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Tuesday, May 23, 2006


I take it back, I had at least one more sightseeing jaunt left in me and I am so glad that I went.

We drove past Jerusalem, 800 meters above sea level, down to and through the Judean desert to the Dead Sea, 400 meters below sea level, the lowest point on Earth, in just 35 minutes! We passed the 7000 year old city of Jericho. Across the Dead Sea, in the mist and the distance, is Jordan.

There in the desert a cragged mountain with a flattened top, distinct from all the rest, rose majestically -- Masada--- where King Herod built his fortress and palaces, and where about a thousand Jews took refuge in the year 73 during the Roman occupation and lived in defiance of the Roman incursion.

The Romans had with them an "embedded journalist" the historically controversial Josephus Flavius, who kept eloquent documentation of these events.

Fearing these Jews, the last holdouts, would be the incentive for another uprising, the Romans tried for months with ten thousand men, to conquer Masada, but they were held back by the geographical protection the fortress provided, by the ingenuity and persistence of the zealots and by some fortuitous, perhaps godsent, meteorology. With their thousands of troops the Romans eventually overran Masada. But those Jewish zealots, would rather die than face the consequences of capture.

The Breaching Point

Here the siege of Masada ended. The ramp that the Romans had built up to the summit of the mountain reached to below this point. At the top of the ramp rose the siege tower and in it was the battering ram with which the Romans assaulted the casemate wall. However, the rebels had built a wall of earth and wood, against which the battering ram was ineffective.

Observing this, [Roman commander Flavius] Silva, thinking it easier to destroy this wall by fire, ordered his soldiers to hurl at it showers of burning torches. At the first outbreak of the fire, a north wind which blew in the faces of Romans caused them alarm, for diverting the flame from above, it drove it against them. Then suddenly, the wind veering, as if by divine providence, to the south and blowing with full force in the opposite direction, wafted and flung the flames against the wall which now ...was all ablaze.
--Josephus Flavius

When night fell and it was clear that the situation was hopeless and that the Romans would break in at dawn, the zealot leader Ben Ya'ir assembled his followers and called for mass suicide. They did not want to live to be captured and enslaved. They did not want to see their women raped. They did not want their children to taste slavery. Ten men were chosen by lots (some of the lots, carvings on stone, are on display there). These men first killed the women, so they would not see the children killed. Then they killed the children and each other with the last man falling on his own sword. And when the Romans breached Masada's gate, they ware unprepared for what they saw.

The Romans, expecting further opposition...were at a loss to conjecture what had happened. Here, encountering the mass of the slain, instead of exulting as over enemies, they admired the nobility of their resolve and the contempt of death displayed by solemnity in carrying it, unwavering, into execution.
--Josephus Flavius

(edited from documentation on the site)
In the sixties, all this was excavated and I can only imagine the ecstasy of the archaeologists to find such a magnificent treasure so complete.

Masada was very emotional for me. Several times I felt the big weep approach the brim and subside. The metaphors of jeopardy and courage that Masada evokes are powerful. The immensity and monochromity of the desert are mind-numbing. It was hot, it was mid-day by the time we took the cable car back down. Some of my fears had incinerated in the desert sun and I felt a gentle and familiar strength returning.

After Masada, we went to a funky little "mineral beach" on the Dead Sea. Wading in you immediately sink into this goosh and then there are some rocks and seems kind of treacherous as you pick your way into the water.

Then you sit down in the water and you just bob like a cork, floating over all the rocks, as buoyant as if you had your derriere in a swimming tube. A moment of paddling around in the warm murky water, full of nourishing minerals and you relax and look around, past the other bathers. The goosh is Dead Sea mud, which everyone rubs all over their skin. When you shower it off, your skin is like velvet.

On the other shore, in the distance, is Jordan. The words of Swing Low Sweet Chariot floated into my mind:

I looked over Jordan and what did I see
coming for to carry me home
A band of angels coming after me
coming for to carry me home

// posted by Ellen @  05:01   //Permalink// 
Ellen says hey
Mainer, New Yawka, Beijinger, Californian, points between. News, views and ballyhoos that piqued my interest and caused me to sigh, cry, chuckle, groan or throw something.

Previous Posts

report from the West Bank
Thousand Year Old Olive Tree
Shabat Shalom May 19
Jerusalem: From the Great Wall to the Wailing Wall
Happy Mother's Day
Promised Pictures from the Promised Land I
Day 2 in Tel Aviv
Shabbat Shalom from Tel Aviv
Moving through heart and soul
From New York 2

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