Masada – A Refuge for Herod the Great
Masada was originally built by Herod the Great between 37 and 31 B.C. as a palace of refuge in case of a revolt. According to Josephus, King Herod was an Edomite appointed by the Roman Empire as a client king over Judea. Because he was not a Judean, was in league with the Romans, cruel to his subjects, and called for the assassinations of many Hasmoneans, Herod was a despised leader. Some psychologists have even classified Herod as bipolar and suffering from a type of paranoia. Thought to be one of the reasons behind his prolific building activities such as Masada, his paranoia about losing power is evident in the records of Josephus concerning the murder of some of his sons, as well as the massacre of innocent children in Matthew 2.
Masada – A Final Standoff Against the Romans
Masada means “fortress” in Aramaic. The actual fortress is located on top of a cliff, with the front edge 1,300 feet high and the back edge 300 feet high. At the top of the flat plateau, the main complex was built and surrounded entirely by a casemate wall and several defensive towers. Inside the walls were storehouses, a barracks, an armory, a palace, cisterns, and possibly a synagogue.
Although an excellent example of the building prowess of Herod the Great, Masada is best known as the place where the Sicarii, a group of Jewish zealots, took over the Roman garrison in 66 A.D., and then in 72 A.D., the Romans under general Flavius Silva laid siege to the fortress. To break the siege, the Romans employed a slave force of over 9,000 to build a massive earthen ramp up the side of the cliff and battered into the fortress with about 5,000 soldiers in the spring of 73 A.D. The end result of the siege was the suicide of 953 Sicarii and the capture of 7. Rather than be captured and forced into slavery by the Romans, the Sicarii ended their lives, making a powerful statement about the freedom and independence of Judea.
Masada – The Historic Legacy
The account of the siege and suicide at Masada was reported by two women hiding in a cistern with five children. They shared the final words of Eleazar, the leader of the Jews on Masada, which was later recounted by the historian, Josephus:
Masada – The New Symbolism
Today, the Jewish people are back in the land of Israel and Masada represents something special again. After nearly 1,900 years from the fall of Masada, the state of Israel became a formal nation again in 1948. As part of defending the renewed land, all Israeli men and women are asked to serve a period in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). After the completion of basic training, new IDF soldiers climb the “snake path” at night and are sworn-in at a torch-lit ceremony at the top of Masada. There final declaration of the night before descending the mountain as an IDF soldier is “Masada shall not fall again.”