Simon bar Kokhba

Simon bar Kokhba

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Simon bar Kokhba was the Jewish leader of what is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire
Roman Empire
The Roman Empire was the post-Republican period of the ancient Roman civilization, characterised by an autocratic form of government and large territorial holdings in Europe and around the Mediterranean....

 in 132 CE
Common Era
Common Era ,abbreviated as CE, is an alternative designation for the calendar era originally introduced by Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century, traditionally identified with Anno Domini .Dates before the year 1 CE are indicated by the usage of BCE, short for Before the Common Era Common Era...

, establishing an independent Jewish state of Israel
The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

 which he ruled for three years as Nasi
Nāśī’ is a Hebrew title meaning prince in Biblical Hebrew, Prince in Mishnaic Hebrew, or president in Modern Hebrew.-Genesis and Ancient Israel:...

 ("Ruler"). His state was conquered by the Romans in 135 following a two-year war.

Documents discovered in the modern era give us his original name, Simon ben Kosiba, he was given the surname Bar Kokhba, (Aramaic
Aramaic language
Aramaic is a group of languages belonging to the Afroasiatic language phylum. The name of the language is based on the name of Aram, an ancient region in central Syria. Within this family, Aramaic belongs to the Semitic family, and more specifically, is a part of the Northwest Semitic subfamily,...

 for "Son of a Star", referring to the Star Prophecy
Star Prophecy
The "Star Prophecy" is a Messianic reading applied by radical Jews and early Christians to a text from the Book of Numbers 24:17:...

 of , "A star has shot off Jacob") by his contemporary, the Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva
Rabbi Akiva
Akiva ben Joseph simply known as Rabbi Akiva , was a tanna of the latter part of the 1st century and the beginning of the 2nd century . He was a great authority in the matter of Jewish tradition, and one of the most central and essential contributors to the Mishnah and Midrash Halakha...


After the failure of the revolt, the rabbinical writers referred to bar Kokhba as "Simon bar Kozeba" .

Third Jewish revolt

Despite the devastation wrought by the Romans during the First Jewish-Roman War
First Jewish-Roman War
The First Jewish–Roman War , sometimes called The Great Revolt , was the first of three major rebellions by the Jews of Judaea Province , against the Roman Empire...

 (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. The last straw was a series of laws enacted by the Roman Emperor Hadrian
Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...

, including an attempt to prevent Jews from living in Jerusalem; a new Roman city, Aelia Capitolina
Aelia Capitolina
Aelia Capitolina was a city built by the emperor Hadrian, and occupied by a Roman colony, on the site of Jerusalem, which was in ruins since 70 AD, leading in part to the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132–136.-Politics:...

, was to be built in its place. The second Jewish rebellion took place 60 years after the first and re-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; after a brief span of glory, the revolt was eventually crushed by the Roman legions.

The state minted its own coins, known today as Bar Kochba Revolt coinage
Bar Kochba Revolt coinage
Bar Kochba Revolt coinage were coins issued by the Jews during the Bar Kochba revolt against the Roman Empire of 132-135 AD.During the Revolt, large quantities of coins were issued in silver and copper with rebellious inscriptions, all being overstruck over foreign coins, when a file was used to...

. These were inscribed "the first (or second) year of the redemption of Israel". Bar Kokhba ruled with the title of "Nasi". The Romans fared very poorly during the initial revolt facing a completely unified Jewish force (unlike during the First Jewish-Roman War, where Flavius Josephus records three separate Jewish armies fighting each other for control of the Temple Mount
Temple Mount
The Temple Mount, known in Hebrew as , and in Arabic as the Haram Ash-Sharif , is one of the most important religious sites in the Old City of Jerusalem. It has been used as a religious site for thousands of years...

 during the three weeks time after the Romans had breached Jerusalem's walls and were fighting their way to the center).

A complete Roman legion
Roman legion
A Roman legion normally indicates the basic ancient Roman army unit recruited specifically from Roman citizens. The organization of legions varied greatly over time but they were typically composed of perhaps 5,000 soldiers, divided into maniples and later into "cohorts"...

 with auxiliaries
An auxiliary force is a group affiliated with, but not part of, a military or police organization. In some cases, auxiliaries are armed forces operating in the same manner as regular soldiers...

 was annihilated. The new state knew only one year of peace. The Romans committed no fewer than twelve legions, amounting to one third to one half of the entire Roman army, to reconquer this now independent state. Being outnumbered and taking heavy casualties, the Romans refused to engage in an open battle and instead adopted a scorched earth
Scorched earth
A scorched earth policy is a military strategy or operational method which involves destroying anything that might be useful to the enemy while advancing through or withdrawing from an area...

 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
Betar (fortress)
The Betar Fortress was the last standing Jewish fortress in the Bar Kochba revolt of the 2nd century CE, destroyed by the Roman army of Emperor Hadrian in the year 135...

. The Romans eventually captured it and killed all the defenders. According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews were killed, 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed. Yet so costly was the Roman victory that the Emperor Hadrian
Hadrian , was Roman Emperor from 117 to 138. He is best known for building Hadrian's Wall, which marked the northern limit of Roman Britain. In Rome, he re-built the Pantheon and constructed the Temple of Venus and Roma. In addition to being emperor, Hadrian was a humanist and was philhellene in...

, when reporting to the Roman Senate
Roman Senate
The Senate of the Roman Republic was a political institution in the ancient Roman Republic, however, it was not an elected body, but one whose members were appointed by the consuls, and later by the censors. After a magistrate served his term in office, it usually was followed with automatic...

