From 66 to 74 CE, and again from 132 to 136, Jews revolted against Roman rule. In both uprisings, surprising initial success gave way to catastrophic defeat. Robert Silverman explains how the leaders of these rebellions created what he dubs an “information campaign,” preserved most notably in the coins minted by the revolutionary governments, and how these campaigns shaped the Zionist movement:
The coins were minted by a central authority—probably the Temple staff in the First Revolt and [the rebel leader] Shimon ben Kosiba’s headquarters in the Second Revolt—who kept the quality control and die engraving at a high level throughout the revolts. These were organized governments that devised “hearts and minds” information campaigns using the best mass media of the time—coins.
The legends on the coins are inscribed in a script, paleo-Hebrew, that was no longer in daily use at the time of the revolts. Using this antique script was part of the information campaign to identify the revolts with earlier periods of Jewish sovereignty. Even if only scribes could read them, the coins bear compact powerful messages that could be orally transmitted. The rebels lived in a linguistically diverse part of the Roman empire where Aramaic and Greek predominated. But they insisted on Hebrew as the language of their state. Their coin inscriptions are only in Hebrew.
The coins from both revolts proclaim the name of the newly independent Jewish state—Israel. But at the time of the revolts, there had been no political entity of this name for over 600 years. . . . By invoking Israel in their information campaign, the rebels sought to turn a local rebellion in one Roman province into an international war by recruiting all of the Jews, especially those in the Parthian empire, Rome’s chief enemy. Perhaps they realized that this was the only way to secure independence.
In the second part of his analysis, Silverman looks at the rebels’ use of the term ḥerut, which originally meant freedom from slavery:
The rebels enlarged the concept of ḥerut to mean the collective political independence of the nation. Bronze coins of the First Revolt proclaim “Year 2 of the independence of Zion” while those of the Second Revolt say “Year 2 of the independence of Israel.” These are the most common revolt coins. . . . For the rebels, the concepts of the personal freedom of individual Jews and the political independence of the nation were intertwined, as they would later be in the minds of modern Zionists.