02.01.23 Zealots

Bill Heinrich  -  Jan 19, 2016  -  Comments Off on 02.01.23 Zealots

02.01.23 Zealots. (See also 02.01.22 Sicarii.) The Zealots were not only freedom fighters, but they were extremely hostile to the Romans, Herodians, and the wealthy aristocratic Jews of Jerusalem – namely the Sadducees.[1] Their name was taken from 1 Kings 19:10, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty.”[2] They called themselves by the Hebrew term Ganna’im or Aramaic Qan anayya, which in Greek is Zelotai.[3] Obviously the English word is derived from the latter. Their rallying cry was “No king for Israel but God.” They believed it was a sin to pay taxes to a pagan overlord and were determined to fight for their freedom.

While these first century terrorists first became organized and fought against Herod the Great in the years 40-37 B.C., they did not become a political movement until Jesus was about eight or ten years old.  By then the name Zealot identified those who participated in the uprising of A.D. 6 led by Judas of Gamala, the son of Saripheus and Mattathias. This Judas (also known as Judas the Galilean in Acts 5:37) said that Jews were a chosen people of God and, therefore, had no obligation to pay taxes to the Roman government. This is the background of Matthew 22:17 when Jesus was asked, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” While the revolt failed, a Pharisee by the name of Zadok joined Judas and together they formed a loosely knit religious political party which Josephus called the “fourth philosophy.”[4]  They were trained to fight to their death and to recognize no messiah except a messiah of the sword.[5]  From the time the Romans entered the land in 63 B.C. until the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, there were thirteen revolts[6] and sixty claimants to the title of messiah.[7] Some historians say there were three major revolts that overshadowed dozens of smaller ones. Only one of the Zealots, Menahem ben Hezekiah, claimed to be a descendant of David.[8] However, the greatest of these revolts became known as the “First Revolt” (A.D. 66), which led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple.

They originated in the Galilee region while Herod the Great was governor there – before he became king of the entire Jewish region, but became better organized under Judas in A.D. 6.  Josephus said[9] they were the most active freedom-fighting party at the time, convinced that God would help them only if they helped themselves.[10] Their concept of a messiah was one who would lead them to military victory over Roman oppression. The concept of separation of “church and State,” or as would have been said at that time, the separation of synagogue and state, did not exist at that time. Religious faith was the primary motivation behind political movements; as it is with radical Islamic terrorists today. The center of the Jewish resistance movement was in the city of Gamala, located in the mountains east of Galilee, where in A.D. 66 more than five thousand Zealots chose to commit suicide rather than die by the Roman sword.[11]  From this group came a disciple of Jesus by the name of Simon who was referred to later as “Simon the Zealot,” to differentiate him from Simon Peter.[12]

The violent activities of the Sicarii / Zealots initiated the First Revolt.[13] The last of these freedom fighters died at Masada in A.D. 73, but their ideals and dreams of the restoration of a political dynasty equal to that of King David continued.  Six decades later the Jews were at war again, in what has become known as the “Second Revolt” (A.D. 132-135). This revolt is also known as the Simon bar Kokhba Revolt and resulted in the dispersion of all Jews and Christians from Jerusalem by the command of the Roman General Hadrian.


[1]. Bruce, New Testament History. 94-95.


[2]. Pixner, With Jesus in Jerusalem. 126.


[3]. Bruce, New Testament History. 88.

[4]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.6 and 20.8.10.


[5]. Farrar, The Life of Christ. 442.


[6]. See Appendix 25 for a listing of false prophets who had messianic expectations and for a partial listing of revolts and social disturbances from 63 B.C. to A.D. 70.


[7]. Geikie, The Life and Works of Christ. 2:114.


[8]. Jerusalem Talmud, Berakhoth 2.4, 5a.18. Menahem ben Hezekiah was a major leader in the revolt of A.D. 66 (Josephus, Wars 2.17.8). For more than a hundred years the Hezekiah family was involved in various revolts, and mutinies.  This has given credibility to some that they were of royal lineage as they claimed.


[9]. Josephus, Antiquities 18.1.6 (23-25).


[10]. Golub, In the Days. 274.


[11]. Pixner, With Jesus in Jerusalem. 126.


[12]. Pixner, With Jesus in Jerusalem. 126.


[13]. For more information on the Zealot movement, see Josephus, Wars 2.4.1 and 4.4.1.


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