Eli Eskosido and Eytan Stibbe with the ancient coin
Eli Eskosido and Eytan Stibbe with the ancient coinYoli Schwartz, Israel Antiquities Authority

The symbolic item that Eytan Stibbe will take with him on his upcoming Rakia (firmament) mission into space: An 1,900-year-old Jewish coin.

Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, presented the second Israeli in space, Eytan Stibbe, with a coin from the second Jewish revolt against the Romans, also known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt. The coin bears the name of its leader, or nasi (‘prince’), Shimon Bar Kokhba. Minted in Year Two of the revolt, the coin was recently uncovered in the Cave of Horror during the challenging Judean Desert Survey and Excavations Project carried out by the Israel Antiquities Authority together with youth and volunteers.

The project covered about half of the Judean Desert caves in search of ancient remains. This state-sponsored project was undertaken in collaboration with the Staff Officer for Archaeology – Civil Administration of Judea and Samaria and funded by the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage.

The Ramon Foundation and the Israel Space Agency in the Ministry of Science and Technology are sending the second Israeli, Eytan Stibbe, into space, on a historic mission. 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.

Stibbe visited the Israel Antiquities Authority Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory in Jerusalem, where he was shown 2,000-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.

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 the monitoring of the scrolls’ state of preservation, down to the level of a pixel.

At the end of the visit, Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, presented Stibbe with the coin for guardianship while on his trip to space. Both sides of the coin bear Jewish symbols typical of the Second Temple period: a palm tree with the inscription “Shimon,” 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).

“The coins of the Bar Kokhba Revolt were minted by the rebels between 132 and 136 CE,” said 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 Jews.”

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 unique opportunity to take a 1,900-year-old coin that represents the history of the Jewish people, to space.”

Eli Eskosido, Director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said, “The fact that Eytan chose to take with him to space an ancient item bearing symbolic significance is very exciting and meaningful. This is a historic meeting between the ancient world and the height of human innovation. The Jewish rebels who struck this coin 1,800 years ago while fighting for their lives and independence could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that after many centuries this item will make its way to outer space with a Jewish astronaut who lives in an independent Jewish state! The leader of the revolt, or the Prince (nasi) of Israel, Shimon Bar Koziba, became memorialized as Bar Kokhba (“Son of a Star”), and today this name receives an added symbolic meaning.”

The Book of Enoch, shown to Eytan Stibbe, is an especially intriguing apocryphal text found among the Dead Sea Scrolls stored at and treated by the IAA Dead Sea Scrolls laboratory. This book, one of the Jewish apocrypha (extra-biblical texts) that interpret and elaborate on the biblical stories, comprises several books written in the third–fourth centuries BCE. They tell in detail the story of Enoch, Noah’s great-grandfather, and of the “sons of God,” who are mentioned only in brief in the Book of Genesis. According to the Book of Enoch, Enoch traveled through the heavens in the company of angels, who showed him the sun, the moon and the stars, as well as rain, snow and winds, and explained to him the workings of the cosmic order.

The ancient coin
The ancient coinClara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority
The other side of the coin
The other side of the coinClara Amit, Israel Antiquities Authority