The Mass Jewish Suicide Of Masada, And Modern Day Suicide Cults: A Comparison

By The Shoebats


“All they that hate me love death” (Proverbs 8:36)

“O my friends, why are we so earnest to kill ourselves? and why do we set our soul and body, which are such dear companions, at such variance?” — Josephus, to the Jews who pressured him to commit suicide.

For years we have heard the narrative that the Jews who murdered themselves in Masada ended in a heroic martyrdom. The reality is that what happened in Masada was a cult suicide, reminiscent to what happened in Jonestown or in the Heaven’s Gate cult. Of course, while these events are not completely equal, the reality is the Jews of Masada emphasized a cultic admiration for self-destruction. What nobody points to is that while the Jews in Masada not only did what was contrary to the Scripture — committing suicide — they also looked to Hinduism for their inspiration for their plan of mass self-murder.    

In the battle of Masada, when the Jews knew that the Roman victory was inevitable, the leader of the rebels, Eleazar, exhorted his followers to murder their own wives and children and then commit suicide. When many of the Jews refused to do such bloodshed, Eleazar began to sting their insecurities, calling them effeminate and cowards and deeming them as not real men:

“Truly I was greatly mistaken, when I thought to be assisting to brave men, who struggled hard for their liberty, and to such as were resolved either to live with honour, or else to die. But I find that you are such people as are no better than others, either in virtue, or in courage: and are afraid of dying; though you be delivered thereby from the greatest miseries.” (War, 7.8.7).

Here Eleazar pokes at their insecurities, goading them to self-murder. Within the atmosphere of suicide, there is always the ‘enemy’ who leaves the cult with no choice but to kill others and to destroy themselves. Life is no longer an option; death is the only solution. Jim Jones had this way of thinking when he told his followers at the time the US government was trying to intervene in his cult activities: “We can’t go back; they won’t leave us ‘alone: They‘re now going back to tell more lies, which means more Congressmen. And there’s no way, no way we can survive.” Suicide is not seen as self-murder but as a show of defiance against the enemy. Hence why Jim Jones told his followers before they drank the poisoned kool aid: “This is a revolutionary — a revolutionary suicide council. I’m not talking about self — self‐destruction.” Jones told his followers that their own children needed to be killed in order to save them from the enemy (the US government), and that it was better to kill them than to allow them to live in misery.  “I don’t care how many screams you hear,” said Jones to the cries of children who were about to die. “I don’t care how many anguished cries, death is a million times preferable to spend more days in this life.” Like Jim Jones, Eleazar told his Jewish followers that they should murder their own children in order to ‘free’ them from Rome: “Let our wives die before they are abused; and our children before they have tasted of slavery. And after we have slain them, let us bestow that glorious benefit upon one another mutually; and preserve our selves in freedom, as an excellent funeral monument for us.”

In such cults suicide is seen as a means to liberating the soul from the body which is seen as a prisoner to the flesh. As Eleazar explained: “For this last affords our souls their liberty; and sends them by a removal into their own place of purity; where they are to be insensible of all sorts of misery.” The Heaven’s Gate cult’s position on suicide was that it was a way to liberate the soul from the body (which they referred to as a “vehicle”) so as to free it from this world and enter a new dimension of space and reach the next stage of human evolution. The followers of this cult believed that through suicide they were escaping the miseries of this world. As one of the cult’s followers put it:

“We feel that the mental suffering of remaining in a world where you know you do not belong is certainly as severe. The human world is a hideous hell due to all of the poor choices humans have made since the beginning of this civilization. If this is all there is with nothing to look forward to beyond this, then why choose to extend your time in this hell?”

Suicide is seen as a ‘way out’  of the world’s miseries, and is glorified as an honorable death. Suicide is given a divine position, such as how Plato taught that one should not kill himself “until the god sends some compulsion upon him, as he sends compulsion on us at present”.  There is also an interesting phenomena in which death cults will find influence in other religions. Joseph Smith called himself the “second Muhammad”, and Eleazar referenced Hinduism when trying to inspire the Jews in Masada to commit mass suicide:

“let us regard those Indians who profess the exercise of philosophy. For these good men do but unwillingly undergo the time of life; and look upon it as a necessary servitude; and make haste to let their souls loose from their bodies. Nay when no misfortune presses them to it, nor drives them upon it, these have such a desire of a life of immortality, that they tell other men beforehand that they are about to depart. And no body hinders them. But every one thinks them happy men, and gives them letters to be carried to their familiar friends [that are dead]. So firmly and certainly do they believe that souls converse with one another [in the other world]. So when these men have heard all such commands that were to be given them, they deliver their body to the fire: and in order to their getting their soul a separation from the body in the greatest purity, they die in the midst of hymns of commendations made to them. For their dearest friends conduct them to their death, more readily than do any of the rest of mankind conduct their fellow-citizens when they are going a very long journey. Who at the same time weep on their own account; but look upon the others as happy persons; as so soon to be made partakers of the immortal order of beings. Are not we therefore ashamed to have lower notions than the Indians?” (Josephus, War, book 7)

He speaks of ritual self-immolation, which is part of Hinduism, specifically in the rite of sati in which a woman burns herself alive after her husband has died. The Graeco-Roman world had some knowledge of this rite. Graeco-Roman writers such as  Aristobulus of Cassandreia, Strabo and Megasthenes made mention of this ritual. Thus, it is not surprising that knowledge of Hindu self-immolation would have been known to the Jews of Judea, since it was under Roman influence. What we see here are Jews inspired by Hinduism to commit mass ritual suicide. It must be mentioned that Eleazar referenced the Hindus only after many of the Jews expressed opposition to murdering their families and themselves. Amongst Eleazar’s arguments to convince the Jews to commit themselves to his cult murder-suicide was that Hindus also have ritual self-destruction. Here we see an influence of paganism, from the Indian subcontinent, in ancient Judea. Perhaps this is one of the reasons as to why St. John wrote: “And I know the blasphemy that comes from those who say they are Jews but are not; rather, they are a synagogue of Satan.” (Revelation 2:9)

