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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Bar Kokba and bar Kokba War
War of Quietus.
The insurrection of the Jews of CYRENE, CYPRUS, and EGYPT in the last years of the emperor Trajan had not been entirely suppressed when Hadrian assumed the reins of government in 118. The seat of war was transferred to Palestine, whither the Jewish leader Lucwas had fled (Abulfaraj, in Münter, "Der Jüdische Krieg," p. 18, Altona and Leipsic, 1821). Marcius Turbo had pursued him, and had sentenced to death the brothers Julian and Pappus, who had been the soul of the rebellion. But Turbo was himself executed upon special orders sent from Rome, and the lives of the brothers were saved (Sifra, Emor, 8:9 [ed. Weiss, p. 99d]; Meg. Ta'anit; Ta'anit 18b; Sem.; Eccl. R. 3:17). Lucius Quietus, the conqueror of the Jews of Mesopotamia, was now in command of the Roman army in Palestine, and laid siege to Lydda, where the Jews had gathered. The distress became so great that the patriarch Rabban Gamaliel II., who was shut up there and died soon afterward, permitted fasting even on Ḥanukkah; though other rabbis, such as the peace-loving R. Joshua b. Hananiah, condemned this measure (Ta'anit 2:10; Yer. Ta'anit 2:66a; Yer. Meg. 1:70d; R. H. 18b). Soon afterward Lydda was taken and masses of the Jews were executed; the "slain of Lydda" are often mentioned in words of reverential praise in the Talmud (Pes. 50a; B. B. 10b; Eccl. R. 9:10). Pappus and Julian were among those executed by the Romans in the same year (Ta'anit 18b; Yer. Ta'anit 66b). The foregoing are the most important events of the campaign of Quietus as mentioned in rabbinical sources (see also "Revue Etudes Juives," 30:212).
Rebuilding of the Temple.
An ancient Jewish source states that sixteen years elapsed between the "polemos" (= war) of Quietus and the rebellion of Bar Kokba (Seder 'Olam R., atthe end; compare Azariah dei Rossi, in "Me'or 'Enayim," ), and both the Armenian chronicle of Eusebius ("Chronicorum Canonum," ed. Mai and Zohrab, p. 383, Milan, 1818) and that of Jerome mention a Jewish war as occurring during the first year of the reign of Hadrian. Later events can be interpreted only by bearing this war in mind. For if Hadrian, immediately after his accession to the throne, pursued a pacific policy toward the Jews, and made concessions to them, he must previously have felt their resistance (Grätz, "Gesch. der Juden," 3d ed., 4:410). Spartian, the biographer of Hadrian ("Hadrian," 5:2), also states that the emperor wished to have peace throughout the Roman world, and refers to the restlessness among the people of Libya and Palestine—a reference undoubtedly pointing to the Jews. It appears that Hadrian had already granted permission for the rebuilding of the Temple; that the Jews of the diaspora had already begun to return to Jerusalem, and that the brothers Pappus and Julian had already provided for the exchange of foreign money into Roman coin, when, through the calumny of the Samaritans, Hadrian ordered the cessation of work upon the Temple (Gen. R. ). Of the intended rebuilding of the Temple under Hadrian, mention is made by Chrysostom ("Orat. in Judæos"), "Chron. Alex." (on the year 118), Nicephorus ("Hist. Eccl." 3:24), and Cedrenus ("Script. Byz." 12:249). A coin of the period, representing a portico with four columns, is referred to this movement. The leader and superintendent of the building—either of the city of Jerusalem or of the Temple—is said to have been the pious proselyte Aquila (Epiphanius, "De Pond. et Mens." ). Hadrian had not yet dared openly to prevent the rebuilding of the Temple, but requested that the site of the new structure be somewhat removed from its former location—a condition which the Jews of course could not accept. They took up arms and assembled in the Valley of Rimmon, on the celebrated historical plain of Jezreel; and a rebellion seemed imminent, when R. Joshua b. Hananiah, by convincing the people of the danger which they were incurring, ultimately succeeded in pacifying them (Gen. R. ). But the Jews remained quiet only on the surface; in reality, for over fifteen years they prepared for a struggle against Rome. The weapons that the Romans had ordered to be made by them they intentionally constructed poorly, so that they might keep them when rejected and returned to them. They converted the caves in the mountains into hiding-places and fortifications, which they connected by subterranean passages (Dio Cassius, 69:12). It is thought that the travels of the celebrated teacher of the Law, Rabbi Akiba, were made with the intention of interesting the Jews of the most remote countries in the coming struggle; and these travels extended through Parthia, Asia Minor, Cappadocia, and Phrygia, and perhaps even to Europe and Africa. Preparations devised on so large a scale could hardly have been instituted without organization, and it may therefore be assumed that the leader, Bar Kokba, was already quietly preparing for this war in the first years of the reign of Hadrian.
