What can coins minted by the rebels and Jerusalem’s Roman rulers tell us about the chain of events that eventually led to today’s Lag Ba’omer bonfires? (Nir Hasson). Excerpt:
During the revolt the Roman government was involved in a huge construction project in Palestine – the rebuilding of Jerusalem as a Roman city, Aelia Capitolina.Also, the building of the temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount likely contributed to the ill feelings, and it is not clear whether the new name for the city was decided on before or after the revolt.
There are two basic historiographic approaches to the link between the founding of Aelia Capitolina on the ruins of Jerusalem and the Bar Kokhba revolt.
According to the second-century Roman historian Lucius Cassius Dio, the construction of the city, with a temple to the god Jupiter in the center, was itself the spark that ignited the rebellion: The Jewish extremists could not tolerate the fact that a pagan Roman city was being built on the ruins of Jerusalem.
But the fourth-century historian Eusebius, who served as the bishop of Caesarea before turning his hand to writing history, argued that Aelia Capitolina was a result of the revolt — part of the Roman Empire’s punishment for its outbreak — not the cause.
“There was a chicken-and-egg debate here,” says Israeli archaeologist Shlomit Wexler-Bedolah, “What came first and what led to what – the revolt to the construction of the city, or the construction of the city to the revolt.”
Since the days of Cassius Dio and Eusebius, rivers of ink have been spilled on the debate. In recent years Wexler-Bedolah and the late. Alexander Onn conducted several excavations in the area of the Western Wall. The excavations, done on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Western Wall Heritage Foundation, helped to provide a precise date for the construction of Aelia Capitolina.
Wexler-Bedolah’s conclusion is that the construction work on the new city began at least several years before the outbreak of the revolt. In other words, it is quite possible that the excuse for the rebellion was the sight of the laborers rebuilding Jerusalem as a pagan city.