The Decline of Sectarianism after the Bar Kokhba Revolt

In caves south of Qumran and north of Masada, along the shore of the Dead Sea, documents from the period of the Bar Kokhba Revolt survived. Shimon Bar Kosiba, known as Bar Kokhba (“son of a star”), led the second Jewish revolt against the Romans of 132–135 CE. The revolt was caused by national and religious views that the yoke of Rome had to be thrown off. These ideas were linked with the belief that overthrowing Roman rule would lead to the messianic age. The Bar Kokhba Revolt advanced the eschatology of the War Scroll.

The messianic hopes of the revolt led the rebels to appoint a high priest—possibly because they had reinstated sacrifice—and to mint coins. The revolt was crushed by the Romans, and human bones found in the caves reveal that the rebels who hid there were killed by the Romans. Substantial numbers of documents both from Bar Kokhba’s government and from individuals were found in the caves. These texts demonstrate the continuing rise of rabbinic consensus.

Among the documents found at Qumran were legal contracts, including trade documents and marriage and divorce contracts. Most of these were written according to Mishnaic law, although some use Greek law or a synthesis of Greek and Jewish law.

The biblical texts found are identical to the Masoretic Text. The process of standardization which had begun at Masada had been completed by this time. A Greek Twelve Prophets Scroll demonstrates that even the Greek Septuagint Bibles were being revised to conform to the Masoretic Text.

In the aftermath of the revolt, the rabbis ruled that the Christians were not to be considered part of the Jewish people. The church consisted primarily of gentiles, and the Christians had not participated in the revolt. The Samaritans were also excluded from the Jewish nation.

The rules of Jewish identity were firmly in place. The last vestiges of Second Temple sectarianism were gone from Judaism. From the crucible of sectarianism, revolt, and restoration, the mature Judaism of the Mishnah and Talmud emerged; this, in turn, came to serve as the foundation of the Judaism we know today.

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