I have had to accept that seeing Israel is a higher priority than blogging about it. But the trip to Caesarea Philippi and the Golan was amazing. King Herod – the one who Matthew tells us tried to kill all the baby boys so that the “king of the Jews” who the magi were seeking would not be born – Herod wanted to keep that title for himself. And he was a brutal man. According to the ancient historian Josephus, Herod “The Great” killed 3 of his own sons – and one of his wives – prompting Caesar to say that he would rather be Herod’s pig than his son (Jews of course would not slaughter a pig). Herod died in 4 BCE leaving his kingdom to his 3 sons. One was named Philip, thus the full name, Herod Philip. Herod Philip built a city which he named for Caesar – in order to ingratiate himself to Rome – but there was already a city called Caesarea, so to distinguish them, Philips is called Caesarea Philippi. He built it on a beautiful site, the source of springs which makes it a lush fertile valley – even creating a stream with waterfalls you see below. But before Philip built his city, the site was already home to a large temple to the god Pan – often pictured as partly goat, partly human. The stream from the spring flows out from a cave under a great rock face – of course the streams of “living water” flow from the temple – that’s as it should be. The city became his capital for the region.
This site is important for Christians because of the famous conversation Jesus had with the disciples which culminated in Peter’s great confession of faith. Here is the text:
Matt. 16:13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.
There is a lot going on here. Jesus had changed Peter’s name from Simon – the name of a Maccabean war hero, to Peter, meaning “rock”. He is in the region of the capital city, at a huge rock outcrop – that is not the rock on which Jerusalem is built, and he calls Peter the “Rock” – alternative to both Zion and Caesarea Philippi.