I am Barabbas, and this is my story.
At the request of the leader, Simon Barabbas, I, Yehudah ben Menashe, have recorded for posterity his life story, from his own words, from records, and from memories. Finished in Alexandria to where I had escaped during the Great War between the Jews and the Romans.
I, Simon Barabbas, was born in Gitta, near Shechem, during the reign of the emperor Augustus. My father was Abba or Babas, also known as Cathlas, whose Roman name was Antonius. My mother was Rachel. Though we were regarded as Samaritans, our ancestors were said to have been priests of the Edomite god Koze, before their enforced conversion to Judaism. They named me Simeon, or Simon: an extremely common name. I was Simon BARABBAS, also known as Simon Bar Giora (as they say in Transjordan), or Simon Bar Poras, that is, ‘Son of the Proselyte’. Addition by Yehudah: How Simon later came to be known as JESUS BARABBAS will be explained. The Samaritans were a mixture of peoples brought in by the Assyrians centuries ago when the tribes of Israel had been taken into captivity. They were Babylonians, Chaldeans, Elamites and Syro-Mesopotamians. My proselyte father was conversant with the religions of these mixed peoples, as well as with Judaïsm. We adhered to all the Jewish rituals and feasts, sometimes even more strictly than did those in Judaea. Our interests, though, were primarily nationalistic. We longed for the return of the halçyon days of David and Solomon, those Lions of Judah, when Israel was ruled by no foreign power, but ruled the world. Our particular heroes, though, were kings Saul and Ahab, and Ahab’s wife, Jezebel, rather than law-giving priestly types like Moses and Samuel. Saul and Ahab had even ruled over Egypt and they had uttered prophecies and had consulted wizards and mediums. Ahab and his wife, Jezebel, worshippers of the great storm god, Baal, were known in Egypt as Akhenaton and Nefertiti. Baal, “the Lord”, was there called Aton, from Hebrew Adonai, “Lord”. The enlightened pair created a wholly new city, Akhetaton, in honour of their god, Aton, and with it an entirely new vision – they themselves being the incarnations, respectively, of the god Baal and the goddess Astarte. My family, due to its Samaritan background, still continued to consider Mount Gerizim, rather than Jerusalem, as the sacred place for worship. And we accepted as holy only the five books of Moses, the Torah, and not the many other ones acknowledged by the priests and the scribes in Jerusalem. Our ancestors had often spoken of the prophecy of the sorcerer and magician, Balaam, in the time of Moses, that “a Star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel”. Consequently, my people were deeply interested in the sorcery and soothsaying of magicians influenced by the Elamite and Babylonian traditions still prevalent in Samaria. Was not Elam, the eldest son of Noah’s son, Shem, reputed to have been the first magician from whom arose the Persian Magi? Indeed, a seer known as ‘the Elamite’ had foretold to my parents that a son would be born to them who would fulfil this very star prophecy of Balaam. I was later identified as that predestined child, as SIMON BAR KOCHBA, or “SON OF THE STAR”. In manhood, my trade was as a coppersmith. We acquired our copper from Cyprus. I was familiar with the heat of the furnace and the blast of the bellows. Born strong, this hard work only increased my natural strength. I was popular, too, with the people, a born leader of men. As I worked, I dreamed of one day leading Israel against our hated Roman oppressors. I was skilful in alchemy and was able to read livers: a Babylonian or Chaldean skill passed on to the Romans. Thus I could discern the future. I was able to cast spells by sorcery and bring on familiar spirits through dreams. These abilities led to my being in demand by people who would normally have considered my coppersmith status as marking me too low and unworthy for them to speak to: refined ladies who consulted me about whom they should marry, Herodian and Roman officials, and even some members of the Sanhedrin. Addition by Yehudah: Whilst the ancient sage, Sirach, was correct in saying that “the wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure; only the one who has little business can become wise”, and that “the smith, sitting by the anvil, intent on his iron-work” will never learn the deeper mysteries, as “he struggles with the heat of the furnace; the sound of the hammer deafens his ears” – and though “without them no city can be inhabited” and “they maintain the fabric of the world”, “they cannot expound discipline or judgment” and “are not found among the rulers” – Simon Barabbas was, however, a notable exception to this sapiential dictum. I was able to master all forms of ancient wisdom and mystery, both eastern and western, and this led to my mingling with both the greatest and the least. My ability to perform magic of all kinds amazed everybody, as did my renowned ability to swallow fire and to blow it out from my mouth. Another skill that I developed was the casting of bronze, and later of silver, coins. During the reign of the emperor Tiberius, I was attracted by the forceful personality of that most mysterious of all prophetic characters, Yohanan, or John, known as the Baptist, who wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist and who lived on desert food. John was warning Israel of the “wrath to come”. His talk was all about retribution and a day of judgment. We were fascinated by his apocalyptical words: “Even now the axe is laid to the root”. He spoke like a true revolutionary, putting into words our very own thoughts about liberation. At one stage it seemed that all of Israel was flocking to hear John. I hastened to receive John’s baptism, and I became for a while one of his most ardent disciples, along with my closest companion, Dositheus. We were encouraged to seek isolation in the desert, as John himself had done, to find God, and to understand our mission, and so we went to live in the southern wilderness regions, the Negev desert, and the oasis of En-geddi, and around the western Lake of Asphalt or Dead Sea. Before very long, however, we became disillusioned with John’s teachings. He did not continue to impress us as being the one who would or could lead a revolt against our enemies, though Herod the king, who was also utterly fascinated by John’s speech, was worried that he might. John mysteriously talked about a “Lamb of God” who would deliver Israel. This did not inspire us at all, however. We were awaiting a saviour from the House of David. We were thus expecting one who was a Lion; yet here was our prophet-leader John telling us to look out for a Lamb. What we had learned by now was what our mission was not – it was not the same as John’s. Still, our rupture from him led us for a time to feel frustrated and alienated, like David when he became isolated and a fugitive. I, along with Dositheus and my brothers, Demetrius and Elisha, ‘sons of Babas’ as we were known, and other of my companions, such as Menahem, or Hymenaeus – the heroic son of the legendary Zealot leader, Judas of Galilee – and Yehonathan bar Be’ayan, wandered in the regions where David himself had roamed as outlaws with his band of companions, in the same deserts and in the land of Edom from whence my ancestors had come. Like David, we learned to live in caves. These were especially prolific on the west bank of the Dead Sea. There, in time, we began to organize our group into a sturdy band of revolutionaries, fellow metal workers, brigands, the lawless – anyone who was willing – preparing ourselves for the future insurrection against Rome. We developed an inner core of Thirty, just like David’s Thirty Warrior heroes. Nabataean tribesmen also fought alongside us, though more often against us. We survived on our wits, by robbery, by attacking wealthy caravans, by threats and by murder. I was bold, I was courageous, I was feared for my brutality. We had decided to store in caves the booty that we had begun amassing, including weapons, sacred and magical texts, devotional items and correspondence. We thought to build up a cache of supplies and wealth for a time of future troubles. Later we would resort to building underground tunnels and hideouts in many strategic places throughout Israel. Amenophe, an Egyptian Jew whom we had befriended, of similar revolutionary views to ours – and who would turn out to be a great survivor – enticed some of us to go with him to Egypt to dwell with him there for a time. Dositheus, however, soon returned to Samaria with the bulk of our band and there he eventually began spreading a false report of my death. He succeeded in installing himself as leader of our group, naming himself ‘the Standing One’; the one who would not experience corruption. Meanwhile, back in Egypt, Amenophe had opened up many doors for my companions and me. He introduced us to an aristocratic Jew who would later become the prefect of Egypt, Tiberius Severus Alexander. On his advice I even for a time studied Greek literature at Alexandria, with the help of translators. I, too, was named Alexander, after Alexander the Great. Addition by Yehudah: But the Egyptians mis-pronounced Simon’s family name, Barabbas, as either Carabbas or Barcabbas. Amenophe also introduced me to a famed priest magician named Pancrates, at Heliopolis, the home of the Phoenix. Under his expert guidance I was able to refine the magical arts, such as the power of levitation, and also the secrets of alchemy that I had begun to practice. Pancrates showed me books of spells and I witnessed the magician priest conduct bizarre rituals. Amenophe told me that Pancrates even knew the art of causing people to have dreams, become sick, and die. Addition by Yehudah: Later, an imperial Roman would fall completely under the spell of this Pancrates and would sacrifice his lover, Antinous, according to the priest’s advice, so that that same Roman could restore his own youth. And I learned there in Egypt other arcane wisdom known only to initiates, such as the ability to pour liquid stone. It was due to this secret alchemical skill, known to but only a select few, that the Egyptians had been able to set at an extremely high elevation, but with relative ease, the largest of the great pyramid blocks. And they also cast, in that same fashion, some of their large stone statues. My brother Demetrius, a silversmith, took particular interest in statues and he, soon, would adapt these Egyptian skills to create statues of the goddess Diana at Ephesus, which practice became most profitable for him as well as for our cause. We also learned there in Egypt about secret societies and how to form guilds linking smiths and masons. We realised that we would need a network of support if we were successfully to challenge the Roman occupancy of Israel. And we came to appreciate the importance of using, amongst one’s inner circle, a secret and coded language known only to adepts. Most happily of all for me there also, in Canopus, I, at last, found my feminine counterpart. She was the sorceress, Helena. My divine Helena was, like the great Queen Jezebel, a Phoenician. She was a slave courtesan and prophetess, serving well-to-do Roman officials in Egypt. Helena introduced me to some of these Roman notables. She and I would be inseparable for decades to come. Upon our return to the land of Israel, we found that Pontius Pilate was now prefect in Judaea. My overriding concern at this time was to wrest back the leadership from Dositheus. But, since he had a strong grip, I bided my time, believing it better to dissemble, and, pretending friendship for Dositheus, I accepted the second place. Soon, however, I began to hint to our inner Thirty that Dositheus was not as well acquainted as he might be with the magical arts and the wisdom of Mount Gerizim. Nor was he conversant with our secret inside language developed in Egypt. I hinted that I myself was the Standing One. Addition by Yehudah: Dositheus, when he perceived that Simon was depreciating him, fearing lest his reputation among men might be obscured (for he himself was supposed to be the Standing One), moved with rage, when they met as usual at a meeting, seized a rod, and began to beat Simon; but suddenly the rod seemed to pass through his body, as if it had been smoke. On which Dositheus, being astonished, says to him, ‘Tell me if thou art the Standing One, that I may adore thee.’ And when Simon answered that he was, then Dositheus, perceiving that he himself was not the Standing One, fell down and worshipped him, and gave up his own place as chief to Simon, ordering all the rank of thirty men to obey him; himself taking the inferior place which Simon formerly occupied. Not long after this Dositheus died. Under my leadership, now, we intensified our revolutionary activities with a strong force of followers. For instance, we incited riots whenever the Romans marched with their emblems through Samaria and Jerusalem carrying military standards with their graven images depicted upon them. Pilate hated the Jews and was wont to offend their sensibilities. Anyway, these actions ultimately led to many people going to Caesarea to protest against him. When Pilate ordered his troops to surround the protesters, they bared their necks saying that they were ready to die rather than to see the Law trampled upon. Pilate backed down on this occasion. It was clear to me that, inevitably, this bitter tension between Jew and Gentile would one day explode into an outright War. And indeed, as soon as things had quietened down a bit, Pilate sent in an armed force which mingled the blood of unfortunate Jews with their Temple sacrifices. They hunted down my band, too, for having incited several riots. We were defeated and scattered. I myself was captured by the Romans with two of my men and we were thrown into prison on the charges of insurrection, murder and robbery. Addition by Yehudah: Another charge Simon faced at the time was that of attempting to counterfeit official coins. My treatment in prison could have been far worse, but the superstitious Pilate, and to a lesser extent his wife, Claudia Procla, or Procula, who had heard of my reputation, had become fascinated by my prognostications, even though Pilate himself personally loathed me. He would usually send his wife back and forth to inquire from me on his behalf. She had the gift of being able to read the future through dreams. As I languished in prison, I learned that my brothers Demetrius and Elisha, reliable men, had now taken control of the revolutionary movement in Samaria and Transjordan. Helena was safely with them. I also received reports whilst in prison about John’s “Lamb of God”. He was in fact a man from Galilee, a carpenter, known as Jesus the Nazarene, who, with a band of disciples, roamed the land working astonishing miracles. Jesus had unheard of power. He was rumored even to have raised the dead and to have cured those blind from birth. I was determined to learn the secrets of his magical arts and to adopt his name, Jesus, so as to acquire his power. Many believed this Jesus to be the very Messiah, the longed-for one, a Son of David, and it was said that he and his followers would soon be able to lead a revolt against Rome and that no one would be able to withstand them. They were considered to have all the powers of the heavenly angels on their side. “I have come to bring not peace, but a sword”, Jesus was reputed to have said. And: “I have come to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already blazing”. At last, here was some really belligerent talk! Some of Jesus’ disciples were well known to me, they having also received the baptism from John. I speak, for instance, of the brothers Simon Peter and Andrew. They, too, were looking forward to the deliverance of Israel. There were, amongst their number, some zealots and sicarii, too, such as Judas, with whom I had shared many secret conversations, and Simon commonly known as ‘the Zealot’. Their ambitions were the same as mine, but they tended to operate more secretly and subtly than I did, with their cloaks and daggers. I was somewhat too lawless for their liking, too brutal a man. I also learned during my prison confinement that Jesus of Nazareth had even influenced some of my own relatives in Samaria, turning them away from their traditional belief in Mount Gerizim as the most holy of sites. A clairvoyant woman there whom I knew very well – she had had five husbands – was thus converted by the words of Jesus and she became a most ardent disciple of his. By the time that I saw her again, she had transformed into a complete Judaïzer, proclaiming Mount Jerusalem as the true place of worship. Though it was not entirely clear to anyone that Jesus expected Jerusalem as we knew it to continue. He was all mysterious talk about the destruction of the Temple and a new form of worship, not in a specific place, but in spirit and in truth. It sounded to me very much like Akhenaton’s and Nefertiti’s vision, which I so greatly admired. But whether Jesus meant the same sort of thing, no one was really sure. There were other sayings of this mysterious Jesus, too, that those who were looking to him in hope could just not grasp at all. For instance, he told his listeners to love their enemies, and to do good to those who hated them, and to turn the other cheek when struck. I recall feeling sick in my stomach when these words were reported to me as I languished in my prison cell under callous Roman guard. Imagine how threatened Pilate and the mighty Romans would feel from a mild and timid Lamb leader like this! And indeed, in the end, Jesus went meekly like a lamb into captivity. He was captured by the Temple guard at about the time of Pentecost and was taken before the high priest, whilst his disciples scattered. Simon Peter, or Cephas, had actually drawn his sword in retaliation and had cut off the right ear of one of the high priest’s slaves, Malchus, which Jesus was then said to have restored by his magical powers. Anyway, the talk was that Judas Iscariot had betrayed Jesus to the Jews for a handsome sum of money, having come to realise that Jesus did not fulfil the requirements of a messiah. This was a wise decision on Judas’s part, I thought, for I, too, had become convinced by now that Jesus the Lamb, enlightened though he was, could no more be the saving one than John the Baptist had been. Addition by Yehudah: Unfortunately, Judas apparently later regretted his action and hanged himself. Whilst in prison I had also come to the conclusion that, unless I freed myself, there would be no one in Israel capable of leading the revolt against Rome. During the trial of Jesus for blasphemy by the high priest, Joseph Caiaphas, I quickly devised a scheme, recalling a little known custom that had hardly ever been used, based on Isaiah, of granting amnesty to prisoners during certain major festivals. But I modified this to the release of just the one prisoner. I sent out secret messages to my friends to spread the matter speedily among the people. Moreover, I made sure that Pilate heard about ‘my law’. I knew that, were he to mention it publicly, my supporters scattered amongst the crowd would immediately shout for my release rather than Jesus’s, and would threaten the people to do the same. The priests, who were determined that Jesus should die, would willingly take up the catchcry, even though they personally had no love for me, Barabbas. Pilate would have no choice but to release me and to condemn Jesus to the Cross. And this is exactly what happened. When Pilate paraded Jesus before the people, saying in Latin: ECCE HOMO, “Behold the Man”, the crowd, sternly prompted by my men, went mad and bayed for Jesus’s blood. When I was brought forward as a possible one to be liberated, they screamed for my release. It was then that I first laid my eyes on this Jesus the Lamb of God. He had been most cruelly tortured by the Romans, and looked like he was ready to expire. He was a mass of blood and torn flesh. But his courage and defiance were striking. Indeed, there was a real strength about him, I had to concede. He conveyed an ethereally serene and peaceful expression amidst all of this chaos and shouting and his own personal agony. He, though a mock king, truly carried himself like a real king. Addition by Yehudah: Later a very strange story indeed would circulate in Alexandria in relation to this drama. Not for the first time, in this garbled story about a mock king as reported by Flaccus, the characters of Jesus and Simon – here called Carabbas – were completely confused: There was a certain madman named Carabbas … this man spent all his days and nights naked in the roads, minding neither cold nor heat, the sport of idle children and wanton youths; and they, driving the poor wretch as far as the public gymnasium, and setting him up there on high that he might be seen by everybody, flattened out a leaf of papyrus and put it on his head instead of a diadem, and clothed the rest of his body with a common door mat instead of a cloak and instead of a sceptre they put in his hand a small stick of the native papyrus which they found lying by the wayside and gave to him; and when, like actors in theatrical spectacles, he had received all the insignia of royal authority, and had been dressed and adorned like a king, the young men bearing sticks on their shoulders stood on each side of him instead of spear-bearers, in imitation of the bodyguards of the king, and then others came up, some as if to salute him, and others pretending to wish to consult with him about the affairs of the state. …. In such fashion did later folklore manage to trivialise this most dramatic of trials in Jerusalem. When I, Simon Barabbas, was released to the crowd, I was greeted like a conquering hero. And my popularity with the masses has never really waned since then. What happened after that, though, threw all of Jerusalem into chaos. As Jesus was dying on the Cross, along with two brigands well known to me – one of whom, Dismas, even argued for Jesus’s innocence whilst in utter agony, and was promised salvation by Jesus – the sky darkened in the most ominous fashion. It looked like the end of the world, the prophetic day of great wrath. Then, as Jesus expired, a massive earthquake rent the land. Many persons were killed, and countless cattle. The earthquake destroyed the most sacred part of the Temple and split in twain the curtain. Had not Jesus threatened to destroy the Temple and then rebuild it? Clearly, this Jesus was no ordinary man, many began to utter. Even gentile Romans were saying