Oh the joy of finding an archeological treasure of biblical dimensions can only be imagined but such was the reality to two archeological students from West Virginia University who were clearing an archeological site near the biblical city of Bethsaida. This was the hometown and birthplace of three of the Jewish disciples of the Jewish rabbi and Messiah, Yahshua Notzri (Jesus the Nazarene); Peter, Andrew and Philip.
Alexis Whitley and her friend were clearing a dirt and rock site at Bethsaida on the Galilean coast on one of the hottest days of the summer, when Alex spotted a sparkle gleaming from a coin slipping down. It was beautiful and she was impressed but unaware of its rarity and biblical significance. She was also puzzled why her excavation director Dr. Rami Arav rushed the sight photographer for a posed picture of her new world discovery.
A Commemorative Golden Coin of Emperor Antoninus Pius
This golden coin weighed 7 grams – 97.6 percent gold came with an exquisite engraved bust of Antoninus Pius, who became the Roman Imperial ruler between the years of 138-161 BCE. According to Dr. Rami Arav, a professor at the University of Nebraska, this golden coin was issued in the celebration of Antoninus Pius being designated as a consul of Rome for the second time. This event took place in the summer of 138 CE. Rather than a celebrating word of his ascension on the reverse, there appeared the portrait of the Pietas, the Roman goddess of duty to one’s state, gods, and family. This, according to Aras was a mint error, a valuable misprint by someone in the Roman imperial mint.
Titus Aurelius Fulvus Boionius Arrius Antoninus was most famously known as Antoninus Pius, the fifteenth Roman emperor. He was honored in Roman history to be known as the fourth of the Five Good Emperors, and was also of the respected Roman Aurelii family of nobility.
Antoninus Pius’ adopted father, Hadrian’s infamous Abomination of Desolation and the Second Jewish War of Bar Kokhba
In the year of 130 CE, Hadrian traveled to his eastern provinces. While there he visited the city of Jerusalem lying in ruins as they remained since the First Roman-Jewish War of 66-73 CE. He made the imperial decision that upon these ruins he would rebuilt this city as one of his imperial cities of the east, with the name of Aelia Capitolina that was named after himself and his family. Over the ruins of the sacred Jewish Temple of Herod he built a new Roman temple and dedicated the temple to Jupiter Capitolinus, the chief Roman deity. On the site of the temple, he placed a statue to Jupiter, and to the horror of the Jewish people desecrated this site as the Second Abomination of Desolation.
It is unclear why Hadrian had such a deep hatred for the Jewish people, except he took his imperial totalitarian rule seriously and that all Roman subjects had worship him in the role of a divine one that he would assume, according to the Romans, when nominated by the Roman Senate in 138 CE by his successor, Antoninus Pius. Like the Seleucid Syrian tyrant, Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Manifest god the Illustrious), who in 167 CE, desecrated the Second Temple by the sacrificial offering of a pig and thus became known as the First Abomination of Desolation of the Holy Temple, the Roman Emperor Hadrian set of statute to a Roman deity on the site of the Second Temple. It took the uprising of the priestly family of the Maccabees, who first under Mattathias, then Judas that successfully drove the Syrian forces from the region and established the Maccabean or the Hasmonean Jewish Kingdom of Judea.
Like Antiochus, Hadrian abolished the Jewish ritual of circumcision, calling it a barbaric act of body mutilation. Like Mattathias the Maccabee, the Jewish population revolted in mass under the banner of Simon bar Kokhba and Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph in the year of 132 CE. Also like Antiochus, Hadrian was forced to pull Roman legions was all over his empire to Judea. This included the Roman general, Sextus Julius Severus from Britain, and the Roman legions from the regions of the Danube where they were guarding the northern borders of Rome from the successive waves of the migrating Lost Tribes of the House of Israel. They, arriving from their centuries long wanderings from the land of Khurasan in the region of Media, traveled north and then westward over the Black Sea towards the vast forested and unpopulated lands in Northern Gaul, where all the northern countries of Europe reside today. They following in the footsteps of their tribal brother Dan, who wherever he went, he named the rivers after himself; the Don, Dnieper, Dniester, and then the Danube River that headed north towards the Northern regions of Gaul later called Denmark (Danmark).
