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The Masada Myth

    Scholar presents evidence that the heroes of the Jewish Great Revolt were not heroes at all.

What Does Josephus Say?

    The Masada narrative must be contextualized within the relevant historical period otherwise it is meaningless. Masada was part of a much larger Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire between the years 66-73. That revolt ended in disaster and in bitter defeat for the Jews. Masada was only the final defeat in the much larger suppression of that revolt.

    Different ideological groups of Jews existed during the time of the revolt. Of those, four are singled out as important. It appears that the two most relevant groups are the Sicarii, and much more so, the Zealots who apparently carried the main burden of the revolt. Josephus makes a clear distinction between these two groups. Throughout Josephus' books, the connection between the Zealots and the Sicarii is not always entirely clear, but when Josephus discusses Masada his use of the word "Sicarii" to describe the Jewish rebels there is quite consistent. 

    Prior to the beginning of the revolt, Masada was taken over by force—probably by the Sicarii (headed by Manachem) in 66 A.D., (e.g., see Cotton and Preiss 1990). In fact, this very act may have symbolized and marked the beginning of the Jewish Great Revolt. 

    The Sicarii in Jerusalem were involved in so much terrorist activity against Jews and others that they were forced to leave the city some time before the Roman siege there began. They fled to Masada. There, under the leadership/command of Eleazar Ben-Yair (a "tyrant" in Josephus' terminology) they remained (perhaps with some non-Sicarii who may have joined them) until the bitter end when most of them agreed to kill one another. 

    While the Sicarii were in Masada, it is clear that they raided nearby villages. One of the "peaks" of these raids was the attack on Ein-gedi. According to Josephus, the Sicarii on Masada attacked Ein- gedi in the following ferocious manner:

"...they came down by night, without being discovered... and overran a small city called Engaddi: - in which expedition they prevented those citizens that could have stopped them, before they could arm themselves and fight them. They also dispersed them, and cast them out of the city. As for such that could not run away, being women and children, they slew of them above seven hundred" (p. 537). 

    Afterward, the Sicarii raiders carried all the food supplies from Ein- gedi to Masada. 

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