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Bar Kokhba's revolt
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Bar Kokhba's revolt

The 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. Confusingly, some sources call it the third revolt, counting also riots (for the most part in Egypt) of 115-117.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Revolt
3 Roman reaction
4 Outcome
5 Sources

Background

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE as a result of the Great Jewish Revolt, Sanhedrin at Yavne provided spiritual guidance for the Jewish nation both in Judea and throughout the Empire.

In the year 130, Emperor Hadrian visited the ruins of Jerusalem. At first sympathetic towards the Jews, Hadrian promised to rebuild the city, but Jews felt betrayed when they found out that his intentions were to rebuild the Jewish holiest city as pagan metropolis, and a new pagan temple on the ruins of the Second Temple was to be dedicated to Jupiter.

An additional legion (the Ferrata) was stationed in the province to maintain order and the works began in 131, when the governor of Judaea Tineius Rufus performed the foundation ceremony of Aelia Capitolina, the city’s projected new name. The ploughing up the Temple was a religious offense that turned many Jews against the Roman authorities. The tensions grew higher when Hadrian abolished brit milah, which he, an avid Hellenist, viewed as mutilation. A Roman coin inscribed Aelia Capitolina was issued in 132.

Revolt

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". At the time, Christianity was still a sect of Judaism, but the messianic claims alienated many Christians 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, it quickly spread from Modi'in across the country, cutting off the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. For two and a half years that followed, functional Jewish civil administration was restored. Rabbi Akiva presided over the Sanhedrin. The coins were minted and inscribed "the era of the redemption of Israel". The religious rituals were observed and sacrifices were resumed on the High Altar. Some attempts were made to restore parts of the Temple.

Roman reaction

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 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's 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.

Outcome

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, 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 mere memory of Judea, he wiped the name off the map and replaced it with Syria Palaestina, as insulting reminder of 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. Jews remained scattered and stateless until 1948.

Sources

The best recognized sources are Cassius Dio, Roman History, book 69; and Aelius Spartianus, Life of Hadrian in the Augustan History.