July 12, 2007

A new museum confronts an old mystery at Masada

Via Ha'aretz:

The exhibit at the end of the tour of the new museum at Masada consists of 11 tiny sherds bearing intriguing names.

Hundreds of inscriptions on sherds were found at Masada, including some on earthenware jugs. Some are only a single letters, others contain names and numbers from the days of the rebellion and the Roman siege. The archaeologists, in particular Yigael Yadin, were reasonably good at decipher the inscriptions on the various sherds, but the inscription on these 11 sherds was unusual.

They were all found in the same place, next to the network of internal gates that controlled the passage to the foodstores, and were not scattered over a wide area like the other sherds. They were all written in the same handwriting, and each sherd contained only one name.

Most important, the names were not regular names but rather nicknames, such as Ben Hanahatam (or Ben Hanahtum), Tzayda (or Hatzayad, "the hunter"), Ha'amaki (someone from a village in the Acre area). Among them was one well-known name - Ben-Yair, the name of the leader of the Masada rebellion, Elazar Ben-Yair.

When these sherds were found, Yigael Yadin came up with the theory that this was evidence of the terrible story of the mass suicide on the top of Masada.
Read the rest of this article here.