Caesarea Philippi (Banias) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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Caesarea Philippi (Banias)
Pan sanctuary

Many springs feed the Upper Jordan, of which three are major: the Khatzbani, which starts in Lebanon, the Dan, and the one at Banias. All have their source in rain and snow that fall on Mt. Hermon.

The water percolates through the rock until it reaches a waterproof layer. It is then stored in the mountain, building up pressure until something happens to release it.


At Banias this "something" was erosion. The spring bubbles out of a cliff in the western face of Mt. Hermon, giving 160 million cubic meters of water per year. 

Despite the spring, and despite the good soil in the area, no major town developed here in the First Testament period. The proximity of Dan was probably a reason. The Danites, who sat on an even bigger spring, would not have brooked competition so near. For here was the junction of three major roads: (1) the northern branch of the Great Trunk Road between Egypt and Damascus; (2) the road connecting the latter with the sea at Tyre, the so-called via maris (3), the road to the Tigris.

History did not set a firm foot in Banias, therefore, until the Greeks arrived. After the death of Alexander the Great (323 BC), his successors Ptolemy and Seleucus became rivals for the huge area he had conquered. At first the Egypt-based Ptolemies ruled the land, but around 200 BC, the Seleucid Antiochus III, ruling from Syria, defeated them and took over the country. 

The historian Polybius (2nd century BC) tells us that the battle occurred at a place he knew as Paneon (meaning, the sanctuary of Pan). The name Banias reflects the Arabic pronunciation for Paneas, "city of Pan," sometimes called Paneon. Since no other location in the land bears such a name, the site of the crucial battle was probably here. Polybius also reports that Antiochus used elephants, which threw the enemy into a panic. Now the Greeks had a god, one of whose attributes was to cause panic in battle (Gr. panika), and his name was (not by coincidence) Pan. It may be, then, that the famous panic of the decisive battle led the Seleucids to erect a sanctuary here to Pan.

pan_and_daphnis.jpgBut what was it about Pan, such that the Greeks took his name for panic? He was famous for his great cry, which echoed. Perhaps it was originally a battle cry, such as causes panic. As for the echo, Pan fell in love with a virgin named Echo, who resisted his advances, for he was ugly, hairy and goat-legged. Finally, he had his minions catch her and rip her to pieces. They buried her remains in many places, and that is why, when one gives a great shout, the echo comes from many places.

Echo too was revered here. Above the spring there are niches carved in the face of the cliff, with inscriptions. They contained statues, which have disappeared. From the inscriptions, however, we know that one was dedicated to Pan, one to the emperor and one to Echo.

Pan was also a god of the hunters, and his echoing shout could easily disorient them in the forests of Greek Arcadia, where he first appeared.

But above all, he was god of the goats: hence, his peculiar legs. Playing his pipe, he would entice the goats into a dance, which ensured the fertility of the herds. On the left, in a Roman copy of a Greek statue  (in the public domain), he teaches the shepherd Daphnis to play.

Pan was a fertility god, famous for lust. The abundance of the vegetation at Banias, together with the rush of the spring, perhaps suggested to the Greeks the rush of human passion, and thus the presence of Pan. In addition to the history, the lushness of the site itself evokes him.

In the year 20 BC, the Emperor Augustus gave the sanctuary and the untamed regions around it to Herod , who honored his benefactor with a temple above the spring. Its remains are still visible before the large cave. Herod willed the area to his son Philip, who was the first to found a city here: Caesarea Philippi, the capital of his tetrarchy. The worship of Pan continued to thrive.

Into the region of Caesarea Philippi came Jesus and his disciples, and here they conducted a crucial conversation, known as the confession of Peter.