Masada, Israel

Masada, also known as the Masada Fortress, is an impregnable natural fortress in the Judean desert near the Dead Sea. Geologically, Masada is an oval shaped plateau with steep cliffs on all sides, ranging from 300 feet on its west side to 1300 feet on its east side.

In the first century BC, Herod the Great built a fortress on Masada, the top of which is almost completely flat (below), to evacuate to in case of a rebellion, and built a cascading palace for himself on its breezy northern facade.

Masada ruins

Masada is best known for the Siege of Masada that concluded the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. In 66 AD, a group of Sicarii - Jews who were even more militant than the Zealots - ambushed the unsuspecting Roman garrison at Masada and captured it. Over the next several years, they were joined by more Sicarii and other Jews as the Roman army's retaliation against them gained momentum.

In 70 AD, the Romans sacked Jerusalem, just as Jesus had prophesied a few decades earlier.* In 72 AD, a Roman legion marched to Masada and laid siege to it. In the photo below, taken from above the ruins of the palace that Herod the Great built into the northern facade of Masada, the square remains of one of the siege-laying and stone-walled Roman garrisons is still visible almost 2,000 years later.

Masada Roman Garrison

Having failed to starve the Jews into capitulation, the Romans used Jewish slaves to build a siege ramp (below) to the top of Masada from its relatively shallow western side, correctly guessing that the Sicarii will not attack their fellow Jews.

Masada Siege Ramp

Below is a painting in Masada's cable car station that depicts a heroic battle atop the plateau between the Jews and the Romans. Each graduating class of the Israeli military academy are brought to Masada, where they swear an oath to protect Israel.

Masada Battle Painting

Who won the battle for Masada?

There was no battle and the painting above is a fictitious aspiration. The day before the Roman siege ramp reached the top, the 960 Jews at Masada chose 10 men by lot to cut the throats of the other 950. When the 10 were left, they again drew lots to choose the one who would kill the other 9 and then himself, thereby requiring only one person to commit suicide, which the Jewish law forbade. When the Romans stepped onto Masada the next day, April 16, 73 AD, they discovered only two women and their five children to have survived the mass suicide by hiding inside a cistern.

* Then as He went out of the temple, one of His disciples said to Him, “Teacher, see what manner of stones and what buildings are here!” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter, James, John, and Andrew asked Him privately, “Tell us, when will these things be? And what will be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?” And Jesus, answering them, began to say: “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He,’ and will deceive many. But when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be troubled; for such things must happen, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows. “But watch out for yourselves, for they will deliver you up to councils, and you will be beaten in the synagogues. You will be brought before rulers and kings for My sake, for a testimony to them. And the Gospel must first be preached to all the nations. But when they arrest you and deliver you up, do not worry beforehand, or premeditate what you will speak. But whatever is given you in that hour, speak that; for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. Now brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end shall be saved." (Mark 13:1-13)

Prophesied above were both the destruction of Jerusalem and the end times. For more, see Jesus' Tomb and Why Jesus Was Crucified.

Travel Tip
To drive from Jerusalem to Masada, which is 100 kilometers to the southeast, drive east to the Dead Sea and then south along it. The drive takes about 80 minutes and is fairly easy. You can also reach Masada by bus from West Jerusalem's Central Bus Station or by a (guided) tour company van. The ascent to the top of the plateau is by cable car or, for those in shape, a 40 minute trek up a narrow, zigzagging trail. Many visitors cool off afterwards in the Dead Sea and/or visit the Qumran Caves.