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Messianic claimants (15)



Simon bar Giora (69-70 CE)

Source: Flavius Josephus, Jewish War books 4-7.

Story: As a leader of the Jewish revolt against Rome, the Idumean Simon bar Giora -the surname probably means 'son of a proselyte'- was the most important rival of John of Gischala. He was a very competent general who attracted some forty thousand soldiers, promising 'liberty for slaves and rewards for the free', a political program that was sufficient to incur the hate of the conservative Flavius Josephus. The Idumean was invited by that part of the population of Jerusalem that feared the power of John; he entered the city in the spring of 69. There, he ruled as a king, until he was forced to surrender to the Romans:

Simon had been in the upper city during the siege of Jerusalem, but when the Roman army had got within the walls and were laying the city waste, he then took the most faithful of his friends with him, and among them several stone-cutters, with those iron tools which belonged to their occupation. Taking with them as great a quantity of provisions as would suffice them for a long time, he let himself and all them down into a certain subterranean cavern that was not visible above ground. Now, so far as had been digged of old, they went onward along it without disturbance; but where they met with solid earth, they dug a mine under ground, and hoping that they should be able to proceed so far as to rise from underground in a safe place, and by that means escape. But when they came to make the experiment, they were disappointed of their hope; for the miners could make but small progress, and that with difficulty also because their provisions, though they distributed them by measure, began to fail them.
   Simon, thinking he might be able to astonish and elude the Romans, put on a white frock, and buttoned upon him a purple cloak, and appeared out of the ground in the place where the temple had formerly been. At the first, indeed, those that saw him were greatly astonished, and stood still where they were; but afterward they came nearer to him, and asked him who he was. Now Simon would not tell them, but bid them call for their captain; and when they ran to call him, Terentius Rufus (who was left to command the army there) came to Simon, and learned of him the whole truth, and kept him in bonds, and let Titus know that he was taken. Thus did God bring this man to be punished for what bitter and savage tyranny he had exercised against his countrymen.
[Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 7.26-32]
Comment: Bar Giora coins bore the legend 'Redemption of Zion', indicating that there was a religious aspect to Simon's bid for power. This does not prove that he was considered the Messiah, but it is likely. The fact that he wore a royal robe in the Temple is another indication.
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