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The Gemara Yevamos (62b) and Midrash Koheles Rabbah (11:6) single out two specific students who died out of the 12,000:

וְרַבִּי עֲקִיבָא אוֹמֵר שְׁנֵים עָשָׂר אֲלָפִים תַּלְמִידִים הָיוּ לִי מִגְּבַת וְעַד אַנְטִיפְרַס וְכֻלָּן מֵתוּ בְּחַיַּי בֵּין פֶּסַח לַעֲצֶרֶת - Rebbi Akiva said, "I had 12,000 students, from Gevas until Antifras, who all died in my lifetime between Pesach and Shavuos."

What was unique about Gevas and Antifras that Rebbi Akiva singled them out? (Are they far apart, major metropolises, etc.)

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  • Your first link translates it as " in an area of land that stretched from Gevat to Antipatris" – Salmononius2 Apr 12 at 21:00
  • It should be noted that in most versions of this midrash, Rabbi Akiva does not mention it, but rather, it is told about Rabbi Akiva. – רבות מחשבות Apr 13 at 3:10
  • Those who theorize that this was coded language for the Bar Kochva Revolt say these sites are parts of the clue, e.g. Gevat, east of present-day Haifa, was well-placed as a military centre to cover the northern Galil region ... Antipatris, in Roman times, stood at the junction of important highways leading to Jerusalem, Caesarea and Jaffa and is often mentioned as a military campsite thejc.com/judaism/features/… – Shalom Apr 13 at 8:41
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    +1, In ancient parlance, mentioning two distant (in their view) geographic places meant "all over the world", like "מהודו ועד כוש" or "all over the country, like we say in modern Hebrew "from Gadera to Hadera" (because it rhymes, meaning all over Israel). It could also be possible that it was a single well-known governmental district, kind of "figure of speech". – Al Berko Apr 14 at 16:39
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It is an area of land.

Rashi writes:

מגבת עד אנטיפרס - [בין העיירות הללו היו כולם]:

From Gevas until Antifras - i.e. all of them (that died were located) between these cities.

Steinsaltz adds:

שמגבת עד אנטיפרס בארץ יהודה

That were from Gevas until Antifras - In the land of Yehuda.

And the Etz Yosef on the Midrash there writes quite clearly:

שמות מקומות

They are the names of places.

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    Thank you - is there something unique about the two cities? – NJM Apr 12 at 22:11
  • I have to do a bit more research.... – Dov Apr 12 at 22:12
  • I don't understand - only those between the cities died, but there were more? – Al Berko Apr 14 at 16:33
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These two cities (with some variance in spelling) are commonly used in Aggadah to designate the borders of the land of Yehudah; see, e.g. Sanhedrin 94b, as per Rashi and Steinsaltz (note the parallel to "from Dan to Be'er Sheva"):

מה עשה נעץ חרב על פתח בית המדרש ואמר כל מי שאינו עוסק בתורה ידקר בחרב זו בדקו מדן ועד באר שבע ולא מצאו עם הארץ מגבת ועד אנטיפרס ולא מצאו תינוק ותינוקת איש ואשה שלא היו בקיאין בהלכות טומאה וטהרה

What did Hezekiah do to ensure Torah study? He inserted a sword at the entrance of the study hall and said: Anyone who does not engage in Torah study shall be stabbed with this sword. As a result, they searched from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south, and did not find an ignoramus. They searched from Gevat to Antipatris and did not find a male child, or a female child, or a man, or a woman who was not expert even in the complex halakhot of ritual purity and impurity.

Rashi ad loc.:

‏מגבת ועד אנטיפרס - מקומות שבסוף התחומים:

Steinsaltz ad loc:

‏ בדקו מגבת ועד אנטיפרס (שהן תחומי ארץ יהודה)

You can find their Wikipedia entries (and thus their approximate locations) here and here.

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