Studium Theologicum Salesianum
Salesian Pontifical University : Faculty of Theology - Jerusalem Campus

Archaeological Excursion to Masada and Tel Arad


Jerusalem, 24 November 2016
Jaroslaw Budny, sdb

This year we are focussing on the area of Dead Sea in the archaeological excursions and our November excursion was really interesting. Visiting Masada and Tel Arad was an enriching experience among all the other activities at STS Jerusalem Campus.

Masada is a fortress constructed under the rule of Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BC. It was a place of refuge for the king, who knew that the political situation was not really stable at the time. Situating his fortress on the top of an isolated plateau was not a design whim, but a rational need of the ruler who did not feel safe. In the northern part of the Masada complex, a beautiful three-level palace was constructed, where Herod would invite only the most distinguished guests that he trusted. Nearby the palace there were bathhouses and the house of the commander. The fortification was well protected by the walls and because of its location was almost impossible to conquer. But that was not the only advantage of the Masada fortress. King Herod did not forget about the most important things that are needed under the siege. He constructed spacious storehouses, where provisions for many years could be safely kept (the dry climate of the region helped the preservation of the products), and also under his command a system of collecting rain water was set up. The water was collected into the big cisterns, however, even with this facility, the Zealots did not manage to defend Masada, and in 73 AD, when they were already bound to be defeated by the Romans. Under the command of Eleazar, they committed suicide, in all about 1000 people. It took the Romans three years after the destruction of Jerusalem and several months of the construction of a ramp, to manage to breach the walls of Masada. However, today Jews, coming to this place do not admire the military skills of the Romans, but rather the sacrifice of the Zealots who preferred to die than to be enslaved or abused by the invaders.

On the way back to Jerusalem we also visited Tel Arad, where was situated a Canaanite city and later, after Israelites came back from Egypt, a city of the tribe of Judah was founded. There is a sanctuary, a replica of the Temple, that was constructed possibly during the reign of king David to praise God along with other gods, a practice criticized by the prophets. It was destroyed in the 7th century BC when king Josiah, during the religious reform, centralised the worship. Now the only Temple was the one in Jerusalem. As we observed, the plan of the shrine is really similar to the Temple described in the Old Testament.

We did not see only the important archaeological sites and learn about the history of the land we live in, but we also were able to realise how important is the memory of the heroes in the life of Israelis today. For Jews, Masada is not only the ruins of the fortress, but moreover, the place of the martyrdom of their predecessors. So for us, visiting Masada was an opportunity to understand better the people we live among.




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