Masada comes from the Hebrew mezuda meaning “fortress “or “stronghold. Today it is one of the Jewish people's greatest symbols. Israeli soldiers take an oath there: "Masada shall not fall again." Next to Jerusalem, it is the most popular destination of tourists visiting Israel. It is strange that a place known only because 960 Jews committed suicide there in the first century C.E. should become a modern symbol of Jewish survival. Let me examine the story of the fall of Masada and to do so I will begin to examine the events that led to the uprising and ultimately the fall of the fortress. Wars between the Jews and Romans: the War of 66-70 CE:
There have been several military engagements between the Jews and the Romans around that period which led ultimately to the destruction of the Temple. Let me just give a short survey after which I will go into some detail. •In 63 BCE the Roman general Pompey conquered Judea
•In 6 CE, the emperor Augustus deposed king Archelaus, and established the province of Judea ,which became a prefecture of Rome •in 66, a serious rebellion started, which led to the destruction of the Temple (September 70); this war was described by Flavius Josephus in his Jewish War a little later, the Romans took the fortress Masada (in 74). Causes of the War of 66-70
The obvious reason for this war was the religious tension between the Jewish people and the Roman government. The Roman emperor Nero needed money, and ordered Gessius Florus, the governor of Jerusalem to confiscate it from the Temple treasure. Jews made fun of him and started a collection for “the poor governor “. Enraged by this event the Romans arrested innocent Jews and crucified them. Of course this was tactless and brutal, but it would not have led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple if there had not been deeper causes. The real reason for the war was the poverty of the Jewish peasants. Sixty years of Roman taxes had meant only one thing: the Jews financed the Romans wars. Also in Jerusalem many people had become unemployed when the renovation of the temple was finished in 63. The peasants and artisans had a reason to fight, and they were willing to do so. On top of it most people considered the high priesthood corrupt. The war of 66-70 was not only a war between the Romans and Jews; it was also a class struggle. The incident with the collection plate set fire to the powder. The high priest Ananias and the Jewish prince Marcus Julius Agrippa tried to calm matters but they were no longer in control of the situation. While envoys were on their way to Nero, one of the Roman garrisons in Jerusalem was annihilated. War had become inevitable. Judaism of that period was divided into a number of denominations, each with differing perspectives. As we see later the nine hundred defenders of Masada against the Romans were members of a radical Jewish sect known by their enemies as the Sicarii, meaning literally “dagger-men,” (Latin sica = dagger). The Sicarii were quite distinct from the three major Jewish denominations of that period—the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. Josephus, our main source of knowledge of the Jewish wars and religious sects around the time, places their origins in the failed rebellion of Judah of Galilee against the Romans in A.D. 6. Josephus describes Judah as a scholar and leader of a religious sect which maintained that paying tribute to Rome was a violation of Jewish religious law. Israel, he said, should have no king but God. Judah was killed in his rebellion, after which his followers were scattered but not completely destroyed. Some fifty years later the Sicarii reappeared under the leadership of the religious teacher Menachem, grandson of Judah. The Jewish high priests of the day were seen as collaborators with the Romans, and it was therefore permitted to use violence to remove such illegitimate rulers. The Sicarii began agitation in the late 50s,...