It was after Eleazar’s series of arguments — Hinduism included — that almost all of the Jews in Masada decided with great enthusiasm to commit mass suicide. Josephus recounts that “the husbands tenderly embraced their wives, and took their children into their arms, and gave the longest parting kisses to them, with tears in their eyes. Yet at the same time did they complete what they had resolved on; as if they had been executed by the hands of strangers.” They then chose ten other men — the most heartless of them all — to slaughter themselves: “these ten had, without fear, slain them all, they made the same rule for casting lots for themselves; that he whose lot it was should first kill the other nine; and after all should kill himself. Accordingly all these had courage sufficient to be no way behind one another in doing or suffering. So, for a conclusion, the nine offered their necks to the executioner; and he who was the last of all took a view of all the other bodies; lest perchance some or other among so many that were slain should want his assistance to be quite dispatched: and when he perceived that they were all slain, he set fire to the palace, and with the great force of his hand ran his sword entirely through himself, and fell down dead near to his own relations.” (War, 7.9)

Altogether, nine hundred and sixty destroyed themselves in Masada, including the women and children. The Romans did not know that this suicide took place until the next morning. The Roman soldiers were expecting a battle, but they heard nothing but a terrible silence, with no one coming out of the fortress. The soldiers made a shout, but the only people who came out were some women who refused to commit suicide and they informed the Romans as to what happened. Just as the horrific aftermath of the mass cult sacrifice of Jonestown and Heaven’s Gate were later discovered, seeing the many dead bodies laying around, the Roman soldiers saw the horrors of the suicide when they entered Masada and saw the hundreds of corpses, “but could take no pleasure in the fact, though it were done to their enemies.” (War, 7.9.2) Here lies the reality that shatters the narrative that the Jews were heroes fighting for their religion, revealing that they were influenced by pagan Hindu ritual sacrifice; that the Judaism of the time had become not only a suicide cult but a syncretistic religion that was influenced by Hinduism.  It also reveals not just a misconstruing of the Law of God, but a fanatical foolishness. For, if the Jews were fighting so that the Romans would not kill them, then why turn the sword on themselves? This was the argument of Josephus to the Jews who tried pressuring him to kill himself:

“If, therefore, I avoid death from the sword of the Romans, I am truly worthy to be killed by my own sword, and my own hand: but if they admit of mercy, and would spare their enemy, how much more ought we to have mercy upon ourselves and to spare ourselves? for it is certainly a foolish thing to do that to ourselves which we quarrel with them for doing to us.” (War, 3.5)

Josephus makes an outstanding argument: its not okay for the Romans to kill us, but its okay for us to kill ourselves.

Josephus also affirmed to these fanatics that suicide was contrary to God’s law:

“It may also be said, that it is a manly act for one to kill himself. No certainly, but a most unmanly one; as I should esteem that pilot to be an arrant coward, who, out of fear of a storm, should sink his ship of his own accord. Now self-murder is a crime most remote from the common nature of all animals, and an instance of impiety against God our Creator: nor indeed is there any animal that dies by its own contrivance, or by its own means, for the desire of life is a law engraven in them all; on which account we deem those that openly take it away from us to be our enemies, and those that do it by treachery are punished for so doing.” (Ibid)     

Truly for such evildoers do the words of Chris apply: “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matthew 15:9) You can see the corruption in the time of Christ, and the fate of such of those who followed this decay was like that of Judas: self-destruction.

We look to the death cults that the world has witnessed — Heaven’s Gate, Jonestown, the Kamikazes of Japan, the suicide bombers of Islam — and then we look to the Jews of two-thousand years ago, and we see the same thing: Men convincing other people to murder themselves. The resistance to the mind’s natural desire to live is utterly resisted; even when people desire to live, they will deny themselves of this want for self-preservation in order to appeal to the pressure of the religious leader who exhorts them to self-destruction. The master over such minds will tell his followers that they must ‘transcend’ this life, that if they wish to live then they are somehow weak and are not strong enough. Such a teaching is really the selling of insecurity. The desire to live is somehow selfish, and to prove one’s selflessness, honor and courage, one must end his own life. Such is cult manipulation. When Josephus (who ruled over the region of Tiberias) surrendered to the Romans, a group of fanatical Jews told him that he should kill himself “that the glory of our forefathers may not be tarnished.” Glory, honor, courage, such are the words used to manipulate and, in turn, to convince people to murder themselves. Yukio Mishima, a Japanese nationalist and ideological cult leader who believed in reviving Japan’s empire and power, told his followers (the Shield Society) that because Japan tarnished its history by surrendering to the Americans, death was a way to redemption. In his failed attempt at a military coup, Mishima told a group of Japanese soldiers: . “Grinding our teeth we had to watch Japanese profaning Japan’s history and traditions… Rise with us and, for righteousness and honor, die with us. We will restore Japan to her true form, and in the restoration, die…” After making this speech, Mishima would commit seppuko or ritual suicide. Such was the spirit that possessed the soul of Israel.

Some might argue that many of the Jews, after the Roman victory, would have been sent to the Roman arenas to be killed for entertainment, that taking their lives by their own hands would be justified rather than to endure the cruelty of the mob. But compare such an argument to the Christians who died in the Roman arenas who chose martyrdom over suicide. Such a reality underlies the differences between Christianity and the religions of death, be they synchronistic Judaism, Shintoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, or any cult.