Take a hike up the Snake Path on the eastern side of the mountain, access the cable cars via the Dead Sea road and enjoy Masada in modern Israel. Largely untouched by humans for nearly two millennia, the Roman ramp built on the western wall still stands and can be climbed safely by foot. Masada today is one of the Jewish people’s greatest symbols. So much so that Israeli soldiers take an oath upon completion of basic military training that, “Masada shall not fall again.” Besides Jerusalem, Masada is the most popular tourist destination for Jews visiting Israel. Further, the fortifications at Masada have become a modern symbol for Jewish survival.
Herod the Great fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE as a potential refuge in the case of a revolt. Before the first Jewish-Roman War in 66 AD a Roman garrison began using the fortifications before being overrun by a group of Jewish extremists who fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple. In 72 AD, the Roman governor of Judea marched against Masada with a crack legion and laid siege to the fortress. After failed attempts to breach the defenses of Masada, they built a wall and then a rampart – which still stands today – against the western face of the plateau using thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth. After nearly three months, in 73 AD, the Roman legion breached the wall of the fortress with a battering ram only to find that the 936 inhabitants had committed mass suicide, rather than be captured and face slavery and public executions.
The story of their heroism was relayed by two women who escaped by hiding in a cistern with five small children. What’s more, the women told of stores of arms sufficient for ten thousand men and stores of grain which could feed the defenders for months. The defenders of Masada had chosen the time and place of their deaths.
The region was forgotten by the modern world until the mid-nineteenth century when Isaac Lamdan wrote Masada, a poetic history of the anguished Jewish fight against a hostile world. Professor David Roskies, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote in a later study of the Great Revolt that Masada, “More than any other text, later inspired the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto.”
Naturally, Masada is seen as symbolic of the need to protect the modern state of Israel. In May 2007, a unique and innovative museum experience was developed which combined archaeological artifacts and a theatrical atmosphere to create a meaningful guided tour showcasing the story of Masada. In an article for the Astronomical Society of the Pacfic, David H. Levy wrote:
What was so special about those people who faced the sky from this mesa so long ago? The historical events on Masada took place between 66 AD, when a small group of Jewish extremists called Sicarii took over the mountaintop at the start of the Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire, and ended on the 15th of Nissan in the year 73 – the night of Passover – when 10,000 Roman soldiers led by Flavius Silva ended a long siege by storming the site.
Wendee and I wanted to visit Masada at night because only then could we feel its majesty. As a scientist, I was interested in seeing the site, the buildings, and the artifacts for myself. But in science it is also important to get a first feel for what you are about to experience, including what the night sky looked like as the Jewish inhabitants faced a terrible choice between slavery under the Romans camped below, or freedom in the sky above. They chose freedom that night, and died by their own hands.
If you want to experience historic Israel for yourself, and see with your own eyes the splendor and majesty of the Middle-East, then let us know. We’ll be happy to ensure that your once in a lifetime vacation meets and surpasses your expectations.