Caesarea Philippi berada di kaki Gunung Hermon, di sana Yesus sering bersama ke 12 rasul-Nya. Di tempat ini juga Simon menyatakan Yesus adalah Mesias, kemudian Yesus merubah namanya menjadi Petrus yang artinya 'batu karang' (Matius 16:13-21).

Tel Hazor (right) is the site of the ancient city of Hazor that, over a period of a thousand years, was built and rebuilt 21 times.

It was the most important city in northern Canaan at the time of the Hebrew Conquest; the book of Joshua describes it as "the head of all these kingdoms." Joshua destroyed it in the 13 century BC, but the Israelites resettled it. Its heyday came three centuries later during the reign of Solomon. After its destruction by the invading Assyrian king Tiglath-pilesar III in the 8th century BC, the city never regained its former glory. Today, it is the largest archaeological site in Israel.


The city called Caesarea Philippi in the New Testament was located about 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. It was beautifully situated on a slender, triangular terrace, 1,150 feet above sea level, on the southwest slope of Mount Hermon. The area is one of striking scenery, lush groves of trees, grassy fields and an abundance of water, that literally gushes from the ground.


Mount Hermon

According to written sources, the site was first settled in the Hellenistic period (332-37 BC). It was of great strategic importance as it guarded the fertile plains to the west. The snowmelt from Mount Hermon flowed underground and surfaced within a cave at the base of a high limestone cliff forming one of the biggest springs in the Middle East, feeding into the eastern-most of the three recognized sources of the Jordan River. In ancient times, the combination of natural features of cavern and spring gave rise to a fertility cult here to the Canaanite gods Baal-Gad, "lord of good fortune" (see Joshua 11:17), and Baal-Hermon, "lord of destruction" (see Judges 3:3).
The Ptolemaic kings of Egypt, who took control of the area following the death of Alexander the Great, continued to develop the Hellenistic (Greek) culture in the region. They regarded the area at the foot of Mount Hermon with its spring, caves, and woods as a sacred site to Pan, the Greek god of herds, shepherds, nature, trees and water. To counter the Semitic shrine at Dan, two miles to the west, they built a cult center at the site of the sacred cave and called it "Paneion" ("sanctuary of Pan"). Other versions of the name are "Panias" and "Panium." During this period, the shrine attracted pagan visitors from the immediate area, who brought offerings and ate cultic meals in the presence of their god (sacred picnics?).
Hostilities broke out between the rival Seleucid (Syria) and Ptolemaic (Egypt) kingdoms. According to the Roman historian Polivius, the Seleucid king Antiochus III won a decisive victory at Paneion/Panias/Panium over the Egyptian forces in 200 BC, giving the Seleucids control of southern Syria and the whole of Judea. At the scene of his victory Antiochus founded a Greek city, calling it Antioch after himself, but it became known as Panias after the shrine. This name has survived to the present in the form of Banias, an Arabic corruption of Panias (the Arabic language has no "P" sound).
In 20 BC, Herod the Great acquired Panias as a reward for his loyalty to Augustus Caesar. After Herod's death in 4 BC, Panias became part of the territory of his son Philip (ruled 4 BC-34 AD), who renamed it Caesarea in honor of Tiberius Caesar. It was called Caesarea Philippi (i.e. Philip's Caesarea) to distinguish it from other cities of the same name, especially his father's Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. It became the administrative capital of his large kingdom, which spread across the area north and east of the Sea of Galilee. It was strategically situated just to the west of the large basalt plateau which forms the Golan Heights. Since ancient times this was a major crossroads. Here, the Via Maris passed through a passageway between Mount Hermon and the Golan plateau on it's way to Damascus, while to the south it headed down into Galilee. Another road to the west went to the Mediterranean coast and the cities of Tyre and Sidon.
From the parking lot at the Hermon River (Banias) Nature Reserve's eastern entrance, we head down a path, past walnut, lemon and fig trees, to a terrace at the foot of a cliff that was once the sacred precinct of Panias/Caesarea Philippi dedicated to the god Pan. Moving along the terrace from left to right we first note the center piece of the area, the Banias Cave, from which the source of the Jordan River once emerged. The mouth of the cave measures about 49 feet high and 65 feet wide. Before an 1837 earthquake the river emerged from the cave floor; now it emerges from a crack below the cave. Josephus Flavius, speaking of the cave, wrote:
"This is a very fine cave in a mountain, under which there is a great cavity in the earth, and the cavern is abrupt, and prodigiously deep, and frill of a still water; over it hangs a vast mountain; and under the caverns arise the springs of the river Jordan" (Antiquities of the Jews, book 15, chapter 10:3).