, 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." He was the only Roman general known to have refused to celebrate his victory with a triumphal entrance into his capital.

In the aftermath of the war, Hadrian consolidated the older political units of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria into the new province of Syria Palaestina
Syria Palaestina
Syria Palæstina was a Roman province between 135CE and 390CE. It had been established by the merge of Roman Syria and Roman Judaea, following the defeat of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 135 CE. In 193 Syria-Coele was split to form a separate provincial locality...

, which is commonly interpreted as an attempt to complete the disassociation with Judaea

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
Cave of Letters
The Cave of Letters is a cave located in the Dead Sea area that contained one of the largest caches of ancient documents and personal correspondence ever discovered in the land of Israel. Discovered in 1960 by Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, the cave contained letters from Bar Kochba, leader...

 overlooking the Dead Sea
Dead Sea
The Dead Sea , also called the Salt Sea, is a salt lake bordering Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west. Its surface and shores are below sea level, the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface. The Dead Sea is deep, the deepest hypersaline lake in the world...

. These letters can now be seen at the Israel Museum
Israel Museum
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem was founded in 1965 as Israel's national museum. It is situated on a hill in the Givat Ram neighborhood of Jerusalem, near the Bible Lands Museum, the Knesset, the Israeli Supreme Court, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem....


Bar Kokhba in popular culture

Since the end of the nineteenth century, Bar-Kochba has been the subject of numerous works of art (dramas, operas, novels, etc.), including:
  • Harisot Betar: sipur `al dever gevurat Bar Kokhva ve-hurban Betar bi-yad Adriyanus kesar Roma (1858), a Hebrew novel by Kalman Schulman
  • Bar Kokhba (1882), a Yiddish operetta by Abraham Goldfaden
    Abraham Goldfaden
    Abraham Goldfaden ; was an Russian-born Jewish poet, playwright, stage director and actor in the languages Yiddish and Hebrew, author of some 40 plays.Goldfaden is considered the father of the Jewish modern theatre.In 1876 he founded in...

     (mus. and libr.). The work was written in the wake of pogrom
    A pogrom is a form of violent riot, a mob attack directed against a minority group, and characterized by killings and destruction of their homes and properties, businesses, and religious centres...

    s against Jews following the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II
    Alexander II of Russia
    Alexander II , also known as Alexander the Liberator was the Emperor of the Russian Empire from 3 March 1855 until his assassination in 1881...

     of Russia.
  • Bar Kokhba (1884), a Hebrew drama by Yehudah Loeb Landau
  • The Son of a Star (1888), an English novel by Benjamin Ward Richardson
    Benjamin Ward Richardson
    Sir Benjamin Ward Richardson was an eminent British physician, anaesthetist, physiologist, sanitarian, and a prolific writer on medical history...

  • Le fils de l’étoile (1903), a French opera by Camille Erlanger
    Camille Erlanger
    Camille Erlanger was a Parisian-born French opera composer. He studied at the Paris Conservatory under Léo Delibes and Émile Durand, and in 1888 won the Prix de Rome for his cantata Velléda...

     (mus.) and Catulle Mendes
    Catulle Mendès
    Catulle Mendès was a French poet and man of letters.Of Portuguese Jewish extraction, he was born in Bordeaux. He early established himself in Paris and promptly attained notoriety by the publication in the Revue fantaisiste of his Roman d'une nuit, for which he was condemned to a month's...

  • Bar-Kochba (1905), a German opera by Stanislaus Suda (mus.) and Karl Jonas (libr.)
  • Rabbi Aqiba und Bar-Kokhba (1910), a Yiddish novel by David Pinsky
  • Bar-Kokhba (1929), a Hebrew drama by Saul Tchernichovski
  • Bar-Kokhba (1939), a Hebrew drama by Shmuel Halkin
  • Bar-Kokhba (1941), a Yiddish novel by Abraham Raphael Forsyth
  • A csillag fia (1943), a Hungarian drama by Lajos Szabolcsi
  • Steiersønne (1952), a Danish novel by Poul Borchsenius
  • Prince of Israel (1952), an English novel by Elias Gilner
  • Bar-Kokhba (1953), a Hebrew novel by Joseph Opatoshu
    Joseph Opatoshu
    ]Joseph Opatoshu , was a Polish-born Yiddish novelist and short story writer.-Biography:Opatoshu was born in 1886 as Yosef Meir Opatowski to a Hasidic family, in Mława, Poland, Russian Empire....

  • If I Forget Thee (1983), an English novel by Brenda Lesley Segal
  • Kokav mi-mesilato. Haye Bar-Kokhba (1988), a Hebrew novel by S.J. Kreutner
  • Ha-mered ha-midbar. Roman hstoriah mi-tequfat Bar-Kokhba (1988), a Hebrew novel by Yeroshua Perah
  • My Husband, Bar Kokhba (2003), an English novel by Andrew Sanders

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
John Zorn
John Zorn is an American avant-garde composer, arranger, record producer, saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist. Zorn is a prolific artist: he has hundreds of album credits as performer, composer, or producer...

's Masada Chamber Ensemble recorded an album called Bar Kokhba
Bar Kokhba (album)
Bar Kokhba is a double album by John Zorn, recorded between 1994 and 1996. It features music from Zorn's Masada project, rearranged for small ensembles.-Reception:...

, showing a photograph of the Letter of Bar Kokhba to Yeshua, son of Galgola on the cover.

External links