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The Great Revolt against Rome initiated by Zealot Jews took place between 66 to 73 CE and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. A number of towns in the Galilee and Gamla in the Golan participated in the revolt under the command of Josephus Flavius. His headquarters were in Yodfat and it 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 it is possible to recreate the siege of Yodfat and its eventual defeat.


Consider also an almost 2-hour circular hike that starts at the tell and continues into the surrounding countryside. The hike can also be extended to include the observation point on Har Atzmon. Nearby Moshav Yodfat has tourist-type stores and dairy restaurant and Yodfat Monkey Forest is close by.


Yodfat was a Hellenist city from the 3rd century BCE. However, 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 of Josephus Flavius’ command of the Galilee and Golan, he was able to fortify 19 towns and villages, including Yodfat.



Time: About 1¾ hours.

Distance: About 3 Km.

Type of hike: Circular.

DifficultyThe descent on the blue-marked trail from the tel to the valley is slightly difficult, and walking sticks can be helpful for this part of the trail. 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 restrooms, although there are restrooms at the nearby tourist area at the moshav.

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 tell. This bus stop is serviced by a number of bus lines.


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The defeat of Yodfat during the Great Revolt – the beginning of an inevitable end


An independent Jewish kingdom was completely unacceptable to Rome. Hence, when Jerusalem was taken over by the Zealots, when a force of 6,000 Roman 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 quell the revolt. The provisional government in Jerusalem had appointed Yosef ben Matityahu, or Josephus Flavius as he would later be called, as commander of the Galilee and Golan. Over seven months he fortified 19 of the most important towns in the area under his 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 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 were 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 that of the 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 when the defenders, weak, exhausted and thinly spread, would be easy to overcome. In silence, Titus led a small party over the walls and entered the city. The rest of his army was waiting outside the walls. Remembering the punishment they had endured during the siege, the Romans showed no mercy. The surprised population was forced down the slopes of the town and massacred. People in hideouts were ferreted out and killed. Josephus records that 40,000 inhabitants 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 would be destroyed. Many of the Zealots who had initiated the revolt escaped to Jerusalem and from there they continued the fight. 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 capture of Yodfat was the beginning of an inevitable end for the Great Revolt against Rome. Revolts are not won by being besieged in one’s town. However, it would take another six years before Jerusalem, the Temple and Masada were destroyed.


  • First, explore the tell by encircling it. You will see from the map at the base of the tell that there are several possible trails. It is suggested to ascend the stairs and go to the right to meet the blue trail. Then ascend via the blue-marked trail. The reason for doing it this way is to benefit from the explanations on signs about the Roman attack on the northern fortifications.

  • Take the sidewalk on the left through the exposed ruins of one of the residential areas of the town.

  • At the intersection of the black and blue-marked trails go down to the olive press located in a cave. To prepare for the siege, a city wall was built on top of the cave, so that this factory was now outside the city walls. In actuality, this would not have made much difference, since the Romans would not have attempted to ascend the steep southern side of the tell.

  • As you continue around the tel, be sure to enter the cave with the mass grave.


  • After completing the encirclement of the tell, 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 direct you to the right. This continuation of the blue-marked trail will lead you on a path through Mediterranean vegetation.


  • At the T-junction, turn right onto the jeep trail which is a continuation 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 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 Flavius a traitor who opportunistically changed sides during the Great Revolt to to save his own life and improve his status? Many historians think so. However, it is suggested 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 the commander for the Galilee and Golan. Nevertheless, Josephus was not a Zealot, and he disagreed with their messianic expectations.


After the Romans had succeeded in breaching the walls of Yodfat, some of the surviving fighters, including Josephus, gathered in a cave and elected to kill each other rather than surrender to the Romans. According to his book “The Jewish War,” Josephus tried to persuade his colleagues to surrender rather than kill each other but they rejected his advice. They picked lots as to who would 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 indeed become emperor, he was released. He then began working for Rome. He ingratiated himself with Vespasian and his son Titus, including taking Vespasian’s name Flavius.

He became the advisor and 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 Jewish factions fighting each other. Titus was aware of this and delayed his attack on the city so they could continue killing each other.


After the destruction of Jerusalem, 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, Josephus wrote that he believed that God had decided to punish the Jewish people, that “fortune” had been given to Rome, and that it was his role “to announce the things that are to come.” He believed that Rome would eventually be punished, perhaps in a final apocalypse, but this would be in the distant future.


Early on, he 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, other than the towns and cities that had rebelled.


Josephus wrote several books. “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, nor 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. HIs 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 realized that an accommodating approach to Rome would achieve more than resisting it. He 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 services to Rome, he would never be able to return home to Judea.

The ancient synagogue at Yodfat. Yodfat was again populated after its destruction. On the far side of the parking lot by the tel 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. No information is available about the synagogue. 

synagogue at Yodfat.jpeg

Synagogue from the Byzantine period in Yodfat.

Circular trail from Tel Yodfat

To follow your location on your smart phone, click on 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.

Nearby places of interest:

Yodfat Monkey Forest. Y

Yodfat Monkey Forest is a 1-acre wildlife refuge situated in a natural oak forest in Moshav Yodfat. It has harbored squirrel monkeys since 1976, and it rescues and provides a life-long home to animals subjected to deprivation or neglect. It also contains farm animals. It is not a zoological park. Nor is it specifically directed at providing education. A delight of the refuge is its windy path through the forest, since one never quite knows what will be coming next. Close to the entrance are squirrel monkeys that roam wild, are very tame, and can be fed. There are two other areas with monkeys, but they are in cages. So, do not expect to see a lot of free-roaming monkeys. Most of the other exhibits are either birds or farm animals, some of which, such as the partridges, are free roaming. There are a number of small ponds with ducks. The paths are not stroller nor wheelchair friendly. The wire enclosures for the animals do not make for good photos. Many reviews from websites have been enthusiastic about this site, while others have been disappointed.


Visiting Yodfat Monkey Forest: 


Time: Allow at least an hour and preferably longer.

Directions: Enter into Waze “Monkey Forest – Yodfat” into Waze. However, do not follow Waze directions within the moshav but park in the parking areas around the first roundabout. Then walk past the stores to the Monkey Forest entrance.

Admission: The forest is open from 9.00 am to 4.00 pm all days of the week except Friday when it is open from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm. Entry is up to 1 hour before closing, although it is recommended to come at least 2 hours before closing. Admission is 59 NIS from age 2 years, and 56 NIS through their website. Student admission is 53 NIS. 


You will be able to feed the squirrel monkeys. They are very tame.

Common squirrel monkey.jpeg

More squirrel monkeys


An emu

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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