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Eleazar Ben Yair
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Martyr
    ( -73)
    Sicarii (Zealot) leader at Masada
    Name is also spelled Elazer ben Yair and Eliezer ben Y'air
    Symbol of Jewish resistance and defense for the modern State of Israel
    Fought against the Roman Army during the Revolt of the Jews, and during the Roman Siege of Jerusalem (66-70 CE)
    Driven out of Jerusalem after the burning of the Holy Temple
    With 960 other refugees (comprised of his men and their families) held off 4 Roman legions at Masada, for close to three years
    Barricade came to an end when Roman governor Flavius Silva marched against Masada with the 10th Legion and thousands of Jewish prisoners-of-war, successfully breaching the wall of the fortress
    Prior to the Romans' eventual break through the plateau fortress, called for a suicide pact between himself and his fellow Sicarii, urging them to kill their wives and children in order to escape enslavement under the Romans, if only in death (73 CE)
    Speech (allegedly) given prior to the mass suicide was repeated by survivors to the Jewish-Roman scholar Josephus, whose recorded account has survived to posterity in 'The Wars of the Jews, Book VII' ('Since we long ago resolved never to be servants to the Romans, nor to any other than to God Himself, Who alone is the true and just Lord of mankind, the time is now come that obliges us to make that resolution true in practice...')
    Body was (allegedly) exhumed during excavations by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, along with twenty-four other skeletons of men, women and children; in addition to a synagogue and two ritual baths (1963-65)
    Buried at Masada with full military honors by the Israeli government (1969)
    Portrayed by Peter Strauss in the television mini-series, 'Masada' (1981)
    He is confused with fellow Zealot leader, Eleazar Ben Simon.
    He allegedly had to make two speeches to convince his people to commit to collective suicide.
    Josephus Flavius described him as a 'tyrant' who led the Sicarii raids of nearby Jewish villages, including Ein Gedi, massacring close to 700 women/children.
    Cynics, usually opposing Zionism, complain that his and the Sicariis' mass suicide didn't take on any importance until after the founding of the State of Israel.
    Many archaeologists doubt that he even existed (less is known about him than any other Sicarii leader).
    This view is shared by many theologians; mainly because no mention is made of the Masada incident in the Talmud (surely they would have documented the only known incident of mass suicide in ancient Jewish history).
    At the very least, many historians have suggested that the excavated bodies believed to be those of him and his compatriots may be those of three Roman soldiers taken hostage (meaning that the Israelis gave full military honors to the men he killed himself to escape).
    His early stratagem was to wait until the Roman soldiers had ascended to the top of the steep Masada cliffs, and then give the signal to roll boulders down from the down from the highest peak, either crushing them or causing them to fall off the cliff to their deaths.
    He twice authorized five of his best soldiers to slip into six of the Roman campsites, at night, and slit the throats of one soldier, each, while they slept.
    While these approaches indeed scared the hell out of their opponents, it also motivated the Romans to direct their Jewish slaves to build a large circumvallation wall around the plateau's base, thereby enabling the troops to effectively penetrate the fortress without the problem of night raids or guerilla tactics.
    Historians have openly wondered whether the Masada Sicarii were really the heroic fighters of legend or just 'a gang of killers who became victims of a last Roman mopping-up operation.'
    The details of how he instructed the Sicarii to die is admittedly brutal in detail (burning down their fortress, killing their family members, casting lots to choose 10 men to kill the remainder, who then chose one man to kill any remaining survivors).
    For centuries, Rabbis brushed his death under the rug because they didn't want to 'glorify' rebels who believed 'life without sovereignty was not worth living' (they were trying to teach people you could have Judaism without it, or even a Temple).
    Like <13739 King David, he was apparently a scruffy red-head.
    He wasn't a whacked out, perverted, Kool-Aid guzzling cult leader. Or a whacked-out comet-hopping loon.
    He and most of the other Zealots had been ostracized by the rest of the Jewish community, which advocated cooperating with the Romans, forcing them to seek refuge in a desert mountain for three years.
    Even if Josephus probably added his own dramatic flourish to make it sound 'prettier,' his speech given to the Sicarii calling for mass suicide is one of the most intense, powerful orations in ancient history.
    His main reason for proposing mass suicide was the belief that God had abandoned the Jewish people, allowing the Romans to conquer their last fortress.
    More likely, it was just an issue of being vastly outnumbered by a superior Roman army (that they were even able to hold out for three years was, in itself, miraculous).
    He ordered his men to destroy everything except the foodstuffs to show that the defenders retained the ability to live, thereby had chosen death over slavery.
    Skeptics tend to express disbelief that the event really happened mainly because suicide is forbidden by Jewish law. However anyone familiar with the experiences faced by the Jews under Roman dominance probably wouldn't fault them (rape of the women, sale & enslavement of the children, etc.)
    Scholars have endless theories as to why Josephus would have made up such a horrific account if it wasn't true (he was trying to malign the Jewish people as barbaric, he had pent up guilt about backing out of a suicide pact at the last minute, etc.)
    His and his compatriots' actions during the siege has historically been revered in modern Israel as 'a symbol of Jewish heroism.'
    So profound an affect did his famous 'last stand' have on the Israeli consciousness/identity that Israeli Defense Force fighters would take their 'Oath of Allegiance' after completing IDF Basic Training at the site of the mass suicide on Masada, for decades ('Masada shall not fall again!')
    The Masada excavation in the Negev Desert, led by Dr. Yadin, brought forth countless amazing discoveries, including the oldest Torah scroll to be recovered, which the Sicarii had fought to preserve.
    Also discovered was several fragments of small clay casting lots with Zealots' names carved onto them in ancient Hebrew. Among them, a clay shard bearing the name 'Ben Yair.'

Credit: BoyWiththeGreenHair


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