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April 16: Masada, according to Josephus

April 16, 2013

800px-Masada_mikveAccording to Book Seven of The Jewish Wars by Josephus (Joseph ben Matityahu) — a Jewish commander who defected to the Romans and chronicled their suppression of the Jewish uprising and the destruction of Jerusalem — this was the date in 73 CE when the Roman soldiers who had besieged Masada for several months broke through the fortress’ defenses and found the bodies of 960 Jewish men, women, and children, dead by mass suicide. Two women and five children, according to Josephus, “had concealed themselves in caverns under ground, and had carried water thither for their drink, and were hidden there when the rest were intent upon the slaughter of one another.” They reported many details of what had happened and what had been said. Masada was controlled by the Sicarii, an extremist Jewish group that had split off from the Zealots, the movement that had initiated the uprising against Roman rule. The Sicarii had already raided nearby Jewish villages, according to Josephus, and massacred hundreds of Jews. Notwithstanding their extremism, Masada has been mythologized as a site of Jewish heroics and national will. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is the most-visited tourist spot in Israel today.

They “chose ten men by lot out of them, to slay all the rest; every one of whom laid himself down by his wife and children on the ground, and threw his arms about them, and they offered their necks to the stroke of those who by lot executed that melancholy office; and when these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after all, should kill himself.” —Josephus