Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Simon Bar Kosiba's Failure to Perform Miracles

One of the fascinating figures we read about in Jewish literature is Simon Bar Kosiba, a failed messianic prophet. An ancient coin linked to his rebellion can be seen on the right.

In the end the movement he led was crushed. It was a bloody and costly defeat.

What gave it away that he wasn’t indeed the Messiah? Well, aside from the fact that his movement was thwarted, apparently the final give away was that he was unable to perform miracles.
Bar Kosiba reigned two and a half years, and then said to the Rabbis, 'I am the Messiah.' They answered, 'Of Messiah it is written that he smells and judges: let us see whether he [=Bar Kosiba] can do so.' When they saw that he was unable to judge by the scent, they slew him" (emphasis added; cf. also m. Ta'an. 4:6; b. Git 57a—b; Lam. Rab. 2:2 §4).
The passage alludes to Isa 11:3, 5: "And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear. . . he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked."

Notably, this passage's reference to the powerful breath of the servant may also have been linked to Bar Kosiba. According to Jerome's testimony. Simon "fanned a lighted blade of straw in his mouth with puffs of breath so as to give the impression that he was spewing out flames" (Rufinus 3.31; PL 23.480).

It should also be pointed out that according to rabbinic tradition the famous Rabbi Aqiba held Simon to be the messiah because he believed he was able to perform miraculous signs (cf.y. Ta'an. 68d; also cf. Mishneh Torah, Melakhim 11:3).

See the thorough discussion in Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden: Brill, 1995), 183-211.


Anonymous said...

The bit that jumped out at me here was a curious phrase I had just read in the letters of St. Ignatius: "By your odour you will be judged".

Anonymous said...

This explains why Jesus said the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God, would judge the world.