Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Back in the late 1970’s my parents, who were probably the same age I am now, went to Israel with their church. It was a trip that they had looked forward to for a long time. I remember going to the airport to pick them up and waiting for them at the gate to disembark. Nearly the whole plane was empty when here came my parents down the jetway-my dad was pushing my mother in a wheelchair. Not only was my mother in a wheelchair, she had a huge fever blister on the side of her mouth. She never could fully explain (that I can remember) why she needed a wheelchair. It seems that it had something to do with Masada and the Dead Sea. After visiting Masada, I know why.

Below is a model of  Masada, which is Hebrew for fortress.


It is situated atop an isolated rock cliff at the western end of the Judean desert overlooking the Dead Sea. The natural approaches to the top of the cliff are very difficult. You can see the trail underneath the cable car. These cable cars were just installed in the 1990’s. When my parents were here they must have walked up the trail, since I know that my dad was very impressed with the site. There were people walking up the trail the day we were here. We obviously chose the cable car.




I am really afraid of heights so I walked very very very fast over this bridge. As I was walking, I looked to the right where there wasn’t quite as far of a drop. I’m sure I missed some great views, but oh well.


I don’t know what was down those stairs. Surely all of those people weren’t walking back down to the bottom! I hope they didn’t need a wheelchair to get off their plane!

The only information we have about Masada comes from Josephus Flavius, the historian of the Jews. According to Josephus, Herod the Great built the fortress of Masada between 37 and 31 B.C. Herod, an Idumean, had been made King of Judea by his Roman overlords and was hated by his Jewish subjects. He was also afraid of the threat that Cleopatra and Egypt represented. So being the master builder that he was, he “furnished this fortress as a refuge for himself.” It included a casemate wall around the plateau, storehouses, large cisterns ingeniously filled with rainwater, barracks, palaces and an armory.

Some 75 years after Herod’s death, at the beginning of the Revolt of the Jews against the Romans in 66 A.D., a group of Jewish rebels overcame the Roman garrison of Masada. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., they were joined by zealots and their families who had fled from the city. The zealots raided and harassed the Romans for two years using Masada as their base. In 73 A.D. the Romans decided that they had had enough, so the Roman governor Flavius Silva marched against Masada. He came against Masada with the Tenth Legion, auxiliary units and thousands of Jewish prisoners-of-war. The Romans established camps at the base of Masada and laid siege to the fortress. They constructed a rampart of thousands of tons of stones and beaten earth against the western approaches of the fortress and, in the spring of the year 74 CE, moved a battering ram up the ramp and breached the wall.

The zealots put up a valiant fight but knew that they couldn’t win. Two surviving women told Josephus the story of how the defenders – about 1,000 men, women, and children – decided to burn the fortress and take their own lives rather than be taken alive and become slaves to the Romans. 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 story of Masada inspired many Jews to work on the dig to uncover its secrets. Masada has become a symbol of the determination of the Jewish people to live freely in their own land. Israeli soldiers take an oath there, “Masada shall not fall again!” “Never again.”


This is the sign indicating where the people going down the stairs are headed. It is a drop of about 900 feet. Herod’s palace was built on three levels.


To signify the end of their basic training, these Israeli soldiers have hiked all night from Jerusalem to Masada. I guess this is where they take their “Never again!” pledge. Once the ceremony is over, they get their red berets.


I love this picture… We saw so many t-shirts over there that said, “America, we’ve got your back!” I think that’s comforting to know, since they are probably one of the few true friends America has.


It must be nice…not one palace, but two.


This is a model of the three tiered palace.



This is the original plaster from Herod’s palace.







Judy’s hat was the envy of many on the trip, and believe me we needed our hats!


This was Herod’s immersion pool. He could put torches in the niches so that he could swim at night.




A close up of the designs in the wall…


Another gorgeous mosaic that is almost 2,000 years old…Back then in order to create these mosaics, they had to travel far and wide to find rock that was the right color. There were no dyes to color stone. It could take many years to complete a mosaic.




The ridge you see running down the middle of the picture is the siege ramp that the Romans built.




This is an amphitheater in which they reenact parts of the Masada story. To the right of the amphitheater are the remains of one of the Roman camps. A solid wall was built surrounding Masada and connecting the 8 Roman camps.  It was 6 feet thick and 7 miles long and built to prevent escaping. An estimated 9,000 soldiers plus support personnel and slaves conducted the siege. The first Roman siege camp was discovered in 1932.



This synagogue was found in the first season of the excavations.  No Second Temple period  synagogues were known at the time. Many coins from the Jewish Revolt were found here, including an ostracon that was found on the floor with inscription, “priestly tithe.” Everything below the black line is the original structure and everything above has been reconstructed.


We’re all looking a little hot and sweaty and ready to move on so we can have a swim.


Do you understand why mom came home in a wheelchair? Ha!

The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Psalm 18:2

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