Caesarea Philippi (Banias)—From the god Pan to the God-Man

Refreshing hope from the Son of God and the sons of Korah

In a land where water is life, it’s no wonder one of the major sources of water would become a primary place of worship. Regrettably, the god worshipped at Banias was not the God of Israel.

Caesarea Philippi

Caesarea Philippi forms the headwaters of the Jordan River. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

The flowing streams and the nearby waterfalls offer some of the most pleasant and inviting surroundings for tours, holidays, and family outings. What an absolutely beautiful area!

But that’s not why Jesus came here.

The god Pan Worshipped at Banias

The melting snows at the peak of Mount Hermon seep into the ground and appear at its base. From the mouth of a large cave bubbles a cold, clear stream that helps to form the headwaters of the Jordan River. Josephus referred to the streams that flow here as the fountain of the Jordan.

Archaeology has uncovered an open-air shrine above the cave from which the water flows. Niches still visible in the side of the cliff held statues of the Greek god Pan—the mythical half man, half goat who played the panpipe.

Caesarea Philippi and its sacred niches

Sacred niches held statues of the Greek god Pan. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands.

We get the word “panic” from this frightful god, and it’s no wonder why! Pan had a thirst for carnal pleasure and once chased a nymph named Syrinx who turned herself into a stand of marsh reeds (so goes the myth). So Pan made a flute from the reeds, and that’s how the panpipe got its name. It’s also why the Walt Disney character Peter Pan plays the flute. (Sorry, parents.)

Two Names, One Place

The site has been identified in Scripture with several names:

  • Baal-gad (Joshua 11:17; 12:7; 13:5)
  • Baal-hermon (Judges 3:3)
  • Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16:13)

Today, the place is known by two names for two reasons:

  • Banias–Because Arabic has no equivalent for the letter P, the name Panias (for “Pan”) has morphed into “Banias”—the name that exists today.
  • Caesarea Philippi–In 197 BC, Antiochus III overthrew the Egyptians at Banias and made way for Antiochus IV to persecute the Jews. The Maccabean Revolt followed. Having received the area from Caesar Augustus in 20 BC, Herod the Great constructed there a temple of white marble in honor of Caesar. Eighteen years later, Herod’s son Philip inherited the site and named it Caesarea. But to distinguish it from Herod’s harbor along the seacoast by the same name, Philip appended his own name to the place—Caesarea Philippi.

The Crusaders used the site—along with the high vantage of nearby Nimrod’s Fortress—as an outpost to face the Sultan of Damascus. Later, the Crusaders compromised with the Muslims and divided the use of the nearby fertile plains.

The beautifully shaded, rocky area gives shelter to rock badgers, or hyraxes, that scamper in and out of the crags. Hebrew poetry refers to these animals as wise because they seek sanctuary in a safe place (Psalm 104:18; Proverbs 30:26). But the Law of Moses calls them unclean (Leviticus 11:5; Deuteronomy 14:7)—a label more appropriate to their idolatrous surroundings.

The God-Man Asks a Question Near Caesarea Philippi

Jesus brought His twelve disciples all the way up to the pagan region of Banias/Caesarea Philippi and asked them the question:

Who do people say that the Son of Man is?

The crowds, of course, saw Jesus as nothing more than a good man, a moral teacher, whom some would even call a prophet. Jesus narrowed the question:

But who do you say that I am?

His disciples responded they believed He was the Messiah of God (Matthew 16:13-16).

Banias Waterfall

(Photo: The waterfalls at Banias. Courtesy of the Pictorial Library of Bible Lands)

A short drive to the nearby Banias Falls allows one to hike down to the river and the marvelous waterfalls. It’s likely the sons of Korah wrote Psalm 42 of these falls as they claimed faith in God in spite of the opposition all around them:

Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me. . . .
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, ‘Where is your God?’
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
—Psalm 42:7, 10-11

Devotional Thought for Caesarea Philippi (Banias)

Read Matthew 16:13-17:2 and Psalm 42:7-11.

The Apostle Peter spoke for the disciples and answered Jesus’ question correctly: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). So Jesus went on to share beyond who He was to what He would do. He would be killed and resurrected! Peter outright rejected the message of the cross, and instead opted for the promised kingdom.

In the Transfiguration that followed, Jesus revealed that He is indeed the glorious Messiah—but first would come the cross.

Like Peter, the cross reveals our own expectations of life. We want glory and the good stuff of life right now. Jesus says that most of that awaits the resurrection.

When the heavy weight of the cross bears down on our shoulders, the words of the sons of Korah can refresh us:

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance and my God. —Psalm 42:7, 10-11

Question: What do you expect from God? To leave a comment, just click here.

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  • Jane Franks

    Dear Wayne:

    I have been following your Israel blog with great interest, and
    I must say tears! Tears of joy and triumph as I have viewed the gorgeous
    scenes of that special, special place. You and the others of Insight have
    done a magnificent job of making those of us who are not there, feel like we
    are! My sister and her husband, Byron and Milly Fox, are currently with you on
    your tour, so that is why I was aware and have been following.

    I have been a Christian since I was 11, was in vocational
    Christian work for many years; I’m a Bible college graduate, and was on staff
    with Campus Crusade for Christ in Southern California in the 1980’s; attended
    EV Free in Fullerton occasionally when Chuck was Senior Pastor there. In
    fact, we took my stepson, a brand new believer at the time to meet Chuck after
    he announced to us one day, that he had become a believer in the shower!
    And had been “listening to this guy on the radio by the name of
    Chuck Swindoll, and we needed to listen to him, too”!! Of course, we
    told him we had been for 2 or 3 years by that time!!

