Archaeology is difficult and tedious work. The crews must go through ancient sites with exquisite care and patience. This makes for slow going. There is an occasional burst of excitement when a beautiful object—a pot or coin or piece of jewelry—is found. There is even greater excitement when they find writing on pottery shards or on ancient pieces of parchment. These are the moments archaeologists live for; the moments that relieve the tedium of hauling buckets of dirt all day.

Nothing, however, prepared the crew for the intense emotion of finding Chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel under the floor of the synagogue in Masada. The diggers all knew the story of Masada as told by Josephus Flavius, of course. They all knew how the defenders of the fortress determined to kill their wives and children, their comrades, and how one man left for last then killed himself.

Can we imagine what the zealots of Masada were thinking in these last hours? Can we suggest that they might have found comfort in what they were about to do in reading holy texts?  Here we have found one answer to this terrible question; they were in the synagogue reading Chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel: his vision of the Valley of the Dry Bones.That vision is one of the most powerful pieces of literature in the Bible. It is a vision of resurrection; the bones are dead and dry and seemingly hopeless, but they can live again if God makes it happen. And they WILL live again, and breathe again, and be restored to their land. Surely this vision of hope amid the despair would have comforted the rebel defenders in their desperation.

We, like the archaeologists who found the Ezekiel scroll fragment,  find ourselves in immediate emotional contact with these people of 2000 years ago.  We feel with them. And the intensity of the emotion moves us to this very day.

An exquisitely reproduced reproduction of the Ezekiel scroll fragment is available at  Biblical Reproductions is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.