Judaic 102 Home

From the speeches of Elazar Ben-Yair, last Sicarii commander of Masada, persuading his people to kill one another.

Brave and loyal followers!

Long ago we resolved to serve neither the Romans nor anyone other than God... The time has now come that bids us prove our determination by our deeds. At such a time we must not disgrace ourselves. Hitherto we have never submitted to slavery... We must not choose slavery now... For we were the first to revolt, and shall be the last to break off the struggle. And I think it is God who has given us this privilege, that we can die nobly and as free men... In our case it is evident that daybreak will end our resistance, but we are free to choose an honorable death with our loved ones. This our enemies cannot prevent, however earnestly they may pray to take us alive; nor can we defeat them in battle.

Let our wives die unabused, our children without knowledge of slavery. After that let us do each other an ungrudging kindness, preserving our freedom as a glorious winding-sheet. But first, let our possessions and the whole fortress go up in flames. It will be a bitter blow to the Roman, that I know, to find our persons beyond their reach and nothing left for them to loot. One thing only let us spare--our store of food: it will bear witness when we are dead to the fact that we perished, not through want but because...we chose death rather than slavery....

Come! While our hands are free and can hold a sword, let them do a noble service! Let us die unenslaved by our enemies, and leave this world as free men in company with our wives and children.

from: Nachman Ben-Yehuda, The Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel (University of Wisconsin Press, 1995), vii; source: Josephus Flavius, The Jewish War. The translation into modern English is from the brochure distiributed by the Israeli National Parks Authority.

 


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Professor: aben-ur@judnea.umass.edu, TA: jbolton@english.umass.edu
Judaic and Near East Studies, University of Massachusetts Amherst