Simon bar Kokhba

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The hill where Yodfat fortress stood during the Bar Kokba insurrection period

Simon bar Kokhba (Hebrew: שמעון בר כוכבא‎) (died 135 CE) was the Jewish leader of what is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE, establishing an independent Jewish state which he ruled for three years as Nasi ("Prince"). His state was conquered by the Romans in 135 following a two and half-year war.[1]

Documents discovered in the modern era give us his original name, Simon ben Kosiba (Hebrew: שמעון בן כוסבא‎).[2] He was given the surname Bar Kokhba (Aramaic for "Son of a Star", referring to the Star Prophecy of Numbers 24:17, "there shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite through the corners of Moab") by his contemporary, the Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva.

After the failure of the revolt, the rabbinical writers changed Bar Kokhba's epithet to "Simon bar Koziba" (Hebrew: בר כוזיבא‎), meaning, "the son of disappointment".

Bar Kokhba revolt[edit]

Bar Kokhba silver Shekel/tetradrachm. Obverse: the Jewish Temple facade with the rising star, surrounded by "Shimon". Reverse: A lulav, the text reads: "to the freedom of Jerusalem"
Bar Kokhba silver Zuz/denarius. Obverse: trumpets surrounded by "To the freedom of Jerusalem". Reverse: A lyre surrounded by "Year two to the freedom of Israel"

Despite the devastation wrought by the Romans during the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE), which left the population and countryside in ruins, a series of laws passed by Roman Emperors provided the incentive for the second rebellion.[3] Based on the delineation of years in Eusebius' Chronicon (now Chronicle of Jerome), it was only in the 16th year of Hadrian's reign, or what was equivalent to the 4th year of the 227th Olympiad, that the Jewish revolt began, under the Roman governor Tineius (Tynius) Rufus, whereas Hadrian sent an army to crush the resistance. Bar Kokhba, the leader of this resistance at the time, punished any Jew who refused to join his ranks.[4] Two and a half years later, the war had ended. The Roman Emperor Hadrian at this time barred Jews from entering Jerusalem; a new Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, was to be built in its place.

The second Jewish rebellion took place 60 years after the first and established an independent state lasting three years. For many Jews of the time, this turn of events was heralded as the long hoped for Messianic Age. The excitement was short-lived, however, and after a brief span of glory, the revolt was crushed by the Roman legions.

The Romans fared very poorly during the initial revolt facing a unified Jewish force, in contrast to First Jewish-Roman War, during which Flavius Josephus records three separate Jewish armies fighting each other for control of the Temple Mount during the three weeks after the Romans had breached Jerusalem's walls and were fighting their way to the center. Being outnumbered and taking heavy casualties, the Romans adopted a scorched earth policy which reduced and demoralized the Judean populace, slowly grinding away at the will of the Judeans to sustain the war.

Bar Kokhba took up refuge in the fortress of Betar. The Romans eventually captured it after laying siege to the city for three and a half years, and they killed all the defenders except for one Jewish youth whose life was spared, viz. Simeon ben Gamliel.[5] Rabbi Yohanan has related the following account of the massacre:[6] “The brains of three-hundred children were found upon one stone, along with three-hundred baskets of what remained of phylacteries (Hebrew: tefillin‎) were found in Betar, each and every one of which had the capacity to hold three measures (Hebrew: three seahs, or what is equivalent to about 28 liters‎). If you should come to take [all of them] into account, you would find that they amounted to three-hundred measures.” Rabban [Shimon] Gamliel said: “Five-hundred schools were in Betar, while the smallest of them wasn’t less than three-hundred children. They used to say, ‘If the enemy should ever come upon us, with these metal pointers [used in pointing at the letters of sacred writ] we’ll go forth and stab them.’ But since iniquities had caused [their fall], the enemy came in and wrapped up each and every child in his own book and burnt them together, and no one remained except me.” According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews were killed in overall war operations across the country, and some 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed to the ground, while those who perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out.[7] So costly was the Roman victory that the Emperor Hadrian, when reporting to the Roman Senate, did not see fit to begin with the customary greeting "If you and your children are well, all is well. For I and the army are all in good health."[8]

In the aftermath of the war, Hadrian consolidated the older political units of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria into the new province of Syria Palaestina, which is commonly interpreted as an attempt to complete the disassociation with Judaea.[9][10][11]

Over the past few decades, new information about the revolt has come to light, from the discovery of several collections of letters, some possibly by Bar Kokhba himself, in the Cave of Letters overlooking the Dead Sea.[12][13] These letters can now be seen at the Israel Museum.[14]

According to Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, Bar Kokhba tried to revive Hebrew and make Hebrew the official language of the Jews as part of his messianic ideology. In A Roadmap to the Heavens: An Anthropological Study of Hegemony among Priests, Sages, and Laymen (Judaism and Jewish Life) by Sigalit Ben-Zion (Page 155), Yadin remarked: "it seems that this change came as a result of the order that was given by Bar Kokhba, who wanted to revive the Hebrew language and make it the official language of the state."

