Tag Archives: Masada

Walking up the Roman siege ramp at Masada

Masada has caught my attention in the past few days. Those who have visited the site are aware of the Byzantine ruins, including a church, on the top of the plateau. A brochure published by the The Israel Nature and Parks Authority points out that Masada “sank into oblivion until the nineteenth century.”

The first scholars to identify Masada with the plateau known in Arabic as es-Sebbeh were Smith and Robinson in 1838, and the first to climb it were Wolcott and Tipping in 1842. Warren climbed Masada in 1867, Conder described and mapped it in 1875, Sandel discovered the water system in 1905, and Schulten studied mainly the Roman siege system in 1932.

Perhaps most visitors today associate the excavation of Masada with the late Yigael Yadin from 1963 to 1965. Masada National Park opened in 1966, and the first cable car to take visitors to the top was in 1971. The larger cable cars, holding about 40 passengers each, were added several years later.

My first visit to Masada was in 1969. At that time it was necessary to walk up the path on the siege ramp made by the Romans. In A.D. 73 or 74, “the Roman Tenth Legion Fretensis, led by Flavius Silva, laid siege to the mountain.” The ramp was built so the Romans could move their battering ram up to the western gate of Masada. The photo below was made from the plateau. The ramp is visible just below the bottom half of the photo, and the path is on the ridge. The path leading to our right (view from the top) goes to the large water cisterns.

The Roman siege ramp at Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The Roman siege ramp at Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Is Masada mentioned in the Bible?

N.B. This is post number 1500 since our beginning in 2007.

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The Hebrew word masada is generally translated stronghold or fortress in the English Bible. Gordon Franz (lifeandland.org) says King David visited the site of Masada at least three times.

  1. After sending his parents to Moab (1 Samuel 22:1-5). Take a look at the previous post with the photos and map showing the lisan (tongue) of the Dead Sea. I envision this as the place where David could most easily cross to Moab and then return to the stronghold.
  2. After he spared Saul’s life at Engedi (En Gedi) (1 Samuel 24:22).
  3. When the Philistines were searching for him (2 Samuel 5:17).

This photo gives some idea of the fortress-like quality under consideration. Note the Dead Sea, the Lisan, and the mountains of Moab in the distance.

After a cable-car ride, or by walking the snake path for about an hour one reaches the entrance to the rock fortress of Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

After a cable-car ride, or by walking the snake path for about an hour one reaches the entrance to the rock fortress of Masada. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

At least four of David’s psalms mention masada.

  1. Psalm 18:2 (fortress). — “The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” (ESV)
  2. Psalm 31:2-3 — “Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me;”  (ESV)
  3. Psalm 71:1, 3 (fortress). — “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame!  2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me, and save me!  3 Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come; you have given the command to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.” (ESV)
  4. Psalm 144:1-2 (fortress). — “Of David. Blessed be the LORD, my rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle;  2 he is my steadfast love and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer, my shield and he in whom I take refuge, who subdues peoples under me.”  (ESV)

We are uncertain about authorship of Psalm 91:1-2 (fortress). Beitzel, in The New Moody Atlas of the Bible, places David at Masada (p. 151; map 58).

Psalm 66:11 uses the word masada (translated net, trap or prison).

This photo was made from the top of Masada toward the Dead Sea. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

This photo was made from the top of Masada with a view toward the Dead Sea. The walk below leads to the site of Herod’s palace. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Understand that we are not referring to the Masada built by Herod the Great and later used by Jewish zealots during the period of A.D. 70-72. The stronghold had already been there for millennia.

The article by Gordon Franz is brief, but well documented. Read it here.

Short video on Masada

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority has prepared a short video on Masada. The narrator presents a brief history of the fortress of Masada while beautiful scenes of the site are shown.

Arutz Sheva (Israel National News) provides a link to the video with an article about Masada here. (A direct link to the video on You Tube is here.) Elad Benari, author of the article, describes Masada in these words:

The top level had four bedrooms and a semicircular balcony, from which there was a spectacular view of the Dead Sea, Ein Gedi, and the Moab Mountains. A sophisticated and hidden staircase led to a middle level in which a large hall was built, surrounded by a veranda whose poles were placed at the edge of the cliff. The staircase went down to the bottom level, in which a large hall surrounded by vestibules was established. The walls of the hall were decorated with spectacular frescoes. A private bathhouse was built adjacent to the hall for the occupants of the northern palace.