    I married a professional artist in Southern California who also
    became a Christian through CCC and we have dedicated our business/ministry to
    God for the past 30 years. Some amazing stories of how God has used that
    could be told.

    But, I say all this to say this: I have never in all these
    years seen the land of Israel in quite the same light that you show through
    this tour. It is absolutely magnificent. I knew from all my study
    and belief in and love for God, that it was, and would be to see it, but this
    blog has shown it to me in a new and more powerful light than I could have
    imagined.

    We are not “kids” anymore, and my husband was injured
    in an auto accident a few years ago, so it is doubtful we will get there — in
    this lifetime anyway! (We sure will in the next, when the Lord returns!),
    but I am so grateful that you are taking the time to send these detailed
    reports and photos. It has been such a blessing to me.

    I enjoy your teaching and vast amount of archaeological study
    you have put into this, too, and I have signed up for your blog. We are
    doing the 30 day devotional, Growing Strong!

    Again, thank you so much. You will be in our prayers for
    sure! And I’m putting the Israel Tour on my bucket list! Someday. .
    . who knows? Maybe God will make it happen!!

    May God continue to bless you all on this tour.

    • Wow, Jane! The best part of your many words was the part about your stepson getting saved in the shower!
      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment and especially for praying for us. Thanks so much. (By the way. You will LOVE coming to Israel one day.)

  • Jane Franks

    Thank you so much for responding so quickly! I’m impressed! My husband and I live in NW AR. We may have to visit your church in north Texas. We have some friends near there! Blessings.

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  • Tanya

    What big question – What do I want from God. My dad always used to ask someone when they used Gods name in vain ‘ what will you tell Him when He answers – Yes what do you want? That stopped my heart because i have a healthy fear for the Lord. I am reading the bible back to front. The Old testament can be hard and tedious. But I am sure I will reread the bible another million times and the Lord will show me what He needs to. What I marveled at the most ,is how in the Wilderness; they were with God, right there!!!! and they didn’t see Him. They still turned to Baal and they cried about having meat and dared challenge Moses. Here at this beautiful waterfall they see Gods work and still praise another god who is nothing but a tyrant. Watched the Yes man from Jim Carrey? in this movie ‘god’ gave Jim the power. He didnt know what to do with it. By the end of the – Jim begged god to take it back. What do I want from God? Just do what you know how to do. Because I know that even if I got all the things I wanted – I could still miss Gods Will. Rather give me what I need Lord in your good measure. Wisdom then if it must. I have millions of things I have prayed for and received and I just missed the point of what God was trying to do in my life.

    • Tremendous insights, Tanya. It really is amazing how they could be so close to Jesus for so many years and still miss it. Is the Carrey movie Yes Man or Bruce Almighty? I’d love to see the scene you’re describing. Thanks!

      • Tanya

        Hi

        Yes you right. It is Bruce almighty…. I really disliked it. Was uncomfortable – thought it was a mockery. But even if it was not directed at Christians – It had a great message. God take you power you know what we need

        • KB

          I felt the same way during that movie, a mocking. I’ve also noticed God is amazing even in the mockery He will tell Christians “That, right there, they got that right. Remember it” 🙂 There are times my friends say something good happened and I say “praise God!” And they look at me funny and I reply “all good things come from the Lord” 🙂 (Yes, He was right there) Plant those seeds, lol

          Blessings!!

  • KB

    What I can expect is fulfillment of God promises. He is not a man that He should lie, even when it looks like things are not going to happen. God reminds me of Joseph and David all the time. He said and He did…in His time and His way. I can trust Him for my best for His glory.

    • Those are great reminders, KB, and those biblical heroes offer such encouraging examples. We need models of faithfulness (and imperfection) that follow God and find Him faithful. Thanks.

  • Steve Blaising

    His reassuring presence. He is present and strong on behalf of a Christian at all times even scary times. He is with us even when we are afraid even if we know not to be afraid. The paradox of Christian faith is deliverance even when it appears or feels like we are not delivered (2 Cor. 1:8-11).

    • Yes, Steve, it is so reassuring to remember Jesus’ final promise: “I am with you always…” That’s pretty much every situation, you know? Thanks for your comment and your good word.

  • Robert Nash

    What are my expectations from God?

    I expect God to be exactly who he says he is in the Scripture, and stay that way into infinity.

    What is expected on my part:
    * I expect complete forgiveness for my sin against God, through the complete obedience of Jesus the Son. This is by God’s grace and is promised since Genesis 3:15.
    * I expect God to fulfill the work he has begun in me. Philippians 1:6
    * I expect to accomplish, at least part, of the good works God has created me for. Ephesians 2:10
    * I expect God to hold his creation together until his work is complete. Colossians 1:15-16
    * I expect God to bring many people into his kingdom because he does not wish anyone to perish. 2 Peter 3:8-9
    * I expect God to generously give the gift of repentance to many. Mark1:15
    * I expect God’s word to be powerful. Hebrews 4:12
    * I expect God’s word to accomplish what he sent it to do. Isaiah 55:10-11
    *
    I could go on. This is a great question to ask anyone.
    Thanks,
    Bob Nash

    • Those are some great expectations, Robert! I love that you tie your expectations of God directly with the word of God. Bingo! Thanks so much.