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Papyri Found in Judean Cave Identified As Letters from Bar Kochba

May 13, 1960
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Eleven letters, written by Simon Bar Kochba, leader of the Jewish revolt against the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 132-135 A. D., have been found in a cave near the Dead Sea, it was announced here last night.

The letters are considered one of the most important archaeological discoveries in recent years and one of the most significant ever made in connection with the Bar Kochba revolt. The archives were found by one of the four teams operating under direction of Professor Yigael Yadin, in the Judean hills near the Dead Sea where, tradition holds, Bar Kochba’s bands made their final stand against the Romans.

Professor Yadin made the announcement last night at the home of President Izhak Ben-Zvi, to a group which included Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Brigadier Chaim Laskov, the Israeli Chief of Staff and other outstanding Israeli personalities.

The 11 letters, written on papyrus, were found, bundled together. In a woman’s leather bag uncovered in a cave high above the Hever canyon which leads to the Dead Sea. Other objects in the bag included thread, a mirror and cosmetics.

SOME LETTERS WELL PRESERVED; TWO IN GREEK, REST IN ARAMAIC

Seven of the 11 letters, Prof. Yadin reported, had been opened. Two were written in Greek and the remainder in Aramaic. Three of the letters were well preserved, with not a word missing, and three others were fragmentary. The seventh letter was in a state of almost complete preservation. Four letters await opening.

The letters were written by Bar Kochba to his deputy commander, Yehonatan Bar Baayah. Most of them ordered Bar Baayah to requisition provisions or to arrest certain persons and bring them before the commander.

Professor Yadin (who commanded the Israeli liberation forces in the war of for Israel’s independence in 1948 and who frequently testified that much of his strategy was based on that of the Jewish generals of old) said he believed that the letters had been written before the revolt against the Romans had been crushed and that they had been taken into the hide-out in the Judean hills by Bar Baayah when he took refuge there.

The Dead Sea find corroborated the traditional view that Simon Bar Kochba, leader of the Jewish revolt against Roman rule in Palestine, was a stern, energetic man who insisted on obedience. His letters contain orders written in the most direct, often brusque phrasing. Most of them demanded that the orders be carried out “immediately” or “forthwith.”

Some of the letters were informally addressed: “From Shimon Bar Kosba”–the Aramaic form of the Jewish general’s name. Others, more formal, opened: “From Shimon Bar Kosba, Prince over Israel. ” They did not carry his signature but were signed in his name by one of his adjutants.

Professor Yadin told the gathering that the importance of the letters had not been immediately realized because they had been found in a lady’s bag and it was not until they had been opened that their significance was recognized. Prof. Benjamin Mazar, president of Hebrew University, announced that more expeditions were being planned to the caves in the Judean hills where the Bar Kochba letters were found.

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