Suicide at Masada39 v i i ixl

1. Now as Eleazar was proceeding on in his exhortation, they all cut him off short, and made haste to do the work, as full of an unconquerable ardor of mind, and moved with a demoniacal fury. So they went their ways, as one still endeavoring to be before another, and as thinking that this eagerness would be a demonstration of their courage and good conduct, if they could avoid appearing in the last class; so great was the zeal they were in to slay their wives and children, and themselves also !

Nor, indeed, when they came to the work itself, did their courage fail them, as one might imagine it would have done, but they then held fast the same resolution, without wavering, which they had upon the hearing of Eleazar's speech, while yet every one of them still retained the natural passion of love to themselves and their families, because the reasoning they went upon appeared to them to be very just, even with regard to those that were dearest to them; for the husbands tenderly embraced their wives, and took their children into their arms, and gave the longest parting kisses to them, with tears in their eyes. Yet at the same time did they complete what they had resolved on, as if they had been executed by the hands of strangers, and they had nothing else for their comfort but the necessity they were in of doing this execution to avoid that prospect they had of the miseries they were to suffer from their enemies. Nor was there at length any one of these men found that scrupled to act their part in this terrible execution, but every one of them dispatched his dearest relations. Miserable men indeed were they! whose distress forced them to slay their own wives and children with their own hands, as the lightest of those evils that were before them.

So they being not able to bear the grief they were under for what they had done any longer, and esteeming it an injury to those they had slain to live even the shortest space of time after them, - they presently laid all they had in a heap, and set fire to it. They then chose ten men by lot out of them, to slay all the rest; every one of whom laid himself down by his wife and children on the ground, and threw his arms about them, and they offered their necks to the stroke of those who by lot executed that melancholy office; and when these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine, and after all, should kill himself. Accordingly, all these had courage sufficient to be no way behind one another in doing or suffering; so, for a conclusion, the nine offered their necks to the executioner, and he who was the last of all took a view of all the other bodies, lest perchance some or other among so many that were slain should want his assistance to be quite dispatched; and when he perceived that they were all slain, he set fire to the palace, and with the great force of his hands ran his sword entirely through himself, and fell down dead near to his own relations. So these people died with this intention, that they would leave not so much as one soul among them all alive to be subject to the Remans.

Yet there was an ancient woman, and another who was of kin to Eleazar, and superior to most women in prudence and learning, with five children, who had concealed themselves in caverns under ground, and had carried water thither for their drink, and were hidden there when the rest were intent upon the slaughter of one another. Those others were nine hundred and sixty in number, the women and children being withal included in that computation. This calamitous slaughter was made on the fifteenth day of the month Xanthicus [Nisan].


1. Herod of Chalcis, the grandson of King Herod; the event spoken of here took place in a.d. 52.

2. Floras was the Roman procurator of Judea from a.d. 64-66.

3. The members of the "equestrian order" were the Jewish nobility who held Roman status; this event took place on 3 June, a.d. 66.

4. Because of Florus's tyranny, the Jews revolted against Gentiles, and the Gentiles brought reprisals against the Jews; thus began a series of counter-massacres bet ween them.

5. Tiberius Alexander, governor of Alexandria.

6. John of Gischala was the leader of a powerful faction of Zealots. The Zealots were a revolutionary Jewish sect of the first century; Josephus uses the term loosely, without explaining the ideological differences among the various revolutionary factions.

7. In the spring of a.d. 67, after Nero had received news of the Judean revolt, he appointed Vespasian commander of the Roman forces to subdue the rebellion. (Vespasian became the Roman Emperor in a.d. 69, after the turmoil following Nero's death.) The event described here refers to Vespasian's reprisals against an attempt by Jewish forces to capture the city of Sepphoris from the Remans.

8. This important stronghold of the Jewish rebels was destroyed by the Remans on 20 July, a.d. 67.

10. According to Greek mythology, Andromeda was the daughter of Kepheus, king of Ethiopia. She had been bound to a rock in order to be devoured by a sea monster, but was rescued in the nick of time by the hero Perseus.

11. The city was another important rebel base, Tarichaeae (also called Magdala, the home of Mary Magdalene).

12. Titus was the older son of Vespasian, who assisted his father in the Jewish War. Later, when Vespasian became emperor, Titus took over the direction of the campaign.

13. The Sea of Galilee was also called Lake Gennesareth. The massacre recorded here resulted from the Remans' attempt to catch and destroy the Jews who were trying to escape from Tarichaeae. This battle took place in late September 67.

14. During the civil strife in Jerusalem, the rebellious Zealots barricaded themselves in the Temple against the pro-Roman citizens, who surrounded the Temple with armed guards. A few Zealots escaped in the night and made their way to the camp of the Edomites (Idumeans) who had surrounded the city with 20,000 men. By telling them (falsely) that the priests were planning to surrender the city to the Remans, the Zealots persuaded the Edomites to liberate their comrades from the Temple and then to attack the rest of the city. That night, before the Edomites went on the rampage, was the last opportunity for people to escape from the city with safety.

15. The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob's brother (Gen. 25:30; 36:8-43), and thus related to the Israelites.

16. Ananus was the High Priest.

17. Jesus, son of Gamalus, was a chief priest, second under Ananus.

19. Realizing they had been tricked, most of the Edomites left the city. Meanwhile, the Remans continued their slow advance through Judea, counting on the internal warfare in Jerusalem to weaken the rebellion. Many Jews tried to escape from the coming holocaust; most were unsuccessful.

