SIEGE OF JERUSALEM BY THE ROMANS AND MASADA

SIEGE OF JERUSALEM BY THE ROMANS


Jerusalem was reclaimed by the Romans after a siege by Titus's army. In A.D. 70, Titus put down the revolt, captured Jerusalem, and punished rebellious Jewish zealots by salting agricultural land, slaughtered and enslaved thousands of Jews, and looted menorahs and other sacred objects. Thousands of Jewish slaves were brought to Rome from Judea. During a huge triumphal procession, commemorated by the Arch of Titus, Jewish prisoners were paraded through the streets and strangled at the Forum. Josephus claimed that all together over 1 million Jews died as a result of the Roman crackdown.

L. Michael White at the University of Texas at Austin told PBS: “The siege of Jerusalem is a sad story. Josephus tells us about some of its events, and it's in gruesome detail in the story of the Jewish war. Josephus describes walking around the walls of Jerusalem and pleading with people on the inside to give up rather then go through the suffering and agony that would come from a long protracted siege. Josephus also tells us that there's a lot of infighting going on in the city among the different rebel factions who occupy different parts of Jerusalem. The loss of life must have been catastrophic to the Jewish population as a whole. [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

“For two years then Jerusalem was under siege. Starvation, disease, murder were the order of the day. In the final analysis, by the month of August in the year 70 the fate of Jerusalem was a foregone conclusion. The Roman armies were masked. They were ready to break through. Everyone knew it. It was just a matter of when but they were going to fight to the death, and many of them did die. So on that fateful morning when they broke through, Josephus describes the events of them breaking through the walls. The Roman soldiers running through the streets. Going into every house. Killing everyone they find. \=/

“It's a pretty awful slaughter and we have lots of evidence of it now between the artifacts that one finds of the first revolt that are scattered throughout this layer of the archaeological record. Arrowheads, spears, other kinds of indications of pretty serious hand-to-hand combat in all parts of the city. The lower city of Jerusalem remains to this day largely uninhabited but in Jesus' day in up to the time of the first revolt that was the most populous part of the city. But in the first revolt in those final hours of the battle it was burned to the ground. \=/

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL) ccel.org ; Judaism Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; Aish.com aish.com ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Religious Tolerance religioustolerance.org/judaism ; BBC - Religion: Judaism bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica, britannica.com/topic/Judaism; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline jewishhistory.org.il/history ; Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Jewish History Resource Center dinur.org ; Center for Jewish History cjh.org ; Jewish History.org jewishhistory.org ; Christianity and Christians Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Christianity.com christianity.com ; BBC - Religion: Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/ ; Christianity Today christianitytoday.com

Josephus on the Siege of Jerusalem: Short Version


Josephus

Describing what Jerusalem was like during the siege, Josephus wrote: "Throughout the city people were dying of hunger in large numbers and enduring indescribable sufferings. In every house the merest hint of food sparked violence, and close relatives fell to blows, snatching from one another the pitiful supports of life. No respect was paid even to the dying." [Source: Eyewitness to History, edited Jon Carey, Avon Books, 1987]

"Gaping with hunger, like mad dogs, lawless gangs went staggering and reeling through the streets, battering upon the doors like drunkards, and so bewildered they broke into the same house two or three times in an hour. Need drove the starving to gnaw at anything. Refuge which even animals would reject was collected and turned into food. In the end they were eating belts and shoes, and leather stripped off their shields. Tufts of withered grass were devoured, and sold in little bundles for four drachmas."

"Among the residents...was a woman called Mary...Famine gnawed at her vitals, and the fire of rage was even fiercer than famine. So, driven by fury and want, she committed a crime against nature. Seizing her child, and infant at the breast, she cried, 'My poor baby why should I keep you alive in this world or war and famine? Even if we live till the Romans come, they will make slaves of us...Come, be food for me."

"With these words she killed her son, roasted the body, swallowed half of it, and stored the rest in a safe place. But the rebels were on to her at once, smelling roast meat and threatening to kill her instantly if she did not produce it. She assured them she saved them a share, and revealed the remains of her child, Seized with horror and stupefaction, they stood paralyzed by the sight. But she said, 'This my own child, and my own handiwork. Eat, for I have already eaten."

Destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70

The Romans burned and sacked the Second Temple in Jerusalem. The Arch of Titus in Rome has a frieze showing legionnaires carrying candelabra and silver trumpets from the Temple. The Roman's added insult to injury by razing the Roman standard on the ruin of the Temple with an image of a pig (Jews like Muslims refrain from eating pork).

Jesus is said to have predicted the destruction of the Temple and that Titus would "leave not a stone unturned" as . Omens before 70 A.D., bright lights on the altar, a cow that gave birth to a lamb, chariots speeding through the sky at sunset.

Today the Western Wall (Wailing Wall) is all that remains visible today of the Second Jewish in Jerusalem . A retaining wall of a huge platform on which Herod's temple was built in 20 B.C. the Western Wall is about 60 feet high, 16 foot thick and composed of large blocks of stone (the largest of which are 30 feet long and weigh 50 tons) and is believed to have supported an esplanade. A 20 foot upper extension of the wall, made of smaller stones, is part of the ramparts of the Temple Mount, which belongs to the Muslims.

The Western Wall is just 55 meters long. An additional 325 meters runs underground, mostly in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem. Along side some sections are dimly-lit tunnels with vaulted ceilings, Roman columns and a musty smell. The stones in the walls are chiseled with an inset rectangular border, forming a perfect fit at the joints, A Jerusalem stone cutter told the U.S. News and World Report, “It's the most beautiful stone worker ever done in history. We can not do today what they did 2,000 years ago." The 13-meter-long, four-meter-high, 500-ton “huge stone” is used to stabilize the wall. Many building experts regard it as the largest building stone ever made. About 100 meters behind this area is where it is said the Ark of the Covenant was kept. Some think it still there.

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Destruction of Herod's Temple by Francesco_Hayez

Josephus on the Siege of Jerusalem: Long Version

In “Jewish War” Chapter 8, Josephus wrote: “(403) So the Romans being now become masters of the wars, they both placed their ensigns upon the towers, and made joyful acclamations for the victory they had gained, as having found the end of this war much lighter than its beginning; for when they had gotten upon the last was, without any bloodshed, they could hardly believe what they found to be true; but seeing nobody to oppose them, they stood in doubt what such an unusual solitude could mean. (404) But when they went in numbers into the lanes of the city, with their swords drawn, they slew those whom they overtook, without mercy, and set fire to the houses wither the Jews were fled, and burnt every soul in them, and laid waste a great many of the rest; (405) and when they were come to the houses to plunder them, they found in them entire families of dead men, and the upper rooms full of dead corpses, that is of such as died by the famine; they then stood in a horror at this sight, and went out without touching anything. (406) But although they had this commiseration for such as were destroyed in that manner, yet had they not the same for those that were still alive, but they ran every one through whom they met with, and obstructed the very lanes with their dead bodies, and made the whole city run down with blood, to such a degree indeed that the fire of many of the houses was quenched with these men's blood. (407) And truly so it happened, that though the slayers left off at the evening, yet did the fire greatly prevail in the night, and as all was burning, came that eighth day of the month Gorpieus [Elul] upon Jerusalem; (408) a city that had been liable to so many miseries during the siege, that, had it always enjoyed as much happiness from its first foundation, it would certainly have been the envy of the world. Nor did it on any other account so much deserve these sore misfortunes, as by producing such a generation of men as were the occasions of this its overthrow. [Source: “The Works of Josephus,” translated by William Whiston. Hendrickson Publishers, 1987]

Chapter 9: “1. (409) Now, when Titus was come into this [upper] city, he admired not only some other places of strength in it, but particularly those strong towers which the tyrants, in their mad conduct, had relinquished; (410) for when he saw their solid altitude, and the largeness of their several stones. and the exactness of their joints, as also how great was their breadth, and how extensive their length, he expressed himself after the manner following:- (411) "We have certainly had God for our assistant in this war, and it was no other than God who ejected the Jews out of these fortifications; for what could the hands of men, or any machines, do towards overthrowing these towers!" (412) At which time he had many such discourses to his friends; he also let such go free as had been bound by the tyrants, and were left in the prisons. (413) To conclude, when he entirely demolished the rest of the city, and overthrew its wars, he left these towers as a monument of his good fortune, which had proved his auxiliaries, and enabled him to take what could not otherwise have been taken by him.

