History and Fable, Heroism and Fanaticism: Nachman Ben-Yehuda’s The Masada Myth

This evaluation of Nachman Ben-Yehuda’s The Masada Myth: Collective Memory and Mythmaking in Israel will summarize the book’s main thrust, examine its conceptual framework, offer criticisms of the author’s argument and method, then discuss two implications of Masada for LDS culture.

Perhaps to cushion the shock inflicted on fellow Israelis by his debunking of the “Masada myth,” Nachman Ben-Yehuda prefaces his analysis with a confession of the trauma he personally experienced in 1987 when his own faith was shaken. Involved in a group studying political assassinations by Jews, he read a paper by David Rapoport portraying the Sicarii on ancient Masada as Jewish terrorists. Since that portrayal conflicted with what he had learned in his Israeli schooling and military service, Ben-Yehuda rushed to check the main extant source: Josephus’s The Jewish War. To his temporary angst, he says, he discovered “that Rapoport was right and I was wrong.”

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