Bar Kokhba's character[edit]

Simon bar Kokhba is portrayed in rabbinic literature as being somewhat irrational and irascible in conduct. The Talmud[15] says that he presided over an army of Jewish insurgents numbering some 200,000, but had compelled its young recruits to prove their valor by each man chopping off one of his own fingers. The Sages of Israel complained to him why he marred the people of Israel with such blemishes. Whenever he'd go forth into battle, he was reported as saying: "O Master of the universe, there is no need for you to assist us [against our enemies], but do not embarrass us either!"[16] It is also said of him that he killed his maternal uncle, Rabbi Eleazar Hamūdaʻī, after suspecting him of collaborating with the enemy.[17] Bar Kokhba was a ruthless leader, punishing any Jew who refused to join his ranks. According to Eusebius' Chronicon (now Chronicle of Jerome), he severely punished the sect of Christians with death by different means of torture for their refusal to fight against the Romans.[4]

In popular culture[edit]

Since the end of the nineteenth century, Bar-Kochba has been the subject of numerous works of art (dramas, operas, novels, etc.),[18] including:

Another operetta on the subject of Bar Kokhba was written by the Russian-Jewish emigre composer Yaacov Bilansky Levanon in Palestine in the 1920s.

John Zorn's Masada Chamber Ensemble recorded an album called Bar Kokhba, showing a photograph of the Letter of Bar Kokhba to Yeshua, son of Galgola on the cover.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ The 2nd century chronicler, Rabbi Yose b. Halpetha (Halafta), says in his work, Seder Olam, chapter 30, that the wars waged by Ben Koziba (i.e. Bar Kokhba) lasted two and half years, although the siege on the Jewish stronghold, Betar, is said to have lasted three and a half years. See: Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a) and Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5).
  2. ^ Signatures on documents found in 1951 and later in caves near the Dead Sea indicate that Bar Kokhba's true surname was ben Kosba, the "son of Kosba" or the "man from Kosba".
  3. ^ Historia Augusta, Hadrian 14.2, where the Caesar forbade Jews to circumcise their infants. See also Babylonian Talmud (Avodah Zarah 8b and Sanhedrin 14a) where the Roman authority forbade Jews from appointing Jewish judges to adjudicate in cases of indemnities and fines.
  4. ^ a b [1] Chronicle of Jerome, s.v. Hadrian. See also Yigael Yadin, Bar-Kokhba, Random House New York 1971, p. 258.
  5. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a-b)
  6. ^ Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5)
  7. ^ Dio's Roman History, Epitome of Book LXIX, 14:1-2; pp. 447-451 in Loeb Classical Series.
  8. ^ The Archaeology of the New Testament, E.M. Blaiklock, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, p. 186
  9. ^ "When Palestine Meant Israel, David Jacobson, BAR 27:03, May/Jun 2001". Cojs.org. Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  10. ^ Lehmann, Clayton Miles (Summer 1998). "Palestine: History: 135–337: Syria Palaestina and the Tetrarchy". The On-line Encyclopedia of the Roman Provinces. University of South Dakota. Retrieved 2008-07-06. 
  11. ^ Sharon, 1998, p. 4. According to Moshe Sharon: "Eager to obliterate the name of the rebellious Judaea", the Roman authorities renamed it Palaestina or Syria Palaestina.
  12. ^ "Diggers". Time (magazine). May 5, 1961. Retrieved 2009-08-20. "The Bar Kochba explorers—160 soldiers, students and kibbutz volunteers—had been led to the desert badlands just west of the Dead Sea by Archaeologist and former General Yigael Yadin. They found a treasure their first day at the diggings. In the same bat-infested, three-chambered Cave of Letters where he had discovered the rebel chieftain's papyri orders just a year ago. Archaeologist Yadin found some 60 more documents in a goatskin and a leather bag." 
  13. ^ Shimeon bar Kosiba. "Texts on Bar Kochba: Bar Kochba's letters". Livius.org. Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  14. ^ "Bar Kokhba". Israel Museum: Jerusalem. Retrieved 2011-08-07. 
  15. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24b); same episode repeated in Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5)
  16. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24b); same episode repeated in Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5)
  17. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24b); same episode repeated in Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5)
  18. ^ G. Boccaccini, Portraits of Middle Judaism in Scholarship and Arts (Turin: Zamorani, 1992).

Bibliography[edit]

  • W. Eck, 'The Bar Kokhba Revolt: the Roman point of view' in the Journal of Roman Studies 89 (1999) 76ff.
  • David Goodblatt, Avital Pinnick and Daniel Schwartz: Historical Perspectives: From the Hasmoneans to the Bar Kohkba Revolt In Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Boston: Brill: 2001: ISBN 90-04-12007-6
  • 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
  • Leibel Reznick: The Mystery of Bar Kokhba: Northvale: J.Aronson: 1996: ISBN 1-56821-502-9
  • Peter Schafer: The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered: Tübingen: Mohr: 2003: ISBN 3-16-148076-7
  • 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.
  • Yigael Yadin: Bar Kokhba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome: London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson: 1971: ISBN 0-297-00345-3

External links[edit]