Bar Kokhba revolt
The Bar Kokhba revolt (Hebrew: מרד בר כוכבא or mered Bar Kokhba), was a rebellion of the Jews of Judea Province, led by Simon bar Kokhba, against the Roman Empire. Fought circa 132–136 CE, it was the last of three major Jewish–Roman wars, so it is also known as The Third Jewish–Roman War or The Third Jewish Revolt.
The revolt erupted as a result of religious and political tensions in Judea province. Simon bar Kokhba, the commander, was regarded by many Jews as the Messiah, a heroic figure who would restore Israel. Initial rebel victories established an independent state of Israel over parts of Judea for over two years, but a Roman army made up of six full legions with auxiliaries and elements from up to six additional legions finally crushed it.
The Bar Kokhba revolt resulted in an extensive depopulation of Judean Jewish communities, more so than the Great Revolt of Judea of 70 CE. Despite easing persecution of Jews following Hadrian's death in 138 CE, the Romans barred Jews from Jerusalem, except for attendance in Tisha B'Av. The Jewish community of Judea was devastated in events some scholars describe as a genocide.
Although Jewish Christians hailed Jesus as the Messiah and did not support Bar Kokhba, they were barred from Jerusalem along with the rest of the Jews. The war and its aftermath helped differentiate Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism (see also Split of early Christianity and Judaism).
- 1 Background
- 2 Timeline of events
- 3 Aftermath
- 4 Legacy
- 5 Sources
- 6 Archaeology
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 Further reading
- 10 External links
After the failed First Jewish–Roman War in 70 CE, the Roman authorities took measures to suppress the rebellious province of Judea. Instead of a procurator, they installed a praetor as a governor and stationed an entire legion, the X Fretensis, in the area. Tensions continued to build up in the wake of the Kitos War, the second large-scale Jewish insurrection in the Eastern Mediterranean, the final stages of which saw fighting in Judea.
Historians have suggested multiple reasons for the sparking of the Bar Kokhba revolt, long-term and proximate. The revolt is shrouded in mystery, and only one brief historical account of the rebellion survives. Several elements are believed to have contributed to the rebellion; changes in administrative law, the diffuse presence of Romans, alterations in agricultural practice with a shift from landowning to sharecropping, the impact of a possible period of economic decline, and an upsurge of nationalism, the latter influenced by similar revolts among the Jewish communities in Egypt, Cyrenaica, Libya and Mesopotamia during the reign of Trajan. The proximate reasons seem to centre around the proscription of circumcision, the construction of a new city, Aelia Capitolina, over the ruins of Jerusalem, and the erection of a temple to Jupiter on the Temple mount. One interpretation involves the visit in 130 CE of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to the ruins of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. At first sympathetic towards the Jews, Hadrian promised to rebuild the Temple, but the Jews felt betrayed when they found out that he intended to build a temple dedicated to Jupiter upon the ruins of the Second Temple. A rabbinic version of this story claims that Hadrian planned on rebuilding the Temple, but that a malevolent Samaritan convinced him not to. The reference to a malevolent Samaritan is, however, a familiar device of Jewish literature.
An additional legion, the VI Ferrata, arrived in the province to maintain order. Works on Aelia Capitolina, as Jerusalem was to be called, commenced in 131 CE. The governor of Judea, Tineius Rufus, performed the foundation ceremony, which involved ploughing over the designated city limits. "Ploughing up the Temple", seen as a religious offence, turned many Jews against the Roman authorities. The Romans issued a coin inscribed Aelia Capitolina.
A disputed tradition, based on the single source of the Historia Augusta, suggests that tensions grew higher when Hadrian abolished circumcision (brit milah), which he, a Hellenist, viewed as mutilation. However others maintain that there is no evidence for this claim.
Timeline of events
Eruption of the revolt
The Jewish leaders carefully planned the second revolt to avoid the numerous mistakes that had plagued the first Great Jewish Revolt sixty years earlier. In 132, a revolt led by Bar Kokhba quickly spread from Modi'in across the country, cutting off the Roman garrison in Jerusalem.
The Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva (alternatively Akiba) indulged the possibility that Simon Bar Kosiba (Bar Kokhba) could be the Jewish messiah, and gave him the surname "Bar Kokhba" meaning "Son of a Star" in the Aramaic language, from the Star Prophecy verse from Numbers 24:17: "There shall come a star out of Jacob". The name Bar Kokhba does not appear in the Talmud but in ecclesiastical sources.
