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Following the footsteps of Jesus, Herod, Peter and Mark Twain at Caesarea Philippi (Banias)

16 June, 201316 June, 2013 0 comments History History

"Wow, I thought Israel was a desert!" is a common comment heard from tourists when traveling in northern Israel. First time travelers are often surprised and awed by the beauty and greenery of the Galilee and the Golan Heights.

Taking visitors to the Banias National Reserve, (also known as Caesarea Philipi) is particulary enjoyable because it is a site that holds not only tremendous beauty, but is incredibly important to so many people and for various reasons: Jesus handed Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven making it an important pilgrimage site; strategically it is a critical water source; aesthetically it is a nature lover's dream with its dramatic waterfalls, and a suspended trail over a powerfully flowing river while history enthusiasts will be awed by the Pagan temples, secret caves and ancient flour mills tracing many different civilizations and characters such as Herod the Great, Peter and Jesus, and even Mark Twain to name just a few of the characters who've traveled to Banias -Caesarea Philipi. Intrigued?
Read on...

Ancient people worshipped the natural beauty of the area for generations. The seeping rainwater at the springhead carved a large cave which was venerated by Canaanite cults and used to worship gods and goddesses throughout history.

The Seleucid Greeks carved a rock temple to their god Pan (half goat-half man, god of shepherds and nature) whom they believed helped them win a great battle here in 200 b.c.e, against their nemesis, the Ptolemaic Greek army.

The Temple of Pan gave the place its name - Paneas. (When invading Muslim armies arrived in the 7th century, the name evolved into the one we know today, Banias, due to the fact that the sound ‘P' does not exist in Arabic and is often substituted by a ‘B'.)

Several other pagan temples are carved into the limestone facade, one to Zeus and one where sacred goats were sacrificed and their bones preserved in small niches. 

banias waterfall


Herod the Great also added his two cents, apparently building a temple here in honor of Caesar Augustus. Not to be outdone, Herod's son Phillip inherited this area and in the year 2 BCE built his capital city, Caesarea Philippi, near the spring. Parts of this ancient city have been excavated and are visible today, although most of it still lies underfoot.

Caesarea Philippi is a Christian pilgrimage destination as the site where Jesus awarded Simon Bar-Yonah (Peter) his role as leader of the disciples. (In fact, many Christians believe that Caesarea Philipi is the site of the transfiguration).

"13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." 7 And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock[a] I will build my church, and the gates of hell[b] shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed[c] in heaven." Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13)

Who else hung around the Banias Springs, you may ask?
One of America's most celebrated authors of all time, Mark Twain, was also touched by Banias when he visited the Holy Land with a group of Christian Pilgrims in 1860.

He wrote "It seems curious enough to us to be standing on ground that was once actually pressed by the feet of the Saviour. The situation is suggestive of a reality and a tangibility that seem at variance with the vagueness and mystery and ghostliness that one naturally attaches to the character of a god. I cannot comprehend yet that I am sitting where a god has stood, and looking upon the book and the mountains which that god looked upon, and am surrounded by dusky men and women whose ancestors saw him, and even talked with him, face to face, and carelessly, just as they would have done with any other strangers. I cannot comprehend this; the gods of my understanding have been always hidden in clouds and very far away. (The Innocents Abroad, ch 45)

The Banias reserve is also the perfect place to learn about water issues, an important resource crucial in its impact on ancient history as well as modern issues of the State of Israel. The stream flows as a result of snow from Mt. Hermon that melts and permeates into fissures in the hard limestone rock. The water accumulates and eventually springs out, creating the Banias Stream. The waters of the Banias Stream, flows over 9 kilometers and joins the Dan River becoming the largest and most important tributary of the sacred Jordan River.

banias waterfall

Revered for its beauty, its history its spiritual significance and its relevance to ancient and modern Israel, Banias is one of Travelujah's favorite sites in Israel.


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Anat Harrel is  a licensed tour guide in Israel. She lives in Kibbutz Hannaton in the Galilee and contributes regularly to Travelujah-Holy Land tours. People can learn, plan and share their Holy Land tour and travel experiences on Travelujah. Anat can be reached at the following addres: anat2rs@gmail.com



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