Moving mint of Bar Kokhba
Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Image: Facade of the temple
Inscription: Paleo-Hebrew: שמעון - ŠM‘WN (Shimeon)
Image: Bunch of Lulav; left: Etrog-fruit
Inscription: Paleo-Hebrew: לחרות ירושלם - LḤRWT YRWŠLM (for the freedom of Jerusalem)
This selah, or silver tetradrachm, minted between 134 and 135 CE by the mint of Bar Kokhba, depicts on the obverse the facade of the Jerusalem temple, and on the reverse the Four Species, including the etrog, or fruit of the lemon tree. The inscription in Hebrew on the obverse refers to Shimon Bar Kosiba (also known as Bar Kokhba), the rebel leader, simply as “Shimon,” while the inscription on the reverse states “for the freedom of Jerusalem,” evidently referring to freedom from Roman rule. By 134-135, the Jewish rebellion was in its final phase. It had been successful at the beginning, yet the Romans were soon able to contain the rebellion inside Judea, as made clear by both the narration of Cassius Dio (Roman History LXIX.12-13) and by the archaeological excavations. For example, the Jews in Galilee did not follow their brethren in Judea. The rebels did not possess any coin of their own, as they lacked silver and bronze. Thus, the rebels decided to use existing coins and to overstrike them (Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage 2, p. 134-135).
The inscription on the obverse designates the rebel leader simply as “Shimon.” However, documents found in the Cave of Letters, in the Desert of Judah, indicate that his name was spelled Shimon bar Kosiba in different ways. The name Kosiba probably referred to the village where he was born. As the rebellion generated messianic hopes, the rebel leader may have been called Shimon Bar Kokhba, or Simon the Son of the Star, in connection to the prophecy mentioned in Numbers 24:17, “there shall step forth a star out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel.” Yet, numismatic finds have only provided evidence for the name Shimon.
According to Ya‘akov Meshorer, the inscription on the reverse, “for the freedom of Jerusalem,” which appears on coins minted in the last year and a half of the rebellion, indicates that by then the rebel leader was aware that Jews were no more fighting for the rebuilding of the Temple, but only for their freedom (Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage 2, p. 153). However, the representation of the façade of the Temple on the obverse shows that the aspiration to rebuild the Temple was still alive. The depiction of the Four Species (Leviticus 23:40) on the reverse is associated with the Feast of Tabernacles, when the Jews flocked in pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet, by then, the Four Species symbolized the longing for the rebuilding of the Temple. Ya‘akov Meshorer argues that the Four Species are slightly different from those depicted on the coins minted by the Jewish Commonwealth during the First Jewish War. The leaves of the palm are closer, and the small fruits which represent the myrtle are lacking (Meshorer, Ancient Jewish Coinage 2, p. 140-141). The depiction of the lulav on the right and of the etrog on the left possibly indicates that by then the lulav was lifted in the right hand and the etrog was held in the left hand (cf. b. Menaḥot 37b).
According to Cassius Dio, the price paid by the Jews was beyond all nightmares. No less than 985 villages were destroyed and 580.000 Jews were killed. Many others were sold as slaves. Judea was emptied from its Jewish population. Cassius Dio actually writes: "Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war. Therefore Hadrian in writing to the senate did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors, 'If you and your children are in health, it is well; I and the legions are in health'.” (Cassius Dio, Roman History LXIX.14.3). The rabbinic sources also echo both the heroic resistance of the rebels and the extent of the Jewish losses (see Jerusalem Talmud Ta‘anit 4:6, 68d-69a). This coin mirrors the continuous longing of the rebels to drive the Romans out of the country, to rebuild the Temple, and to restore the cult that used to be performed in it, even in the last phase of the revolt.