Gates of Hades

Chapter 19 of Corrupting the Image vol 2: Gates of Hades

Jesus, the true hero of light, continued His attack on the forces of darkness who had cast their shadow of death in Galilee, by taking the fight directly to them. Toward the latter end of His ministry, he took His disciples about thirty-five miles north of Capernaum to Caesarea Philippi, a two-day trek on foot. They went to the Cave of Pan (Banias),cxciii known as the Gates of Hades, at the base of Mount Hermon, depicted in Figure 62. It seems strange for a Jewish rabbi to take His students to a thoroughly pagan place of worship. Yet, Jesus was always intentional.  

When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, “Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?” So they said, “Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered and said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matt 16:13–18). 

Josephus describes the place:  

When Caesar had further bestowed upon him (Herod) another additional country, he built there also a temple of white marble, hard by the fountains of Jordan: the place is called Panium (Panias, Caesarea Philippi)

hat descends abruptly to a vast depth: it contains a mighty quantity of water, which is immovable; and when anybody lets down anything to measure the depth of the earth beneath the water, no length of cord is sufficient to reach it. Now the fountains of Jordan rise at the roots of this cavity outwardly; and, as some think, this is the utmost origin of Jordan.cxciv 

Figure 62 By Bill Rice from Flat Rock, MI, USA – Caesarea Philippi, CC BY 2.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35423945. 

Before the Romans conquered the area, the Greeks under Alexander, had occupied and governed under the auspices of the Seleucid Empire. It was out of a two-hundred-year dynasty established by the Seleucids that Antiochus (IV) Epiphanes came. He of course, was the one who desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem with the abomination of desolation. This led to the Maccabee revolt and the rededication of the temple, now celebrated as Hanukkah. It was during this fusion of Greek and Near East cultures that Hellenized religious traditions were overlaid on the biblical region. In the area of Banias, they built sanctuaries to worship the god Pan:  

which included strange sexual acts with goats. The Greeks called this place Panias, and the cave was the main attraction for Hellenistic pagan worship. Animal sacrifices were thrown into the bottomless pool inside. If the sacrifices sank, the gods were appeased. Next to the Pan cave are five niches with indented scalloped areas cut into the face of the cliff for their idols. These niches had elaborate temples attached to worship Pan, Zeus, Nemesis, and a sanctuary to the cult of the “dancing goats.” Pan was the god of the goats and his pipe music would entice the goats to dance, and make their fertility assured (he is also linked to sex, lust, and bestiality). It was so wicked, a sin city like today’s Las Vegas, that rabbis forbade a good Jew to come here.cxcv (See Appendix 3, Inanna). 

The Greeks, however, were not the first people to be enamored of the location. We recall that it was squarely in the land of Bashan and at the foot of Mt. Hermon where Baal-Hermon was worshipped. It was the place where the angels descended and also where Og, King of the Bashan and of the Amorites and Rephaim was headquartered. It was at this place that “Canaanite mythology … locates … the abode of its deified dead kings, the mlk(m)/rpu(m) that dwell(s) in ‘Štrt-hdr’y”,cxcvi that is, Og and Sihon, kings of the Rephaim that dwell in Ashtaroth and Edrei.  

The ancient coastal town of Ugarit recorded the location as being ruled by Mlkm (Milcom). This god was also worshipped in ancient Israel and was also known as Molech, a god who demanded child sacrifice. Like many of the gods we have examined before, Milcom was considered a chthonic (underworld) god equated with Nergal, Melqart (king of the city of Tyre) (See Ezek 28).  

Akkadian god lists from the Old Babylonian period onwards include a deity named Malik equated with Nergal, and other Akkadian texts mention mal(i)ku beings with the Igigi and Anunnaki, all in connection with the cult of the dead ancestors. (We may also note a god Milkunni attested in Hurrian.) … the presence of a deity Mlk at Ugarit … (vocalized as Malik, Milku and Mulik in syllabic texts) … appears in two divine directories (actually, snake charms), as resident at ‘ttrt … the same location which is elsewhere assigned to the netherworld deity Rpu it is suggestive of some close relationship, as is the attestation of beings called mlkm in connection with the royal cult of the dead, along with the better-known rpum (OT -Rephaim), who appear to be the shades of dead royalty at Ugarit (or of all the dead in the OT; cr. Ps 88:11). Finally, we may note the similar divine names Melqart of Phoenicia and Milcom of Ammon. Melqart (literally, “King of the City”) may also have connections with the underworld (particularly if one follows W. F. Albright in understanding “the City” as the netherworld), and equally of interest that the Ugaritic ‘address’ for Mlk, ‘ttrt, is likely to be identified with the city Ashtaroth in Bashan, just north of Ammon. cxcvii (Emphasis mine). 

W. F. Albright’s understanding of “the City” as the netherworld is based on the Old Babylonian “irigal”. Iri is like the Hebrew “ir” (city) and “gal” is “big”. It meant the underworld and in Akkadian it was erşetu; qabru meaning “earth, land; underworld; grave”. Erşetu (ertzetu) was also shorthand for “daltu ereti: the door of the underworld.”cxcviii Thus, the notion of the underworld having a gate or a door, is ancient and is found in the land of Shinar where Satan established his false religious system.  

