During our recent trip to Israel, we were able to visit Masada in southern Israel's Judean desert. It's a massive plateau overlooking the Dead Sea with cliffs rising 1,300 feet high on the East, and 300 feet on the West, the top flat and about 1,800 x 890 feet. Herod, the Great had fortified this place although he had not built it originally. He wanted to have a place of refuge in the event of a revolt.

Flavius Josephus, a Jewish rebel who had been captured by the Romans in whose service he became a historian records this history mainly based on the reports from the Roman commanders. He records that the Sicarii rebels were an extremist splinter group of the Zealots. Their name came from the dagger called the sica which each of them carried. Herod had left a Roman garrison to guard the fortress, but the Sacarii overcame and killed them and captured the fortress. After the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70 BC, hundreds of Jews fled the Romans and joined the Sicarii on the mountain.

There are two ways to access the mountain. One is a very difficult and long hot walk, and the other is a nice large cable car that takes about 3 minutes. I don't need to tell you which one we took. Among the ruins, we saw were the remains of two palaces, Roman style bathhouses with mosaic floors, a swimming pool, a wine cellar, storehouses, barracks, and an armory. King Herod had built an elaborate water system of cisterns, aqueducts and reservoirs for his needs and that of his family and army.

The story goes that the Romans were determined to besiege the fortress. They assembled an army of about 15,000 strong, built a ramp moving thousands of tons of rocks and earth, a battering ram to move up the ramp, and sent blazing torches, using Jewish slaves for the work in the belief that the rebels would not kill their own people. They finally breached the wall of the fortress after three years, and found all the defenders dead except two women and five children who had hidden in a cistern. They related the story of how their leader had convinced the others that death was better than to fall into slavery to pagans.

Looking down from the mountain, we could see the remains of eight Roman military camps. There is also a fairly large mound where it is said that 25 rebels are buried.

In pondering this whole episode in history, I'm struck by man's inhumanity to man. Why the wars? Why the hatred? I wonder as I watch the turmoil we face today seeing events unfold around the world. We all must answer to the same God who gives us specific instructions on how we are to treat each other. When will we ever learn as we see history repeat itself over and over?

Originally printed July 7, 2017.