Bar Kokba; His Name.
Bar Kokba, the hero of the third war against Rome, appears under this name only among ecclesiastical writers: heathen authors do not mention him; and Jewish sources call him Ben (or Bar) Koziba or Kozba. Many scholars believe this name to have been derived from the city of Chezib (Genesis 38:5) or Chozeba (1 Chronicles 4:22), although it is more likely that it was simply the name of his father. Others believe that Bar Koziba was a contumelious appellation ("Son of Lies") bestowed after the unfortunate issue of the revolt. Although this also seems to be implied by the words of the patriarch, R. Judah I. (Lam. R. 2:2), it merely proves that the luckless hero was early held responsible for the misfortune that had befallen the nation. On the other hand, it is certain that the name Bar Kokba is only an epithet derived from R. Akiba's application of the verse to Koziba: "There shall come a star ["kokab"] out of Jacob who shall smite the corners of Moaband destroy all the children of Seth" (Numbers 24:17). Eusebius also ("Hist. Eccl." 4:6,2) adds to the name βαρχωχέβας the remark that it signifies "star," and so does Syncellus ("Chronographia," in the "Script. Byz." 9:348), indicating that they knew that the name was only a figurative one. It is singular that Syncellus also calls Bar Kokba "an only son" (μονογενής), which corresponds with the Hebrew "yaḥid." If this is not a Messianic name, as Renan surmises ("L'Eglise Chrétienne," 2d ed., p. 200), one must understand by it the interesting family fact that Bar Kokba was the only son of his parents; even in this trifling circumstance the heated imagination of the champions of liberty endeavored to find some special merit. The attempt was also made to discover in the name of a certain counterfeit coin ("mahaginot," Yer. Ket. 1:25b) the word μονογενής (N. Brüll, in "Jahrbücher," 1:183; compare Rapoport, "Orient," 1840, p. 248); and so refer it to Bar Kokba; just as the Talmud mentions "Kozbi-coins"; that is, coins of Bar Kokba (Tos. Ma'as. Sheni 1:6, and Bab. B. Ḳ. 97b); but such an interpretation of the word is rendered impossible by the context. These latter coins would intimate that Bar Kokba's name was Simeon, similar examples of the omission of this name being afforded by the names Ben Zoma and Ben Azzai, each of whom was also named Simeon; but, as the coins in question have been traced to Simeon the Hasmonean, their association with Bar Kokba is untenable (Renan, ib. p. 197).
This is about all that is known concerning the personality of Bar Kokba; and even the meager data here presented are so uncertain that the very name of the hero is doubtful. Everything else pertaining to him is mythical. Like the slaveprince, "Eunus of Sicily," he is said to have blown burning tow from his mouth (Jerome, "Apol. adv. Ruf."); such was his strength that he was able to hurl back with his knees the stones discharged from the Roman ballistæ (Lam. R. 2:2). Bar Kokba is said to have tested the valor of his soldiers by ordering each one to cut off a finger; and when the wise men beheld this, they objected to the self-mutilation involved, and advised him to issue an order to the effect that every horseman must show that he could tear a cedar of the Lebanon up by the roots while riding at full speed. In this way he eventually had 200,000 soldiers who passed the first ordeal, and 200,000 heroes who accomplished the latter feat (Yer. Ta'anit 4:68d). It must have been during the war, when he had already performed miracles of valor, that R. Akiba said of him, "This is the King Messiah" (ib.); but he had the presumption—so runs the legend—to pray to God: "We pray Thee, do not give assistance to the enemy; us Thou needst not help!" (ib.; Lam. R. 2:2; Giṭ. 57a et seq.; Yalḳ., Deut. 946); and it was inevitable that many persons, among them his uncle R. Eleazar of Modi'im, should disbelieve in his Messianic mission.
