When Eytan Stibbe, a businessman and former IDF fighter pilot, becomes the second Israeli to be a space tourist in January, he will be carrying with him a 1,900-year-old coin minted during the Bar Kochba (son of the star) revolt. Stibbe said that he is taking the artifact with him as a symbol of his Jewish heritage.
The coin was presented to him by Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, when Stibbe recently visited the Israel Antiquities Authority’s (IAA) Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory in Jerusalem.
“As part of ‘Rakia’ mission to the International Space Station, I will be taking with me a bag filled with items that have a special meaning to me. It was clear to me that one of these items will be a symbol of Jewish history,” Stibbe said, according to the statement.
The coin was minted in the second year of the five-year second Jewish revolt against the Romans, also known as the Bar Kochba revolt, bearing the name of its leader, Shimon Bar Kochba. The coin was recently uncovered in the Cave of Horror during the challenging Judean Desert Survey and Excavations Project carried out by the IAA. The project covered about half of the Judean Desert caves in search of ancient remains.
Both sides of the coin bear Jewish symbols typical of the Second Temple period: a palm tree with the inscription “Shim‘on”, of which only the letters m’n (“m‘on”) are discernable, on one side; and a vine leaf with the inscription “Year Two of the liberty of Israel” (sh b lhr is).
Shimon bar Kochba was originally named bar Kosevah for his birthplace but his name was changed to ‘the son of the star by Rabbi Akiva who thought him to be the long-expected Messiah. Bar-Kokhba was descended from the Davidic dynasty (which is the Messianic dynasty according to Jewish tradition) and the Messianic hopes of the nation centered around him. The verse in Numbers is the source for the appearance of a star preceding the arrival of the Messiah.
What I see for them is not yet, What I behold will not be soon: A star rises from Yaakov, A scepter comes forth from Yisrael; It smashes the brow of Moab, The foundation of all children of Shet. Numbers 24:17
Bar-Kokhba strictly adhered to Jewish laws including Sabbath, tithes and holidays. He fell in the fortified town of Betar in 135 CE.
Stibbe said that for him, the coin “represents the connection to the land, the love of the country, and the desire of the population of Israel in those years for independence.”
He added: “The palm tree particularly touched me, as it is the symbol of the Agricultural Research Organization, at Volcani Center, where my father spent his life conducting research on the country’s soil.”
“The coins of the Bar Kokhba Revolt were minted by the rebels between 132 and 136 CE”, says Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky, a coin specialist at the Israel Antiquities Authority. “It seems that the reason for the revolt was Hadrian’s decree announcing Aelia Capitolina, previously Jerusalem, a Roman colony. Interestingly, the rebels used existing Roman coins and re-struck them with their own themes and messages. Such an act was an outrageous affront to the Roman rulers. These coins had first and foremost a symbolic meaning, as Jewish propaganda, as they could be uses for commerce only among the rebels themselves.”
Stibbe will be going to space as part of the Rakia mission established by the Ramon Foundation in memory of Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli astronaut, who died in 2003 when the Colombia space shuttle failed in reentry. The purpose of the ‘Rakia’ mission is to inspire the younger generation while advancing and expanding the Israel Aerospace Industry. The mission will enable Israeli entrepreneurs and researchers to advance innovative ideas and provide a rare opportunity for them to test their enterprises in a unique study environment, thereby contributing to international and Israeli research industries. In addition, the mission will make diversified educational activities accessible, to benefit all Israeli children. It will, in fact, be the first time that Israeli children and youth will have access to the International Space Station, in Hebrew.
The Israel Antiquities Authority researchers also showed Stibbe a unique camera that was developed with NASA technology, which was modified for documenting the scrolls and thus improving their preservation. The Dead Sea Scrolls, considered the most important find of the twentieth century, include the most ancient copies of the books of the Bible. The camera can photograph each scroll fragment in 12 different wave lengths, some invisible to the human eye. This technology provides precise imaging of each scroll fragment, thus allowing to monitor the scrolls’ state of preservation, down to the level of a pixel.
The second Israeli in space, Eytan Stibbe said: “As part of ‘Rakia’ mission to the International Space Station, I will be taking with me a bag filled with items that have a special meaning to me. It was clear to me that one of these items will be a symbol of Jewish history. I saw the coin, minted with the palm tree and vines leave, that for me represent the connection to the land, the love of the country, and the desire of the population of Israel in those years for independence. The palm tree particularly touched me, as it is the symbol of the Agricultural Research Organization, at Volcani Center, where my father spent his life conducting research on the country’s soil. The ‘Rakia’ mission, which focuses on innovation, advancement of technology, science, education, art, and culture, provides me with the uniqe opportunity to take a 1,900-year-old coin that represents the history of the Jewish people, to space”.