Today we continued exploring Galilee with visits to Hazor, Dan, Caesarea Philippi, and looked down into Syria. All four sites were interesting, but it was Dan and Caesarea Philippi that left the biggest impression on me.
The land around Dan is amazingly fertile and was wonderful to visit after spending the last two months in the desert. At Dan there is a Middle Bronze Age IIb gate which contains the oldest arch in existence. This gate is from the time of the Patriarchs and it is possible that Abraham passed through this very gate on his way home from rescuing Lot, and chasing his captors to Hobah, beyond Damascus. This gate is still in existence because it was covered up with dirt and sand a few years after its construction. A new gate was built over the old one. This improved the defenses of the town of Dan.
Following our visit to Dan we went to Caesarea Philippi. This city is also known as Banias.
The city predates Herod Philipp, but it was he who built up the city here and named it after himself. To please Caesar he built a temple to Caesar here and renamed the city with both their names.
This was a center of the cult of Pan who was the Roman equivalent of the Canaanite god, Baal. Caesarea Philippi was a very comfortable Gentile city, and it was here that Jesus chose to bring His disciples in Matthew 16:13. This is the episode where Jesus asks them
“Who do people say that I am?”
They come back with a load of responses, then Jesus asks
“Who do you say that I am?”
Then Peter answers,
“You are the Christ, the Son of God!”
Why did Jesus bring the disciples all the way up here to Caesarea Philippi for this conversation? Perhaps here in a place much like Caesarea on the coast, Jesus was pushing the disciples. In this center of paganism, as far from Judaism as you can get, he asks them, “who do you believe that I am?”
Can you proclaim me here or only back home where life is comfortable?
Will you proclaim me and trust me to provide for you?
There is an interesting geological connection to this message. The region of Caesarea Philippi is made up entirely of basalt, which erodes into very fertile soil. The agricultural ability of this soil is unmatched in most of the rest of the world. The basalt provides shelter as well as soil for crops. It sustains and provides life.
I think Jesus possibly chose the place for this teaching in part because of the land and the rock it was built upon. Perhaps the “rock” upon which Jesus will build His church is Himself, the ultimate provider and sustainer of all creation.
Following this conversation between Him and His disciples it seems that now everyone knows who He is, so now the real journey may begin. Dr. Wright considers this to be the beginning of a nine month Triumphal March to Jerusalem.