Bar Kochba - (Aramaic - "Son of a Star;' pronounced Bahr' Kokhbah'
) Leader of the Jewish revolt in 132 AD against the Roman empire, whose real name may have
been Shimon Bar Kosibah. The name Bar Kokhba, "Son of a Star," was given to him apparently in accordance with Num. 24:17
("A star shall go forth from Jacob"), taken to refer to the messiah. His story is one of glory and martyrdom, comparable to that of the Maccabees. Had the revolt
succeeded, there is no doubt that he would have been revered as a great Jewish national hero.
Since the destruction of the temple, and the end of the first Jewish revolt in 73 CE, the Jews
had attempted to accommodate themselves to Roman rule. However, bad government and attempts to curtail Jewish religious
practices let to several revolts, including one in 115-117, which was apparently part of a general rising of Jews that
occurred in several parts of the Roman Empire. Though that rebellion was put down, unrest continued and Hadrian, now
emperor in place of Trajan, appointed Tinneius Rufus as governor. Rufus ruled roughly apparently, indulging in sexual
and other abuses. Jewish guerilla forces were organized and came to be lead by "Bar Kochba" - apparently the pseudonym
of Simon Bar Kosiba. The precipitating factor in the revolt was probably the prohibition of ritual circumcision by
Hadrian (At this time, the Jews started a war because they were forbidden to mutilate their genitals. [Historia
Augusta, Hadrian 14.2] ") . Hadrian apparently had a homosexual relationship with a youth, Antinous, whom he adored.
Antinous was drowned when accompanying the emperor on a boating trip in the Nile, about 130. Hadrian deified him
and erected statues to him all over the Empire. He considered circumcision to be mutilation. He also began to build a temple to Jupiter Capitolinus. in place of
the Jewish temple.
Notwithstanding the hopelessness of their cause, the Jews continued to organize
guerilla forces and gather arms. They met in underground caverns, one of which can be seen in modern Beit Guvrin. These
formations either had natural ventilation, or were pierced by small holes at the top. When Hadrian left the area in 132,
the Jews revolted. Apparently the building of the pagan temple had caused the tomb of Solomon to collapse, and
this may have ignited the rebellion.
Bar Kokhba achieved considerable success at first. Rabbi Aqiva, the head of
the Yeshiva at Yavne, is said to have declared that the successful Jewish commander was the Messiah. Rabbi Gershom and rabbi Aha
and perhaps others agreed. Others remained skeptical. It is not at all clear that Bar Kokhba himself had any pretensions
to be the Messiah. His attitude to religion is shown by the saying attributed to him, that while he did not ask for the
help of God, he asked God to not stand in his way. His letters to subordinates and to potential allies survive. They
show a matter-of-fact commander who was engaged in the business of organization. If he thought he was a Messiah, he
wasn't telling anyone about it.
Bar Kochba Silver Shekel (or Denarius) -
The High Priest Elazar
The guerilla warfare won over the countryside, and perhaps the Jews controlled
Jerusalem and they may have appointed a high priest. Bar Kokhba issued coins stamped "Year 1 of the Freedom of Jerusalem"," Year 2 of the Freedom of Jerusalem,"
(also "Freedom of Israel) but in Year 3, the coins were stamped "for the Freedom of Jerusalem."
Hadrian transferred Julius Severus, governor of Britain, to deal with the revolt. He also sent Hadrianus
Quintus Lollius Urbicus, former governor of Germany. Three legions, parts of other legions (a legion consisted of
about 5,000 men plus foreign "auxiliaries" often in the same number, who provided horsemen and bowmen, plus slaves and
camp followers) and several auxiliaries were brought into the fight. The legions were VI Ferrata, X
Fretensis and XXII Deiotariana. XXII Deiotariana was apparently annihilated, caught in a valley, perhaps near Beit
Guvrin. It was replaced by
other reinforcements, including II Traiana Fortis. Eventually most of the guerilla forces were rounded up and made
a last stand in Betar, near Jerusalem where they were besieged. Bar Kochba and most of the remaining defenders died of
starvation some time in 136, traditionally on the 9th day of Av (August), a date that coincides with the destruction of
the temple. Fighting continued even after the surrender of Betar. The revolt was a significant military struggle for the
Romans. Hadrian, in writing to the Senate, omitted the usual greeting, "If you and your children are well, it is well; I
and the legions are well."
The Bar Kokhba revolt was crushed ferociously. Jewish sources report people burned
alive wrapped in Torah scrolls, and other tortured with "combs" Cassius Dio, writing a century later, reported that over
580,000 people were killed, possibly a gross exaggeration. Jews were forbidden to live in Jerusalem and large numbers of
Jews were certainly killed or deported and enslaved. Archeologists have found mass graves at several locations. The Romans systematically desecrated every Jewish and Christian
holy place in Jerusalem, erecting a pig, symbol of the Tenth legion, but an abomination to Jews, on the Temple mount.
