We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
Our Recent Essays Behind the Front Page
Sunday, June 6. 2010
An email with pics from our friend and occasional guest-poster Nathan, who is living in Jerusalem:
After watching Verdi's Nabuco performed at night at the foot of Matzada, I planned my ascent on Saturday.
Up at 415 a.m. and cabbed to Matzada from Ein Gedi Kibbutz facing the Dead Sea, two kilometers below sea level. Hiked up the 350 Meters during sunrise. First one up. Took the "snake path" on the east face of the mountain fortress built about thirty years before Christ by Herod, the son of Edomite Converts to Judaism, who was King under the Romans and fairly much despised by the Jews, even as he prevailed over some thirty years of stunnning prosperity and --- trained as an engineer/architect -- proliferative building including the entire port of Cesaria (named after Cesar), which included a hippodrome and perhaps more importantly a major port for the Romans.
The history here is ironic and as twisty as the Snake Path, which was built by Herod so that supplies, including water from Ein Gedi oasis about 17 km north, could be brought up by donkeys. There is a western ramp built by Jewish slaves under the Romans to defeat the Jewish Sicari in 73 AD, but that in a moment.
The remarkable stillness (beyond quiet) on the 45 minute hike up gives time for reflection and occassional glances to sight the hints of sun's birth over the Dead Sea, even as the crescent moon and a star-like planet linger in the South East.
Herod built this fortress, designed by himself after his architects and engineers said that it could not be done. Built it to protect himself with the sheers on all sides. Protect himself from his Jews. Having been driven once from Jerusalem by angry Jews (a tough crowd to rule over, it seems), he decided he needed a few refuges to which to escape in the future. Built Herodian just south of Jerusalem, but Matzada was his star. Quarried in place, he imported the two-piece capitals for the columns. The quarries apparently became used for water storage. But, Josephus (the Jewish general turncoat who became a chronicler for the Romans) describes massive storehouses filled with wine amphoras (Greek for any container that can be lift from either side) for wine and olive oil, and supplies of corn, dates, pulse and other preserved foodstuffs, which Josephus said could supply the garrison for years. There are remaining frescos (apparently the artisans were familiar with Vitruvius multi-volume work on architecture) and elegant mosaic floors in place. The castle was built on three levels at the northern tip of the plateau, on three natural ledges. The castle faces towards the oasis of Ein Gedi, where David once took refuge from King Saul, who was jealous of DAvid's achievements. But that is another tale.
Below as one reaches the top, the Dead Sea has a heaviness to it, as if made of molten lead. Light appears before the Sun, which arises with its shifting colors until it attains that blinding glare of the Desert.
After Herod's death, the Jewish rebellion began against Rome: the Jews even minted their own shekels, labeling them for each year of the rebellion: one can eye these up to the fifth year in the new Museum at the end of the visit.
Jerusalem fell. (The Romans complained that there was so much blood from slaughtering Jews in the Old City that Roman horses had to wade through lakes of blood to their bellies.) A group of some seventy Sicari Jews (very fierce and named for the Sicar, double-edged curved knives) retreated to Matzada, which became the last refuge and last place defeated by the Romans. Coming out here, at the edge of a dead lake of salt, two kilometers below the world of sea level, surrounded by pastel-hued mountains which themselves once were ocean bottom, on the edge of the Syrian-African rift, one is impressed, amazed at the extent to which the Romans went to defeat this last 70-citizen outpost of the Jews.
They set a siege that lasted several years, the Romans building some eight permanent camps, the largest of which had a Cardo, the central commercial street of every major Roman town. The Sicari settled into the opulent palace and buildings of Herod, leaving evidence of their pottery, which measure poorly when compared to the simple, but elegant Edom-tinted, reddish pottery made for Herod (and each labelled by its artisan). The Jews wrote notes on pottery shards to use for dealing out each families portioin and so on.
The Romans, as I said, used Jewish slaves to build the assault ramp. At first the Romans built, but the Sicari would dump scalding oil on the Roman laborers, so Jewish slaves were enlisted to solve that problem. To taunt and demoralize the Roman soldiers, whose water was carefully met out, the Jewish women would hang out their clothes to dry, as if to show that they had plenty of water in the underground cisterns (which are massive as one walks into them.)
The end of this story came quickly when it came. The Romans, upon completing the ramp, pushed a ram to the top to batter the wall. The Jews tried to reinforce with stone and dirt. I believe that at this point the Jewish set the ram afire, but winds blew this towards the wall and burned through what was not made of stone.
The rest we know from Josephus, a very literate turncoat, who in turn learned of the last moments of the Sicari from two surviving mothers and their five children who had hidden within the double-walled storage area so as not to be "suicided" by the Sicari. Ben ari, the leader of the Sicari Jews gave a speech, stating that their women would not be violated by Romans, nor their children ever taste slavery. They set all the stores afire to defeat the Romans in death. After the ten men killed the others, they had lots with their names written upon them. The leader cut the throats of the remaining nine, then his own. These lots -- with the names legible -- were found by Yigal Yadin in the 1960's excavation.
Matzada was mostly forgotten. Briefly used by some monks, then forgotten again. In the late 50's a Jewish archeologist, Shmarayu Guttman suggested excavation. but, not until 1963 did former General Yigal Yadin do the excavations as a Professor at the Hebrew U. Just a brief tale from Yadin. By reading Josephus (you know the reversible-coat part here already), Yadin was determined to find the castle on the northern lip. But, from above, it looked like nothing was there and colleagues doubted that anything could have been built on such a sheer, surfaced with shards and rubble. But Yadin tied a rope to a rock at the top, rappeled down with a brush and hand tool, and discovered the castle. When they got to the lowest level, the third terrace, they found the skeleton of a Roman soldier -- armor intact -- lying near a woman's skeleton, her hair braids intact.
That's the news from Matzada.
Display comments as (Linear | Threaded)
Great story, Nate, please contribute some more. I'd heard Matzada referenced a few times over the years, but never knew the gist. You portrayed it nicely, and thanks for the interesting read.
Nice post, but my atlas says the Dead Sea is 422 meters, 1385 feet, below sea level.
Two kilometers would be something more than six thousand feet.
Just a quibble.
It would be nice to hear more from Nathan
I;m no geologist. Just reported what I read on the markers as I descended from Jerusalem. And that the guide said it was 8-9 km to the bottom of the Dead Sea
New theories re: Masada and the mass suicide pact are available online. Death by suicide occured previously to Masada. Eg. Joshephus aka Joseph a radical Jew who was holed up at Jotapata fighting Romans and a part of a suicidepact but changed his mind and ran rather than slit his own throat. Thus the story of such an occurance at Masada and reported by the now Josephus may not have been the truth. The "lots" with names may have been a part of a "chit" system whereby families got rations from the storehouses that were there. The braid may have been from a non Jewish woman whose hair was cut in order to make her less attractive to her Jewish captors (a Biblical law that was carriedicide). More info like this is online at various sites. Even Yadin is re-theorizing about what happened at Masada. check it out very exciting.
Very interesting post. I enjoyed it thoroughly. I did not know some of the items you mentioned about the skeletons found or the pot shard lots.
Nor did I know that Herod was descended from Edomites.
Great post. I also had never heard the last part about General Yadin.
Funny, I was there 2 weeks before you! My first time as an adult at Matzada but my 3rd time staying at Ein Gedi. I took lots of photos of ibexes trying to steal my lunch.