Jewish Medieval Sources.
Jewish medieval sources also mention a son and a nephew of Bar Kokba. After the death of the latter, his son Rufus—whose name is rightly explained as "red"—succeeded him as ruler, and he, again, was followed by his son, Romulus; and it was only in the days of Romulus, the son of Rufus, the son of Koziba, that the emperor Hadrian succeeded in quelling the insurrection (Abr. b. David, in Neubauer's "Medieval Jewish Chronicles," 1:55). Joseph ibn Ẓaddiḳ (ib. p. 90) mentions Romulus, but not Bar Kokba. The earlier Niẓẓaḥon (ed. Hackspan) on Daniel 9:24 adds that Bar Kokba was of the house of David, an assertion which appears genuine, inasmuch as such relationship would have been essential to the Messianic mission. Both Gedaliah ibn Yaḥyah, in "Shalshelet ha-Ḳabbalah" (s. "R. Akiba"), and Heilprin, in "Seder ha-Dorot" (1:126a, ed. Wilna, 1891), mention three generations of these kings—a fact controverted by David Gans in "Ẓemaḥ David" (part for the year 880), who adds, however, that Romulus, like his grandfather, was called Koziba, and that there is no discrepancy with the Talmudic records. The twenty-one years claimed by Gans for Bar Kokba and his sons can be explained if the whole period from 118 to 135 be accepted, which, however, would only amount to seventeen years. Singularly enough, Graetz and other Jewish historians fail entirely to speak of these Jewish traditions, whereas Münter (ib. pp. 47, 75) and Gregorovius ("Der Kaiser Hadrian," p. 195, note 1, Stuttgart, 1884) considered them at least worthy of mention.
Cause of the War.
As if to increase the irritation of the Jews, it so happened that the government of Judea had at this time been entrusted to one of the most rascally subjects of the Roman empire, the governor-general Tinnius RUFUS, as he is probably correctly called (Borghesi, Gregorovius, Renan, Mommsen, and Schürer; whereas others call him variously Tinnius, Titus Annius, or Tacinius, Rufus). Rufus offended the Jews in their most sacred relations. He was reputed to be a regular debaucher of young women (G. Rösch, in "Theol. Studien und Kritiken," 1873, pp. 77 et seq.), and was probably the prototype from whom was taken the description of the voluptuary Holofernes, as given in the Book of Judith. Associated with this is the Talmudic saga that the immediate cause of the war was the insult offered by the Romans to a bridal couple (Giṭ. 57a). So long as the emperor Hadrian remained in the vicinity—that is, in Syria and Egypt (about 130 common era) —the Jews kept still (Dio Cassius, 69:12) and even struck coins in his honor, which bore the motto "Adventui Aug. Judææ," in commemoration of the visit of the emperor to Judea. It was probably at this time that Hadrian desired to erect the Roman colony Ælia Capitolina upon the ruins of Jerusalem, and to replace the old Temple by one dedicated to Jupiter Capitolinus. Dio Cassius, at least, mentions this fact as the cause of the war, while Eusebius and other ecclesiastical historians refer to them as a result. It is therefore assumed that the building was already begun before the war, but interrupted by it (Münter, Graetz, Gregorovius). The report (Spartian, ch. ) that the Jews were forbidden to exercise the rite of circumcision may also have originated after the war; but Jewish sources state that in the days of Bar Kokba many who had before endeavored to disguise the Abrahamic covenant submitted themselves anew to circumcision(Shab. 9:1; Yer. ib. 17a; Yeb. 72a; Yer. Yeb. 8:9; Gen. R. ). It does not follow, however, from the preceding passages that the Judæo-Christians were compelled by Bar Kokba to submit to circumcision (Basnage, "L'Histoire des Juifs," 11:361, Rotterdam, 1707), and the statement that the Christians were tortured by Bar Kokba if they did not deny Jesus, is made only by Christian authors (Justin, "Apologia," 2:71; compare "Dial."; Eusebius, in "Hist. Eccl." 4:6, § 2, and in his "Chronicle," where he therefore calls Bar Kokba a robber and murderer; Jerome, in his "Chronicle"; Orosius, "Hist." 7:13). The actual reason seems to have been that the Christians refused to unite with the Jews in the struggle. The Samaritans, however, participated in the conflict, to which Jews residing in foreign countries also flocked in masses, the number of combatants being further swelled by pagan accessions; and there ensued, as Dio Cassius observes, a war which was neither of small proportions nor of short duration.
