Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Josephus, Masada, and archaeology

MASADA REVISIONISM: Did the Jews Kill Themselves at Masada Rather Than Fall Into Roman Hands? The tradition of mass suicide at the ancient desert fortress as described by Josephus has little archaeological support (Elizabeth Sloane, Haaretz). Yes, that's about the size of it.

One of my students did a seminar paper on this topic in that aforementioned (in the preceding post) Ancient Jewish Literature course this semester. The class was persuaded that the archaeological evidence did not support Josephus's account of a mass suicide. His account is incoherent in other ways as well. He claims that it was only the men who were present at Eleazar ben Yair's final speeches, and they are specifically addressed to the men only, yet supposedly a surviving woman gave a full account of them. And it makes no sense that the Romans succeeded in burning down the last defensive wall and then went back to their camp to sleep until morning. Meanwhile the rebels all quietly committed suicide and no Roman watchmen noticed. And so on.

The seminar paper also evaluated Josephus's account of the fall of Gamla in light of archaeology, and came to similarly skeptical conclusions about the its reliability.

I have collected past posts on a variety of topics related to Masada here. Past posts that deal specifically with problems with Josephus's account of its fall are collected here.

On another note, this article alerted me to the fact that President Trump's speech planned for Masada has been canceled "due to the heavy heat." The speech will be given at the Israel Museum instead. More on the trip's itinerary is in this Reuters article: Trump to visit Jewish, Christian holy sites in Jerusalem.