Zealots and Sicarii
Zealots and Sicarii
ZEALOTS AND SICARII
This article deals not only with the group of fighters for the freedom of Israel known from *Josephus as the "Zealots," but includes in its survey other groups with similar aims, particularly the Sicarii.
Judea differed from the other provinces in the east of the Roman Empire in that it never resigned itself to Roman rule and did not willingly become integrated into the Imperial system. From the beginning of the Roman conquest its history was one of bitter struggle accompanied by revolts against the Imperial power. Although there were revolts in the Western parts of the Empire too (in Britain and Gaul and by the Batavi), these were not as frequent and they generally occurred in the early stages of Roman occupation and on the frontiers of the Empire. In Judea, however, a province that lay in the heart of a vital area, between Syria and Egypt, relations with the Roman authorities were in a state of almost continuous tension from the period of *Pompey and *Gabinius until after the *Bar Kokhba War.
The causes of this tension are to be found first and foremost in the religious-ideological conflict between the belief of the Jews in the doctrine that they were the Chosen People and therefore unique and the bitter fact that they were forcibly subjected to the rule of an idolatrous empire which accorded divine honors to its emperors. This empire was the complete antithesis of the spiritual conception and way of life of the Jews, and the tension found its resolution in the strengthening of a messianic-eschatological faith at the center of which stood the hope of the revival of the glory of Israel and the downfall of "the kingdom of arrogance." The intensity of this feeling and these yearnings increased with the passage of time and was nurtured by the deterioration in relations between the Roman administration of the province, which gave its support to non-Jewish elements and based itself on them, and the Jews, as well as by the spiritual and social developments within the Jewish community itself. In the year 66 c.e. the great majority of the people supported the revolt against the procurator Florus, some enthusiastically and some with reservations; only a minority, such as *Agrippa ii, were prepared to employ force to suppress the uprising while it was still in its initial stages. The ferment, however, was provided by certain groups among the Jews which developed a specific and definite ideology of objection in principle to Roman suzerainty. Other elements attached themselves to these groups, and their activism was no less positive despite the fact that the principles upon which they based themselves were less clearly defined.
The essential lines of the ideological currents, activities, and main divisions of the Jewish freedom fighters at the close of the Second Temple period can only be drawn in a general way. Fate has willed it that the main source of knowledge of this remarkable phenomenon – the ideology of Jewish liberty in this period – was their inveterate and uncompromising opponent, Josephus. Josephus not only wrote his most important work on this subject, The Jewish War, as the official historian of the Flavian dynasty and with personal reasons for denigrating the image of the rebels against Rome; he also developed a theory according to which the extremist elements among them, who constituted only a minority of the people, dragged in their wake the whole Jewish population in the direction of an insane rebellion. Josephus almost completely ignored the messianic-eschatological aspects of the struggle. Nevertheless, even from his prejudiced and one-sided account, something of the ideals which animated the Jewish warriors in their struggle against Rome emerges.
