by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.
Notes on Revelation Online Books
Chapter 47 | Contents | Chapter 49
Cunningham Geikie D.D.
With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
The way to Banias, the ancient Cæsarea Philippi, situated about two miles east from Dan, lies over well-watered land, which only needs a settled government to become a paradise. It was a continual ascent of successive heights with valleys between, for Banias lies nearly 1,100 feet above the sea, 500 feet higher than Dan. The remains of the ancient city extend fully half a mile beyond the present village; but it is to be hoped that of old the road was better than it is now, for such a chaos of stones, large and small, rolled or thrown into a narrow path between banks, or piled into loose walls, needs to be seen to be believed. We had to cross an ancient Roman bridge which spanned the Banias, one of the main sources of the Jordan; but, like everything else, this venerable structure is left to sink into ruin.
Nothing can exceed the romantic beauty of Banias. High hills, clothed with trees and green crops, are mingled with great peaks or masses of naked rock and long stretches of sunny valleys glorious with verdure, especially that of the Banias. Our camp was pitched in a great olive plantation above the village, near to the famous sanctuary of Pan, beside the cavern from which the Banias rushes forth. News of our arrival seemed to spread at once, children gathering round the tents to watch the ways of the foreigners, and groups of women soon following, to see if they could be healed of their ailments, or procure any help for those of their husbands or children. Some of these mothers and daughters of Cæsarea Philippi were very fine-looking, and all were clean, and very modestly dressed. It carried, one back to the days of the Great Physician, for sufferers from dropsy, ague, blindness, tumours, swellings, and other affections, thronged to get relief, if possible, from the Hakim who was for the time in their midst. My medical friend did what he could, and I contributed whatever my small stock afforded in the way of medicines, but we could do very little. It seems beyond question, however, that a Christian physician who would travel round the land from time to time, for the benefit of the people, now without any professional aid, would have a far better opportunity of speaking for the Master than any other missionary. The Edinburgh Medical Mission has admirable men at different parts of the Holy Land, and in Damascus; perhaps it might be arranged that they should undertake such circuits. Indeed, they may, for anything I know, already make them, for they are full of zeal as well as of intelligence.
After a short rest I strolled to the cavern fountain. What a voice of many waters in this lovely scene! What a fulness and variety of vegetation! The view as we went down the slope to the cave was beautiful; that from the bottom of the glen, if possible, still more so. Thick-branching vegetation hung over the banks of the infant river. To the north rose the great castle of Banias, far up in the sky, perched on a hill almost surrounded by a deep valley. The cliff over the cave from which the river issues is about 100 feet high, and still exhibits ancient sculptures, now little above the mounds of broken rock-below, but once, perhaps, far from the ground. They consist of three niches, as if for the statues of divinities, and two of them have Greek inscriptions. Memorials of the temple built here by Herod in honour of his brother Philip, tetrarch of Trachonitis, would naturally be associated with this cave, since it had been for ages a sacred spot as the birthplace of a river—if, indeed, the heaps of stone around be not in part the remains of the sanctuary itself. To Herod was due the name Cæsarea Philippi, by which the place is known in the New Testament (Matt 16:13; Mark 8:27).
The ancient Banias was naturally fortified on three sides by the river and a deep valley, while on the fourth there was a strong wall, with three great towers, and a broad, deep ditch, probably flooded with water when necessary. A large square tower defended the bridge; buildings with fine granite columns—some of which are still lying about—rose in the town, and an aqueduct ran through it; nor can we doubt that then, as now, streams were led through artificial beds to drive the town mills. Such was the place when our Lord saw it, for it was on one of the green hills around that He was transfigured, when He had retired from Galilee to Cæsarea Philippi and its neighbourhood to escape the wiles of "the Fox" Anitipas. Here doubtless, as elsewhere, He not only taught the people, but healed their diseases. Indeed, at the time of Eusebius, there was a legend that the house of the woman cured of an issue of blood (Luke 8:43) was still to be seen in the town, and a statue was shown which was thought to commemorate the event; the woman, it was believed, having been an inhabitant of Cæsarea Philippi. It seems very improbable, however, that such a work of art should have been set up by a Jewess, as the woman apparently was, for images of all kinds, and even portraits, were abhorrent to the Jews, a fact which at once shows the worthlessness of all pretended likenesses of our Lord.
