Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Bar Kokhba Revolt And The First Schism

From last Sunday's Gospel reading:
Then they asked him,"Teacher, when will this happen?And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?" He answered,"See that you not be deceived,for many will come in my name, saying,'I am he,’ and 'The time has come.’Do not follow them! When you hear of wars and insurrections,do not beterrified; for such things must happen first,but it will not immediately be the end."
From the beginning, the early Christians thought of themselves as Jews, and not as a separate religion. As time went on, this became the source of confusion and tension. The Council of Jerusalem was conducted to address this very problem; what laws must a Gentile follow to be saved.

While the complete break between the Christians and Jews was more of a development than an occasion, many point to one event that solidified it: the Bar Kokhba Revolt.

After the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple in 70AD, the Romans kept a military presence in Jerusalem. Most likely in an attempt to calm the situation and keep the Jews from rebelling again, the Roman Emperor Hadrian spoke of allowing the Jewish people to rebuild the Temple. But when the Emperor did finally turn his attention to Jerusalem, his actions were far from what the Jews had hoped for.

In an attempt to Hellenize to Jews, the Romans outlawed many specifically Jewish practices (such as circumcision). It had been over 60 years since the Second Temple was destroyed, and the fact that the Second Temple was rebuilt 70 years after the destruction of the First was not lost on the Jews of the time. It was a time of suffering and expectation for the people.

In 131 AD, the Emperor Hadrian announced that he was indeed going to rebuild the city. But not as the city of Jerusalem but as Aelia Capitolina – a city dedicated to the god Jupiter. Hopes of rebuilding the Jewish Temple were replaced with plans for building a temple to the god Jupiter. For the Jews, this was too much.

In 132 AD the top Rabbi in Jerusalem, Rabbi Akiva, began to organize a Jewish revolt and overthrow the Romans. He looked for a man who would lead the people to independence as Judas Maccabee had in the days of the Maccabeen revolt.

Rabbi Akiva chose a man by the name of Simon Bar Kosiba. Bar Kosiba was a natural leader and powerful warrior and seemed to be the perfect man for the task at hand. Once Rabbi Akiva gained the approval from Jewish Sanhedrin at the time for Bar Kosiba, he began to refer to Bar Kosiba as Bar Kokhba (son of the Star – a reference to Num 24:17) and declared him to be the Messiah.

It’s at this point in the story that we find a problem for the Christians. While Rabbi Akiva had declared Bar Kokhba to be the Jewish Messiah, the Christians had their own candidate for the position. As the vast majority of Jews supported Bar Kokhba, the Christians could not. And in an atmosphere as charged as it was, this decision served to split Christianity from Judaism more than any other.

But, … on with the story.

Bar Kokhba began to put his forces together for battle. There is a story that in order to get the “best” men for his army, Bar Kokhba only accepted men who would prove their desire and toughness by biting off a finger from their right hand. It’s said over 250,000 men passed this test. (If this really happened or not I have no idea, but it’s a pretty cool story and I’m not going to be the one to spoil it.)

Well Bar Kokhba and his men were successful in driving the Romans not only out of Jerusalem, but out of all of Israel. For almost 3 years Israel once again had Her independence and was ruled by Bar Kokhba.

But it wouldn’t last. After suffering staggering losses to the Jews, the Romans sent an enormous force to crush the Jewish revolt. Some historians believe that 12 of the 24 Romans Legions were sent, almost half of the Roman army. It was bloody, but the Romans slowly began to take the Jewish lands back.

Bar Kokhba and his men staged their last stand in a fortress in the city of Betar. They held out for almost a year under Roman siege until a traitor showed the Romans how to breech the fortress’ defenses. The Romans stormed in and showed no mercy, massacring everyone.

Eerily, the fortress like the First and Second Temples, fell on the 9th of Av. After the defeat and the Jewish Diaspora, most no longer referred to the once Messiah hopeful as Bar Kokhba or “Son of the Star”, but as Bar Koziva or "Son of the Lie".

In response to the revolt, the Roman Emperor renamed Jerusalem Aelia Capitolina as planned, erected a temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount, and forbade any Jew from living there. For over 500 years Jews were not allowed to live in what was once Jerusalem. Once a year, on the 9th of Av (Tisha B'Av), the Jews were allowed pay a fee to enter into the city and mourn at the last standing wall of the Second Temple: the “Western” or “Wailing” Wall.

But Christians were allowed to live in the city. You can imagine how this would remove any notion for the Jewish people of Christianity being another Jewish sect. Now, especially in the eyes of the Jewish people, Christianity was now seen as a separate religion.


Laura The Crazy Mama said...

It makes one wonder if the Jewish revolt would have succeded had they kept their pointers? It's a little harder to fight with one, less digit or worse, with the opposite hand than you're used to!

bill bannon said...

Very informative....thanks for the work.