Simon Bar Kokhba took the title Nasi Israel and ruled over a ministate that was virtually independent for two and a half years. The era of the redemption of Israel was announced, contracts were signed and a large quantity of Bar Kochba Revolt coinage was struck over foreign coins.
The outbreak and initial success of the rebellion took the Romans by surprise. Hadrian called his general Sextus Julius Severus from Britain, and troops were brought from as far as the Danube. The size of the Roman army amassed against the rebels was much larger than that commanded by Titus sixty years earlier.
The rebels incorporated combined tactics to fight the Roman Army. According to some historians Bar Kokhba's army utilized guerilla warfare, engaging Romans in surprise locations and inflicting heavy casualties with sneak attacks. Others, however claim that Bar Kokhba actually preferred direct engagement due to his superiority in numbers, and only after several painful defeats in the fields, the Romans decided to evade direct fighting and instead employ the tactic of siege on Jewish centers, taking them one by one. With the slow advance of the Roman Army and cut supplies, the rebels engaged in long-term defense tactics. The defense system of Judean towns and villages was based mainly on hideout caves, which were created in large numbers almost in every population center. Many houses utilized underground hideouts, where Judean rebels hoped to withstand Roman superiority by narrowness of the passages and even surprise attacks from underground. The cave systems were often interconnected into large systems, used not only as hideouts for the rebels, but also for storage and refuge their families.
The struggle lasted for three years before the revolt was brutally crushed in the summer of 135 CE, on August 4, 135 CE. Roman losses however were very heavy - XXII Deiotariana was disbanded after serious losses. In addition, some historians argue that Legio IX Hispana disbandment in the mid-2nd century could also have been a result of this war. Cassius Dio wrote that "...Hadrian, in writing to the Senate, did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors: 'If you and your children are in health, it is well; I and the army are in health.'"
After losing many of their strongholds, Bar Kokhba and the remnants of his army withdrew to the fortress of Betar, which also subsequently came under siege. The Fifth Macedonian Legion and the Eleventh Claudian Legion are said to have taken part in the siege of Betar.
The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the number of dead in Betar was enormous, that the Romans "went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils." According to a Rabbinic midrash, in addition to Bar Kokhba himself, the Romans executed eight leading members of the Sanhedrin (The list of Ten Martyrs include two earlier Rabbis): R. Akiba; R. Hanania ben Teradion; the interpreter of the Sanhedrin, R. Huspith; R. Eliezer ben Shamua; R. Hanina ben Hakinai; R. Jeshbab the Scribe; R. Yehuda ben Dama; and R. Yehuda ben Baba. The Rabbinic account describes agonizing tortures: R. Akiba was flayed, R. Ishmael had the skin of his head pulled off slowly, and R. Hanania was burned at a stake, with wet wool held by a Torah scroll wrapped around his body to prolong his death.
According to Cassius Dio, who might have exaggerated, 580,000 Jews were killed in the overall operations, and 50 fortified towns and 985 villages were razed to the ground, with many more Jews dying of famine and disease. Cassius Dio also claimed that "Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war. Therefore, Hadrian, in writing to the Senate, did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors: 'If you and your children are in health, it is well; I and the army are in health.'"
Hadrian's proclamations sought to root out the nationalistic features within Judea's Jewish communities, which he saw as the cause of continuous rebellions. He prohibited the Torah law and the Hebrew calendar, and executed Judaic scholars. The sacred scroll was ceremonially burned on the Temple Mount. At the former Temple sanctuary, he installed two statues, one of Jupiter, another of himself. In an attempt to erase any memory of Judea or Ancient Israel, he wiped the name off the map and replaced it with Syria Palaestina. By destroying the association of Jews to Judea and forbidding the practice of Jewish faith, Hadrian aimed to root out a nation that inflicted heavy casualties on the Roman Empire. Similarly, he re-established Jerusalem, but now as the Roman pagan polis of Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were forbidden from entering it, except on the day of Tisha B'Av.
