Reasons For the Bar Kochba Revolt

Reasons For the Bar Kochba Revolt

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Killing more than half a million Jews and destroying almost a thousand villages, the Bar Kochba Revolt (132-35) was a major event in Jewish history and a blotch on the reputation of the good emperor Hadrian. The revolt was named for a man called Shimon, on coins, Bar Kosibah, on papyrus, Bar Kozibah, on rabbinic literature, and Bar Kokhba, in Christian writing.

Bar Kochba was the messianic leader of the rebel Jewish forces. The rebels may have held land south of Jerusalem and Jericho and north of Hebron and Masada. They may have reached into Samaria, Galilee, Syria, and Arabia. They survived (as long as they did) by means of caves, used for weapons storage and hiding, and tunnels. Letters from Bar Kochba were found in the caves of Wadi Murabba'at around the same time archaeologists and Bedouins were discovering the Dead Sea Scroll caves. Source:​ The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, by John J. Collins; Princeton: 2012.

The war was very bloody on both sides, so much so that Hadrian failed to declare a triumph when he returned to Rome at the revolt's conclusion.

Why Did the Jews Rebel?

Why did the Jews rebel when it must have seemed likely the Romans would defeat them, as they had before? Suggested reasons are outrage over Hadrian's prohibitions and actions.

  • Circumcision
    Circumcision was a vital part of the Jewish identity and it is possible Hadrian made it illegal for Jews to practice this custom, and not just with proselytes. In the Historia Augusta Pseudo-Spartianus says Hadrian's prohibition against genital mutilation caused the revolt (Life of Harian 14.2). Genital mutilation could mean either castration or circumcision (or both). Source: Peter Schafer "The Bar Kochba Revolt and Circumcision: Historical Evidence and Modern Apologetics" 1999. This position is challenged. See: "Negotiating Difference: Genital Mutilation in Roman Slave Law and the History of the Bar Kokhba Revolt," by Ra'anan Abusch, in The Bar Kokhba War Reconsidered: New Perspectives on the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, edited by Peter Schafer; 2003.
  • Sacrilege
    The second to third century Greek-writing Roman historian Cassius Dio (Roman History 69.12) said it was Hadrian's decision to rename Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina, to establish a Roman colony there, and to build a pagan temple. A complication of this is the possible retraction of a promise by Hadrian to rebuild the Jewish Temple.


Axelrod, Alan. Little-Known Wars of Great and Latin Impact. Fair Winds Press, 2009.

"The Archaeology of Roman Palestine," by Mark Alan Chancey and Adam Lowry Porter. Near Eastern Archaeology, Vol. 64, No. 4 (Dec. 2001), pp. 164-203.

"The bar Kokhba Revolt: The Roman Point of View," by Werner Eck. The Journal of Roman Studies, Vol. 89 (1999), pp. 76-89

The Dead Sea Scrolls: A Biography, by John J. Collins; Princeton: 2012.

Peter Schafer "The Bar Kochba Revolt and Circumcision: Historical Evidence and Modern Apologetics" 1999


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