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Caesarea Philippi

CAESAREA PHILIPPI (sĕs'a-rē'a fĭ-lĭp'ī, Caesarea of Philip). A town at the extreme northern boundary of Palestine, about thirty miles (fifty km.) inland from Tyre and fifty miles (eighty-three km.) SW of Damascus. It lies in the beautiful hill country on the southern slopes of Mount Hermon and was probably near the scene of Jesus' transfiguration (cf. Matt.16.13-Matt.17.8; Mark.8.27-Mark.9.8). The town was very ancient, being perhaps the Baal Gad of Josh.12.7; Josh.13.5, and for centuries it was a center of worship of the heathen god “Pan,” whence it was known as “Paneas” and whence the modern name Banias (because there is no “p” in the Arabic alphabet). Augustus Caesar presented it, with the surrounding country, to Herod the Great, who built a temple there in honor of the emperor. Herod’s son, Philip the Tetrarch, enlarged the town and named it Caesarea Philippi to distinguish it from the other Caesarea. It lies at the easternmost of the four sources of the Jordan, and nearby these streams unite to form the main river. It was at a secluded spot near here that the Lord began to prepare his disciples for his approaching sufferings and death and resurrection, and that Peter made his famous confession (Matt.16.13-Matt.16.17).

CAESAREA PHILIPPI sĕs ə re’ a fĭl’ ə pī (Καισαρεία Φιλιππι). The town of Caesarea Philippi was one of the centers of the Decapolis, lying some fifty m. SW of Damascus in fine hill country on the southern slopes of Hermon. It is coolly situated at a height of 1,150 ft., on the easternmost of the four sources of the Jordan. George Adam Smith, the great geographer of Pal., wrote one of his purple passages of description on the site. He described “a deep gorge, through which there roars a headlong stream....An old Roman bridge takes you over....through a tangle of trees, brushwood and fern you break into sight of a high cliff....In the cliff is a cavern. Part of the upper rock has fallen, and from the debris of boulders and shingle below there bursts and bubbles along a line of thirty feet a full-born river. The place is a very sanctuary of waters....As you stand within the charm of it...you understand why the early Semites adored the Baalim of the subterranean waters even before they raised their gods to heaven and thanked them for the rain. This must have been one of the chief dwellings of the Baalim—perhaps Baal-gad of the Book of Joshua (Josh 11:17; 12:7; 13:5)” (George Adam Smith, Historical Geography of the Holy Land, p. 473, 474).

When the Greeks came and flooded into the area after Alexander, alert as ever for the deity of the place, they founded a shrine for Pan and called it Paneion (Jos. Ant. X. iii. 1; BJ XXI. iii), and the district Paneas. The name survives in modern Banias. Here, as always, pursuing his dual policy of placating the Jews and the Romans at the same time, the first Herod built a temple to Rome and Augustus in commemoration of the fact that Augustus assigned the town to his royal domains. Its exact position is unknown for the Rom. remains are meager. Herod’s son, Philip the tetrarch, also in Augustus’ principate, adorned the town and renamed it Caesarea Philippi to honor the prince and to distinguish the foundation from his father’s similarly named port on the coast of Pal. Agrippa II gave some attention to the town in Nero’s principate, actually renaming it Neronias, a name which failed to survive. Its last use, according to the coinage, was in the time of Marcus Aurelius. At Caesarea, Titus celebrated gladiatorial shows after the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70. The Crusaders had a stronghold there from a.d. 1130 to 1165.

The NT importance of Caesarea is that, in its environs, Christ gave His last teaching to the apostles (Matt 16:13-20). The Transfiguration took place on the adjacent slopes of Mt. Hermon. The party may have avoided entering the town “with its dark memories of Israelite apostasy, its poor mimicry of Roman imperialism, and the broken statues of its unhallowed and Hellenic cave” (F. W. Farrar).


G. A. Smith (sup. cit.) (1902); J. H. Kitchen, Holy Fields, 45-47.