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The Salt SlaveGrace Triumphs
By George Thomas Smith
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 George Thomas Smith
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Chapter OneEscape to Masada
The Roman General Titus and his vast legions of battle hardened soldiers had one thing in mind: destroy Jerusalem and everyone in it. Many people fled east across the Jordan River. Others, out of sheer desperation, scattered southward into the barren Negeve. A band of Zealots led by a man named Eleazar descended the four thousand feet from upper Judea and Jerusalem to the foreboding region of the Dead Sea. The nearly one thousand escapees included women and children. They resorted to the rugged, parched, waterless wilderness for safety.
In the writings of the ancient Jewish historian, Josephus, it has been learned that Masada was first fortified by someone he called, "Johnatan the High Priest." It is not known if this person was actually Judah "the Hammer" of the Maccabeans, or another man whose name was Alexander. History is somewhat clouded in this matter. Whoever the person was, he no doubt recognized Masada as a natural fortification rising several hundred feet above the sand that surrounded it. It was there in that remote location that the Zealots made their stand.
From his position in one of the towers on Masada, a Zealot named Naphish looked north and west over the vast, parched wilderness of southern Judea. For a long time he gazed at nothing but shimmering heat, dust devils, and the clear blue sky as far as he could see. To the north were the rugged, rocky outcroppings where the terrain began to rise toward the mountainous spine of his homeland.
Shading his eyes from the blazing sun, the heavily bearded man peered more intently. Was it the heat rising from the desert, or did he actually see something? There it was, or was it? Yes! There really was something moving far to the north. It appeared to be a barely noticeable swirling cloud rising from the desert.
Naphish ran across the compound to find the leader of the Zealots, shouting his name all the way. "Eleazar! Eleazar! Come quickly! From the northwest tower I have seen something!"
"And what would that something be, my excitable friend?"
"A cloud of dust! The Romans are coming!"
Eleazar climbed the steps of the tower and peered into the distance. He was calm. He was not a man to show any sign of anxiety. Many of his followers believed he feared nothing or no one. His appearance as that of an authority figure was enhanced by steely brown eyes and a graying beard. "So, those heathen dogs have decided to make a fight of it after all. It had to be. We couldn't stay on this rock forever nor will the Romans let us. Alert the compound that we will have company soon."
"How soon, Eleazar?
"They will have to stop and rest before they get here. I imagine they will be within two hours of Masada by early evening. Perhaps they will make a permanent camp while their commanders decide on just how to try to reach the top of this place. Many will wish they had never come south."
While Naphish hastily spread the word of the approaching Roman legions, the tyrannical Eleazer, who had ensconced himself and his followers on the top of the huge rock formation rising up from the wilderness, watched as the columns of soldiers grew closer until individuals could finally be seen.
Soon, it became evident that the dust being raised was not all the result of the Roman legions. There were several thousands of other people trailing the Roman columns and guarded by other soldiers. "Slaves!" Eleazar snarled. "Jewish slaves!"
Naphish had just returned to the tower and heard his leader's exclamation. "Eleazar, why would they have a need of slaves?"
"I'm not sure, Naphish, but we will know in a day or two."
* * *
It had been nearly two years since General Titus marched on Jerusalem, sacked the city, murdered the inhabitants, and tore down the Temple. The Romans had put up with the rebellious Jews long enough. It wasn't satisfying for Rome to see a million Jews dead and many more scattered into the deserts, so Governor Flavius Silva determined it was time to destroy the hold-outs encamped on Masada.
Masada was an unusual rock formation that rose up from the desert west of the Dead Sea. Its flat top had a rhomboid shape which was longer than it was wide with only a few very difficult trails snaking up the vertical face of the rock. The formation reached more than eight hundred feet on the east side and six hundred feet on the west.
Herod the Great, who was king during the time of Jesus' birth, added to the height of the promontory by building a twenty foot wall around the entire perimeter thirty-five years before Jesus of Nazareth was born. After Jerusalem fell to the Parthians, a few years prior to Herod's building of fortifications, the Edumean king fled to Masada with members of his family for protection from the danger he faced from the Jews he ruled as well as the invaders.
