Ten names are recorded on the lots—pieces of pottery with names written on them—found at Masada, replicated and offered here by Biblical Reproductions. Professor Yigael Yadin, who directed two great seasons of excavation at Masada between 1963 and 1965, believed these were the lots used by the defenders of the fortress to decide who should kill the others and last of all himself. it is impossible to be absolutely certain that this is the case.
Yet and in light of the descriptions of Josephus that tell of lots being cast, this opinion is almost universally accepted by scholars and laymen alike.

These are the names on the lots:

Ben Yair

Ben Peti (or Pati)




Ben Ha-Nahtem

Ben Knevan




We can immediately identify Ben Yair. He was Elazar ben Yair, commander of the Masada, whose words and deeds are amply recorded by Josephus.

What about the rest? They don’t seem to be the names of people at all, but rather nicknames. Taking a warrior’s nickname is an ancient tradition in the history of warfare and one which continues to our own day. Think of names like Che in Cuba, Stalin, Trotsky, Lionheart, Maccabee, Rocky, and Comandante Uno in Nicaragua—there are hundreds more examples but none of these men were born with that name—as examples of warriors taking pseudonyms or nicknames as /noms de guerre. /

Yoav was a real name. He was King David’s great general, of course. But there had not been a Jew with that name for nearly 1000 years before Masada, so this was obviously a nickname. We can speculate on the
meaning of some of the others, without any certainty, of course. Tsayda may mean he came from Beth Saida. Ha-Amaki is a man from the Emek valley’. Ben Peti may mean he was thought simple-minded.  Honi was a real person who was a famous miracle worker a hundred years earlier. This person may have admired or reminded them of him etc.

We would welcome a scholarly study of these nicknames to find out what they really meant.

Outstanding  replicas of the ten lots discovered at Masada, will soon be available at www.biblicalreproductions.com.  Biblical Reproductions is licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Author:  Walter Zanger