Rufus could not at first resist the onslaught of the Jews, to whom he was compelled to relinquish one place after another almost without a struggle; and thus about fifty strongholds and 985 undefended towns and villages fell into their hands (Dio Cassius, 69:14). These fifty strongholds were situated in Palestine, and may be located with tolerable accuracy ("Magazin für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums," 19:229; "Monatsschrift," 43:509), But although the Jewish arms did not penetrate beyond the Palestinian border, their success caused the Romans to become conscious of their danger. They despatched Publius Marcellus, legate of Syria, to the aid of Rufus; but this general also was defeated. It is uncertain whether the insurgents acquired possession of Jerusalem: the Jewish sources contain no mention of it; and the coins bearing the inscription, "In Commemoration of the Liberation of Jerusalem," are unreliable because they may have originated with Simon the Hasmonean. Among the historians, Graetz is almost the only one that accepts the supposition of a conquest of Jerusalem. But if this had been the case, the insurgents would not have made Bethar, but Jerusalem, their center of operations. Moreover, Bethar, according to Eusebius, was situated in the vicinity of Jerusalem, a statement which may apply equally to a place north or south of the Holy City. However this may be, a city of the size ascribed to Bethar in Jewish sources could never have arisen in the immediate vicinity of Jerusalem.
Hadrian was now compelled to summon the greatest general of his time, Julius Severus, from Britain, to conduct the campaign against the Jews; and Severus was accompanied by the legate Hadrianus Quintus Lollius Urbicus, former governor of Germania. Hence it follows (contrary to the opinion expressed in the Jewish sources, in Moses of Chorene's "Hist. Arm."; and in the writings of Münter and Lebrecht) that Hadrian did not personally participate in the war. The Roman troops engaged in Palestine were the Tenth Legion (Fretentis), the Second (Trajana), the Third (Gallica), and the Fourth (Scythica), all drawn from Syria; but even with so considerable an army, Severus did not venture to engage the Jews in open battle. He sought gradually to dislodge them from their strongholds. The Romans were compelled to enter from the north, and here they captured the populous and well-fortified cities, Kabul, Sichin, and Magdala, surnamed Ẓebuaya ("City of the Dyers"). The next city invested was the so-called "Har ha-Melek" (Ṭur Malka, "Mountain of the King"), where a certain "Bar-Deroma," possibly identical with Bar Kokba, commanded on the Jewish side. The Valley of Rimmon, perhaps also called Biḳ'at-Yadayim, the starting-point of the rebellion, became the scene of a murderous conflict (Eliyahu R.; compare Lam. R. 1:16; Gen. R. ). The Romans are said to have fought fifty-two battles—according to certain writers, fifty-four—until, at last, Bethar alone remained; and this place finally fell, through treachery, into the hands of the Romans, who would not for a long time afterward give permission for the interment of the slain.
End of the War.
The war was ended, and Bar Kokba met his death upon the walls of Bethar. Indescribable misery spread over Palestine; the land became a desert; the Jews were slaughtered en masse; and Talmud and Midrash bewail the horrors of the Roman conquest. According to Dio Cassius, 580,000 Jews fell in battle, not including those who succumbed to hunger and pestilence. It must have been regarded as an evil omen by the Jews that the pillar of Solomon in Jerusalem fell of itself. Indeed, the end of the Jewish nation had come. The Romans also had sustained heavy losses; and it is reported that Hadrian did not even send the usual message to Rome that he and the army were well (Dio Cassius, ib.)—a story which can not be true in view of the opinion already expressed that Hadrian was not present during the conflict (see, however, "Revue Etudes Juives," 1:49). Hadrianus was for the second time elected imperator by the Senate, and Julius Severus was honored with the ornamenta triumphalia. (The governor of Bithynia, named Severus, so highly praised by Dio Cassius, was another person, Sextus Julius Severus.)
