Bar-Kochba revolt

For other uses, see Bar Kokhba (disambiguation).
Bar Kokhba revolt
Part of Jewish-Roman wars

An entrance into an excavated cave, used by Bar Kokhba's rebels
Date 132 – 136 (traditionally Tisha B'Av of 135);
Location Judaea Province
Result Decisive Roman Empire victory:
  • Roman troops annihilate Judean population
  • Suppression of Jewish religious and political authority by Hadrian
  • Judaea renamed to Syria Palaestina
Territorial
changes
Judaea renamed and merged into the Syria Palaestina province.
Belligerents
Roman Empire Judea under Bar Kokhba
Commanders and leaders
Q. Lollius Urbicus Simon bar Kokhba
Eleazar of Modi'in
Akiva ben Joseph
Yeshua ben Galgula
Yonatan ben Baiin
Masbelah ben Shimon
Elazar ben Khita
Yehuda bar Menashe
Shimon ben Matanya
Strength
Legio X Fretensis
Legio VI Ferrata
Legio III Gallica
Legio III Cyrenaica
Legio XXII Deiotariana
Legio X Gemina
Total forces from 12 legions:
60,000–120,000
200,000-400,000b Jewish militiamen
Casualties and losses
Massive casualties:
Legio XXII Deiotariana destroyeda
Legio IX Hispana possibly destroyed[1]
200,000-400,000 killed
Total: 580,000 Jews killed, 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed;a
massive Roman military casualties
a
[a] - per Cassius Dio[2]
[b] - according to Rabbinic sources

The Bar Kokhba revolt (132–136 CE),[3] 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, though 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.[4]

The revolt erupted as a result of religious and political tensions in Judaea province. Simon bar Kokhba, the commander of the revolt, was acclaimed as a 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.[5]

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.[6] 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,[7] 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).

Background

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. The tensions continued to build up in the consequence of the Kitos War, the second large-scale Jewish insurrection in the Eastern Mediterranean, the final stages of which were fought in Judaea.

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.[8]

Multiple reasons have been offered for the beginning of the Bar Kokhba revolt. One interpretation is that in 130 CE, Emperor Hadrian visited 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 his intentions were to build a temple dedicated to Jupiter upon the ruins of the Second Temple.[9] A rabbinic version of this story claims that Hadrian was planning on rebuilding the Temple, but a malevolent Samaritan convinced him not to.

An additional legion, the VI Ferrata, was stationed in the province to maintain order, and the works commenced in 131 CE after the governor of Judaea, Tineius Rufus, performed the foundation ceremony of Aelia Capitolina, the city’s projected new name. "Ploughing up the Temple" was a religious offence that turned many Jews against the Roman authorities. The tensions grew higher when Hadrian abolished circumcision (brit milah), which he, a Hellenist, viewed as mutilation.[10] Subsequently, it is known that a Roman coin inscribed Aelia Capitolina was issued in 132, right with the revolt beginnings.

Chronology

Revolt begins

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"[11]

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.

"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).

Roman reaction

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.[12][13] In addition, some historians argue that Legio IX Hispana disbandment in the mid-2nd century could also have been a result of this war.[1]

After losing much 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".[14] The Talmud also relates that for seventeen years the Romans did not allow the Jews to bury their dead in Betar.

Annihilation

According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews were killed, and 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed.[2][15] 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.'"[9]

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.[16]

Aftermath

Immediate consequences

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.[17][18][19] 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.[20]

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.[6] The massive destruction and loss of life occasioned by the revolt has led some scholars 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.[6] 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.


Constantine I allowed Jews to mourn their defeat and humiliation once a year on Tisha B'Av at the Western Wall.

In 351–352 CE, the Jews of Galilee launched yet another revolt, provoking once again heavy retribution.

Under the Byzantines

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!"[21]

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.

Legacy

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.[22]

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.[23]

Sources

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 Kochba and his followers, has added much new primary source data.

See also

References

Further reading

  • 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.
  • 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).

External links

  • The Jewish History Resource Center Project of the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish History, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • David Pileggi, "The Bar Kochva letters": discovery of the papyri
  • 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)
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