The Jews became a minority in Judea, remaining strong only in the Galilee, Bet Shean and the Golan. Hadrian's death in 138 CE marked a significant relief to the surviving Jewish communities of Judea. Rabbinic Judaism had already become a portable religion, centered around synagogues. In the aftermath of the defeat of Bar Kochba, the consolidation of Jewish settlement in Palestine became of major concern to the rabbinate. The Sages endeavoured to halt Jewish migration into diaspora, and even banned emigration from Palestine, branding those who settled outside its borders as idolaters.
Later relations between the Jews and the Roman Empire
Modern historians view the Bar-Kokhba Revolt as being of decisive historic importance. The massive destruction and loss of life occasioned by the revolt has led some scholars such as Bernard Lewis to date the beginning of the Jewish diaspora from this date. They note that, unlike the aftermath of the First Jewish–Roman War chronicled by Josephus, the majority of the Jewish population of Judea was either killed, exiled, or sold into slavery after the Bar-Kokhba Revolt, and Jewish religious and political authority was suppressed far more brutally. After the revolt, the Jewish religious center shifted to the Babylonian Jewish community and its scholars. Judea would not be a center of Jewish religious, cultural, or political life again until the modern era, although Jews continued to live there and important religious developments still occurred there. In Galilee, the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in the 2nd–4th centuries.
In 438 CE, when the Empress Eudocia removed the ban on Jews' praying at the Temple site, the heads of the Community in Galilee issued a call "to the great and mighty people of the Jews" which began: "Know that the end of the exile of our people has come!"
During the 5th and the 6th centuries, a series of Samaritan insurrections broke out across the Palaestina Prima province. Especially violent were the third and the fourth revolts, which resulted in almost entire annihilation of the Samaritan community. It is likely that the Samaritan Revolt of 556 was joined by the Jewish community, which had also suffered a brutal suppression of Israelite religion.
In the belief of restoration to come, the Jews made an alliance with the Persians, who invaded Palaestina Prima in 614, fought at their side, overwhelmed the Byzantine garrison in Jerusalem, and for five years, governed the region as Jewish-Sassanian commonwealth. However, their autonomy was brief: with the withdrawal of Persian forces, Jews surrendered to Byzantine forces in 625 CE, and were consequently massacred by them in 629 CE. The Byzantine (Eastern Roman Empire) control of the region was finally lost to the Muslim Arab armies in 637 CE, when Umar ibn al-Khattab completed the conquest of Akko.
In the post-rabbinical era, the Bar Kokhba Revolt became a symbol of valiant national resistance. The Zionist youth movement Betar took its name from Bar Kokhba's traditional last stronghold, and David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, took his Hebrew last name from one of Bar Kokhba's generals.
The disastrous end of the revolt also occasioned major changes in Jewish religious thought. Jewish messianism was abstracted and spiritualized, and rabbinical political thought became deeply cautious and conservative. The Talmud, for instance, refers to Bar Kokhba as "Ben-Kusiba," a derogatory term used to indicate that he was a false Messiah. The deeply ambivalent rabbinical position regarding Messianism, as expressed most famously in Maimonides "Epistle to Yemen," would seem to have its origins in the attempt to deal with the trauma of a failed Messianic uprising.
A popular children's song, included in the curriculum of Israeli kindergartens, has the refrain "Bar Kokhba was a Hero/He fought for Liberty," and its words describe Bar Kokhba as being captured and thrown into a lion's den, but managing to escape riding on the lion's back.
The best recognized source is Cassius Dio, Roman History (book 69). The Jerusalem Talmud contains descriptions of the results of the rebellion, including the Roman executions of Judean leaders. The discovery of the Cave of Letters in the Dead Sea area, dubbed as "Bar Kokhba archive", which contained letters actually written by Bar Kokhba and his followers, has added much new primary source data.
Cave of Letters
The Cave of Letters was surveyed in the 1960-61 explorations, when letters and fragments of papyri were found that dated back to the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt 132-135. Some of these were personal letters of correspondence between Bar-Kokhba and his subordinates, and one notable bundle of papyri known as the Babata or Babatha cache revealed the life and trials of a woman, Babata, who lived during this period of time.
