UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The causes of the Bar Kokhba revolt : a critical reassessment and new comparisons Burnstein, Brian Hale


The causes of the Bar Kokhba revolt have long been debated. This thesis will explore the immediate causes of the Bar Kokhba revolt and compare them to other provincial revolts in the Roman Empire. Doing so will allow us to determine the similarity of the Bar Kokhba revolt to Roman provincial revolts in general. In chapter one, I argue that the unrest in Judaea before the revolt fostered enmity between Jews and Romans. When compounded with Hadrian’s decision to found the colonia Aelia Capitolina, this ultimately led the Jews to rebel. I analyze the literary source, Cassius Dio, to determine the reliability of his writings. Furthermore, thorough analyses of the archaeological and numismatic evidence, especially the Aelia Capitolina provincial and Bar Kokhba revolt coinage, support the foundation of Aelia Capitolina as the immediate cause. In chapter two, I argue that Hadrian’s supposed ban on circumcision was not a cause of the revolt. I argue that the source that states this, Historia Augusta, is not historically reliable. Moreover, I argue through close examination of Roman literary, legal, cultural, and social trends that Rome never forbade circumcision before or during the Hadrianic era. Similarly, I analyze the rabbinic sources that have been taken to affirm this ban, and argue that because they are not historiographical works, they can only be used to understand the times in which they were redacted. Finally, in chapter three I compare the causes of the Bar Kokhba revolt to other provincial revolts under the early Roman Empire to determine that the Bar Kokhba revolt fits within the general paradigm of these revolts. I argue that the unrest in Judaea and the foundation of Aelia Capitolina parallel actions that sparked other provincial revolts. As a result, the Bar Kokhba revolt ought to be considered a Roman provincial revolt and not solely a Jewish revolt. This final chapter allows us to view the Bar Kokhba revolt in a different light, thereby possibly opening further avenues of research on the Bar Kokhba revolt.

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