20. Simon was the leader of a powerful faction of rebels in Jerusalem, in competition with the Zealots led by Eleazar, son of Gion, and the Galilean followers of John of Gischala.

21. As Josephus mentions several times in his narrative, people all over the world knew of the Temple in Jerusalem: it was "esteemed holy by all mankind."

23. Eleazar's forces occupied the sanctuary. John's followers controlled the outer Temple area (while trying to overthrow Eleazar), and Simon's men held most of the rest of the city while fighting against John.

24. By this time the Remans under Titus had surrounded the city. Eleazar's Zealots had combined with John's forces under John's leadership, and there were now two main factions in the city. The Remans began assaulting the city with catapults.

25. About 90 lbs.

26. About 1200 feet.

27. After reviewing the various theories on this strange passage, J. Stuart Russell offers the following explanation:

It could not but be well known to the Jews that the great hope and faith of the Christians was the speedy coming of the Son. It was about this very time, according to Hegesippus, that St. James, the brother of our Lord, publicly testified in the temple that "the Son of man was about to come in the clouds of heaven," and then sealed his testimony with his blood. It seems highly probable that the Jews, in their defiant and desperate blasphemy, when they saw the white mass hurtling though the air, raised the ribald cry, "The Son is coming," in mockery of the Christian hope of the Parousia, to which they might trace a ludicrous resemblance in the strange appearance of the missile. (J. Stuart Russell, TheParousia [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1887, 1983], p. 482. Hegesippus's statement about James can be found in The Ante-Nicene Fathers [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970 reprint] vol. 8, p. 763.)

28. Josephus was trying to persuade the Jews to surrender to the Remans (or, at the very least, he wrote passages such as this one to convince the Remans of his loyalty). This section is important as a summary of God's historical judgments against Israel.

29. Note: 42 months. The period from Nero's appointment of Vespasian until the destruction of the Temple (30 August, a.d. 70) was also about 42 months.

31. Cf. Deut. 28:53-57; 2 Kings 6:26-29; Jer. 19:9; Lam. 4:10; Ezek. 5:10.

32. Josephus here draws attention to the fact that, under the Providence of God, the Temple was destroyed by the Remans on the tenth day of Ab -the very same date on which the first Temple had been burned by the Babylonians in 586 b.c. (see Jer. 52:12-13).

33. According to this passage in Josephus, Titus tried to prevent the soldiers from destroying the Temple. It is possible, however, that Josephus was trying to defend the Remans against the Jewish charge that it had been a matter of deliberate policy. The early Church historian Sulpitius Severus, following Tacitus, wrote:

Titus himself thought that the temple ought especially to be overthrown, in order that the religion of the Jews and of the Christians might more thoroughly be subverted; for that these religions, although contrary to each other, had nevertheless proceeded from the same authors; that the Christians had sprung up from among the Jews; and that, if the root were extirpated, the offshoot would speedily perish. Thus, according to the divine will, the minds of all being inflamed, the temple was destroyed. . . . (The Sacred History ofSulpitius Severus, in A Select Library ofNicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973 reprint], Second Series, vol. 11, p. 111. Cf. Michael Grant, The Twelve Caesars [New York: Charles Scribners Sons, 1975], pp. 228 f.)

35. This event is also reported by the Roman historian Tacitus:

In the sky appeared a vision of armies in conflict, of glittering armour. A sudden lightning flash from the clouds lit up the Temple. The doors of the holy place abruptly opened, a superhuman voice was heard to declare that the gods were leaving it, and in the same instant came the rushing tumult of their departure. (Tacitus, The Histories, translated by Kenneth Wellesley [New York: Penguin Books, 1964, 1975], p. 279.)

36. Cf. Isa. 2:10-12; Hos. 10:8; Luke 23:28-30; Rev. 6:15-17.

38. Whiston comments at this point: "What is here chiefly remarkable is this, that no foreign nation ever came thus to destroy the Jews at any of their solemn festivals, from the days of Moses till this time, but came now upon their apostasy from God, and from obedience to him." God had promised protection during the festivals (Ex. 34:23-24). The fact that God did not observe this promise any longer is another indication that Israel had been excommunicated from the covenant.

,39. The last stronghold of the Zealots was atop the lonely limestone crag of Masada, towering 1,700 feet high near the western shore of the Dead Sea. Led by Eleazar, son of Jairus (not the Eleazar who led the Zealots in Jerusalem), the Masada Zealots were able to hold off the Remans for about four years after the fall of Jerusalem. When Eleazar saw, however, that the Remans would soon succeed in taking his fortress, he urged his followers to commit mass suicide rather than submit to the dishonor of capture by the Remans. Eternal life and glory, he assured them, would be their reward. The tragedy occurred on the 15th of Nisan, a.d. 74— Passover.


Books are important in the development of any Christian's growth in the faith. The present volume is not by any means the last word on the subject; if anything, it is only a beginning. I have listed a few books which should be helpful to those who wish to dig deeper. Many of them have been significant in my own understanding of eschatology. The list is certainly not complete (for example, an extensive section on Church history could well have been added), but the basics are here. My listing of any particular book does not constitute a full endorsement of its contents, but I believe these works will generally be rewarding to any serious student of Scripture.

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