The "Fourth Philosophy" and the Sicarii
In Book 7 of The Jewish War (253–74) Josephus distinguishes in a general way between the various parties which took part in the resolute stand against Rome. In respective order, he mentions the Sicarii, the followers of *John of Giscala, the soldiers of *Simeon bar Giora, and finally the Zealots. The main distinctions are exemplified also in incidents which he describes in his detailed description of these sects in the earlier books of The Jewish War. Both references help towards an understanding of events. As stated, the Sicarii are mentioned first in the general summary in Book 7. Elsewhere Josephus describes the emergence of this extreme freedom group against the background of the establishment of the Province of Judea, which was connected with the census instituted by *Quirinius, the legate of Syria, in the year 6 c.e. (Ant. 18:4–10). The census was a profound shock to the Jewish people as a whole and it was only after considerable effort that the high priest at the time, Joezer ben Boethus, succeeded in quietening the emotions aroused among the majority of the people. Nevertheless, *Judah the Galilean of Gamala in Gaulanitis joined forces with *Zadok the Pharisee to issue a call for armed revolt, since in their eyes the census represented outright slavery. In their speeches they went so far as to declare that God would come to the aid of those who did not spare themselves in the struggle. According to Josephus, Judah and Zadok were the founders of the "Fourth Philosophy," the other three being the *Pharisees, the *Sadducees, and the *Essenes. After they acquired a great number of followers they involved the Jewish body politic in uprisings and sowed the seeds of the future catastrophes which were to overwhelm the Jewish people. Later on, after he gives a description of the "three philosophies," Josephus returns to Judah, whom he refers to simply as "the Galilean," and gives a succinct account of his "philosophy." According to him the adherents of this philosophy agree in general with the Pharisees, and are distinguished from them only by their unbounded love for freedom and by the fact that they accept God as their only master and leader. They are freely and readily prepared to submit to even the most horrible of deaths and to see their relations and friends tortured rather than accept human domination. Josephus even emphasizes that this resolute determination of theirs is widely known and therefore there is no fear that the truth of what he says will be challenged; on the contrary, he is afraid that he may not have sufficiently emphasized their indifference to torture (Ant. 18:23–5).
In The Jewish War (2:117–8) only a precis is given of this. The census of Quirinius is not even mentioned in this connection – only that *Coponius was sent as governor to Judea. During his years of rule a Galilean called Judah incited the people to revolt against the Romans and accused them of cowardice for consenting to pay taxes to the Romans and tolerating the rule of man when their only ruler was God. This man Judah was a "sage" (σοφιστής) and the founded a sect which was entirely different from all the other sects. Zadok the Pharisee is not mentioned at all in the War; nor does Josephus mention in this work that, apart from their principle of freedom, the philosophy of the Zealots was identical with that of the Pharisees. Nowhere does he mention the end of Judah the Gaulanite, or Galilean; only in the New Testament (Acts 5:37) is it stated that he was put to death by the Romans.
It seems reasonable to accept the theory of those scholars who identify Judah the Gaulanite with Judah ben Hezekiah, who headed the revolt in Galilee against Varus after the death of *Herod in 4 b.c.e. (Ant. 17:271–2; War 2:56). Thus Judah assembled a large number of followers and attacked the royal palace in *Sepphoris, the capital of *Galilee. According to Josephus he had aspirations to the throne of Judea. And whereas he gives the details of the fate which befell the other leaders of rebellion at that time, such as Simeon of Transjordan and *Athronges and his brothers, and the manner in which the rebellions were suppressed, he is completely silent about the fate of Judah. It would appear that he escaped and reemerged ten years later, by which time his ideology had already been worked out and disseminated among the whole people. The father of this Judah was that *Hezekiah who rose to fame as a fighter and leader in the forties of the first pre-Christian century, during the rule of Julius Caesar, and was executed by Herod at the beginning of his political career when he was appointed governor of Galilee. His execution produced a wave of bitterness in Judea and even resulted in Herod's being summoned before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.
Of Hezekiah we are told that he was active in the area bordering on Syria and that his execution by Herod was greeted enthusiastically by the Syrians (War 1:204–5; Ant. 14:159–60). This is easily explained on the assumption that Hezekiah was a native of Gamala in the Gaulanitis, as is mentioned explicitly with regard to Judah, the father of the Fourth Philosophy.
Hezekiah and his son were the founders of a dynasty of leaders of an extremist freedom movement, a dynasty which it is possible to trace until the fall of *Masada and the final crushing of Jewish opposition to Rome. They, the proponents of the Fourth Philosophy, were the first to raise the standard of revolt against the Roman Empire and were the last of those who waged the battle in Ereẓ Israel itself and preached rebellion throughout the length and breadth of the Diaspora. Among the descendants of Judah was *Eleazar b. Jair, the commander of Masada. Eleazar and his men are usually called Sicarii (Σικαριοι) by Josephus, and the same historian also explicitly identifies the Sicarii with the fomenters of unrest after the census of Quirinius (War 7:252–5): "This fortress was called Masada; and the Sicarii who had occupied it had at their head a man of influence named Eleazar. He was a descendant of the Judas who, as we previously stated, induced multitudes of Jews to refuse to enroll themselves when Quirinius was sent as censor to Judea. For in those days the Sicarii banded together against those who consented to submit to Rome and in every way treated them as enemies, plundering their property, rounding up their cattle, and setting fire to their habitations, protesting that such persons were nothing but aliens who so ignobly sacrificed the hard-won liberty of the Jews and admitted their preference for the Roman yoke."