At the peak were 29 large warehouses, each one 27 meters long. Excavations of the site found hundreds of pottery vessels in which huge amounts of food were stored. Thus, using a rare combination of natural conditions and human endeavors, Masada became a cliff that was almost impossible to conquer.

The great halls of the palaces were unsuitable for housing families, and thus became headquarters and public buildings.

The building near the north wall, which served as a stable in the days of Herod, was later turned into a synagogue. This is one of the Jewish people’s most ancient synagogues, known to be in use during the period of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem, an unusual occurrence as synagogues became the accepted place to pray only after the destruction of the second Temple.

Our photo shows some of the large warehouses at the fortress. The Dead Sea and the mountains of Edom are visible in the left background.

Warehouses at Masada with the Dead Dea visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Warehouses at Masada with the Dead Sea visible in the distance. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It is possible that David visited the site of Masada long before it was turned into a fortress by King Herod. Gordon Franz has examined evidence for this suggestion at his Life and Land blog here.

One of the verses examined is Psalm 18:2 in which the term for fortress is the Hebrew metsudah (our English masada)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, the servant of the LORD, who addressed the words of this song to the LORD on the day when the LORD rescued him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love you, O LORD, my strength.
2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psa 18:1-2 ESV)

HT: Joseph I. Lauer

Monday meandering — August 8

St Cuthbert Gospel. © British Library Image.

St Cuthbert Gospel. Copyright British Library Image.

British Library launches a campaign to raise $14.3 million for a 1300 year old copy of the Gospel of John. St. Cuthbert’s Gospel is said to be Europe’s oldest book. The Latin book is also called the Stonyhurst Gospel.

Information about the small bound book may be read here. The British Library has a nice video about the book, including clear images, may be viewed here. (HT: Paleojudaica).

Latin works such as this one play an important role in the history of the English Bible.


Wood used in the Roman siege of Masada came from other areas, according to a study by scientists at the University of Haifa.

First, the researchers examined the amount of wood that exists today in the Judean Desert and in the wadi deltas in the vicinity of Masada, and thereby were able to estimate the amount and types of wood that the desert could supply. Next, they calculated the amount of timber and firewood that would have been needed for the inhabitants of Masada, from 150 BCE, when it was a small fortress, through the Herodian period, when the fortress as we know it was constructed, and up to the siege, which ended in 73 CE. According to the researchers, in those times, timber was mostly used for construction, heating and cooking. Based on accepted evaluations of wood consumption for these purposes in traditional societies, on the conservatively estimated number of Masada inhabitants in each time period, the harsh climatic conditions in the desert and Masada’s topography, the researchers were able to conclude that by the time the Romans arrived at Masada and began their siege (73 CE), the entire area was void of timber and firewood, due to 2,220 years of massive exploitation of the immediate environment up to that point. The Romans would have had no choice but to import wood from other areas for their weapon machinery, ramparts and basic living requirements.

The brief report may be read here. (HT: Joseph Lauer)


C. S. Lewis and the Devil. John A. Murray has a fascinating article on “C. S. Lewis and the Devil” in The Wall Street Journal. Read the complete article here. Here is a small excerpt.

As Lewis explained, “There is no uncreated being except God. God has no opposite. . . . The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God. . . . Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael.”

In his original preface written from Magdalen College at Oxford on July 5, 1941, Lewis warned of what he called “the two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils.” One error “is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” Lewis concluded that the devils “are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”

Dr. David McClister, Bible professor at Florida College, visited Oxford during his summer break. He shares one of his photos of Lewis’s study at the Kilns.

C. S. Lewis Study at the Kilns. Photo by David McClister.

C. S. Lewis Study at the Kilns. Photo by David McClister.

No wonder Lewis accomplished so much. No phone. No computer. If you are a fan of any of Lewis’s work, you might enjoy our earlier photos and info here.

HT: Bible X.