Updated: Apr 21, 2021
As my Israel tour guide studies begin, we concentrate on geology and water, the source of life. The Banias Spring at the foot of Mount Hermon is the perfect place to start our study of Israel’s water resources. It flows over 9 km from its source at Mount Hermon to meet the Dan River and together they become the largest and most important source of the Jordan River.
The Banias Spring forms a beautifully carved karstic cave (karst=openings and underground fissures created when mildly acidic water dissolves limestone), which was venerated and used as a sacrificial site in prehistoric times.
The Seleucids, (a Greek empire from the Turkey/Syria area, home of that nasty Antiochus – we defeated him and got Hannuka) carved a rock temple to the god Pan (half goat-half man, god of shepherds and nature) whom they believed helped them win a great battle here in 200 BCE, against their nemesis, the Ptolomaic army.
The Temple of Pan gave the spring its name – Paneas (Banias in Arabic). The origins of words and place names is fascinating and I see that the lack of the sound /p/ in Arabic and their replacing it with the sound /b/ has created some very interesting twists. More later…
Several other pagan temples are carved into the limestone facade, including one built to sacrifice sacred goats
Herod the Great, another one of those nice guys in history, built a temple here in honor of Caesar Augustus, Emperor of Rome. Not to be outdone, Herod’s son Phillip inherited this area and in 2 BCE built his capital Caesarea Phillippi near the spring. This polis (city) has yet to be fully excavated but the Cardo (main street, north/south axis) is visible. This allows the imagination of a lover of history to wander… how far does the city extend under your feet? what IS under all that soil?
Caesarea Phillippi has become an important Christian pilgrimage destination as the site mentioned in the Christian Bible, where Jesus awarded Simon Bar Yonah (Peter) his role as leader of the disciples. Jesus is quoted as saying, “You are Peter (Petrus=rock), and on this rock I will build my church…) (Matt 16:16-19)
Who else hung around the Banias Springs, you may ask?
The Romans, the Byzantines, the Crusaders and of course, the Jews and the Druze, and they all added to the rich archeology of this area.
On a lovely leisurely walk from the temples to the beautiful Banias waterfall, visitors pass a Roman bridge, an ancient flour mill, ruins of Phillip’s capital city,
the gorgeous underground walkways of the palace of Agrippas II, an ancient synagogue and a Byzantine church.
Flowing, gushing springs, abundant greenery, a beautiful waterfall, remnants of temples and buildings ranging from the prehistoric to the Byzantine, the Banias National Park is a wonderful place for a hike and a picnic.