The ancient town of Yodfat sits on an isolated hill and is surrounded on three sides by steep ravines. It is referred to as Jotbah in the Bible (Kings 2:21/19) and described in the Mishna as a fortified Jewish village from the time of Joshua (1220 BCE).
In the Lower Galilee, Yodfat sits some 22 kilometers southeast of Akko and 15 kilometers north of Nazareth, and is the site of a significant battle between the local Jewish population and invading Romans.
Archaeological remains testify to the fact that the town was populated for an extensive period of time. Among the artifacts that were scattered throughout the site were the partial remains of Roman armaments that bore witness to a great confrontation that occurred here.
During the Great revolt against Rome (66 C.E.–73 C.E), the population of Yodfat was made up of Jews. It was one of 19 towns fortified by Yosef ben Matityahu, the commander-in-chief of Jewish forces in the Galilee and Golan.
As part of the campaign to suppress the Jewish revolt, the Emperor Nero (54 C.E–68 C.E.) ordered Vespasian and his army to leave Britain and sail to Akko. Titus and his army were stationed in Alexandria at the time. He was commanded to move his forces to the Holy Land and join up with Vespasian.
In the year 67 C.E during the month of April, Yodfat was surrounded by 60,000 Roman soldiers equipped with an arsenal of the latest weaponry. During the siege, the outnumbered Jews employed tactics and counter tactics, as did the Romans.
Jewish acts of heroism were not uncommon. Of note were two brothers, Phillip and Natira of Ruma, who jumped over the defensive walls and confronted the Romans head on in the knowledge that they would surely be killed. Har ha Achim (“Mountain of Brothers”) adjacent to Yodfat is named after them.
After 47 days of resistance, an informer within Yodfat told the Romans of the best time to attack. Acting on this information the Romans conquered the town, slaughtered most of the inhabitants and took the remainder into captivity. Unbeknown to the Romans, 40 survivors were hiding in one of the many underground caves. They chose to draw lots and kill each other rather than fall into Roman hands.
The last two remaining survivors then decided to give themselves up, one of whom was the commander-in-chief, Yosef ben Matityahu. When taken to the Romans, he predicted that Vespasian would soon become emperor. His prediction proved to be accurate; as a result, he was released from slavery and given Roman citizenship under the name Josephus Flavius, the Judeo-Roman historian who authored The War of the Jews and Antiquities of the Jews, among other works.
The debate on whether Josephus Flavius was a traitor for giving himself up or a hero for documenting Jewish history rages on to this very day.
Ron Traub is a certified Israeli tour guide and can be reached by email at rrdg