Bar Kokhba revolt
The Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE), Hebrew: מרד בר כוכבא or mered Bar Kokhba, was the third major rebellion by the Jews of Judaea Province against the Roman Empire and the last of the Jewish–Roman wars. The rebellion is also known as The Third Jewish–Roman War or The Third Jewish Revolt, although some historians relate it as Second Judean Revolt, not counting the Kitos War 115–117 CE, which had only marginally been fought in Judea. The revolt is considered to be the climax of the Jewish–Roman wars, after which the Jews had become a devastated people - their cities were laid waste, over half a million killed and the survivors dispersed through the slave markets of the known world in a clear case of genocide.
The revolt erupted as a result of religious and political tensions in Judaea province. Simon bar Kokhba, the commander of the revolt, was regarded by many Jews as the Messiah, a heroic figure who could 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 genocide and almost complete depopulation of Judea and is considered to have a much more critical impact on Jews and Judaism than the Great Revolt of Judea of 70 CE. Roman losses are also considered heavy, making it one of the worst campaigns of the Empire. Despite easing persecution of Jews following Hadrian's death in 138 CE, the Romans barred Jews from Jerusalem, except to attend it in Tisha B'Av. 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).
After the failed Great Jewish Revolt 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.
Because the Great Revolt of 70 CE had resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem, the Council at Yavne provided spiritual guidance for the Jewish nation, both in Judea and throughout the Jewish diaspora. According to Seth Swartz, two generations after the siege, Judea retained a reasonably large Jewish population. He writes that while it is clear that many Jews were killed, enslaved or died of disease or starvation during the siege it is hard to make more specific judgements.
Historians have suggested multiple reasons for the sparking of the Bar Kokhba revolt. One interpretation involves the visit in 130 CE of the Roman Emperor Hadrian to the ruins of the temple. 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.
An additional legion, the VI Ferrata, arrived in the province to maintain order, and works commenced in 131 CE after the governor of Judaea, Tineius Rufus, performed the foundation ceremony of Aelia Capitolina, the projected new name of a refounded Jerusalem. "Ploughing up the Temple", seen as a religious offence, turned many Jews against the Roman authorities. One disputed tradition suggests that tensions grew higher when Hadrian allegedly abolished circumcision (brit milah), which he, a Hellenist, viewed as mutilation. Subsequently the Romans issued a coin inscribed Aelia Capitolina in 132, just as the revolt began.
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 Jewish leaders carefully planned the second revolt to avoid 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.
Eusebius of Caesaraea wrote that Christians were killed and suffered "all kinds of persecutions" at the hands of Jews during the revolt.
"The Era of the redemption of Israel"
Simon Bar Kokhba took the title Nasi Israel (prince [lord, president] of Israel) and headed a functional public administration over a mini-state that was virtually independent for two and a half years. The "Era of the redemption of Israel" was announced, contracts were signed and coins were minted in large quantity in silver and copper with corresponding inscriptions (all were 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 struggle lasted for three years before the revolt was brutally crushed in the summer of 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.
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 Jerusalem Talmud relates that the numbers slain were enormous, that the Romans "went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils". The Talmud also relates that for seventeen years the Romans did not allow the Jews to bury their dead in Betar.
According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews were killed, and 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed. Cassius Dio 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.'"
According to a Rabbinic midrash (the Ten Martyrs), in addition to Bar Kokhba himself the Romans executed ten leading members of the Sanhedrin: the high priest, R. Ishmael; the president of the Sanhedrin, R. Shimon ben Gamaliel; R. Akiba; R. Hanania ben Teradion; the interpreter of the Sanhedrin, R. Huspith; R. Eliezer ben Shamua; R. Hanina ben Hakinai; the secretary of the Sanhedrin, R. Yeshevav; 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.
Hadrian attempted to root out Judaism, 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 association of Jews to Judea and forbidding the practice of Jewish faith, Hadrian aimed to root out a nation that engaged heavy casualties on the 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.
Yet, Hadrian's death in 138 CE marked a significant relief to the surviving Jewish communities. Rabbinic Judaism had already become a portable religion, centered around synagogues, and the Jews themselves kept books and dispersed throughout the Roman world and beyond.
