Caesarea Philippi: Peter`s declaration of Jesus

13 When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?”

14 So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”

15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”

16 Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

17 Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16:13-19 (NKJV)

Caesarea Philippi was built by the successor of Herod the Great known as Philip the tetrarch who made it the capital of his territory. The city was located in the Upper Galilee, near Mount Hermon in a region known as the Bashan which is a high plateau area in the northeastern corner of modern day Israel. The Bashan measures thirty-seven miles east to west, and fifty-six miles north to south. It is bounded on the west by the Rift Valley with Mount Hermon to the north and Mount Bashan to the east. The Bashan stretches south until it merges with Gilead. The landscape of the Bashan is very fertile and rich, with a sporadic amount of extinct volcano`s running down its center which have enriched the soil. During the winter months it can receive a heavy amount of rain 44-52 inches which has been a direct aid in the flourishing of vineyards and fruit groves. In the Old Testament, Bashan is mentioned sixty times but later during the first century we find the region called Gaulantis as it is a province of Rome with the Decapolis to the south.

            During ancient times, and particularly the first century, places of nature attracted the pagans to set up places of worship. At Caesarea Philippi extensive excavations have been done which have revealed a heavy influence and worship of the goat god, Pan. This would also explain the alternate name of the location which is known as Panias. Here, springs and waterfalls can be found where pagans also erected altars to worship nymph spirits and river spirits they believed existed in the water. Dwarfed by the shadow of Mount Hermon, which rises 9232 feet to the north with its snow covered peaks for more than six months of the year, the cultic sites of the city were built against the grotto’s of the high cliffs as temples were erected to Zeus and Augustus. The heavy presence of the large amount of water has to do directly with its proximity to Mount Hermon which receives over sixty inches of rainfall annually. Due to this amount of rain, the moisture seeps into the hard limestone foundations of the mountain and reappear in places like Dan or Caesarea Philippi as powerful springs and falls.

The geographical location influenced the event in which Jesus led his disciples up near the cliffs and temples. Since the city was built and stationed along a major route, connected to Damascus in the east and Dan to the west, this would have made the journey accessible and easy. Thus, Jesus brings his followers there to ask them a question. The Gospel of Matthew accounts Jesus asking his followers who people say He is. Peter is the one who responds pointing out in a direct way the divinity of Jesus and his anointing as Messiah. What Jesus says next is very interesting in direct relation to where they are standing. In the midst of His response Jesus states, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” He does this, with no doubt, while He and his disciples face the largest of the grotto’s which are in the cliff side. Covering the grotto is a temple to Pan where it is also believed to be the gate to the literal Hades. The pagans believed this to be a portal to the underworld and would sacrifice animals in the water and if the blood resurfaced after the animals had been carried away it meant a good omen. Jesus is at that very location, announcing that Peter will build the church of Christ on that rock, being it will be a liberating truth and redemption that these cultic sites and practices could never prevail or rule against, and Jesus declares that the power and chains of Hades will be broken. The geography of the place was a direct part of the event because in the midst of a pagan center, Jesus proclaimed His sovereignty over the wickedness of the place, and stated clearly the foolishness of worshiping anything or anyone else but God.

A Look At Caesarea Maritima And The Apostle Paul


13 And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus. 14 When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul’s case before the king, saying: “There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, 15 about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him. 16 To them I answered, ‘It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.’ 17 Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, 19 but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. 20 And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar.”

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “I also would like to hear the man myself.”

“Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

23 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus’ command Paul was brought in.

Acts 25:13-23 (NKJV)

            The city of Caesarea Maritima was located in the Roman province of Samaria, with Judea and Idumea to the south, and Galilee and Syro-Phoenicia to the north. It was developed along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in northern Israel along the Sharon Plain, which runs thirty by ten miles and is a flat area that consists of soils washed down from the hills. To the north can be found the Shephlah Carmel, which is a range of mountains that runs inland to the east. This creates medium-sized ridges with broad lush and rich fertile plains and valleys between them. Since it is further north, Caesarea Maritima can receive between 28-32 inches of rain during the rainy season (December to March) and experience sea storms and high tides. However, during the heat of summer, the rich soils around the city and in the coastal plain are excellent for growing citrus crops which can still be seen today.

            Caesarea Maritima was built and dedicated by Herod the Great in the year 10 BC, after twelve years of construction, and established as the main port city of the land. He built it in a Hellenistic fashion as it possessed a theater, amphitheater, hippodrome, temples, and a man-made port of breakwaters, docks, and quays which could harbor over six hundred ships. Thus it became a city of trade and commerce. Dedicated to the Emperor Augustus, the city soon became the Roman administrative capital of the land and rivaled other port cities such as Tyre, Sidon, and Byblos in the north, or Joppa in the south. Due to the soils washed down from the mountains, swamps had been created which posed as an obstacle to Herod the Great through his construction. Therefore, his plan was to drain the swamps by cutting channels to the sea, and then bring in fresh water by tunnels and aqueducts from springs located at the foot of Mount Hermon twelve miles to the northeast.