this about him. Addition by Yehudah: Caiaphas and the priests managed to disguise from the people this fact about the ruin of parts of the Temple and the inner court, and they continued to act as if nothing had happened, still offering their customary abundant sacrifices. They slew some of the followers of Jesus and hounded the others at every opportunity. But Jerusalem was in turmoil, rife with fear and rumours. Strange phenomena occurred, with reports of the dead appearing everywhere. Many people now left Jerusalem in dire panic and settled elsewhere. And I myself fled the city with my companions and returned to Samaria, which I hoped to use as my base for future activity. There I employed all of my considerable powers and magic, as well as some heavy-handed tactics, to win back the Samaritans to my cause. Soon I was acclaimed there as someone great, as Simon ‘Elymas’, or the Elamite, meaning Simon the Magician – or Simon Magus. The Samaritans were ready for a real leader and they, almost to a man, embraced me. Anyone who did not, we harassed relentlessly. Meanwhile, Pilate was beside himself with worry and agitation. The priests had insisted that he place armed guards over the tomb of Jesus in case his followers came and stole away his body and then spread stories that Jesus was still alive. Addition by Yehudah: Moreover, Pilate’s wife Claudia Procla had now left Pilate. This is how I heard the story: Claudia Procla, after having received extraordinary dreams or visions about Jesus and having conveyed these to her husband, had received a pledged assurance from Pilate, in the form of a ring, that he would not sentence this Jesus to death, since he told her that he was convinced of Jesus’s innocence. During the time that Pilate was pronouncing the sentence, Claudia Procla, in disgust, sent him back the pledge which he had given her, and in the evening she left his palace and joined the friends of Jesus, who concealed her in a subterraneous vault in the house of one Lazarus at Jerusalem. Later in the same day, it is told, a friend of Jesus engraved the words, Judex injustus, “Unjust Judge”, and the name of Claudia Procla, on a green-looking stone, which was behind the terrace called Gabbatha. Subsequent extraordinary events saw the followers of Jesus become greatly emboldened, even though they had formerly – for a time after the death of Jesus – suffered disillusionment and alienation, cowering in hiding as the Jewish leaders unleashed persecutions and stepped up security with the assistance of the Romans and Herod. But with tales of a resurrected Jesus now sweeping the city and its environs, and even unto Samaria, and with a whole series of miraculous events occurring, for example, many foreigners speaking in tongues and being understood by all, then the followers of Jesus became unstoppable. They no longer feared anything, be it torture, imprisonment or death. They boldly proclaimed that Jesus, who had died on the Cross, had risen from the dead. Addition by Yehudah: And they insisted that Jesus had said that he would rise again on the third day, but alas, as they lamented, they had not taken him at his word. I, having personally seen the man, and having also learned of the Osirian mysteries in Egypt about resurrection, understood that it was possible that one might be resurrected like the Phoenix, that death could not hold a chosen one like this Jesus, a Standing One, just as death had not been able to contain the pharaohs of Egypt. With the desertion from Jerusalem of so many, and with the authorities powerless to do anything about these fervent ones, led by Simon Peter, James and Yohanan, or John the Beloved, who was well known to the priests, they virtually took control for a time of various parts of the city. But once things had settled down a bit, the Jews resumed their fierce persecution of the disciples, killing some of them. This led to their dispersion from Jerusalem. Addition by Yehudah: The first to be killed, stoned to death, was the eloquent Nathanael, whose Greek name was Stephen. Apparently Jesus had foretold this, when he had once wondrously proclaimed to Nathanael that he would see heaven thrown open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. Paul of Tarsus, who would become our most bitter enemy, was an official witness to this stoning. The disciples spread themselves throughout the land, going out to all the regions in pairs. It was with the greatest anticipation, and with some trepidation, I must admit, that I, who feared no one, awaited their inevitable arrival in Samaria. The first disciples of Jesus whom I met were Thaddeus and the amiable Philip. They were proclaiming a new baptism now, a baptism of the Holy Spirit, a baptism of fire and spirit. We had never heard of a Holy Spirit. This baptism apparently superseded John’s baptism by water. Simon Peter and John the Beloved also came to Samaria working powerful miracles. I saw this before my very eyes, for instance the curing of a man blind from birth. How I now longed for their powers of laying on of hands so as to be able to pass on this potent Holy Spirit, in addition to my own magic. I thus received the baptism of the Holy Spirit at the hands of Philip, and it was then that I took the name of BAR JESUS, meaning “Disciple of Jesus”. To me, having the name meant acquiring the magical powers of Jesus. But, since I soon realised that I myself was unable to perform the same miracles that Simon Peter and John had displayed for all to see, I offered them money that I had made in order that I, too, might receive this power of the Holy Spirit. Simon Peter, who could be very kind and even paternal-like when he wanted to be, actually shocked me on this occasion with his angry response. Addition by Yehudah: Peter’s words to Simon were: “Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee, for I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.” Simon Peter warned me that if I thus refused to repent, terrible things would befall me, saying that I would become blind for wanting to pay for the gift of curing the blind. Then I begged him: “Pray ye to the Lord for me, that none of these things which ye have spoken come upon me.” Addition by Yehudah: Since that day, the term simony has been coined, so to speak, to describe someone who pays for spiritual favours. Simon and we his followers also became known collectively as Simonists. But we were known, too, as adherents of ‘the teachings of Balaam’. Even more insulting to me was John the Beloved, who, though of a retiring nature, could suddenly erupt like a volcano, unleashing a fiery diatribe. Addition by Yehudah: Had not Jesus called John and his brother, James, sons of Zebedee, “sons of thunder” – Boanerges in Greek? John called me “an antichrist”, and “a false prophet”, and he spoke likewise of my brothers, and of Helena, and he began warning his followers to avoid us like the Egyptian plague, saying that Helena and I were the fountain-heads of all the errors and false doctrines in the land. And, quoting the Book of Wisdom, of which he was so practised, John proclaimed that Wisdom would never enter into a crafty soul like mine. But I had my own Sophia, or Wisdom personified, in my Helena, my muse Diotima, the Ennoia. The followers of Jesus even went so far as to accuse me of fomenting revolts against Rome. They had by now adopted Jesus’ philosophy of compromise, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”. My encounter with Simon Peter and John had really shaken me up, though, as I had long harboured a brotherly affection for Peter, a man of genuine courage and strength, and I had hoped to be part of the disciples’ company, but was then so vehemently rejected by them. Addition by Yehudah: Later I would learn that the resurrected Jesus himself had spoken of Simon to the disciples. Apparently it was told in this context: …. James the Greater and one of the disciples were sent to the pagan regions north of Capharnaum. Thomas and Matthew were dispatched to Ephesus, in order to prepare the country where at a future day Jesus’ Mother and many of those that believed in Him were to dwell. They wondered greatly at the fact of Mary’s going to live there. Thaddeus and Simon were to go first to Samaria, though none cared to go there. All preferred cities entirely pagan. Jesus told them that they would all meet twice in Jerusalem before going to preach the Gospel in distant pagan lands. He spoke of a man between Samaria and Jericho, who would, like Himself, perform many miracles, though by the power of the devil. He would manifest a desire of conversion, and they must kindly receive him, for even the devil should contribute to His glory. Simon Magus was meant by these words of Jesus. …. It is this same Simon Magus whose story I am now recording for posterity! This was just one of the many encounters that I was to have with Peter and John in Israel, and with Peter also in Rome. In fact our confrontations became legendary, and the accounts of them wholly exaggerated. For instance, regarding my powers of levitation, wild stories began to circulate amongst the disciples of Jesus that Peter had found me in Rome flying about above him, and that, as he had prayed, I had fallen to the ground like Lucifer falling from heaven. Addition by Yehudah: This fable later became embellished so that Simon’s supposed fall had actually killed him. The story probably arose from the sudden demise of Dositheus at the feet of Simon. Anyway, we Simonists derived great mirth from such fanciful tales as these. Many times it has happened that legends about Simon Bar Abbas and Simon Bar Jonah have become confused. And Simon’s name, ‘Barabbas’, of disputed meaning, but often rendered as “Son of the Father”, has led to much confusion with “Jesus Son of the Father”, as the Nazarene was called, given that Simon Barabbas was also called Jesus. ‘The die had now been cast’ and there could no longer be any association between the followers of Jesus and we Simonists. Our growing hostility towards the disciples also coincided perfectly with King Herod’s increasing pressure on them, to root them out. Herod Antipas and Pontius Pilate had once united to convict Jesus during the reign of the emperor Tiberius. But now, with the death of Tiberius and the departure of Pilate, some say by suicide, a new era was dawning in the world and it would be a most favourable one for me. King Herod recognised in me a perfect ally in his persecutions against the disciples of Jesus. But he also admired my ability to cast horoscopes and he was aware of the prognostications that I had formerly made on behalf of Pontius Pilate. My star was now right in the ascendant as Herod and I became the best of friends. I cast his personal horoscopes and he even gave me in marriage his sister, Salome, whose first husband had died. Herod and I shared that common Edomite or Idumean background. Addition by Yehudah: The Edomites were considered by the Jews to be a most brutal race, descended from the red, hairy man Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. King Herod also greatly increased my power in the land, making me governor of Trachonitis and placing me over a strong force of Edomites, to police his laws. He also put me in charge of manufacturing weapons for the Romans. Addition by Yehudah: In a strange act of