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"AND I SAY ALSO UNTO THEE, THAT THOU ART PETER,
AND UPON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH;
AND THE GATES OF HADES SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT"
MATTHEW 16:18  
              
                        

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's hike to the waterfall at Caesarea Philippi

It was in the region of Caesarea Philippi that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  Caesarea Philippi, some 50 miles north of the center of Jesus’ Galilean ministry at Capernaum, was formerly called Paneas.  It was decidedly pagan, dedicated to Pan, half-man half-goat, god of the shepherds, music and muses.  Greek legend has it that when he played his seven-piped flute, the nymphs, especially Echo, would get so excited, pandemonium ensued.

The ancients believed that the River Jordan originated at Paneas, right out of a gigantic grotto which we can still view today.  Archeologists, digging in the 1990s, found the temple dedicated to Pan, with its niches cut into the rocky cliff. It’s the largest Pan temple found anywhere in the world.  If there was any doubt of its identity, they discovered an inscription, “For Pan and the nymphs.”

Caesarea Philippi, also known as Banyas, was once dedicated to Pan

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Caesarea Philippi with the cave dedicated to Pan in the left background

In the grotto itself, where the spring once emerged according to first century A.D. historian Josephus, archeologists found pieces of statues not only of Pan, but also Athena, the goddess of war, Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty, Diana, the goddess of the hunt, and the mighty Hercules.  Best preserved, albeit with a broken nose, was a rare bust of Zeus, head honcho and king of the heavens.

Niches for pagan gods carved right into the bedrock at Caesarea Philippi

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Niches carved into the bedrock are dedicated to Pan, Zeus, Nemesis

Next to the grotto of Pan (and by the way, a natural cave in Greek in called a panyon), we inspect the ruins of a temple to Hermes, Zeus’ secretary of state, and one to Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance.  Towards the east is a structure the excavators nicknamed “the shrine of the holy goats” where more than half a dozen niches were filled with skeletons of goats.  (Remember that Pan was half-goat and he is pictured with little goat horns and a little goatee.)
Near the grotto of Pan, excavators found parts of cooking pots, cups and saucers. It’s thought that the site was a cultic picnic area for worshippers of Pan.  The verdant site with abundant springs still attracts picnickers, two thousand years later.

Late winter in Caesarea Philippi also called Banyas

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Caesarea Philippi also called Banyas in late winter

In Jesus’ day, Josephus tells us that Caesarea Philippi was predominately pagan and that the Jewish residents had no kosher olive oil, for the oil was produced by the pagan Greeks.  (Josephus, Life, 13)  Note: it was at this particular pagan place, that Jesus mentioned the gates of Hades.  And indeed, even paganism would not be able to withstand the rapid spread of the movement of Jesus’ followers.  Within two hundred years, most of the pagan centers in Palestine became Christian.

But it wasn’t in Paneas itself, by the grotto, that Jesus asked, “Who does Fox News say that the Son of Man is?”  It was in the “region” of Caesarea Philippi-Paneas.  A great way to explore that region is to hike to the waterfall along the River Jordan. This is a walk where your eyes, ears and nose give you a sixth sense of scriptural understanding.

Figs in spring at Caesarea Philippi by the source of the River Jordan

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Young figs in spring at Caesarea Philippi by the source of the River Jordan

As we follow the trail along the river, we first pass an old Roman bridge built of basalt stone, perhaps crossed by Jesus, Peter, James, John and the other disciples.  We’ll walk under lots of dolav trees, translated as plane trees, from the maple family and eucalyptus, immigrants from Australia, imported to help drain the swampy land.  We’ll look for conies, small brown furry creatures, members of the elephant family (!) sunning themselves on the rocks.  Proverbs 30:26 says, “The conies are but a feeble folk, yet they make their houses in the rocks.”

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Then we come to a newer (only two hundred years old!) water-powered flour mill still used today by the Druze, an Arabic speaking ethnic group, to grind flour for their pita bread.  If we’re lucky, a white-scarfed Druze peasant will be twirling the flour dough in the air before spreading it on a concave platter over an open fire.  Fresh pita with olive oil anyone?

Old Flour Mill on the trail to the Banyas Waterfall

Photo courtesy of Peter Giordano

Old Flour Mill on the trail to the Banyas Waterfall

Druze women making pita in the old Flour Mill

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Druze women making pita in the old Flour Mill

In roughly an hour and a quarter, we’ll reach the waterfall.  Prepare yourself for the roar and the mist.  It’s a mini Niagara Falls.  Could it have been nearby that Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  We all know who answered correctly.  But I always wonder why Jesus deliberately chose a pagan environment to pose this question.  Could it be that when we are confronted by the polar opposite of our values and beliefs, that our faith crystallizes?

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Hiking to the waterfall at Caesarea Philippi

If you’re in the north in the winter on a clear day, or in the spring, when all the wildflowers are blooming, ask me to take your group on the hike to the waterfall.  It will implant a vivid picture of the region of Caesarea Philippi that will come to mind every time you read Matthew 16 and Mark 8 for the rest of your life.
Gila Yudkin, who calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living in King David’s Court, is thrilled when the Bible comes alive for both her and her pilgrims.  After three decades of guiding in peak and off seasons, she has mastered the art of arriving at a holy site when it is least crowded.  Gila loves working with groups thirsty for biblical adventure, archeological anecdotes and old-fashioned fun.

Copyright 2007, 2011 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Caesarea Philippi was built by Herod’s son Philip.  The other city built by Philip was Bethsaida.  Read what archeology has revealed about Bethsaida in the time of Jesus.

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"Let's hike to the waterfall at Caesarea Philippi" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free bimonthly e-letters sent on request to tour leaders, pastors, clergy, teachers, Bible students, colleagues and friends.  If you'd like to receive "Holy Sites: Gila's Highlights" every other month, please contact Gila.  The last highlight was "Let's rejoice in Jerusalem where Jesus wept."  This month's highlight is "Let's follow the spies into and out of Jericho."  Next month's highlight will be "Let's ascend the cliff of the scapegoat."

 

Hike the Holy Land:
 

Let's follow Abraham all the way to DAN

Let's focus on Jesus' Ministry from Mount Arbel

Let's find Herod's tomb at Herodion

Dan / Mud-Brick Gate    

Arbel / Jesus' public ministry

Herod's Tomb discovered!

 

Let's ramble through Hippos, a Decapolis city

Hike the old Jericho Road

Let's lament King Saul at Beth Shean

Hippos / Decapolis city  

The Old Jericho Road

Saul's end at Beth Shean

 


GILA YUDKIN TCHERNIKOVSKI 64A JERUSALEM ISRAEL
gila@itsgila.com

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin