Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel

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Moreover, what should one do when this belief system turns out to be not only an important building block for the development of receptive young minds but also a cornerstone of an entire nation?

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The so-called Masada mythical narrative is such a belief system: The startling discovery of its falsehood descended upon me in However, while the sociological interpretation presented in this book is based on an Israeli experience, it would be a grave mistake to assume that such a mythology and deviant belief system constitutes a cultural idiosyncrasy, typical of Israel only. On the contrary, such myths and deviant beliefs are characteristic of many cultures. Hence, the sociological lesson embedded in this particular tale has wide-ranging ramifications, as we shall see later.

Who is the Israeli academic who would write such a-seemingly-outrageous statement as quoted above? Has he written with similar boldness in the past? A Rhetorical Device for Justice , [1] in which he focused on how Jews killed-for the most part-other Jews. He placed this in a particularly Jewish cultural matrix and described how this specific form of murder had been conceptualized so as to become an alternative system for moral justice.

For several years now I have enjoyed informative, humane, and spirited correspondence with Professor Ben-Yehuda, and I hold him in the highest regard on all levels. The fortress in the Judaean desert toward the south end of the Dead Sea-some feet below sea level and about 80 miles south of Jerusalem and on the western side of the Sea-has been made famous in a Hollywood style film of that name, but perhaps most of all by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin in his book Masada. Herod's Fortress and the Zealots' Last Stand.

Built by King Herod the Great between B. At the beginning of the year 66 A. It became the final holdout for these Zealots after the rest of Palestine had been restored to Rome's control. By late fall or Winter of 72 A. The Roman siege ended on April 16 th in the year 73 A.

The Siege of Masada

The number of men, women, and children atop Masada is placed at p. Joined by the Sicarii, which were Jewish rebels who used knives for their assassination of Romans and fellow Jews who would not rebel with them, the Zealots and Sicarii discussed their options in the face of the inevitable Roman storming of the fortress. Elazar Ben-Yair made "two fiery speeches to persuade the reluctant people to agree to be killed or to kill themselves. The two speeches succeeded, and the Sicarii killed one another and themselves. As it turned out, seven survived: The murdering took place on April 15 th.

When the Romans entered, they found only silence. When the two women heard noises, they came out of hiding and told the Romans what had happened. Today, Masada is a most impressive tourist site with lodging and eating facilities, an electric cable car to convey tourists who do not choose to walk up and down "the Snake Path. The site is basically closed on the Sabbath. Part One is "The Puzzle and the Background. He writes of his denial, his anger, his resentment, and then his motivation to learn the full story. In short, this professor of sociology experienced what untold numbers of serious thinkers over the years have experienced about all sorts of deceptions served up by governments, organizations, religions, and individuals, but with Ben-Yehuda, his own effort to revise the Masada Myth away from its mythic elements and to arrive at a complete picture of how and why the myth became so widely accepted, is filled with implications for other Israeli promoted ideas and myths.

Thus, the question must be asked: What other myths are Israelis believing about their "history" that may require radical revising in the future? This, I believe, is the greatest value of this book: Ben-Yehuda discusses on pages f. The first has to do with suicide heroism as a last stand, a siege mentality against enemies everywhere, and more. For myself, I see the Al-Qaeda Moslems to be so caught up in the myth of Islam as absolutely true and Allah as personally directing them that they give their lives freely without regard to personal pain or loss.

The Masada Myth has worked similarly for Israelis, but for how much longer? The cliff of Masada is, geologically speaking, a horst. Three narrow, winding paths led from below up to fortified gates. Almost all historical information about Masada comes from the first-century Jewish Roman historian Josephus.

Josephus further writes that Herod the Great captured it in the power struggle that followed the death of his father Antipater. According to Josephus, between 37 and 31 BCE, Herod the Great built a large fortress on the plateau as a refuge for himself in the event of a revolt, and erected there two palaces. Josephus said that the Sicarii raided nearby Jewish villages including Ein Gedi , where they massacred women and children. The ramp was complete in the spring of 73, after probably two to three months of siege, allowing the Romans to finally breach the wall of the fortress with a battering ram on April A giant siege tower with a battering ram was constructed and moved laboriously up the completed ramp.

According to Josephus, when Roman troops entered the fortress, they discovered that its defendants had set all the buildings but the food storerooms ablaze and committed mass suicide or killed each other, men, women, and children in total. Josephus wrote of two stirring speeches that the Sicari leader had made to convince his men to kill themselves.

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Josephus presumably based his narration upon the field commentaries of the Roman commanders that were accessible to him. Significant discrepancies exist between archaeological findings and Josephus' writings. Josephus mentions only one of the two palaces that have been excavated, refers only to one fire, while many buildings show fire damage, and claims that people were killed, while the remains of only 28 bodies at the very most have been found.

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The Masada myth: collective memory and mythmaking in Israel

The year of the siege of Masada may have been 73 or 74 CE. Masada was last occupied during the Byzantine period, when a small church was established at the site. An almost inaccessible cave, dubbed Yoram Cave, located on the sheer southern cliff face m below the plateau, has been found to contain numerous plant remains, of which 6,year-old barley seeds were in such good state of preservation that their genome could be sequenced.

