Major Archaeological Discovery Herod's Fortress Masada

About the major archaeological discovery of King Herod's fortress Masada, history and information of the dig and discovery.

Discovery: MASADA

Year: 1963

Location: 25 mi. south of Bethlehem, Israel, 2 mi. from the Dead Sea

Discoverer: Yigael Yadin

Findings: The onetime fortress-palace of King Herod, Masada is the supreme symbol of Jewish courage. In 73 A.D., 960 men, women, and children, fighting hopelessly against the Roman Tenth Legion's 15,000 soldiers, elected to commit mass suicide rather than face total slaughter by their conquerors.

Yadin, heading an expedition to the isolated site--a huge rocky mesa 300 yd. wide, 600 yd. long, and a sheer 1,200 ft. above the Dead Sea--hoped to verify the only known narration of the epic siege, one written by the Jewish historian Josephus. During Judea's Great Revolt against the Roman Empire, begun in 66 A.D., Josephus had traitorously switched sides to join the Romans. His later history, The Jewish War, contained many statements now discredited by research scholars.

Utilizing volunteer workers recruited from all over the world, and with the engineering support of the Israeli army, whose chief of staff he had been during the 1948 war General Yadin launched a new full-scale assault. Over a two-year period, his 300-member team, working under conditions of extreme hardship, excavated, sifted, and inspected 1.3 million cu. ft. of soil and rubble. They discovered Herod's "hanging palace," built on the rock's northern tip. In casement walls, they found sacred scrolls, including the long-lost original Hebrew version of Ecclesiasticus, an apocryphal work of practical and moral rules written in the 2nd century B.C. In all, 14 scrolls were discovered, which added greatly to the knowledge of 1st-century literature. The new manuscripts, dated c. 73 A.D. because of the Zealots' stand in that year, silenced criticism that the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran had come from a later period.

Yadin's team also uncovered 11 small potsherds, each bearing a different name but apparently inscribed by the same person. Speculation now persists that the fragments--one of which bears the name of Eleazar Ben-Yair, the Zealots' commander--were the lots drawn to determine the last man to die.

For Masada, at least, Josephus had recorded the truth.

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