The Jewish patriotic resistant forces under Simon bar Kokhba were a fierce and formidable enemy. Heralded as the second and final messiah, Simon bar Kokhba, also a Prince of David, arose in the messianic expectation that now was the time for the Messianic Kingdom of G-d to literally be fulfilled on Planet Earth. One of the most interesting facts of history were that the First Messiah, the Prince of David called Jesus the Messiah (Yahshua HaMaschiah) and the Second Messiah, the Prince of David, Simon bar Kokhba were genetically seventh cousins.
Their common ancestor was Prince Matthan ben Eliezar, known as Matthan the Zealot who it is felt lived in the region of Gamala in the Golan Heights region between Israel and Syria. He had three sons, Prince Jacob ben Matthan, who was the Patriarch of Jerusalem and later executed by Herod the Great, whose son was Prince Joseph the “Carpenter” and foster grandson was Prince Yahshua HaNotzri (Jesus the Nazarene).
The second son was the famous Prince Hizkiah ben Matthan called by Josephus, Hezekiah the Zealot. He was executed in 4 BCE by the Herodian military. His son was Judas the Zealot, crucified on the cross by the Roman Governor Varus.
Prince Matthan ben Eliezar’s third son, Prince Judah ben Matthan, called Judas the “Galilean” from Gamala, had two sons, James and Simon. As BibleSearchers Reflections wrote in the article tiled, “The Legacy of the Jewish Freedom Fighters in the Ancestors of Jesus the Nazarene (Yahshua HaNotzri)”, we read in the subtitled portion titled, “The Revolt of Hezekiah and Judas the Zealot Brothers of Patriarch Jacob”, the following:
BibleSearchers Reflections – “Failed it may have seen, the valor of the resistance fighters continued through the sons of Judas the Galilean, James and Simon, who were first cousins to Joseph the Carpenter. The Jewish revolt against the Romans had been served a fatal blow but it also became the fodder for the future revolts against the Romans in 66 and 132 BCE.
Jacob the Zealot of Galilee had seven sons; Jacob, Simon, Menahem, Jair, Levi, Saphath, and Sosas. His two oldest sons, Jacob and Simon would later be imprisoned and executed on “false charges” of sedition by Tiberius Julius Alexander in the year of 47 CE.
Prince Simon’s youngest son, Kosevah (Cocheba) would become the father of one of Judaism’s most famous revolutionaries, Simon V Bar-Kochba. Simon V, with the blessings of the famous Rabbi Akiba ben Yosef took the title of “King of the Jews” in the year of 132 BCE and the mantle of the “Messiah of the Jews”. Changing his name to “Bar Kokba” (Son of the Star), he began to mint his own coins, formed his own government, and prepared to rebuild the third temple of the Jews. When he died his Davidian lineage became extinct. The “appointed time” of the G-d of Israel had not come…”
It took three years of fierce fighting the Jewish patriots, before the final end for the Jewish resistance forces came at the fortified town called, Beitar, five miles southwest of Jerusalem. By the end of the Second Jewish-Roman War, over 580,000 Jews were killed, 50 fortified towns and 985 villages razed to the ground. The bodies of the slain Jewish warriors were forbidden to be buried until after six days; lying desecrated on the fields of war.
The histories as written in the Babylonian Talmud documented that after the war Hadrian went on a witch hunt to root out all forms of Judaism. He felt this was the roots of the continuous rebellion of the Jewish people. The Jewish people were persecuted mercilessly as he forbad worshipping the Torah law, using the Hebrew calendar. The sacred scroll was burned with great celebration on the Temple Mount and to erase the memory of the Jewish people, Hadrian renamed the Province of Judea to the Province of Syria Palaestina, after the Jewish people’s bitter enemies, the Philistines.
The Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius
During the rule of Emperor Hadrian, Antoninus Pius successfully filled the Roman offices of quaestor and praetor. He became a Roman consul in 120 CE. He later was appointed by the Emperor Hadrian to be one of four proconsuls to be the administrators of Italia, moving next as proconsul of Asia. Antoninus then became the favorite of the Emperor Hadrian in his later years, who adopted him as his son and successor on 25th February, 138 CE, upon the death of his first adopted son, Lucius Aelius and named Titus Antoninus, for the name “Pius” came later. In his promise to his adopted father, Titus Antoninus Pius adopted Marcus Anius Versus, the son of his wife, Faustina the Elder’s brother, the Praetor or Roman magistrate, Marcus Annius Verus, and also adopt Lucius, the son of Aelius Verus. Both of them became later emperors; the Stoic Philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus.
