15. The Bar Kokhba Revolt and the Foundation of Jerusalem as the Colony Aelia Capitolina
The Second Jewish War (132 - 135 CE)
Showcase 15: The Second Jewish War (132 - 135 CE)

“That in the place of the razed city of Jerusalem he [Hadrian] had another erected, which he called Aelia Capitolina, and on the site of the Temple [burned in 70 CE] of the [Jewish] god he raised a new temple for Jupiter, provoked a war as dangerous as it was protracted.”(Cassius Dio, Roman History 69,12,1).

The Second Jewish War began in 132 CE and lasted more than three and a half years. It is also known historically as the Bar Kokhba Revolt, named for the leader of the Jewish rebels as he is known in the Christian tradition: Simon bar Kokhba (“Simon, son of the star”). His actual name, Simon ben Kosiba is known from contemporary correspondence and other finds discovered in caves in the Judean desert (Fig. A. and Fig. B.). Along with these, the so-called Bar Kokhba coins represent one of the most important sources for this short but significant phase of Jewish history.

The trigger for the war with Rome was possibly a prohibition on circumcision, and particularly the plans of the Emperor Hadrian (117 – 138 CE) to re-establish Jerusalem as a Roman colonia and build a temple to Jupiter on the ruins of the Jewish Temple. The overall causes of the war reach farther back, however, to the period following the end of the First Jewish War and the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, when there had been repeated problems between the Jews, now living in the diaspora, and the Roman administration.

The principal agitator was Rabbi Akiva, who invoked Numbers 24,17 and announced Simon ben Kosiba as the long-awaited messiah. At the same time, he prophesized victory for the Jewish people over the Roman troops. Rebels collected in Judea, and at the beginning of the revolt were able, through a kind of guerrilla warfare, to enjoy considerable success in the struggle against the Roman army. Jerusalem was scarcely affected by the events of the war. Cave finds from outside of Jerusalem show where the rebels stayed at times (Map).