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MASADA:

Strong mountain fortress in Palestine, not far west of the Dead Sea. The fortress was built by the high priest Jonathan (a statement which Schürer upon insufficient grounds holds to be false), who also gave it its name (Josephus, "B. J." vii. 8, § 3). The name is certainly Hebrew: "Meẓadah" = "mountain fortress." Josephus writes Μασάδα and Μασαδά (variant, Μεσάδα); Strabo (xvi. 2, § 44) corrupts it to Μοασάδα; while Pliny ("Historia Naturalis," v. 17, § 73) writes correctly "Masada" (comp. "Die Epitome des Solinus," ed. Mommsen, § 35). Helix, second in command under Cassius, took the fortress from the Herodians in 42 B.C. (Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 11, § 7; "B. J." i. 12, § 1). Later Herod took refuge here ("Ant." xiv. 13, § 8; "B. J." i. 13, § 7); Antigonus, who besieged the fortress, could not take it, in spite of the fact that the defenders suffered from a scarcity of water ("Ant." xiv. 14, § 6; 15, §§ 1-4; "B. J." i. 15, §§ 3-4). When Herod became king he repaired the fortress, building a wall with thirty-seven high turrets around the summit of the mountain, which was flat. Within the wall were dwelling-houses and a splendid palace for Herod, who wished the fortress to be a place of refuge from every danger. Grain, which was stored there, on account of the purity of the air did not spoil easily ("B. J." vii. 8, § 3).

Masada attained great importance in the war with the Romans. The Sicarii captured it and killed the Roman garrison ("B. J." ii. 17, § 2); Menahem took possession of the arms stored there by Herod (ib. § 8); Menahem's relative Eleazar b. Jair governed the fortress for about six years (ib. § 9); and Bar Giora also took refuge there for some time (ib. 22, § 2). From here the Sicarii harassed and plundered the whole vicinity, especially Engedi (ib. iv. 7, § 2). Not until three years after the fall of Jerusalem did a Roman army, under Silva, advance upon Masada. Josephus in this connection gives a detailed account of the situation of the fortress, which was almost inaccessible and inexpugnable (ib. vii. 8, § 3); there was only one spot upon which the Romans could place a battering-ram, and even there only with great difficulty. When, finally, a breach was made in the wall, the invaders were confronted by a newly erected bulwark, which, however, they succeeded in destroying by fire. Eleazar b. Jair persuaded the besieged to kill themselves, and when the Romans entered they found alive only two women (ib. 8, §§ 1-7; 9, § 2).

With the fall of Masada the war came to an end (on the 15th of Nisan, 73; 72 according to Niese in "Hermes," xxviii. 211).

Smith and Robinson ("Palästina," ii. 477) discovered Masada in the cliffs of Al-Sabbah. The account of Josephus has been completely confirmed by them and by Ritter ("Erdkunde," xv. 655); and the traces of the Roman camp may still be seen.

Bibliography:
  • Tuch, Masada, Leipsic, 1863;
  • Boettger, Topographisch-Historisches Lexicon zu den Schriften des Flavius Josephus, p. 175;
  • Conder and Kitchener, The Survey of Western Palestine, iii. 418-421;
  • Schürer, Gesch. 3d ed., i. 391, note 68; 638, note 137.
G. S. Kr.
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