"The Siege of Masada" Investigates the Real Story that Inspired "The Dovekeepers"

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20 March 2015
Photo Courtesy of Smithsonian Channel
"The Siege of Masada"
Premieres Friday, March 27 at 9PM ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel

          The legend of Masada is the Alamo of the ancient world, the story of more than 900 Jewish rebels who held a nearly impregnable fort against the might of the Roman Empire. Embedded in the founding narrative of the state of Israel, this epic story has offered ample fodder to writers, filmmakers and storytellers worldwide – and it’s now the backdrop for the upcoming CBS limited event series THE DOVEKEEPERS from executive producers Roma Downey and Emmy® Award-winner Mark Burnett. But how much of the Masada legend is grounded in historical fact? The new Smithsonian Channel one-hour special, SIEGE OF MASADA, premiering Friday, March 27 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, examines the evidence behind this powerful legend. It re-airs Sunday, March 29 at 10:00 pm ET/PT and on Monday, March 30 at 8:00 and 11:00 pm ET/PT.

         First told at the dawn of Christianity and at a moment of crisis for the Jews, the story of Masada has long fired the imagination of believers and non-believers alike. Yet, for most of recorded history, it’s been little more than a legend. Then, in the middle of the 20th century, everything changed. A mounting body of archeological evidence emerged – a ruined mountain fortress, a siege ramp threatening its walls, a series of ancient Roman camps. Taken together, they pinpoint Masada on the map. This is the indisputable site of an epic fight between the Roman army and a besieged community of Jews. But as the siege wall rose and their enemies prepared a final attack, did they really choose mass suicide and martyrdom over surrender?

          SIEGE OF MASADA deploys dramatic re-enactments from THE DOVEKEEPERS to capture the intensity of the story while experts on the ancient world examine tantalizing clues to what really happened at the site, including human hair and ancient clay shards that record hints of everyday life in the mountaintop fortress.

          “We should care about Masada because it’s one of the most important battles in western civilization,” says Candida Moss, Professor of Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity at the University of Notre Dame. “It might seem like this is just a battle about 900 people versus the Romans, but it’s actually a story that becomes particularly important for Jewish courage and identity.”

          James Tabor, Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte adds, “This becomes the Alamo. You know, ‘Remember the Masada. Masada shall never fall again.’ But it also becomes a very human tale about conflict and freedom and determination and resolution and possibility and disappointment.”

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