Simon bar Kokhba

Intro Jewish leader
A.K.A. Bar Kokhba
Is Resistance fighter
From Palestine
Type Activism Military
Gender male
Death 135, Betar, State of Palestine

Simon ben Kosevah, known to posterity as Bar Kokhba (Hebrew: שמעון בן כוסבה; died 135 CE), was a Jewish military leader who led the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE. The revolt established a three-year-long independent Jewish state in which Bar Kokhba ruled as Nasi ("Prince"). His state was conquered by the Romans in 135 following a two-and-a-half-year war.


Documents discovered in the 20th century in the Cave of Letters give his original name, with variations: Simeon bar Kosevah (שמעון בר כוסבה), Bar Koseva (בר כוסבא) or Ben Koseva (בן כוסבא‎). It is probable that his original name was Bar Koseva. The name may indicate that his father or his place of origin was named Koseva(h), but might as well be a general family name. During the revolt, the Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva regarded Simon as the Jewish messiah, and gave him the surname "Bar Kokhba" meaning "Son of the Star" in Aramaic, from the Star Prophecy verse from Numbers 24:17: "There shall come a star out of Jacob". The name Bar Kokhba does not appear in the Talmud but in ecclesiastical sources. The Jerusalem Talmud (Taanit 4:5) mentions him by the name of Bar Koziva. Rabbinical writers subsequent to Rabbi Akiva did not share Rabbi Akiva's estimation of ben Kosiva. Akiva's disciple, Jose ben Halaphta, in the Seder 'Olam (chapter 30) called him "bar Koziba" (בר כוזיבא), meaning, "son of the lie". The judgment of Bar Koseba that is implied by this change of name was carried on by later rabbinic scholarship at least to the time of the codification of the Talmud, where the name is always rendered "Simon bar Koziba" (בר כוזיבא) or Bar Kozevah.


Simon bar Kokhba on the Knesset Menorah Bar Kokhba silver Shekel/tetradrachm. Obverse: the Jewish Temple facade with the rising star, surrounded by "Shimon". Reverse: a lulav and etrog, the text reads: "to the freedom of Jerusalem" Bar Kokhba silver Zuz/denarius. Obverse: trumpets surrounded by "To the freedom of Jerusalem". Reverse: a kinnor 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. Based on the delineation of years in Eusebius' Chronicon (now Chronicle of Jerome) the Jewish revolt began under the Roman governor Tineius (Tynius) Rufus in the 16th year of Hadrian's reign, or what was equivalent to the 4th year of the 227th Olympiad. Hadrian sent an army to crush the resistance, but, as the recognised leader of Israel, Bar Kokhba punished any Jew who refused to join his ranks. Two and a half years later, after the war had ended, the Roman Emperor Hadrian, who was called Ælia, barred Jews from entering Jerusalem. Hadrian also renamed the city of Jerusalem, calling it Aelia Capitolina, after himself. According to Philostorgius, this was done so that its former Jewish inhabitants "might not find in the name of the city a pretext for claiming it as their country." The second Jewish rebellion took place 60 years after the first and 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 Romans fared very poorly during the initial revolt facing a unified Jewish force, in contrast to 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 after the Romans had breached Jerusalem's walls and were fighting their way to the center. Being outnumbered and taking heavy casualties, the Romans 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. During the final phase of the war, Bar Kokhba took up refuge in the fortress of Betar. The Romans eventually captured it after laying siege to the city for three and a half years, and they killed all the defenders except for one Jewish youth, Simeon ben Gamliel, whose life was spared. Rabbi Yohanan has related the following account of the massacre: “The brains of three-hundred children were found upon one stone, along with three-hundred baskets of what remained of phylacteries (tefillin) were found in Betar, each and every one of which had the capacity to hold three measures (three seahs, or what is equivalent to about 28 liters). If you should come to take [all of them] into account, you would find that they amounted to three-hundred measures.” Rabban [Shimon] Gamliel said: “Five-hundred schools were in Betar, while the smallest of them wasn't less than three-hundred children. They used to say, ‘If the enemy should ever come upon us, with these metal pointers [used in pointing at the letters of sacred writ] we'll go forth and stab them.’ But since iniquities had caused [their fall], the enemy came in and wrapped up each and every child in his own book and burnt them together, and no one remained except me.” According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews were killed in overall war operations across the country, and some 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed to the ground, while those who perished by famine, disease and fire was past finding out. 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 healthy, it is well; I and the legions are healthy.” In the aftermath of the war, Hadrian consolidated the older political units of Judaea, Galilee and Samaria into the new province of Syria Palaestina, which is commonly interpreted as an attempt to complete the disassociation with Judaea. 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. These letters can now be seen at the Israel Museum. According to Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin, Bar Kokhba tried to revive Hebrew and make Hebrew the official language of the Jews as part of his messianic ideology. In A Roadmap to the Heavens: An Anthropological Study of Hegemony among Priests, Sages, and Laymen (Judaism and Jewish Life) by Sigalit Ben-Zion (page 155), Yadin remarked: "it seems that this change came as a result of the order that was given by Bar Kokhba, who wanted to revive the Hebrew language and make it the official language of the state."