The addition to his name as “Pius” came after his accession to the throne. It is accepted my most historians that name of “Pius” came because he compelled the Roman Senate to deify his adopted father, the Emperor Hadrian, yet according to the Historia Augusta, he earned the name by saving the senators that Hadrian had sentence to death.
Emperor Titus Antoninus Pius was considered to have been a personal friend of Rabbi Yehudah (Judah) the Prince, who according to the Talmud in Avodah Zarah 10a-b stated that Rabbi Judah was very wealthy and revered in Rome. His close friend was “Antoninus” who most scholars identify as Emperor Antoninus Pius whom he consulted frequently on worldly and spiritual matters.
The “Secret” of Marcus Aurelius and Rabbi Judah the Prince
According to the Jewish histories and legends of their sages, the Jewish Virtual Library on “Yehudah HaNasi (Judah the Prince)” became the chief redactor and editor who was responsible for completing the Jewish Mishnah in its final form while he was also the Nasi of the Great Sanhedrin for thirty years. Known as the “Rabbeinu HaKadosh” or our Holy Rabbi, he was born only eighty years after the destruction of Herod’s Temple to Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel II. As such, he was a Prince of David of the lineage of the famed Hillel the Great. During the time of his birth, the Emperor Hadrian forbad the Jewish ritual practice of the “Brit Milah” or Circumcision. He was circumcised and he and the family were now under the threat of Roman justice. And then the hand of the G-d of Israel intervened in the life of the infant, the future Rabbi Judah HaNasi, a story as touching and mysterious as any in history was told by the Jewish Virtual Library in the biography titled “Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi”
Jewish Virtual Library – “He (Rabbi Yehudah) was the son of Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel II, and he was born eighty years after the destruction of the Second Temple. At the time of his birth, a Roman edict was in place forbidding the practice of “Brit Milah,” Circumcision. However, his mother was on good terms with the Roman governor’s wife, and they agreed to perpetrate a deception upon the Roman authorities.
Yehudah, who had been circumcised, was given temporarily to the wife of the governor, while the Roman child, who of course was uncircumcised, was held by the Jewish mother, completely fooling the authorities, including the governor himself. Later, when that Roman child grew up to become Marcus Aurelius, an enlightened and compassionate ruler, he and Rebbi became close friends, which redounded to the benefit of the Jewish People.
Bust of the Young Marcus Aurelius – Capitoline Museum
The young Roman prince, who was destined to become the famous Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, was traded for a short period of time with the infant, Rabbi Judah the Prince (of David), like the story of Moses taken into the court of Pharaoh’s daughter, to spare his death by the Pharaoh of Egypt. These two became lifelong friends, a role that no doubt played out in the mysterious relationship between Emperor Antonius Pius the later adopted father of Marcus Aurelius. Let us dissect this history, what little we know.
The mother of the young infant Judah was friends with the wife of the Roman “governor”, and together they plotted to deceive the Roman authorities and thus saved the life of what would later become one of the most revered sages of Judah.
Marcus Aurelius was born, according to the annals of Roman history in the year of 121 CE. Where he was born was not known. We also know that Marcus’ father, Marcus Annius Verus, was a Roman magistrate or praetor and may have been given the Roman magisterial responsibility for the region of Galilee.
We also do not have an accurate date of the birth of Rabbi Judah HaNasi, but the Jewish Virtual Library articles stated that he was born 80 years after the destruction of the temple. This would have placed his birth about 160 CE, much too late for these stories to collaborate with each other. If this date was a typographical error, and 80 years became rather fifty (50) years, then Rabbi Judah’s birth was about 120 CE, a very close fit.
The place of birth, of Rabbi Judah HaNasi, we also do not know, but early in life he was taught the Torah by his father, the famous Rabbi Shimon III ben Gamliel II of the esteemed House of Hillel the Great. His father later became the noted Patriarch and Prince of Israel between the years of 135-165 CE. Prior to those years, somewhere between 120 and 135 CE, the young Jewish child, Judah, was taught and trained by his father in the town of Usha, where they lived along the western banks of the Sea of Galilee.
