What Really Happened at Masada?

The desert fortress has become a powerful symbol of Jewish resistance. A new book examines the evidence to see how much of the story, including the famous mass suicide, is true.

DeAgostini/Getty Images.

DeAgostini/Getty Images.

Observation
Aug. 14 2019
About the author

Matti Friedman is the author of a memoir about the Israeli war in Lebanon, Pumpkinflowers: A Soldier’s Story of a Forgotten War (2016). His latest book is Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel (2019).


If you’ve read the popular account of the Masada dig by the famed Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, published in 1966, you probably remember the scene where the author finds three skeletons in the ruins of Herod’s desert palace “upon the steps leading to the cold-water pool.” One skeleton, lying by the remains of military armor and a prayer shawl, was a young man, “perhaps one of the commanders of Masada.” The second was a young woman remarkably preserved in the dry climate: “Her dark hair, beautifully plaited, looked as if it had been freshly coiffured,” and by her head was a stain that looked like blood. The third was a child.

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More about: History & Ideas, Israel & Zionism, Masada