“2. (414) And now, since his soldiers were already quite tired with killing men, and yet there appeared to be a vast multitude still remaining alive, Caesar gave orders that they should kill none but those that were in arms, and opposed them, but should take the rest alive. (415) But, together with those whom they had orders to slay, they slew the aged and the infirm; but for those that were in their flourishing age, and who might be useful to them, they drove them together into the temple, and shut them up within the walls of the court of the women; (416) over which Caesar set one of his freed men, as also Fronto, one of his own friends; which last was to determine every one's fate, according to his merits. (417) So this Fronto slew all those that had been seditious and robbers, who were impeached one by another; but of the young men he chose out the tallest and most beautiful, and reserved them for the triumph; (418) and as for the rest of the multitude that were above seventeen years old, he put them into bonds, and sent them to the Egyptian mines. Titus also sent a great number into the provinces, as a present to them, that they might be destroyed upon their theaters, by the sword and by the wild beasts; but those that were under seventeen years of age were sold for slaves. (419) Now during the days wherein Fronto was distinguishing these men, there perished, for want of food, eleven thousand; some of whom did not taste any food, through the hatred their guards bore to them; and others would not take in any when it was given them. The multitude also was so very great, that they were in want even of corn for their sustenance.


Destruction of Jerusalem


“3. (420) Now the number of those that were carried captive during this whole war was collected to be ninety-seven thousand, as was the number of those that perished during the whole siege eleven hundred thousand, (421) the greater part of whom were indeed of the same nation [with the citizens of Jerusalem], but not belonging to the city itself; for they were come up from all the country to the feast of unleavened bread, and were on a sudden shut up by an army, which, at the very first, occasioned so great a traitness among them that there came a pestilential destruction upon them, and soon afterward such a famine, as destroyed them more suddenly.”

Burnt House

L. Michael White at the University of Texas wrote: “One of the most recent and poignant examples of this comes from the archaeology. Something called the burnt house which actually shows us one of the houses that apparently was burned ... the furniture and the implements are here in place with a layer of ash and residue of the burning still quite clear. And we have to really think of this as a massive trauma to the Jewish experience, in the Jewish psyche of that time. Jerusalem, the sacred city. The temple, the center of piety and identity, is gone and they have to be saying to themselves, "How could God let this happen to us? What have we done wrong?" [Source: L. Michael White, Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program University of Texas at Austin, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

“... The impact of the destruction of Jerusalem is really very important to all Jewish history. We have to imagine the whole population of Judea. That Southern region and especially the city of Jerusalem itself really being forced to leave because of the devastation of the city. Apparently the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 is the occasion of a massive shift of population away from the South and toward the North. In future generations the main center of Jewish population would be the Galilee. Not the Southern Judean region. So as we think of Jerusalem in those final hours of the war we have to [imagine] a stream of refugees fleeing the city, and as they look back seeing the temple in flames. The smoke rising on the horizon and they are wondering what it is that will be the center of their faith now that the house of God has been destroyed.... \=/

“As they looked back at the... smoke rising on the horizon from the temple they might have remembered the words of the psalm, "By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down, and we wept when we remembered Zion." This is a psalm from the first destruction, back in the time of the Babylonian exile, but at the time of the revolt against Rome it must have come back as a haunting refrain of what happens when the temple is lost. When the people feel that their God has abandoned them, or maybe it's their fault.” \=/

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Sack of Jerusalem on Titus's Arch

