Masada (Acts 5)

The remains of the plateau fortress called Masada still stand in the Judean desert, south of En Gedi. The tableland, which overlooks the Dead Sea, rises more than 400 m above the surrounding land and measures 0,8 km in length. Masada was the location of several palaces in use during the New Testament era and became an important stronghold for Jewish zealots fighting against Roman occupation during the first century A.D.

Masada was established during the second century B.C. and completed by Herod (reigned 37-4 B.C.), who erected on the site an elaborate palace, a rain collection system and fortified walls that permitted lon periods of isolation. Control passed to the Romans in A.D. 6 and then to Jewish zealots in 66. The zealots transformed the palaces into military outposts, converted other buildings into ceremonial baths and a study house and constructed a synagogue.

The Romans attacked Masada in A.D. 73. The army’s slaves built a ramp nearly 200 m in height along with the side of the cliffs in order to wage a full scale attack. Recognizing that defeat was inevitable, Eleazer, Masada’s leader, convinced the 960 inhabitants that death would be more satisfactory than Roman slavery. Ten men were assigned to kill all of the others, including women and children, and one of them was selected to kill the final ten, including himself. When the Romans reached the top of the plateau, there was no one left there to conquer.

Gamaliel’s advice in Acts 5:38-39 proved true with Masada: Although the zealots stationed there led remarkable uprisings, their well-constructed plans were eventually thwarted because they were of human origin and not from God.

Illustration: Herod’s swimming pool at Masada

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