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    The feminist who fought Rome

    Fragment from one of the Bar Kochba letters

    Bar Kochba’s orders for the last revolt against the Romans were found in the 1960s in a cave in the wadi of Nahal Haver, near the Dead Sea. Some of the Jews had hidden in the cave for safety, but the Romans trapped them there. The skeletons of this group were found in the cave; with them was a wallet of papers belonging to Babatha, daughter of Shimon. Many of the papers were in Greek and indicate that Jews often or occasionally took their disputes to the local Roman governor.

    Despite the tense period, it seems that on the whole there were cordial relations between Jews and gentiles, and women were not too reluctant to take commercial or legal initiatives. Babatha appears to have been a businesswoman and the papers include records of her business dealings.

    Was she one of the eight women whose bodies were found in the cave together with men and children? Did she leave her records in the cave and go elsewhere, never to return?

    We cannot be certain, but it is clear that women like Babatha were crucial in maintaining a semblance of normal living. That in itself was also a form of defiance of the overlords.

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