Simon bar Kokhba

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Simon bar Kokhba
שִׁמְעוֹן בַּר כּוֹכְבָא
Prince of Israel
Watercolour and gouache impression of Bar Kokhba by Polish-Jewish artist Arthur Szyk (1927)
BornSimon ben Koseba (שִׁמְעוֹן בַּר כֹסֵבָא)[2]
Betar, Judea, Roman Empire
OccupationMilitary leader

Simon bar Kokhba (Hebrew: שִׁמְעוֹן בַּר כּוֹכְבָא Šīmʾōn bar Kōḵḇāʾ‎) or Simon ben Koseba (שִׁמְעוֹן בַּר כֹסֵבָא Šīmʾōn bar Ḵōsēḇaʾ‎), commonly referred to simply as Bar Kokhba,[a] was a Jewish military leader in Judea. He is the namesake of the Bar Kokhba revolt, which he initiated against the Roman Empire in 132 CE. Though they were ultimately unsuccessful, Bar Kokhba and his rebels did manage to establish and maintain a Jewish state for about three years after beginning the rebellion. Bar Kokhba served as the state's leader, crowning himself as nasi (lit.'prince').[3] Some of the rabbinic scholars in his time imagined him to be the long-expected Messiah of Judaism. In 135, Bar Kokhba was killed by Roman troops in the fortified town of Betar. The Judean rebels who remained after his death were all killed or enslaved within the next year, and their defeat was followed by a harsh crackdown on the Judean populace by the Roman emperor Hadrian.


Documented name[edit]

Documents discovered in the 20th century in the Cave of Letters give his original name, with variations: Simeon bar Kosevah (שמעון בר כוסבה‎), Bar Kosevaʾ‎ (בר כוסבא‎) or Ben Kosevaʾ‎ (בן כוסבא‎‎).[4] It is probable that his original name was Bar Koseba.[5] The name may indicate that his father or his place of origin was named Koseva(h), with Khirbet Kuwayzibah being a likely nominee for identification;[6][7][8] Others, namely Emil Schürer, think the surname may have been an indication of his place of birth, in the village known as Chozeba (maybe Chezib)[9] but might as well be a general family name.[5]


During the revolt, the Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva regarded Simon as the Jewish messiah; the Talmud records his statement that the Star Prophecy verse from Numbers 24:17:[10] "There shall come a star out of Jacob,"[11] referred to him, based on identification of the Hebrew word for star, kokhav, and his name, bar Kozeva. The name Bar Kokhba, which references this statement of Akiva, does not appear in the Talmud, but only in ecclesiastical sources, until the 16th century.[12] The Jerusalem Talmud (Taanit 4:5) mentions him by the name of Bar Kozeva.

Revolt leader[edit]

Simon bar Kokhba on the Knesset Menorah
Bar Kokhba silver Shekel/tetradrachm. Obverse: the Jewish Temple facade with the rising star, surrounded by "Shimon". Reverse: a lulav and etrog, the text reads: "to the freedom of Jerusalem"
Bar Kokhba silver Zuz/denarius. Obverse: trumpets surrounded by "To the freedom of Jerusalem". Reverse: a kinnor[13] 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.[14] Based on the delineation of years in Eusebius' Chronicon (whose Latin translation is known as the Chronicle of Jerome) the Jewish revolt began under the Roman governor Tineius (Tynius) Rufus in the 16th year of Hadrian's reign, or what was equivalent to the 4th year of the 227th Olympiad. Hadrian sent an army to crush the resistance, but it faced a strong opponent, since Bar Kokhba, as the recognised leader of Israel, punished any Jew who refused to join his ranks.[15] Two and a half years later, after the war had ended, the Roman emperor Hadrian barred Jews from entering Ælia Capitolina, the pagan city he had built on the ruins of Jewish Jerusalem. The name Aelia was derived from one of the emperor's names, Aelius.[16] According to Philostorgius, this was done so that its former Jewish inhabitants "might not find in the name of the city a pretext for claiming it as their country."[16]


For many Jews of the time, this turn of events was heralded as the long hoped for Messianic Age. The Romans fared very poorly during the initial revolt facing a unified Jewish force, in contrast to the First Jewish–Roman War, where 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.[citation needed] Being outnumbered and taking heavy casualties, the Romans adopted a scorched earth policy which reduced and demoralised the Judean populace, slowly grinding away at the will of the Judeans to sustain the war.[citation needed]

During the final phase of the war, Bar Kokhba took up refuge in the fortress of Betar.[citation needed] The Romans eventually captured it after laying siege to the city.[citation needed]

The Jerusalem Talmud makes several claims considered as non-historical by modern scholarship. One such claim is that the duration of the siege was of three and half years, although the war itself lasted, according to the same author, two and half years.[b] Another part of the Talmudic narrative is that the Romans killed all the defenders except for one Jewish youth, Simeon ben Gamliel II, whose life was spared.[18] 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 the number of those who perished by famine, disease and fire was beyond finding out.[19]

Outcome and aftermath[edit]

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 healthy, it is well; I and the legions are healthy."[20][21]

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.[22][23][24]

Archaeological findings[edit]

In the late 20th and 21st century, 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.[25][26] These letters can now be seen at the Israel Museum.[27]

Ideology and language[edit]

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."