Herod provided storehouses for grain, dates, other staples, and, of course, wine. There was a thin layer of sandy soil on the top of the mighty rock, but it was enough to grow vegetables and grain which was cultivated and watered by hand. The scarcity of useable water required it to be brought from a distance and stored. Besides housing the necessities to sustain life for an extended period of time, Masada's fortress had an accumulation of weapons, as well as ingots of iron and other metals from which there could be forged more weapons for an army as large as ten thousand men. Now, it was a band of Zealots occupying Herod's retreat. The Zealots were the last group to provide any organized form of resistance to the Romans.
As people watched from the guard towers that had been incorporated into Herod's wall, the approaching columns of the Tenth Legion and its auxiliary troops divided. One column split in a southerly direction and encamped on the west side of Masada and the other marched eastward along the north side of the rock. The mass of slaves halted their approach until Flavius Silva would find a use for them. He surely knew what labor he had in mind for those who were expendable.
Naphish sounded worried as well as curious. "Eleazar, what are they doing?"
"It is called encirclement. It looks like the larger force is moving to the north approach. The others will protect against any attempts to escape. Escape is not an option for us. Set guards at the top of all the trails. The Romans may send scouts to see if we are on alert."
It was Flavius' intention to end all Jewish resistance at the rock and he was prepared for a long siege. As the Zealots watched from Masada, the Romans established eight camps on the desert floor. Over the next several weeks they proceeded to build a wall around the base of Masada to assure that those on the top of the rock could not escape Rome's wrath.
Eleazar called the primary leaders of his community together to make preparation for the coming assault. "Have the people gather every stone they can find and break larger rock into useful projectiles. Put the majority of the stones on the north wall. That looks like the side they intend to use to reach us."
Weeks dragged on into months while the ten to fifteen thousand Jewish prisoners Flavius brought with him labored in the sand, sun, and scorpions to build an earthen ramp up the north wall of Masada. It took nine months, but finally the ramp, consisting of earth with tons of rocks, provided the foundation for the siege tower. The foundation was 100 feet wide and firm enough that the assault tower was ready to be constructed. The tower was framed in wood and clad in iron. The height was nearly 120 feet. It was an amazing accomplishment for the location and conditions. While that was being done, the defenders did their best to harass the workers who moved up and down the earthen ramp and framework of the tower like ants.
The Zealots did what they could to slow down the process, but they knew they would not stop the construction of the tower and the catapults erected upon it. Those who knew how to use slings did some damage, but it was only a defensive effort. The inevitability of the Roman breakthrough weighed on everyone's mind, especially the women and children.
Among the older children was Eliab Marcus who did his best to distract the younger ones by organizing games and leading in the singing of folk songs. If he had his choice, he would be a warrior. Eliab had developed a great hatred for the Romans because of his parents' deaths at the hands of the Jerusalem invaders.
After nine months, the day dawned when fiery arrows and other missiles were launched from catapults. These projectiles rained down upon the Zealots and the structures they used for protection. This went on for days and then weeks until a battering ram was employed successfully. It bashed through the perimeter stone wall on the north side, but the defenders had built an inner wall of earth and wood that was flexible and more difficult to break than King Herod's stone wall. However, the wood also began to fracture. The Romans resorted to fire as a means of burning through the inner wall.
Assault efforts ceased at night and that gave Eleazar time to gather his people to begin to execute their own plan. First, they set fire to all their possessions. There would be nothing left for the Roman soldiers to gather as spoils of war. Next, ten men were chosen and charged with performing what Eleazar considered mercy killings. The Zealots would not allow themselves to be executed at the hands of the Romans, nor would they submit to lives of slavery.
The chosen ten were to make sure that each father had killed his wife and children and then himself. After that, the ten did the same with their own families and committed suicide. It was decided that one person would be spared. The intention was to send that person down the side of Masada facing the Dead Sea by way of whatever length of rope the Zealots could fashion. This lone individual would then have to make his way on to the ground the best he could.
There was a good chance that whoever was elected to be the one lowered from the top of the rock would fall once he no longer had the rope to which he could cling. He would have to feel his way in the darkness. Hand holds and places to set his feet would be difficult to find. The next problem, should he manage by a miracle to reach the desert sand, was to make his way through the Roman encirclement.
Eliab Marcus was chosen to try to escape and tell others all that happened on Masada; especially how the people bravely died in an act of defiance. Eliab had gladly joined in the dream of freeing Israel from the heathen hoards of the Roman Empire. He expected to be martyred, but instead he was to be a messenger so that others could know what took place that night before the Romans' final assault.