In consequence of this, it should in general be assumed that when Josephus refers to the Sicarii, the reference is to the successors of Judah the Gaulanite, the upholders of the extremist ideology. Apart from the quotation given above in which he identifies the fomenters of unrest in the time of Quirinius with the Sicarii, the first time he feels the need to employ the term Sicarii is against the background of the events during the procuratorships of *Felix (52–60 c.e.) and *Festus (60–62). The word itself is a Latin one, and Josephus points out that it was given to them because of the dagger (sica) which they carried concealed in their garments and with which they were accustomed to dispose of their enemies (War 2:255, Ant. 20:186). It is clear that such a pejorative name was first given to them by their Roman opponents.
The name Sicarii appears for the period of the procuratorship of Felix only in The Jewish War (2:254–7). They are mentioned there as a new phenomenon and in this context Josephus does not give the connection between them and the Fourth Philosophy. It would appear that the novelty consisted in the technique which they employed to dispose of political opponents. According to Josephus they used to choose particularly the festivals: they would mingle with the crowds and put their opponents to death without any possibility of being identified. Their first victim was *Jonathan (b. Anan), who had previously been high priest. His murder is also described in the parallel passage of the Antiquities (20:162–66), where it is stated that it was carried out under the influence of the procurator Felix, who was interested in getting rid of Jonathan by means of the "bandits" (λησταί). Hence no one was punished for the murder of Jonathan. "The 'bandits' adopted the custom of coming to Jerusalem during the festivals and concealing their weapons in the same way and carrying out their crimes." Thus, in the Antiquities Josephus describes the same system and methods as he does in the War against the background of the procuratorship of Felix, but without mentioning the same Sicarii. In both works Josephus refrains from presenting any ideological explanation of the stimulus behind these acts. The first time Josephus explicitly mentions the Sicarii in the Antiquities is during the procuratorship of Festus (Ant. 20:186–7), and he goes on to describe their activities against the background of the procuratorship of *Albinus (62–64 c.e.). During that procuratorship the Sicarii adopted a new tactic of seizing hostages in order to obtain the release of their comrades who had fallen into the hands of the Romans. It was thus that they seized the secretary of *Eleazar, the son of the previous high priest, *Ananias, who served as "captain of the Temple" (στρατηγός τοῦ ὶεροῦ) and sent a message to Ananias that he would be released only in exchange for ten of their men who were being held by Albinus. When they succeeded in this, others were captured and held as hostages and similarly released in exchange for other Sicarii (Ant. 20:208–10).
The New Testament also mentions the Sicarii during the procuratorship of Felix (Acts 21:38). According to this reference the Roman officer Claudius Lysias was of the opinion that *Paul was identical with an Egyptian visionary who had led 4,000 Sicarii into the wilderness. It is, however, highly doubtful if there is any justification for assuming any connection between the Egyptian prophet and the adherents of the Fourth Philosophy.
The few references to the Sicarii in the Talmud already belong to the period of the war itself. First there is the Mishnah (Makhshirim 1:6): "It once happened that the men of Jerusalem hid their fig-cakes in the water because of the Sicarii, and the sages declared them not susceptible [to ritual uncleanness]." Similarly in Avot de-Rabbi Nathan (7 p. 20, version (b), ed. Schechter, 19452): "When Vespasian came and surrounded Jerusalem… the Sicarii took the initiative and set fire to all the granaries." In Eccles. R. to 7:12 there is mention of Ben Batiaḥ, "the head of the Sicarii in Jerusalem," and to the same category of information belongs the story of *Abba Sikra, the leader of the biryonim, the son of the sister of Rabban *Johanan b. Zakkai (Git. 56a).
