Masada Adds to Textile History

'A Lively interest in history may be the more easily provoked when the bald notices of important events are correctly set into a background of the detail in the daily lives of a people. Therefore, it is encouraging to learn something more of those in the Jewish resistance movement which occupied the ancient stronghold of Masada over 1900 years ago.

'At the time the Romans were sacking Jerusalem, the zealous Sicarii fled with their families to the almost impregnable fortress near the western shore of the Dead Sea. They made use of the buildings erected there as a winter resort by King Herod, c. 40 B.C., and it was there they made their stand against the Roman army.

'The siege continued until A.D. 73, when the remaining zealots (Sicarii) -- 1,000 men, women and children -- burned what they possessed and killed themselves rather than surrender to Rome. Today the Israelis look upon Masada as a symbol of their statehood and it reminds them also of their ancient roots.

'However, it was during excavations undertaken there from 1963 to 1965 by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that about 3,000 fragments of textiles were found. Mostly of clothing, these include pieces of cloaks and tunics, and items like furnishings and sacks and other equipment.

'Most of these textiles were perfectly preserved in the desert conditions, and their conservation is in the hands of the experts in Britain's Textile Conservation Centre at Hampton Court Palace, London. they are on loan to the British Museum by the Israel Antiquities Authority, and are being exhibited there at present.

'The condervation programme, begun in 1993, has achieved much, and analysis of the textiles has brought to light new information about first century A.D. trade and fashion and, significantly, about life on Masada. For example, David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent for The Independent, 31st july, 1995, informs us that:

'Around five percent of the textiles found were IMPORTED, HALF OF WHICH APPEAR TO HAVE COME FROM WESTERN EUROPE, possibly INCLUDING BRITAIN. Indeed, some of the Jewish resistance fighters may have been wearing ORIGINAL SCOTTISH-STYLE IMPORTED TARTANS --several fragments have been identified.'

'We also learn, however, that the textiles and other material are at the centre of a controversy concerning the IDENTITY of those Jewish defenders. One school of thought sees them as 'middle-class Hellenised anti-Roman refugees from Jerusalem.' Another looks upon them as having been 'a bunch of fanatical brigands, robbers and terrorists who drew their membership from the rural poor and did nothing to help the real leadership of the Jewish uprising against Rome.'

'Whichever of these opinions one is disposed to support, the action of the zealots at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem under Titus does not show them in a kindly light. quite unknown to the loyal commanders of the people, the zealots secretly admitted the Idumeans through one of the city gates. There ensued frightful carnage; the Idumeans letting loose their hatred of the Jews to such as extent that they grew weary of the slaughter (Josephus, Wars IV, v:2).

'These dreadful atrocities were made doubly shameful by the fact that the zealots confessed to the Idumeans that together they had wrought such disaster in support of false accusations against the priesthood. '...they had taken arms, as though the high priests were betraying their metropolis to the Romans, but had found no indication of such treachery...' (Josephus, Wars IV, v:5).

'Perhaps further research and analysis of these important finds at Masada will resolve this historiographic controversy. Meanwhile the Masada Textiles will be on show at the British Museum until 29th October, 1995.

-- Wake Up! magazine, September/October 1995.


Hope of Israel Ministries
P.O. Box 853
Azusa, CA 91702, U.S.A.