24
Mar 18

Bar Kochba and Messiah ben Joseph?

If Kochba was not a Davidide (descendant of David) how could Rabbi Akiva declare bar Kochba as the Messiah? His messianic credentials were established by referencing the prophecy concerning a star out of JACOB (Num 24.17) not (for example) referencing 2 Sam.7 or the Judah prophecy in Genesis 49.  This makes it unlikely that he was from Judah.

In a previous post we speculated that bar Kochba was from the tribe of Simeon. His origins are not clear and our speculation is based purely on his name (Simeon) and his zeal for the torah possibly making him a member of the “scribal tribe”.    Reland believed that Bar- kochba probably bore this name, as originating from Kokab, a city and region beyond the Jordan. He made his descent of such special importance, because he sought for a deeper meaning in the coincidence of the name of his birth-place with that of the subject of the prediction Num. 24.[1] Michael Avi-Yonah surmised that this new  prince (nassi) of Israel was descended from David, and his kinship  with Rabbi Eleazar of Modein suggests that he had Hasmonaean blood.[2]However, a Davidic descent seems highly unlikely. His status was established not through lineage (which would surely have been mentioned if it were true) but by Rabbi Akiva’s theological support. How then could a Rabbi support a non-Davidic messiah?  Is there a precedent?

It was at this point that I came across the book Messiah ben Joseph by David C. Mitchell.[3]

Mitchell says,

“There is in rabbinic literature, a figure called Messiah ben Joseph. This Messiah comes from Galilee to die, pierced by ruthless foes, at the gate of Jerusalem. Upon his death, Israel are scattered amidst the nations. But his death, as we shall see, confounds Satan, atones for sin, and abolishes death itself. And then he is raised to life again”.

Mitchell quotes Torrey;

“The doctrine of the two Messiahs [i.e. ben David and ben Ephraim] holds an important place in Jewish Theology... It is not a theory imperfectly formulated or only temporarily held, but a standard article of faith, early and firmly established and universally accepted”.[4]

It is obvious that some sections of the Jewish community split the messianic functions into two distinct roles, that of suffering servant (ben Joseph?) and that of victorious ruler (ben David). Some scholars argue that “two messiahs” is a late doctrine (to explain the Kochba failure?) but Mitchell argues that the “two messiahs” doctrine is early. The exact origins of Messiah ben Joseph are a matter of debate among scholars. It has been suggested that Messiah ben Joseph arose out of a Jewish collective memory of Simon bar Kochba.[5]

 

Of course, if Jesus was understood as “messiah ben Joseph” then Kochba could argue that he was “messiah ben David”   (if he was descended from David?).  Kochba would never accept the role of “suffering servant” (ben Joseph?).

The situation is rather confusing because Jesus was not regarded as either messiah ben Joseph or messiah ben David by the nation.  Jesus was simply not accepted at all (by the religious elite).

So, then, the Num 24.17 prophecy suggests a non-Davidide, which would make an identification of Kochba with messiah ben Joseph likely – but in a militant (rather than suffering role).    The situation regarding Jewish messianic belief in the second century is confusing (to say the least) and we cannot discount cross-fertilization (from Christianity).  Perhaps the “doctrine” was more flexible and not as theologically rigid as some scholars presume. For example, Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 52a records of a dispute between Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas and other unnamed rabbis. Rabbi Dosa takes Zechariah 12:10 to apply to the mourning for Messiah ben Joseph, while the rabbis think the mourning is for the evil inclination. The talmudic redactor sides with Rabbi Dosa: the mourning is for Messiah ben Joseph. (Mourning the Evil Inclination, he adds, would be absurd.) It then speaks of how Ben Joseph's death frightens Messiah ben David, so that he urgently prays for his life to be spared.[6]  Zechariah 12 constantly mentions the “house of David”, “Jerusalem” and “Judah” how then can the rabbi’s apply it to ben Joseph?   Frankly, it is a mess.  However, I have settled for Akiva regarding Kochba as a militant “ben Joseph” or “ben Ephraim” in other words, a non-Davidic “messianic” ruler over all Israel.

[1]   Reland (Geogr. II. p. 727), cited from Christology of the Old Testament by Hegstenberg, Ernst Wilhelm, 1802-1869 (Alexandria, D.C., W. M. Morrison,1836)

https://archive.org/stream/christologyoldt02henggoog/christologyoldt0

[2] Michael Avi-Yonah, ed., A History of the Holy Land (Jerusalem: The Jerusalem Publishing House, Ltd.; and New York: The Macmillan Company, 1969), pp. 162-67

[3] David C. Mitchell, Messiah ben Joseph,(Campbell Publications, 30 May 2016).

[4] Ibid, Mitchell, pg 1 citing, Torrey 1947: 253.

