As we examined an Israeli map at the Eilat bus station, we were pleased to learn that the bus goes directly by the popular tourist site, Masada. Conveniently, we could step off the public bus traveling north, climb a hill, take a lift to the fortification, spend several hours touring, and simply walk down the hill to catch another of the frequent buses to Jerusalem.
Masada was built around 34 B.C. by the Roman client king, Herod the Great, as a palace for himself and fortification for protection. During the Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire, which began in 66 A.D., a group of extremist Jewish rebels fled to Masada, occupied it, and used the fortification to stage raids on the valley below. After the Romans destroyed the second Jewish temple in 73 A.D., other rebels joined the group at Masada, and all told, nearly 1,000 rebels fought fiercely against the Romans. When they realized their rebellion was doomed, the leaders decided that death was preferable to slavery, slaughtered their families and killed themselves.
The story of Masada was unearthed by archeologists in the 1960s and became a symbol of fierceness and determination for the new nation of Israel. But “according to recent archaeological research, the story of the mass suicide on Masada was the product of the creative imagination of a Jewish historian who sought to impress his educated audience with a chronicle written in an acceptable literary style.”