28 March 2006
From Galilee in the north to the Dead Sea in the south, Herod the Great has his fingerprint all over Israel and the fortress at Masada is no exception. How in the world they were able to build such an extensive military outpost on top of such an isolated hill is beyond me. Herod himself had a three-level palace built complete with bath houses and places to entertain guests. The rooms were covered in marble in some cases and mosaics in others.

The fortress is most famous for the battle fought there between the Jews and Romans in the second century. After the Romans had crushed the majority of the Jewish rebellion that started in Galilee, they were left to fight the last band of rebels who had holed up at Masada. After an extended siege, the Romans finally breached the gates one night. They decided to wait until morning to enter the fortress and take the Jews as slaves. During the night, the Jews decided that rather than live as slaves they would die as free men.

So they killed everyone in the fortress except ten men. The remaining men drew lots and the one who drew the shortest had to kill the rest of the men and then commit suicide (a terrible sin in Judaism). When the Romans arrived the next morning the fortress was silent. They did find two old women and a baby. The women supposedly told the story to Josephus and he included it in one of his histories.

When Israel became a nation again in 1948, the military started a new tradition. After their six months of basic training (and we wonder why their military is so good) each soldier climbs the snake path (about an hour climb) as the sun rises and when the get to the top they promise to never let Masada fall again. It is an incredible story about the human desire to be free.


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