Historic Jesus


The Zealots were a religious party dedicated to the forcible overthrow of Roman rule in the name of the Law of Moses. They took their name from the movement led by Mattathias and his sons--the Maccabees--which overthrew the Seleucids after Antiochus Epiphanes had desecrated the temple by sacrificing a pig and setting up statues of Greek gods in the sanctuary. They also looked back to Phinehas who showed zeal in fighting for the honor of the Lord in the wilderness (Num. 25.11).

The Zealot party, one of four distinct parties among the Jews mentioned by Josephus the historian (Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and Zealots), was founded by Judas the Galilean, who led a revolt against Rome in A.D. 6. The Zealots opposed paying tribute to Rome in any form, for such payment was an overt denial that God alone was the ruler of Israel. Although the revolt of A.D. 6 was crushed, the spirit of revolt festered with many violent incidents until full-scale war against Rome broke out in A.D. 66. The Zealots were active throughout the war and after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 retreated to their desert stronghold on the wilderness heights overlooking the Dead Sea. From this fortress, called Masada, they continued to wage a guerrilla war; Masada itself fell after a long siege in A.D. 73.

One of Jesus' disciples, Simon, was known as "the Zealot." It is uncertain whether he was given this title because he was an active member of the Zealot party or because he had a generally zealous nature. Many commentators have suggested that Barabbas, a convicted political murderer released by Pilate instead of Jesus, was also a Zealot.