Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Doubts cast over Masada myth

Story of Jewish rebels taking their own lives while under siege in desert fortress was either exaggerated or untrue, say experts

Herod the Great's fortified complex at Masada was a winter retreat but also an insurance against a feared rebellion of his Jewish subjects or an attack from Rome. Luxurious palaces, barracks, well-stocked storerooms, bathhouses, water cisterns sat on a plateau 400m above the Dead Sea and desert floor. Herod's personal quarters in the Northern Palace contained lavish mosaics and frescoes.

But by the time the Jews revolted against the Romans, Herod had been dead for seven decades. After the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the surviving rebels fled to Masada, under the command of Eleazer Ben Yair. Around 960 men, women and children holed up in the desert fortress as 8,000 Roman legionnaires laid siege from below.

Using Jewish slave labour, the Romans built a gigantic ramp with which they could reach the fortress and capture the rebels. On 15 April in the year 73CE, Ben Yair gathered his people and told them the time had come to "prefer death before slavery". Using a lottery system, the men killed their wives and children, then each other, until the last survivor killed himself, according to historian Flavius Josephus's account.

The Romans advanced but found only "an awful solitude, and flames within and silence, they were at a loss to conjecture what had happened Here encountering the mass of slain, instead of exulting as over enemies, they admired the nobility of their resolve". Josephus recorded that two women and three children survived to tell the tale.

After the declaration of the state of Israel in 1948, Masada took on a new significance, symbolising heroism and sacrifice. "It is a place of ancient doom which time has turned into a symbol of the pride of a new nation," wrote Ronald Harker in the Observer book on Masada, published in 1966.

Newly enlisted soldiers were taken to the desert fortress to swear their oath of allegiance, including the shout: "Masada will not fall again!"

But some have cast doubt on the "myth of Masada", saying it was either exaggerated or the suicide story was simply wrong.

The Guardian


orsh549 said...

After having read much on this, and having seen many documentaries I believe it really took place one reason is that part of the Roman Ramp still exists now. I also think that many more of the Jews may have survived there were many other well hidden paths to and from Masada. We must remember that the Jewish Fighters were more or less radicals - Zealots. They all died for a cause they believed in, and their legacy will live on forever through the Jewish People of ISRAEL.

vortigern said...

In fact this is no news at all. It's been known for quite some time that the actual 'Jewish resistance' was in fact the faction of the Sicarii. The word sicarii is a Latinized term for the Arabic-Semitic word 'askar, which means 'soldiers'. Under their cloaks the Sicarii concealed sicae, or small daggers, from which they received their name. The Romans considered this an assassin's weapon. At popular assemblies, particularly during the pilgrimage to the Temple Mount, the Sicarii stabbed their enemies or, in other words, those who were friendly to the Romans, lamenting after the deed and thus escaping detection. Judas Iskariot may well have been a Sicarii. The other main Jewish group of insurgents were the Zealots, who attempted to expel the Romans and their partisans from Judea, even resorting to murder to obtain their objective. Another disciple, Simon 'the Cananaean' (a code-word for Zealot) may have belonged to that group, as may have James and John, who were nicknamed 'sons of thunder'. Even Peter could have originated in such a group, for he could have been one of the Bar Jonim ('Those outside the Law').

After the fall of Jerusalem, the Sicarii leader Eleazar ben Jair eventually succeeded in escaping the Roman onslaught. Together with a small group of followers, he continued his resistance against the Romans. From Masada, the Sicarii still made raids on the surrounding countryside, carrying off supplies. Josephus very clearly describes the wickedness and boldness of the band of robbers, who terrorised the countryside, killing or dispersing the inhabitants, abducting the remainder to Masada. Masada never was 'Israel's Last Stand'. Quite the opposite, Masada was simply a robber's nest, filled with terrorists, opportunists and their wretched victims.