Historical Notes: Heroic Myth of the `Daggermen' of Masada

By Levinson, Hugh | The Independent (London, England), December 23, 1999 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Historical Notes: Heroic Myth of the `Daggermen' of Masada


Levinson, Hugh, The Independent (London, England)


AS A teenager on a trip to Israel, I sat in the excavated synagogue in the 2,000-year-old mountain fortress of Masada and heard an inspiring story. A story of the brutal Roman suppression of a Jewish uprising here in the first century AD. Of a last brave group of rebels, the Zealots, who after fleeing Jerusalem, then resisted a long siege in this desert stronghold. And of their last night, when they chose mass suicide over surrender to Titus's legions.

The story is a founding myth of modern Zionism and of the Israeli state. Almost every single Israeli has at some point in their lives gone to Masada and heard it. The only problem with it is that it is less than the truth.

Israeli academics - notably Nachman Ben-Yehuda of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem - have exposed how this heroic myth is significantly different from the only source: the writings of the first-century historian Josephus Flavius.

Josephus describes the rebels at Masada not as Zealots, but "Sicarii" - a name derived from the sica, a short Roman dagger. The Sicarii were notorious for political assassinations, including of fellow Jews suspected of collaboration with the Romans. The Jewish majority forced the Sicarii out of Jerusalem long before the city fell.

Josephus says the Sicarii then used Masada as a base to ravage the surrounding countryside. In a single raid on the nearby town of Ein Geddi, they killed 700 women and children. Josephus depicts not heroes, but extremists who divided the Jews and who never engaged in a single direct battle with the Roman enemy.

This account may be biased. After all, Josephus himself was a Jew who defected to the Romans. But it is clear that, when Zionist pioneers seized on the story in the 1920s as an example of Jewish heroism, they simply ignored the inconvenient details.

The greatest promoter of the Masada myth was the youth leader Shmaria Guttman.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Historical Notes: Heroic Myth of the `Daggermen' of Masada
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?