On the last morning of the battle for Masada, the Romans began to stream through the breach in the inner wall. They met no resistance. The loud battle cries of the soldiers as they entered the compound soon died away to a sudden and strange silence. The legions surrounding the base of Masada heard the initial charge and then all went quiet. Was the battle over that quickly?
The attacking force on top of the monolith began to search through the ashes and remaining structures. Masada was deathly quiet, except for the sounds of the Roman soldiers' heavy battle sandals and the clanking of their protective metal. The place had become a tomb and a monument to Jewish resistance and the 960 souls who died there.
The Romans had their victory, but it was empty. The only life the soldiers found on the rock was that of two women and five children who had hidden in a cave and were missed in the mass murder-suicide. The Romans did not find the various scrolls of the sacred scriptures that were hidden and preserved from desecration by the pagan hordes.
At the moment the legions poured onto Masada with the loud roar of battle cries, the auxiliary units waited to see if there would be any Jews trying to escape, but they soon heard the trumpet sounding the signal to withdraw. With that, those troops at the base of the rock began to move back to their encampments. News spread quickly that the Zealots were dead. It was believed there was no further need to protect against an escape once the body of Eleazar was found among the others.
Tucked into a cleft in the east face of the gigantic rock formation, and about half way down, was a lone, frightened boy. Eliab waited quietly all day until the light began to fade and the side of Masada where he was hiding fell into the shadow of the rock. Slowly he moved out of his concealment and painstakingly, with extreme care, descended from foothold to foothold until he at last found the ground beneath his feet. By then, it was too dark to go anywhere safely. He would have to wait until the sun began to rise again. It would be a cold night.
Very early the next morning Eliab Marcus moved away from the base of Masada down some fifty more feet to the shore of the Dead Sea. He took advantage of the dim light to put distance between him and the Roman encampments. The night air had chilled him, but with the rising of the sun it would not be long until the glowing sphere would break above the mountains on the east side of the Sea. When that happened, the heat would become a problem.
What little drinking water Eliab had would not last long and there was none to be found from the salty Dead Sea. He needed to make his way north to where the Jordan River emptied. There he could rest. There he could find water to go with the pieces of bread that he had stuffed inside his garment. Besides hunger and thirst, there was the matter of loneliness. His destination was to find some Jews who had escaped from Jerusalem across the Jordan River to the east. He would tell them about Masada and he would lend his good right arm to taking a life for a life from the Roman murderers.
Nine miles north of Masada, along the coast of the Dead See, Eliab came across a stream that emptied into the salty water. It was nearly dry, but contained enough liquid to quench his thirst temporarily. He had only a small bladder of a lamb in which he was able to carry water with him. Additionally, Eliab saturated his neck scarf in the stream and wrapped it around his head for some relief from the sun. He would not drink any more water until the next day. After that, the boy knew he could only take a few small swallows each day until he reached the upper end of the Dead Sea. At a point south of Bethabara, he hoped to cross the Jordan and make his way due east toward Esbus where he prayed he might find other dispersed Zealots.
Walking over very rough ground in the blistering heat of the wasteland required frequent rest stops which also added time to Eliab's effort to reach his goal. The nights were bitter cold for the clothes he was wearing and the days were as hot as the nights were cold. It took three days to go from Masada to the crossing of the Jordan. It was three days of practically nothing to eat. At the end of that time, Eliab stumbled into Esbus and fainted before he could draw water from the well. When he awakened, it was dark and he found himself in the tent of a shepherd.
"Where am I?"
"You know, boy, I could have prophesied that would be the first thing you would say when you finally finished sleeping."
"I am no boy! I am thirteen and that makes me a man!"
"It makes you old enough to be a man, but it doesn't make you a man just because you are old enough."
"I am too tired to argue with you. Why did you bring me here and what is your name?"
The elderly man with a face leathered and darkened by living in the sun laughed. "My, you have a lot of questions. Well, I brought you here because it was not safe to leave you in the dust beside the well. Another shepherd's sheep might have walked all over your scrawny looking body. Besides that, you were in the way of my sheep. As for my name, it is Lehabin. What is your name?"
"It is Eliab."
"And why did I find you passed out on the ground?"
"I have come a long way and have not eaten for days."
Excerpted from The Salt Slave by George Thomas Smith Copyright © 2011 by George Thomas Smith. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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