|Leader||Judas of Galilee
Menahem ben Judah
John of Giscala
Simon bar Giora
Eleazar ben Simon
Eleazar ben Yair
The Zealots were originally a political movement in 1st century Second Temple Judaism which sought to incite the people of Judaea Province to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the Holy Land by force of arms, most notably during the First Jewish–Roman War (66-70). Zealotry was the term used by Josephus for a "fourth sect" during this period.
The term "zealot", in Hebrew kanai (קנאי, frequently used in plural form, קנאים (kana'im)), means one who is zealous on behalf of God. The term derives from Greek ζηλωτής (zelotes), "emulator, zealous admirer or follower".
Josephus' Jewish Antiquities states that there were three main Jewish sects at this time, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Zealots were a "fourth sect", founded by Judas of Galilee (also called Judas of Gamala) in the year 6 against Quirinius' tax reform, shortly after the Roman Empire declared what had most recently been the tetrarchy of Herod Archelaus to be a Roman province, and that they "agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord." (18.1.6)
Following Josephus ("B. J." ii. 8, § 1; "Ant." xviii. 1, §§ 1, 6), most writers consider that the Zealots were a so-called fourth party founded by Judas the Galilean (see Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 252, 259; Schürer, "Gesch." 1st ed., i. 3, 486). This view is contradicted, however, by the fact that Hezekiah, the father of Judas the Galilean, had an organized band of so-called "robbers" which made war against the Idumean Herod ("B. J." i. 10, § 5; "Ant." xiv. 9, § 2), and also during the reign of Herod, if not long before by the fact that the system of religious and political murders practised by the Zealots was in existence during the reign of Herod, if not long before.
The opposite has also been argued: that the group was not so clearly marked out (before the first war of 66-70/3) as some have thought.
The Zealots had the leading role in the First Jewish–Roman War (66–73 CE). The Zealots objected to Roman rule and violently sought to eradicate it by generally targeting Romans and Greeks. Another group, likely related, were the Sicarii, who raided Jewish habitations and killed Jews they considered apostate and collaborators, while also urging Jews to fight Romans and other Jews for the cause. Josephus paints a very bleak picture of their activities as they instituted what he characterized as a murderous "reign of terror" prior to the Jewish Temple's destruction. According to Josephus, the Zealots followed John of Gischala, who had fought the Romans in Galilee, escaped, came to Jerusalem, and then inspired the locals to a fanatical position that led to the Temple's destruction. They succeeded in taking over Jerusalem, and held it until 70, when the son of Roman Emperor Vespasian, Titus, retook the city and destroyed Herod's Temple during the destruction of Jerusalem.
In the Talmud
In the Talmud, the Zealots are the non-religious (not following the religious leaders), and are also called the Biryonim (בריונים) meaning "boorish", "wild", or "ruffians", and are condemned for their aggression, their unwillingness to compromise to save the survivors of besieged Jerusalem, and their blind militarism against the Rabbis' opinion to seek treaties for peace. They are further blamed for having contributed to the demise of Jerusalem and the Second Temple, and of ensuring Rome's retributions and stranglehold on Judea. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin:56b, the Biryonim destroyed decades' worth of food and firewood in besieged Jerusalem to force the Jews to fight the Romans out of desperation. This event directly led to the escape of Johanan ben Zakai out of Jerusalem, who met Vespasian, a meeting which led to the foundation of the Academy of Jamnia which produced the Mishnah which led to the survival of rabbinical Judaism.
The Zealots advocated violence against the Romans, their Jewish collaborators, and the Sadducees, by raiding for provisions and other activities to aid their cause.
One particularly extreme group, perhaps a subgroup of the Zealots, was known in Latin as sicarii, meaning "violent men" or "dagger men" (sing. sicarius, possibly a morphological reanalysis), because of their policy of killing Jews opposed to their call for war against Rome. Perhaps many Zealots were sicarii simultaneously, and they may be the biryonim of the Talmud that were feared even by the Jewish sages of the Mishnah.