Roman Imperial inscription in Jerusalem
In 2014, one half of a Latin inscription was discovered in Jerusalem during excavations near the Damascus Gate. It was identified as the right half of a complete inscription, the other part of which was discovered nearby in the late 19th century and is currently on display in the courtyard of Jerusalem's Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum. The complete inscription was translated as following:
- To the Imperator Caesar Traianus Hadrianus Augustus, son of the deified Traianus Parthicus, grandson of the deified Nerva, high priest, invested with tribunician power for the 14th time, consul for the third time, father of the country (dedicated by) the 10th legion Fretensis Antoniniana
The inscription was dedicated by Legio X Fretensis to the emperor Hadrian in the year 129/130 CE. It is considered that the inscription is greatly strengthening the claim that indeed the Emperor visited Jerusalem that year, supporting the traditional claim that the result of Hadrian's visit was among the main causes of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and not the other way around.
The Betar fortress was the last standing Jewish fortress in the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century CE, destroyed by the Roman army of Emperor Hadrian in the year 135. The ruins of Betar, the last fortress of Bar Kokhba, is located in the vicinity of the town of Battir and the town Beitar Illit. A stone inscription bearing Latin characters and discovered near Betar shows that the Fifth Macedonian Legion and the Eleventh Claudian Legion took part in the siege.
- "Legio VIIII Hispana". livius.org. Retrieved 2014-06-26.
- Cassius Dio, Translation by Earnest Cary. Roman History, book 69, 12.1-14.3. Loeb Classical Library, 9 volumes, Greek texts and facing English translation: Harvard University Press, 1914 thru 1927. Online in LacusCurtius: and livius.org:. Book scan in Internet Archive:.
- for the year 136, see: W. Eck, The Bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View, pp. 87–88.
- Some historians relate it as Second Judean Revolt, not counting the Kitos War (115–117 CE), which had only marginally been fought in Judea.
- John S. Evans (2008). The Prophecies of Daniel 2.
Known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt, after its charismatic leader, Simon Bar Kokhba, whom many Jews regarded as their promised messiah
- "Israel Tour Daily Newsletter". 27 July 2010. Archived from the original on 6 June 2011.
- Taylor, J. E. The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea. Oxford University Press.
Up until this date the Bar Kokhba documents indicate that towns, villages and ports where Jews lived were busy with industry and activity. Afterwards there is an eerie silence, and the archaeological record testifies to little Jewish presence until the Byzantine era, in En Gedi. This picture coheres with what we have already determined in Part I of this study, that the crucial date for what can only be described as genocide, and the devastation of Jews and Judaism within central Judea, was 135 CE and not, as usually assumed, 70 CE, despite the siege of Jerusalem and the Temple's destruction
- Totten, S. Teaching about genocide: issues, approaches and resources. p24. 
- Justin, "Apologia", ii.71, compare "Dial." cx; Eusebius "Hist. Eccl." iv.6,§2; Orosius "Hist." vii.13
- Davidson, Linda (2002). Pilgrimage: From the Ganges to Graceland: an Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 279. ISBN 1576070042.
- M. Avi-Yonah, The Jews under Roman and Byzantine Rule, Jerusalem 1984 p. 143
- Hanan Eshel,'The Bar Kochba revolt, 132-135,' in William David Davies, Louis Finkelstein, Steven T. Katz (eds.) The Cambridge History of Judaism: Volume 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period, pp.105-127, p.105.
- Schäfer, Peter (2003). The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World: The Jews of Palestine from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest. Translated by David Chowcat. Routledge. p. 146.
- See Platner, Samuel Ball (1929). "Pomerium". A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome – via LacusCurtius. Gates, Charles (2011). Ancient Cities: The Archaeology of Urban Life in the Ancient Near East and Egypt, Greece and Rome. Taylor & Francis. p. 335. ISBN 9781136823282 – via Google books.
- The Mishnah has a segment: "[O]n the 9th of Ab...and the city was ploughed up." on mas. Taanith, Chapter 4, Mishnah no. 6. See:
- Blackman, Philip, ed. (1963). MISHNAYOTH, VOLUME II, ORDER MOED (in Hebrew, English). New York: Judaica. p. 432 – via HebrewBooks.
- Greenup, Albert William (1921). The Mishna tractate Taanith (On the public fasts). London: [Palestine House]. p. 32 – via Internet Archive.
- Sola, D. A.; Raphall, M. J., eds. (1843). "XX. Treatise Taanith, chapter IV, §6.". Eighteen Treatises from the Mishna – via Internet Sacred Text Archive.
