Simeon Bar Kochba (died 135) led the last Jewish revolt against Roman rule in Palestine, 132-135.
Simeon Bar Kochba is surrounded by legend, and little is known of his life. From references in the Talmud, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and Roman sources, he emerges as a self-confident and decisive but temperamental man of great vigor and valor. Signatures on documents found in 1951 and later in caves near the Dead Sea indicate that Bar Kochba's true surname was Bar Kosba, the "son of Kosba" or the "man from Kosba." In the Talmud he is referred to as Bar Koziba, Aramaic for "son of a lie." This play on his name was probably coined by his critics or by those who were deceived in their belief that he was the Messiah.
The major cause of the uprising led by Bar Kochba was the great hostility of the Jews toward the Romans, who had ruled Palestine since 64 B.C. The earlier Jewish revolt (A.D. 66-70) had resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. Later Roman emperors failed to fulfill their promises to rebuild the Temple, and in 130 the emperor Hadrian ordered the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a Greco-Roman city with a shrine to Jupiter on the site of the Temple. Moreover, Hadrian's decree against bodily mutilation was interpreted as prohibiting circumcision, an important part of Jewish ritual.
When Bar Kochba raised the standard of revolt in 132, thousands of Jews from every part of Palestine, as well as from other lands, enlisted in his army; even the hostile Samaritans joined him. The Jewish patriots had been preparing for the rebellion for some years, gathering arms and fortifying numerous caves connected by subterranean passages. At first Bar Kochba met with considerable success. He took Jerusalem, erected an altar on the Temple Mount, and started to build a wall around the city. He assumed the title of N'si Yisrael (the Prince of Israel).
Hadrian sent Severus, his ablest general, to quell the rebellion. Severus hesitated to meet Bar Kochba in the field and instead besieged and captured one fortress after another, forcing the Jews to flee to the mountains and hide in caves. Their last stronghold was better, southwest of Jerusalem, where they held out for about a year; there Bar Kochba was killed in 135. The revolt had failed, and aside from the heavy Jewish military casualties thousands died of famine. Roman losses, too, were so heavy that Severus in his final report to the Roman Senate omitted the customary phrase, "I and the army are well." Bar Kochba, the hero, lived on in Jewish legend.
Further Reading on Simeon Bar Kochba
Accounts of Bar Kochba's rebellion may be found in the standard histories of the Jewish people. One of the best brief histories is Max L. Margolis and Alexander Marx, A History of the Jewish People (1927). A great multivolume history is Salo Wittmayer Baron, A Social and Religious History of the Jews (14 vols., 1952-1969).