yelnick.typepad.com > Masada

Introduction

Masada, a fortress built by King Herod the Great around the time of the birth of Christ, was the location of one of the greatest acts for the cause of liberty in human history. In 66 AD the Zealots had begun an uprising against the Romans. The Romans were determined to squelch this troublesome part of their empire once and for all. They may have had special cause for alarm as they believed that the Great Fire of Rome two years earlier had been caused by a new Jewish sect - the Christians. While Nero fiddled, Vespasian marched his legions from Britain across the whole Roman Empire to Palestine to begin the methodical rooting out of the Zealots. After the fall of Nero, Vespasian had to return to Rome to claim the Imperial Throne, while his son and future Emperor Titus continued the destruction of the Zealots. After Titus destroyed the Temple in 70 AD, the last remnants of resistance gathered at Masada. It is said the remaining Essenes at Qumram came as well, after hiding their scrolls from the Romans - the Dead Sea Scrolls found almost two millennia later in 1947. The Romans came to Masada and dedicated a legion in the desert - at an incredible expense - for over seven months. They circumvellated Masada with a stone wall so no one could escape, then steadily built a ramp up the slope until they could pummel their way in. When the wall finally fell, night had fallen with it, and the denouement would wait until the morning. The Zealots within faced certain death and their families slavery. Rather than submit, after a stirring speech by their leader, the men killed their families and 10 men chosen by lot killed the others. Almost all the 967 people laid dead as the Romans walked in the next morning. In the words of Ben-Yair the Zealot leader:

"Long ago we resolved to serve neither Romans nor anyone other than God himself ... The time has now come that bids us prove our determination by our deeds ... Hitherto we have never submitted to slavery, even when it bought no danger with it. We must not chose slavery now ... It will be a bitter blow to the Romans, that I know, to find our persons beyond their reach and nothing left for them to loot ... Let us die unenslaved by our enemies, and leave this world as free men in company with our wives and children."