maladministration, the Roman officials had laid it upon the Jews to manufacture weapons for them. But – and especially as the time for war drew nearer – the Jews began to store up these weapons for themselves. Later, they would cause the Romans no end of misery, serving almost to annihilate the cream of the Roman legions in the East. I was becoming universally known by the epithet by which the wise Jewish Rabbi, Akiba, always entitled me: Simon Bar Kochba, or “Son of the Star”, the star of Balaam. Addition by Yehudah: Actually, Simon had skillfully led the influential Rabbi Akiba towards this conclusion by explaining through astrology that a new star had indeed arisen in the firmament and that it indicated a great leader and savior of the Jews, a messiah. The Herod family that I now served was famed for producing some of the greatest builders of all time, they having built cities in honour of the emperor Augustus at Caesarea, Sebaste, and, in honour of Tiberius, Tiberias – as well as Machaerus, the mighty fort of Masada, Jericho, and, of course, the great city of Jerusalem, which became world famous under their régime. Rumours had begun to spread that King Herod was now contemplating assisting the successor of the emperor Tiberius with transforming the Holy City into a city of Zeus, or a Jupiter Capitolinus, to bring the troublesome Jewish inhabitants fully under Roman control. His close friendship with influential Romans saw to it that he would receive enormous funds for his project. And of course there was the usual relentless taxation. Herod told me privately that he – in league with the Romans – was intending to re-name Jerusalem in honour of the god Jupiter and to populate it with a Roman garrison, and even to expel all religious Jews from the place. King Herod was no lover of the Jews at all, but was basically – like many of the educated Romans – a Graecophile. Anyway, I disguised my horror at such suggestions as these about the proposed transformation of Jerusalem into a city for Gentiles and I once again bided my time. My period in prison had taught me about patience. Hatred of the Romans still consumed me, as did my hatred of the disciples of Jesus. Unknown to Herod and the Romans, I myself also secretly envisaged a wholly new Jerusalem according to the vision of Akhenaton’s and Nefertiti’s new city of Akhetaton. It would be a Jerusalem ruled by me and by my consort, Helena. But perhaps also renamed, the City of the Star? Meanwhile the Romans, sure enough, began testing the waters by increasing their pressure on the Jews towards the realisation of their own ends. They went so far as to set up their statue of Jupiter in the Temple court, with Roman eagles at the gates. This caused uproar throughout the land, and was really what made inevitable the Jewish Revolt or later war with Rome – or what the Jews called the Roman War. A delegation of Jews went to Rome to complain bitterly about this affront. I found myself in the most awkward dilemma. On the one hand, I wanted to be amongst my fellow revolutionaries and carry the fight against Herod and the Romans. But, I had also learned to cultivate the patronage of the great and mighty for my own purposes; men like Sergius Paulus, for instance, the procurator of Cyprus. For the time being, I would be the faithful servant of King Herod. I even minted coins in his royal name, sometimes stamping over old Roman coins. Herod, for his part, furnished Salome and me with various choice farms and estates throughout the country. I engaged some of my brothers to look after these on my behalf. My secretary and record-keeper was one of Herod’s most competent servants, the gifted scribe Yehudah ben Menashe, who had long followed my career with interest. He knew all the subtleties of speech and arguments and all of the scribal nuances, such as acrostics and cryptograms and the like. His subtleties greatly assisted us in our efforts to acquire secrecy and anonymity. Addition by Yehudah: Yes, indeed, I was well versed in Solomonic wisdom and the writings of the great seer, Jesus ben Sirach, or “Ecclesiasticus”. Just as my scribal knowledge assisted the Simonists, for our part, so did John the Beloved, using similar knowledge, communicate secretly with the followers of Jesus through cryptic writings which became ever more mysterious as the persecutions against them increased. Naturally, the Jews and the followers of Jesus, alike, despised me as the worst kind of traitor for courting Herod. They perverted my title, Bar Kochba, by re-casting it as Bar Kozeba, “Son of Deception”, or “Son of the Lie”. Addition by Yehudah: Simon’s many names would become a source of confusion especially to those not living in Israel. For instance, the prominent Roman writer, Agrippa Castor, wrote on the one page of the two prophets, “Barcabbas and Barcoph”, not realising that this was the one wise man, Simon – both Barabbas and Bar Kochba. And I have already mentioned that confusion often arose about the two Simons, Barabbas and Bar Jonah, owing to my master’s many names. For the short period of time that was left to King Herod, I learned much diplomacy from him. He was wily and cunning, a master of intrigue, who knew how to ingratiate himself with the most influential people of the time. And he even managed to make the Jews think that he was on their side. Herod was never beaten, even after his having suffered utter humiliations and reversals. King Herod always found a way back. Addition by Yehudah: These characteristics were typical of the Herods. Had not Jesus referred to Herod Antipas as “that fox”? As I have remarked, the Herods were amongst the most energetic builders of all time. Culturally, they were philhellenists. I was most intrigued with what Herod might now do with Jerusalem, after he had greatly embellished the Temple and fortified the city. This was of the greatest concern to the Jews of course. Tensions were now building to fever pitch in the city and King Herod and the Roman procurator frequently had to intervene with strong-armed tactics to keep things quiet. The disciples of Jesus, for their part, were predicting terrifying things for the world. For example, one called Agabus, who had escaped from the persecution in Jerusalem and had gone to Antioch, had foretold that there would be a severe famine over all the world. And this shortly happened, during the reign of Claudius, who, in turn, had begun expelling Jews from Rome because of growing insurrection there, but especially in Alexandria, by the agency of our friend Amenophe. The rains wholly failed, and so there was no harvest. The drought was exceptionally severe, for not only Palestine, but in Syria too, where the normal rainfall is much more abundant. There was no food to be had anywhere, nor any seed corn, and so the famine continued on into a second year. The slender reserves of the inhabitants were consumed and they were reduced to eating herbs. Debility and pestilence followed. As all the sheep and goats had died, the people lacked not only food, but clothing as well, because there was no wool from which to make it. The treasury became empty. Due to the Herod’s lavish building programs, no one could now pay the taxes. This all began to take its toll on King Herod, who was now ailing badly. And, with it, his behavior was becoming more and more erratic. He wanted once and for all to put an end to those in his own family who opposed him, and also to the disciples of Jesus who were keeping alive the legacy of the man whom Herod Antipas had once thought was a reincarnation of John the Baptist. Addition by Yehudah: There was more to all of this. The disciples of Jesus had been spreading the word everywhere, and writing about it, that Jesus was the very Child-king whom Herod the Great had tried to have exterminated many years before, but whose family had fled to Egypt. Jesus of Nazareth, they said, and not Bar Kozeba, “the son of deception”, was the true ‘star out of Jacob’ of whom the sorcerer Balaam had been compelled to testify. Decades later, at the trial of Jesus, Herod Antipas had actually come face to face with him, but had, unlike Simon Barabbas, been quite unimpressed by the ragged, beaten figure standing before him. He had expected a masterful magician; a man who could turn any situation to his own advantage. So, in disgust, Herod had sent Jesus back to Pilate. But, since Jesus was truly risen, so his disciples were saying, then he had really managed to elude the murderous Herod family, now in adulthood, as he had done before, in his infancy. There is no doubt that the figure of Jesus the Nazarene began greatly to haunt the deteriorating Herod. He wanted to put an end to the memory of him once and for all, so he struck out at his disciples, killing James the brother of John the Beloved. We cheered Herod for this, of course, as did all of the Temple aristocracy. So Herod struck and struck again. Simon Peter was imprisoned. But he managed to escape, miraculously, it was said, by the power of an angel. King Herod searched for Simon Peter, and, when he could not find him, he had his guards executed. Meanwhile Simon Peter had escaped to Caesarea. And that was the last persecution that King Herod was allowed against the disciples of Jesus. Coming to Tyre and Sidon on another matter of revenge in relation to his family – at the time of the Vicennalia games at Caesarea in honour of the emperor – an enfuriated Herod was prevailed upon by his chamberlain, Blastus, to sue for reconciliation. He took his seat dressed in his royal robes. As he spoke, the people cheered and acclaimed him as a god. But he fell ill and died. Addition by Yehudah: The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god, and not a mortal!” And immediately – some say because he had not given the glory to God an angel of the Lord struck him down – he was eaten by worms and died. Before long Herod Agrippa, who had grown up in Rome, replaced his deceased father in Israel and came to wield great power there. I continued my alliance with the Herod family until the War broke out, when Herod Agrippa and I would go completely different ways – he treacherously siding with the Romans against us. At about this time, too, Salome and I divorced. But I still had my goddess, Helena, and we now determined, like Akhenaton and Nefertiti had, to rid ourselves of all the resistant prophets, especially, in our case, the followers of Jesus. We did everything that we could to gainsay their teachings and to prevent them from speaking publicly and winning converts. My brothers Demetrius and Elisha did likewise. We would anticipate where the disciples were going to be, and would go there and stir up trouble for them, sometimes managing to get them arrested and beaten. Learning from the wily Herods, who were masters of diplomacy and survival, I had continued to befriend important Roman officials, for example Marcus Antonius Felix, the procurator of Judaea, for whom I had found a suitable wife, Drusilla, the sister of Herod Agrippa, and also, as mentioned, the proconsul Sergius Paulus, a highly intelligent man who had a great interest in religion and secret mysteries. These friendships were the cause of my going to Rome in the first place, accompanied as always by Helena. There my fame increased as I worked many miracles and cast horoscopes before the