Courtesy Ehud Netzer

Casting lots, the Zealots in Masada “chose ten men … to slay all the rest,” says Josephus, and then “casting lots for themselves, that he whose lot it was to first kill the other nine, and after all, should kill himself.” In a remarkable discovery, Yigael Yadin’s excavation at Masada may have found the actual lots, including the one above, used in that final deadly lottery. Amid a vast accumulation of debris in the northern portion of room 113, Yadin uncovered eleven ostraca (potsherds with inscriptions in ink) bearing eleven different names. Although exceeding Josephus’ figure by one, the peculiar presence of a group of ostraca with individually inscribed names strongly suggests that these are the lots they used. Moreover, one of the ostraca, pictured here, bears the name of “Ben Ya’ir.” This undoubtedly refers to Eleazar ben Ya’ir, the leader of the Zealots at Masada, to whom Josephus assigns the speech advocating mass suicide as an alternative to surrender.