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Banias - Caesarea Philippi

Banias (Paneas), or Caesarea-Philippi, was an impressive Greco-Roman city located near a flowing spring - one of the sources of the Jordan river, located at the foot of Mount Hermon in the Golan Heights. The city was located within the region known as the "Panion" (the region of the Greek god Pan), and is named after the deity associated with the grotto and shrines close to the spring called "Paneas".

The temenos (sacred precinct) included a temple, courtyards, a grotto and niches for rituals, and was dedicated to Pan. It was constructed on an elevated, 80m long natural terrace along the cliff which towered over the north of the city. A four-line inscription at the base of one of the niches relates to Pan and Echo, the mountain nymph, and was dated to 87 CE.

In the distant past, a giant spring gushed from a cave set in the limestone bedrock, to tumble down the valley and flow into the Hula marshes. Currently it is the source of the Nahal Hermon stream. Whereas the Jordan River previously rose from the malaria-infested Hula marshes, it now rises from this spring and two others at the base of Mount Hermon. The flow of the spring has decreased greatly in modern times. The water no longer gushes forth from the cave, but only seeps from the bedrock below it.

 Gospel association
In the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is said to have approached the area near the city, but without entering the city itself. While in this area, he asked his closest disciples who men thought him to be. Accounts of their answers, including the Confession of Peter, are to be found in the Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as in the Gospel of Thomas.

In the Gospel of Mark, they replied that Jesus was thought to be John the Baptist, Elias, or some other prophet, although Saint Peter gave his own view and confessed his belief that Jesus was the messiah (Christ). Jesus predicted his destiny, for which Peter rebuked him. In Matthew, Peter's expression of belief that Jesus was the Messiah is the occasion for Jesus designating Peter's confession as the rock on which the Church was to be builtthe fact that Jesus is the Christ. In Luke, the site where this is said to have occurred is located near Bethsaida, after the Sermon on the Mount, and Peter affirms his belief Jesus is 'the Christ of God'. In all three gospels, the apostles are asked to keep this revelation as secret.

A woman from Paneas, who had been bleeding for 12 years, is said to have been miraculously cured by Jesus near the site. According to tradition, after she had been cured, she had a statue of Christ erected.

 Biblical References:
Jesus and His disciples visited the site, and Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah:
Mark 8 27-30:
"Now Jesus and His disciples went out to the towns of Caesarea Philippi; and on the road He asked His disciples, saying to them, "Who do men say that I am?" So they answered, "John the Baptist; but some say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered and said to Him, "You are the Christ." Then He charged them that they should tell no one about Him."

Matthew 16 13-20:
"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ".

Jesus heals the bleeding woman:

Mark 5 25-24:

"And a certain woman, which had an issue of blood twelve years, And had suffered many things of many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was nothing bettered, but rather grew worse, When she had heard of Jesus, came in the press behind, and touched his garment. For she said, if I may touch but his clothes, I shall be whole. And straightway the fountain of her blood was dried up; and she felt in her body that she was healed of that plague. And Jesus, immediately knowing in himself that virtue had gone out of him, turned him about in the press, and said, Who touched my clothes? And his disciples said unto him, Thou seest the multitude thronging thee, and sayest thou, who touched me? And he looked round about to see her that had done this thing. But the woman fearing and trembling, knowing what was done in her, came and fell down before him, and told him all the truth. And he said unto her, Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague".

Luke 8 43-50:

"And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched. And Jesus said, Who touched me? When all denied, Peter and they that were with him said, Master, the multitude throng thee and press thee, and sayest thou, Who touched me? And Jesus said, Somebody hath touched me: for I perceive that virtue is gone out of me. And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him, she declared unto him before all the people for what cause she had touched him, and how she was healed immediately. And he said unto her, Daughter, be of good comfort: thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace. While he yet spoke, there cometh one from the ruler of the synagogue's house, saying to him, Thy daughter is dead; trouble not the Master. But when Jesus heard it, he answered him, saying, Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole".
The Greeks established the new Greek city of Panium (Paneas) south of the springs. The first record of the city was detailed in the great battle near Banias (198BC) between the armies of the northern Greek-Seleucids, headed by King Antiochus III, and the southern Greek-Egyptians headed by General Scopus. The Seleucids won this battle, giving them a control of the Land of Israel. Josephus (Ant. 12 3 4): "Antiochus overcame Scopas, in a battle fought at the fountains of Jordan, and destroyed a great part of his army".
The victorious Seleucid King Antiochus III governed the Land of Israel successfully, but under his son Antiochus IV (175-164BC) relationship with the Jewish population came to an end and resulted in the Hasmonean revolt (167-152BC). The Hasmonean Jewish Kings first controlled Judea (152BC-144BC) and later expanded their control over greater parts of the Land of Israel.
The Roman historian Josephus Flavius wrote that the Golan, the north-east region of Israel, came under Jewish control in the years 83-80BC. Alexander Janneus's campaign on the eastern territories, the Hasmonean king captured the Golan (Wars 1 4): "He also demolished Golan, and Seleucia, and what was called the Valley of Antiochus".