The revolt, in the tradition of the Maccabees, was foredoomed. The Roman Empire was still near the zenith of its
power. Hadrian's reign was untroubled by the chaos, poor administration and mediocre generalship that is described so
well by Gibbon for later stages of the empire. A hundred years later, this revolt might have met with success.
From the discussion of Bar Kokhba in Talmudic literature, it is evident that he never had the support of all factions of
the religious establishment. From his letters, found near the Dead Sea in 1960, it seems probable that the revolt did not have unanimous support in
the Galilee or from Christians. From the mode of battle and the fact that the troops could meet in relatively small
underground caves, we can judge that numbers actually engaged in fighting revolt were probably small. It seems to have
been confined mostly to a relatively small area in Judea. In Gaul, Caesar's legions had been known to wipe out hosts ten
times as numerous as themselves in open battle. It is unlikely that this was the case in guerilla warfare.
The crushing of the revolt however, was not the end of the Jewish presence in Palestine by any means, nor the end of
Jewish willingness to fight for freedom. Hadrian died in 138 and Antoninus Pious restored the rights of the Jews in
large part, though these were apparently abridged again from the time of constantine. Jews continued to live in what was now called "Palestine" and to enjoy a degree of autonomy at times,
as under Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi. Jews were willing allies of the Sassanid Persians when they conquered Palestine briefly.
In a superstitious age, the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt was treated as an omen. Christian writers insisted that it was the
punishment of Jews by God for crucifixion of Jesus. Later, St Eusebius insisted that God would prevent the rebuilding of
Jerusalem by the Jews. Christians buttressed this doctrine with supposedly prodigies that occurred when the Jews
attempted to rebuild the temple under the Emperor Julian (called "the apostate").
However, the Jews were the harshest critics of Bar Kokhba. A perhaps dubious tradition claimed that Bar Kochba had
false Messianic pretensions, and insisted that the failure of Bar Kochba indicated the futility of Jewish self defense
in general. In support of this, his name or pseudonym was cited. It may be an allusion to a biblical phrase that
hints at the coming of the Messiah. Moreover, he called himself "Nasi." it was claimed that "Nasi" is a reference to the
Messiah, but in fact, "Nasi" is a title that was used to mean "head" - equivalent to "director." The head of a Yeshiva
was called "Nasi" and the head of the Jewish community in Palestine was called "Nasi." He could scarcely have called
himself anything else.
Below is the section of the History of Cassius Dio, written about 100 years later, concerning the revolt of Bar
Cassius Dio, Roman history 69.12.1-14.3
At Jerusalem, Hadrian founded a city in place of the one that had been razed to
the ground, naming it Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the temple of the god, he raised a new temple to Jupiter.
This brought on a war of no slight importance nor of brief duration, for the Jews deemed it intolerable that foreign
races should be settled in their city and foreign religious rites planted there. So long, indeed, as Hadrian was close
by in Egypt and again in Syria, they remained quiet, save in so far as they purposely made of poor quality such weapons
as they were called upon to furnish, in order that the Romans might reject them and they themselves might thus have the
use of them. But when Hadrian went farther away, they openly revolted.
Indeed, they did not dare try conclusions with the Romans in the open field, but
they occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, that they
might have places of refuge whenever they should be hard pressed, and might meet together unobserved under ground; and
they pierced these subterranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light.
At first, the Romans took no account of them. Soon, however, all Judea had been
stirred up, and the Jews everywhere were showing signs of disturbance, were gathering together, and giving evidence of
great hostility to the Romans, partly by secret acts and partly by overt acts. Many outside nations, too, were joining
them through eagerness for gain, and the whole earth, one might almost say, was being stirred up over the matter.
Then, indeed, Hadrian sent against them his best generals. First of these was
Julius Severus, who was dispatched from Britain, where he was governor, against the Jews. Severus did not venture to
attack his opponents in the open at any one point, in view of their numbers and their desperation, but by intercepting
small groups, thanks to the number of his soldiers and his under-officers. By depriving them of food and shutting them
up, he was able -rather slowly, to be sure, but with comparatively little danger- to crush, exhaust and exterminate
Very few of them in fact survived. Fifty of their most important outposts and nine
hundred and eighty-five of their most famous villages were razed to the ground. Five hundred and eighty thousand men
were slain in the various raids and battles, and the number of those that perished by famine, disease and fire was past
Thus nearly the whole of Judea was made desolate, a result of which the people had
had forewarning before the war. For the tomb of Solomon, which the Jews regard as an object of veneration, fell to
pieces of itself and collapsed, and many wolves and hyenas rushed howling into their cities.
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 legions are in health.
Synonyms and alternate spellings: Bar Kochba, Bar Kokhba, Bar Kosiba
Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:
'H - ('het) a guttural sound
made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that
have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch,
especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch"
in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against
the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has
a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
u - usually between oo as in spoon
and u as in put.
a- sounded like a in arm
ah- used to represent an a sound made by
the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative
'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic
ayin, a guttural ah sound.
o - close to the French o as in homme.
th - (taf without a dot) - Th was
formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there
is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and
Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
q- (quf) - In transliteration of
Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding
words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for
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