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Habvakd University 

Simon Zelotes or Simon the Canansean is one of the 
Twelve of whom it is customary to say that we know 
nothing except that his name shows that he had once 
belonged to the Sect of the Zealots or Cananseans, the 
"physical-force men" of the Jews, and that he had after- 
wards, seeing the error of his ways, adopted the pacific 
teachings of Jesus. 

It is therefore somewhat of a shock to discover from 
Josephus that, if his evidence be correct, the use of the 
name Zealot to describe a Jewish sect or party cannot 
be earlier than a.d. 66. For this reason it seems op- 
portune to bring together the facts dealing with the 
Zealots and cognate contemporary movements, and in 
their light to ask once more what is the meaning of 
"Simon the Zealot." 

The usual assumptions 1 with regard to the Zealots 
are that they were the followers of Judas the Gaulonite 
of Gamala, also called Judas of Galilee, who founded in 
a.d. 6 what Josephus calls the "Fourth Philosophy" of 
the Jews. This philosophy insisted on the repudiation 
of any king but God, and in some modern books it 
is represented as having strong Messianic hopes. 2 It is 
also maintained that the Zealots are the same as the 
Sicarii or at least that the Sicarii are a branch of the 

1 Typical, for instance, is the statement in the Encyclopaedia Biblica, on Zealot: 
"It is applied distinctively to a sect whose tenets are virtually identical with those of 
the Assassins, of whom they are indeed the forerunners." It can only be said of such 
statements that they reflect Schttrer, not Josephus. 

2 It is sometimes held that The Assumption of Moses belongs to this school, but 
the evidence is slight. Moreover the figure of Taxo is by no means clearly Mes- 
sianic, even if Burkitt's ingenious suggestion that Taxo(k) is gematria for Elcazar, be 


Zealots, and it is often held that there was an almost 
unbroken succession of leaders of the Zealots, from 
Hezekiah, who preceded Judas and according to Schurer 
was his father, down to the fall of Jerusalem. 

Hardly any of these assumptions is well-founded. 
With regard to Judas Josephus 3 states that he tried to 
rebel at the time of the census of Quirinus with the sup- 
port of a Pharisee named Zadok, after Joazar the son of 
Boethus, the high priest, had induced the people to 
submit to the enrolment. It is then that he goes on to 
say that Judas founded the "Fourth Philosophy," which 
agreed in all respects with the Pharisees except that it 
allowed only God to be acknowledged as king and 
advocated deeds rather than words. 

All of this statement is entirely probable in itself. 
The taxation of Quirinus was a two-fold insult to Jew- 
ish prejudice: first, because of the repugnance which was 
felt to the idea of numbering the people; and secondly, 
because of the belief that the taxes payable by the Jews 
in the Holy Land were God's peculiar property. It is 
therefore quite likely that Judas had Pharisaic sup- 
port. It is also quite likely that a form of thought was 
started by him and that it continued down to the fall of 
Jerusalem. It is even probable that much in the New 
Testament can best be understood as propaganda against 
this form of thought. But this does not prove that the 
Fourth Philosophy was identical either with the Zealots 
or with the Sicarii, and it certainly does not show that 
the movement of Judas was Messianic. 

The clearest way of establishing the facts is to notice 
what Josephus really does say about the Zealots and 

The Sicarii arose, according to Josephus, 4 in the time 
of Felix. They were so called because they mingled in 

'Antiq. XVIII, 1,6. 
<B.J.II, 13. 


the crowd on festivals with a knife (sica) concealed in 
their clothes and assassinated their opponents. They 
killed first Jonathan the High Priest and afterwards so 
many more that a reign of terror ensued. In the same 
passage Josephus mentions two other movements, but 
clearly separates them from that of the Sicarii. The first 
was that of a band who claimed divine inspiration and led 
men out into the wilderness, "pretending God would there 
show them signs of liberty." Felix, however, thought 
that this was the beginning of a revolt, sent out cavalry 
against them, and cut them to pieces. Another rising 
was similarly dealt with by Felix, when an Egyptian false 
prophet collected 30,000 men, whom he led round from 
the wilderness to the Mount of Olives. It is very re- 
markable, especially in view of the well-known prob- 
lem presented by the incident of Theudas, that in 
Acts 21 37 these three risings in the time of Felix are 
combined into a single incident. 5 Josephus, however, 
clearly distinguishes them, though he mentions them 

