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Holman Bible Dictionary
History Caesarea Philippi seems to have been a religious center from its earliest days. The Canaanite god Baal-gad, the god of good fortune, was worshiped here in Old Testament times. Later, in the Greek period, a shrine in the cave was dedicated to the god Pan. In addition, many niches in the cave held statues of the Nymphs. When Herod the Great was king of the Jews, he built a temple out of white marble near the same spot and dedicated it to Emperor Augustus.
The city also has an important place in the history of the area. Paneas, as it was called before its name was changed, was the site of a famous battle (198 B.C.) in which Antiochus the Great defeated the Egyptians and thereby took control of Palestine for the Seleucids. In 20 B.C., the Romans under Augustus, who then controlled the area, gave the territory to Herod the Great. After Herod's death, it passed to his son Philip who ruled there from 4 B.C. until his death in A.D. 34. Philip rebuilt the city into a beautiful place and renamed it Caesarea Philippi in honor of Tiberias Caesar and himself.
When Herod Agrippa II (grandson of Herod the Great) inherited the city, he renamed it Neronias in honor of the emperor Nero. But, after Nero's death the name was dropped. During the Jewish-Roman War of A.D. 66-70, the Roman general Vespasian rested his army here. After the war, Titus, who succeeded his father as general of the Roman armies, held gladiatorial shows here during which a number of Jewish prisoners were put to death. After subduing the Jews, the Romans changed its name back to Paneas.
New Testament Near here Jesus asked His disciples the famous question about His identity. When He asked them who men said He was, they answered that people were identifying Him with Elijah, John the Baptist, or one of the prophets (Mark 8:27-33; Matthew 16:13-23 ). Jesus then asked them, “But whom say ye that I am?” (Matthew 16:15 ). Peter, acting as the group's spokesman, replied with his famous statement that Jesus is the Christ. Although in John's gospel Jesus was acknowledged as Christ before this event, in the Synoptic Gospels this is the first time that anyone openly confessed Jesus as the Messiah.
Immediately after Peter's confession, Jesus congratulated him for being receptive to God's revelation, changed his name from Cephas to Peter, and then pronounced the founding words of the church. This occasion is also important because for the first time Jesus predicted His coming arrest, death, and resurrection in Jerusalem. That Peter and the other disciples did not fully understand the nature of Jesus' messiahship is evidenced by Peter's rebuke of Jesus. This marked the turning point in Jesus' ministry. After this He confined His ministry mostly to the twelve to reinterpret to them the meaning of His messiahship and to prepare them for the events to come.
The transfiguration, which occurred about a week after the confession at Caesarea Philippi, was probably also in the area. Caesarea Philippi, which had been the center for pagan worship, thus became an important site for Christians because of Jesus' association with it. See Agrippa II; Augustus; Baal; Herod the Great; Herod Philip; Nero .
W. T. Edwards
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Caesarea Philippi'. Holman Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hbd/c/caesarea-philippi.html. 1991.