Musings from Masada
We trudged 1,300 feet up the Snake Path to reach the top of Masada, a rocky stronghold best known for the Jewish Resistance against the Roman empire in 73 A.D. The last statement is a bold face lie. Not about Masada, but the part about me trudging up the path.
Actually I rode a cable car, but many of the fit folk in our party lit out in the dark to make the climb before the blazing sun made the trek unbearable. Wish I could have joined them but an afflicted foot hindered my participation. But I was able to explore the ruins on top with the group: Herod's palaces, towers, storehouses, barracks, armory, bath houses, and cisterns for rainwater, all surrounded by 4,300 feet of 12 foot wide wall. Herod built this refuge just in case the Jews revolted, but he never lived there. Amazing to see this fortress hewn out of solid rock on the top of an obscure mountain overlooking the Dead Sea and the Judean desert.
Ironically, Herod's efforts paid off for 960 Jewish rebels, men, women, children, and old people, who used the mountain top fortress to resist the Roman armies for three years. The Jewish rebellion was met with fierce Roman retaliation, with Rome killing or enslaving everyone, except for the 960 who escaped to Masada. For three years, the rebels taunted the Romans, denying them the victory they demanded as a warning to other potential rebels. This is what happens when you rebel against Rome. Except this courageous band of Jews cheated them out of total victory. Finally Rome had enough. They mounted an all out attack, building a 375 foot high assault ramp against the western face of the plateau, moving thousands of tons of rock to breach the wall.
When the rebels realized that they would soon be killed, taken captive, tortured, or raped,
they decided on mass suicide instead. Josephus, the first century Jewish Roman historian, tells us what happened: While they caressed and embraced their wives and held children aloft in their arms weeping and kissing them for the last time, at the same time....all killed their dear ones, one after the other...then having chosen lots as to which of them would kill all the others, they lay down next to the bodies of their wives and children and embraced them as they bared their throats to those charged with killing them. Two women and five children hid to pass on what happened those horrific last hours on Masada. This was also confirmed when archeologists found eleven small shards, believed to contain the names of the men who drew lots during those final hours.
Our Israeli guide told us this story with a pride and depth of emotion we had not seen in him before. He concluded by explaining that it was here at Masada, during his army service, that he and his comrades were sworn into the Israeli army after boot camp. They climbed the Snake Path together in the night and when they reached the summit, they were sworn in by torch light, with the words they chanted together, "Masada shall never fall again." Masada unites and inspires today as it has for the last twenty centuries. Never underestimate the power of a group of people wholeheartedly and passionately committed to their cause. As our bus pulled away from that stronghold still standing tall of the eastern edge of the Judean desert, a question haunted me: What would I die for? How might my sacrifice count to inspire those following for good? How would you answer?