Recent studies seek to distinguish among several features of intertestamental Judaism to which the term "zealot" might be applied. The term could refer to certain persons with fervent devotion to God's Law. The term could also be applied to a general attitude and movement illustrated by Judas of Gamala and Saddok, a Pharisee, who led an abortive revolt against a Roman census in a.d. 6. These leaders promised "that Heaven would be their zealous helper." The Jewish historian Josephus calls the movement, "The Fourth of the Philosophies, " and says it agreed with the Pharisees, differing only in their "passion for liberty convinced that God alone is their leader and master"; they were willing to die for this conviction (Ant18.1.4 ). The movement could also be called a "violent religious revolutionary" one. Josephus also speaks of "The Zealots" (first in War 4.3.9 ) as one of several Jewish revolutionary factions, one he says was a coalition of bandits and miscreants, who fought between themselves and against the Romans in the Judeo-Roman war (a.d. 66-70). He names such leaders as Eleazer son of Simon and John of Gischala.
Matthew 10:4; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15; and Acts 1:13 term one of the apostles "Simon the Zealot." The distinct revolutionary faction developed only later; the title must describe either Simon's pious zeal or participation in the revolutionary spirit.
Some scholars associate Jesus with the zealot movement. The title over the cross, "This is the King of the Jews, " may indicate Pilate condemned him as a violent nationalist. The whole of Jesus' teaching and actions indicate to the contrary. A true zealot revolutionary would never advocate, "Love your enemies" ( Matt 5:44 ), paying taxes to Caesar ( Matt 22:21 ; Mark 12:17 ; Luke 20:25 ), and satisfaction with two swords ( Luke 22:38 ).
J. Julius Scott, Jr.
Bibliography. W. R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots, and Josephus; M. Hengel, The Zealots; R. Horsley, NovT27 (1986): 159-92; M. Smith, HTR64 (1971): 1-19.
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Zealot'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".