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Masada: The Dead Sea’s Desert Fortress

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Learn about the siege of Masada, the final chapter of the First Jewish Revolt.

Masada: The Dead Sea’s Desert Fortress

In this free BAS eBook, discover what archaeology reveals about the Jewish rebels’ identity, fortifications and arms before their ultimate sacrifice.

Herod’s desert fortress on the mountaintop of Masada has been immortalized as an enduring symbol of Jewish pride and determination. Although the stronghold was built by the megalomaniac King Herod, it was made famous as the site of the last stand between the besieged Jewish rebels and the relentlessly advancing Romans in the First Jewish Revolt in 73/74 A.D.

Having spent months hemming in the rebels and hoisting a siege tower to the top of the mountain, when the Romans finally breached the Jewish defenses, they were met—so the story goes—only with silence. According to first-century Jewish historian Josephus’s account, the rebels chose to commit suicide rather than be captured and enslaved by the Romans.

What is the archaeological evidence for the siege of Masada?

Chapter 1

The Last Days and Hours at Masada

Masada_Werner Braun

Yigael Yadin’s famous excavations of Herod’s Masada desert fortress in the 1960s brought the final chapter of the First Jewish Revolt vividly to life. What was uncovered on this long-abandoned mountaintop? In “The Last Days and Hours at Masada,” Ehud Netzer reviews Yadin’s finds, from Herod’s two palaces to the casemate wall that Josephus reports the Romans set ablaze to gain entry into the fortress. Discover how well Josephus’s dramatic—and dramatized—account of the siege
of Masada holds up to the archaeological evidence.

Chapter 2

Scribe Links Qumran and Masada

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In an unprecedented breakthrough, paleographer Ada Yardeni recently identified the handwriting of a single scribe on more than 50 Dead Sea Scrolls from the Qumran caves. Remarkably, Yardeni identified the same scribal hand in a manuscript of the Joshua Apocryphon discovered in the Masada desert fortress, 30 miles south of Qumran. In “Scribe Links Qumran and Masada,” Sidnie White Crawford explains what this identification can tell us about the scribal community at Qumran.

Chapter 3

It’s a Natural: Masada Ramp Was Not a Roman Engineering Miracle

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Scholars have long assumed that the ramp built by the Romans to breach the rebel stronghold at Masada required a huge effort in men and material. The Masada desert fortress sat atop a lofty mesa with cliffs soaring 300 to 1,000 feet high. But a study of the geology of the region, as described in “It’s a Natural: Masada Ramp Was Not a Roman Engineering Miracle” by Dan Gill, reveals that the Romans may not have had to do much at all.

Chapter 4

Masada: Arms and the Man

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The large and diverse array of arms and armor discovered all over Masada offers a unique perspective to the Roman siege. Yigael Yadin believed that a cache of arrowheads found in two palace rooms, for example, were among the supplies the Jewish rebels set afire before committing mass suicide. Was he right? In “Masada: Arms and the Man,” Jodi Magness’s investigation into the context of these arrowheads and other weapons at Masada sheds light on the Roman and Jewish warfare tactics in the final chapter of the First Jewish Revolt.

Chapter 5

Questioning Masada: Where Masada’s Defenders Fell

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The climactic moment of the Roman siege of Masada, in which the Jewish rebels choose suicide over capture and imprisonment, comes to us from a single ancient source—Josephus. In “Questioning Masada: Where Masada’s Defenders Fell,” Nachman Ben-Yehuda reveals that the only ancient description of the mass suicide at Masada shows signs of having been tampered with—perhaps deliberately.

The articles in this eBook are a preview of the many exciting archaeological investigations covered in the pages of Biblical Archaeology Review.

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14 Responses

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  1. Robert says

    Thanks for the ebooks and thanks for Noah Weiner for giving the readers this insite into the happenings at Masada during the final moments before the Romans were able to enter the fortress. My wife and I recently visited Masada and this ebook should give us additional history to the tragedy. Thanks

  2. Dennis A. says

    People should read books of Mr. Nick Bunick at: nickbunick .com His books are of much importance in study of the Bible.

  3. Robert says

    My wife and I recently toured Masada. I remember telling our guide that the “ramp” did not appear to be man made. Of course, that was rebuked by the guide and he asked me if I was a scholar or writer. I am neither. Thanks for the e-book on Masada. It helps clear the mind on this site.

