Ehud Netzer/Israel Exploration Society/Masada Excavations

The western palace, with 36,000 square feet, was Masada’s largest structure and probably served as the administrative center of the site. It was easily accessible, located near the western ascent and could have held 960 people. Further, it sits near the top of the ramp (visible leading up to the palace in the first photo of the article) the Romans would have used for their final assault, making it likely that the defenders would have massed here.

However, though the western palace meets the practical requirements of the mass suicide, it does not fully match Josephus’s description of the Masada site: It did not lie outside the citadel’s walls or on the northern side of Masada. How can these difficulties be reconciled?

Author Nachman Ben-Yehuda suggests the problem lies in Josephus’s description, not in the site; part of the problematic sentence describes the northern palace and part of it describes the western palace. Ben-Yehuda argues that a section of Josephus’s original account was omitted relatively soon after it was written either by accident or by people who wanted to obscure the location of the suicide.