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Roman-era Jewish leader's title means 'son of a star'

Israeli astronaut to take 1,900-year-old Bar Kochba revolt coin to space

As part of next year’s Rakia mission to International Space Station, Eytan Stibbe says he’ll bring along ancient artifact as a ‘symbol of Jewish history’

Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe (right) holds a 1,900-year-old coin from the Bar Kochba revolt that he will take to space, standing alongside Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, August 2021. (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)
Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe (right) holds a 1,900-year-old coin from the Bar Kochba revolt that he will take to space, standing alongside Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, August 2021. (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

An ancient coin minted during the Bar Kochba revolt and uncovered recently in a Judean Desert cave will soon make its way to outer space.

Israel’s second-ever astronaut, Eytan Stibbe, has chosen to take the 1,900-year-old coin with him on the Rakia mission to the International Space Station, scheduled for early next year. Stibbe said that he is taking the artifact with him as a symbol of his Jewish heritage.

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) said in a statement on Thursday that Stibbe has recently visited the IAA’s Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory in Jerusalem, where he was shown various artifacts, including the coin, as well as 2,000-year-old fragments of the Book of Enoch.

That book tells the story of Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah, who ascended to the heavens and was accompanied by angels who showed him the sun, the moon and the stars.

Stibbe ultimately elected to take the coin along, rather than the ancient fragments.

“As part of ‘Rakia’ mission to the International Space Station, I will be taking with me a bag filled with items that have a special meaning to me. It was clear to me that one of these items will be a symbol of Jewish history,” Stibbe said, according to the statement.

The coin he chose to take dates back to the second Jewish revolt against the Romans, also known as the Bar Kochba revolt, bearing the name of its leader, Shimon Bar Kochba.

A 1,900-year-old coin from the Bar Kochba revolt. (Clara Amit/Israel Antiquities Authority)

It was found in recent years and unveiled last March along with countless rare artifacts from the “Cave of Horror” in Nahal Hever, including dozens of 2,000-year-old biblical scroll fragments — the first such finds in 60 years.

Both sides of the coin — which is from the second year of the revolt — bear Jewish symbols typical of the Second Temple period: A palm tree with the inscription “Shim‘on,” of which only the letters m’n (“m‘on”) are discernable, on one side; and a vine leaf with the inscription “Year Two of the liberty of Israel” on the other.

Stibbe said that for him, the coin “represents the connection to the land, the love of the country, and the desire of the population of Israel in those years for independence.”

He added: “The palm tree particularly touched me, as it is the symbol of the Agricultural Research Organization, at Volcani Center, where my father spent his life conducting research on the country’s soil.”

Israeli astronaut Eytan Stibbe (left) visits the coin department of the Israel Antiquities Authority, August 2021. (Yoli Schwartz/Israel Antiquities Authority)

Israel Antiquities Authority director Eli Eskosido called the development “very exciting and meaningful,” and spoke about the symbolism involving the meaning of Bar Kochba’s name in Hebrew.

“The leader of the revolt… Shim‘on Bar Koziba, became memorialized as Bar Kochba (‘Son of a Star’), and today this name receives an added symbolic meaning,” Eskosido said.

“This is a historic meeting between the ancient world and the height of human innovation,” he added. “The Jewish rebels who minted this coin 1,900 years ago while fighting for their lives and independence could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that after many centuries, this item would make its way to outer space with a Jewish astronaut who lives in an independent Jewish state.”

The Ramon Foundation and the Ministry of Science and Technology are sending Stibbe as part of Israel’s Rakia Mission, which will carry out 44 experiments at the International Space Station (ISS).

Commanded by Spanish-American astronaut and Axiom Space vice president Michael Lopez-Alegria, it will be the first fully private crew in history to live and work aboard the ISS, contingent upon crew approval by NASA and its international partners in the ISS.

“The ‘Rakia’ mission, which focuses on innovation, advancement of technology, science, education, art, and culture, provides me with the unique opportunity to take a 1,900-year-old coin, that represents the history of the Jewish people, to space,” Stibbe said.

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