The skeletons of 27 warriors believed to have been among those who defended the Judaean mountain fortress of Masada against the Roman legions nearly 2,000 years ago were buried with full military honours on Monday (7 July).
MILITARY AND CIVILIANS ASSEMBLED; RABBI GOREN SPEAKING; CEREMONY IN PROGRESS; COFFIN IN ARMY TRUCK; ONLOOKERS; COFFIN CARRIED IN PROCESSION; PROFESSOR YADIN (DISCOVERER OF THE REMAINS) SPEAKING; COFFINS LAID IN GRAVE; VOLLEY FIRED; MILITARY LOWERING COFFINS.
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Background: The skeletons of 27 warriors believed to have been among those who defended the Judaean mountain fortress of Masada against the Roman legions nearly 2,000 years ago were buried with full military honours on Monday (7 July).
The Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Army, General Shlomo Goren, conducted the service before Cabinet Ministers and senior army officers. Prayers were recited.
At the end, Israeli soldiers fired a three-volley salute to the long-dead warriors as the skeletons were interred in a small grotto at the foot of the Judaean stronghold.
The remains of the 27 men, women, and children were found where they had lain for 1,896 years by Israeli archaeologists who explored the rock fortress overlooking the Dead Sea a few years ago.
History records that the Jews of Masada, who believed they were the last free Jews on earth, decided to kill themselves rather than enter Roman captivity. The fortress had been under siege by Roman legions for three years, and its eventual fall, in A.D. 73, signalled the collapse of the Jewish revolt against Rome.
As related by the contemporary historian Flavius Josephus, the 96 defenders concluded the suicide pact after the fortress walls had been burnt by the Romans and it became clear that they could not hold out for another day. Ten men were drawn by lot to slay the rest and then one man was chosen to kill the executioners and finally himself. Two women and five children survived by hiding in a cavern, and one of them was said to have been the historian's source.
The decision to bury the remains with military honours at Masada was taken at Cabinet level. The Rabbinate had bulked at first because of uncertainty whether all the bodies were Jewish and because of legal complications arising out of the fact that the dead had taken their own lives. The Rabbinate finally yielded, however, and recognised the dead as martyrs for Kiddush Hashem (the sanctity of the Lord).
Today, Masada is a national shrine visited by thousands of Israelis every year, providing a source of inspiration to Israel.
When Israeli Tank Corps recruits complete their training they are taken to the top of the mountain and in a torchlight ceremony take an oath: 'Masada shall not fall again'.