Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Masada Story

In the years between 66 and 77 A.D. the so-called Great Revolt of Jews erupted against the Roman Empire, whose army occupied Judea at the time. The Romans responded with full force - the war culminated in the capture of Jerusalem in 70 AD. To show that the Roman victory was decisive the Second Temple was reduced to ashes.

For Jewish people the 70 A.D. destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, situated on a plateau above the so-called Western Wall, meant the end of their continuous history in the land of Palestine, with no hope to restore political independence. This tragic event further intensified the dispersion of Jews all over the large territory of the Roman Empire. It is commemorated on the Arch of Titus in Rome, with Roman legionaries carrying the seven-branched candlestick (menora) from the Temple in the Emperor’s triumph.

In the context of this revolt, Masada becomes the major event on the historic canvas and becomes the last stand of the Jewish rebels. A group of Jewish “zealots”, at the beginning of the rebellion against the Romans, in 66 AD destroyed the Roman garrison stationing in the fortress of Masada and held it throughout the war. After the fall of Jerusalem a few survivors who had evaded capture joined the group on Masada determined to continue the battle for freedom. Using Masada as their base of operation they held out against the Romans for more than two years. In 72 AD the Romans decided for a major mobilization of their troops so that they could crush the revolt. They prepared for a long siege. Facing this overpowering Roman military presence, the group on Masada had only two alternatives: to surrender or to die. The men in Masada had no illusion about what would happen to them if they were taken alive; they knew that after the fall of Jerusalem the women and the children were enslaved and some 2500 of the men were burnt alive or killed in the arena by wild beasts or gladiators. According to Josephus Flavius’ History of the Jewish War (the only source of the event) the last survivors of the defenders of Masada, three hundred in number, killed their wives and children and then killed each other, the last man committing suicide, just before the Romans delivered their final assault.

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