    A friend in Georgia

  4. Sue says

    The story of Masada has intrigued me for many, many years. At 78, I doubt I’ll ever get to see it in person, but I enjoy reading about it and seeing photos. I was in @ 2nd grade, getting my first Bible when the Dead Sea scrolls became public, and they too, fascinate me. What a tragedy so many were lost.

  5. James says

    Does anybody have any photographs or maps of the other ten Herodian (fortified palaces built by Herod the Great? I was wondering if there might be unexcivated sites important to 1st century BCE Jewish history. Did archaeologists find anything interesting at Macherhas on the East side of the Dead Sea? I read some where that in the 1920’s some one found a cave full of mummies in Northern Saudi Arabia associates with where the Edomites may have lived.

  6. Jacob says

    Interesting subject and need more links with bible verses to understand in detailed bible study

  7. Adriana says

    Thanks for this book and all that is in it.
    It would be great to have it translated into other languages. I know many people who would love greatly to read it in Spanish.
    Thanks again.

  8. William says

    would it be correct that the story is only told about in the dead sea scrolls and not in the bible

  9. Robin says

    William you are correct. This is not in the bible .

  10. LA VONNE C says

    The books to be included in the Bible were chosen at the Council of Nicea about 325 AD.
    The Dead Sea Scrolls were not available to those who were present there. They were not discovered in the jars in the caves till recently………………..LCJ

  11. Gary says

    Would prefer a real book.

  12. roger says

    You think that you will have a free ride? Nope, we are attianing knowledge from the beginning to the now.Building a history, for all as a humanity, and creatures from past to the now. Many have jobs and rewarded with thier works, freewill is high on the list of human self- rights for fun and pleasure, these rights re-think about what Jesus said in his time, about gird thy loins with righteous. Yes I know the bible says righeousness, but the meaning has changed. Proof you ask? Jesus said his words will be like chaff in the wind.

  13. roger says

    Thou shalt not force, thou shalt not torture any creature, Webster did his works going to places, for new words and meanings of such. I’m sure he had to work to surive and maybe had a family to support. He wrote the first dictionary on his on works and yes I’ll bet he used the kings version of the bible. This bible caused much harm and caused much good.The English speaking people will be ready for when Jesus makes his return. Some of the best things about dictionarys and bilbles, is poems for talents and songs for talents, the arts from the past of all the ages, as we grow and know. I’ve learned through life, that all creatures, have feelinigs in the past and through to the now. We already have proof of much, it is known through scientific equipment that shows a strange light, known as an aura, an energy field that is held to emanate from a living being. I remember reading a book about a man who could actually see this strange light and learned that when it was off color from a healthy person, I think his is name is Casey, he would suggest that they see a doctor. It was a long time ago, I’m 66 now and my memory is failing me. It also known though scientific equipment that has proven a sudden lose of weight at the moment of death. It would be good works of research or hobby to investigate these things. All this is the laying on of many hands Jesus said this would always be to reach the now, that we are at. I wish and hope you gain self repect for ones self, not only the monies made for works and givings for good causes.But also the progress, that should be realized as rewards of our civilization, it is a good thing to compliment friends and relatives. It is great to have a good character, it is great to be persistent in reasoning with other nations for a variety of reasons. Only our government has the capiblities to watch and put pressures that will threaten and force other nations to comply with saving this earth and world, that Jesus hoped for. Freedoms and freewill for other peoples, is of utmost importance. We are a Christian nation. I’ve have known that in the past horses would run as fast and long knowing they where about to die, they would make a decision to stop are lay down. I know they sacrificed themselves, not for master, but for unconditional love for humans. even on you tube, you can see smaller animals, attacking much more vicious animals at attacking another animal. Like the cat attacking a pitbull attacking a small child on a small bicycle which had falling down. I am sure that God has an ark or paradise for all creation. Jesus said that he was yesterday, today and tomorrow. He also said he is a good shepherd, he said his words will be like chaff in the wind. Jesus told his disciples not to write, but they did write letters to each other after Jesus told them to go out into other places in twos. they did write to each other and the letters where collected and that became the first bible. Later gator, I’m old and tired and going to bed. I’m sure you will find a lot of grammer mistakes and spelling mistakes.

  14. clarence says

    Though this revelation is understandingly disturbing to the Jewish people there is nothing, nothing more important than truth. Jesus. A practicing Jew taught us “The truth will make you free”. We all have to learn that….not easy !

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