Jerusalem Tunnel Yields Artifacts from Destruction of the Temple

In 2011, it was announced that artefacts related to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem were found in a Jerusalem tunnel. archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot reported: “A sword in a scabbard that belonged to a Roman soldier and an engraving of the Temple’s menorah on a stone object were discovered during work the Israel Antiquities Authority conducted in the 2,000 year old drainage channel between the City of David and the Jerusalem Archaeological Garden. The channel served as a hiding refuge for the residents of Jerusalem from the Romans during the destruction of the Second Temple.” [Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, archaeologynewsnetwork.blogspot.ca, August 9, 2011 /=/]

“During the course of work the Israel Antiquities Authority carried out in Jerusalem’s ancient drainage channel, which begins in the Siloam Pool and runs from the City of David to the archaeological garden (near the Western Wall), impressive finds were recently discovered that breathe new life into the story of the destruction of the Second Temple. The excavations are being conducted on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in cooperation with the Nature and Parks Authority and are underwritten by the City of David Foundation. /=/

“According to the excavation directors Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Professor Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa, “It seems that the sword belonged to an infantryman of the Roman garrison stationed in Israel at the outbreak of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66 CE. The sword’s fine state of preservation is surprising: not only its length (c. 60 cm), but also the preservation of the leather scabbard (a material that generally disintegrates quickly over time) and some of its decoration”. /=/

“A stone object adorned with a rare engraving of a menorah was found in the soil beneath the street, on the side of the drainage channel. According to Shukron and Professor Reich, “Interestingly, even though we are dealing with a depiction of the seven-branched candelabrum, only five branches appear here. The portrayal of the menorah’s base is extremely important because it clarifies what the base of the original menorah looked like, which was apparently tripod shaped”. /=/

“The fact that the stone object was found at the closest proximity to the Temple Mount to date is also important. The researchers suppose a passerby who saw the menorah with his own eyes and was amazed by its beauty incised his impressions on a stone and afterwards tossed his scrawling to the side of the road, without imagining that his creation would be found 2,000 years later.” /=/

Masada

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Masada Roman ruins
Historians mark the end of the Jewish wars in A.D. 73 when 960 Jewish zealots committed suicide at Masada, rather than surrender and submit to Roman rule, after withstanding a siege by 15,000 Romans for nearly two years (A.D. 72-73). Some regard it as the world's largest known mass suicide (909 died in the mass suicide at Jonestown in Guyana in 1978).

First identified in 1838, this cliff-top fortress of Masada is located in Israel near the Dead Sea and was the site of a last stand during a rebellion against the Romans. A team led by archaeologist Yigael Yadin in the 1960s found out that King Herod (74 B.C.– 4 B.C.) built two palaces with support buildings surrounded by a wall, nearly a mile long, with 27 towers. After a rebellion against the Romans was crushed in A.D. 70, a group called the Zealots occupied the fortress with 960 people and tried to hold it against a Roman army of about 9,000. In A.D. 73 or 74 the Romans succeeded in building a siege ramp up to the wall, and the remaining defenders decided to take their own lives rather than surrender.

Masada (35 miles southeast of Jerusalem) was originally a fortress palace used by King Herod, the builder of the second Jewish temple, built on a mesa which is 300 meter wide, 600 meters long and 450 meters above the Dead Sea. According to the Roman historian Josephus, the Zealots were some of the last holdouts during a Roman campaign to break Jewish resistance in Palestine. It is believed that they lasted as long as they did at Masada because they had a large food and water supply and they carefully rationed what they had.

The Roman general, Flavius Silva, commanding the Tenth Legion, finally breached Masada's wall in A.D. 73 after spending a year building an earthen ramp on the west side of the mesa. When the Romans were about to reach Masada the Jewish commander, Eleazar ben Yair, exhorted his followers in an impassioned speech to commit suicide rather than become Roman slaves.

