The Great Revolt of the Jews against Rome took place between 66 to 73 CE and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple. A number of towns in the Galilee and Golan participated in this revolt under the command of Josephus Flavius. Yodfat was his headquarters and this was the first city to be attacked by Vespasian and his son Titus in 67 CE. With the help of quotations from Josephus’ book “The Jewish War” on signs on the paths and identification of the ruins, it is possible to recreate the siege of Yodfat and its eventual defeat.
There is also an almost 2-hour circular hike that starts at the tel and continues into the surrounding countryside. This hike can be extended to include the observation point on Har Atzmon. Nearby Moshav Yodfat has tourist-type stores and a dairy restaurant. Kids may also enjoy the Yodfat Monkey Forest.
Yodfat was a Hellenist city from the 3rd century BCE. It was conquered by the Hasmoneans, who made it a Jewish town and its name was changed from Jotapata to Yodfat. During the 7 months in which he was in command of the Galilee and Golan during the Great Revolt, Josephus Flavius fortified 18 towns and villages, including Yodfat. This was the first city to be attacked by the Romans.
DIRECTIONS FOR THE TEL PLUS SHORTER HIKE:
Time: About 1¾ hours.
Distance: About 3 Km.
Type of hike: Circular.
Difficulty: The descent from the tel to the valley on the blue-marked trail is slightly slippery and difficult, and walking sticks can be helpful. The remainder of the trail is relatively easy.
Directions: Enter “Tel Yodfat” into Waze and click on "Tel Yodfat National park". This will take you directly to the parking area at the base at the tel. There is no entrance fee, picnic benches or WCs.
Public transport: Enter “Tel Yodfat National Park” into Moovit. The closest bus stop is Tzomet Intersection and this is a 2.4 Km/30-minute walk to the tel. This bus stop is serviced by a number of bus lines.
The Capture of Yodfat – the Beginning of an Inevitable End
An independent Jewish kingdom was completely unacceptable to the Romans. Hence, when Jerusalem was taken over by the Zealots, when a force of 6,000 soldiers sent from Syria was ambushed and annihilated, and the rebellion had spread to the Galilee, the emperor Nero called upon his distinguished commander Vespasian and his son Titus to put down the revolt. Meanwhile, the provisional government in Jerusalem appointed Yosef ben Matityahu, or as he would later be called Josephus Flavius, commander of the Galilee and Golan. Over the next seven months he fortified 19 of the most important towns in his area of command. When Vespasian and Titus arrived in the country with 60,000 soldiers, they focused initially on the Galilee. The Jews did not have an effective field army and the conflict was now dominated by sieges. Yodfat was the first .
Because of the steepness of its three other sides, the Romans could only attack the town from the north. This was also where the highest and strongest fortifications had been constructed. The siege lasted 47 days and the defenders fought valiantly attempting to prevent the Romans establishing themselves on a platform outside the northern wall. However, the Romans succeeded in building a rampart against the northern wall whose height exceeded the northern wall. The defenders were now running out of food and water. The Romans were told by an informant that the best time to attack was at the time of the last watch of the night. The defenders would be weak, exhausted and thinly spread, and it would be easy to overcome them. In silence, Titus led a small party over the walls and entered the city. The rest of his army was also waiting to enter. Remembering the punishments they had endured during this siege, the Romans showed no quarter. The surprised population was forced down the slopes and massacred. People in hideouts were ferreted out and killed. Josephus records that 40,000 inhabitants in all were murdered and 1,200 children and women taken into slavery. The few surviving fighters decided to commit suicide rather than surrender.
The other Galilean towns fortified by Josephus surrendered, although Gamla in the Golan resisted. It too was destroyed. Many of the Zealots escaped to Jerusalem and from there they continued a disorganized revolt. Their refusal to surrender led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple in 70 CE. The last resistance of the Zealots was at Masada. This too was captured, and its defenders committed suicide rather than being taken prisoner or murdered by the Romans.
In retrospect, it can be seen that the massacre of the people of Yodfat was the beginning of the end of the Great Revolt against Rome, although it would take another six years to its final inevitable end.
EXPLORING THE TEL:
First, explore the tel by completely encircling it. You will see from the map at the beginning that there are several possible trails. It is suggested to ascend the stairs and go to the right to meet the blue trail. Then go up the blue-marked trail. The advantages of doing it this way are the explanations provided on signs about the Roman attack on the northern fortifications.
