Most know where Texas is located. Many may also know where Masada is located. But everyone may not know where Masada, Texas is located. Try to pin-point Masada, Texas with your mapping software or GPS application and you will not find it. Why not? Was it wiped out from history? You will not find it because the play-on-words is a representation of thousands upon thousands of locations throughout history where the egos of one (or a few) uselessly waste the human lives of many.
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Masada is an ancient fortress in southern Israel built by Herod the Great between 37 and 31 BCE. Today it is Israel’s most popular tourist destination. Since its fall back into the hands of the Roman 10th Legion in 73-74 CE, the fortress has become a symbol of Jewish armed rebellion against Romanesque authority or antisemitism.
The dramatic story of Masada is generally understood today from the modern post-1948 Jewish Zionist point-of-view. In other words, because of the long immense history of Semitic exiles (Diaspora) and the sacred Jewish Torah (parts of the Catholic/Protestant Old Testament) designated parts of modern-day Palestine belongs to Israelis — even those who were not born there – Jews have the God-given right and backing by the United Nations to live there. Controversial? To put it mildly, yes. It is the very reason the area has been volatile for over 64 years or more. Trying to rewrite and “correct” centuries and millennia of victorious imperialism and colonialism is often futile; exasperating at best. Though the past cannot be changed, I would like to share briefly another perspective to the Masada story, past and recent, so that we might learn from it and not continually repeat it.
Under the rule of the Roman Empire, Jewish Apocalyptic fervor in the province of Judaea was not uncommon. Not only did this hyped-up belief preach a coming Messiah to free and lead all Jews from Rome, but it also fanned the fire of the End times, or last battle/conflict between good and evil, where the “righteous” prevail with their Messianic Savior and Almighty God. Within all religions there are groups of zealots; those who are radical, active (even militant), and impatient for global change. Their impatience gluts their manipulation of prophetic scriptural passages. The Jewish Sacarii of Masada were just such a group. Interestingly enough, one historical description of Sacarii are those Jewish zealots who wield concealed daggers (today assault weapons?) against authority.
The Roman historian Josephus wrote about the siege of Masada and the Jewish Zealots like the Sacarii. Most contemporary historical scholars blame the second destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 CE on the militant Jewish zealots like the Sacarii. Within the sovereignty of Rome, all Jews at that time were allowed their freedom to worship and gather peacefully. But to some extremist their interpretation of Holy Scripture was all or nothing. Despite several moderate Jewish groups living peaceably in and around Jerusalem, Roman taxation and apocalyptic fanaticism were made into the proverbial straws that sparked the Sacarii rebellion. Finally, in 73 CE after decades of repressed rebellions and fatalities on both sides, Rome’s patience had worn beyond thin. Extermination was the only Roman or Jewish alternative. Or was it?
“Welcome to Masada, Texas”
Ironically, Masada sits atop a mountain plateau in Israel called Mount Carmel. With the upcoming 20th anniversary of the Waco tragedy at the Branch Davidian Compound, it should be the umpteenth exponential reminder of how over-zealous, apocalyptic, militant, religious fanaticism uselessly killed 54 adults and 28 children. In a country that sufficiently protects the constitutional right to freedom of religion, how did this tragedy take place inside the United States?
Dick Reavis, author of “The Ashes of Waco”, gives superb objective verifiable answers to how the events of April 19, 1993 and the Branch Davidian leader Vernon Howell’s (aka David Koresh) childhood, rise within the church, Messianic lure, and manipulation probably showed the stand-off could not have ended much differently.
There are many reasons why self-proclaimed prophets of God fulfill their death-wishes and put their followers at great risk, but in David Koresh’s case two primary reasons stand out: 1) accumulation and trafficking of assault weapons, and 2) years of sexual intercourse with several female minors allowed and supported by all the adult Branch Davidian members.