Later relations between the Jews and the Roman Empire
Modern historians have come to 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, though 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. 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 the Rambam's (also known as 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, thrown into a lion's den but managing to escape riding on the lion's back.
The best recognized sources include Cassius Dio, Roman History (book 69) and Aelius Spartianus, Life of Hadrian (in the Augustan History). 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, which contained letters actually written by Bar Kokhba and his followers, has added much new primary source data.
- The 'Five Good Emperors' (roman-empire.net)
- for the year 136, see: W. Eck, The Bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View, pp. 87–88.
- Totten, S. Teaching about genocide: issues, approaches and resources. p24. 
- 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. Oxford University Press publication. "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". The Essenes, the Scrolls, and the Dead Sea
- Justin, "Apologia", ii.71, compare "Dial." cx; Eusebius "Hist. Eccl." iv.6,§2; Orosius "Hist." vii.13
- Seth Schwartz (22 June 2006). The Cambridge History of Judaism. 4, The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period. Cambridge University Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-521-77248-8.
- Cassius Dio, Roman History
- Schäfer, Peter (1998). Judeophobia: Attitudes Toward the Jews in the Ancient World. Harvard University Press. p. 103-105. ISBN 9780674043213. Retrieved 2014-02-01. "[...] 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
- Book of 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.
- L. J. F. Keppie (2000) Legions and veterans: Roman army papers 1971-2000 Franz Steiner Verlag, ISBN 3-515-07744-8 pp 228-229
- livius.org account(Legio XXII Deiotariana)
- Ta'anit 4:5
- "Mosaic or mosaic?—The Genesis of the Israeli Language" by Zuckermann, Gilad
- Martyrs, The Ten Jewish Encyclopedia: "The fourth martyr was Hananiah ben Teradion, who was wrapped in a scroll of the Law and placed on a pyre of green brushwood; to prolong his agony wet wool was placed on his chest."
- 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 Iudaea 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."
- Avraham Yaari, Igrot Eretz Yisrael (Tel Aviv, 1943), p. 46.
- Wikisource: "Epistle to Yemen"
- The military and militarism in Israeli society by Edna Lomsky-Feder, Eyal Ben-Ari]." Retrieved on September 3, 2010
- Yohannan Aharoni & Michael Avi-Yonah, The MacMillan Bible Atlas, Revised Edition, pp. 164–65 (1968 & 1977 by Carta Ltd.)
- The Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters (Judean Desert studies). Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1963–2002.
- 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
- Aharon Oppenheimer, 'The Ban of Circumcision as a Cause of the Revolt: A Reconsideration', in Bar Kokhba reconsidered, Peter Schäfer (editor), Tübingen: Mohr: 2003
- Faulkner, Neil. Apocalypse: The Great Jewish Revolt Against Rome. Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK: Tempus Publishing, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 0-7524-2573-0).
- Goodman, Martin. The Ruling Class of Judaea: The Origins of the Jewish Revolt against Rome, A.D. 66–70. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987 (hardcover, ISBN 0-521-33401-2); 1993 (paperback, ISBN 0-521-44782-8).
- 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
- David Ussishkin: "Archaeological Soundings at Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold", in: Tel Aviv. Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 20 (1993) 66ff.
- Yadin, Yigael. Bar-Kokhba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Second Jewish Revolt Against Rome. New York: Random House, 1971 (hardcover, ISBN 0-394-47184-9); London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1971 (hardcover, ISBN 0-297-00345-3).
- Mildenberg, Leo. The Coinage of the Bar Kokhba War. Switzerland: Schweizerische Numismatische Gesellschaft, Zurich, 1984 (hardcover, ISBN 3-7941-2634-3).
- Photographs from Yadin's book Bar Kokhba
- David Pileggi, "The Bar Kochva letters": discovery of the papyri
- Archaeologists find tunnels from Jewish revolt against Romans by the Associated Press. Haaretz March 14, 2006
- Bar Kokba and Bar Kokba War Jewish Encyclopedia
- Bar Kochba with links to all sources
- "Should we continue to educate young Israelis to emulate Bar Kokhba?" 1983 article (in Hebrew)