Take the sidewalk through the exposed ruins of one of the residential areas of the town.
At the intersection of the black and blue trails go 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 now outside the city walls. In actuality, this may not have made a lot of difference, since the Romans would not have attempted to ascend the steep southern sides of the tel.
As you continue around the tel, be sure to enter the cave with the mass grave.
THE SHORTER HIKE:
After completing the encirclement of the tel, go back to the intersection of the green and blue trails. There is a well at this point. Go down the hill on the blue-marked footpath.
At the bottom of the hill is a gate. Turn left in the direction of the blue-marking on the gate, and you will shortly meet another gate that will now direct you to the right. This continuation of the blue-marked trail leads you on a path through Mediterranean vegetation.
At the T-junction, turn right onto the jeep trail which is a continuiation of the blue-marked trail. You now have a view of the tel on your right. Just before you pass around a green gate, the blue trail continues to the left (and this is the path for the longer route shortly to be described), but you should continue straight ahead on what is now a black-marked trail. At a fork after a cattle grid on the path, continue on the black-marked trail.
At the T-junction, turn right onto the red-marked trail. Follow the red marking at the right turn and this will take you to your car.
THE LONGER HIKE:
The hike above can be made several hours longer. Where the blue trail meets the black trail, continue to the left on the blue-marked trail. This will take you to the observation area on Har Atzmon. From here 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.
Josephus –traitor or patriot?
Was Josephus a traitor who opportunistically changed sides during the Great Revolt? Many historians think so. It is suggested, however, that the situation may be more nuanced than this.
Josephus was a talented individual 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 and was impressed by what he saw. He returned to Jerusalem at the outbreak of the revolt against Rome and agreed to become commander of the Galilee and Golan. Nevertheless, Josephus was a realistic Pharisee and did not hold with the messianic expectations of the Zealots who initiated this conflict.
After the Romans had succeeded in entering the town, some of the surviving fighters gathered in a cave with Josephus and elected to kill each other rather than surrender to the Romans. According to his book “The Jewish War,” Josephus tried to persuade them to surrender rather than kill each other, but they rejected his advice. They picked lots as to who should kill who, and Josephus and one other person were the last two remaining alive. Whether Josephus engineered that he would get the last lot is not mentioned in his book, but both of them surrendered to the Romans.
Josephus 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 he began working for Rome. He ingratiated himself with Vespasian and his son Titus, including taking Vespasian’s name Flavius.
Josephus was the advisor and the negotiator for Titus during the siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. He attempted to persuade the Zealots to surrender; but was unsuccessful. Meanwhile, there was mayhem in Jerusalem with different factions fighting each other. Titus was aware of this and delayed his attack on the city so they could continue killing each other. Afterwards, Josephus became a Roman citizen, received a pension under Vespasian’s patronage, and wrote historical works while on the payroll of Rome.
All of this sounds as if he was a self-serving traitor. However, there may be another way of looking at matters. After his prediction that Vespasian would become 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.” He believed that Rome would eventually be punished, perhaps in a final apocalypse, but it was not yet time.
Early on, he must have realized that the Zealot cause was doomed, other than via a miraculous salvation. Revolts are not won by being caged up in a siege. He also realized that Jerusalem was destined for destruction if the Zealots refused to surrender. Further damage needed to be prevented at all costs and this could only be done from within the Roman camp.
In actuality, the aims of Titus and Josephus overlapped. This was to limit the effects of 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.
Josephus wrote several books. His “The Jewish War” is a description of the Great Revolt and is the only detailed account of this conflict. Josephus stated in his Preface that his intention was not to demonstrate the greatness of Rome or lessen the activities of the Jews. Nevertheless, historians recognize that because of the circumstances, he could not but write his book in a way 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, and realistic Jew. Like the Sages of that time, such as the leader of the Pharisees Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai who escaped from Jerusalem, he eventually believed in a passive approach with respect to Rome rather than resisting it. He even made the same prophecy about Vespasian becoming emperor as did Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai. 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.
The ancient synagogue at Yodfat. Yodfat was populated again after its destruction. On the other side of the parking lot are the ruins of a synagogue from the Byzantine period. There is a sign near these ruins, although the sign is not about the synagogue. The synagogue faces to the south. There is little information written about it.
Synagogue from the Byzantine period in Yodfat.
Nearby places of interest:
Yodfat Monkey Forest. See the webpage Yodfat Monkey Forest.
Circular trail from 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.