"From Shimʻon ben Cosibah to Yeshuʻa ben Galgulah and to the men of the Gader, Peace. I call heaven to my witness that I am fed-up with the Galileans that be with you, every man! [And] that I am resolved to put fetters on your feet, just as I did to Ben ʻAflul."

(Original Hebrew)

משמעון בן כוסבה לישע בן ג[ל]גלה ולאנשי הכרך[c] שלו[ם]. מעיד אני עלי ת שמים יפס[ד][d] מן הגללאים שהצלכם[e] כל אדם שאני נתן תכבלים[f] ברגלכם כמה שעסת[י] לבן עפלול [ש]מעון ב[ן][g]

––Murabba'at 43 Papyrus[28]


Simon bar Kokhba is portrayed in rabbinic literature as being somewhat irrational and irascible in conduct. The Talmud[29] 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 would 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!"[29] It is also said of him that he killed his maternal uncle, Rabbi Elazar Hamudaʻi, after suspecting him of collaborating with the enemy, thereby forfeiting Divine protection, which led to the destruction of Betar in which Bar Kokhba himself also perished.[29]

Hadrian is thought to have personally supervised the closing military operations in the siege against Betar. When the Roman army eventually took the city, soldiers carried Bar Kokhba's severed head to Hadrian, and when Hadrian asked who it was that killed him, a Samaritan replied that he had killed him. When Hadrian requested that they bring the severed head (Latin: protome) of the slain victim close to him that he might see it, Hadrian observed that a serpent was wrapped around the head. Hadrian then replied: "Had it not been for God who killed him, who would have been able to kill him!?"[30]


Bar Kokhba was a ruthless leader, punishing any Jew who refused to join his ranks. According to Eusebius' Chronicon, he severely punished the sect of Christians with death by different means of torture for their refusal to fight against the Romans.[15]

In popular culture[edit]

Stamp of Israel dedicated to Simon bar Kokhba, 1961
Bronze statue of Simon bar Kokhba sculpted in 1905 by Enrico Glicenstein. Currently in Eretz Israel Museum

Since the end of the nineteenth century, Bar-Kochba has been the subject of numerous works of art (dramas, operas, novels, etc.),[31] 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.

The Bar Kokhba game[edit]

According to a legend, during his reign, Bar Kokhba was once presented a mutilated man, who had his tongue ripped out and hands cut off. Unable to talk or write, the victim was incapable of telling who his attackers were. Thus, Bar Kokhba decided to ask simple questions to which the dying man was able to nod or shake his head with his last movements; the murderers were consequently apprehended.

In Hungary, this legend spawned the "Bar Kokhba game", in which one of two players comes up with a word or object, while the other must figure it out by asking questions only to be answered with "yes" or "no". The questioner usually asks first if it is a living being, if not, if it is an object, if not, it is surely an abstraction. The verb kibarkochbázni ("to Bar Kochba out") became a common language verb meaning "retrieving information in an extremely tedious way".[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Starting in the 16th century, based on Akiva's homily in y. Taanit 4:5 that "A כוכב star set out from Jacob (Num. 24:17) -- ben כוזבא Kosiba set out from Jacob".
  2. ^ 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.[17]
  3. ^ Milik read: הב]רך]; Tzeitlin read: חבריך
  4. ^ Milik: יפס?; Tzeitlin: [ופס[ק
  5. ^ Tzeitlin: שהצלת
  6. ^ Milik: ת כבלים
  7. ^ Milik: ב[ן כוסבה] על [נפשה]