After his circumcision on the 8th day of his life, the infant Rabbi Judah was swapped with the equally young son of the Roman magistrate’s wife, Domitia Lucilla Minor. When the Roman authorities came and inspected the child, to see if he was circumcised, they actually inspected the son of the Roman praetor, Marcus Annius Verus, who was not circumcised, thus satisfying the Roman legal order, so they thought. Unknown to all, the father of the young Marcus was no doubt distracted for by one historical source, his father died when Marcus was three months old yet others say that his father died in 124 CE, when Marcus was at least two years of age.
This fatherless Roman prince was raised by his esteemed mother, Lucilla, whom he later wrote that she was a “pious and generous’ person, who lived a simple life”. She was very wealthy by an inheritance from her mother’s family that included a large brick and tile manufacturing plant near Rome near the Tiber River. It provided Rome bricks for most of Rome’s most famous monuments, including the bricks for the Coliseum, the Pantheon, and the Market of Trajan plus exported tile and bricks all over the Mediterranean especially to France (Gaul), Spain, and Northern Africa at Carthage.
One only knows whether in the heart of Marcus’ mother, that she fell in love with this young Jewish prince whose life she literally saved his life, and thus became a “Righteous Gentile”. Is it possible that she emotionally “adopted” this young Jewish child and became his benefactor the rest of her life? What is known, Marcus was adopted by his grandfather, Marcus Annius Verus (II), and there in the garden district of aristocratic villas, he stayed in his paternal grandfather’s palace which he owned besides the Lateran Palace that was also owned as a family estate. This palace later became the palace of the Roman Empire and in the time of Constantine the Great, the residence of the Papal See.
The young Marcus thanked his grandfather for teaching him a “good character and avoidance of bad temper.” We can only assume that the future Stoic Philosopher Emperor, Marcus Aurelius kept also his friendship with his saintly Jewish “brother”, Rabbi Judah the Prince. Is it possible that under the influence of the Rabbi, Marcus Aurelius became revered in history for his magnitude of character and for being a good ruler for his Roman subjects. History would remember Marcus Aurelius as an enlightened and compassionate ruler and as the last of the Five Good Emperors of Rome, and when he died, “Pax Romana” died with him.
The Life of Rabbi Judah the Prince
As we now know, the famed Judah HaNasi was a close friend of Emperor Antoninus Pius, as the Talmud would reveal, but that friendship extended almost as a bonded brotherhood with the equally famous Emperor Marcus Aurelius, whom they shared a most cherish secret in history. As the Jewish Virtual Library history continued with the Nasi’s story:
Jewish Virtual Library – “As a child, Yehudah studied Torah under the tutelage of his father, in Usha, and under Rabbi Yehudah ben Ilai of Usha and Rabbi Yaakov ben Kurshai. Later, he studied under Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Tekoa, and from Rabbi Yosi ben Chalafta and Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua, viewing Rabbi Meir, as it were, “from the back.” All of his teachers conveyed to him the tradition of halachot, Jewish Laws, from the period of the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah, until Rabbi Akiva.
He established his first Torah academy at Sh’faram; later he moved to Beit Shearim, where he remained for many years. He became sickly, suffering from pain in his teeth, his eyes and finally in his intestines. When his infirmities became more severe, he was advised by his doctors to move to Zippori (Sepphoris) built on a mountain-top, where the air was clear and healthful.
His students were Rabbi Chiya (The “Great”), Abba Aricha (known as “Rav”), Rabbah bar bar Chana and Shmuel Yarchinai, a beloved student who also served as his personal physician. He is credited with saying “I learned much from my teachers, more than that did I learn from my colleagues, but most of all from my students!”
As Nasi, he became very wealthy, comparable to Roman rulers. But he gave much of his wealth to the support of the poor. It was said of him, “From the days of Mosheh Rabbeinu till Rabbeinu HaKadosh, there was never found great Torah knowledge combined with great wealth.”
Gold Commemorative Coin of Antoninus Pius discovered at Bethsaida
The “Rest of the Story” of Rabbi Judah the Prince and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius
So how did this great rabbi receive his wealth? This rare and exquisite coin may give to us the clues to the “Rest of the Story”. First it supports the theory that Antoninus Pius embraced the Jewish population in Rome. The childhood deception of Rabbi Judah’s circumcision in a trade swap with the Roman governor’s son Marcus Aurelius, also given a new dimension to the life of the Prince of David, Rabbi Judah.
