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"BLESSED ARE YOU, SIMON BAR JONAH....AND I ALSO SAY TO YOU
THAT YOU ARE PETER, AND ON THIS ROCK I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH
AND THE GATES OF HADES SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT.  AND
I WILL GIVE YOU THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN...."
MATTHEW 16:17-19  
              
                        

Holy Sites -- Gila's Highlights

Let's link Peter and Pan at Caesarea Philippi

 
Jesus gave the above pledge to Peter in the region of Caesarea Philippi, a city built around an ancient cultic pagan site dedicated to the Greek Roman god Pan.
Pan was the god of the shepherds, their flocks and their rustic music.  He was ugly.  And even his mother agreed that he was ugly.  At his birth Pan's human mother peered at the new-born with astonishment.  He had emerged human, but only partly. He was half beast, with little goat horns, goat hooves and a little goat tail.  This astonishment quickly turned to horror and Pan's mother fled, never to be seen again.
The abandoned infant was rescued by his divine father Hermes who whisked him off to Mount Olympus, abode of the gods, where he was warmly welcomed.  As he grew, Pan became a real charmer – laughing, prancing and dancing to the amusement and entertainment of the gods.

Sculptures of Pan, part human part goat shown with little goat horns

Peter and Pan exhibit at Israel Museum 2019

Sculptures of Pan, part human part goat shown with little goat horns

But he didn't live on the esteemed Mount Olympus with the other gods.  He dwelled in a cave at the foot of the mount.  Pan was considered a protector of nature.  He was god of the shepherds, their flocks and their rustic music.  He was often seen playing a flute produced from hollow river reeds, later named in his honor the pan-pipe.

Pan was a protector of nature and shepherds

Peter and Pan exhibit at Israel Museum 2019

Pan was a protector of nature and shepherds

It was said that Pan possessed a thunderous voice which he once used at the Battle of Marathon to aid the Athenians who were fighting the Persians.  When Pan emerged from a nearby cave at a decisive moment and roared, the Persians fled in absolute terror, thus creating the word panic, from Pan.
Being a rustic god, Pan was not worshipped in temples or in other built edifices, but in natural settings, usually in caves or grottoes such as one on the north slope of the Acropolis in Athens.
So it was natural that from the third century BC that a conspicuous cave on the periphery of Galilee, the border between the Jews and the pagans would become a focus for the worship of Pan, the god of nature who held sway in the border areas of snow-covered ridges, dense thickets and rock-cliff caves.

This cave above the Jordan springs became a revered site of Pan worship

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

This cave above the Jordan springs became a revered site of Pan worship

Because of the cave the site became known as Paneas, dedicated to Pan.  We know from artifacts found by excavators in the 1990s that people would gather at the site to eat and drink and make merry.  Perhaps they would even barbeque goat. (yum-yum??)  They left behind broken fragments of clay and glass pots, cups and saucers along with lots of goat bones for 20th century archeologists to scrutinize.

Artifacts used by Pan worshippers at Caesarea Philippi

Peter and Pan exhibit at Israel Museum 2019

Artifacts used by Pan worshippers found by the late 20th century excavators

(A dozen glass and clay vessels from Paneas are now on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  The exhibition has the catchy title: "From Ancient Greece to Neverland: Peter and Pan.")

Pan worshippers would gather at Paneas to eat, drink and make merry

Peter and Pan exhibit at Israel Museum 2019

Pan worshippers would gather at Paneas to eat, drink and make merry

More and more pilgrims flocking to the site of Pan worship and all-night merriment attracted vendors supplying services like food, utensils, music, and perhaps even souvenirs.  First a street was built, lined with shops.  Then another street and another, with residences for the vendors.  Eventually a city was established.
The city was named Caesarea Philippi after the founder, Philip, son of Herod the Great and the Caesar Augustus, the current emperor in Rome.  (We know the city was founded in 2 BC because archeologists found a coin dated 98 AD with an inscription marking the centennial celebration of the founding of Caesarea Philippi.)