Romans. Helena and I became friends with some officials close to the new emperor, Claudius, and we learned about the need for a ruler to be a god. We were also secretly told by these Romans that, before one could create a perfect city, one must needs burn down the old one. I wondered if that was what Jesus himself had meant, with his talk about destroying the Temple and creating a New Jerusalem. Or, alternatively, one could follow the inspired example of Akhenaton and Nefertiti and build quite a new city on virgin ground. And then force the populace to worship them. The Romans in fact perceived godlike traits in me. Eventually they erected a statue in my honour on the banks of the River Tiber. Addition by Yehudah: That fine statue no longer stands. It was completely obliterated by Roman soldiers when the Roman War broke out. I took a particular interest, too, in the Roman military, knowing that one day, soon I hoped, I myself would be challenging it, or personally taking control of it. I learned about formations, defences, drills, weaponry and flame throwers – also the famous Greek fire. I came to the conclusion that I could, with my coppersmith skills, devise ingenious mechanical techniques and devices to blow away my enemies with fire. Sergius Paulus had business again in Cyprus, and also in Ephesus, and he asked Helena and me to accompany him there, firstly to Ephesus. After a while I settled Helena in Thyatira, where she had relatives, and then I went off to Cyprus to find Sergius Paulus. It was there at Epaphos that I met the wretched Saul of Tarsus, a one-time persecutor of the followers of Jesus, or the Way as it had become known, who had become a believer under the most extraordinary circumstances. Addition by Yehudah: As the story goes, Paul, armed with judicial powers from the Sanhedrin, had set out for Damascus completely zealous in his work of stamping out the influence of the followers of the Way as they were now calling it. On the journey he had a vision of Jesus and was struck blind for a time. The vision told him to cease his persecutions and to begin to serve the resurrected Jesus. He was also told that he would meet with one Ananias in Damascus, who would cure him of his blindness. And that is apparently what happened. The disciple Ananias employed that special power of the Holy Spirit of which I was so desirous, and he relieved Paul’s blindness, after which the fanatical Paul became the most zealous of all of Jesus’s disciples. We hated him most of all of them. I was horrified to find Sergius Paulus there listening intently to Paul’s preaching. Though I myself was never impressed by his ramblings, and even his friends were mystified by much of what Paul would teach and write, the Roman proconsul was so taken in by Paul that he was now actually contemplating becoming a follower of his. I was violently opposed to this of course. I did not want to lose the patronage of so powerful a benefactor as Sergius Paulus. Moreover, Paul had also been casting out spirits from slaves skilled in divination, from whom their masters in the region had derived much profit. Some of these, such as Demetrius, were relatives and supporters of mine. By now there were many in Israel and Syria, and beyond, who wanted Paul killed – I myself most especially, and of course the Jewish priests and Sanhedrin whose firm ally he had once been. I found myself beginning to detest Paul of Tarsus even more than I did the Romans, with many of whom I had managed to ingratiate myself. On this occasion, I deliberately contradicted Paul’s view of the resurrection. But it was the cunning Paul who would actually come out the better in the encounter. Paul, who had none of the kindness or paternalism of Simon Peter, now let loose upon me the worst diatribe I had ever experienced, worse even, being more public, than John’s earlier tirade. Addition by Yehudah: Paul said to Simon: “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?” And so on. No stronger term could be, or has ever, been used by a disciple of Jesus than that which Paul used against me, “son of the devil”. And it was shortly afterwards that I suffered the greatest trial of my life, like a man cursed. I was – just as Paul had been on the way to Damascus – struck blind. This was a most fearful experience and it rendered me totally helpless. Sadly this phenomenon, recently foretold by Paul, led to my benefactor Sergius Paulus’s being converted to their Way. It also became the pretext for the Egyptian, Amenophe, to come back to our land and to resume the leadership of our group. The Egyptian now believed himself to be the reincarnation of Joshua. When I look back on it, my blindness may have been an unexpected blessing, because it enabled me fully to formulate my new religion, a fusion of east and west. This was my new vision. Like Akhenaton – who had also been struck blind in the end – I had found, in Helena, my Nefertiti. Our religion would be completely our own. And it would be centred in the holy city of Jerusalem, the new “Babylon” as Simon Peter, and now John the Beloved, were wont to call it. I would be a ruler god and Helena would be my goddess, or female principle. It meant nothing to me that John the Beloved was now calling Helena a “Jezebel”, since Nefertiti and Jezebel had been as one. Addition by Yehudah: Here is a synopsis of what Simon had come to ‘envisage’ during his blindness, what Paul and John would call a gnosis: In the beginning God had his first thought, his Ennoia, which was female, and that thought was to create the angels. The First Thought then descended into the lower regions and created the angels. But the angels rebelled against her out of jealousy and created the world as her prison, imprisoning her in a female body. Thereafter, she was reincarnated many times, each time being shamed. Her many reincarnations included Helen of Troy; among others, and she finally was reincarnated as Helen, a slave and prostitute in the Phoenician city of Tyre. God then descended in the form of Simon Magus, to rescue his Ennoia, and to confer salvation upon men through knowledge of himself. “And on her account,” he says, “did I come down; for this is that which is written in the Gospel ‘the lost sheep’.” For as the angels were mismanaging the world, owing to their individual lust for rule, he had come to set things straight, and had descended under a changed form, likening himself to the Principalities and Powers through whom he passed, so that among men he appeared as a man, though he was not a man, and was thought to have suffered in Judaea, though he had not suffered. “But in each heaven I changed my form,” says he, “in accordance with the form of those who were in each heaven, that I might escape the notice of my angelic powers and come down to the Thought, who is none other than her who is also called Prunikos and Holy Ghost, through whom I created the angels, while the angels created the world and men.” The most radical element was the identification of Simon now with the Supreme, and of his consort Helena with the female principle. Only the adept ones, the inner circle, would be privy to the secret language and doctrines of the Simonists or Balaamists. To all intents and purposes, to the outside world, we were strictly adhering Jews, keepers of the Mosaïc Law. Our sacred rites, considered licentious and disgusting by the followers of the Way, became the model for religious rites everywhere and they were emulated by many. Even by some of the followers of the Way, much to the abject horror of Simon Peter, John the Beloved, and of course Paul. The clairvoyant sorceress Helena promoted these sacred rites most enthusiastically in Thyatira and won over many converts, even amongst the followers of the Way. Once I had recovered from my blindness I knew that I, at last, had the full power of the Holy Spirit that I had so ardently sought. I was now able to give out confidently to my followers that I was in fact one in union with the Holy Spirit and so I could do anything – that I had become invincible. Addition by Yehudah: Simon was also being called – based on an interpretation of Barabbas, actually a name of uncertain precise meaning – “Son of the Father”, the title that Jesus the Nazarene had adopted. At last, now, I knew what Jesus had meant, to live in spirit and truth. I had been fully liberated, resurrected like Jesus. Had he himself cured me as he had cured so many during his time on earth? Along with the restoration of my physical sight, my spiritual sight had been brought to perfection. I shed my long-held preoccupation with Mount Gerizim, which had now completely lost its fascination for me. Jesus had been right about this, too. I, Simon Bar Kochba, must have a new city from which to rule: Jerusalem, yes, but now a New Jerusalem, a re-made Jerusalem as Jesus had envisaged, but perhaps also with a new name. Demetrius, Elisha and I greatly stepped up our efforts to harrass Paul, giving him constant opposition in Ephesus and its environs and wherever he went. But, then, as Paul became more and more confined by the Roman authorities, and then taken to Rome, John the Beloved emerged right to the forefront and was ever more outspoken against us. Addition by Yehudah: About four years before the War with the Romans began, John, citing a revelation from Jesus, began to proclaim the end with great insistence: the end of Jerusalem and its Temple and the priesthood. Like a new prophet Jeremiah, “Terror on every side”, John proclaimed monotonously, “Woe, woe, woe to Jerusalem”. And, just as with the prophet Jeremiah, everybody mocked him and imitated his cry. He would receive lashings from the authorities, at the instigation of the procurator of Judaea, Lucceius Albinus, successor to Porcius Festus, but this did not deter him. He was then based at Patmos, where he had been confined, and at Ephesus, where seven churches were under his priestly jurisdiction. Paul had administered other communities in the region, not wanting to tread on John’s toes. Later, as the War intensified, John was confined to Jerusalem, until the very end. What greatly exacerbated the tension between the Jews and the Romans, leading to the increasing activity of the Jewish Zealots – who modelled themselves on the Maccabees, and who were fanatically opposed to the Roman occupation – was a succession of provocative Roman procurators, now the true rulers of Palestine. Marcus Antonius Felix, for whom I had assessed, through horoscopes, the most appropriate wife for him, Drusilla, crucified countless numbers of these Zealots, in an effort to rid the country of them. They were now led by our former ally, Menahem, he being strongly supported by the priest Eleazer ben Jair, who had become their spiritual leader. A similar group, the Sicarii, armed with short daggers, sicae, and dedicated to the removal of their political opponents, had also been gaining adherents and increasing their activities. Their leader was John of Gischala, son of Levi, who, growing envious of my power and popularity in the land, had issued orders for his dagger men to assassinate me, as they had the high priest, Jonathan – possibly with the connivance of Felix, who detested Jonathan. John of Gischala had issued similar orders regarding my Helena. Felix had imprisoned Paul at Caesarea where he was held for two