Richard Nowitz

Profile in courage? The northern palace’s three levels jut dramatically from Masada’s northern tip. But the very feature that makes the palace the most striking structure on Masada argues against it being the site of the defenders suicide: Where would 960 people have been able to fit in it? Josephus describes a large final assembly at which Masada’s leader, Eleazar Ben Yair, made an impassioned speech that convinced almost all of the defenders to commit suicide (a few elderly women and some children chose to hide in Masada’s caves instead). The semicircular veranda of the northern palace’s upper level, the circular structure of its middle level and the lowest terrace are simply too small to have accommodated a group of that size. Plus it would have been difficult for them all to climb down to the palace; the path is narrow and steep. No, writes author Ben-Yehuda, the site of the suicide must be elsewhere on the mountaintop.