Masada in Hebrew מצדה means “fortress”. It reminds us of our King David:
2 Samuel 22:2 “He said: The Lord is my rock, my fortress וּמְצֻדָתִ֖י, and my deliverer.”
1 Samuel 24:22 “So David swore this to Saul. Then Saul went home; but David and his men went up to the stronghold עַל־הַמְּצוּדָֽה.”
Where is Masada? Masada is an ancient fortification situated on the eastern edge of the Judaean Desert, 12 miles away from the Dead Sea, about six hours ancient walk (or 15 minutes drive) from the northwest of En Gedi.
Who built Masada? It was not built by prophet Samuel or King David. It was built by Herod the Great builder (37-4 BC) as his large palace. It was built atop a large block of Cenomanian limestone mountain (1,400 feet height) with a steep cliff along it.
According to our Jewish historian Josephus, seven years after the time of Herod the Great, a group of Jewish people called Sicarii (Zealots) led 967 Jewish rebels fleeing from the burning Jerusalem in 70 CE and they went to Masada as the base of resistance to Romans. Masada became the last stand of the Jewish resistances. About 72 CE, a Roman procurator of Judaea, Lucius Flavius Silva, took his 7,000 troops and began the conquest of Masada. When the rebels knew the end would be horrific, they decided to die a noble death. When the Romans conquered and gained access into Masada, they found 960 out of 967 committed suicides. Only two women and five children were found alive in a water conduit as survivors to tell the story.
This is a full view of Masada. In the middle of this picture, you see three terraces: the upper terrace, the middle terrace, and the lower terrace. This is Herod the Great’s Northern Palace. Herod the Great had a magnificent view overlooking the Dead Sea.
A Visitor Center
There are two entrances at Masada: The Western entrance (the higher level) and the Eastern entrance (the lower level). The Western Entrance (the higher level) is for those who prefer to take a shorter easier hike than the cable car. This entrance has a free parking lot and restrooms. Also, this is the entrance for the night show at Masada.
The Roman Ramp Path
The first time I went to Masada, I took the Roman Ramp Path from the western gate entrance. The whole height is about 196 feet. It took me only 15 minutes to get to the top. This ramp was built by Jewish slaves who were captured by Roman troops. The purpose of the ramp was to approach the top of Masada for the attack in 73 CE.
The Snake Path
The second time when I went to Masada, I went by the eastern gate which is the main entrance. You can find a movie theater showing a short movie about Masada, a museum, exhibitions, restaurants, souvenir shops, and restrooms. There are two ways to go the top of Masada at the eastern gate: the Snake Path or the cable car.
The height of the Snake Path is more than 1,000 feet, yes! What a good exercise to climb up that path. Since I do not like to torture myself, I would rather go up by the cable car. All you need to do is to pay an extra 46 shekels round trip (ouch! The price goes up as of 2021!). You can click here for more information: https://en.parks.org.il Masada National Park
Looking down to the Snake Path from the cable car, I was so impressed by these people climbing all the way up 1,017 feet to Masada.
Replicate Battle Ram
How did the Roman troops siege Masada where it is situated atop of the mountain with a steep cliff around it?
With the works of thousands of Jewish slaves captured by the Romans, they first built 8 camps around the base of Masada; then they built a ramp which approached the top; then they built a stone platform at the top of this ramp; finally, they put a battering ram (see picture) on top of the stone platform. The Romans were able to siege Masada by using this battering ram to destroy the wall of Masada. This is, of course, a replica from the film production and remains here for exhibition.
There are a total of eight Roman camps around Masada still visible today (the one near the cable station is replicated). There were about 7,000 troops stationed here in 73 CE. While the Jewish rebels had enough food and water at the top of Masada, it is hard for me to picture how these troops survived in the desert for months during that time. Also, you can see the Dead Sea in this picture.
Map of Masada
This map shows us that Masada includes not only Herod the Great’s structures but also Byzantine time’s church. After Romans left Masada in 73 CE, about the 5th century Byzantine period, Christian Monks discovered this place and they built a church here.
After the Muslims took over Palestine, Masada was abandoned and no one knew where the location of Masada was until 1838, when an American scholar suggested that this was the place of Masada. Then, during the Zionist movement in the early 20th century, it appeared to the world again.
This model is so cool! It shows you how the water went through two aqueducts to cisterns (there are 8 upper and 4 lower cisterns). There are a total of eight cisterns around the southeast of Masada for storing the water supply. Once the water was stored in these cisterns, animals carried it from the cisterns to the Northern Palace and the Western Palace.
Per Dr. Carl, the 12 cisterns of Masada could hold a total of over 10,000,000 gal of water. How did the 7,000 troops who were stationed at the base of Masada get the water while the rebels got their water from the cistern system at the top of Masada? I imagine that these troops must have been thirsty when they were stationed in the middle of the desert. The closest water source is in En Gedi (please see En Gedi). They would have had to walk about six hours from Masada to En Gedi Springs to get water!
Another wonderful mechanism of this structure is the heat room. You can see three furnaces on the wall. Per Dr. Carl: “there was the furnace (praefurnium) and the heated air entered the caldarium from here, circulated under, and heated the floor before passing up clay pipes embedded in the walls—modern reconstruction of these pipes are visible in the uppermost portion of the image.”
western palace bathroom
You may wonder where the kitchen is located. Yes, it is right here in the Western Palace. It looks like the stone fire pit in my backyard!
Zealots built this immersion pool when they sheltered in Masada. The frescos on the walls and the flooring were built by Herod the Great.
Originally, this was a stable. During the time Zealots sheltered here, they converted it into a synagogue. This synagogue had been the oldest synagogue found until Magdala’s synagogue (please see Magdala) was found several years ago.
At the back of the synagogue, there is a scribe room. Yadin, the archaeologist, found fragments of scrolls which contained a chapter that made him so emotional. It is Ezekiel chapter 37 – the dry bones. It is about the prophecy that the bones came together upon which God recreated flesh. This is a picture of Israel when God said that Israel would live again.
This prophecy reminds me of the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948. With God’s help, Israel was miraculously reborn. We are witnessing how God’s promise is being fulfilled, and we are believing that it will be completely fulfilled when the day comes – the second coming of our Jewish Messiah Jesus based on the Messianic prophecy in our Tanakh and New Covenant.
These are the storerooms. You can see the Dead Sea in the far view.
the dead sea view
From this location near the storeroom, I could see a spectacular view of the Dead Sea and the Judaea mountains behind the Dead Sea.
I believe that Herod needed privacy. The Northern Palace would be his private place. It was his sleeping room and guest hall in the upper terrace. A library, a private Roman bath, and a luxury hall were in the middle and lower terraces. This picture shows the lower terrace, the round structure behind it is the middle terrace.
View from Masada
“Masada shall not fall again!” is not only just a slogan, but also a swearing-in ceremony for the Israel Defense Forces after the completion of basic training. The unit will go up to the top of Masada, towards this magnificent view, and cry the slogan loud. It is like a pledge to Israel that they will protect the country until their last breath.
When I look at this desert view, it reminds me of Ezekiel 37, the prophecy for the rebirth of Israel. However, when I read the Bible, our prophets Daniel, Isaiah, Zechariah and even our Jewish Messiah Jesus have mentioned that when the end time comes, Israel will be in trouble again.
What are the Biblical prophecies of the end time about?
Who will stand for Israel in the end time? What will happen to Israel and the Chosen People? Shall Masada not fall again in the end time? Unlocking the secret of the end time will be coming soon. Stay tuned.