When Israeli former fighter pilot, fighter ace, businessman, and private astronaut Eytan Stibbe flies to space aboard SpaceX Axiom Space-1 in January 2022, he will bring along a 1900-year-old Jewish coin.
Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, presented the second Israeli in space, Eytan Stibbe with the coin, from the second Jewish revolt against the Romans—the Bar Kokhva Revolt. The coin bears the name of Shimon Bar Kokhva, leader of the rebellion and president of the free state of Judea that lasted three years before it was quashed by three Roman legions (for the record, it took only one legion to quash the mutiny in Britannia).
Both sides of the coin bear Jewish symbols typical of the Second Temple period: a palm tree with the inscription “Shimon” on one side; and a vine leaf with the inscription “Year Two of the liberty of Israel” on the other.
The coin, from Year Two of the revolt, was recently uncovered in the Cave of Horror, in a challenging Judaean desert survey and excavations project carried out by the IAA, along with Israeli youth and volunteers. The state-sponsored project covered about half of the Judaean Desert caves in search of ancient remains, in collaboration with the Staff Officer for Archaeology at the IDF Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria, and funded by the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage.
“The coins of the Bar Kokhva Revolt were minted by the rebels between 132 and 136 CE,” said Dr. Gabriela Bijovsky, a coin specialist at the IAA. “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 members of the rebellion.
Stibbe visited the IAA Dead Sea Scrolls lab in Jerusalem, where he was shown 2000-year-old scroll fragments of the Book of Enoch, written in Aramaic. The script tells the story of Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah, who ascended to the heavens and was accompanied by angels who showed him the sun, the moon, and the stars.
IAA researchers showed Stibbe a unique camera that was developed with NASA technology, which was modified for documenting the scrolls to improve 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 wavelengths, some invisible to the human eye. This technology provides precise imaging of each scroll fragment, allowing to monitor the scrolls’ state of preservation, down to the level of a pixel.
Stibbe told his hosts: “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 would be a symbol of Jewish history. I saw the coin, minted with the palm tree and vine leaf, 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 researching the country’s soil. The ‘Rakia’ mission, which focuses on innovation, advancement of technology, science, education, art, and culture, provides me with the unique opportunity to take a 1900-year-old coin that represents the history of the Jewish people, to space.”