The Pilgrimage: Israel Part Twelve

Certainly one of the most important sites to visit, if one wants to understand a text like Mk. 8.27-30 and its Matthean parallel is Banias or Panyas (the city of Pan) which was a Greek city Romanized by Herod Philip and renamed Caesarea Philippi. Today it is in the far north of Israel, but in Jesus’ day it was a largely pagan city on the periphery of the Holy Land. And this leads to the question why in the world Jesus would take his disciples north of Galilee to a place like that in order to reveal his identity to them? Inquiring minds need to know. Here is a place where context makes the text so much clearer. So let’s start with what the site would have looked like in Jesus’ day…

The site had also added, in Jesus’ life time an imperial cult temple to Augustus, to the left and below the cave of Pan. Here at Caesarea Philippi we see some of the head waters of the Jordan, water trickling down from Mt. Hermon and rising up from springs.

The temple of Pan, along with various niches, were carved right out of the rock cliff here, and the pagan statues would have been in those niches, including statues of Augustus, when Jesus and the Twelve visited. Here is a shot of the top of the Temple of Pan…

Much later these niches would hold statues of Christian saints, but not in Jesus’ day.

Besides all this there were all these monumental buildings showing the glories of Greco-Roman culture…

When Peter responded to Jesus’ query as to ‘whom do you say the Son of Man is’, with ‘you are the Messiah, the Son of God’, in this context it would become clearly implied—- Jesus is the reality of which these other depicted figures are the parody. Jesus is the Son of God, and these fellows aren’t, not even the Emperor. But there is more. Right next to where Jesus was standing was the Grotto of Pan, also seen as a possible entry point into Hades, and so into the river Styx and down into the underworld. Here are a couple of pictures on the now dried up grotto.

Thus when Jesus said to Peter you are the rock (plenty around to compare him with), and on this rock I will build my community, and the Gates of Hades (not Hell, but rather the land of the dead) will not prevail against it, Jesus is saying he will build his community on folk like Peter who make the good confession, and that the church will never die out, unlike all these pagan religions depicted at this site.

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