- The Babylonian Talmud and Jerusalem Talmud both explicate the segment refers to Rufus: Babylonian: mas. Taanith 29a. See
- "Shas Soncino". dTorah.com. Retrieved 2014-06-28.
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AND THE CITY WAS PLOUGHED UP. It has been taught: When Turnus Rufus the wicked destroyed[note 20: Var lec.: ‘ploughed’.] the Temple,....
- "Shas Soncino". dTorah.com. Retrieved 2014-06-28.
- The Jerusalem Talmud relates it to the Temple, Taanith 25b:
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[...] Hadrian's ban on circumcision, allegedly imposed sometime between 128 and 132 CE [...]. The only proof for Hadrian's ban on circumcision is the short note in the Historia Augusta: 'At this time also the Jews began war, because they were forbidden to mutilate their genitals (quot vetabantur mutilare genitalia). [...] The historical credibility of this remark is controversial [...] The earliest evidence for circumcision in Roman legislation is an edict by Antoninus Pius (138-161 CE), Hadrian's successor [...] [I]t is not utterly impossible that Hadrian [...] indeed considered circumcision as a 'barbarous mutilation' and tried to prohihit it. [...] However, this proposal cannot be more than a conjecture, and, of course, it does not solve the questions of when Hadrian issued the decree (before or during/after the Bar Kokhba war) and whether it was directed solely against Jews or also against other peoples.
- Mackay, Christopher. Ancient Rome a Military and Political History 2007: 230
- Peter Schäfer Mohr Siebeck. The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Second Jewish Revolt Against Rome. 2003. p.68
- The History of the Jews in the Greco-Roman World: The Jews of Palestine from Alexander the Great to the Arab Conquest By Peter Schäfer Routledge, 2 Sep 2003 pg 146
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- Numbers 24:17: There shall come a star out of Jacob, and a sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth.
- Krauss, S. (1906). "BAR KOKBA AND BAR KOKBA WAR". In Singer, Isidore. The Jewish Encyclopedia 2. pp. 506–507.
Bar Kokba, the hero of the third war against Rome, appears under this name only among ecclesiastical writers: heathen authors do not mention him; and Jewish sources call him Ben (or Bar) Koziba or Kozba...
- Peter Schäfer. The Bar Kokhba War reconsidered. 2003. p184
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- Ta'anit 4:5
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- H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, page 334: "In an effort to wipe out all memory of the bond between the Jews and the land, Hadrian changed the name of the province from Judaea to Syria-Palestina, a name that became common in non-Jewish literature."
- Ariel Lewin. The archaeology of Ancient Judea and Palestine. Getty Publications, 2005 p. 33. "It seems clear that by choosing a seemingly neutral name - one juxtaposing that of a neighboring province with the revived name of an ancient geographical entity (Palestine), already known from the writings of Herodotus - Hadrian was intending to suppress any connection between the Jewish people and that land." ISBN 0-89236-800-4
- The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered by Peter Schäfer, ISBN 3-16-148076-7
- H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, page 334: "Jews were forbidden to live in the city and were allowed to visit it only once a year, on the Ninth of Ab, to mourn on the ruins of their holy Temple."
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- Wikisource: "Epistle to Yemen"
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- Peter Schäfer. The Bar Kokhba War reconsidered. 2003. p184.
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- Vol. 2, "Greek Papyri", edited by Naphtali Lewis; "Aramaic and Nabatean Signatures and Subscriptions", edited by Yigael Yadin and Jonas C. Greenfield. (ISBN 9652210099).
- Vol. 3, "Hebrew, Aramaic and Nabatean–Aramaic Papyri", edited Yigael Yadin, Jonas C. Greenfield, Ada Yardeni, Baruch A. Levine (ISBN 9652210463).
- W. Eck, 'The Bar Kokhba Revolt: the Roman point of view' in the Journal of Roman Studies 89 (1999) 76ff.
- Peter Schäfer (editor), Bar Kokhba reconsidered, Tübingen: Mohr: 2003
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- Richard Marks: The Image of Bar Kokhba in Traditional Jewish Literature: False Messiah and National Hero: University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press: 1994: ISBN 0-271-00939-X
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- Wars between the Jews and Romans: Simon ben Kosiba (130-136 CE), with English translations of sources.
- Photographs from Yadin's book Bar Kokhba
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