Since Caesarea Maritima was the seat of Roman power in the land, once Paul had appealed to Caesar following his arrest, he was brought to the city to be placed in confinement until he could be transported to Rome. His place of confinement is believed to be the Sea Palace which juts out into the sea upon a created land bridge of stone. It was built according to all the wealth and pleasures of the day, including swimming pools and baths, and it was most likely here that Paul would have been placed under house arrest. The reasoning behind this was since he was a Roman citizen and had appealed to Caesar, he would have had to be treated with care and this would be a likely place to hold him. The account in the Book of Acts has Festus, Governor of the land, speaking about Paul with King Agrippa II and his sister who have arrived in Caesarea. Agrippa mentions to Festus that he would like to hear Paul speak in defense and Festus makes the arrangements for the next day for it to be held in the auditorium, or amphitheater.

The importance of the city and its location along major roadways made it a prime geographical place for Paul to be held. Since it was the administrative capital and the largest port, therefore once Festus had questioned him in Jerusalem and agreed to transport Paul to Rome, Caesarea would be the natural place to send him to first. The geography of the city and its layout played a direct part in Paul’s trial. Not only was he held there, but he was given a platform to speak and defend himself in the amphitheater. Acts 25:23 mentions that Festus, King Agrippa, his sister Bernice, commanders, and prominent men of the city entered the auditorium/amphitheater and that Paul was brought before them to defend his faith. The amphitheater still stands today and has had extensive excavations done to it which reveal its size, entrances, and architecture, but also show the places where dignitaries would have sat. Therefore, we know where Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice would have sat, and most likely, as trials were public events, the theater could have been full, that is with nearly five thousand people.

By, Peter J. Fast

A Tale of Two Cities: Firenze and Roma

My trip to Italy and visiting Florence and Rome

Let’s take a different spin from my usual articles to a more relaxed, adventure state of mind…

I have always been fascinated by the history of ancient Rome which can be attributed I think, to two incredible epic movies which I saw as a young boy, Ben-Hur and Spartacus. There the viewer sees fast paced chariot races, gladiators, Roman sea battles, and legions of soldiers deploying for battle. To so many people today the Romans appear as distant, almost mythical individuals who lived so long ago, yet when I was young, I could imagine the roars of the mob in the Coliseum, hear the beat of marching feet, and gaze at their inspiring Temples and architecture. The Romans venerated both the human body and pleasure which is called Hedonism, and yet they were people who shaped the world as we know it, instituted a style of government most Western powers today are built upon, and still capture the imagination of everyone who ever reads about them or climbs the Palatine Hill. Even today legionaries from ancient history patrol the streets, threatening anyone they perceive to be a barbarian (as demonstrated in the picture.)

For a break from the hectic life of work, my wife Deanna and I fulfilled a long desire to see Italy, and we did so by visiting two of the most incredible cities in the country, Firenze and Roma. Besides being the hub of world fashion, and awesome cars, Italy is a beautiful country of rolling green hills, snow capped mountains, vineyards, and winding roads. It is both enchanting and ancient. It speaks of a long, rich history and at the same time reminds us of the dark corridors of barbaric cruelty that remain (i.e. the Coliseum and past civil wars).

Our visit to Firenze instantly immersed us into the world of art, Hellenism, beautiful cathedrals, and famous museums. For the first time in our lives we could cast our eyes upon original paintings and statues that we had only looked at in books. We could study the Baroque architecture, climb the high steps of the Sainta Novella Cathedral, and taste the wonders of Italian piazza, cheese, wine, ice cream and salami. We walked the halls of the Uffizi and Academia Museums, saw the illustrious David of Michelangelo, visited the Piazza dell Republicca (which had been the ancient Roman Forum) and sauntered through streets and courtyards that had existed since Medieval times. As a fashion guru, it was great to see all the designers, and frustrating to drool over the incredible suits, shirts, and shoes and not be able to purchase any of them as they were all so expensive. For example: I saw a beautiful silk scarf to match a suit attire and its price was a wapping 460euro…and then to my agony I saw a man about ten minutes later in a cafe wearing that exact scarf! Argh! Anyway, we spent three days in Firenze exploring much of the city and then caught a train to travel through Tuscany, south to Roma.We planned to spend four days in Roma, which still wasn’t enough. Roma is like one big museum with literally hundreds of sights to take in all at once. The other problem is everywhere you look is a “picture worthy” shot. From the piazza’s with their gorgeous statues (i.e. Trevi Fountain and Novona) to the incredible beauty of Ancient Rome and the Forum was spectacular. We were able to see Trajan’s Pillar, the Arch of Constantine and Titus, tour the Coliseum and Palatine Hill, walk through the Forum, see the Temple of Mithras, visit the ruins of Nero’s palace, the baths of Septimus Severus, or Hadrian’s Palace was like a dream for a historian as myself. It was also wonderful to tour the Capitoline Museum for over four hours, and see the Pantheon which houses the remains of the oldest Temple to Minerva. Also, I could not get enough of the wonderful Italian coffee, did I mention the pizza,:) the pasta, and all the other delights. It was not as romantic as Firenze, but the feel of Roma is one both bustling and modern but still clinging to its ancient heritage. This was clear in the “SPQR” emblazoned on everything from buses to police uniforms to sewer grates. Also the Capitoline She-Wolf was everywhere, which is the ancient myth of the beginning of Rome with the twins Romulous and Remus suckling at the wolf.