The later history of the Sicarii is that they formed an 
organized band which had its headquarters in the fortress 
of Masada near the Dead Sea under the leadership of 
Eleazar, a kinsman of Judas. This held out until after 
the fall of Jerusalem, and was finally taken by Fabius 
Silva, after the garrison had killed first their wives and 
children and afterwards themselves. Only two women 
and five children survived. 

Those of the Sicarii who had not been besieged in 
Masada escaped to Egypt. Some went to Alexandria 
and tried to renew their opposition to Rome, but they 
were finally handed over by the Jews to the Romans. 
Others went to Cyrene; and one of them named Jonathan 
led out a number of the poorer class into the desert, 

5 04k ipa <rb tl & klylnrrun b wpb robrur tuv fiiupup hvaaTajhaa? ical iZayayiu> tls 
tt)v ipriiiov robs TtTpcLKiaxi^-iovs avSpas rav txucaplav; 


promising them signs and wonders, but the richer Jews 
informed Catullus the governor, who dispersed Jona- 
than's followers. He revenged himself by laying infor- 
mation against the richer Jews, and he and Catullus 
joined in a campaign of blackmail in which Josephus was 
involved. When, however, the matter came to the 
emperor, the plot was discovered, Catullus disgraced, 
and Jonathan burned. 6 

The Sicarii left an interesting trace of their memory 
in the Mishna 7 in the law of Sicaricon, which was con- 
cerned with the settlement of the difficulty caused by 
property sold by the Sicarii and afterwards claimed by 
the original owner. It was clearly extended by analogy 
to other instances of a similar nature, but it is doubtful 
whether it originally refers to the time of Vespasian or 
of Hadrian. 

The first use of the word "Zealot" in Josephus as the 
name of a party in Jerusalem is in Bellum Judaicum IV, 
3, 9. After this he uses it frequently, and always in the 
same sense. It is the name arrogated to themselves by 
the followers of the famous John of Gischala, who had 
escaped with some of his followers when his home, the 
last place in Galilee to be taken, was captured by Titus. 
John came to Jerusalem with his followers and started a 
popular movement against the high-priestly families. 
He succeeded in procuring the election of an obscure 
person, named Phanneas, as high priest. It is quite 
clear from Josephus that the name "Zealot" (for he uses 
it as a technical designation) applies to John's following 
and to no other — a party equally opposed to the Sicarii, 
to the priests, and to yet another of the factions which 
existed in Jerusalem after 66, namely that of Simon 
ben Giora, who had once belonged to the Sicarii but had 
left them because they would not undertake operations 

•B.J.VII. 8,1-10,1. 

7 Giilin V, 7. 


at a distance from Masada. Ultimately he became 
captain of a large body of men and was welcomed into 
Jerusalem by the priestly party headed by Matthias in 
order to combat the Zealots. 

It should be added that there is no reason for con- 
necting the Zealots or even the Sicarii with any Messianic 
movement. It is true, no doubt, that many Jews were 
expecting the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven in a 
catastrophic form, but this view did not necessarily imply 
a belief in a Messiah and certainly not a belief in an 
already present Messiah. The first Jew who is known to 
have proclaimed himself the Messiah is Bar Cochba 
(a.d. 135). The belief that a leader was the Messiah 
must be distinguished from the view that he was an 
inspired person of supernatural power. Claims of the 
latter kind were far more frequent. Familiar instances 
are the Egyptian in the time of Felix, 8 the Cyrensean 
movement of Jonathan, 9 or the still earlier movement in 
Samaria suppressed by Pilate 10 ; but all these instances 
represent "false prophets" not "false Christs." 

