Bar Kokhba, Simon (Bar Cocheba)

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The political leader of the second Jewish revolt against Rome (a.d. 13235). From autograph letters written by him to various officers under his command and found in 1951, 1960, and 1961 in caves of the wadies Murabbaāt, Seiyâl, and abra in Jordan and Israel (see dead sea scrolls), it is certain that his name was Simon ben Kosibah (šmwn bn kwsbh, attested in a Greek letter as Σιμων Χωσιβα). In rabbinical writings (e.g., Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin, 11.1, 2, folio 93b) his name is given as bar (or ben ) Koziba, "son of the lie." This form is probably the result of a wordplay on his name (Hebrew kzb, "to lie"), which originated with the Jews who either did not approve of his uprising or ironically reflected later on its ill-fated outcome. Rabbi akiba ben joseph, who approved of the revolt, regarded him as a messiah (Jerusalem Talmud, Taanith 4.68d) and applied to him the oracle of Balaam, "A star shall advance from Jacob" (Numbers 24.17). He was thus responsible for another wordplay on Simon's name, in which the patronymic ben Kosibah was changed to the Aramaic bar Kokhba, "the son of the star" (Aramaic kôk ebâ, "star"). This name, which has clung to him in history, is found in a few Jewish writings. It is the only form used by Christian writers (Justin, Apol. 1.31; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.6.2).

Outbreak of the Revolt. Along with Rabbi Akiba, the intellectual leader of the time, and Eleazar the Priest, the spiritual leader, Bar Kokhba was the political and military commander of the Palestinian Jews in their second revolt against Rome. Coins minted during the first year of his uprising bear the title, "Simon, Prince of Israel" (šmwn nśy yśr'l ), and the Murabbaāt documents preserve the fuller form, "Simon ben Kosibah, Prince of Israel" [šmwn bn kwsb' nsy' yśr'l (Mur. 24 B 23)]. The coins and the documents reveal that the revolt was dedicated to the "liberation of Jerusalem" and the "redemption of Israel."

The causes of the revolt are not certain. Dio Cassius (Roman History 69.12.12) states that it was due to Hadrian's attempt to build a Greco-Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) on the site of Jerusalem and to erect a shrine to Jupiter on the ruins of the Temple of Yahweh. This is usually recognized as a major factor. The Vita Hadriani (14.2) cites another cause, relating the revolt to an imperial edict forbidding circumcision (quod vetabantur mutilare genitalia ). Hadrian, who renewed a former prohibition of castration, so understood it as to include circumcision. It was not directed against the Jews in particular, for a later decree of Antoninus Pius (a.d. 138) specifically permitted them to circumcise their children, while still forbidding circumcision to others. Both causes would have vexed the Jews and probably contributed to their revolt.

The Murabbaāt contracts preserve a synchronism that shows that the era of the "redemption of Israel" coincided with a cycle of sabbath years (Mur. 24 B 110, E 110). From this synchronism the official date for the beginning of the era is calculated as 1 Tishri (October) a.d. 132. Another document (Mur. 30.8) is dated "21 Tishri, year 4," showing that the revolt at least began its fourth year (end of a.d. 135).

Bar Kokhba's Activity. Besides acting as a military leader, Bar Kokhba administered the land politically from his headquarters, probably in Jerusalem. He preserved the elaborate administrative machinery and division of Judea into toparchies that the Romans had set up. After liberating Jerusalem, he never met the Romans in open field battles, but he conducted a guerrilla-type warfare from many villages and outposts throughout the land. Chief among these were Herodium, Teqoa', 'Engedi, Mead asidin (Khirbet Qumran?), Beth-Ter. His local deputies rented out in his name farm lands in the fertile foothills and in southern Judea to lessees who were obliged to pay an annual rent in kind to the "treasury of the Prince of Israel at Herodium" (Mur. 24 D 1718), that is, government granaries. His letters reveal his administrative concern for the observance of the sabbath, the celebration of the Feast of booths (Tabernacles), the treatment of Galileans who had come to take part in the revolt, the arrest of certain individuals, and the seizure of the property of others.

At the beginning of the revolt, the Roman governor of Judea, Tineius Rufus, although in command of Roman garrisons resident in the province (Legio X Fretensis, Legio VI Ferrata ), was helpless. The governor of Syria, Publicius Marcellus, came to his aid with further troops. Finally, Hadrian had to send his best general, Sextus Julius Severus, recalling him from Britain. He eventually put down the revolt after a slow process of starving out the Jews who had taken refuge in various strongholds and caves in the desert. Caves in the wadies Murabbaāt, Seiyâl, and Habra were used by whole families, who fled there with a few household belongings, biblical scrolls, and family archives. The officers from En-gedi fled to the Wadi abra cave, taking with them the letters of their commander-in-chief. The Romans set up camps in strategic positions around the caves to keep watch on them, lest the rebels escape.

End of the Revolt. After Jerusalem was once again taken by the Romans, Bar Kokhba withdrew and made his last stand at Beth-Ter (near modern Bittîr, about six miles west southwest of Jerusalem). The war reached its height there in Hadrian's 18th regnal year (a.d. 13435). "The siege lasted a long time before the rebels were driven to final destruction by famine and thirst, and the instigator of their madness paid the penalty he deserved" (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 4.6.3). Subsequently Hadrian razed Jerusalem again to build Aelia Capitolina and decreed "that the whole [Jewish] nation should be absolutely prevented from that time on from entering even the district around Jerusalem, so that not even from a distance could it see its ancestral home" (ibid.). Ancient Christian writers were normally not sympathetic to Bar Kokhba, accusing him of persecuting and torturing the Christians who would not join his uprising (Justin, Apol. 1.31; Eusebius, Chronicon 283; Die griechischen christlichen Schrift steller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte 47.201).

Bibliography: e. schÜrer, A History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 b.c.a.d. 135), 3 vols., rev. g. vermes and f. millar (Edinburgh 19731987), 1.514-557. p. benoit et al., Les Grottes de Murabbaât (Discoveries in the Judaean Desert 2;1961). j. a. fitzmyer, "The Bar Cochba Period," Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, (London 1971; repr. Grand Rapids, Mich. 1997) 305354. b. isaac and a. oppenheimer, "The Revolt of Bar Kokhba: Ideology and Modern Scholarship," Journal of Jewish Studies 36 (1985) 33760. p. schÄfer, Der Bar Kokhba-Aufstand (Texte und Studien zum antiken Judentum 1; Tübingen 1981). y. yadin, The Finds from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters (Jerusalem 1963). n. lewis et al., The Documents from the Bar Kokhba Period in the Cave of Letters (Jerusalem 1989). a. oppenheimer, "Bar Kokhba, Shimon," Encyclopedia of the Dead Sea Scrolls (2 vols.; ed. l. h. schiffman and j. c. vanderkam; Oxford 2000), 1.78-83.

[j. a. fitzmyer]