The Jewish War, the Revolt under Bar Kokhba, the long consequences & Historical Importance (1)

The Jewish War, the Revolt under Bar Kokhba, the long consequences & Historical Importance (1)


Simon bar Kokhba (also transliterated as Bar Kokhva or Bar Kochba) was the Jewish leader who led what is known as Bar Kochba’s revolt against the Roman Empire in 132CE. He established an independent Jewish state of Israel which he ruled for three years as Nasi (prince or president). Bar Kochba was initially named Simon ben Kosiba but was given the surname Bar Kokhba (Aramaic for “Son of a Star,” referring to Numbers 24:17, “A star has shot off Jacob”) by his contemporary, the Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva. After the failure of the revolt, many, including rabbinical writers, referred to Simon bar Kokhba as “Simon bar Kozeba” (“Son of the lie”).

Bar Kochba’s revolt (132–135) 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 and the last of the Jewish-Roman Wars. Alternatively, some sources call it ‘The Third Revolt,’ counting also the riots of 115–117, the Kitos War, suppressed by the general Lusius Quietus, who governed the province then. Despite the devastation wrought by the Romans during the First Jewish-Roman War (66–73 CE), which left the population and countryside in ruins, another Jewish rebellion took place 60 years later that re-established an independent state lasting three years.

The state minted its coins, inscribed “the first (or second) year of the redemption of Israel .”The Romans fared poorly during the initial revolt facing a completely unified Jewish force. Unlike during the First Jewish-Roman War, Flavius Josephus records three separate Jewish armies fighting each other for control of the Temple Mount three weeks 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 less than twelve legions, amounting to one-third to one-half of the Roman army, to re-conquer this now independent state. Being outnumbered and taking heavy casualties, the Romans refused to engage in an open battle. Instead, they adopted a scorched earth policy that decimated the Judean populace, slowly grinding away at the will of the Judeans to sustain the War.

The Jewish revolt led by Bar Kochba in 132 AD was the inevitable result of years of promises not kept to the Jews and laws that suppressed the basis of Jews as a nation. To understand the reason for the Jewish War and the Revolt under Bar Kochba, one must go back many years, even before the War. Before Hadrian, an emperor by the name of Trajan was the ruler of the Roman Empire. Due to the Jewish rebellion in the Diaspora to the east and the west of them, Trajan, to keep the Jews in Palestine from rebelling, had to send a great general to be governor of the Jews in Palestine; a general who was brutal, wicked and harsh in the treatment of people. This general’s name was Tineius Rufus. He was the general that put down the uprising of the Jews in Parthia. Because of Rufus’ reputation of severity to the Jews, he uprooted thoughts of the Jews in Palestine to rebel against Rome at that time.

Trajan had promised the Jews that he would rebuild the Temple; the Jews assumed this meant rebuilding Jerusalem. The Pagans in Palestine did not want the Temple to be rebuilt, and they thought that if it were rebuilt, it would be the rebirth of the Jewish nation. Trajan, the Emperor who made this promise, died and was succeeded by Hadrian; the Jews were unsure if Hadrian would keep the promise that Trajan once made. Hadrian wanted to go to Jerusalem to see what he was rebuilding before he started the construction. When Hadrian got there, he was surprised by the sight of a once fruitful city in ruins; he immediately wanted to start the reconstruction.

The Jews were surprised and disappointed to discover later that Hadrian wanted to rebuild Jerusalem, not as a city for the Jews, but as a Pagan city sanctified to the Pagan god Jupiter. Hadrian was going to put an altar where the Jews Temple once stood, and Hadrian was to be the high priest. Jerusalem would now be called Aelia Capitolina. It was a mockery of the Jews. The Jews waited sixty years from the destruction of the Second Temple (asenv,hc) for Rome to restore it to them. The Jews held themselves back from rebelling with their neighboring Jews in Diaspora because they held onto and believed they would keep the Trajan’s promise. Compounding the problem, Hadrian made a prohibition of Circumcision. Consequently, the Jews saw in Hadrian another Antiochus Epiphanes. And where there was an Antiochus, a Maccabee was bound to arise.

 The Jews Had To Revolt:

In 130, when Emperor Hadrian visited Judea, he ordered the construction of a new city to replace Jerusalem that Titus had razed to the ground. It was to be a Roman city, with a Roman temple dedicated to the Roman supreme god Jupiter. The Jewish response to the rebuilding of Jerusalem was divided. Although some found it intolerable that foreign religious rites should be performed in their city, others argued that pagans who wanted to sacrifice to the supreme God should not be hindered. This moderate point of view carried the day; after all, was it not written that the Temple was to be a house of all nations. According to the author ‘Epiphanius,’ the building was supervised by Aquila, a rabbi who translated the Bible into Aramaean and Greek Languages.

The Romans had also either banned or mocked some of the most important beliefs in Judaism. It caused greater displeasure among the Jews. If they did not revolt against the Romans, they would have died in a spiritual sense. Even if the Romans did not kill them, they would not be Jewish anymore. Circumcision was the physical difference between them as Jews and, as well as a basic premise of their Jewish beliefs. Their only choice was to gain their independence. Rabbi Akiva, a great scholar of his day, also once believed in Tarsus’ promise; he had also been led astray. Therefore, the great Rabbi helped organize thousands of soldiers to fight for the independence and welfare of the Jewish people. Rabbi Akiva also picked a man named Simon Bar Kochba to lead his army. Rabbi Akiva was sure that Bar Kochba would be “A second Judas Maccabeus.”