  1. ^ "Simeon Bar Kochba". Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  2. ^ Derman, Ushi (3 May 2018). "Who's A Real Hero? An Historic Glimpse on Simon Bar Kokhba". Beit HaTfutsot. Retrieved 14 May 2019.
  3. ^ KANAEL, B. (1971). "Notes on the Dates Used During The Bar Kokhba Revolt". Israel Exploration Journal. 21 (1): 39–46. ISSN 0021-2059. JSTOR 27925250.; BOURGEL, J. (2023). "Ezekiel 40–48 as a Model for Bar Kokhba's Title "Nasi Israel"?". Journal of Ancient Judaism. 1 (aop): 1–36.;
  4. ^ Skolnik, Fred; Berenbaum, Michael, eds. (2007). Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 3. Thomson Gale. pp. 156–7. ISBN 9780028660974.
  5. ^ a b "Bar Kokhba: The Man and the Leader". Encyclopaedia Judaica. Thomson Gale. Retrieved 23 January 2017.
  6. ^ Aharon Oppenheimer (1997). "Leadership and Messianism in the Time of the Mishnah". In Henning Graf Reventlow (ed.). Eschatology in the Bible and in Jewish and Christian Tradition. A&C Black. p. 162. ISBN 978-1-85075-664-4.
  7. ^ Conder, Claude R. (1887). Tent Work in Palestine: A Record of Discovery and Adventure (1887 ed.). R. Bentley & Son. p. 143.
  8. ^ Tamén, Conder, Claude R. (1887). Tent Work in Palestine: A Record of Discovery and Adventure (1887 ed.). R. Bentley & Son. p. 143.
  9. ^ Schürer, E. (1891). Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi [A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ]. Geschichte de jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi.English. Vol. 1. Translated by Miss Taylor. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 298 (note 84).
  10. ^ Numbers 24:17
  11. ^ Akiba ben Joseph article in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) by Louis Ginzberg
  12. ^ Krauss, S. (1906). "BAR KOKBA AND BAR KOKBA WAR". In Singer, Isidore (ed.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 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...
  13. ^ general editor, Geoffrey W. Bromiley; associate editors, Everett F. Harrison, Roland K. Harrison, William Sanford (2009). The International standard Bible encyclopedia ([Fully rev.]. ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans. p. 440. ISBN 978-0-8028-3785-1.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ a b [1] Chronicle of Jerome, s.v. Hadrian. See also Yigael Yadin, Bar-Kokhba, Random House New York 1971, p. 258.
  16. ^ a b Sozomen; Philostorgius (1855). The Ecclesiastical History of Sozomen and The Ecclesiastical History of Philostorgius. Translated by Edward Walford. London: Henry G. Bohn. p. 481 (epitome of book VII, chapter 11). OCLC 224145372.
  17. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a) and Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5).
  18. ^ Jerusalem Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a–b)
  19. ^ Dio's Roman History, Epitome of Book LXIX, 14:1-2; pp. 447-451 in Loeb Classical Series.
  20. ^ In greek: ‘εἰ αὐτοί τε καὶ οἱ παῖδες ὑμῶν ὑγιαίνετε, εὖ ἂν ἔχοι: ἐγὼ καὶ τὰ στρατεύματα ὑγιαίνομεν
  21. ^ Cassius Dio: Roman History 69.14:3; The Archaeology of the New Testament, E.M. Blaiklock, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, p. 186
  22. ^ "When Palestine Meant Israel, David Jacobson, BAR 27:03, May/Jun 2001". Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 7 August 2011.
  23. ^ 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. Archived from the original on 12 October 2008. Retrieved 6 July 2008.
  24. ^ 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.
  25. ^ "Diggers". Time. 5 May 1961. Archived from the original on 20 December 2008. Retrieved 20 August 2009. 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.
  26. ^ Shimeon bar Kosiba. "Texts on Bar Kochba: Bar Kochba's letters". Livius. Retrieved 7 August 2011.
  27. ^ "Bar Kokhba". Israel Museum: Jerusalem. Archived from the original on 6 October 2011. Retrieved 7 August 2011.
  28. ^ Yardeni, ʻAda (2000). Textbook of Aramaic, Hebrew and Nabataean Documentary Texts from the Judaean Desert and related material (in Hebrew). Jerusalem: Hebrew University of Jerusalem on behalf of the Ben-Ṣiyyon Dinur Center for the Study of Jewish History. pp. 155–159. OCLC 610669723.; P. Benoit, J.T Milik and R de Vaux, "Les grottes de Murabba'at" - Discoveries in the Judaean Desert (DJD) II, Oxford: Clarendon, 1961, pp. 243-254.
  29. ^ a b c Jerusalem Talmud, Ta'anit 4:5 (24b); same episode repeated in Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabbah 2:5)
  30. ^ Jerusalem Talmud (Ta'anit 4:5 [24b])
  31. ^ G. Boccaccini, Portraits of Middle Judaism in Scholarship and Arts (Turin: Zamorani, 1992).
  32. ^ Estraikh, Gennady (2007). "Shmuel Halkin". Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd ed. Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved via Biography in Context database, 2016-12-16.
  33. ^ (in Hungarian) kibarkochbázni


  • Eck, W. 'The Bar Kokhba Revolt: the Roman point of view' in the Journal of Roman Studies 89 (1999) 76ff.
  • Goodblatt, David; Pinnick, Avital; Schwartz Daniel: 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
  • Marks, Richard: 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
  • Reznick, Leibel: The Mystery of Bar Kokhba: Northvale: J.Aronson: 1996: ISBN 1-56821-502-9
  • Schafer, Peter: The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered: Tübingen: Mohr: 2003: ISBN 3-16-148076-7
  • Ussishkin, David: "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 Last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome: London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson: 1971: ISBN 0-297-00345-3

Further reading[edit]

  • Abramsky, Samuel; Gibson, Shimon (2007). "Bar Kokhba". In Berenbaum, Michael; Skolnik, Fred (eds.). Encyclopaedia Judaica. Vol. 3 (2 ed.). Thomson Gale. pp. 156–162. ISBN 978-0-02-865931-2.

External links[edit]