years after he had found himself in trouble from a mob led by our supporters. Some of the Roman officials were wondering if Paul were actually the legendary renegade Egyptian, our ally Amenophe, the would-be leader of the people into the wilderness. For, it had been during Felix’s governorship that Amenophe had really got to work. He had won over the people by his promises to perform Joshuan-like miracles of parting the River Jordan and miraculously bringing down the walls of Jerusalem, in order to wrest back the city for the common people. Amenophe’s boldness made him a hero amongst the oppressed poor, who generally supported us. After leading his followers into the wilderness for a time, Amenophe then came into the environs of Jerusalem, taking a crowd of lightly armed people to the Mount of Olives, and promising that at his word the walls of Jerusalem would fall so that they would enter the city and wrest it from the Romans. Felix went out to meet them with heavily-armed infantry. Sadly, Amenophe’s force of about 4000 was soundly defeated by the Romans, and many were slaughtered. But Amenophe himself managed to escape. Porcius Festus came next after Felix. He was a somewhat more honest administrator, at least by comparison with Felix, generally treating the Jews with surprising lenience. But he had no understanding whatsoever of the ways and customs of this part of the world. Moreover, the fires that Felix had lit in the land were beyond being doused by now. Soon after Festus’s arrival there arose a dispute between the Jewish and Syrian inhabitants of Caesarea. It was decided by the imperial rescript in favour of the Syrians. This embittered the Jews still more. The situation was not improved under the next procurator, Albinus, whose corruption was rampant. The Jews regarded him as nothing less than a criminal. He did try to check the disciples of Jesus, especially John the Beloved, who was beginning to irritate everyone of us with his incessant cries of “Woe, woe, woe”. Just when we thought that Felix’s imprisoning of Paul might quieten these Christians, as they were now known, who we feared were disheartening the people, John suddenly emerged in Jerusalem with a fellow “witness’, as the pair called themselves. But the final straw to break the camel’s back regarding the tension between the Romans and the Jews was when Festus’s successor, Gessius Florus – compared to whom his predecessors appeared as paragons of virtue – began openly to plunder the land, robbing individuals, sacking towns, and taking bribes from bandits. Naturally I managed to ingratiate myself with Florus, whilst also looking for opportunities to undermine him. Later when he took 17 talents from the Temple treasury and sold off some of the Temple furnishings, the Jerusalem Jews could contain themselves no longer. Addition by Yehudah: With supreme sarcasm and contempt they passed around their community a basket to take up a collection for the “indigent” Florus. He took bloody revenge on them for the insult and turned part of the city over to his soldiers for plunder. Since the priests tried to control the Jews during these incidents and counseled them to patience, the meek attitude of the people, who did not react against the soldiers, was interpreted by the latter as scorn. Slaughter ensued. Whilst the Jews withdrew to the Temple precincts and soon cut off the portico passageway between the Temple and the fortress Antonia, Florus, who was momentarily not strong enough to check the rebels, was forced to withdraw to Caesarea. The revolt against Rome had become formal. Every available man now mobilised for battle. Eleazer and Menahem stationed themselves at the mighty fort of Masada in the south. John of Gischala commanded his troops in Galilee, in the north; though the priests favoured there the traitorous Joseph, son of Matthias, whom John rightly suspected of disloyalty. I, myself, with my troops, assisted with the fortification of Jerusalem itself, whilst now administering the land as both prince and king. My much-anticipated time of destiny had finally arrived. Still the Jewish authorities, who had never really liked to work with me, considering my perceived lawlessness and brutality, looked instead to Eleazer and the Zealots for their defence, and even to the hateful John of Gischala. They nevertheless had to contend with the fact that I was now the single most powerful man in the land, with the strongest and most able army. It was I, Simon Barabbas, who had emerged as the real leader of the Jews. Moreover, I now began to issue coins in my own name, Bar Kochba, depicting the Temple of Yahweh with the Messianic star, my star of destiny, over the roof, and the Ark of the Covenant inside, and proclaiming “The Liberation” and “The Redemption of Israel”. Addition by Yehudah: Simon Bar Kochba’s coins would be the very last representations ever made of the Temple and the Ark of the Covenant, before the Temple was destroyed forever by the Romans. This was meant to give heart to my people – these wise of the land who had no doubt by now that I, Simon Barabbas, was the longed-for messiah of Israel. But I, like David and Solomon, ruled the land with an iron fist. I would stand no insubordination or indigence, threatening my allies with dire punishments if they did not send me supplies and troops without delay. Jews in other parts of the empire now prepared also to break out in open revolt against Rome. We began marshalling ourselves mightily for the inevitable backlash. After sporadic individual skirmishes throughout the land, during which the troops of Florus were routed, we realised that we would need a far more concerted and unified effort when Gaius Cestius Gallus, the Roman legatus of Syria – whose aid Florus had summoned – led a powerful Roman invasion of Judaea and came up along the old Beth-horon road, where Joshua had once scattered his Canaanite enemies thanks to the miracle of the sun. My faithful ally Amenophe, a true survivor, had earnestly studied the Joshuan strategy in detail and knew intimately the narrow Beth-horon road, Upper and Lower. Thanks largely to Amenophe, the reincarnation of Joshua, we were eventually able to gain the ascendancy and rout the forces of Gallus when they retreated from Jerusalem. Upon their retreat, we lions mauled them savagely and took back to our dens a huge supply of Roman booty. Addition by Yehudah: Had not the great Pharaoh ‘Shishak’, or Thutmose III, Solomon’s son by the concubine Isis, brazenly come by this same narrow Beth-horon road, much to the consternation and near mutiny of his generals? It was a fearfully narrow road, one that could be defended by only a handful of men. The Egyptian generals, when discussing with the Pharaoh the dangers of the road also name Araunah, or Oronim, had argued: “Shall our van¬guard be fighting while our rearguard is yet standing yonder in Araunah not having fought?” Now our own time, centuries after ‘Shishak’, would prove just how amaz¬ingly correct had been the estimate of the Egyptian generals: what they were afraid of indeed happened to the Roman army of Cestius Gallus which climbed the Beth-horon ascent on its way to Jerusalem. After having emerged from the defile, Gallus was camped with the van of the army at Gibeon when they were attacked by our Jewish forces. He succeeded in checking the attack; but at the same time we succeeded in cutting off a large part of the Roman rearguard as they were mounting towards Beth-horon, and carried off many of the baggage mules. Though Gallus reached his goal and laid siege to Jerusalem, he had to lift the siege prematurely owing to the loss of his baggage. But the real disaster caught the Romans during their retreat, after they had become involved in the defiles and begun the descent. As it was recorded: “While even the infantry were hard put to defend themselves, the cavalry were in still greater jeopardy; to advance in order down the road under the hail of darts was impossible, to charge up the slopes was impracticable for horses: on either side were precipices and ravines, down which they slipped and were hurled to destruction; there was no room for flight, no conceivable means of defence; in their utter helplessness the Roman troops were reduced to groans and the wailings of despair . . .” Nightfall hindered the complete destruction of the Roman army, the greater part of which suc¬ceeded in descending under cover of darkness with the help of a ruse, after abandoning all their machines of war, which were willingly collected by we the victors. Thus we had at the beginning of our great Revolt against Rome won a convincing victory. Rome and Jerusalem were now to be in a state of open War for the next several years. This battle was also what first made the authorities consider Simon as a fine military commander, rather than a mere leader of brigands. Simon had helped in defeating the advance by attacking from the north. He had put the hindmost of the army into disorder, and carried off many of the beasts that carried the weapons of war, and led them into the city. However, he was rejected a commanding position by the Jerusalem authorities, for they did not want a popular leader of a rebellious peasantry if they were to moderate the revolt and negotiate with the Romans. The foolish Jewish leaders, however, refused to recognize me as the man to lead them. In particular the high priest, Ananus ben Ananus, or Artanus, was hostile towards me, considering me a contemptuous man of low breeding. So I, in equal contempt, and in a furious rage, left Judaea with my loyal band and moved back to my place of origins, to Samaria in the toparchy of Accrabatene, where for a while we robbed the houses of wealthy people. Addition by Yehudah: Someone then wrote of Simon. “But as for the Acrabbene toparchy, Simon, the son of Gioras, got a great number of those that were fond of innovations together; and betook himself to ravage the country; nor did he only harrass the rich men’s houses, but tormented their bodies, and appeared openly and beforehand to affect tyranny in his government. And when an army was sent against him by Artanus, and the other rulers, he retired to the robbers that were at Masada”. Those supposed robbers included the sicarii, led by the priest Eleazer ben Jair. Thus, fortuitously, Simon and we his followers were entrenched in the south, when Vespasian arrived with a huge force from Antioch in the north. When news of the disaster reached the emperor of Rome he quickly appointed the soldier Vespasian as governor of Judaea. Vespasian, too, was a very able commander, but I knew that I would be able to match him, since I had long now studied the Roman military tactics and had well grasped the difficulties that the Romans would encounter in our land. Moroever, had I not just acquired a great reputation for myself by playing a leading part in the embarrassing debacle for the Romans at Beth-horon? Not surprisingly, Vespasian succeeded in reducing much of Galilee within a year, and even further south. The Jewish leaders there proved no match for him. Vespasian next moved toward Jerusalem via the Jordan Valley, seizing and burning rebel quarters en route. The Jews were forced to flee to caves and hide in the subterranean tunnels that we had built. But it was destined that I, not Vespasian, should have the