The Dead Sea and Masada

This last 24 hours have been a bit of a blur. We rented cars and drove to the Dead Sea, camped in a field in the dark, woke up at 3am and drove to Masada, hiked up and watched the sunrise from an ancient wall (almost getting fined 1200 shekels in the process), then drove home to Jerusalem.

The Dead Sea is amazing. You just float. It’s very salty, which can sting, but it’s not so bad. And apparently it’s good for you.

Masada is very interesting. It’s the site of the last stand of the Jewish Revolt in which the 2nd temple was destroyed. The last bastion of Jewish “Sacarii” rebels were encircled at the Masada fortress where they committed suicide rather than surrender.

Masada is an important place for modern Israel – it is a national park which celebrates the Revolt and commemorates the bravery of the rebels, and their decision to kill themselves rather than become slaves. I believe that the way the rebels are portrayed is highly value-laden, and seems to bear a relation to modern Israeli military identity. A plaque you read upon entering the fortress explains this much better than I can:

Generations go by and the mountain remains. Herod built for himself a magificient fortress-palace, and the Romans and the Jewish rebels added a drama of siege and slaugther. Here the early monks of the Judean desert sought communion with the Creator, and Jewish settlers before the State of israel found supreme ideals of resistance in the name of faith and freedom, to the last drop of blood.

Since the foundation of Israel the spades of archaologists have brought to life the ancient story, and thousands of Israeli soldiers have sworn their oath of allegiance here.

And what of us? What is our Masada? How much of al this will we take with us, and how much of our own will we add?

The celebration of the revolt which culminated in the destruction of the 2nd temple appears also in the Israel Museum, and in the archeology centre we visited near the old city. There appears a complete absence in the mainstream narrative of questioning whether the revolt was a good idea for the Jewish people in Israel at the time, and whether one should learn from its destructive outcomes rather than affirm the destruction of the temple and death of the Jewish Rebels as blood spilled in a righteous cause?

While I was speaking with some other trip members next to the plaque, a man walked by and said to us “It’s either death or slavery”. I replied, “Yes, but it’s not as simple as that – events and choices led to the situation in which the decision of the rebels was death or slavery”. Unsurprisingly, he did not answer.

Edit: Photos up!


One thought on “The Dead Sea and Masada

  1. Interesting comment on the plight of the Jewish Rebels at Masada:

    “…the choices left open to the rebels on Masada are usually presented as having been limited to two: surrender or death (meaning suicide). Other possible (and glorious) alternatives, such as actually fighting to the end (as suggested by Josippon) or concentrating forces in one spot in an attempt to create a diversion that could have allowed for the escape of many, including the women and children as suggested by Weiss-Rosmarin, are completely ignored. Also ignored is the possibility (albeit less desirable one) of the rebels trying to negotiate with the Romans (in fact, such a negotiation did take place at Machaerus). ”

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