-the-World-of-the-Gospels.pdf.

Gil Zohar. “Golan Heights Grotto Revered By Christians And Druze, Reviled As Pagan Site By Jews,” Religion Unplugged, July 31, 2020 https://religionunplugged.com/news/2020/7/29/st-peter-and-pan-grotto-and-spring-in-the-golan-heights-is-revered-by-christians-and-druze-but-reviled-as-pagan-cult-center-by-jews.

journalist writing for The Jerusalem Posta “professional tour guide who likes to weave together the Holy Land’s multiple narratives.

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