Courtesy Ehud Netzer

One mystery solves another. Charred wooden beams lying side by side in storeroom 135, ashy remains in storeroom 141 and similar evidence in other buildings offer their testimony in confirmation of Masada’s fiery destruction as described by Josephus. There is just one problem: The evidence is too scant. Only about ten percent of Masada’s buildings show signs of having been burnt, and these burnt areas generally form a scattered, rather than a contiguous, pattern. Subsequent study of this pattern of burning, however, provided a solution to another mystery, and at the same time explained why so little had been burned.

Archaeologist Yigael Yadin found no direct evidence of the wood-and-earth wall described by Josephus, possibly because of the great destruction of the site where it had stood and problems in excavating that site. Thus the question of Josephus’ accuracy on this point remained unresolved until the pattern of burning was noticed. Since the only available source of wood for the wood-and-earth wall was the roof beams in Masada’s buildings, the Zealots would have had to dismantle most of these roofs to build their wall. Consequently, few roofs would have remained to be burned at Masada’s end. This hypothesis explains the pattern of burning, the existence of which in turn supports Josephus’ account of the wood-and-earth wall.