Sects During Biblical Times — the Zealots

The Lord shall make the pestilence cleave unto thee until He have consumed thee from off the land whither thou goest to possess it.
The Lord shall smite thee with madness, and blindness, and astonishment of heart; and thou shalt grope at noonday, as the blind gropeth in darkness (Deuteronomy 28:21, 28-29)
I create darkness; I create evil; I, the Lord, do all these things (Isaiah 45:7).

Sects During Biblical Times — the Zealots

Who were the Zealots

The Zealots were a political and military movement in first-century Judea, which sought to incite the people of Judea and Galilee to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from their Holy Land by force of arms, most notably during the First Jewish–Roman War (AD 66–70). Zealotry was the term used by Josephus for a “fourth sect” or “fourth Jewish philosophy” during this period.

The first three sects being the Pharisees, the Sadducees (allied closely with the Boethusiasns), and the Essenes. Zealots were an military offshoot of Pharisees (mainly of the Shammai branch) and believed “that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord.” Judah of Gaulanitis or Judas of Galilee was regarded as the founder of the Zealots. He was joined by one of the leaders of the Pharisees, Rabbi Zadok, a disciple of Shammai, and among its members, Simon the Zealot was selected by Jesus in the Gospel (of Luke 6:15) and in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1:13) as one of the apostles.

In the year AD 6 Judas of Galilee (also known as Judas of Gamala) rose up primarily against the imposition of direct Roman rule in Judea requiring its inhabitants to pay a special tax known as the Quirinius’ tax after the Roman Empire declared that the tetrarchy of Herod Archelaus was to be a Roman province.

Judas’ followers considered themselves zealous defenders of the Law and of the national life of the Jewish people. They opposed with relentless rigor any attempt to bring Judea under the dominion of Rome, and especially of the aggressive and fanatical war party from the time of Herod until the fall of Jerusalem and Masada.

Sicarii Dagger used as the weapon of choice by the Sicarii Assassins.Adhering to the rigid Shammaite form of Pharisaism, Zealots observed a rigid practise in not handling or looking at a coin bearing an image, believing that one should neither carry nor look at nor fashion any image; nor would they enter a city at the gate of which statues were erected, since they considered it unlawful to walk under an image. From this practise they would receive the name of ‘Zealots’ or ‘Sicarii,’ often, fanning local strifes into wars of rebellion. They called no one Lord except God, even lived a life to kill or be killed, and later they gloried in their martyrdom rather than to live under the dominion of idolatrous Rome.

When they first appeared, they were met with the support and encouragement of the populace and among the Pharisaic leaders, particularly those of the rigid school of Shammai, whose members did not shrink from resorting to the sword as the ultimate authority in matters of the Law when anti-heathen measures were to be adopted. Sometimes they were so carried away by their fanatic zeal to become wanton destroyers of life and property throughout the land that they were described as “tyrannical and cruel.” Some extreme Zealots even threatened to slay any uncircumcised Gentile who listened to a discourse on God and His laws, unless he underwent the rite of circumcision; should he refused to do so, they killed him instantly.

See the source imageAt an opportune time in AD 66 Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean, seized the fortress Masada in Galilee with the aid of a ruse, killed the Roman garrison, and then drove the Romans out of other fortresses; and finally his kinsman and successor as master of Masada. As the oppression of the Roman procurators increased, so also the passion and violence of the Zealots grew in intensity, affecting all the discontented, while one pseudo-Messiah after another appeared arousing the hope of the people for deliverance from the Roman yoke.

It was quite natural that under the name of Sicarii all kinds of corrupt elements, men eager for pillage and murder, should join the party, spreading terror through the land. Members of the band carried, hidden in their cloak, a dagger about the size of a Persian scimitar and curved like a Roman sica. Bold, courageous, and unscrupulous, bitterly opposed to the Roman overlords and to all collaborators with them, they mingled in the crowds (especially on feast days), watched for an opportunity to wield their concealed weapons, and did not hesitate to kill even in open daylight. Roman rulers in Palestine had a healthy respect for them, and their bodyguards had to be on the constant alert against them.

And in order to force the wealthy and more peaceably inclined citizens to action, the Zealots in their fury set fire to the storehouses containing the corn needed for the support of the people during the siege of Jerusalem. But the very name, Sicarii, inspired terror even in the countryside, and their principles of political extremism were largely repudiated by the Hillel School of Pharisees. Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai related that on account of their frequent murders committed by these militants that they won the epithet of “murderers,” or sometimes better known as the “Assassins.”

See the source image

But Josephus went further in describing them, emphasizing their corrupt elements, not just men, but often with daggers hidden underneath their cloaks, eager to murder and their disrespect for property and for pillage and spreading terror throughout the land that he labeled them as “band of robbers.” In fact, Josephus relates one these Zealots slew his own wife and their seven sons rather than allowed them to be slaves to the Idumean King Herod (Ant xiv. 15, § 5).

The AD 70 Inferno

The critical year AD 67 saw the beginning of the great war with the Roman legions, first under Vespasian and then under Titus; and Galilee was at the outset chosen as the seat of war. The Zealots fought with a Maccabean spirit like almost super humans against warriors trained in countless battles waged in all parts of the Roman world, and these militants succumbed to superior military skill and overwhelming numbers, often only after internal divisions within their ranks, one under Simon bar Giora, another under Simon b. Jair (Ezron) and Eleazar ben Simon, a third under John of Giscala, and a fourth, consisting chiefly of semi barbarous Idumeans under Jacob ben Sosas and Simon ben Kathla. Each desiring to be king, they “even strife against the ruling body, the Sanhedrin, which they distrusted.” Eventually the Zealots died with a fortitude and a spirit of heroic martyrdom which amazed and overawed their victors.

See the source image

Simon bar Giora and John of Giscala survived the fall of Jerusalem, and were taken as captives to Rome to glorify Titus’ triumph; the former, with a rope around his head, was dragged to the Forum and cast down from the Tarpeian rock. Most of the Zealots fell under the sword or other instruments of death and torture at the hands of the Romans, and such as fled to Alexandria or Cyrenaica roused by their unyielding hostility to Rome the opposition of those eager for peace, until they too finally met the same tragic fate. It was a desperate and mad spirit of defiance which animated them all and made them prefer horrible torture and death to Roman servitude. History has declared itself in favor of the Johanan ben Zakkai School of Pharisees, who deemed the schoolhouse of knowledge of more vital importance to the Jews than state and Temple.

See the source imageIn every case these Zealots were ultimately defeated, and their leaders were either beheaded or banished away into oblivion. The last leader at Masada was the Zealot leader Eleazar ben Jair. In the speech in AD 74 attributed to him he declared that it was a glorious privilege to die for the principle that none but God is the true Ruler of mankind, and that rather than yielded to Rome, which is slavery, men should slay their wives and children and themselves (960 men, women, and children in total), since their souls would live forever.



~ by Joel Huan on June 26, 2020.

2 Responses to “Sects During Biblical Times — the Zealots”

  1. […] A Post-Mortem Analysis about the Zealots HERE […]

  2. […] A Post-Mortem Analysis about the Zealots HERE […]

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