Gates of Hades: Caesarea Philippi
In first century Israel, the gates of Hades was known to be located in Caesarea Philippi. This city would be an equivalent of Las Vegas – Sin City – but much worse than the modern city in the American West. The location of Caesarea Philippi was especially unique because it stood at the base of a cliff where spring water flowed. At one time, the water ran directly from the mouth of a cave set in the bottom of the cliff.
The common belief of pagans in this era was that their fertility gods lived in the underworld during the winter and returned to earth each spring. Water was a symbol of the underworld and it was commonly thought that their gods traveled to and from that world through caves.
To the pagan mind, then, the cave and spring water at Caesarea Philippi created a gate to the underworld. They believed that their city was literally at the gates of the underworld—the gates of Hades. In order to entice the return of their god, Pan, each year, the people of Caesarea Philippi engaged in horrible behavior, including prostitution and sexual interaction between humans and goats. In the open-air Pan Shrine, next to the cave mouth, there was a large niche, in which a statue of Pan (a half-goat, half-human creature) stood, with a large erect phallus, worshiped for its fertility properties. Surrounding him in the wall were many smaller niches, in which were statues of his attending nymphs. On the shrine in front of these niches, worshipers of Pan would congregate and partake in bizarre sexual rites, including copulation with goats – worshipped for their relationship to Pan.
The Gates of Hades was no place for a good Jew! When Jesus brought his disciples to this awful place, they must have been shocked. Caesarea Philippi was like a red-light district in their world and devout Jews would have avoided any contact with the despicable acts committed there.
This was a city of people eagerly knocking on the doors of hell.