As is evident from the interchange of Sicarii and Zealots (Kanna'im) in the text of Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, and as one can also infer from the use of the name Sicarii in Acts, it is by no means certain that in the talmudic passages the word necessarily refers to the Fourth Philosophy and to the adherents of the Galilean dynasty. It is possible that the word is sometimes used more flexibly than in Josephus.
The suggestion has also been put forward that the "Galileans" mentioned by Epictetus (Arrian, Discourses 4:7, 6) are in fact the disciples of Judah the Galilean, but the accepted view which identifies them with the Christians seems more reasonable.
In the period between the census and the outbreak of the Great Revolt the descendants of Judah are mentioned only once. Two of his sons are referred to – Jacob and Simeon, who were crucified by the procurator Tiberius Julius *Alexander between 46 and 48 c.e. (Ant. 20:102). There is no information as to the activities for which they received this punishment, or whether their area of operation was Galilee or Judea. It is clear, however, even in the absence of such information, that they stood at the center of the rebel activities, and when the opportunity presented itself with the outbreak of the Revolt, *Menahem, one of the descendants of Judah, took a leading part in the events.
After the offering of the daily sacrifice for the welfare of the Emperor was discontinued on the initiative of Eleazar the son of Ananias, and fighting was raging in the streets of Jerusalem between the rebels and those who strove for peace with the Romans, the peace party being aided by the soldiers sent by Agrippa ii, there was created a situation whereby the royal troops held control of the Upper City while the rebels were in control of the Temple and the Lower City. The outcome was decided when many of the Sicarii joined forces with the rebels. The army of Agrippa was routed and his opponents broke through into the Upper City and set not only the royal palace on fire, but "eager to destroy the moneylenders' bonds, and to prevent the recovery of debts, in order to win over a host of grateful debtors and to cause a rising of the poor against the rich, sure of impunity," they also burned the archives. This passage seems to point to the extremist social ideology of the Sicarii under the leadership of Menahem.
The fortress of *Antonia also fell to the rebels and a siege was laid to the palace of Herod. At this stage, however, a schism took place. Menahem, who had already gained control of Masada, acquired a rich booty of weapons with which he armed his adherents. He then began to act as the sole leader of the revolt. "He returned like a veritable king to Jerusalem, became the leader of the revolution, and directed the siege of the palace."
Menahem captured the palace of Herod with the exception of the three towers (Hippicus, Phasael, and Mariamne) in which the Roman soldiers took refuge. It was at this time that the former high priest Ananias and his brother were captured and put to death by Menahem's men. His ambition, which apparently had a messianic-eschatological character, aroused the opposition of the other rebels commanded by Eleazar the son of Ananias. They attacked him when he was dressed in royal robes and accompanied by his admirers. In the fight Menahem was placed at a disadvantage. He himself escaped to the Ophel, but was captured and put to death. A similar fate overtook his associates, of whom the most prominent was *Absalom. Many of the Sicarii were killed and a siege was laid to those who hid themselves. Some of them, under the leadership of Eleazar b. Jair, a member of the family of Judah the Galilean, found refuge in Masada, which, as stated, had earlier been captured by Menahem (War 2:422–48).