According to the Christian Church historian Eusebius (c.260-c.340), Simon claimed to be a luminary who had come down to the Jews from heaven. [1] He calls himself ‘Prince’ (Nasi), a word with powerful messianic connotations on some of his coins and letters. [2] Some miracles were attributed to Simon bar Kochba; reports that he had been seen spewing out flames. Rabbi Akiva was so sure of this that he called Bar Kochba the jhan. There was also a sentence in the Torah which stated, “A star has come forth from David.” Both times a star is mentioned. It is a direct referral to him being the jhan. Bar Kochba had to make sure his army was ferocious and unstoppable. To ensure that his army only consisted of the strongest warriors, he said that only men who would bite a finger of his right hand would merit being in his army; 200,000 people passed this test. The rabbis’ objected to this manner of testing Jews. They said to Bar Kochba; how long will you turn Jews into Warriors with imperfection (a missing finger)?

Nonetheless, Bar Kochba could think of no other way to test the Jews. So the Rabbi suggested that anybody who could uproot a Cedar of Lebanon while riding past it on a horse would deserve to enter. [3] In Bar Kochba’s army, 200,000 more people passed this test. After recruiting several others, Bar Kochba had an enormous and ferocious army of about 580,000 people. Bar Kochba was so confident in his army that before each battle, he would say to God, “Ribbono Shel Olam! Do not help us, do not hinder us!” With his army, Bar Kochba started his attack.

 Setting The Stage:

Almost 70 years after the destruction of the Temple, the Jews did not cower into submission. For the two years of 115-117CE, the Jews of Egypt, Cyrene, and Cyprus rose against the Roman dictator. Babylonian Jews as well unsuccessfully raised the banner of rebellion. The date 131 CE is essential because the first exile lasted 70 years, and many believed redemption was approaching. Hadrian was Emperor of Rome, and although he had no hostility to the Jews, he did believe in the Romanization of the colonies, including the unification of the people.

More importantly, he believed in the worship of the Emperor. Many scholars debated these decrees and their reactions to them. There is an exciting portion of the Hagaddah of Pessach where a discussion is quoted between the leading sages of the era: Rabbis Eliezer, Joshua, Elazar ben Azaryah, Tarphon, and Akiva. The discussion was about freedom and its importance. Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah was puzzled: “I am ‘like’ a man of 70, and I never understood why we must also tell the story at night…..” Why did he say _like_ 70? It is generally agreed that the Rabbis of that day were planning and deciding whether to take up arms against Rome. Elazar is saying, “Hey – it is almost 70 years! When are we going to start organizing?”

Rabbi Akiva played a decisive role, for, without his backing, there would have been no mass unity of the people. He met with Bar Kochba and was so impressed with the power and sense of destiny that exuded from the man. That he proclaimed, “This man is destined to lead us as it is written (Numbers 24:17) ‘And a star (Kochba) shall rise out of Jacob and a scepter from Israel and shall smite the corners of Moav and destroy the children of Seth.” Many of Akiva’s disciples flocked to the call of Bar Kochba. Not everyone was calling for open rebellion. In the Valley of Rimonim, there was a mass gathering. And Joshua ben Chananya, leader of the Sanhedrin (the High Court), did his best to calm the crowd by quoting a fable:

Once there was a lion eating and had a bone stuck in his throat; he promised a reward to any animal who would remove the bone, but no animal dared. Finally, the crane stuck his long beak into the lion’s mouth and removed the bone. ‘Where is my reward?!’ demanded the crane. ‘Your reward,’ growled the lion, ‘is that you will be able to tell everyone; you put your head into the lion’s mouth and can still talk about it.

Yet the call for moderation blew past like a wind in the cedars. Even Akiva was not immune from criticism. After proclaiming Bar Kochva the Messiah, Yochanan ben Torta told him, “Grass will grow under your cheeks, and the son of David (Messiah) will not yet have come.” Bar Kochba’s arrogance also began to bother the Sages. When preparing for battle, he is alleged to have said to God, “Do not help us but do not hinder us.” Despite this, there is no evidence that he sought to be seen as a messiah. Instead, he desired to return the glory that was while throwing off the yoke of foreign nations forever. His strength was legendary.

One account relates how he could catch and throw back the rocks thrown in catapults between his knees. The point of conflagration came when Hadrian, while visiting Eretz Israel, decided to rebuild Jerusalem – not as the capital of the Jews but as Roman city Aleia (the name of Hadrian) Capitolina (for Jupiter Capitolinus), with the temple site to become a temple for Jupiter. It was further exacerbated by the local Roman ruler Tinneius Rufus and Hadrian’s ban on Circumcision, which was considered abhorrent by the Romans. His departure in 130 seems to be the trigger that set off the revolt.


  •   [1] History of the church 4.6.2
  • [2] cf. Ezekiel 37.24-25 and several Qumran documents
  • [3] The Talmud relates that at first, Bar Kochba tried to test the courage of the new fighters by daring them to cut off one finger of each hand. The sages criticized him for “making cripples out of the people.” “Tell me a better way,” rejoined Bar Kochba. “Let each conscript, while on horseback, tear a cedar tree up with his hands.”



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