Eric Meyers at Archaeology Duke University told PBS: “When the Romans attacked Jewish citizens in Caesarea on the coast, the home of their administrative offices in the year 64, there was an enormous outbreak of opposition and hostility in the Jewish community to this distant Roman administrative force. This is really what precipitated the war, which broke up, literally, four years later, and led to the cataclysmic conclusion, the burning of Jerusalem in the year 70. [Source: Eric Meyers, Professor of Religion and Archaeology Duke UniversityFrontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

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Masada model
“The Rock of Masada, one of the most glorious places in all Israel, became the major refuge point for some of the most extremist elements opposing Rome. The zealots, and their most ardent supporters, fled right in the middle of the war - 66, 67, 68 - to Masada, where [over 600] of them took residence... in the splendor of this gorgeous place to eke out a futile existence which had such an unhappy ending. \=/

“If one looks to the site of Masada and observes these ruins there, we can see on the northern corner a three-tiered magnificent palace. This is where Herod and his retinue stayed, and they got the cool afternoon breezes there every day, an absolutely beautiful place.... On all the four corners, on the whole edge of the rock, was a wall. And here the zealots located most of their homes when they resettled the place after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70. There were the great storerooms in the middle of the rock... full of foodstuffs and an arsenal of weapons.... And you had another palace, and even underground cisterns that were tremendous, the size of football fields, so that water could be provided to this remote place. Here these... Zealots situated themselves for nearly four years after the loss of Jerusalem. And they could observe from their perch upon this rock, the Romans in the six encampments all around them.... \=/

“It was a refuge for Herod, and it became even a greater refuge now for these Zealots following the war, even though the war, for all intents and purposes, had ended in 70 on the 9th of Ab, some time in July. So they went on, and they built little hovels in the casement wall, and they built other little residences in the trappings of Herod's splendor. And they watched Flavius Silva built a ramp on the western side, as it stepped up the mountain. [That] took a long time, and there were six Roman camps all the way around on the eastern side, coming around the northern and southern corners as well. And they watched that, and then the tale gets confusing. The tale gets confusing because we have one major written source, and that's the tale of Josephus himself. And he tells us a story of mass suicide before Flavius Silva and the troops could come up. The Roman general Flavius Silva, who built this ramp, decided suddenly on the day that the ramp was completed to let his soldiers go back and get a good night's sleep before they would invade the camp. And this is one of the clues that tips off modern day scholars and readers of Josephus that this is not the thing you would expect from a brilliant Roman strategist. Send the troops back and have a good meal, a good rest before they take on these 600 some men, women, children. They're not exactly the strongest opposition that you could imagine.” \=/

Josephus (37- after 93 CE): Masada [Jewish War 7:9]

The “Wars of the Jews, Book 7,” Chapter 9, Josephus wrote: “1. (389) Now as Eleazar was proceeding on in his exhortations, they all cut him off short, and made haste to do the work, as full of an unconquerable ardor of mind, and moved with a demoniacal fury. So they went their ways, as one still endeavoring to be before another, and as thinking that this eagerness would be a demonstration of their courage and good conduct, if they could avoid appearing in the last class; so great was the zeal they were in to slay their wives and children, and themselves also! (390) Nor, indeed, when they came to the work itself, did their courage fail them, as one might imagine it would have done, but they then held fast the same resolution, without wavering, which they had upon the hearing of Eleazar's speech, while yet every one of them still retained the natural passion of love to themselves and their families, because the reasoning they went upon appeared to them to be very just, even with regard to those that were dearest to them; (391) for the husbands tenderly embraced their wives, and took their children into their arms, and gave the longest parting kisses to them, with tears in their eyes. [Source: “The Works of Josephus,” translated by William Whiston Hendrickson Publishers, 1987]