From this time on the Sicarii ceased to be the guiding factor in the events in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, they continued to exist and it was they who were destined to be the last to hold aloft the standard of rebellion. Although they were no longer in control of Jerusalem and it is not possible to ascribe predominance to them in any part of Jewish Ereẓ Israel apart from Masada, it can be stated with near certainty that many of them continued their activities in other parts of the country and were a factor in the incitement of the people. It is possible to see evidence of this in the explicit and detailed information given of the activities of the Sicarii when, after the destruction of the Temple, they fled to Egypt and Cyrenaica. It is certain that these refugees did not come from Masada nor belong to the soldiers of Eleazar b. Jair, since those all met their end at Masada. These men were completely consistent in their outlook, following the principles of Judah the Galilean, just as before their flight to Egypt and Cyrenaica they had clung to them in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Ereẓ Israel. In addition, the considerable number of the warriors who fought under Simeon bar Giora at the time of the siege is easily explained on the assumption that many Sicarii were included in his army, since they felt themselves more in sympathy with him than with the other leaders in besieged Jerusalem. Their extreme social views bridged the gap between them and Simeon. It might be added that the impression that the Sicarii were an influential factor in besieged Jerusalem is gained to some extent from the above-mentioned talmudic sources. The group of Sicarii who formed a unit under the leadership of Eleazar b. Jair – that group to which Josephus consistently gives the name Sicarii – entrenched itself in Masada and the sphere of its operations was confined to the adjacent area, and there is mention of their attack on En-Gedi (War 4:398–405). When Simeon bar Giora was forced to leave the vicinity of Jerusalem owing to the pressure of Anan ben Anan, he found a temporary refuge with the Sicarii in the wilderness of Judea. They refused, however, to join him in major exploits which would take them far away from their secure base in Masada (War 4:503–7) and there is no further mention of them by Josephus until after the destruction of the Temple. The recent excavations at Masada revealed many potsherds on which the names of the Masada fighters appear. From these sherds one learns of their conscientious observance of the commandments of the Torah, finding expression in such things as their meticulous adherence to the laws of the tithe. Masada is also the only place apart from *Qumran where fragments have been found of the *Dead Sea sect (a scroll of the Sabbath Sacrifice). It seems that its source was the people of Qumran who joined the warriors of Judea at some stage of the war, although one is not entitled to identify the members of the sect, on this account, with the Sicarii or the Zealots. It is a fact that the Essenes participated in the Great Revolt. It was the second senatorial governor of the province of Judea, *Silva, who decided finally to stamp out the last vestiges of Jewish resistance and to capture the last stronghold of the Jews. After all hopes of maintaining this position had failed, and the Romans were poised to storm it, the defenders took the decision to immolate themselves rather than fall into the hands of the Romans. This decision to commit mass suicide was in keeping with the tradition of the Fourth Philosophy. For many of them the choice was in fact between death through torture by the Romans or taking their own lives. Others without doubt had to choose between the difficult alternative of accepting Roman domination, which in their eyes amounted to "Desecration of the Divine Name" (see *Kiddush ha-Shem) and death. But even those who might have been prepared to accept Roman rule and make a public declaration to that effect could only look forward to cruel slavery, while a life of shame faced the women. It is true that Jewish soldiers had been placed in a similar situation in other localities in Ereẓ Israel, and yet only in isolated instances does one hear of suicide in preference to captivity. Thus there is reference to the suicide of the last defenders of *Jotapata, as well as of many of the defenders of Gamala (War 4:79), the city of origin of Judah, the spiritual father of the movement. Josephus also tells of the two priests Meir the son of Bilga and Joseph the son of Dalaeus who threw themselves into the flames of the Temple, and that the survivors of the Zealots sought their death in the field of battle after the capture of the city. Dio Cassius also reports the suicide of many of the defenders of the Temple.
In this mass suicide the essential principle of the Fourth Philosophy undoubtedly played an important role. They faced the danger of transgressing their religious faith, since in their eyes recognition of Roman rule was tantamount to idolatry. The choice before them therefore was not different in essence from that which faced the Jewish communities of the Rhineland in the First Crusade of 1096 or the martyrs of York in 1190.