Now, I must say a few things about the Capitoline Museum before I conclude. This is a must see if you ever visit Roma and you enjoy history and art. It is housed in three incredible buildings from the 16th century, and is filled with thousands upon thousands of amazing statues. From the remains of the giant statue of Constantine, to the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius, to the Dying Gaul, it was a treat and a labyrinth of constant “oos” and “ahhs”. When we left we were speechless and appreciative. We felt as if we had journeyed back in time and witnessed the art and ingenuity of the Roman age.

So…go to Firenze and Roma and see for yourself, and if you are not as much into history, enjoy the food and wine. 🙂

By, Peter J. Fast

An Ancient People Seen Today

The Jewish People: An Ancient People

A glimpse into the past:

The ancient east, in particular the Levant and Mesopotamia regions, have always been viewed as the the highway between the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia. Lands of desert, mountains, hills, lowlands, fertile valleys, oasis’ and bodies of water both fresh and salt brought with it tribes, clans, and kingdoms of peoples. Nations contested for power and empires rose and fell to be replaced by other kings and people.

Archaeology has been one of the greatest tools at our disposal in the present age, to grasp a meager understanding of how life was like, how these nations came to be and from where they were birthed. Ancient manuscripts, reliefs, mosaics, frescoes, writings, and so on also has opened our eyes to worlds of gods and goddesses, agricultural pursuits, warfare, trade routes, city locations, monotheism and polytheism.

The study of ancient history has literally shaped our worldview today, and has played a part in the building of modern governments, political systems, religious expression, faith, and much more. However, nearly all of the ancient people groups that we see through the annals of history are either extinct today (Canaanites, Hittites, Philistines, etc) or have changed so drastically, they would never have been recognized should they travel back in time for a visit (i.e. Egyptians, Romans, Indians, Greeks, Arabs, etc). Few remain today that still resemble their ancient ancestral heritage dating back into the B.C. days. Of those, most likely the Jewish race would be the most reliable group to stand alone as a people that have changed very little in the greater scheme of things.  When you scrape away all the modern pursuits and trappings of the Jewish race and take a look at their land (modern day State of Israel), language (Hebrew) and faith (Judaism), you will see the ancient connections spring to life.

Jews returning to ancient homeland:

The Jewish people are returning to their homeland like the ancient prophets predicted in the Bible. Isaiah prophesied, “He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” (Isaiah 11:12). The prophet Ezekiel stated, ” For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land.” (Ezekiel 36:24). These are just two examples of many that show prophecies declared by men who were the mouth pieces of God over 2,500 years ago and have now come true in the last century! This is evidence of ancient history being restored before our very eyes by the one who writes history, the God of the Bible, who declares in Zechariah 8:2, ““Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘ I am zealous for Zion with great zeal; With great fervor I am zealous for her.’”

The land of Israel has always had a Jewish presence within her borders. The Bible confirms this connection through the names of regions, cities, and people. History also shows this as well through land deeds, maps, genealogies, explorers, conquering armies, and manifests compiled by credited historians and writers. Today, one can travel the land and view the names of cities and towns that were from the ancient times, places such as: Jerusalem, Dan, Beer’sheva, Hebron, Joppa, Meggido, Hazor, Beit She’an, Ein Gedi, Qumran, Jericho, Modiin, Bethlehem, Masada, etc. These places align with geographical names such as: Jordan River, Dead Sea (Salt Sea), Mount Nebo, Mount Gerrizim, Mount Tabor, Carmel Mountains, Valley of Jezreel, Valley of Sharon, Yamulk and Yarduk rivers, Negev, Red Sea, etc. The Bible also confirms the proper flora and fauna found in the ancient world and still found today (such as pomegranates, wheat, date palms, lilies, etc). The importance of such biblical evidence, even foods eaten in ancient times and recorded in scripture, is tantamount in proving the Bible’s validity. Even with accounts in scripture attesting to the presence of things no longer found in Israel today (such as wild lions and ostriches), historians and extra-biblical eye witnesses of the past have confirmed such things to be true and once existing in this land.