It is also desirable to protest that there is no justifica- 
tion at all for connecting either the Zealots or even the 
"Fourth Philosophy" of Judas with the brigand Heze- 
kiah. This Hezekiah is mentioned in Bellum Judaicum I, 
10, 4. He is called an apxiXnorifc and his capture was one 
of Herod the Great's first exploits. His son, Judas, is 
mentioned in Bellum Judaicum II, 4, 1, as starting an 
insurrection after the death of Herod. But Josephus 
clearly distinguishes him from Judas the Gaulonite, for 
he says that Judas ben Hezekiah aimed at monarchy, 
while he is explicit in emphasizing that the other Judas 
refused to recognize any king but God. The founder of 
the Fourth Philosophy, however regrettable the results 

« B. J. II, 13, 5. 
'B.J. VII, 11, 1. 
«>Antiq. XVIII, 4, 1. 


of his teachings, may have been a fanatic, but was cer- 
tainly neither a brigand nor an aspirant to a throne. 
Schiirer's statement that Judas ben Hezekiah is the same 
as Judas of Galilee seems therefore quite indefensible. 

Finally, a word must be said about a remarkable state- 
ment in the Jewish Encyclopaedia, in which the writer on 
the word "Zealot" assumes that Zealot, or rather Ca- 
nansean, was the regular name of an order among the 
Jews who used physical force. The writer states that 
Clermont-Ganneau in 1871 discovered an inscription in 
the Temple, authorizing the Cananseans to kill any for- 
eigners in the sacred parts of the building. All these 
statements seem to be misleading. The word "Cana- 
nsean" in the Talmud is applied generally to those who 
manifest religious zeal, and there is no more evidence in 
the Talmud of their existence as an order or sect than 
there is in Josephus. Moreover, the inscription found 
by Clermont-Ganneau is in Greek and does not mention 
the Cananseans at all. 11 

Why is it that these facts have been so far overlooked 
that the name of Zealot has been given to the Fourth 
Philosophy? Partly because the word translated 
Zealot is not an uncommon one and represents patriotic 
virtue. It is used, for instance, in 2 Maccabees 4 2 
and in Josephus 12 of the patriots in the days of the 
Maccabees. It is therefore easy to treat the word in 
the same way as, for instance, Chasid has been treated, 
and to find a reference to the party of the Zealots every 
time that a man is praised for being zealous. But there 
is no real suggestion that in any of these passages it 
is more than an honorable adjective. Far more impor- 
tant is the influence of the name of Simon the Zealot. 
It is obvious that the view that Simon was called a 

11 The part in question is iu)dtva aK\oytmj turwop&xaBai tiros tov vepi to upor 
rpvipaKTov koj. T€pifio\ov os 5' av XriipBtj tavrta oxtiios tarai Sta to t£aKo\ov0tu> Oavarov. 

"Antiq. XII, 6. 2. 


Zealot because he belonged to the party of John of 
Gischala is not in accord with the traditional view of 
the Twelve, and therefore the theory arose that there was 
a party called Zealots before the last days of Jerusalem, 
and this was identified with the Fourth Philosophy 
described by Josephus. 

Recognizing the facts as they are, the name of Simon 
the Zealot offers an interesting problem, which can be 
solved in more than one way. It is possible that we 
have all been wrong in translating the Greek of Luke, 
or explaining the transliterated Aramaic of Matthew, 
as "Simon the Zealot." Probably it should be "Simon 
the Zealous"; or in other words that there is no reference 
at all to any political party but merely to the personal 
nature of Simon. Another possibility is that the Evange- 
lists made a mistake and really thought that the word 
which they found in their source referred to the political 
party of which they had heard, or possibly had read about 
in the pages of Josephus. A third and more imaginative 
but less probable hypothesis is that Simon did in point 
of fact join the party of the Zealots in the last days of