[5] See also, Wikipedia contributors. (2018, April 18). Messiah ben Joseph. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 12:50, May 15, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Messiah_ben_Joseph&oldid=837011450

[6] Ibid, Wikipedia

The Lawless one of Thessalonians 2.7

In one of his letters Kochba signs his patronymic in Greek as Χωσιβα (Chōsiba) but this is a transliteration (what it sounds like). It is possible to express it as Κοςαβα (Kosaba), which is similar to the known Hebrew variant כוסבא (and phonetically not dissimilar to the more guttural sounding epithet Kochba). If this is placed in the Pauline warning about the mystery of lawlessness (ἀνομίας·) in 2 Thess.2.7 we get the phrase ἀνομίας·Κοςαβα (the lawless Kosaba) which in the Greek Isopsephy system equals 666.  This (and the many other routes to equate 666) is hardly coincidental especially as Kochba regarded himself as the embodiment of the law (see previous posts). We can imagine that Christians would have played around with the different variants to achieve either 666 or 616 (instead of Kochba’s own 611 designations –see previous posts). This is of course a game that anyone can play – but what are the probabilities that so many routes lead to the same outcome?

Shimon ben Koussaba as personification of the Torah

Yehuda Shenef has independently reached similar conclusions regarding Bar Kochba. I have taken the liberty of summarizing two pages from his German book –interspersed with my own comments (in blue):  Yehuda Shenef points out that Kochba’s patronymic   כוסבה [Koussaba]  בן  [ben]   שמעון [Shimon] equates to 611 which is the same value as  תורה (torah = 611) – the Hebrew word for law (Kochba thought of himself as the torah made flesh). The torah contains 613 commandments (not 611) but the ever inventive rabbi’s (cf., Rabbi Hamnuna) explained that the verse (Deut 33.4) states that whereas 611 commandments were instructed via Moses, the first two of the Ten Commandments were given directly to the people by God. Of course, 611 does not equal the 616 variant found in the Apocalypse. Shenef proposes ר שמעון as 666, which he equates with “rabbi Shimon” but one would expect “rav” (not simply ר). He does note a fairly large number of rabbinical scholars named Shimon in the time of the Mishnah as it was the most common name among the Tannaim (the tribes of Simeon and Levi were originally scribal and priestly tribes). Shenef examines the name of Esther (a star) known as a deliverer from Persian genocide in Biblical and Talmudic Literature (thus possibly highlighting connections with the Babylonian/Parthian inspired Bar Kochba deliverance) and Shenef equates האסתר (the star = value 666), the beast (=666) and rabbi Shimon (=666). Yehuda Shenef, 666, die Zahl des Menschen: Das Mysterium der Apokalypse im Spiegel Jüdischer , (BoD – Books on Demand, 1 Feb. 2016) , p211- 212…..will probably update my abstract by including this info as a footnote.

 

The coins that were struck (they were not minted from scratch) are of varying quality because the impression was made over the top of Roman coins and sometimes parts of the underlying image can be seen. Issues were struck in silver and bronze, and all coins were over-struck on contemporary circulating coinage, most often Roman Provincial issues and Roman Imperial silver denarii. They were obviously intended to replace Roman coins and we can assume that at some point it was no longer possible to “buy or sell” in Judea without Kochba coins as that would have been regarded as “traitorous” to the cause. It was obviously an “in your face” political statement directed at Rome. That coinage bearing the image of the emperor was a problem can be seen from the challenge issued to Christ (Matt.22.16-22). Some of the coins are undated, others are dated to the first, second, third and fourth year of the revolt.[1]

Star above the Ark of the Covenant?

A typical description for a coin of the type portrayed below might be: “Hebrew inscription Jerusalem, tetrastyle facade of the Temple of Jerusalem with Ark of Covenant visible within and star above. [Dated: first year, etc, or undated etc, weight, type etc, inscription etc]”[2] (see diagram below).  Of course, the “Ark of the Covenant” was not present in Herod’s temple so is this an anachronism?  Leen Ritmeyer suggests that it depicts the portico of the temple and he bases his architectural reconstruction on the coin (see diagram below).[3]

 

In my “abstract” I refer to the star elevated above the “Ark of the Covenant” but further consideration leads me to the conclusion that the coin depicts the “Torah Ark”. The Torah ark (or Holy Ark) is generally a receptacle, or ornamental closet, which contains each synagogue's Torah scrolls (see diagram below).  This better “fits” the context of the time period with the “Ark of the Covenant” now replaced by the “Torah Ark” especially as Kochba regarded himself as the “Torah made flesh” (see previous post). In other words, the Law has replaced the Ark of the Covenant and Bar Kochba is now the personification of the Law – he is the “prince of Israel” (as stated on his coins) and the messiah (as declared by the chief Rabbi). Our argument would be that Kochba initially pitched a tent that contained a “Torah Ark” and built a temporary sacrificial altar in anticipation of restoring and building a “Third Temple” to herald the messianic age.

Goto image:

https://www.biblaridion.info/images/star.png

 

[1] Some scholars have the revolt lasting 2.5 years, however we argue for 3.5 years: obviously there is something going on with the “dating system” (don’t forget we have a civil and religious New Year) – this could explain “year four” coins; See Chapter 8 page 141.  https://www.biblaridion.info/html/ch8.html

[2] Wildwinds is a website that has Ancient Coinage of Judaea for auction. http://www.wildwinds.com/coins/greece/judaea/t.html

[3] https://www.ritmeyer.com/2009/09/10/temple-facade-shown-on-bar-kokhba-coins/