Monday, February 18, 2013

Masada

Masada is Israel’s most popular paid tourist attraction 
and a 2001 UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Masada is an ancient fortification located on top of an isolated rock plateau in the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea.   Herod the Great, ruler of Israel, built luxurious palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 27 and 31 BC.    He was a brutal ruler and understandably paranoid, and took refuge with his family occasionally in Masada.  After the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the Holy Temple in 70 C.E., hundreds of Jews encamped in the safety of this fortress. These men, women and children were dedicated to the eradication of pagan rule in the Land of Israel, and known as rebels or zealots.  During the siege of Masada by troops of the Roman Empire toward the end of the first Jewish-Roman war, the Jews managed to hold off the enormous Roman force for three years.  However, when it became clear that the Romans would prevail, the 960 zealots decided to commit mass suicide rather than surrender to the Romans. Their harrowing tale has become an eternal symbol of the Jewish fight for freedom.  
We chose to ride the tram up to the top of Masada, but some visitors prefer to 
walk up the "Snake Path".  It takes approximately 1.5 hours by foot and 
only 9 minutes via the cable car.  
From the cable car, we had a nice view of the people who chose to hike up the 
Snake Path, which is considered to be moderately difficult.  It is a narrow, 
steep climb up a shear mountain face and entirely exposed to the sun.  
 The snake path gate welcomes those travelers who were willing to 
hike the 5 mile journey up a 900 foot elevation incline, beginning 
below sea level to approx 59 meters above sea level.  
Mother stands with the Israeli flag at the top of Masada.  
The word "Masada" means fortress - and we enjoyed exploring all around the area.  
It was incredible how well preserved and excavated it has been. 
 
The largest building is the western palace, where Herod apparently conducted business.
 
Fifteen long storerooms kept essential provisions for times of siege.  
Herod filled them with food and weapons.  Each storeroom 
held a different commodity.  Wine bottles sent to Herod 
from Italy were found in this area along with 
different storage jars with inscriptions.      
  This synagogue is one of the very few discovered so far that date from 
the Second Temple period. Many coins from the Jewish revolt were found here.  An ostracon (broken pottery) was found on the floor with the inscription, "priestly tithe."  

The synagogue on Masada is one of the oldest in Israel.  During the Great Revolt, Masada's defenders made a number of structural changes.   Using stones taken from the palaces, they added several columns, combined the entrance with the prayer hall and added stone benches.  They closed off a small room in the corner of the hall, which apparently served for storage of the Torah scrolls and as a genizah (repository for damaged scrolls).  Under its floor were found fragments of Biblical scrolls including the 'Vision of Dry Bones" recorded in the book of Ezekiel.  Fortunately, for those extremely observant Jews, the house of worship already faced Jerusalem.  
"Long since, my brave men, we determined neither to serve the 
Romans nor any other, save God..." Josephus Flavius 

Josephus Flavius recorded Jewish history as well as the Siege of Masada. 
His works provide valuable insight into first century Judaism and the 
background of early Christianity.
  
  As Masada was excavated, stones were added to the original structure in 
order to stabilize and protect the integrity of the work.  
The 'lines' were highlighted as shown above so that it was easy 
to determine the original structure from the part which was added. 
Beautiful mosaics were found inside the west bathhouse.

This is the view from the top of Masada looking at the path that the 
Romans would have taken to overtake the zealots.   How scary it must 
have  been to watch them approach with no way of escape!  
As we were leaving, this man was playing a shofar, a long ram's horn 
that gave a very odd billowing sound.  It seemed so appropriate for the end of our visit.  
To many, Masada symbolizes the determination of the 
Jewish people to be free in their own land.  

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