Ruins of first century AD Caesarea Philippi

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Ruins of first century AD Caesarea Philippi

Matthew 16 says that Jesus brought his disciples to the outskirts of Caesarea Philippi.  But why did Jesus choose such a long trek from the center of his public ministry at Capernaum?  Perhaps it is related to the nature of Pan and the physicality of the site of Paneas.
Pan, with his human and animal nature symbolizes duality – humanity and bestiality. Eventually Pan's physical appearance – his goat horns, goat tail and cloven hooves – becomes the artistic model for the representation of the devil.  And Paneas with its hedonistic pagan rites had a large cave believed to descend down into the underworld.  This may have been the perfect place to contrast the gates of hell with the kingdom of heaven.

Gila is standing by the first century AD niche dedicated to the God Pan

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Gila is standing by the first century AD niche dedicated to the God Pan

Jesus' disciples may have been shocked at the sights and sounds of paganism running rampant there.  For these devout Jews, it may have been like entering a red-light district.  As one pastor puts it, Caesarea Philippi was a city of "people eagerly knocking on the gates of hell."
It was here that Jesus posed the challenging question "Who do you say that I am?" To which Peter boldly replied, "You are the son of the living God."  Here, the disciples were confronted with the contrast of Jesus' personification of hope with the darkness of evil practices.  At Caesarea Philippi, built upon pagan values, the disciples could be fortified for their mission of storming the gates of hell
It's here at Caesarea Philippi that the star pupil Simon is renamed, like in a rebirth.  He is born again as Peter bar Jonah.  And just like Jonah the prophet, Peter will be charged with bringing the word of the Lord to the Pagan world.
When we tour Caesarea Philippi, we sit under the shady fig trees and with the echo of the Jordan headwaters gushing out of the rock, we listen to Matthew 16.  Then we climb up to the cultic area to note the giant cave next to the remains of the temple dedicated to Pan.  We'll see a niche for a statue of Pan and the faint inscription dated 87 AD, dedicated to Pan and the nymphs.

Spring Scene at Paneas --  Caesarea Philippi

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

Spring Scene at Paneas / Caesarea Philippi / Banias

We can wonder, was it here that Jesus stood with his back facing the opening to the cave which people believed led to the underworld, Hades in Greek mythology, while he pointed to the massive rock and blessed Peter, speaking of the keys to the kingdom of heaven?

At Caesarea Philippi Jesus blessed Peter and spoke of the kingdom of heaven

Photo:  Gila Yudkin

At Caesarea Philippi Jesus blessed Peter and spoke of the kingdom of heaven

If you haven't yet visited Paneas / Caesarea Philippi / Banias (its modern name substitutes B for P) be sure to add it to your bucket list.  It's an evocative site to stimulate your mind, senses (sight, sounds, smell) and spirit.

Copyright 20019 Gila Yudkin.  Permission needed for any reuse.

Gila Yudkin calls herself a Connecticut-born Yankee living in King David's court.  When Gila first started guiding 40 years ago, the cave of Paneas hadn't yet been excavated.  She was an eye witness to the excavations and their revelations.  When you visit Caesarea Philippi with Gila, remind her to tell the story of the archeologist and the shrine of the holy goats.
Caesarea Philippi was built by Herod Philip at the northern border of his kingdom, inherited from his father, Herod the Great.  He built another city called Bethsaida on the southern boundary of his kingdom.  Read about unexpected finds at Bethsaida.  First century AD historian Josephus tells us that Philip died and was buried at Bethsaida.  Herod Philip's tomb has NOT yet been found by archeologists.  Stay tuned!!!
Also in the vicinity of Caesarea Philippi, along Israel's northern border, is Tel Abel Beth Maccah.  This is where, a thousand years before the time of Jesus, a "wise woman" ended a revolt threatening David's regime.  (See Second Samuel 20)  In June 2018 a magnificent two-inch sculpture of a king's head was discovered in a massive Iron Age citadel dated to the ninth century BC.  Read about this archeological biblical mystery.

COMING TO THE HOLY LAND? 
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Lament over Chorazin

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"Let's link Peter and Pan at Caesarea Philippi" (as text without the photos) is one in the series of free quarterly 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" please contact Gila. 


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

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Holy Land Photography by Gila Yudkin