Masada is located in Israel’s Judean Desert, 3 km. west of the south part of the Dead Sea and only 15 km. north of Ein-Bokek hotel strip. Masada was the last Jewish holdout to fall to Rome in 73 CE. and symbolizes the exile of the Jewish nation from the holy land ending the nation liberty. Its violent ending has become a symbol of bravery and self-sacrifice, summerised best in the words of Masada’s rebels leader Yair ben-Elazar: “The death of a free man is prefferd than a life of total slavery”.
Masada, is on a breathtaking rock plateau with steep cliffs rising on all sides. After the beginning of refuge builting of Masada’s at the age of the “Hashmonaim” in the 1st and 2nd century BC, King Herods constructed a fortified palace complex atop of the plateau between 37 and 31 AD. During the (failure) Jewish “Great Rebellion” against Rome in first century between the years 66- 73 AD, a sect of Jews, numerated approx 1,000 men,women and child called the “Sikariam”(“extremist”), took refuge in isolated Masada. Masada was the last free stronghold of Jews in Judea. The Roman legion surrounded Masada, built a circumvallation wall and then a siege ramp against the western face of the plateau and then set it on fire ending a seven years of independence to finally fall at the hands of the Roman army.
However, there was a dramatic twist in the strory. Rather than be killed or enslaved, it is claimed the holed up rebels chose to commit a mass suicide, a deed which forever enshrined them in the annals of Zionist history but also contrary to the Jewish belief against self killing. It is still unclear if the mass suicide story, described by the Roman historian Josefus Flavious in his book “The Jewish War”, is a myth or a true historical fact. In the Northern Palace, 11 small ostraca were recovered, each bearing a single name. One reads “ben Ya’ir” and could be short for Eleazar ben Ya’ir, the commander of the rebels. The other 10 names may be those of the men chosen by lottery to kill the others and then themselves, as in mentioned in the writting of Josefus Flavious. As a fact, skeletons of around 50 personals were founds at the sites during its archeological searches and the remains of 900 more are yet to found, if any, leaving the factual discovery of the suicide story proof unclear.
Masada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been granted a special place in the heart of the Jewish nation. Though the actions of the Zealots are still debated, Masada has become synonymous with the tragic and much-mourned downfall of free and independant Jewish life in Israel. More recently, this symbol of fanatic death has been contrasted with Jewish rebirth andthe founding of the free State of Israel. Indeed, many Israeli soldiers, sworn in atop Masada, emotionally chant Issac Lamdan’s famous poem: “Masada shall never fall again.”