Caesarea Philippi (Matthew 16)

Illustration: In Caesarea Phillipi next to Pan’s temple was a crack in the ground that was called “The Gates of Hell” or “The Gates of Hades”. The city was one of the most wicked ones in its day.

The area of Caesarea Philippi was first known (ca. 200 B.C.) by the name Panion, meaning “sanctuary of Pan”, a pagan god associated with fields and herds. In 23 B.C. Augustus assigned the area to Herod I to rule for the Romans, and Herod’s son, Phillip, took control of the region after his father’s death. Phillip constructed an administrative capitol building at Pnion and changed the name to Caesarea Phillipi, honouring both Caesar and himself. (Caesarea Phillipi in not to be confused with Caesarea Maritima, a city on the Meditarranean coast.)

There is no record of any civilian habitation at the time, so Caesarea Phillipi was an administrative centre and not yet a city during Jesus’ lifetime. The Gospel accounts carefully observe this fact, recording that Jesus and the disciples frequented the villages (Mark 8:27) or the region (Matthew 6:13) of Caesarea Phillipi.

In the year A.D. 53 or 54 Agrippa II became king of the principality and transformed Caesarea Phillipi into a Greco-Roman city. The magnificent administrative palace was converted into a public bath house, and a long colonnaded street was constructed through th middle of the city. Fresh water was supplied through underground pipes and a new aqueduct. In A.D. 70 the city was the scene of notorious savagery. The Roman general Titus, after destroying Jerusalem, brought a large number of Jewish prisoners to Caesarea Phillipi, where they were massacred in games as a public spectacle. The city reached its peak in the second and third centuries A.D. but appears to have undergone a sharp decline from the fourth century on.

Although the site has been a popular tourist destination since the nineteenth century, systematic excavations did not begin until 1988. Work has focused on the sanctuary of Pan and the central area of the city. Much of the Roman period architecture was destroyed during the Middle Ages, when the location was used as a military outpost by both Muslims and crusaders. Stone blocks were mined from the ancient buildings to be reused in later structures, making the work of reconstructing the ancient city more difficult. Archaeologists have uncovered numerous medieval pieces of pottery, metal and glass and are confident that further exploration will reveal remains from the Biblical era. The city’s athletic facilities and a temple built for Augustus by Herod I are among the important edifices yet to be excavated.

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