Scenes from Caesarea Philippi: The Grotto of Pan
Against the cliff and in the large cave on the left, in the third century BC, was a cult center to the fertility god Pan. This center probably was built to compete with the high place at Dan, about three miles away.The presence of the spring forming the large stream, called the Banias River, fit well with the belief that the fertility gods provided water. Its sudden emergence from the ground at the floor of the cliff, a long rock face more than 100 feet high, supported the pagan belief that the gods went to the underworld (Hades) and reemerged each year.
Originally, the spring gushed from the large cave, probably persuading the people of the area that the cave provided an entrance to the underworld itself. An earthquake in the nineteenth century collapsed the roof of the cave, and the water now gushes from the cliff below the cave. Josephus described the cave as a deep cavern filled with water, the bottom of which no one had ever reached. The water from the spring may have been collected first in a “sacred lake” before it flowed west, joining with two other spring-fed streams (including one near Dan) to become the Jordan River.
A natural terrace against the cliff was the platform for the temple to Pan. The opening to the right of the cave is cut into the rock and leads to a niche in which an idol stood. This niche was probably in the sacred area and allowed the priests to engage in ritualistic water ceremonies. The entire area covered more than 3,000 square yards.
In the cliff face to the right of the opening are more niches to house the statues of gods. Herod also built a white temple nearby, to honor the Roman emperor Augustus. Because of the worship of Pan, the area was named Paneon, or Panias. It is still known today as Banyas, based on the Arabic pronunciation of Panias. King Herod Philip named the area Caesarea Philippi.
Jesus came here to call his disciples to challenge the gates of hell. Seeing the “living water” rush from the foot of the rock provides a picture of Jesus, the Son of the living God, whose community will be built on the solid rock of God’s saving truth.
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