July 29, 2007

Israel and the Empire

I just got my Sephardic Heritage Update. It's a newsletter published in Word and sent out as an attachment. I'd like it to be a site but the paper's editor and distributor, David Shasha, has resisted persuasion to make it into one. Perhaps he doesn't have time to deal with inane apologetics for Israel in the comments. Mind you he could always not have a comments section. Anyway, he writes some articles and copies others from various sources. The newsletter only came out today and so I have only just seen this Associated Press article headed Original Masada findings disputed. The story's been about for a good while so a quick google search shows that it has appeared in at least 1,000 sites.

The story of Masada is one of a mass suicide by Zealots in preference to being captured and/or killed by the Romans.
The remains of two male skeletons and a full head of woman's hair, including two braids, were found in a bathhouse by archaeologists in the 1960s. They were long thought to belong to a family of Zealots, the fanatic Jewish rebels said to have killed themselves rather than fall into Roman slavery in A.D. 73, a story that plays an important role in Israel's national mythology.

The bathhouse remains became a key part of the site's story. Yigael Yadin, the renowned Israeli archaeologist in charge of the first dig, thought they illustrated the historical account of Zealot men killing their wives and children and then themselves before Roman legionnaires breached Masada's defenses.

Upon finding the remains, the crew "relived the final and most tragic moments of the drama at Masada," Yadin wrote in his book documenting the dig, mentioning that the woman's "dark hair, beautifully plaited, looked as if it had just been freshly coiffeured."

"There could be no doubt that what our eyes beheld were the remains of some of the defenders of Masada," he wrote.

Along with other bodies found at Masada, the remains were recognized as those of Jewish heroes by Israel's government in 1969 and given a state burial, complete with Israeli soldiers carrying flag-draped coffins.
I think kitsch is the word for that. But hold on.
But anthropologist Joe Zias and forensics expert Azriel Gorski write in a paper in the June issue of the journal Near Eastern Archaeology that the remains buried with honors may not have been those of Jews at all, but of Romans.

The paper focuses on the hair, noting the odd absence of a skeleton to go with it. The researchers' new forensic analysis showed an even stranger fact — the hair had been cut off the woman's head with a sharp instrument while she was still alive.

Zias' attempt to explain the discrepancy led him to the Old Testament's Book of Deuteronomy, where a passage says that foreign women captured in battle by Jews must have all their hair cut off, apparently an attempt to make them less attractive to their captors.

Zias concluded the hair belonged not to a Jewish woman but to a foreign woman who fell captive in the hands of Jewish fighters.

In his scenario, the woman was attached to the Roman garrison at Masada in A.D. 66 when the Zealots seized the fortress and killed the soldiers. Jewish fighters threw two Roman bodies into the bathhouse, which they then used as a garbage dump, judging by other debris found inside. The Zealots treated the woman captive according to Jewish law, cutting off her hair, which they threw in with the bodies.
Not exactly definitive proof. I mean Deuteronomy was written a long time before the Masada story. Rituals could have changed in that time.

One of the original archaeologists isn't happy with the new info.
Ehud Netzer, a veteran Hebrew University archaeologist who participated in the 1960s dig and later oversaw restoration work there, questioned the new findings.

Zias is "building a story on assumptions built on assumptions," he said.
Hmm, now projection is what we call that. This guy was one of the original digger uppers. This kind of archaeology raises ethical issues but who is one of the original digger uppers to raise them? And what's all this about "assumptions built on assumptions?" Read on...
The new paper is only the latest in a series of attacks on the original Masada dig, which some scholars now think was colored less by scientific rigor than by a desire to enshrine the desert fortress in a national mythology of heroism and sacrifice.

Once a pillar of Israeli identity — army units used to be sworn in on the mountaintop, shouting the sentence "Masada will not fall again!" — the Masada story fell out of favor as Israelis became less comfortable with glorifying mass suicide and identifying with religious fanatics.

The very story of the suicide, as recounted in dramatic detail by the 1st century Jewish-Roman historian Josephus Flavius, also has come increasingly into doubt. Many scholars now believe it was either greatly exaggerated or never happened at all.

The original archaeologists at the site, Zias said, "had the story and went around trying to find the proof." No concrete evidence for the Zealot suicide has been found, he said.

But others have pointed out that many details of Josephus' story are matched precisely by archaeological evidence, and charged that for archaeologists today debunking the Masada myth has become as popular as creating it was 40 years ago.
So in "proving" zionist mythology, the State of Israel may have given full military honours to Roman invaders. Zionism is built on many myths in both its ideological and project forms. This isn't the first time that a question mark has been placed over the claims of zionist archaeologists and I'm guessing it won't be the last.

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