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Simon bar Kokhba

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Shimon bar Kokhba (Hebrew: שמעון בר כוכבא‎, also transliterated as Bar Kokhva or Bar Kochba) was the Jewish leader who led what is known as the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE, establishing an independent Jewish state of Israel which he ruled for three years as Nasi ("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, (Hebrew: שמעון בן כוסבא‎) he was given the surname Bar Kokhba, (Aramaic for "Son of a Star", referring to the Star Prophecy of Numbers 24:17, "A star has shot off Jacob") by his contemporary, the Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva.

After the failure of the revolt, the rabbinical writers referred to bar Kokhba as "Simon bar Kozeba" (Hebrew: בר כוזיבא‎, or "Son of the disappointment").

Third Jewish revolt


Bar Kochba silver Shekel/tetradrachm. Obverse: the Jewish Temple facade with the rising star, surrounded by "Shimon". Reverse: A lulav, the text reads: "to the freedom of Jerusalem"

Bar Kokhba Coin

Bar Kochba silver Zuz/denarius. Obverse: trumpets surrounded by "To the freedom of Jerusalem". Reverse: A lyre surrounded by "Year two to the freedom of Israel"

Despite the devastation wrought by the Romans during the First Jewish-Roman War (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, including an attempt to prevent Jews from living in Jerusalem; a new Roman city, Aelia Capitolina, 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. 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 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 with auxiliaries 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 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. 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, when reporting to the Roman Senate, 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." [1] 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, named to complete the disassociation with Judaea.[2][3]

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 overlooking the Dead Sea.[4][5] These letters can now be seen at the Israel Museum.[6]

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.),[7] including:

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's Masada Chamber Ensemble recorded an album called Bar Kokhba, showing a photograph of the Letter of Bar Kokhba to Yeshua, son of Galgola on the cover.

The Bar Kokhba game

According to a legend, during his reign, Bar Kokhba was once presented a mutilated man, who had his tongue ripped out and hands cut off. Unable to talk or write, the victim was incapable of telling who his attackers were. Thus, Bar Kokhba decided to ask simple questions to which the dying man was able to nod or shake his head with his last movements; the murderers were consequently apprehended.

In Hungary, this legend spawned the "Bar Kokhba game", in which one of two players comes up with a word or object, while the other must figure it out by asking questions only to be answered with "yes" or "no". The questioner usually asks first if it is a living being, if not, if it is an object, if not, it is surely an abstraction. The verb "kibarkochbázni" ("to Bar Kochba out") became a common language verb meaning "retrieving information in an extremely tedious way".[8]

In English-speaking countries, this is known as Twenty Questions.

See also


  1. The Archaeology of the New Testament, E.M. Blaiklock, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI, page 186
  2. Lehmann, Clayton Miles (Summer 1998). "Palestine: History: 135–337: Syria Palaestina and the Tetrarchy". The On-line Encyclopedia of the Roman Provinces. University of South Dakota. Retrieved 2008-07-06. 
  3. Sharon, 1998, p. 4. According to Moshe Sharon: "Eager to obliterate the name of the rebellious Judaea", the Roman authorities renamed it Palaestina or Syria Palaestina.
  4. "Diggers". Time magazine. May 5, 1961.,9171,872343,00.html. Retrieved 2009-08-20. "The Bar Kochba explorers—160 soldiers, students and kibbutz volunteers—had been led to the desert badlands just west of the Dead Sea by Archaeologist and former General Yigael Yadin. They found a treasure their first day at the diggings. In the same bat-infested, three-chambered Cave of Letters where he had discovered the rebel chieftain's papyri orders just a year ago. Archaeologist Yadin found some 60 more documents in a goatskin and a leather bag." 
  5. "Texts on Bar Kochba: Bar Kochba's letters", retrieved 25 May 2007
  6. "Bar Kokhba", Israel Museum:Jerusalem, retrieved 25 May 2007
  7. G. Boccaccini, Portraits of Middle Judaism in Scholarship and Arts (Turin: Zamorani, 1992).
  8. (Hungarian) kibarkochbázni


  • W. Eck, 'The Bar Kokhba Revolt: the Roman point of view' in the Journal of Roman Studies 89 (1999) 76ff.
  • David Goodblatt, Avital Pinnick and Daniel Schwartz: Historical Perspectives: From the Hasmoneans to the Bar Kohkba Revolt In Light of the Dead Sea Scrolls: Boston: Brill: 2001: ISBN 90-04-12007-6
  • 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
  • Leibel Reznick: The Mystery of Bar Kokhba: Northvale: J.Aronson: 1996: ISBN 1-56821-502-9
  • Peter Schafer: The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered: Tübingen: Mohr: 2003: ISBN 3-16-148076-7
  • 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.
  • Yigael Yadin: Bar Kokhba: The Rediscovery of the Legendary Hero of the Last Jewish Revolt Against Imperial Rome: London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson: 1971: ISBN 0-297-00345-3

External links

bg:Симон Бар Кохба ca:Ximon bar Kokhebà cs:Šimon bar Kochba cy:Simon bar Kochbako:시몬 바르 코크바 id:Simon bar Kokhbala:Barchochebas hu:Bar Kohbaja:バル・コクバ oc:Simon bar Kokhbapt:Simão bar Kokhba ru:Бар-Кохба, Шимон sr:Симон бар Кохба sv:Simon bar Kokhba tr:Simon bar Kohba yi:בר כוכבא zh:巴爾·科赫巴

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