After 20 years, after the Romans annexed the land (63BC), General Pompey implemented political reformations, which removed the Golan from the Hasmonean state. He reassigned the north-eastern parts to the Itureans, an Arab tribe who received parts of the Galilee and the Golan. The Itureans are referred in Luke 3, 1: "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judaea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea".
Herod the Great, a Jewish Roman client King of Israel (39BC-4BC), subdued the Itureans (23BC) following their inaction against outlaws. As a result, Augustus Caesar gave the northern Golan, including Paneas, to Herod the Great (20BC). Josephus writes about this and added that Herod constructed a temple in honor of his beneficiary (Wars 1 21 3): "And when Caesar had further bestowed upon him another additional country, he built there also a temple of white marble, hard by the fountains of Jordan: the place is called Panium... Additional temples were built in Samaria-Sebesta and in Caesarea-Maritima ("by the Sea") which is located on the shore in the center of Israel.

Herod's 3 sons divided their father's kingdom, and the Land into 5 regions (4BC-6AD) which included Herod's sister and the area of Hippos controlled by the Syrian King. Herod's third son, Philipp, also known as Herod II, received the area of Lake Hula, Golan and Bashan. Josephus writes about Philipp (Ant 18 5 4): "Herod [Philip], the son of Herod the Great, who was born of Mariamne, the daughter of Simon the high priest".

The land and the city were inherited in 37AD by the grandson of Herod, Agrippa I, who grew in the Roman royal court. Agrippa received the land as a gift from his childhood friend in Rome - the mad Caesar Gius Caligula (37-41BC). The status of the city declined after Agrippa became King of Israel, since after additional regions were granted from Caligula (37BC-41BC), the King moved his capital to Jerusalem. However, after his son Agrippa II (King 50-95AD) received the city (53AD) as a present from Caesar Nero , the city was again rebuilt (61 AD) and in his honor it was renamed "Neronias Caesarea Sebaste" (Ant 20 9 4): "About this time it was that king Agrippa built Cesarea Philippi larger than it was before, and, in honor of Nero, named it Neronlas.". A grand palace was constructed here to the east of Philipp's palace, and was recently excavated and reconstructed. The city regained its former ancient name, Paneas, only after 181AD. The city's Jewish name was "Caesarion" ("little Caesar"), as referred in the 2nd C Jewish religious books of Mishna.

During the great revolt against the Romans (67-73AD) the city spared the tragic destiny of other cities, since Agrippa II sided with the Romans. Its Jewish citizens were protected by Agrippa but were subject to harsh times. During the campaign Vespesian and his son Titus, heads of the Roman armies during the revolt, camped here (Wars 3 9 7): "Vespesian... went to that which is called Caesarea Philippi and there he refreshed his army for twenty days, and was himself feasted by king Agrippa, where he also returned public thanks to God for the good success he had had in his undertakings". After the war there was a Jewish community here, but most of the citizens were pagan.

Christianity became the Roman's state religion in the 4th C., and Paneas became a holy Christian place and an important Episcopal seat (4th-5th C), under the control of the Patriarchate of Antioch - the principal Roman city at those times (today called Antakya, in south-east Turkey).

In the 7th C the Arabs conquered the land, renaming the city as Banias (Arabs pronounce 'P' as 'B'), and the city kept its status as the capital city of the Golan area. A Jewish community resided in Banias, and their Synagogue dated to the 11th C was excavated in the area of the palace of Agrippa.

The Crusaders arrived in the Galilee in 1099 and in Banias at 1129. This frontier city, located on the trade road to Damascus, was a strategic asset. The Crusaders hoped to win the war against the Arabs by conquering Damascus, and Banias was the key for this strategy. A large wall and gate was added around the city, and its impressive ruins are visible today along the southern walls. The Crusaders fortified the Arab fortress of Kil'at Subeiba ("Large cliff"), located 6KM above the city, calling it by the Biblical name - Nimrod Fortress. The fortress and the city switched sides for some time (1132-1151), but the Crusaders regained the city and fortress until 1164 when it was conquered by the Syrian ruler Nur al-Din. Since the city was a key gateway to the small Crusader enclave, they tried to regain it in other Crusades (1217, 1253) but the city remained under Arab control.

The city was conquered by the Mongols in 1260, and in the same year it fell to the Mamelukes. The city regained its status as regional governing city in the 15th C and the Nimrod fortress became the seat of the governor reporting directly to the Sultan of Cairo. It was a major station along their most important link - the Cairo-Damascus route.
After 1516, the Turkish Ottoman Empire from Turkey controlled the land and the city declined into a small village.

Following Israel's conquest in the 6-day war (1967) the city and the fortress became a popular nature reserve. Excavations held here since 1988, directed by Prof Vasilis Tsafiris, is bringing back the glory of the city, making "the city of Pan" one of the impressive historic and nature sites in the area.

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