Elazar ben Yair’s Speech at Masada
“Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice...We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.”
Elazar ben Yair
Josephus Flavius dramatically recounts the story told him by two surviving women. The defenders – almost one thousand men, women and children – led by Eleazar ben Ya’ir, decided to burn the fortress and end their own lives, rather than be taken alive. “And so met (the Romans) with the multitude of the slain, but could take no pleasure in the fact, though it were done to their enemies. Nor could they do other than wonder at the courage of their resolution, and at the immovable contempt of death which so great a number of them had shown, when they went through with such an action as that was.”
The Zealots cast lots to choose 10 men to kill the remainder. They then chose among themselves the one man who would kill the survivors. That last Jew then killed himself.
The heroic story of Masada and its dramatic end attracted many explorers to the Judean desert in attempts to locate the remains of the fortress. The site was identified in 1842, but intensive excavations took place only in 1963-65, with the help of hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers from Israel and from many foreign countries, eager to participate in this exciting archeological venture. To them and to Israelis, Masada symbolizes the determination of the Jewish people to be free in its own land.
“The Masada Myth is both a scholarly and a passionate book, analyzing with great clarity the relationship between deviance and mythology.”—Pat Lauderdale, Stanford University
Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel (Hardcover)
by Nachman Ben-Yehuda (Author)
In 73 A.D., legend has it, 960 Jewish rebels under siege in the ancient desert fortress of Masada committed suicide rather than surrender to a Roman legion. Recorded in only one historical source, the story of Masada was obscure for centuries. In The Masada Myth, Israeli sociologist Nachman Ben-Yehuda tracks the process by which Masada became an ideological symbol for the State of Israel, the dramatic subject of movies and miniseries, a shrine venerated by generations of Zionists and Israeli soldiers, and the most profitable tourist attraction in modern Israel. Ben-Yehuda describes how, after nearly 1800 years, the long, complex, and unsubstantiated narrative of Josephus Flavius was edited and augmented in the twentieth century to form a simple and powerful myth of heroism. He looks at the ways this new mythical narrative of Masada was created, promoted, and maintained by pre-state Jewish underground organizations, the Israeli army, archaeological teams, mass media, youth movements, textbooks, the tourist industry, and the arts. He discusses the various organizations and movements that created the Masada experience (usually a ritual trek through the Judean desert followed by a climb to the fortress and a dramatic reading of the Masada story), and how it changed over decades from a Zionist pilgrimage to a tourist destination. Placing the story in a larger historical, sociological, and psychological context, Ben-Yehuda draws upon theories of collective memory and mythmaking to analyze Masadas crucial role in the nation-building process of modern Israel and the formation of a new Jewish identity. An expert on deviance and social control, Ben-Yehuda looks in particular at how and why a military failure and an enigmatic, troubling case of mass suicide (in conflict with Judaisms teachings) were reconstructed and fabricated as a heroic tale.