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.I think kitsch is the word for that. But hold on.
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.
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.Not exactly definitive proof. I mean Deuteronomy was written a long time before the Masada story. Rituals could have changed in that time.
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.
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.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...
Zias is "building a story on assumptions built on assumptions," he said.
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.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.
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.
I can't quite articulate my dismay at the spectacle of Orwell's name pinned to the likes of David Aaronovitch, whose article "Anti-Zionists should grow up", is an embarrassing outburst of vitriol.
Aaronovitch calls the flurry of activity "a fabulous diversion" from the solemn and ennobling task of thinking hard about a solution for the conflict. I am always mystified when journalists adopt this line, since for the overwhelming majority of us in the international community, the solution has been clear for quite some time: the dismantling of settlements and an Israeli withdrawal to 4 June 1967 borders, with minor and mutual adjustments, as per the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which was launched again earlier this year.
The boycott initiative is not a tantrum. It is programmatic, not punitive. Its proponents have put forward a comprehensive vision for peace, which echoes (point-for-point, it seems) the Arab initiative. This vision enjoys near unanimous support in the international community, with the exception of Israel and the United States, who have single-handedly blocked it for over three decades. The idea behind the boycott, as far as I can gather, is not to punish Israel but to apply strategic pressure on it to withdraw and allow for the emergence of a viable Palestinian state.
Should we be less sweeping and target the Likud? This might have been a viable strategy, if not for the lamentable fact that the business of the occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands has gone on under the banners of all three major political parties, and with their explicit support. Since Rabin every single labor government has erected new settlements. Occupation is not the policy of the Israeli right, nor of the left: it is the policy of Israel, and it will continue until significant international pressure comes to bear.
Meanwhile, those of us who support the boycott and happen to be Jewish will have to continue pinching ourselves to suspend our disbelief when we read that an Orwell award-winning journalist accuses us of working out our adolescent frustrations with mommy and daddy.
Posted by: Ori Livneh | 8 Jul 2007 17:42:16