Recently Israel’s Nature Parks Authority announced on the discovery of an early 5th century CE Church at Banias, a national park in northern Israel. Banias was founded in the Hellenistic period, and was known as a pagan cultic center. A big cave next to the site’s main spring was associated with the Greek god Pan. King Herod built a temple in front of it, to honor emperor Augustus. At that time the city’s name was Caesarea-Philippi, and under that name, the site is mentioned in the New Testament. Caesarea-Philippi is where Jesus appointed Simon-Yona to establish the Christian church. At that event, he also gave him the new name – Peter.
“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; (Matthew 16:17-19).
How Simon-Yona became Peter
Peter is the English phrasing of the Greek word Petros, which means – Rock. If the text above is read in Greek, a play on words becomes clear; acknowledging his solid faith, Jesus equated Simon-Yona to a rock, and so gave him the name – Rock (in Greek: Petrus).
Centuries later, when Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christian pilgrims visited also Caesarea-Philippi. But none of them recorded a church commemorating the appointing of Peter by Jesus. Instead, they recorded a church commemorating a miracle Jesus performed, of healing a hemorrhaging woman.
The evidence of the church discovered are currently very fragmentary. The current data is insufficient to infer if the church was commemorating the healing of the hemorrhaging woman, the appointing of Peter, or perhaps a different subject. It is also possible that the church was simply built over the ruins of pagan temple to demonstrate the triumph of Christianity over paganism. This is also expressed Jesus’ words to Peter –
“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (Matthew 16:18).
As the archaeological excavations at the site continues, perhaps further evidence will surface, and shed light on this fascinating topic. I only hope that a remedy will soon be found to the coronavirus, and so tourists and pilgrims will be able to travel again and visit this site.
See also The Watchman, Erick Stakelbeck, interviewing me on this new discovery –