This war, designated by the Mishnah (Soṭah 9:14) as "the final polemos," had lasted three and one-half years (Seder 'Olam R., toward the end, according to the reading of Dei Rossi; not two and one-half, as in the common reading; Yer. Ta'anit 4:68d et seq.; Lam. R. 2:2; Jerome on Daniel 9). But this applies only to the actual struggle for Bethar; after the fall of that city, which, according to the tradition, took place on the Ninth of Ab, 135, two brothers in Kephar-Ḥaruba, in the vicinity of Tiberias, had still to be overcome (Yalḳ., Deut. 946; the Venice ed., however, reads here "Kephar Ḥananyah," otherwise as in Yer. Ta'anit and Lam. R. c.). In three cities—Ḥamath near Tiberias, Kephar Leḳuṭyah, and Bethel—Hadrian had garrisons posted for the purpose of capturing Jewish fugitives (Lam. R. 1:16; slightly different in ed. Buber, p. 82). Here, as in the before-mentioned Valley of Rimmon, the Jews are said to have been brought in by false promises. Many were sold into slavery; and for this purpose a market was held under the terebinth, which tradition identified with ABRAHAM'S OAK, where Jews were sold for the price of a horse. Others were sold at the marketat Gaza, and the remainder were transported to Egypt ("Chronicon Alexandrinum," 224th Olympiad, in Münter, ib. p. 113; Jerome on Zechariah 11:5; Jeremiah 31:15). Some were fortunate enough to be able to flee either to Asia Minor (Justin, "Dialogus cum Tryphone," ), or even to Armenia (Lam. R. 1:15, ed. Buber, p. 77).
The Age of Persecution.
The subsequent era was one of danger ("sha'at hasekanah") for the Jews of Palestine, during which the most important ritualistic observances were forbidden; for which reason the Talmud states (Geiger's "Jüd. Zeit." 1:199, 2:126; Weiss, "Dor," 2:131; "Rev. Et. Juives," 32:41) that certain regulations were passed to meet the emergency. It was also called the age of the edict ("gezerah") or of persecution ("shemad," Shab. 60a; Cant. R. 2:5). The ten martyrs, glorified in legend, in those days suffered death for their faith; for it was the aim of the government to destroy the very essence of Judaism by preventing the study of the Law. Other prohibitions were promulgated concerning the Sabbath, circumcision, tefillin, and mezuzah, and constituted a mass of ordinances usually embraced in the term "the Hadrianic persecution." A positively inhuman prohibition was issued which prevented the Jews from walking in the vicinity of Jerusalem, so that they could not even pour out their griefs on hallowed soil. The former plan of Hadrian was now also put into execution: after the plow had been drawn over the Temple mountain, Jerusalem became a pagan city under the name of "Ælia Capitolina."
- The history of the Bar Kokba war was written by the rhetor Antonius Julianus, whose work, however, has been lost.
- An extract from the report of Ariston of Pella is given in the Hist. Ecclesiastes 4:6 of Eusebius.
- But the principal source of information is the Hist. Romans 69 ch. 12-14 of Dio Cassius, while the Chronicon Alexandrinum and the work of Moses of Chorene are also valuable.
- The Jewish sources are rich in information, but should be consulted with caution;
- and this applies also to the Samaritan Book of Joshua, ed. Juynboll, Leyden, 1848.
- Among modern authors, Münter, Renan, Gregorovius, Jost, and Graetz are noteworthy;
- see also Derenbourg, Essai sur l'Histoire et la Géographie de la Palestine, pp. 415 et seq., Paris, 1867;
- Schürer, Gesch. 1:583 et seq.;
- Mommsen, Römische Gesch. 5:544 et seq.;
- Schlatter, Die Tage Trajans und Hadrians, Gütersloh, 1897;
- Magazin f. d. Wissenschaft d. Judenthums;
- Derenbourg, Quelques Notes sur la Guerre de Bar Kozeba, in Melanges de l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris, 1878.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Bar Kokba and bar Kokba War'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/b/bar-kokba-and-bar-kokba-war.html. 1901.