There is no need to spend any time writing about the high-risk dangers and ownership of assault weapons, much less trafficking assault weapons. Newtown, Connecticut 2012, Aurora, Colorado 2012, Stockton, California 1989 and several other massacres all speak clearly on the purchase of or accumulation of assault weapons. Purchase one you will draw attention. Accumulate many and beyond doubt you deserve federal and state law enforcement monitoring or seizure; it is at that point one is not much different from Al-Qaeda. David Koresh and his Branch Davidians absolutely deserved the hyper-concerned ATF initiatives. But this was not the only issue with Koresh’s radical ideology.
Regarding sexual relations with minors, with very good reasons the federal and state laws prohibit adults engaging in intercourse, or behavior of a sexual nature, with anyone younger than 18 years of age. But aside from a legal standpoint, what moral or ethical reasons ever prove sexual intercourse or behavior (let alone births) with minors? Where, David Koresh, in your bible did it tell you it was permissible to have sex with 13, 14, and 15-year-old girls, or permissible to have sex with your male church member’s wives?
Read this disturbing report in the Chicago Tribune, “Branch Davidian Children Tell Of Abuse At Waco Compound“.
Aside from all the other absurdities reflected by Koresh, Branch Davidians, and all other fanatical religious groups (including Christian, Jewish, and Islamic), these two primary reasons demonstrate the applied definition of occult and egocentric. Worse still, twenty-eight young children (most of them fathered by Koresh) paid the ultimate price for one man’s delusional abuse and the naïve scared member parents and adults that let it happen.
Dr. Charles Strozier, Psychoanalyst and Professor of History at The City University of New York, has researched and taught classes on new religious movements for over twenty years. In a recent interview regarding modern new religious movements, Strozier pointed out what type of followers and leader typically form a cult versus popular movements-for-change such as Martin Luther King Jr.’s, or Mahatma Gandhi’s. Strozier states that these groups see themselves as a spiritual movement or spiritual reform outside of established traditional religion. The followers of these movements, he says is based on their “sense of dismay with traditional institutions” or traditional churches. Often fed up with institutional corruption, these followers are consoled by a rebirth of perceived purity which panders greatly to their pain, suffering, or frustration. A lot of the followers are social outcasts due to their lack of social-graces, economic level, and/or level of education to invoke their perceived urgency in change. The system or institutions appear to them as against them; i.e. a ‘my movement is right and good, yours is corrupt and bad’ mentality. It is a distressed human coping mechanism. Dr. Strozier continues:
“I would define a cult as a malevolent — usually with a paranoid delusional leader — that is totalistic, that is ingrown and completely absorbed in its own practices and functions that has the potential to become malevolent, coercive, and absolutist in the way it treats those within the group. People joining these groups are persons who are vulnerable and needy, confused, often very troubled, but who are seekers drawn to the leader because the leader offers certainty about what life is all about and [more importantly] what it should be all about. That gives a wholeness and completeness to their lives.”
“People are not stupid and they are not going to stay in a community that they do not find some significant rewards from being in and continuing to be in. With that said, there are sometimes those cults which can become really coercive and force people to stay. There’s a dark side because of the pervasive paranoia and the kind of mindset that governs the thinking within the community… there is the potential to move toward malevolence and violence.”
And with that final description, Dr. Strozier hits the nail on the head. If the group and leader become increasingly detached from normal society, and do not or cannot find civil methods of negotiation and compromise, history has shown time and again events usually snow-ball out of control until violence breaks out. What needs to be recognized then and in the future is to strive diligently to avoid ultimatum-absolutist language, for ALL parties concerned.
At some point, because of ultimatum-absolutist language — which unfortunately is biblically based from current apocryphal Judean-Christian passages and testaments — our protected freedom of religion must have functional limits and safety checks, or history shows that “Masada, Texas” will continue to repeat in the future. Is it no wonder so many American moderates have no real issues with removing prayer from public schools, or having “In God We Trust” removed from our coins and bills? Fanatical religion is lethal!
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