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Bar Kokhba's revolt
Bar Kokhba’s revolt (132-135 CE) against the Roman Empire, also known as The Second Jewish-Roman War or The Second Jewish Revolt, was a second major rebellion by the Jews of Judea. Alternatively, some sources call it The Third Revolt, counting also the riots of 115-117 suppressed by the Senator Lusius Quietus who governed the province at the time.
After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE as a result of the failed Great Jewish Revolt, the Sanhedrin at Yavne provided spiritual guidance for the Jewish nation, both in Judea and throughout the diaspora.
In 130 CE, Emperor Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem. At first sympathetic towards the Jews, Hadrian promised to rebuild the city, but the Jews felt betrayed when they found out that his intentions were to rebuild the Jewish holiest city as a pagan metropolis, and a new pagan temple on the ruins of the Second Temple was to be dedicated to Jupiter.
An additional legion, 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 offense that turned many Jews against the Roman authorities. The tensions grew higher when Hadrian abolished circumcision (brit milah), which he, an avid Hellenist, viewed as mutilation. A Roman coin inscribed Aelia Capitolina was issued in 132 CE.
The Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva convinced the Sanhedrin to support the impending revolt and regarded the chosen commander Simon Bar Kokhba the Jewish Messiah, according to the verse from Numbers 24:17: "There shall come a star out of Jacob" ("Bar Kokhba" means "son of a star" in Aramaic language).
At the time, Christianity was still a minor sect of Judaism and most historians believe that it was this messianic claim that alienated many Christians (who believed that the true messiah was Jesus) and sharply deepened the schism.
The Jewish leaders carefully planned the second revolt to avoid numerous mistakes that plagued the first one sixty years earlier. In 132 CE, it quickly spread from Modi'in across the country, cutting off the Roman garrison in Jerusalem.
"The Era of the redemption of Israel"
A sovereign Jewish state was restored for two and a half years that followed. The functional civil administration was headed by Simon Bar Kokhba, who took the title Nasi Israel (Prince of Israel). The "Era of the redemption of Israel" was announced, contracts were signed and coins were minted with corresponding inscriptions (some were overstruck over Roman silver coins).
The outbreak took the Romans by surprise. Hadrian called his general 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 larger than that commanded by Titus Flavius sixty years earlier, but Roman losses were so heavy that the generals' report to the Roman Senate omitted the customary formula "I and my army are well."
The struggle lasted for three years before the revolt was brutally crushed in the summer of 135. After losing Jerusalem, Bar Kokhba and the remnants of his army withdrew to the fortress of Betar, which also subsequently came under the siege. Some of the rebels were killed there, while others perished in the caves overlooking the Dead Sea.
According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews were killed, 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed.
Hadrian attempted to root out Judaism, which he saw as the cause of continuous rebellions. He prohibited the Torah law, the Jewish calendar and executed Judaic scholars. The sacred scroll was ceremoniously 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, he wiped the name off the map and replaced it with Syria Palaestina, as an insulting reminder of the Jews' ancient enemies the Philistines, long extinct by then. He reestablished Jerusalem as the Roman pagan polis of Aelia Capitolina, and Jews were forbidden from entering it. Later they were allowed to mourn their humiliation once a year on Tisha B'Av (see Wailing Wall). Jews remained scattered for close to two thousand years. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 as a result of the Spanish Inquisition, the rising Ottoman Empire welcomed the Jews and with its conquest of the areas around Palestine by 1517 it began to allow increasing numbers of Jews to move back to Palestine. The Jews reestablished the Jewish State of Israel in 1948. Betar became a symbol of Jewish resistance.
Unfortunately, the events lacked a major historian figure such as Josephus Flavius. The best recognized sources are Cassius Dio, Roman History (book 69) and Aelius Spartianus, Life of Hadrian (in the Augustan History). The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls has exposed some new historical data.
- David Pileggi, "The Bar Kochva letters": discovery of the papyri
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