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Bar Kokba

BAR KOK´BA: The name traditionally assigned to the leader of the great insurrection of the Jews in Palestine against the Romans under the emperor Hadrian in the years 132-135 (see Israel). The Roman historians Spartian and Dio Cassius, however, give no name and do not even speak of one single prominent leader; nor does the name occur on the coins struck during the revolt, or, according to Derenbourg (p. 423), in the rabbinical authorities. It rests on Christian tradition beginning with Justin Martyr, an author likely to be well informed. In his larger “Apology" (xxxi) he speaks of the leader of the rising as Barchochebas, saying that he inflicted severe penalties on the Christians (regarded as apostate Jews). Eusebius (Hist. eccl., IV, viii, 4) reproduces this passage, with the variant spelling Barchōchebas, and confirms it in IV, vi, 2, where he says that the leader won his authority over the ignorant by basing on his name (meaning “star" or “son of a star") the claim to have been sent directly by God as a light to the oppressed. Beyond this Eusebius appears to know nothing of him except that in the last decisive battle, at the present Bittir (7 m. by rail s.w. of Jerusalem), in the eighteenth year of Hadrian (134-135), he suffered the penalty of his deeds.

That the Jews had a native leader in this rising is clearly proved by the coins, both those which are adapted to Jewish use from coins of Vespasian and Trajan, and must thus belong to this period, and those which on account of similarity of treatment are evidently of the same date (cf. F. W. Madden, History of Jewish Coinage, London, 1864, 203 sqq., and Coins of the Jews, 1881). The inscriptions of these give on the reverse sometimes “in [the year of] the freedom of Israel" alone, sometimes the same with the number 2 for the year, or “year 1 of the deliverance of Israel"; on the obverse sometimes “Eleazar the priest" (who must not be confounded with the uncle of Bar Kokba, the scribe Eleazar), sometimes “Jerusalem,” claiming the right of coinage for the city, and sometimes “Simeon, prince of Israel.” That 485 the leadership of Simeon coincided with the priesthood of Eleazar is shown by a distinct variety which names Eleazar the priest on the obverse and Simeon, without any title, on the reverse. According to the coins, therefore, during the time of the revolt, Israel had a secular head of the name of Simeon; which leads to the hypothesis that the same man who inspired the people by the name of Bar Kokba was really called Simeon. This theory finds support in certain coins which show the letters of the name of Simeon on both sides of a temple portico above which is a star. Moreover, the Jewish accounts are consistent with it. The Seder ‘Olam mentions the three and a half years of a native ruler as the epoch following the wars of Vespasian and Quietus, calling this ruler, however, “Bar Kozeba.” And the Talmudic explanations to the Mishnah treatise Ma‘aser sheni, when they forbid the payment of tithes with money coined by rebels or otherwise unauthorized, give as examples that of “Ben Kozeba" or the “coins of Kozeba" and the “coins of Jerusalem.” By the analogy of the latter, the former might also be a local designation (cf. I Chron. iv, 22); but the variant form first given makes it much more probable that it is from the name of the ruler; and there is no difficulty in identifying this ruler with the Simeon already mentioned, especially as Jewish tradition, quoting (in the Talmud on Ta‘anit) from Rabbi Akiba, shows how easy was the transformation of the name of Ben Kozeba into the form Bar Kocheba (or Bar Kokba), with its encouraging reference to the prophecy of Balsam (Num. xxiv, 17).

Not much can be safely asserted of Bar Kokba’s personality and achievements, for the Jewish sources mentioned above tell nothing trustworthy about him which is not already known from Dio Cassius, with the exception of his relations to Akiba and to Eleazar, whom, on suspicion of treachery, he is said to have killed with a kick. The immense number of his adherents (200,000 men, who had pledged themselves to the conspiracy by cutting off a finger), the fabulous size of his citadel of Bittir, and the awful bloodshed there, are merely imaginative projections from the natural facts of such a rising. As a consequence of his failure, Bar Kokba has lived in Jewish memory as a deceiver; but one who could bring about so vigorous and stubborn a revolt and dominate it to its close must have been a man of great power and determination, who had made the nation’s cause his own.

August Klostermann.

Bibliography: The principal source is Dio Cassius, Historia Romana, book lxix, chaps. 12-14, ed. F. G. Sturz, 9 vols., Leipsic, 1824-43; the Samaritan Book of Joshua, ed. Juynboll, Leyden, 1848, may be used cautiously. Consult J. Hamburger, Realencyklopädie für Bibel und Talmud, vol. ii, Leipsic, 1891; J. Derenbourg, Essai sur 1’histoire et la géographie de la Palestine, Paris, 1867; idem, Notes sur la guerre de Bar Kozeba, in Mélanges de l’École des Hautes Études, ib. 1878; H. Grätz, Geschichte der Juden, iv, 137 sqq., Leipsic, 1893; Schürer, Geschichte i, 682-685, 695-696, 765-772, Eng. transl., I, ii, 297-301, 311; A. Schlatter, Die Tage Trajans and Hadrians, Gütersloh, 1897; JE, ii, 506-509.

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