On the first day of our, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, trip we spent the Sabbath first at the Garden Tomb, which is the preferred site of Jesus’ tomb by the Evangelical world. In the 19th Century, a British explorer decided that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was not a satisfactory location for Jesus’ tomb since it did not reflect the landscape that the scriptures describe the tomb as. Of course this ignores the fact that the city of Jerusalem had grown around the tomb meaning that the garden of Jesus’ Resurrection appearance no longer existed. The idea of the Garden Tomb being the location the real location of the burial of Jesus is shared by only a few with most of historians siding with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. But the Garden Tomb is a nice place to start on an early Saturday,
The rest of the day was spent in the environs of Masada and the Dead Sea. Masada was one of Herod the Great’s castles and strongholds. He was a paranoid man and created places where he could flee to in order to escape enemies. So in the midst of the barren mountains of the Dead Sea region, he found a plateau and build his stronghold.
But Masada gains its fame as the last outpost of the Jewish rebellion in the 60’s, a rebellion which ended with Jerusalem being sacked and the temple destroyed. After the fall of Jerusalem, a thousand Jews found refuge at Masada and held off the Roman army for three additional years. Just before it fell, the Jews can to a decision to kill themselves, the belief being that it was better to take their own lives as free Jews as opposed to living as slaves to the Romans.
Masada has become a rallying cry to many in the Jewish world. It stands as a sign of defiance against worldly powers, as a people willing to fight against all odds and as a commitment to life as a Jew. But it also stands as a warning for the world.
What kind of world is it when we seek to force people to live in manner that is not their desire? What kind of world is it, that we create a situation that death looks like the preferred option? Is that how cheap we value life, that it is literally our way or death?
The Roman world in which these Jews made this decision was a different world than ours. But has our world become so fractured and toxic that we are turning to convert people to our way of thinking through violence and death?
Perhaps we need to hear the story of the Jews who stood up to the empire. The story of the faithful who stood by their faith at extreme costs. But what if we are the empire? What if we are not a plucky band of the faithful? What if we are telling the world to live like us or else? Do we want to encourage others to take their own deaths instead of engaging with us?
That is the question that Masada poses?