victory, and fate intervened to send him packing to Rome. At this time a series of civil wars broke out there. These were so fierce that Roman troops had to be called in from all parts of the empire, with Roman army fighting Roman army. The empire began to fall apart and seemed all of a sudden to be in its death throes. Rebellions broke out throughout Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt. Addition by Yehudah: It was during this period of the withdrawal from the land of major Roman forces that many who had no heart for the War, fled the land. Among these were the majority of the Christians, who believed by so doing that they were obeying a command by Jesus, to flee the land when the pagan armies came up and surrounded it. Whereas Simon considered that the temporary retreat by the Romans was due to his fate, the Christians considered it to be a miracle, for, how else to flee when surrounded by armies? The Christians fled eastwards to the land of Perea, settling mostly in Pella. What even further exacerbated the situation for Rome was that our Roman opponents in the land during this time of turmoil proved to be totally inadequate for the task. The procurator was now Tineius Rufus, whose local garrison of two legions, the VI Ferrata and the X Fretensis – plus some troops stationed at the fort of Beth-shan, or Scythopolis – was coming under such pressure that the nearest territories to the trouble spot despatched as many soldiers as could be spared. Rufus sought the assistance of the new legatus of Syria, Publicius Marcellus, who arrived with additional troops from the II Gallica. Roman manpower was being stretched to the limit, and the once mighty Romans were suffering defeat after defeat at our hands. Addition by Yehudah: Taken from various notes. During this period, as the Jews faced the very real prospect of the obliteration of their religion and culture, our master and leader, called Simon Bar Kochba began to change the face of resistance. In the decades since one lauded sect leader – Jesus of Nazareth – had been executed, there had been a succession of messianic claimants; when one failed to deliver, or was removed by the occupying powers or by schisms within the Jews themselves, another proclaimed himself in their stead. Bar Kochba had the ability of no other to draw together a more organised, measured opposition to the Romans. Slowly, sporadic acts of violence or sabotage became a more concerted campaign of attack. Rome’s plans for Jerusalem were exactly what Bar Kochba had been waiting for. When a new star was seen it was claimed as an endorsement that Simon was the new messiah, the Prince of Israel who would lead his desperate people away from slavery under the Romans. His name was thus changed to Bar Kochba – ‘son of the star’ – confirming his fulfilment of an ancient prophecy. Rumours circulated that dramatic miracles had been associated with him: that he could uproot trees with his bare hands, that he could belch flames from his mouth. Our Bar Kochba was a passionate demagogue, and although he had a local reputation for both ferocity and prodigious strength, he was compelling, intelligent and ruth¬less; it was a potent combination. His ever-increasing numbers of followers were willing to cut off their little fingers as a demonstration of their loyalty and courage. Tales of his heroism drew more supporters to his side. Despite some con¬tinued opposition within Judea, Bar Kochba, unlike most other rebels, began to draw adherents not just among the religious zealots but from previously less actively political communities across Judea. There were still those stubborn intellectuals who scoffed at Bar Kochba’s messianic claims, but his movement was supported by a number of Jewish scholars, including the elderly and respected Rabbi Akiba, and it grew in influence and effect. Against a background of escalating brutality in Roman retali¬ation for minor offences, his creed seemed more and more persuasive. Slowly the Jews, whose defence had so often been weakened by rifts, moved towards a semblance of unity under one leader. As the War proceeded Bar Kochba had 400,000 fighting men behind him. The situation had exploded into open conflict. The Jews of Judea believed that their coreligionists across the east would surely support them against the Romans. With Bar Kochba at their head, many believed that the yoke of Rome might yet be overthrown. All experience suggested that this was a naive hope; yet writers of the time report that, although there was not the simultaneous uprising the Judeans might have hoped for, trouble did soon spread, not just within the country, nor only into neighbouring communities in adjacent territories, but throughout the eastern empire. This was not yet sufficiently coherent to be a serious threat to Roman dominance in the region, but it was worrying for the Romans that support for the Jews was extending less into Jewish communities elsewhere than into other, non-Jewish but disaffected Roman possessions. Jewish commentators reported with bitterness that all over the empire, those hostile to the Jews saw the revolt as an excuse for further outbreaks of violent hostility against them. To begin with, the experienced Romans on the spot considered the outbreaks to be containable; but the initial response by the prefect, Tineius Rufus, was soon revealed as inadequate. The attack on the Jews was prosecuted with the utmost savagery, yet the Romans failed to bring the campaign to a conclusion and Roman casualties began to reach un¬acceptable levels. It took the occupying forces too long to realise that the opposition was better organised, better sup¬ported and better provisioned than it ever had been before. It did not fight according to rules, nor did it wear a uniform, but it became obvious that there was, in effect, an army fighting for Judea. Slowly the numbers of Romans on the ground began to seem inadequate. For every rebel executed, another rose in his place. This intelligence was fed back to the emperor; finally he acted, and when he did it was with drastic measures. The emperor’s response to events in Judea was out of character. As the situation started to spin out of control, he appeared to have reacted too slowly to events as they were reported to him; and then, when he did act, he did so with atypical harshness and with little idea of the fighting conditions which would await his legions. He had taken part in difficult campaigns against the barbarian tribes of middle Europe, so he understood military tactics. But Judea was a very different place from the thick forests of Dacia, and the Jews quite different in psychology and motivation from the barbarian forces. The Romans’ opponents here were not so ill-prepared. Judea was a land largely of villages, not cities; its com¬munities were small and spread out, and it was hard to pinpoint where attacks were coming from and how they were being organised. Bar Kochba made certain that opportunities for large-scale engagements were impossible, forcing the Romans to re-organise themselves into small fighting units. The terrain was rough; bands of rebels appeared, attacked and were spirited into the landscape. Individual fighters were captured, tortured and put to death but no inroads were made into the hidden Jewish strongholds. For every village laid to waste by the Romans, another would produce its own small band of fighters. The Romans learned that their best-trained and best-equipped fighting forces might come to grief against partisans fighting on their own territory and for a cause for which they would willingly sacrifice themselves and their families. We Jews, centring our resistance in and around Jerusalem, had succeeded in liberating our country. This was a great victory. I greatly strengthened the City now with a third northern wall. Successful actions against the Romans gave us control of strategically important coastal lands. We confiscated imperial estates and redis¬tributed them to Jewish peasant communities. We issued our own Hebrew coinage, some of it created by over¬stamping existing Roman coins. It was an act of huge and inspiring significance. With the coinage now Hebrew, not Roman, the question formerly put to Jesus about the imperial coin, eliciting his ‘render to Caesar’ comment, had become completely redundant. Addition by Yehuda: I later learned from discussions in Egypt with Roman soldiers who had fought in this War that Simon Bar Kochba was a man greatly feared by them. The common soldiers imagined that he was a demigod, a Titan, of massive size, who could blow away his enemies by spewing fire from his mouth. Even some of the officers believed the same. They had all wondered if they had embarked upon a war that they could not possibly win, and that nothing less than a horrible death awaited them in the land. Meanwhile, Caesar had finally stabilised his position in Rome. The civil wars had petered out. And Rome once again turned its eagle eye towards Israel. General Titus was appointed as Commander-in-chief to prosecute the War. Meanwhile the treacherous Herod Agrippa had now joined the fight on the side of the Romans, as well, lending his own troops to the Roman war effort. His sister Berenice, with whom Herod Agrippa was said to have had incestuous relations, had become the mistress of Titus. The Romans began to bring in massive reinforcements, as well as bolstering up the legions of Rufus and Marcellus. From Egypt arrived the XXII Deitoriana. The III Cyrenaica, III Gallica and IV Scythia were also partially in¬volved, meaning that the fragile stability of the other eastern provinces was under threat with their diversion. Roman emperors had been destroyed by movements which started within the army, and many good generals suffering heavy losses and uncertainties had faced mutiny in the ranks. A protracted campaign was always a hazardous prospect and it seems extraordinary that the emperor, however provoked, should have become embroiled in such a war of attrition. So much of Rome’s pride and self-definition was sustained by the certainty of military pre-eminence; yet as war escalated in Judea, the whole empire watched and saw that mighty Rome could not prevail. Addition by Yehudah: The Roman army had two great fighting strengths. It could fight efficiently on the plain, in set-piece formation battles, and it had also developed the manoeuvrability and the advanced weaponry for hand-to-hand fighting in woods and forests, where the more crude spears, slings and long, hacking swords of opponents could not so easily be brought into play. The lethal short sword which the legionary was taught to use in a stabbing motion and the javelin thrown at a visible enemy were the standard weapons that made Roman soldiers so effective. Siege machines and the famous shield cover of the testudo had become the stuff of military legend, enabling legions to break down the defences of cities. But in Judea the Romans had to act within a military landscape very different from those in which they could invariably win the day. Skir¬mishes were fought in desert and hilly, inaccessible reaches with natural fortifications. Siege machines may have been used to gain access to groups established on hilly plateaux, but we insurgents also dug into a network of subterranean caves from which we could fight a most awkward