View from Masada

The mountaintop fortress of Masada was built by Herod the Great as a winter retreat and refuge, complete with palace, storerooms, cisterns, and impressive fortifications. In the Jewish Revolt against the Roman occupation, Masada was taken by Sicarii rebels in 66CE. When the Romans retook Jerusalem (70CE), pockets of Jewish resistance persisted. The last of these was at Masada. Flavius Silva and a legion of Roman soldiers encamped at the base of the mountain and laid siege. Unable to take the fortress, Silva instructed his men to build an enormous tower and ramp to reach the walls. When the building project neared completion and the fall of Masada was imminent, the rebels killed themselves (April 15, 73CE). Two women and five children, who hid in an empty cistern, survived to tell the story. This photo looks out from the walls of Masada to the plain below. Can you see the remains of the Roman Encampment from the first century siege?

Masada by Isaac Lamdan
“Who are you that come, stepping heavy in silence?
–The remnant.
Alone I remained on the day of great slaughter.
Alone, of father and mother, sisters and brothers.
Saved in an empty cask hid in a courtyard corner.
Huddled, a child in the womb of an anxious mother.
I survived.
Days upon days in fate’s embrace I cried and begged
for mercy:
Thy deed it is, O God, that I remain.
Then answer: Why?
If to bear the shame of man and the world.
To blazon it forever–
Release me! The world unshamed will flaunt this shame
As honor and spotless virtue!
And if to find atonement I survive
Then Answer: Where?
So importuning a silent voice replied:
‘In Masada!’
And I obeyed that voice and so I came.
Silent my steps will raise me to the wall,
Silent as all the steps filled with the dread
Of what will come.
Tall, tall is the wall of Masada.
Deep, deep is the pit at its feet.
And if the silent voice deceived me,
From the high wall to the deep pit
I will fling me.
And let there be no sign remaining,
And let no remnant survive.”

in Isaac Lamdan: A Study in Twentieth-Century Hebrew Poetry, ed. Leon I. Yudkin, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1971.


Yitzhak Lamdan was born in Mlinov, Ukraine in 1899 and received a religious and secular education. During World War I, he was cut off from his family. He wandered through southern Russia with his brother who was later killed in a pogrom. Lamdan became a Communist and volunteered for the Red Army before returning, disillusioned, to Mlinov , where he began to publish Hebrew poetry. He immigrated to Palestine in 1920, and worked as a ḥaluts (Zionist youth), building roads and working on farms. In 1955, Lamdan was awarded the Israel Prize, for literature.

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