Land of Israel and Jewish heritage – 37

Land of Israel and Jewish heritage

A series from the book written by Naveed Anjum

Jewish Life in the Land of Canaan, cont’d

The Promised Land, cont’d

The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel, cont’d

Major Roman versus Judean battles took place in Gamla and in Masada. Gamla, inhabited from Early Bronze Age, sits at the Golan’s southern part, overlooking the Sea of Galilee. It was built on a steep hill that is shaped like a camel’s hump, which provided its name. Gamla means ‘camel’ in Aramaic. During 3rd century BCE Syrian Wars, Gamla was founded as a Seleucid fort. When Jews inhabited Gamla in last quarter 2nd century BCE, it became a civilian settlement. Around 81 BCE, King Alexander Jannaeus annexed Gamla to the Hasmonean state. King Antigonus II Mattathias, last king of the Hasmonean dynasty, was first to establish Gamla as district capital of the Golan Heights. During the 1st century CE Great Revolt, Gamla was site to a Roman siege. Its citizens saw their battle directly connected to Jerusalem and fiercely defended their stronghold. Unfortunately, all of Gamla’s residents were killed. Whereas Josephus estimated its dead at 9,000, modern scholars say his numbers appear exaggerated and estimate its besieged inhabitants at 3,000 – 4,000. Regardless, Gamla became a symbol of heroism for the modern State of Israel and an important historical and archaeological site.

Masada, an ancient fortification in Israel’s Southern District, is positioned atop an isolated rock plateau on the Judaean Desert’s eastern edge, where it overlooks the Dead Sea. Herod the Great built palaces for himself on the mountain and fortified Masada between 37 and 31 BCE. Later, in 73 or 74 CE, Masada was besieged. According to Josephus, the Siege of Masada was carried out by Roman troops near end of the First Jewish–Roman War and ended in mass suicide of the 960 Sicarii rebels and their families hiding there. However, archaeologists have found remains of only 28 bodies.

Nonetheless, significant numbers of Judeans were allowed to continue living in their land and practice their religion until the 2nd century. Then, Julius Severus, in process of putting down the Bar Kokhba revolt, ravaged Judea, destroyed 985 villages, and banished many Jews from Jerusalem, which drove the Jewish population center to Galilee.

Both historical sites, Masada and Gamla, have been excavated. They are popular sites of tourists and citizens in the modern State of Israel.

(To be continued…)


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