Tel Yodfat was the headquarters of the Zealots during the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66 CE. The commander of the Jewish forces in the Galilee was Josephus Flavius. With the help of quotations from his book “History of the Jewish War” on signs on the paths and identification of the ruins, it is possible to recreate the siege of Yodfat and the city’s eventual capture. Also recommended is an almost 2-hour circular hike that starts at the tel and continues into the surrounding countryside. This hike can be extended to include an observation area on Har Atzmon. Kids may also enjoy the Yodfat Monkey Forest on the nearby Moshav Yodfat. The moshav also has an area of tourist-type stores with a dairy restaurant.
Yodfat was a Hellenist city from the 3rd century BCE. It was conquered by the Hasmoneans and its name changed from Jotapata to Yodfat. In 66 CE the city was fortified by Josephus Flavius during the Great Revolt in anticipation of a Roman attack, and it functioned as his command center. The city was besieged by Vespasian and his son Titus and was eventually conquered by them after tough fighting. Rather than surrender to the Romans, the surviving fighters decided to commit suicide. Josephus took the last lot and instead surrendered to the Romans. After being released from prison in Rome he changed sides and worked for the Romans.
of the city. He became a Roman citizen, received a pension under Vespasian’s patronage, and wrote historical works while on the payroll of Rome.
This all sounds as if he was a self-serving traitor. However, there may be another way of looking at matters. After his prediction about Vespasian becoming emperor, he wrote that he believed that God had decided to punish the Jewish people, that “fortune” had been given to Rome, and that his role was “to announce the things that are to come.”
Early on, he realized that the Zealot cause was doomed. He also realized that Jerusalem and its Temple were destined for destruction if the Zealots refused to surrender, but further damage had to be prevented at all costs. This could only be achieved from within the Roman camp. It is suggested that the aims of Titus and Josephus overlapped. This was to limit the rebellion and keep the country intact. Neither Vespasian nor Titus initiated anti-Jewish laws as later emperors would do. Thus, most of Judea remained unscathed from the rebellion, exactly as Josephus had intended.
Josephus wrote several books. His “History of the Jewish War” contains a detailed description of the Great Revolt and remains the only detailed account of this conflict. Josephus stated in his Preface that his intention was not to demonstrate the greatness of the Romans or lessen the actions of the Jews. Nevertheless, historians recognize that because of his circumstances, he could not but write this book in a way that was favorable to Rome. Another of his books “The Antiquities of the Jews” traces the history of the Jews from Creation and is an attempt to present Judaism in a favorable light to the Hellenist world. Another book “Against Apion” defends Judaism against critical charges raised by Hellenist writers.
In sum, it is suggested that Josephus was a proud, practicing Jew. Proud Jews are not usually traitors to their people even when receiving a pension from their enemies. Nevertheless, because of his service to Rome he would never be able to return to Judea.
Josephus –traitor or patriot?
Was Josephus a traitor who opportunistically changed sides during the Great Revolt? Many historians think this was the case. However, the situation may be more nuanced than this.
Josephus was a talented person from an elite and wealthy priestly family who was educated in Jerusalem. In his mid-twenties he was sent to Rome to negotiate the release of some Jewish priests. He returned to Jerusalem at the outbreak of the revolt against Rome and agreed to become commander of the Galilee. It has been suggested that the leadership in Jerusalem was very half-hearted in their support of the revolt and they appointed Josephus so they could control it. Josephus was a Pharisee and had no love for the messianic Zealots who were initiating this conflict. The leadership did not realize, though, that the Zealots would eventually escape to Jerusalem and continue the conflict from there.
During the seven months he was in command, Josephus fortified the towns and villages in anticipation of a Roman attack, although not all the towns in the Galilee were supportive of the revolt.
Resistance in the Galilee quickly crumbled before the large Roman army. The fight for Yodfat was a difficult one and lasted 47 days before the defendants ran out of food and water. Thousands of the defendants were killed. Survivors took refuge in a cave and voted to kill each other rather than surrender. Josephus managed to pick the last lot, and he and another survivor surrendered.
He was led in chains before the commander Vespasian and he told him prophetically that he would become emperor. He remained a prisoner in Rome for two years, and when Vespasian did become emperor he was released and began working for Rome. He ingratiated himself with Vespasian and his son Titus, including taking Vespasian’s name Flavius.
Titus took over his father’s army when his father was appointed emperor and he conquered Jerusalem. Josephus was the negotiator for Titus during the siege and eventual destruction
Time: About 1¾ hours (for the shorter hike).
Distance: About 3 Km.
Type of hike: Circular.
Difficulty: This is an easy hike. There are a few places climbing on rocks but this is not difficult.
Directions: Enter “Tel Yodfat” into Waze. This will bring you to the turning to Moshav Yodfat from Route 784. After about 180 meters on this approach road, turn onto a green-marked paved road on your left and this will lead you to parking areas at the base at the tel. There is no entrance fee. There are no picnic benches or WC’s.
First, explore the tel. You will see from the map at the entrance to the tel that there are several possible trails. It is suggested to ascend on the concrete path for the disabled on the far-left (facing the tel). Despite being red-marked on the map, the trail actually has black markings.
The Romans could only attack the northern aspect of the tel, since the other sides were too steep. Because of this, Josephus completely encircled the lower part of the city on its northern aspect, so that the Romans would be unable to establish a platform on this side. As you go round the tel, you will appreciate the steepness of the other sides.
You will first come to the remains of the corner of the eastern wall. The concrete path ends and becomes a footpath. Continue along the footpath to the ruins of a residential area. At this intersection, it is worthwhile going down to the olive press located in a cave. To prepare for the siege, the city wall was built on top of the cave, so that this factory was left outside the city walls.
Return to the ruins of the residential area and take the green trail to the right. You will come to a mikvah and a well. If you are continuing on the countryside hike, turn to the left down the hill on the blue-marked trail. Otherwise, continue around the tel.
At the pedestrian gate turn left in the direction of the blue-marking on the gate. You will shortly meet another gate that will direct you to the right. The blue-marked trail will lead you to easy rocky climbing on a path through Mediterranean vegetation.
On reaching a jeep trail, turn to the right continuing on the blue-marked trail. You now have a view of the tel on your right. At a fork, the blue trail goes to the left. Rather, keep straight ahead on what is now a black-marked trail.
At the T-junction, turn right onto the red-marked trail and this will take you to your car.
(This hike can be made several hours longer. Where the blue trail changes to the black trail, continue to the left on the blue-marked trail. This will take you to the observation area on Har Atzmon from where you have a superb view in all directions. Continue on the blue-marked trail and after some distance you will come to a four-way intersection. Take the red trail to the right. This will turn into the blue trail from where you started this loop. As for the shorter hike, turn left on the black-marked trail. Continue on the black-marked trail until you come to a fork with the red trail. Turn right. This red-marked trail will take you back to your car).
Trail on and around Tel Yodfat. To follow your location on your smart phone, click on https://israelhiking.osm.org.il/share/qF8GTYQfAk. Click on the black box with a cross at the top left of the map and it should change color to green. It is not necessary to download the free app unless you wish to.