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April 03, 1981 - Image 6

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1981-04-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

6

Friday, April 3, 1981

THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS

IBM

Traitor Josephus Invented Masada Suicide Story?

Selectrics

'388

(Continued from Page 5)
man on Masada had a wife
and children. But this was
surely another of his inven-

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Sicarti may have been ac-
companied to the outpost by
their families, as a rule

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442

guerrillas do not take
women (unless they, too, are
guerrillas, as was the case of
those who fought the Ger-
mans in World War II) and
children on dangerous mis-
sions. The Masada guerril-
las were surely true to type
— young men, un-
encumbered by family obli-
gations
It is being argued by some
who uphold the authentic-
ity of Josephus' account of
the mass suicide of the
Masada defenders that this
action was in keeping with a
traditional Jewish pattern,
attested by Jewish history
in the Middle Ages. But
Jews committed suicide
only when they were un-
armed and unable to fight
for their lives, as was the
tragic fate of many Jewish
communities during the
Crusades.
It was only after some
Jewish communities of
the Rhineland (Worms,
Mainz, Speyer and
others), helpless before
their attackers, realized
what' faced them' that
they decided - to die by
their own hands.
Let there be no mistake
about it: whenever and
wherever Jews had arms,
they fought unto death as
they did during the Warsaw
Ghetto revolt — and there
were revolts and uprisings
in virtually all Nazi-made
ghettoes and death camps,
including Auschwitz.
Dr. Yigael Yadin, who ex-
cavated Masada with the
acumen of the ingenious ar-
cheologist he is, strangely
holds that the Josephus ac-
count, including the in-
vented Eleazar speeches, is
true. As a result, Yadin mis-
interpreted the artifacts
and also the human re-
mains his expeditions found
on Masada.
For example, he wrote
that the skeletal remains
found in one of the rooms of
Masada's "palace villa,"
were without doubt "the
remains of some of the de-
fenders of Masada." He
makes this identification on
the strength of Josephus'
statement: "And he who
was the last of them all (i.e.,
those chosen by lot to kill all
those on Masada), took a
view of all the other bodies
. . . And when he perceived
that they- were all slain, he
set fire to the palace, and
with the force of his hand
ran his sword entirely
through himself and fell
down dead near his rela-
tives."
Yet — and surely this is
a_ contradiction to this
statement — Yadin also
wonders: "Could it be
that we had discovered
the bones of that very
fighter and of his kith?"
And all this on the
strength of Josphus' con-
trived Eleazar speeches
written in Rome, and as
Prof. Thackeray com-
mented with tongue in
cheek, "subject to minor
restrictions of which the
need for a shorthand re-
porter was not one."
But why should Josephus
put into the mouth of
Eleazar "the products of his

own invention?", as Ed-
mund Wilson characterized
the speeches of Masada's
commander. There are two
reasons.
First, there was Josephus'
guilt on account of what he
did at Jotapata where he
was in command of the
Jewish army that fought
the Romans. After the Ro-
mans inflicted a disastrous
defeat on the Jewish army,
Josephus took refuge in a
cave where another 40 men
of his army were hiding.
Surrounded by the Romans
and promised immunity if
they surrendered, Josephus
tried to convince his com-
panions that they should
trust the Romans and sur-
render. But they would not
hear of it, demanding that
without hope for escape or
resistance, they should die
honorably by their own
hands and that Josephus
should join them in death as
"the Jewish general" — and
not let himself be taken cap-
tive and paraded by the
Romans in a victory display.
But Josephus wanted to
live. He suggested that, in-
stead of committing suicide,
which is forbidden by
Jewish law, they should
cast lots and "he upon whom
the lot fell should kill the
next one," and so on — until
all had been killed — and
then the lastvone should kill
himself. In the end,
Josephus was left with one
other. And, he wrote, "as he
was very desirous neither to
be condemned by a lot, nor if
he had been left to the last to
imbue his right hand in the
blood of his countryman, he
persuaded him to trust the
Roman assurances (i.e. to
surrender) and to live as
well as himself."
Yet, earlier, Josephus
had said to his
companions-in-hiding,
"it would be unfair, when
the rest are gone, some-
body should repent and

save himself."
Josephus was this "un-
fair" one who not only saved
himself but joined the Ro-
mans as a traitor to his own
people. It seems the act or
treason did not trouble his
conscience but having lured
39 men into death must
have disturbed him. Cer-
tainly, one motivation of
Josephus' invention of the
fiction of Masada was his
craving for catharsis.
By glorifying mass
suicide as heroism, he pro-
ved to himself that by entic-
ing the 39 at Jotapata to
commit suicide he had bes-
towed immortal glory upon
them.
Another reason for-
Josephus' invention of the
mass suicide of the Masada
guerrillas was his eager-
ness to flatter his Roman
masters. His story could not
but please Flavius Silva,
the commander-in charge of
the siege of Masada. It pro-
ved that the Judeans were
"heroes" while protected by
the natural defenses of
Masada. But when they had
to fight the Romans, man to
man, they chickened out
and comitted suicide.
Those who uphold
Josephus' reliability on the
end of Masada argue that
with so many eye-witnesses
who said they saw. the 960
bodies of those who had died
by their own hands,
Josephus could not have fl-
sified the record. However,
if today, after the Nurem-
berg and Auschwitz trials at
which the Nazi crimes were
proved, and after the
Eichmann trial and the evi-
dence presented there, "Re-
visionist" pseudo-
historians, some of them
holding professorial chairs
at American universities,
can proclaim and be be-
lieved that "the Holocaust is
a Jewish invention," surely
Josephus could have in-
vented also.

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