Sacred precinct of Panias/Caesarea Philippi with the Banias Cave, from which the source of the Jordan River (foreground) once emerged.


Cult niches carved in the cliff-face that once held statues of the god Pan

Figure of the half-man, half-goat god Pan playing his panpipes

Nama Banias (yunani: Paneas) berasal dari dewa Pan, dewa hutan yang dihormati di sebuah goa yang letaknya hampir di ujung utara Israel, 6 km di sebelah selatan gunung Hermon. Dewa Pan dihormati di sini sudah pada abad III sebelum Masehi. Di dalam goa dewa itu ada sebuah mata air sungai Yordan, airnya berlimpah-limpah. Setelah kaisar Augustus menghadiahkan daerah Banias kepada raja Herodes Agung, ia begitu senang dengan hadiahnya, sehingga dekat goa dewa Pan langsung didirikannya sebuah kuil untuk menghormati kaisar. Herodes Filipus (anaknya) membangun kota di sekitarnya lalu menamakannya Kaisarea. Karena didirikan oleh Herodes Filipus, maka kota ini dikenal dengan nama Kaisarea Filipi.

Dalam Injil Matius 16:18-19, bunyinya: Sebab di situlah Yesus menjanjikan kepada Rasul Petrus kedudukan utama di antara para rasul. Engkau adalah Petrus, batu yang kuat. Dan di atas batu inilah Aku akan membangun gerejaKu yang tidak dapat dikalahkan, sekalipun oleh maut. Aku akan memberikan kepadamu kunci dari dunia baru Allah. Apa yang engkau larang di atas bumi, juga dilarang di Surga. Dan apa yang engkau benarkan di atas bumi, juga dibenarkan di Surga.

Umat Kristen sampai ke Banias dalam waktu cukup cepat, sehingga Banias menjadi tempat kediaman uskup (Filokalos, uskup Banias menghadiri konsili di Nikea).

Mayoritas penduduk Banias adalah orang-orang Druze yang pada umumnya tinggal di kampung-kampung di sebelah utara Israel, di Galilea, dan di gunung Karmel. Sekte ini didirikan dalam abad XI oleh Ismail al-Darasi yang berkarya di sekitar gunung Hermon. Orang-orang Druze berbahasa Arab dan biasanya bekerja sebagai petani. Orang-orang Yahudi menyebut mereka Filistin (Pelisytim), padahal tidak ada hubungan apapun antara mereka dengan bangsa Filistin yang dikalahkan Daud (dalam Perjanjian Lama). Makam Nabi Syu'eib, seorang suci terkenal sekte ini dapat dikunjungi di dekat Tiberias di Pegunungan Galilea.


