The Bar-Cocheba Incident

Preterists generally don’t like hearing anything about Simon Bar Cocheba, the Jewish revolter who took back the city of the Jerusalem circa 132 A.D. before being finally crushed by the Romans. In fact, if you read any Preteristic literature, you will scarcely find a passage concerning him. Back in the days of Todd Dennis’s Preterist Archive, there were snorts of indignation from Preterists at any mention of the infamous “Bar Cocheba revolt.” Obviously, that phase of the Jewish Wars was not covered by Josephus, who was long dead when the revolt took place. However, its historicity cannot be lightly overlooked.

To paint a portrait of who Bar-Cochebas was, I can do little better than quote from the 1897 edition of Chambers’s Encyclopedia:

Bar-Cochba, Simon, the leader of the Jews in their great insurrection against the Romans, under the emperor Hadrian, from 131-135 A.D. Three times had the oppressed Jews revolted without success, from 115 to 118; and in 130, soon after Hadrian’s return from Syria, a new rebellion broke out, for which they had been secretly preparing. At the head of it was one Simon, who assumed the name of Bar-Cochba–i.e., ‘Son of a Star,’ pretending that the prophecy was to be fulfilled in him, ‘There shall come a star out of Jacob’ (Numbers 24: 17). He fought at first with great success against the Romans, and even obliged them to evacuate Jerusalem, where he was proclaimed king, and caused coins to be struck with his name. The war spread over all the country of Palestine, and fifty towns, besides many villages and hamlets, came into the possession of the Jews. But on the arrival of Hadrian’s general, Julius Severus, Jerusalem was retaken; and in August 135, Bether, the very last strong fortress held by the Jews, was stormed by the Romans. Bar-Cochba fell on the day of this bloody conquest. Many thousands of Jews perished in this last attempt to regain political independence, and many were executed after its failure. From this last fatal struggle dates the final dispersion of the Jews over the face of the earth.” (Volume 1, page 734).

However you choose to valuate the historical significance of Bar-Cocheba’s rebellion, one thing is clear: A.D. 70 was not a historical terminus of any kind when it came to God’s dealing with the Jews. Even though their temple was destroyed, they were still very much active in the land of Judea, and very much rebellious against the Roman government. The Pharisaism and rabbinism which Christ spoke so eloquently against during His public ministry were not in any way weakened by the events of A.D. 70. In fact, the destruction of the temple strengthened and solidified the authority of the rabbins and the synagogue over the Jewish people (see Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, 1944, pg. 547).

Hyper-Preterists like Don Preston seem to think that A.D. 70 was an eschatological terminus at which the first-century Christians were vindicated and delivered from the persecutions of the Jews (see source). Preston seems to imply that the Jewish antipathy which Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians 2: 14-16 was crushed at the destruction of the temple, and that Christians were now “out of the woods,” so to speak. However, we know from church history that the Jews were still functional after the destruction of the temple, and that the antipathy and persecutions continued.

Speaking of the Bar-Chocebas revolt as it related to the early church, Justin Martyr wrote:

“For in the Jewish war which lately raged, Barchochebas, the leader of the revolt of the Jews, gave orders that Christians alone should be led to cruel punishments, unless they would deny Jesus Christ and utter blasphemy” (First Apology, Chapter 31).

Of course, one can say that Justin Martyr was being biased or unfair in his assessment of the recent (from his standpoint) rebellion. But one can say that about any historical document. Even F.W. Farrar (1831-1903), a noted Preterist expositor, claimed that Josephus himself was untrustworthy.

“Josephus is an untrustworthy witness, because again and again he falsifies Jewish history, and colours Jewish opinions, in order to please his Pagan readers. He smooths away whatever he thought that they would be inclined to ridicule, and deliberately gives to his narrative the tone which seemed likely to make it suit their views. In other words, he Graecises, and he Romanises, and he philosophises, and he Caesarises” (Mercy and Judgment, Chapter 8).

If history is not trustworthy, why do we even use it? Obviously, Preterists use Josephus to bolster their view that A.D. 70 was the grand climacteric of prophecy. But when history shows that it actually wasn’t, and that things still continued exactly as they had been before the destruction of the temple, then we need to look closer at Preterist views.

The question one must ask is: Did A.D. 70 fill up the measure of the sins of “that generation”? (see Matthew 23: 32-36). Most Preterists would reply that if it didn’t, Jesus was a false prophet. But this is creating a false dilemma or “either/or” fallacy, something that R.C. Sproul pointed out as being a faulty logical approach even among Preterist scholars (see The Last Days According To Jesus, page 165). That flawed approach is basic to Preston’s argumentation, and results in a reduction of options to “this” or “that,” when in fact there may be more alternatives. If the measure of the sins of that generation was not filled up by A.D. 70, then it does not necessarily mean that Christ was a false prophet. It may mean, in fact, that Preterist interpretations are wrong. Needless to say, Preterists would rather that Christ be a false prophet than they themselves!

What the Bar-Cocheba incident teaches us reveals just the tip of the iceberg. We can dip deeper into the historical annals of the times, or even circle back around to exegesis of the New Testament text to show that there were no discernable soteriological, anthropological, or eschatological differences between pre- and post-A.D. 70 Christianity. However, these points will have to be fleshed out in future articles. The main purpose of this study was to help break down the idea that A.D. 70 brought about any finality of the struggle between the Jews and the Romans. If there was no finality, then it creates a steeper burden of proof for Preterists.

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