“(392) Yet at the same time did they complete what they had resolved on, as if they had been executed by the hands of strangers, and they had nothing else for their comfort but the necessity they were in of doing this execution to avoid that prospect they had of the miseries they were to suffer from their enemies. (393) Nor was there at length any one of these men found that scrupled to act their part in this terrible execution, but every one of them dispatched his dearest relations. Miserable men indeed were they, whose distress forced them to slay their own wives and children with their own hands, as the lightest of those evils that were before them. (394) So they being not able to bear the grief they were under for what they had done any longer, and esteeming it an injury to those they had slain to live even the shortest space of time after them,-they presently laid all they had in a heap, and set fire to it. (395) They then chose ten men by lot out of them, to slay all the rest; every one of whom laid himself down by his wife and children on the ground, and threw his arms about them, and they offered their necks to the stroke of those who by lot executed that melancholy office; (396) and when these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after all, should kill himself. Accordingly, all these had courage sufficient to be no way behind one another in doing or suffering; (397) so, for a conclusion, the nine offered their necks to the executioner, and he who was the last of all took a view of all the other bodies, lest perchance some or other among so many that were slain should want his assistance to be quite dispatched; and when he perceived that they were all slain, he set fire to the palace, and with the great force of his hands ran his sword entirely through himself, and fell down dead near to his own relations. (398) So these people died with this intention, that they would leave not so much as one soul among them all alive to be subject to the Romans. (399) Yet there was an ancient woman, and another who was of kin to Eleazar, and superior to most women in prudence and learning, with five children, who had concealed themselves in caverns under ground, and had carried water thither for their drink, and were hidden there when the rest were intent upon the slaughter of one another. (400) Those others were nine hundred and sixty in number, the women and children being withal included in that computation. (401) This calamitous slaughter was made on the fifteenth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan].

“2. (402) Now for the Romans, they expected that they should be fought in the morning, when accordingly they put on their armor, and laid bridges of planks upon their ladders from their banks, to make an assault upon the fortress, which they did, (403) but saw nobody as an enemy, but a terrible solitude on every side, with a fire within the place as well as a perfect silence So they were at a loss to guess at what had happened. At length they made a shout, as if it had been at a blow given by the battering-ram, to try whether they could bring anyone out that was within; (404) the women heard this noise, and came out of their underground cavern, and informed the Romans what had been done, as it was done, and the second of them clearly described all both what was said and what was done, and the manner of it: (405) yet they did not easily give their attention to such a desperate undertaking, and did not believe it could be as they said; they also attempted to put the fire out, and quickly cutting themselves a way through it, they came within the palace, (406) and so met with the multitude of the slain, but could take no pleasure in the fact, though it were done to their enemies. Nor could they do other than wonder at the courage of their resolution and the immovable contempt of death, which so great a number of them had shown, when they went through with such an action as that was.”

Roman View of Masada

Holland Lee Hendrix of the Union Theological Seminary told PBS: “From the point of view of a Roman soldier, Masada would have been a truly awful but, at the same time, greatly relieving phenomenon. The Romans had been trying to scale Masada for a long time and had used all of their best strategies and tactics.... But the Romans, you know, also liked a good fight and the fact that that remarkable group of people who protected and fortified Masada committed suicide would probably have been seen as a source of great disappointment for the Romans. They would have wanted to punish them themselves, or at least to vanquish them themselves, but it would have been an enormous relief because Masada posed a huge strategic military challenge to the Roman legions. [Source: Holland Lee Hendrix, President of the Faculty Union Theological Seminary, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

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Masada
“You had this extremely steep, high, plateau on which Masada was built, and the fortifications put up, and if you were a Roman soldier approaching Masada, I think your heart would sink because you know that you would have to first to spend a lot of time building a lot of ramps, massive ramps to move the army up the sides in order to breach the walls, but you would know in the process that you were on a suicide mission because, all the while the fortifiers and guardians of Masada would have been pelting you with any number of lethal objects, at no doubt great losses to the army. So if you were a Roman soldier or a Roman general you would be very concerned about the enormous toll on the attacking army. The irony, of course, is that when the soldiers breached the walls finally, it was not they who had been subject to the suicide attack, it was those who had been guarding Masada who had committed suicide. So there is a cruel irony in the whole breach of Masada.” \=/

Masada Archaeology

According to Josephus's account each male household member was in charge of killing his family. They in turn were killed by ten men who cut their throats. The 10 men then drew lots to determine who would kill whom with the final one left killing himself. When Romans arrived they found 960 corpses of men, women and children amid "a terrible solitude" and a "perfect silence." Today recruits in the Israeli army go to Masada to swear an oath: "Masada shall not fall again."