That the Transfiguration took place near Banias, and not on Mount Tabor, seems beyond question. As to Tabor, indeed, its broad top was enclosed with the walls of a fortification, and built over, to a large extent, in Christ's day—Josephus, when he says he built a castle and walls upon it, meaning only that he restored them. But which of the hills around Cæsarea Philippi witnessed the revelation of our Lord's glory is quite unknown.
Heathen temples were very common in Palestine in Christ's day, and hence that of Pan at Cæsarea Philippi would be no novelty to Him. Already, in the time of Antiochus the Great, the district was spoken of as sacred to Pan, and the likeness of the god, playing on the flute, is still to be seen on local coins of the Roman period. All over this part of the country, indeed, the remains of temples abound, and yet Christ found that quiet and safety in this largely heathen district which were denied Him among His own people.
The castle which looks down on all this loveliness is reached by a long and steep ride. Who first raised a fortress on this proud summit no one knows. Its walls are built of great drafted stones, put together with much skill, but the draft in this case seems not to be a sure sign of antiquity, as the Palestine Surveyors, whom one would think the best possible judges, believe the fortifications to be the work of the Crusaders. They tower nearly 1,500 feet above the town, and extend for no less than 1,450 feet from east to west—very nearly a third of a mile: their depth from north to south being on an average 360 feet. At the back and front deep valleys defend them; on the west they are protected by a rock-cut ditch.; and on the east, by which alone they are approachable, access is still difficult, as the rocks rise steeply from the narrow ridge to the castle walls.
The interior is an uneven area of four or five acres; the rock swelling up in some parts above the walls, while in others the ground is ploughed and sown. There is, indeed, a small village within the fortifications, depending for water wholly on the vast cisterns of the ancient structure, which supplied water to it in antiquity. Under your feet are many subterranean vaults, chambers, and passages, to which access is obtained by a stairway cut in the rock, but no one can now explore the choked-up wonders of this lower world. Who can realise the energy which dragged to such a spot vast mountains of building material, or quarried out the huge trenches in the rocks, and hollowed the very hill, over acres, into an underground labyrinth of dungeons, storehouses, immense cisterns, and much else? It helps to remove false ideas of the condition of the country in remote ages to see such triumphs of science, industry, and wealth in a sequestered spot like Banias. Assuming that the Crusaders only adapted or enlarged already existing works, there is nothing at all equal to this castle in Western lands, except of a date which is comparatively modern.
The position of this wonderful fortress shows that it could not have been intended for the defence of Banias, for it is more than two miles away. Not improbably it was built even before the town, though that boasts of a high antiquity. Like the castle of Kulat esh Shukif—the Belfort of the Crusaders—which towers in full view in the distance, it was raised to command the great caravan-route from Lake Merom to the Plain of Damascus, perhaps by the Sidonians, in the remote days when they had settlements in these parts.
After the death of Christ, Cæsarea Philippi, re-named Neronias by Herod Agrippa II., saw strange sights. When Jerusalem had fallen, Titus celebrated his triumph here by public games, in which Jewish prisoners were compelled to fight with wild beasts and with each other. During the Crusades, it was repeatedly taken and retaken, but finally came into the hands of the Saracens in 1165. A gateway alone now remains in any tolerable preservation, to attest the strength of the defences of the town. Its walls, over six feet thick, rise beside the bridge which spans the channel of the Jordan in one arch of huge stones. Below, the waters rush on over a wide confusion of rocks, mostly basalt: picturesque but wild. Into the streets, which are mere lanes, the stones of generations of houses, and from a wide extent of fields, have been allowed to fall, or have been thrown.
Chapter 47 | Contents | Chapter 49
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