Reconstruction of the sacred precinct at Caesarea Philippi


Josephus goes on to say that Herod the Great built a white marble temple (far left in reconstruction drawing, below) which he dedicated to Caesar Augustus opposite the entrance to the sacred grotto. He called it the Augusteion and its remains consist of the foundations of three walls, two running perpendicular to the cliff-face. It had no back wall but opened onto the grotto. The temple thus functioned as a forecourt while the great cave became the inner sanctuary.
Immediately east or right of the cave is a small rock-cut cave surrounded by five cult niches that once held statues of the god Pan, depicted as half man-half goat. Three have Greek inscriptions. One refers to Galerius, a priest of Pan, another relates to Echo, the mountain nymph and lover of Pan; yet another refers to Diopan, the god who loved music. This was the back wall of an open-air shrine known as the Court of Pan and the Nymphs constructed by Philip in the 1st century AD after he founded Caesarea Philippi.
Remains of yet another temple, dedicated to Zeus and Pan, lie farther east. Excavators believe it was erected on the 100th anniversary of the founding of the city by Philip. A semicircular courtyard along the east side of this temple faces a large niche. An inscription above the niche links this open-air shrine to Nemesis, goddess of justice and revenge. At the end of the terrace we also note a primitive building dubbed the "Temple of Pan and the Goats" by its excavators from the animal bones, mainly sheep and goats, discovered there in rectangular niches. It is a vivid reminder of the cult of Pan, half man, half goat, and its sacrificial practices celebrating the power and fertility of nature.

Quite possibly here, in this lovely area watered by the cold, rushing streams, with rock cliff, sacred cave, cult niches and pagan temples as a backdrop, Jesus closely questioned his followers as to what people thought of him and his mission, as recorded in Matthew's account:
"When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, 'Who do people say the Son of Man is?' They replied, 'Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' 'But what about you?' he asked. 'Who do you say I am?' Simon Peter answered, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God'" (Matthew 16:13-16).
To this confession, Jesus replied:
"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it" (Matthew 16:17-18).

Because the Cave of Pan seemed to reach into the very depths of the earth, it came to regarded as the entrance to the underworld, the abode of Hades (or Pluto), the god of the lower regions, and home to the disembodied spirits of the dead.

Temple ruins at the sacred precinct

From a pool just below the terrace of the sacred precinct, a path crosses the river via a pedestrian bridge. Soon we pass a water-powered floor mill, one of hundreds used in the Holy Land in the early 19th century AD. It is the only one that is still in commercial production. The smell of freshly baked pita bread from a little bakery proves irresistible. We give in and purchase a few loaves to pass around as we continue our walk.

Crossing the road to our left, we come upon the remains of Philip's 1st century AD Roman city, where excavations have uncovered a luxurious palace. In some places marble is still attached to the walls, linking it with Herod Agrippa II, great grandson of Herod the Great, who is known to have built with marble. This was the same Agrippa who heard Paul's defense in Caesarea Maritima, recorded in Acts 26. For almost a half a century he made this land-locked Caesarea his capital (c. 53-93 AD). Other notable remains include a large basilica used for court hearings, huge round towers that protected the palace and a colonnaded street (Cardo Maximus) that bisected the city from north to south.

Banias waterfall

Continuing on a path along the Hermon/Banias River, the melting snows of Mount Hermon dash across huge limestone boulders. Cultivated trees walnut and pomegranate grow abundantly alongside native plane trees and willows. Keeping to the right at a fork in the path, we pass the so-called "Officer's Pool," built by Syrian officers stationed here prior to the 1967 Six-Day War. We keep a watchful eye out for "coneys," wild rabbit-like creatures, that we understand inhabit the area. The book of Proverbs (30:26) tells us they "are creatures of little power, yet they make their home in the crags." Soon the path leads to the surprise mentioned earlier, the magnificent Banias waterfall (above), known in Hebrew as Mapal Senir. Two white cascades drop on either side of an ancient plane tree. It brings to mind Psalm 42, which could only have been inspired by this setting.

"...As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, 'Where is your God?' These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls..." (Psalm 42:1b-7).

Soon after Peter's confession in the region of Caesarea Philippi, Jesus led Peter, James and John up a "high mountain," where he appeared with Moses and Elijah, an event known as the "Transfiguration" (dictionary definition: a "radical change of figure or appearance; a metamorphosis; to exalt or glorify).





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