by CHARLIE SCHULER
In my previous article about Israel, I mentioned Masada. I would like to continue and give you more insight into the amazing story behind the name.
Masada was built by Herod the Great who was king of Judea during the first century BC. He was looking for a getaway place where he could rest and have peace and quiet. It also gave him a secure location if he needed it.
King Herod built two palaces on the top of a mesa about 1400 feet above the Dead Sea on the eastern edge of the Judean desert. It had a magnificent view, and he built a wall around the whole complex. It consisted of about 18 acres. He had everything there including hot baths with mosaic floors. This was a real luxury when you remember this was in the middle of the desert. Water in the desert was not easy to come by. King Herod had his engineers build cisterns on the side of the mountain to collect the water and then had slaves carry the water up the mountain. The reservoir he built would hold over 10 million gallons of water.
King Herod built his palace, so it was a Royal Citadel, an almost impenetrable fort. You could walk up the trail to Masada, but it was 3.8 miles long. Fortunately for us, they had a cable car and after three minutes of swinging in the air, we were there.
There was a Jewish writer called Josephus who became a noted historian. Much of what we know came from Josephus, especially the story behind Masada. King Herod did not use Masada often. It became famous after the Jewish people made one last stand against the Roman invaders.
The Jewish people lost the war, and many ran away in retreat. Some of them ended up in Masada. They were able to live there quite comfortably until the Roman commander decided to finish the job. Lucius Silva was assigned this task.
How do you fight a war against survivors holed up in a place like Masada, on top of a hill with a wall around it? You lay siege to it. But that didn’t really work because Masada had everything, food, water, and shelter. The Romans would have to build a ramp and bring up a Wall Buster. Yes! They did have Wall Busters at that time! They were huge structures on wheels that could move up the ramp to the wall and using a mechanical advantage, swing a rod into the wall until it gave way. Sounds simple enough. But the Jews had other ideas. They did their best to prevent the ramp from being built. They had the military advantage of shooting downhill at the Romans. This slowed them until they took the slaves, who were Jewish and put them on the front lines as they built the ramp. The Jews wouldn’t shoot their own people, so the hill was completed.
The Romans rolled up the Wall Buster and smashed through the wall. They found all the people had died from suicide except one person who was left to tell the story.
This is quite a story and they ended up making a movie about it. It is so powerful to look down at the area where the Romans set up their camp, and the terrain they had to traverse to build the wall.
It is hard to imagine the thoughts that the Jews must have had as they watched this hill being built and their future being spelled out for them. The soldiers must have wondered why the siege was being done since the war was over.
Was it worth it? Who knows! But the job was completed, and history moves on.