Wolcott and the English painter W. Tipping were the first moderns to climb it. Masada was extensively excavated between and by an expedition led by Israeli archaeologist and former military Chief-of-Staff Yigael Yadin. Due to the remoteness from human habitation and its arid environment, the site remained largely untouched by humans or nature for two millennia.

Many of the ancient buildings have been restored from their remains, as have the wall paintings of Herod's two main palaces, and the Roman-style bathhouses that he built. The synagogue , storehouses, and houses of the Jewish rebels have also been identified and restored. Water cisterns two-thirds of the way up the cliff drain the nearby wadis by an elaborate system of channels, which explains how the rebels managed to conserve enough water for such a long time.

The Roman attack ramp still stands on the western side and can be climbed on foot. The meter-high circumvallation wall that the Romans built around Masada can be seen, together with eight Roman siege camps just outside this wall. Inside the synagogue, an ostracon bearing the inscription me'aser cohen tithe for the priest was found, as were fragments of two scrolls: In other loci , fragments were found of the books of Genesis , Leviticus , Psalms , and Sirach , as well as of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice.

In the area in front of 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 fortress. The other 10 names may be those of the men chosen by lot to kill the others and then themselves, as recounted by Josephus. The skeletal remains of a maximum of 28 people [17] were unearthed at Masada. The remains of a male 20—22 years of age, a female 17—18, and a child about 12 years old were found in the palace.

The remains of two men and a full head of hair with braids belonging to a woman were also found in the bath house. Forensic analysis showed the hair had been cut from the woman's head with a sharp instrument while she was still alive an old practice for captured women while the braids indicated that she was married. Based on the evidence, anthropologist Joe Zias believes the remains may have been Romans whom the rebels captured when they seized the garrison. The sparse remains of another 24 people were found in a cave at the base of the cliff.

Although the excavator Yigael Yadin was unsure of their ethnicity, the rabbinical establishment concluded that they were remains of the Jewish defenders, and in July , they were reburied as Jews in a state ceremony. A 2,year-old Judean date palm seed discovered during archaeological excavations in the early s was successfully germinated into a date plant , popularly known as " Methuselah " after the longest-living figure in the Hebrew Bible. At the time, it was the oldest known germination, [28] remaining so until a new record was set in The remnants of a Byzantine church dating from the fifth and sixth centuries have been excavated on the plateau.

Yadin's team could detect no architectural remains of the Hasmonean period, the only findings firmly dated to this period being the numerous coins of Alexander Jannaeus.

According to Shaye Cohen, archaeology shows that Josephus' account is "incomplete and inaccurate". Josephus only writes of one palace; archaeology reveals two. His description of the northern palace contains several inaccuracies, and he gives exaggerated figures for the height of the walls and towers. Josephus' account is contradicted by the "skeletons in the cave, and the numerous separate fires".

According to Kenneth Atkinson, no "archaeological evidence that Masada's defenders committed mass suicide" exists. In , the Masada Museum in Memory of Yigael Yadin opened at the site, in which archeological findings are displayed in a theatrical setting. Many of the artifacts exhibited were unearthed by Yadin and his archaeological team from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem during the s.

The archaeological site is situated in the Masada National Park, and the park requires an entrance fee even if by hiking. There are two hiking paths, both very steep:. In fact, the hiking paths are often closed during the day in the summer because of the heat. Visitors are encouraged to bring drinking water for the hike up, as water is only available at the top.

Alternatively, for a higher fee, visitors can take a cable car the Masada cableway , opens at 8 am to the top of the mesa. A light-and-sound show is presented on some summer nights on the western side of the mountain access by car from the Arad road or by foot, down the mountain via the Roman Ramp path. Following an hour and a half search, Magen David Adom personnel found her unresponsive and suffering from dehydration.

After failed attempts to resuscitate, she was declared dead at the scene. An example of Herodian architecture, Masada was the first site Herod the Great fortified after he gained control of his kingdom. The first of three building phases completed by Herod began in 35 BCE.

During the first phase the Western Palace was built, along with three smaller palaces, a storeroom, and army barracks. Three columbarium towers and a swimming pool at the south end of the site were also completed during this building phase. The original center of the Western Palace was square and was accessed through an open courtyard on the northwest corner of the building. The courtyard was the central room of the Western Palace and directed visitors into a portico , used as a reception area for visitors.

Masada - Wikipedia

Visitors were then led to a throne room. Off the throne room was a corridor used by the king, with a private dressing room, which also had another entrance way that connected to the courtyard through the mosaic room. The mosaic room contained steps that led to a second floor with separate bedrooms for the king and queen. The second building phase in 25 BCE included an addition to the Western Palace, a large storage complex for food, and the Northern Palace.

The Northern Palace is one of Herod's more lavish palace-fortresses, and was built on the hilltop on the north side of Masada and continues two levels down, over the end of the cliffs. The upper terrace of the Northern Palace included living quarters for the king and a semicircular portico to provide a view of the area. A stairway on the west side led down to the middle terrace that was a decorative circular reception hall. The lower terrace was also for receptions and banquets. It was enclosed on all four sides with porticos and included a Roman bathhouse. In 15 BCE, during the third and final building phase, the entire site of Masada — except for the Northern Palace — was enclosed by a casemate wall, which consisted of a double wall with a space between that was divided into rooms by perpendicular walls; these were used as living chambers for the soldiers and as extra storage space.

The Western Palace was also extended for a third time to include more rooms for the servants and their duties. Herod's throne room C.