According to historian H.H. Ben-Sasson, the Sicarii, originally based in Galilee, "were fighting for a social revolution, while the Jerusalem Zealots placed less stress on the social aspect" and the Sicarii "never attached themselves to one particular family and never proclaimed any of their leaders king". Both groups objected to the way the priestly families were running the Temple.
Paul the Apostle
Taking the Greek word zelotes in Acts 22:3 and Galatians 1:14 of the New Testament to mean a 'Zealot' with capital Z (the earliest Greek manuscripts are uncials or all capital letters), an article by Mark R. Fairchild suggests that Paul the Apostle may have been a Zealot, which might have been the driving force behind his persecution of the Christians (see stoning of Saint Stephen) before his conversion to Christianity, and his incident at Antioch even after his conversion.
While most English translations of the Bible render this Greek word as the adjective "zealous", the word is a noun meaning 'adherent, loyalist, enthusiast; patriot, zealot'. A 'Zealot' with capital Z, however, would suggest a member of the particular Zealots, the group that emerged in Jerusalem ca. AD 6 according to Josephus, see above. In the two cited verses Paul literally declares himself as one who is loyal to God, or an ardent observer of the Law, but the relationship of Paul of Tarsus and Judaism is still debated. This does not necessarily prove Paul was revealing himself as a Zealot. A translation (the Modern King James Version of Jay P. Green) renders it as 'a zealous one'. Two modern translations (Jewish New Testament and Alternate Literal Translation) render it as 'a zealot'. The Unvarnished New Testament (1991) renders Galatians 1:14 as "...being an absolute zealot for the traditions...". These translations may not be inaccurate, but it is disputed by those who claim it gives the wrong association with the "Zealots".
The Greek word ζηλωτής (zēlōtḗs) is a noun. The comments above that treat it as an adjective are not founded upon the text. This does not necessarily mean that the translation ought to have a capital Z, but a philological argument would properly be based on uses of this word here and elsewhere in the same text, then the same author, then the NT in general, then in Greek in general, in that specific order. As it happens, the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (accessed 4/14/15) shows not one instance of the noun ζηλωτής by a pre-Christian Era source. The Suda, a medieval Greek encyclopedia, defines a Ζηλωταί as "among the Jews guardians of the law" (παρὰ Ἰουδαίοις οἱ τοῦ νόμου φύλακες).
The (1881) Westcott-Hort edition of the New Testament has the following reading for Acts 22.3 (without diacritical marks):
εγω ειμι ανηρ ιουδαιος γεγεννημενος εν ταρσω της κιλικιας ανατεθραμμενος δε εν τη πολει ταυτη παρα τους ποδας γαμαλιηλ πεπαιδευμενος κατα ακριβειαν του πατρωου νομου ζηλωτης υπαρχων του θεου καθως παντες υμεις εστε σημερον
The same edition has the following for Galatians 1.14:
και προεκοπτον εν τω ιουδαισμω υπερ πολλους συνηλικιωτας εν τω γενει μου περισσοτερως ζηλωτης υπαρχων των πατρικων μου παραδοσεων
- Sikrikim, a modern group inspired by the Sicarii
- Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth a book about the life of Jesus by Reza Aslan
- Zealot, Online Etymology Dictionary
- Zelotes, Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, "A Greek-English Lexicon", at Perseus
- book 18
- Richard Horsley's "Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs" and Tom Wright's "The New Testament and the People of God"
- Luke 6:15
- Acts 1:13
- H.H. Ben-Sasson, A History of the Jewish People, Harvard University Press, 1976, ISBN 0-674-39731-2, page 275
- Journals.cambridge.org, "Paul's Pre-Christian Zealot Associations: A Re-examination of Gal. 1:14 and Acts 22:3" by Mark R. Fairchild, Ph.d
|Look up zealot in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up zealotry in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Look up Zealot in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
- Sydney F. Smith (1913). "Zeal". Catholic Encyclopedia.
- "Zealot". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.