The two speeches of Eleazar b. Jair in which he urged his followers to put an end to their lives bear the genuine stamp of the Greek rhetoric of the period of the Roman Empire, and it is not difficult to detect in it characteristic ideas taken from Greek philosophy and literature; at least the Stoic tradition recognized the legitimacy of suicide. But in addition to this it contains also the specific ideas of the Fourth Philosophy as indeed Eleazar b. Jair could give expression to it at that fateful moment. There is also in it something of the historical philosophy of Josephus himself as it finds expression in the War generally. Already at the beginning of his speech Eleazar emphasizes the essential idea which inspired him and his men not to become subservient to the Romans or to any man but only to God himself (War 7:323–5): "Long ago, my brave men, we determined neither to serve the Romans nor any other save God, for He alone is man's true and righteous Lord; and now the time is come which bids us put that resolution to the test by our actions. In this crisis let us not disgrace ourselves. We who in the past refused to submit even to a slavery involving no peril, let us not now, along with slavery, deliberately accept the irreparable penalties awaiting us if we are to fall alive into Roman hands. For as we were the first to revolt, so are we the last in arms against them. Moreover, I believe that it is God who has granted us this favor, that we have it in our power to die nobly and in freedom – a privilege denied to others who have met with unexpected defeat" (War 7:407–19).
The influence of the Sicarii refugees was not confined to Egypt. It also embraced the city of *Cyrene and other cities of the Libyan Pentapolis. A certain Jonathan, a weaver by trade, was active in these cities, influencing many of the Jews belonging to the lower classes in Cyrene to follow him to the wilderness where he promised to show signs and wonders, and here also the local Jewish authorities intervened and brought about his arrest by the Roman governor Catullus (War 7:437–40).
As to the extent to which these Sicarii refugees and those who were influenced by their views were a long-range factor in the developments which took place in the lands of the Hellenistic Diaspora, particularly in Egypt and Cyrenaica in the years prior to the revolt during the reign of Trajan and which was its cause, it is difficult to give an answer in the complete absence of sources.
To sum up: it was the outlook of Judah of Gaulanitis and his successors which constituted the most extreme expression of opposition to Roman rule and of Jewish independence. The yearning for the redemption of Israel was the heritage of virtually all sections and classes of the people, but among the adherents of the Fourth Philosophy it led them to immediate action and an activism which knew no compromise, as well as to the recognition that divine aid would come to the energetic and the bold. Acknowledgment of Roman rule was tantamount in their eyes to an affront to divine rule and constituted Ḥillul ha-Shem. Consequently they maintained adamantly that it was essential to come out openly in war against Roman rule and also to compel those who disagreed with them to join the struggle. The Hasmoneans in their time had taken up arms when the situation became impossible and the danger of extermination threatened the Jewish faith, but only when the opportune moment came did they act to realize the ancient aspirations of the people for political freedom. The freedom fighters of the school of Judah of Gaulanitis, on the other hand, raised the banner of freedom and opposition to mortal rule without taking account of the realities of the situation. Their ideas fell on fertile ground as a result of the developments which had taken place in the province of Judea and in Jewish society during the last years of the Second Temple period. The eschatological tension which was characteristic of that generation fitted in exactly with the Fourth Philosophy. Nevertheless, only a small number of the fighters for the freedom of Judea during the Great Revolt accepted the specific ideology of the Sicarii of the school of Judah or of the Zealot priests of Jerusalem, between whom and the Sicarii one can posit only a hypothetical connection, as will be seen below. It can also be assumed that, among other groups, the question of leadership and the realization of the eschatological hopes of Menahem constituted from the outset an obstacle to complete identification with the ideology of the Sicarii.
The Zealots of Jerusalem
Among many scholars and in general works one frequently finds that the extreme wing of the freedom fighters which crystallized in the period immediately prior to the destruction of the Temple is identified with the Zealots (Ζηλωταί, Kanna'im). Judah of Gaulanitis is regarded as the founder of the Zealots, who are identified as the proponents of the Fourth Philosophy. In the original sources, however, no such identification is anywhere clearly made, and the question is hardly raised of the relationship between the Sicarii, the upholders of the Fourth Philosophy, and the Zealots. Josephus himself in his general survey of the various groups of freedom fighters (War 7:268–70) enumerates the Sicarii first, whereas he mentions the Zealots last. "In this lawlessness the so-called Zealots excelled, a class which justified their name by their actions; for they copied every evil deed, nor was there any villainy recorded in history that they failed to emulate zealously. And yet they took their name from their professed zeal for virtue, either in mockery of those they wronged, so brutal was their nature, or reckoning the greatest of evils good." In presenting the events themselves Josephus first mentions the Zealots in connection with the composition of the temporary government in Jerusalem under the leadership of Joseph ben Gorion after the victory over *Cestius Gallus in the year 66 c.e. Josephus explains why *Eleazar b. Simeon, who distinguished himself in the fighting against the Romans, undoubtedly playing a decisive role, and took possession of most of the booty and the treasury of Cestius Gallus, was not appointed to the government. He explains that he was passed over "because they observed his despotic nature and that the Zealots under him conducted themselves like his bodyguard" (War 2:564). One gains the impression that Josephus is referring here to the Zealots who placed themselves under Eleazar's command as a phenomenon which had existed for some time and does not therefore realize that the reader has not heard of their appearance before.