There may have been multiple gates to the underworld just as there are multiple gates into a city. Nevertheless, the cave of Pan was considered to be one of those locations and Jesus made that clear to his disciples. In his paper, “The Gates of Hades and the Keys of the Kingdom,” Joel Marcus confirms how Hades was “believed to house not only the human dead but also the demonic agents of death and destruction.” cxcix  

GATES RELEASE THE ARMY, NOT JUST DEFENSIVE 

Often, commentators view the Gates of Hades as defensive measures trying to protect Hades from attack. Yet, we have seen that Satan’s kingdom has been on the offensive. The gates should not be interpreted as a defensive barrier, but rather as the portal releasing the forces of darkness upon the world. The word κατισχυσουσιν (katischusousin) “prevail” is an offensive word, which according to BDAG means “to have the strength or capability to obtain an advantage, be dominant, prevail to have the capability to defeat, win a victory over.”cc Marcus notes the “insurmountable philological problem with the “defensive” interpretation of the gates…katischynein + genitive is always active in meaning (=”to vanquish”), never passive (=”to resist successfully”).”cci He rightfully concludes that “the gates, therefore, would seem to be attacking the church.” He supports his philological deduction with the “observation of another Matthean passage: 7:24-25” which also portrays a rock, “and here the rock is subjected to a pounding by inimical forces.” ccii 

This leads us to the question of how can gates attack? Marcus points out that “gates” can be a pars-pro-toto term for the “city itself”, and how “English translations occasionally render še’arim ‘town’ or ‘city’” and therefore “‘gates of Hades’ seems to stand for the entire underworld city of the dead.” cciii Thus, Jesus’ use of “Gates of Hades” is perfectly consistent with how the region of Bashan and Hermon itself have many underworld connections.  

Jesus is not merely speaking about gates, but he is speaking of the entire realm of the dead. He is speaking of all of the underworld references we have already considered, many represented by the logogram BAD / BAT, such as Enlil, Ninurta, Og, MLK (Milcom / Molech), Nergal, etc. He is declaring to the great bull god Batios, king of the snake-dragons, stationed in Bashan, that he and his forces will not prevail against God’s kingdom. Jesus’ statement was a declaration of outright war against the rulers of the realm of the dead. Because “Gates … can stand for rulers … Matt 16:18 may point to a military origin for this linkage, which was already present in the OT.”cciv 

THE UNDERWORLD BURSTING THROUGH THE GATES  

Jesus’ trip to the Gates of Hades and subsequent transfiguration, appear to be more a part of a strategy than just an object lesson for His disciples. With history as our guide, we know that God intervened against the Nephilim in the days of Noah and then again, against the gibborim at the Tower of Babel. God quashed Satan’s dangerous machinations to overrun the planet with his demonic host. In the first century, there was a strong sense of the apocalyptic. Marcus notes that:  

The image of Matthew is of rulers of the underworld bursting forward from the gates of their heavily guarded, walled city to attack God’s people on earth. When we speak of demonic powers flooding the earth, we are speaking the language of Jewish apocalyptic. Jewish apocalyptists believed that, in the end-time, the powers of cosmic chaos, restrained since creation, would break forth from their restraint and bring unparalleled tribulation upon the world. Indeed, O. Betz has pointed out that there are remarkable parallels in the QL to the basic picture of Matt 16:18. In 1QH 3:17-18, e.g. the gates of Sheol open and the ungodly powers imprisoned in the underworld stream out to flood the earth.  

As A. Cooper renders this passage:  

They open the gates of [Sheol for all] acts of wickedness; They close the doors of the pit behind the conceiver of mischief; The bars of eternity behind all spirits of wickedness. The gates of Sheol, after opening to release the demonic powers onto the earth, close behind them so that they could not return to the underworld even if they wished to; like wild animals shut up in a gladiatorial arena, they have no choice but to attack the human beings who share their confinement. Similarly, in 1QH 3:26-34 the “time of the wrath of Belial” is described as one in which the gates of Sheol open and “arrows of the pit” fly out.ccv 

As Messiah and God, Jesus would not have succumbed to the latest pop-conspiracies of His day. That means He did not go to Caesarea Philippi for a stunt or to make a name for himself. In fact, coming down from the transfiguration, He instructed the disciples to keep it secret. This is highly suggestive that Satan had something planned for that time. Jesus went up to the Gates to meet the challenge. The events that Satan had planned might line up with the ideas of the apocalyptists of the day who believed the attack included the Gates of Hades opening and Satan’s hordes flooding out. While we do not know definitively if Satan had planned to attack at that time, we do know that he had been preparing his forces since the days of Nimrod, whom we have learned was Ninurta, Nergal, etc., who was also known as the arrow, the star, and the Beast that was, is not, and ascends. Whether Satan geared up for a final battle during Jesus’ ministry, we do not know; but we do know that he is assembling an army for the end of days which may enter through portals, such as the Gates of Hades.