A few months ago, there were some articles casting doubt on the Masada suicide story, as the narrative given by Josephus was cast in doubt by some archaeologists. The Guardian wrote:
Guy Stiebel, professor of archaeology at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University and Masada expert, said the evolution of myth is common in young nations or societies. “In Israel it’s very typical to speak in terms of black and white, but looking at Masada I see a spectrum of grey.
The left regard Masada as a symbol of the destructive potential of nationalism. The right regard the people of Masada as heroes of our nation. For me, both are wrong.
“If you put me in a corner and ask do you think they committed suicide, I will say yes. But this was not a symbolic act, it was a typical thing to do back then. Their state of mind was utterly different to ours.
“The myth evolved. All the ingredients were there. At the end of the day, it’s an excellent story and setting, you can’t ask for more.”
Yadin Roman, the editor of Eretz magazine, who is compiling a commemorative book on the Masada excavation, said some archaeologists had posited alternative theories, involving escape, although in the absence of evidence many were now returning to the suicide theory.
Ma’an Arabic, showing its lack of basic journalistic standards yet again, takes this doubt about one detail of Masada and extends it to pretend that Jews were never in the area to begin with!
Ma’an deliberately twists the words of the doubters of the suicide story:
But it turns out the story of martyrdom is just a myth created by the Jews in order to demonstrate to their people that they have a history similar to the peoples of the region and they are there since ancient times. Experts say “there was no proof that this story has taken place in spite of searches by the Antiquities Authority in the fortress in order to find a single piece of evidence that legend has taken place. “
No one doubts that Jews lived, and were under siege, in Masada. The Romans didn’t build their ramparts for fun. The only question is what happened to them.
As Haaretz wrote last month:
It looks like an ordinary lice comb, with wider teeth on one side for untangling knots and finer teeth on the other for removing nits. Except that this one happens to be made of wood, rather than metal. And it also happens to be about 2,000 years old.
Holding the recently unearthed artifact in the palm of his hand, archaeologist Guy Steibel notes that these are his favorite sort of finds, the ones that provide a glimpse into the other Masada story − not the classic narrative of death, destruction and suicide pacts, but the one about real people doing ordinary things, as ordinary as combing nits out of their hair.
“Yes, we have proof that the rebels who lived here, their heads were absolutely infested with lice, and not only their heads,” he says. “In fact, we’ve discovered in this comb remnants of lice eggs, strands of hair and the oldest louse in the world.”
Steibel, the head of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Masada excavation team, proceeds to pull out some other recent finds from a little plastic box, among them a piece of rope made out of date tree fibers and a shard of a clay pitcher that has the name of its owner inscribed in it in Hebrew letters: Shimon Bar-Yoezer.
“Seeing these Hebrew words pop out of the earth, words that my own children can read, that’s the most exciting thing in all of this for me,” says Steibel, who has been digging and researching at Israel’s most famous archaeological site for almost 20 years now.
To mark the 50th anniversary of the big excavations at Masada, led by the legendary Yigael Yadin, Steibel is guiding a group of Israeli journalists through what he describes as a “backyard tour” of the site to meet some of his “friends” who once lived here. “By now, I know many of them by name, and I also know where exactly they lived and how they made a living,” he says. “For me it’s the little things, like the child’s toy we found, the Roman soldier’s wage slip, the seal used by the baker to mark his loaves − these are the things that make this place so alive for me.”
Ma’an is getting worse and worse. And it is still better than practically every other Arab news source in the region.