Simon bar Kokhba is portrayed in rabbinic literature as being somewhat irrational and irascible in conduct. The Talmud says that he presided over an army of Jewish insurgents numbering some 200,000, but had compelled its young recruits to prove their valor by each man chopping off one of his own fingers. The Sages of Israel complained to him why he marred the people of Israel with such blemishes. Whenever he would go forth into battle, he was reported as saying: "O Master of the universe, there is no need for you to assist us [against our enemies], but do not embarrass us either!" It is also said of him that he killed his maternal uncle, Rabbi Elazar Hamudaʻi, after suspecting him of collaborating with the enemy, thereby forfeiting Divine protection, which led to the destruction of Betar in which Bar Kokhba himself also perished. Bar Kokhba was a ruthless leader, punishing any Jew who refused to join his ranks. According to Eusebius' Chronicon (now Chronicle of Jerome), he severely punished the sect of Christians with death by different means of torture for their refusal to fight against the Romans.

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.), including: Harisot Betar: sipur `al dever gevurat Bar Kokhva ve-hurban Betar bi-yad Adriyanus kesar Roma (1858), a Hebrew novel by Kalman Schulman Bar Kokhba (1882), a Yiddish operetta by Abraham Goldfaden (mus. and libr.). The work was written in the wake of pogroms against Jews following the 1881 assassination of Czar Alexander II of Russia. Bar Kokhba (1884), a Hebrew drama by Yehudah Loeb Landau The Son of a Star (1888), an English novel by Benjamin Ward Richardson Le fils de l’étoile (1903), a French opera by Camille Erlanger (mus.) and Catulle Mendes (libr.) Bar-Kochba (1905), a German opera by Stanislaus Suda (mus.) and Karl Jonas (libr.) Rabbi Aqiba und Bar-Kokhba (1910), a Yiddish novel by David Pinsky Bar-Kokhba (1929), a Hebrew drama by Shaul Tchernichovsky Bar-Kokhba (1939), a Yiddish drama by Shmuel Halkin Bar-Kokhba (1941), a Yiddish novel by Abraham Raphael Forsyth A csillag fia (1943), a Hungarian drama by Lajos Szabolcsi Steiersønne (1952), a Danish novel by Poul Borchsenius Prince of Israel (1952), an English novel by Elias Gilner Bar-Kokhba (1953), a Hebrew novel by Joseph Opatoshu Son of a Star (1969), an English novel by Andrew Meisels If I Forget Thee (1983), an English novel by Brenda Lesley Segal Kokav mi-mesilato. Haye Bar-Kokhba A Star in Its Course: The Life of Bar-Kokhba (1988), a Hebrew novel by S.J. Kreutner Ha-mered ha-midbar. Roman historiah mi-tequfat Bar-Kokhba (1988), a Hebrew novel by Yeroshua Perah My Husband, Bar Kokhba (2003), an English novel by Andrew Sanders Knowledge Columns (2014), an American rap song by Dopey Ziegler Son Of A Star (2015), song by Israeli metal band Desert 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".

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