by Shira Schoenberg
Shimon Bar-Kokhba was the leader of the Jewish revolt against Rome between 132 and 135 C.E. Bar-Kokhba united his army in Judea and led the Jews in battle. This rebellion later became known as the Bar-Kokhba revolt.
There are few sources about Bar-Kokhba. Those that exist in Talmud, Midrash and Church Father Euseblus are largely legendary. Even his name is uncertain. His first name, Shimon, was found written on coins from the time of the revolt. His last name, however, is written with many variations, such as Ben Koziva or Bar Kozevah, in different documents. It is probable that his name was originally Bar Koseva, which is either his father's name or the name of a Judean settlement. It was likely changed to Bar-Kokhba during the revolt, as a reference to a verse in the Bible referring to the Messiah as a star (kokhav). This would be fitting as Bar-Kokhba was descended from the Davidic dynasty (which is the Messianic dynasty according to Jewish tradition) and the Messianic hopes of the nation centered around him.
Bar-Kokhba was an imperious dictator who was in charge of both the army and the economy during the Jewish revolt against Rome. He held the title of Nasi, which could be a Messianic allusion or could simply refer to the one in charge of army, administration and economy. Bar-Kokhba had unlimited authority over his army and was concerned with even the most minor details. He was not afraid to threaten senior officers of his army with punishment. The 400,000 soldiers in his army were said to have been initiated either by having a finger cut off or by being forced to uproot a cedar tree. Bar-Kokhba relied on his own powers and, according to aggada, when he went to battle he asked God to "neither assist nor discourage us."
Despite this attitude, Bar-Kokhba strictly adhered to Jewish laws including Sabbath, tithes and holidays. Letters written in his name between 132 and 134 C.E., found in the Judean desert between 1952 and 1961, reveal his concern for Jewish observance. These letters also show his preoccupation with everyday issues such as supplying food to the camp and solving problems of land ownership.
Before and during the rebellion, Bar-Kokhba and his men controlled large amounts of land in the Judean hills, Judean desert and Bet Guvrin. They also maintained contact with Jews in other areas. Bar-Kokhba led the Jewish army through three and a half years of revolt. He died in a massive battle at Bethar, in the Judean hills. He was succeeded as ruler by his son Rufus, who was followed by Rufus' son Romulus.