An emperor named Hadrian reigned from 117-138 C.E. During his time two important events left archeological traces in the Holy Land. Jodi Magness deals with the Bar-Kokhba revolt and the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a pagan city.
There had been an uprising of Jews in Egypt and Cyrene earlier, but in 132 C.E. the Jews of Judea rebelled under the leadership of Simon Bar-Kokhba who was said to be the Messiah. At first the rebellion went well for the Jews. They reportedly wiped out a whole Roman legion. But everything ended in disaster again. Cassio Dio, a third century Roman scribe, reported that 580,000 Jews died. We should be skeptical of his numbers but they do indicate a true horror for the Jews.
After the Dead Sea Scrolls turned up in the 1940s, archeology began to pay much more attention to the desert west of the Dead Sea. This paid off when Yigael Yadin discovered two caves in the canyon Nahal Hever.
The caves had provided refuge for Bar-Kokhba rebels and their families right at the end of the revolt. The Romans had found them and blocked off escape. Most of the people seem to have starved. But because of the dryness of the area, artifacts and papyrus scrolls survived in good condition. The scrolls here are not religious documents like those at Qumran. These letters and documents deal with practical matters: personal, family, and military. There are some letters from Bar-Kokba himself.
The value of this find is the light it sheds on the lives of the Jewish people of the time and on the end of the revolt.
After the revolt most of the Jewish people in the Holy Land lived in the north around Galilee and Golan. Hadrian began to rebuild Jerusalem as a wholly pagan and Gentile city. There is a wealth of archeology that relates to this period in Jerusalem.
Two points stand out as of religious or spiritual significance. First, even the Romans considered Jerusalem a holy city. They built a shrine to Jupiter on the Temple Mount. Like the Greeks before them, they seem to have identified the God of Israel with the supreme god of their heirarchy of divinities. The Greeks had built in Jerusalem a shrine to Zeus and the Romans built one to Jupiter.
We learn a lot about Hadrian’s Jerusalem from the Madaba map. This is a mosaic map on a church floor in Jordan. It dates from around 600 C.E., but it shows the layout of Jerusalem as Hadrian rebuilt it. The notable thing about it is that it shows Jerusalem as the center of the world.
Second, one should think about the 60 years between the fall of Jerusalem in 70 and the Bar-Kokhba revolt in the 130s. Jews during that time believed that the Romans, like the Persians before them, would someday give permission for the rebuilding of the Temple. The temple-priesthood-sacrificial system was still viable in the minds of the people. Magness says they would have been floored by the thought that two millenia later the system would still not have been restored.
This is what ties the Bar-Kokhba revolt to Hadrian rebuilding Jerusalem. Hadrian had announced his plan to rebuild Jerusalem as a pagan city. This is what crushed the hopes of the Jews and provided the occasion for the war.