Exploring the poetry of everyday life

Journey to Israel 1974: The Story of Masada

Originally Masada was the location of the Summer Palace of the Jewish King Herod, built around 35 BCE. It stood on a rocky plateau 1,300 ft.above the level of the Dead Sea. In 70 CE in the aftermath of the Roman’s razing and burning the Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish Zealots fled and fortified themselves and their families in Herod’s Summer Palace. In retaliation the Roman Army began their siege of Masada by building an earthen ramp to extend to the Palace fortress. After three years when the ramp was nearing completion the Jews, numbering three hundred and sixty, committed suicide rather than be killed or taken prisoner by the Romans. Two women and three children hid and survived. They told the story to Josephus the Roman historian.

Masada was excavated by archaeologists in 1963-1965. The first tourists to see Masada followed a serpentine path to climb up to the site. In 1971 a cable car was installed. We had the good fortune in 1974 to ride the cable car to the rocky, dusty top of the plateau to visit Masada. The plateau was quite large. A low wall close to the plateau’s edge surrounded the area. Looking over it we could see the Roman ramp reaching to the wall. I imagined the Jews watching the daily progress of the Roman builders knowing there was no escaping their eventual death or capture. I was horrified to imagine the desperation that led to mass suicide. I felt the fear and relief of the two women and their five children who remained. I gave thanks for the historian Josephus for writing down the story of Masada, his gift to succeeding generations. I thanked the modern-day archaeologists who excavated the ruins so I could stand on the plateau and remember Masada.

Writing today, in 2017, I grieve for the recent destruction of ancient cultural and religious sites and artifacts that have borne testimony to civilizations through the ages.