Fortress Masada was originally constructed by Herod the Great around 37 and 31 B.C. as a palace of sanctuary in case of a revolt. According to Josephus, King Herod was an Edomite commissioned by the Roman Empire as a client king over Judea. Due to the fact that he was not a Judean, remained in league with the Romans, merciless to his people, and called for the assassinations of numerous Hasmoneans, Herod was an abhored leader. Some psychologists have actually even categorized Herod as bipolar and struggling with a kind of paranoia. Thought to be among the reasons behind his luxuriant building activities such as Masada, his paranoia about losing power is evident in the records of Josephus regarding the murder of a few of his boys, in addition to the massacre of innocent young children in Matthew 2.
Fortress Masada signifies “fortress” in Aramaic. Based on recent archeological evidences, the actual fortress lies on top of a cliff, with the leading edge 1,300 feet high and the back edge 300 feet high. At the top of the flat plateau, the primary complex was constructed and surrounded completely by a casemate wall and a number of protective towers. Inside the walls were warehouses, a barracks, an armory, a palace, wells, and probably a synagogue.
An exceptional example of the building expertise of Herod the Great, Fortress Masada is best known as the location where the Sicarii, a group of Jewish zealots, took over the Roman fort in 66 A.D., and then in 72 A.D. The Romans under General Flavius Silva laid siege to the fortress. To break the siege, the Romans used a slave force of over 9,000 to construct a huge earthen ramp up the side of the cliff and assaulted the fortress with about 5,000 soldiers in the spring of 73 A.D. The end outcome of the siege was the suicide of 953 Sicarii. Rather than be caught and forced into slavery by the Romans, the Sicarii ended their lives, making a powerful declaration about the liberty and independence of Judea.
The remains of a minimum of 9 Roman camps from archeological evidences of the siege can still be seen today, and the ramp up to the Fortress Masada made by the Romans can still be scaled. Fortress Masada holds lots of fascinating discoveries, the most Biblically relevant came throughout the excavations of 1963-65 when parts of numerous Biblical, sectarian, and apocryphal scrolls were discovered, consisting of pieces of Genesis, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Ezekiel dating to prior to the 1st century A.D. These fragments appear to have actually come from neighboring Qumran.
Today, the Jewish people are back in the land of Israel and Fortress Masada represents something special once again. After almost 1,900 years from the fall of Masada, the state of Israel ended up being a formal nation once again in 1948. As part of protecting the renewed land, all Israeli men and women are asked to serve a time in the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). After the conclusion of basic training, brand-new IDF soldiers climb up the “snake course” at night and are sworn-in at a torch-lit ceremony at the top of Fortress Masada. There last declaration of the night prior to coming down the mountain as an IDF soldier is “Masada shall not fall again.”
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