EXCERPT The Lord Jesus was in the region of Caesarea Philippi when He asked His disciples: “Who do men say that I am?” What prompted Him to ask this question? I believe the geography and archaeology of the area gives us a clue. Jesus and His disciples walked the Roman road from Bethsaida toward Caesarea Philippi when they came across a beautiful temple built to honor Caesar Augustus, a mere mortal man who was deified by the Roman Senate upon his death, but a man who was venerated as a deity in life in the Eastern Roman Empire.
Herod the Great’s Temple to Caesar Augustus
Herod the Great was given the area of Paneion (later to be known as Caesarea Philippi) by Caesar Augustus in 20 BC. In honor of Augustus’ visit to the area, Herod the Great built three temples to Augustus, called Augusteums. They were located in Caesarea by the Sea, Samaria-Sebaste, and near Paneon.
Herod the Great was practicing a contemporary Arab proverb: “Make a friend before you need one.” Herod, with his ruthless rule, needed all the friends he could get, especially those in high places. Having the emperor’s support encouraged Herod’s brutal rule (Josephus, Antiq. 15: 343-348; LCL 8: 165-169).
Josephus, the First Century AD Jewish historian, mentions the location and construction of the Augusteum near Paneion in two passages. The first: “And when he [Herod the Great] returned home after escorting Caesar [Augustus] to the sea, he erected to him a very beautiful temple of white stone in the territory of Zenodorus, near the place called Paneion. In the mountains here there is a beautiful cave, and below it the earth slopes steeply to a precipitous and inaccessible depth, which is filled with still water, while above it is a very high mountain. Below the cave rise the sources of the river Jordan. It was this most celebrated place that Herod further adorned with the temple which he consecrated to Caesar” (Antiq. 15: 363-364; LCL 8: 175-177)….
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