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Simeon Bar Giora

(D. 70 C.E.)

BAR GIORA, SIMEON, Jewish military leader in the war against Rome (66–70 C.E.). Simeon was born, according to Josephus, in *Gerasa , a large Hellenistic city in Transjordan, where the Jews lived in peace with the city's non-Jewish population. Some scholars, however, identify his birthplace with the village of Jerash in the neighborhood of Hartuv (Press, Ereẓ, 1 (19512), 174, S.V. Geresh), others with Kefar Jorish near Shechem on the grounds that Simeon's activity began in its vicinity, i.e., in the province of Acrabatene. Since the word giora means proselyte in Aramaic, many scholars hold that his father was a convert to Judaism. The main source of information about Simeon is Josephus who is to be treated with circumspection, especially where an appraisal of the man and his activities are concerned, since Josephus entertained feelings of intense animosity toward him.

Simeon, already apparently known as a partisan leader, first distinguished himself in the battle at Beth-Horon against *Cestius Gallus (66 C.E.), in which the Jews inflicted a crushing defeat on the Roman army. Despite this achievement, however, Simeon was relegated to the background, since in Jerusalem the moderate party in control was disposed to come to terms with Rome. Simeon gathered around him a band of ardent patriots and, according to Josephus, engaged in brigandage. It is obvious, however, even from Josephus' own biased account, that these acts of "brigandage" were military operations conducted by the rebels under the leadership of Simeon against their internal enemies, opponents of the revolt, and sympathizers with Rome. In retaliation for these operations, the forces of the moderate government in Jerusalem compelled Simeon to take refuge among the *Sicarii who, under the command of *Eleazar b. Jair , had captured *Masada . For a time Simeon remained with them, taking part in their raids. Subsequently leaving them, he parted company, and "terrorized" the southern part of Ereẓ Israel. Although growing increasingly stronger, he was unable to capture Jerusalem. The Zealots in Jerusalem, who were fearful of him, seized his wife but released her because of his threats. In addition to his continuous war against the party in control in Jerusalem, Simeon also fought against the Idumeans and succeeded in occupying Idumea with the help of supporters among the Idumeans themselves. Hebron, too, fell into his hands. In April 69 C.E. he entered Jerusalem, the gates of the city having been opened to him by the enemies of *John of Giscala, who had called on Simeon to come to their aid. Simeon thus gained control of the larger part of Jerusalem, both of the Upper and a considerable section of the Lower City.

The struggle between Simeon and John of Giscala continued. Constant hostilities were waged between them in the city, and came to an end only when Titus' forces reached the outskirts of Jerusalem (April 70 C.E.). Although all the rebels joined together during the siege to fight against the Romans and performed deeds of astounding bravery, the advantage enjoyed by the Roman army proved decisive. The Temple was burned and the devastated city captured by the enemy. Simeon and several of his most loyal friends hid in an underground passage among the ruins, but, unable to escape, Simeon finally surrendered to the Romans and was taken prisoner. The circumstances of his surrender were extremely strange. Josephus relates that Simeon suddenly appeared among the Temple ruins, as though out of the bowels of the earth, dressed in white and covered with a purple mantle. At the sight of him the Romans were terrified, but after recovering from their fear, bound him in chains. His strange appearance was probably connected with messianic expectations on his part; or by submitting to the victorious enemy he may have deliberately invited martyrdom.

Simeon was led as a prisoner in the triumphal procession held in Rome by Vespasian and his sons to celebrate their victory over the Jews. Scourged all the way, he was taken to the Mamertine prison, at the northeast end of the Forum, and executed at the moment of the culmination of the triumph. That he and not John of Giscala played this part in the triumphal procession shows that the Romans regarded him as the most important leader in Jerusalem and as the rebel commander. This is evident from other extant information as well. His army was far larger than that of his rivals, having numbered about 15,000 at the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem. His soldiers were also the best organized and disciplined. The fact that he was invited to Jerusalem by the priests and the people may have provided him with some legal basis for his leadership, although not all the patriot elements recognized his authority. Since information about them is very sparse, it is difficult to comprehend and explain the basis of the conflict between their different parties. At times it is even difficult to distinguish between the parties themselves. Nevertheless, from extant information it would appear that Simeon b. Giora was the leader of a clear eschatological trend in the movement of rebellion against Rome, and possibly filled the role of "king messiah" within the complex of eschatological beliefs held by his followers. His exceptional bravery and daring, mentioned by Josephus, undoubtedly attracted many to him, and won him preeminence among the rebel leaders. In contrast to the bitter hostility that existed between him and John of Giscala, there was a measure of understanding between him and the Sicarii at Masada.

Conspicuous among Simeon's characteristics was the enmity he bore toward the rich and the sympathy he showed to the poor, even to the extent of freeing slaves. This approach of his doubtless had its origin in his party's social outlook, opposed as it was to the existing order also in regard to the economic system and social justice.


J. Klausner, Ke-she-Ummah Nilḥemet al Ḥerutah (19559), 151–86; M. Hengel, Die Zeloten (1961), 303–4, 381–2; M. Stern, in: Ha-Ishiyyut ve-Dorah (1963), 70–78; O. Michel, in: New Testament Studies, 14 (1967/68), 402–8 (Ger.); C. Roth, in: Commentary, 29 (1960), 52–58.

[Uriel Rappaport]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.