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Banias, Israel

BANIAS, ruined city at the foot of Mount Hermon on the Hermon Brook, one of the sources of the River Jordan. The brook drains an area of about 60 sq. mi. (150 sq. km.), running swiftly for 2 miles (3.5 km.) and then dropping 600 ft. (190 m.). After another 5.5 miles (9 km.) it joins the Dan River and runs into the Jordan. The brook contains water all year round, with an annual total of 125 million cu. m. The city was called by the Jews *Dan or Mivẓar Dan ("the Fort of Dan"; a suggested identification with the biblical Beth-Rehob is uncertain). It stood over a cliff with a grotto dedicated to the Greek god Pan and the nymphs, and hence was named Paneas (Banias being an Arabic corruption). In 198 B.C.E., Antiochus III conquered Palestine from the Ptolemies by his victory near this place. Later the city belonged to the Itureans, from whom it was transferred by Augustus to Herod who named it Caesarea in honor of Augustus and to whom he erected a temple there. Philip the Tetrarch ( *Herod Philip ), Herod's son, developed the city, resided there, and struck coins with images of its buildings. It was generally known as Caesarea Philippi ("of Philip") to distinguish it from the better-known Caesarea-by the-Sea. As such it is mentioned in the New Testament (Matt. 16:13; Mark 8:27) in connection with Jesus' visit to the area. In 61 C.E. *Agrippa II renamed it Neronias in honor of the emperor Nero, but it kept this name only until 68. In 70 *Titus held games there to celebrate his victory and many Jewish captives were put to death. In the Talmud, Caesarea is called Keissariyyon or Little Caesarea; the Mishnah also mentions the cave of Pamias referring to the same place. Caesarea's territory extended as far as Hadar and the Phiale Lake; the Ḥuleh Valley also belonged to it. A statue of Hadrian which stood there was regarded by the early Christians as representing Jesus healing a woman. The Talmud refers to the emperor Diocletian's oppression of the people of Paneas (Lieberman, in JQR, 36 (1946), 350ff.; TJ, Shev. 9:2, 38d). In Roman-Byzantine times Caesarea belonged to Phoenicia; its bishops took part in church councils from 325 to 451. In Crusader times it was called Belinas and a powerful castle (Qalʿat al-Subayba) was erected above it.

Banias and its rich archaeological remains were frequently visited by European and American explorers during the 19th century, who noted especially the rock escarpment to the north of the site with its caves, carved niches, and inscriptions. Small-scale Israeli excavations were conducted at the site in the 1970s and 1980s, with a very large ongoing archaeological project there since the 1990s, concentrating in two areas: the work directed by Z. Maoz in the area of the spring-cave and adjacent temples, and the other directed by V. Tsaferis in the central civic area of the site to the south of the springs. The Roman-period cultic compound next to the main spring comprised at least two temples, dedicated to the gods Pan and Zeus, with adjacent halls and installations. Among the finds was a good representation of Roman statuary. In other parts of the city, fragments of buildings from the Hellenistic period through medieval times were discovered. An important discovery close to the civic center was that of a large palace complex comprising underground vaulted chambers, halls, and courts and dating from the first century C.E. This palace was apparently built by one of Herod the Great's successors, i.e., Philip or Agrippa II. In addition to these finds, the expedition also brought to light remains of a bath house, a columned street from the Byzantine period, and a synagogue dating from the 11th century C.E.

Since Banias was situated on the main road from Palestine to Damascus it served in the Middle Ages as an administrative center to a district with the same name. During the 11th century there was a relatively large Jewish community, whose members were called the Baniasites. They were frequently mentioned in genizah documents. A document of 1056 shows that the Banias community was well organized and had a bet din.

Since Babylonian Jews had settled in Banias, the community was split into two sections, the Palestinians and the Babylonians, who differed in their versions of prayers. These two sections existed to the beginning of the 12th century. A Karaite pseudo-messiah is reported in 1102. *Benjamin of Tudela mentions no community in Banias in 1170 and it is possible that it ceased to exist during the Crusades. Later, Banias was reinhabited by Jews. Even during the early Ottoman period, Jews still lived at Banias, as attested by a document from 1624 which mentions the murder of a Jewish physician, by the name of Elijah ha-Kohen of Banias, by an Arab sheik (Ben Zvi, in Tarbiz, 3 (1932), 442). From 1948 to 1967 Banias served the Syrians as a base for attacks on *Dan . In June 1967 it was occupied by the Israel Defense Forces. Later the area was declared a nature reserve, under the supervision of the Nature Reserves Authority. The reserve includes the river and its natural surroundings as well as the archaeological relics scattered around the river route.


E. Orni and E. Efrat, Geography of Israel (1964), 74; Mann, Egypt, 2 (1922), 203; J. Braslavski, in: BJPES, 5 (1938), 128–31; Assaf, ibid., 6 (1939), 16–19; Schuerer, Gesch, 2 (1906), 204ff.; M. Avi-Yonah, Geog, 150–2; Kuk, in: Ha-Tor, 6 (1926), no. 35, 8–10; no. 36, 8–9. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Y. Meshorer, "The Coins of Caesarea Paneas," in: Israel Numismatics Journal, 8 (1984–85), 37–58; V. Tzaferis, "Banias, la Ville de Pan," in: Le Monde de la Bible, 64 (1990), 50–53; J.F. Wilson, Banias: The Lost City of Pan (2004) S.V. Paneas; Y. Tsafrir, L. Di Segni, and J. Green, Tabula Imperii Romani. IudaeaPalaestina. Maps and Gazetteer (1994), 199.

[Michael Avi-Yonah /Gideon Biger and Shimon Gibson (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.