Language:

Since the scattering of most of the Jews throughout the world through war and exiles, much of the ancient spoken Hebrew had diminished so that it was only used in the synagogue as a part of worship, prayer, and reading the sacred books of the TaNaK (Hebrew Scriptures of the Bible). Other dialects of languages evolved, such as Yiddish or Aramaic, that had roots in Hebrew. But as a language, Hebrew died out as an everyday spoken tongue, reserved for religious services. With Jews living abroad in the nations of the world, they assimilated, to the extent that they adopted the languages of the societies in which they lived in (i.e. Polish, German, English, Arabic, French, Spanish and Russian.) However, when Jews started to return to Israel, which was called Palestine at the time of the British Mandate, a young man named Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) reworked the Hebrew, took what was being used in the synagogues, and introduced it to Jewish natives of the land and immigrants as they set up settlements (moshavim and kibbutzim). He also was able to implement it into the schools which resulted in the creation of the first Hebrew schools in Tel Aviv, the Hebrew University, and other such associations. The Hebrew language was concurrent with the major two Aliyah movements of Jewish immigration in the late 19th century and into the 20th century, as well as during the time of the British Mandate. Thus, in a short while, the Hebrew language that had been nearly dead for 2,000 years was miraculously revived, an act never done before to this scale!

Faith:

Since the destruction of the Second Temple under the reign of Roman Emperor Vespasian (70 A.D), Judaism was faced with a terrifying reality. With the Temple removed from their faith, and the end of the sacrificial system, as well as dispersion and the annihilation of much of the Jewish religious elite apart from many of the Pharisees who survived, Judaism would either have to adapt and change or dwindle and die out. In the coastal town of Yavnah (Jamnia), Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai worked with a newly elected Sanhedrin in reforming Judaism so it would survive. Through this, Judaism would center around the synagogue, rather then as it had around the Temple. Synagogues were already in use throughout the ancient world, but mainly as a place of prayer, study, and congregational meetings. Now, it would take center stage as the main structure to knit the Jewish community together. Judaism would also write out principals of faith, outline new expressions of worship, and the role of the rabbi would become the major player as a religious leader. This new form of Rabbinic Judaism, would borrow more insight and inspiration from the Pharisaic stream then any other ancient expressions of the Jewish faith, for groups such as the Essene’s or the Sadducee’s had been wiped out.

Judaism would remove the blood sacrifice and focus on scripture, prayer, rabbinic literature (Talmud and Mishnah), synagogue setting, living out ones faith through the law, shabbat, the feasts, and kosher laws. Judaism would also look at day to day life and examine the steps for holiness and right living, as dictated and outlined through the Torah. The Yeshiva or (religious classroom) would become stationary rather then the typical traveling talmidim who would be lectured by a rabbi or teacher. In the Yeshiva, a rabbi would be the head teacher, to instruct the students to follow his example and direct them in right living. They would grapple with the scripture, argue, and sort out differences attempting to breakdown and discover the meanings of scripture (hermeneutics) whether literal, allegorical or mystical. The rabbi would become the voice of biblical interpretation, and set a standard for the community to live their lives by. With the Temple destroyed, there would no longer be an active priesthood to conduct  offerings, ceremonies, libations, or other Temple procedures that had been attached to its order and purpose.

Under the Roman Emperor Hadrian, following the Second Jewish Revolt in 135 A.D., he outlawed Jews from Jerusalem, decreeing that they could only enter to pray and mourn upon the day of Tisha ba’Av (9th of Av) which was the day in the Jewish month believed to be when the First and Second Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians and Romans. Jerusalem, seen as the very pulse of the Jewish heart had now been shut to Jews and such a law had prevented a people with the chance to restore their Temple in their Holy City. Instead, Hadrian would rename Jerusalem, Aliea Capitolina and build a temple to Jupiter upon the Temple Mount. This decree would later be reversed after Hadrian’s death, but the damage had been done. Jews therefore, dispersed to other major centers where Judaism increased and strengthened. These places included: Tiberias, Sepphoris, Antioch, Rome, Alexandria, and many others. Judaism would continue to survive as the faithful Jewish people breathed the breath of life into its nostrils and refused to give up the ancient commandments in the Torah. They would preserve their identity, culture, faith and language as a unique people group chosen by God.

By: Peter J. Fast

(All scripture is taken from New King James Version)