Who Was Bar Kokhba?

Judea rose in revolt against Rome in 66 CE.  That revolt was crushed by the Romans within four years, ending when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in the late summer of the year 70 CE.  A few isolated places, most famously Masada, still held out. In a sporadic campaign lasting more than two years, the Tenth Legion destroyed them also. Judea, so it seemed, was finished.

But that, in fact, was not what happened. Despite our stereotypes of the poor and miserable small province of Judea, the province was so rich and so powerful that it managed to raise the men and equipment needed to revolt again(!), some sixty years after the fall of Masada. This second revolt—against Hadrian—lasted for three years, from 132 to 135 CE.  At the end of it, the Romans, fed up with trouble in Judea, utterly destroyed the infrastructure of the country.

The Jewish community recovered soon afterwards but, deeply traumatized by their terrible defeat, never sought political independence again until the twentieth  century. The Romans suffered terribly in that war. The Twelfth Legion (Legion XII Deitoariana), joining six other legions and the auxiliaries of six more, went into Judea to fight the war and never came out. The Ninth Legion (Legion IX Hispania) was disbanded shortly after the war as the result of heavy losses.  It was the first time in history that the victorious Roman general saluting the Senate in Rome—Hadrian himself ,according to Dio Cassio, the historian—omitted the usual salutation: “I and my Legions are well.”  Because they were not.

The second revolt was so damaging to the Jewish people that they barely mentioned it all in later Jewish literature, apart from some accounts of Roman atrocities in the Midrash of Lamentations.  From the fragments of dialogue preserved in Jewish literature, we learn that the leader of the revolt was Shimon bar Kosiba, called Bar Kokhba, Son of the Star.

The Bar Kokhba Letter fragment, discovered in a cave in the Judean Desert, will exquisitely be reproduced by Biblical Reproductions, licensed by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Once the reproduction is available it will be offered at www.biblicalreproductions.com

Author:  Walter Zanger