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The Bar Kokhba Letters: Day-to-Day Conduct of the Revolt

Bar Kokhba LetterOne of the most dramatic archaeological discoveries is the letters written by Bar Kokhba himself (whose real name was Simeon bar Kosiba) during the revolt. They are, for the most part, military dispatches and they confirm the historicity of the revolt while casting light on the nature of the administration of Judea by the rebels.

Simeon Bar Kosiba to Yehonathan and to Masabala, a letter-

That every man from Tekoa and from Tel Adirin who is with you, you shall send them to me without delay. And if you shall not send them, let it be known to you, that I will exact punishment from you.

Salisa [son of] Yose, wrote it. 136

Simeon, son of Kosiba, the ruler over Israel, to Jonathan and Masabala, peace!

That you should inspect and take the wheat which Hanan bar Yishma’el has brought, and send me, after inspection, one hundred. And you should give them with assurance for they have been found to be stolen. And if you do not do this, then retribution will be exacted from you. And send me the man immediately with assurance.

And every Tekoan man who is with you, the houses in which they dwell will be burned down, and from you I will exact retribution.

(As for) Joshua, son of the Palmyrene, you shall seize him and send him to me with assurance. Do not hesitate to seize the sword which is upon him. You shall send him. Samuel, son of Ammi. 137

Letter of Simeon bar Kosiba, peace!

To Yehonathan son of Ba’aya [my order is] that whatever Elisha tells you do for him and help him [in every] action. Be well. 138

From the Administrators of Beth Mashko, from Yeshua and from Eleazar to Yeshua ben Galgoula chief of the camp, peace.

Let it be known to you that the cow which Yehoseph ben Ariston took from Ya’akov ben Yehudah, who dwells in Beth Mashko, belongs to him [i.e. to Ya’akov] by purchase. Were it not for the Gentiles [i.e. the Romans] who are near us, I would have gone up and satisfied you concerning this, lest you will say that it is out of contempt that I did not go up to you. Be you well and the whole House of Israel.

Yeshua ben Elazar has written it [i.e. dictated it]

Eleazar ben Yehoseph has written it

Ya’akov ben Yehudah, for himself

Sha’ul ben Eliezar, witness

Yehoseph ben Yehoseph, witness

Ya’akov ben Yehoseph, testifies [scribe or notary?]. 139

Simeon, son of Kosiba, to Jonathan, son of Ba’yan, and Masabala, son of Simeon- You are to send to me Eleazar, son of Hitta, immediately before the Sabbath…. Simeon, son of Judah, wrote it. l40

Simeon, son of Kosiba, to Jonathan, son of Ba’yan, and Masabala who is in Hotah and to Masabala on the frontier, my brothers, peace….

… the Romans. You are to take Tirsos, son of Tinianos, and let him come with you, because we are in need of him…. Be in peace. 141

Simeon to Yehudah bar Menashe to Qiryath ‘Arabaya-

I have sent to you two donkeys so that you shall send with them two men to Yehonathan bar Ba’ayan and to Masabala in order that they shall pack and send to the camp, to you, palm branches [lulavin] and citrons [ethrogin]. And you, from your place, send others who will bring you myrtles [hadasin] and willows [‘aravin]. See that they are tithed and send them to the camp. (The request is made) since the army is large. Be well. 142

From Simeon ben Kosiba to Yeshua ben Galgoula and to the men of the fort, peace!

I take heaven to witness against me that unless you mobilise [destroy?] the Galileans who are with you every man, I will put fetters upon your feet as I did to ben Aphlul.

[Simeon been Kosiba wrote it]. 143

From Simeon bar Kosiba to the people of Ein Gedi, to Masabala and Yonathan bar Ba’ayan, peace.

In comfort you sit, eat and drink from the property of the House of Israel, and care nothing for your brothers… 144

…my house… till the end…, [send] me grain, for there is no bread [in their] district…they have [fl]ed [to] your father… to the Fortress of the Hasidim. And my brothers in the sou[th]… [Many] of these were lost by the sword… these my brothers… 145

136. Trans. J. Fitzmyer, D. J. Harrington, A Manual of Palestinian Aramaic Texts (Rome-Biblical Institute Press, 1978), p. 161, no. 59 with restorations from K. Beyer, Die aramaischen Texte vom Toten Meer (Gottingen-Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), p. 216.

137. Fitzmyer and Harrington, p. 159, no. 53 with restorations from Beyer, pp. 213-14.

138. Y. Yadin, Bar-Kokhba (New York- Random House, 1971), p. 126.

139. Yadin, p.136 with modifications by L. H. Schiffman.

140. Fitzmyer and Harrington, p. 161, no. 56 with slight revisions by L.H. Schiffman.

141. Fitzmyer and Harrington, p. 161, no. 58 with modifications by L.H. Schiffman.

142. Yadin, p. 129.

143. Yadin, p. 137 with additions by L. H. Schiffman.

144. Yadin, p. 133.

145. Yadin, p. 139.

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