Yodfat is an off-the-beaten-track adventure you won’t want to miss if you are an avid fan of Roman history and a reader of Josephus, whose immortal descriptions bring alive the Temple, Jerusalem, Massada, Caesarea, and of course, this Galilee mountain town, which he called Jotapata – especially if you tour with Nir Keinan.
Ancient Yodfat (Jotapata), situated to the south east of the modern moshav, is mentioned in the Mishna as a fortified Jewish village dating from the time of Joshua, corresponding with the Iron Age. Archaeological exploration of the site, however, have thus far revealed a modest village established some time during the Hellenistic period, between the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE. As the Hasmonean kings extended their influence into the Galilee during the last decades of the 2nd century BCE, a change of population occurred at Yodfat and the village was populated by Jews.
It was here that Josephus, who was a general in the Great Revolt of the Jews against the Romans (66-70 CE) before he was its chronicler, was captured by Romans. From the top of the mound, Josephus’ rich description of the site and the battle comes alive.
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By the first century CE Yodfat had expanded to encompass an area of 50 dunams (13 acres). Its siege and subsequent destruction in 67 CE are described in Josephus Flavius’ The Wars of the Jews, his chronicle of the Great Jewish Revolt against the Romans.
Josephus Flavius, then the northern commander of the revolting Israelites, stood up against the mighty forces under the command of Vespesian. After days of siege all the defenders committed suicide, but Josephus surrended himself to Vespesian and later became a writer of the Roman and Jewish history, and provided the details of the tragic story.
Future emperor Vespasian besieged Yodfat, meeting strong Jewish resistance. After 47 days the city fell by treachery, and Josephus describes the death of 40,000 Jews and the enslavement of 1,200 women and children. Yodfat was razed and burnt on the first of the Hebrew month of Tammuz. While a few dozen remaining fighters committed suicide, Josephus managed to survive this pact and was captured by the Romans.
After its capture by the Romans, Yodfat was re-established at a nearby site by refugees from Jerusalem, among them the priestly family of Miyamin. It flourished for another 300 years, before being destroyed once again. After that, the village lay in ruins until 1960.
The modern community Yodfat which is just a kilometer away. The center of the ancient city lies on top of a steep hill (419M altitude, 50-100M above the valleys around it).
Yodfat’s caves and cisterns (careful, not all are marked!) played a part in the dramatic story that Josephus tells of his own capture here and the suicide pact that led to it. On the north side of the mound, remains of the Roman wall can be seen. Beautiful vistas are revealed from the mound and on the trail to it, including oak and carob groves, olive orchards and Jewish National Fund pine forests.
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To reach the site you can drive close to the entrance of the Modern Yodfat, then walk down to the site through the Roman/Byzantine ruins north-west of the hill.
Alternatively, you can drive from the junction of Yodfat and the road to Misgav off road 784, following signs posted in English and Hebrew on the rough gravel nature road that direct you around the Modern Yodfat, reaching to the access road from the south-west side. The road is 2-3 kilometers long and reaches a grove from which visitors can climb to Tel Yodfat.