Masada was discovered in 1963 by the Israeli general Yigael Yadin and was excavated with the help of 300 soldiers in the Israeli army that moved 1.3 million cubic feet of soil and ruble in two years. Many of the discoveries they made seemed consistent with accounts by Josephus at least as they were expressed in Yigael Yadin's book Masada , including traces of a siege walls and remains from the eight Roman camps at the base of the mountain and scrolls, living quarters and Jewish coins at the top, and even remains of fires said to have been set on the day of the mass suicide.

Yadin’s team uncovered Herod's Hanging Palace and sacred scrolls, including an original Hebrew version of Ecclesiasticus, a book of moral laws originally written in the 2nd century B.C. that helped date the Dead Sea Scrolls. The archaeologists also found part of the ramp and discovered potsherds that they said had different names and were likely used to hold the lots that were cast to decided the order of the suicides.

In recent years the Yadin take on events has been challenged, particularly in the books The Masada Myth and Sacrificing Truth by Nachman Ben-Yuda. These books argue that the Masada archaeology and the interpretation of it were crafted to fit the Josephus account with the intention of inspiring soldiers in Israel at that time the excavations were done to fight with the same heroic determination.

Among other things these books point out is that no bones were found at Masada, something that seems usual for a mass suicide of 960 individuals, and the assertion that bones found far away belonged to the Masada victims even though more likely they were from Roman soldiers. On top of that the potsherds from the pots that were said to have held the suicide lots were found in a trash dump, an unlikely resting places for objects of just importance. Ben-Yadu has also pointed that the Masada residents were extremists and terrorists not heros. Regarded as Sicarii (derived form the Greek word for “dagger”), they were known to have killed Jews, marked as collaborators, as well as Romans. In one instance the massacred over 700 women and children.

Josephus Vs. Archeology on Masada


Masada earthen ramp

Eric Meyers at Duke University told PBS: “Josephus tells us that, and when they came and finally broke through with a battering ram the next day they found no one there except the silence of the place and a mass suicide. And that brings us to the question, who's right? Josephus or the archaeology...? The story that we can reconstruct from the archaeological remains is at variance from what we find in Josephus; we don't find 630 skeletons in the ruins that were excavated by archaeologists at Masada in 1963 to 1965. What we find are 25 skeletons in a big underground cave on the southern face that may or may not be refugees who escaped the mass suicide, and three other skeletons, a grown person and two children, on the site, and that's it. There is no trace whatsoever of human remains on the site. Which leads us to reflect on the meaning of this in Josephus, and the meaning that was created by the archaeological interpretation of those facts. [Source: Eric Meyers, Professor of Religion and Archaeology Duke University, Frontline, PBS, April 1998 \=/]

“Clearly for Josephus, who was supported by the Roman Emperor in Rome after the war, who started out a general and wound up a pacifist, he may have used his writing of events to make an apology to his Roman patrons for those events. And he made suicide, in good Hellenistic literary style, the vehicle for this apology. On the other hand, the archaeologists who looked at the events were looking to make that story - "Masada shall not fall," [is] a phrase of modern interpretive history - to make those events, and to make this data a symbol for modern Israel and their position in the conflict of the modern Middle East. And so politics and nationalism here, I think, have influenced the way the story has been told by contemporary archaeologists. \=/

“In addition to the absence of skeletal remains, I must say that the most heinous sin for a Jew is suicide. It is one of the most unexpected things that would come from a group of pious, let alone Zealous, Jewish people in the first century. People have questioned this also as one of the major reasons for doubting the veracity and truth of the narrative of Josephus.... There is no greater crime, there is no greater sin in Judaism than suicide itself. Not only is this the ultimate insult to a loving God, but it represents also the only instance in which a Jew would be disqualified from burial in a Jewish cemetery.... \=/

“If there are no bones, and if there were no mass suicide, what happened to all of these people? In my opinion, the Roman troops probably, after they broke through with a battering ram, stormed the complex, hunted up all of these zealots, all of these poor souls, killed them and threw them over the rock, over the edge. And those bodies disarticulated naturally over the years, and their bones have been washed away, with the many floods, into the Dead Sea.” \=/

Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com Complete Works of Josephus at Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL), translated by William Whiston, ccel.org , Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures” edited by David Levinson (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1994); National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2018

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