Biblical Archaeology Review 24:6, November/December 1998
Questioning Masada


The Judean wilderness as the last bastion of Jewish revolts

By Zeʼev Meshel

That the Judean wilderness was long a place of refuge for Jewish rebels has been well established. I believe it was more than that, however. As history and archaeology will show, these barren cliffs overlooking the Dead Sea have also served as a redoubt for forces attacking the central highlands. At times, they may even have functioned as a kind of Jewish mini-state, especially during the two Jewish revolts against Rome in the first and second centuries A.D.

The tradition dates back at least to the early days of the Israelite monarchy (c. 1000 B.C.), when David fled to the Judean wilderness to escape the wrath of King Saul (1 Samuel 23:14–29, 24). One of David’s desert strongholds (mesadot), or the “rocky region” where he hid, may even have been Masada, at the southern edge of the Judean wilderness (1 Samuel 23:14, 25).

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