war. As one historian would note: “The resistance fighters did not dare try conclusions with the Romans in the open field, but they occupied the advantageous positions in the country and strengthened them with mines and walls, in order that they might have places of refuge whenever they should be hard pressed, and might meet together unobserved under ground; and they pierced these subter¬ranean passages from above at intervals to let in air and light.” These subterranean passages had been developed by we Simonists and our allies over decades. Urgent recruitment campaigns were undertaken back in Italy, particularly aimed at the robust country boys who could endure the conditions of Judea. Senators toured the provinces, exacting a levy of young men to fight in the unpopular war. Emergency measures were set in place; sailors were trans¬ferred from their ships into military service. It was increasingly hard to hide the fact that Rome was embroiled in a military debacle. It was not a disaster – yet – but there were already significant losses of men and esteem, and the financial price of a prolonged campaign was beginning to bite back home. This was our great achievement! Rome even went so far as to summon its best general from Britain, to replace Tineius Rufus and to take control of the legions in the land. He was Sextus Julius Severus, the experienced and resolute governor of Britain. Severus turned out to be a terrible opponent, who sneered at my awesome reputation. He, appreciating better than any of his colleagues, that the standard Roman military tactics would not bring about a victory in the land, at least not soon, determined to crush the very life out of the land, from one end to the other; a distance of some 1600 stadia. It was clear by now that every effort was necessary to restore power, and that the months of travel which would be necessary to move Severus to the east were not likely to see any resolution of the situation. Severus crossed Europe during autumn and winter and arrived in the Judea sometime in midwinter, bringing his own troops with him to add to the forces now in place. His only brief, as we came to learn, was to annihilate the resistance, by whatever means were necessary. He turned out to be a formidable opponent, indeed, quick to adapt. Addition by Yehudah: Sextus Julius Severus would quickly rule out the possibility of conventional warfare, instigating forceful counter-insurgency measures; his aim, he said, was to ‘crush, exhaust and exterminate’ the Jews by starvation, enclosure and ambush. Given that it was impossible to identify more than a few clear military bases, the vast Roman army set about destroying the entire population of Galilee and Judea. Severus’s long march afforded us substantial time in Judaea to dig in for hard resistance against the Romans. When finally Severus arrived, he galvanised the Roman war effort with great skill. Re-visiting the northern places that Vespasian had attacked, Severus now began to starve out the inhabitants who had taken refuge in strongholds and desert caves, taking with them any valuable documents including my correspondences with them. The new wave of more competent Roman forces overran Galilee once again and destroyed towns and villages controlled by John of Gischala. He was forced to flee in dire haste for his life, he and his band, out of Galilee, with the Romans hotly in pursuit of them. Thus he fled ignominiously to Jerusalem. But the cunning wretch typically failed to tell the Jerusalemites what had really happened in Galilee, pretending that he was simply marching to Jerusalem to strengthen the resistance against the Romans. John had captured my Helena and had brought her with him into Jerusalem. He would use her as his bargaining tool to lure me into the City, so as to destroy me as he hoped. Such was the insane madness of the man, who, in a time of capital crisis in the land, was incapable of thrusting aside personal ambitions for the sake of uniting with my forces against the invader. Addition by Yehudah: As it was written. “Simon stayed contemptuously aloof from the Jewish authorities, firstly in Masada, and then in the hill country, and he proclaimed liberty for those in slavery, and a reward to those already free. He gathered power quickly as more people and influential men joined him. He soon dared to venture into the flatlands, constructed a fort in a village called Nain, and stored food and booty in caves. It was obvious that he prepared to attack Jerusalem. However, Simon first attacked Idumea and his intimidating army met no real resistance. He marched into Hebron, robbed the grain stores of towns and villages, and plundered the countryside in order to feed his vast troops. By this time, he was followed by forty thousand people not including his soldiers. Simon’s success began worrying the Zealots in Jerusalem. Since they did not dare fight in open battle, they laid an ambush”. What most worried me at the time – even more than the effective generalship of Severus – was the fact that John of Gischala was holding my Helena in Jerusalem. And he kept feeding out to me reports that they were making sport of her. I realised that this was a trap to induce me to lay down my arms and surrender. But I knew that Helena, proud like Queen Jezebel, would want me to be defiant to the last, as I knew she would be. I was now filled with a daimonic rage. Leaving my fort, I marched on Jerusalem, taking captive everyone whom I found trying to leave the City. I tortured some and killed others, sending them back into the city with the message that I would do likewise to all Jerusalem if they did not let Helena go free. Addition by Yehudah: John of Gischala had set himself up as a despotic ruler after overthrowing lawful authority. In order to get rid of him, the Jerusalem authorities now, finally, decided to ask Simon to enter the city and drive John away. The people were now appropriately acclaiming Simon as the savior and guardian that he truly was. On the eve of Simon’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, there was a storm the likes of which none of us had ever witnessed before. And, accompanying this, there were terrifying heavenly manifestations of gilded soldiers and angels in the skies above the City, with their loud cries and warfare adding to the terrible din of the storm. The ground shook and everyone trembled. Surely this was a foreboding omen. There was a terrifying storm on the eve of my victorious entrance into Jerusalem. It was accompanied by awesome heavenly manifestations. Heaven and earth shook unnaturally. Whilst the people cowered in fear, I knew that the whole thing was a cosmic portending of my arrival, at last, as the messianic star, the conqueror and savior of Jerusalem. Addition by Yehudah: I shall never forget the proud Simon in this moment of jubilation for him. He wore on his face an expression of pure triumph and joy, by contrast with the terror and fear manifested by the rest of us. He knew that his star of destiny had finally arrived and that it stood right above Jerusalem. But this was to be the last that I ever saw of Simon and how I shall ever remember him. In the chaos of the storm, and amidst skirmishes outside the city, we became separated. Simon had always urged me to finish his memoirs. Amenophe and I were together, and we fled with several others to the fort of Masada. And it was there that I was able to write most of this history. Eventually letters came from Simon in Jerusalem bidding Amenophe and me to go to Alexandria and there try to stir up support for our cause. We promptly went to Egypt, hoping to catch up again with our friend, Tiberius Julius Alexander. Instead we were captured by the Romans and thrown into prison. There, and upon my release, I, Yehudah ben Manashe, was able to complete this, my story of the life of the messiah, Simon Bar Kochba. The rest of what I have to write can be gleaned only from snippets of information that I have been able to gather, as events now would become extremely murky and lost in the mists of legends. And, anyway, other histories of the Roman siege of Jerusalem have already been written. Simon, acclaimed by the people as their savior and guardian, was ushered into the city by friends under cover of the violent storm. They hailed him as “King of the Jews”, yet John of Gischala continued to control most of the city. Resisting both were fanatical Zealots, who turned the Temple itself into a citadel and anticipated divine deliverance at the final hour. John the Beloved and his fellow witness were also confined in the City, preaching woe and urging surrender. There are various tales about what happened to them. According to one account, John was spirited out of Jerusalem by some friends in a coffin, and thereby went to the Romans to beg them to spare the City. Other sources tell that he was killed by a stone from a Roman catapult whilst inside Jerusalem during the siege. Yet another account has it that John was slain by the Jews, who left him unburied, and greatly celebrated his demise. But that he afterwards rose up before their very eyes. Factional strife ceased only when Titus’s four legions besieged the city for five months but by then the situation had become hopeless. Eventually breaching the formidable walls of the city, the Romans overwhelmed the hungry defenders. The Temple itself was burned to the ground and the city gutted. A few hundred Sicarii extremists continued resistance further south, in the fortress palace of Massada. But after a three year siege they, too, were defeated. Their mass suicide is renowned. That, too, would have been the fate of Amenophe and me had we remained in Masada. As for the noble Simon, well there are various accounts of his fate as well. One is that he was captured by the Romans and beheaded, and that his head was paraded in front of the Roman commander and his jubilant troops. Rumour has it that a great serpent was coiled round Bar Kochba’s neck, and that the Roman commander is supposed to have looked on it with some awe, saying, ‘If this god had not killed him, who could have overcome him?’ But the account that I believe to be true is that Simon escaped into one of the subterranean passages of the city that he himself had built by means of stonecutters. Clothed in the garments of a Jewish king and messiah he rose out of the ground at the very spot where the Temple had stood, filling the Romans who witnessed this with a terrible fear and dread.
I believe that he is still alive.
Not so. The real story is that Simon Superstar was captured by the Romans and paraded in their triumphal procession in Rome, being scourged all the way. Then, when the procession reached the Temple of Jupiter, he was summarily executed. Jesus the Christ, the real Messiah, had led all of his enemies – including death – in his own triumphal procession to the Cross, and had nailed them to it. Whereas He had then risen into glory, the one whom Pilate had released in his stead, Simon Barabbas, the false messiah, had risen from the ruins of Jerusalem only to meet with an ignominious death. [A large part of ben Menashe’s ‘history’ of Bar Kochba towards the end of the above article has been taken almost verbatim from Elizabeth Speller’s Following Hadrian, Headline Book Publishing, 2002, pp. 193-201].
13th October 2011