Rains unearth rare Bar Kochba-era coin hailing ‘freedom of Israel’

Nature and Parks Authority tour guide stumbles on 1,885-year-old find while on training hike in Lachish region

The two sides of the ancient coin discovered on February 6, 2019 in the Lachish region, dating back to the Bar Kochba revolt in 133 or 134 CE. (Shiri Burchard)
The two sides of the ancient coin discovered on February 6, 2019 in the Lachish region, dating back to the Bar Kochba revolt in 133 or 134 CE. (Shiri Burchard)

An Israeli tour guide and her friend last week stumbled across a rare 1,900-year-old coin from the time of the Bar Kochba revolt unearthed by recent rains in the Lachish region, southwest of Jerusalem, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said Monday.

Tour guide Maayan Shalom and her friend Shiri Burchard were walking on a dirt road near the Givat Gad nature reserve on a training hike ahead of one of Shalom’s guided tours, when they spotted a round green object sticking out of the ground.

After cleaning off the muck, the two realized they might have a find and took the coin to Dr. Zvika Tzuk, the chief archaeologist of the Nature and Parks Authority, who handed it to Dr. Danny Syon of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

Despite the fact that the coin hadn’t undergone professional cleaning yet, Syon succeeded in deciphering the images and inscriptions on the rare coin, determining that it dates back to 133 or 134 CE.

One side of the coin had an image of a palm tree with seven branches and two clusters of grapes above the name “Shimon” — Bar Kochba’s first name — in ancient Hebrew. The flip side of the coin had a vine leaf with a twig and around it an inscription meaning “the second year to the freedom of Israel.”

Coins of this type were minted during the Bar Kochba revolt from 132-135 CE, during which Jewish rebels managed to regain some autonomy from Rome. The “second year” is either the year 133 or 134 CE.

‘Bar Kochba,’ by Arthur Szyk, 1927, watercolor and gouache on paper. (public domain, via wikipedia)

The Bar Kochba revolt, which lasted three and a half years, was the last and arguably greatest of several Jewish uprisings against foreign rulers in ancient times. The rebels prepared well ahead of time and according to the 3rd century historian Dio Cassius, Roman legions were brought from other Empire outposts to quell it.

Dio Cassius wrote that some 50 Jewish fortresses and over 1,000 settlements were destroyed, along with hundreds of thousands of Jewish lives lost. Rabbinical leaders who supported Bar Kochba were executed, including the scholar Rabbi Akiva, who had anointed Shimon as Bar Kochba (Son of the Star), a messiah for the Jews.

The Givat Gad nature reserve is west of Hebron, in the Lachish region of Israel, an area where scholars say Bar Kochba was active.

“The road near where the coin was found connects a number of communities with hiding places from the days of Bar Kochba,” said Tzuk. “It is possible that one of the residents or fighters who moved from one community to another lost the coin, which waited 1,885 years until it was found.”

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