Sunday, July 11, 2010
A Biblical Scholar's First Impressions of Israel VI: Masada
For the first-time visitor, one of the most striking things is just how strongly Herod's presence can be felt, something that might be said for several other places in Israel, Jerusalem, of course, and Caesarea in particular. You can imagine Herod (who in my mind is always played by Peter Ustinov) feasting there, with his imported fish and his fine wines. You can see where he bathed, Roman style, and you can see the large storehouses. Remarkably, several of the frescos survive from Masada, and you can see good quality reproductions in situ as you walk around, and then look at the real things in the museum afterwards.
Of course the story you are going to witness is the one of the rebels and the Roman siege, and being at Masada does enable you to re-imagine elements of something that previously you've just read about, or seen in the 1981 film starring Peter O'Toole. You can see the part of the walls where the Roman siege made entry, and there are sling shots piled up not far away from the same site.
On the day we went, it was absolutely roasting up there, and the heat was enough to keep us on our toes in getting round the key sites before we passed out. I am afraid that we did not go up and down the pathway. I am not great with heights and it was very, very hot, so instead we enjoyed the cable-car ride with its fantastic views. At the bottom, after pouring lots of cold liquids down our throats, we took in the museum at a leisurely pace and found it fascinating, not least seeing an original flip flop, a lock of hair and a comb from Masada. Seeing the ostraca on which the names were scribbled, and which may have been used for the drawing of lots before the mass suicide, provides a remarkable way of imagining the events of 74 CE.