Today, the Tomb of the Torah Giant Rabbi Judah HaNasi is located at the Necropolis at Bet Shearim
The Jewish Magazine – “A half a century later lived Rabbi Judah HaNasi (135-217 CE), the compiler of the Mishna and the main authority for the Jews. He established a Sanhedrin at Bet Shearim upon receiving a grant of land from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius with whom he had friendly relations. As the rabbi's adherents flocked to his religious school, the village's size increased. It became famous throughout the Diaspora, which stretched north from Lebanon and Syria to Greece and Rome and eastwards to Iraq and Persia, and south to the Arabian Peninsula. The Talmud mentions two magnificent buildings.
Judah HaNasi himself spent the last seventeen years of his life not in Bet Shearim but in nearby Zippori, for health reasons, but he was brought back for burial in Bet Shearim:
Ketubot 12, 35a - "Miracles were wrought on that day. It was evening and all the towns gathered to mourn him, and eighteen synagogues praised him and bore him to Bet Shearim, and the daylight remained until everyone reached his home."
Rabbi Judah HaNasi's burial inspired Jews to be interred like him in Bet Shearim. An alternative to the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem was sought, since in 135 CE the Roman emperor Hadrian had decreed that Jerusalem was off-bounds for Jews. After Rabbi Judah's death, Bet Shearim became the main site for Jewish burial in Palestine and the Diaspora, for a period of a hundred years. The graves were hewn out in the rock, and so the city attracted workmen for quarrying, and for stonecutting and sculpting of the entrance doors to the caves, and the sarcophagi or coffins in which the bones of the dead were laid.
Rabbi Judah HaNasi’s boyhood friendship that we could assume continued throughout his life with the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius gives us a new dimension of how this famous Jewish sage, became the friends of the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius. The Emperor, as the adopted father of the young Marcus Aurelius had to of known of the “secret” and the bonded blood brother friendship of Marcus with his Jewish friend, Rabbi Judah the Prince. According to historian Rabbi Berel Wein in his “Echoes of Glory”, we learn:
Rabbi Berel Wein – “Providentially, in the course of the Parthian war, Marcus Aurelius met Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi], and they became friends and eventually confidants. Marcus Aurelius consulted with his friend in Judah on matters of state policy as well as on personal questions.(1)
The years of Marcus Aurelius' reign, ending in his death in 180, was the high-water mark in the intercourse between Rome and the Jews. The Jews, under the leadership of Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi], would use this period of blissful respite to prepare themselves for the struggle of darker days surely lurking around the corner." (Rabbi Berel Wein, “Echoes of Glory”, pg. 224)
Now the “Story” gives us the insight of two great friendships intertwining together that occurred because two mothers, one a Roman, and the other Jewish, knew that to save a life was a mitzvoth. These personal friendships of the young Roman magistrate’s son, and the honored relationship of the Rebbe with the Roman Emperor suggests that the fact that this Jewish sage threw down the walls of separation between Rome and Judea, even at the height of the most virulent persecution against the Jewish people. By that act, the bloodbath of G-d’s chosen people was halted. Would we not be amiss to suggest that when the “Rabbeinu HaKadosh”, the Holy Rabbi became the two emperor’s royal counselor, an era of “Peace” came to the entire Roman Empire.
The only mystery left; how did this golden coin get to Bethsaida, in the province of Galilee in Northern Israel? We do know that this young Torah giant in training began at a Jewish village called Usha, along the western coastline of the Sea of Galilee. The coin was discovered in the Tell today recognized as Bethsaida, one and a half kilometers north off the northern shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, to the east of the River Jordan in the region of Golan.
Was this commemorative piece a personal minted piece made especially by the order of the new Proconsul of Rome to give as numismatic mementos to his special friends? Now with only one step away from the throne of Rome, was this golden commemorative momento given as a personal gift by the Emperor Antoninus Pius to Rabbi Judah HaNasi? Or, was it rather given to Rabbi Judah HaNasi by his childhood friend, the future Emperor Marcus Aurelius? Maybe this was the Triumvirate that Rome failed to honor; Emperors Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius with Rabbi Judah the Prince of David? For a second look, this golden coin may be one of Israel’s most historical treasures.
Credit to Archeology Daily News – “Rare coin bears good tidings for UNOs Israeli excavations” – July 19, 2010
Credit to Hana Levi Julian – “2,000-Year-Old Gold Coin a Testament to Galilee Ancient History” – Israel National News – July 18, 2010