A spurious historical narrative of heroism
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Mon Dec 2 10:55:32 MST 2002
Chronicle of Higher Education, December 6, 2002
Israeli Icon Under Fire
Did the nation's most celebrated archaeologist deliberately deceive the
public about Masada?
By RICHARD MONASTERSKY
On the last day of October, a cavalcade of foreign dignitaries and
Israeli officials joined hundreds of ordinary citizens making their way
to the top of a plateau overlooking the Dead Sea. They gathered to
proclaim this secluded fortress, called Masada, one of the world's most
important historical sites -- a place worthy of global attention and
The United Nations, which put the Israeli mesa on the list of World
Heritage Sites, chose the place in part to commemorate the Jewish rebels
who held the lofty stronghold, and eventually perished there, in the
waning days of a revolt against the Roman Empire in AD 73. In its report
on Masada, the U.N. concludes that "the tragic events during the last
days of the Jewish refugees who occupied the fortress and palace of
Masada make it a symbol both of Jewish cultural identity and, more
universally, of the continuing human struggle between oppression and
One prominent Israeli scholar, though, stayed home. He tossed aside his
invitation and instead made scornful remarks to the news media. For
Nachman Ben-Yehuda, a sociologist who is dean of the faculty of social
sciences at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Masada stands as a symbol of
national mythology and academic deception -- a case study of how
archaeologists can hijack the scientific method for ideological purposes.
In his controversial new book, Sacrificing Truth: Archaeology and the
Myth of Masada (Prometheus/Humanity Books), Mr. Ben-Yehuda accuses
Israel's most celebrated archaeologist, the late Yigael Yadin, of
professional misconduct in his excavations at the site during the 1960s.
After studying transcripts of conversations and documents written during
the work and years later, Mr. Ben-Yehuda concludes that Yadin conducted
"a scheme of distortion which was aimed at providing Israelis with a
spurious historical narrative of heroism.
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