Wednesday, March 25, 2015
Mount Hermon, Golan Heights, Israel
Banias Cave, Caesarea Phillipi, Israel
Headwaters of Jordan River, Caesarea Phillipi, Israel
Banias Waterfall, Caesarea Phillipi, Israel
Our Holy Land pilgrimage took us to the northern borders of Israel in the Golan Heights next to Lebanon and Syria. We explored the beautiful Banias grounds of the Hermon Stream Nature Reserve at the base of Mount Hermon. Mount Hermon’s highest peak reaches over 9,000 feet above sea level and it is snow covered two-thirds of the year. The porous Jurassic limestone of the mountain functions like a giant sponge to channel snow melt that feeds springs at the base. Many of these springs emerge at the base of the Banias Cave. The main tributaries called the Sa’ar, Si’on and Guvta streams merge into the Hermon Stream as it forcefully flows south through a steep canyon producing scenic waterfalls. Then the Hermon unites with the Dan and Sinar streams to form the life-giving Jordan River which empties into the Sea of Galilee and beyond. The Sea of Galilee remains relevant even to this day because it receives the Jordan waters and then dispenses them on out into the world. The Dead Sea remains essentially lifeless because it receives and retains these life-giving waters without passing them along—sort of how some folks receive grace.
Greek culture was brought to this area after the conquest of Alexander the Great in 332 BCE and a temple was constructed for Pan, the god of nature. The city was renamed Paneas. After Herod the Great died his Roman kingdom was divided among his three sons and the northern kingdom including the Golan Heights was awarded to his son Philip. He renamed the city Caesarea Philippi and made it his capital. Agrippa II continued to develop the city in the first century CE with a large palace and statuesque temples. We walked in Jesus’ footsteps here among the ancient ruins outside the large Banias Cave and dipped our fingers into the cool spring waters.
Jesus and his disciples centered their mission around the Galilee region, walking from town to town, healing and preaching in the local synagogues and out where the people congregated. Church fathers have identified Caesarea Philippi as the place where Jesus healed the outcast woman who had been bleeding for many years as she touched the edge of his cloak in the crowd. The gospels also record that Caesarea Philippi was the location where Jesus declared that he would build his church on Peter, the Rock. He then went on to predict that the Son of Man must suffer many things and that he must be killed and rise again after three days.
Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain--quite possibly Mount Hermon. God had previously appeared to Moses and Elijah on mountains, which are associated with closeness to God. Then both Moses and Elijah appeared talking with Jesus as he became radiant with a pure white transfiguring light. A cloud enveloped them as God declared, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Peter and the disciples did listen to Jesus and absorbed his teachings, much like the porous limestone on Mount Hermon. And once they fully understood the language of his life, death and resurrection after he joined them once again on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, they were inspired to rush out from their base in the Galilee and channel God’s grace and good news throughout the world.