Despite the fact that Eleazar b. Simeon was temporarily overlooked and not included either in the government of Jerusalem or in the list of the area commanders of the country who were appointed after the victory over the governor of Syria, he nevertheless maintained his decisive influence. In the words of Josephus, "Gradually, however, financial needs and the intrigues of Eleazar had such influence with the people that they ended by yielding the supreme command to him" (War 2:565). Josephus returns to the Zealots in his description of the subsequent events at the end of Book 2 (651) against the background of the preparation for the war against the Romans in 66–67 and underlines the antagonism which existed between Anan b. Anan and those called the Zealots. This latter name becomes more frequent in the context of the fratricidal war which broke out in Jerusalem after the war in Galilee. The war approached Jerusalem towards the end of 67 c.e.; the Roman army was already in control of *Jabneh and *Ashdod and large numbers of refugees and fighters streamed from the different places to the capital and joined the extreme elements there (War 4:138). These reinforced units began to take action against the moderate elements who until then had been in control of the city, particularly against individuals who were suspected of wishing to come to terms with the Romans. The first victim was a certain Antipas, who belonged to the house of Herod and tried to stop the rebels at the outbreak of the revolt. Together with two other members of the royal family he was imprisoned, and shortly afterwards they were put to death. The extremists took a revolutionary step in abolishing the system which had been established since the time of Herod and reserved the *high priesthood to a number of families which in effect constituted the priestly oligarchy. This privilege had not been abolished even in the time of *Agrippa i. The high priesthood had continued to alternate between these oligarchic houses; from time to time the transfer was accompanied by reprehensible dealings, such as the bribery of the appointing authorities. In the years immediately preceding the Revolt the right of appointment was entrusted to Agrippa ii, and the last high priest appointed by him was *Mattathias, the son of Theophilus ii. It was now decided to introduce a complete democracy in the high priesthood and to choose by *lot. The lot fell upon Pinḥas (*Phinehas) b. Samuel of Kefar Havta. With the aim of portraying this change in the blackest of colors Josephus states that Pinḥas was "a man who not only was not descended from high priests, but was such a clown that he scarcely knew what the high priesthood meant. At any rate they dragged their reluctant victim out of the country, and dressing him up for his assumed part, as on a stage, put the sacred vestments upon him and instructed him as to how to act in keeping with the occasion. To them this monstrous impiety was a subject for jesting and sport, but the other priests, beholding from a distance this mockery of their law, could not restrain their tears and bemoaned the degradation of the sacred honors" (War 4:139–57). This Pinḥas is also mentioned in the talmudic sources, according to which he was a stonemason by trade, but they add that he had married into the House of Hillel. The view expressed by some scholars that this appointment constituted the restoration of the ancient glory of the high priesthood, since he belonged to the House of Zadok, in whose hands the high priesthood had been until the appointment of the Hasmoneans, is highly doubtful and there is nothing to support such a suggestion in the extant sources.
In his actual description of these events, the arrest and execution of the three members of the Herodian house and the revolutionary change in the selection of the high priest, Josephus does not mention the Zealots as such. The subsequent account, however, establishes it as a certainty that it was they who acted as the instigators. At the assembly called at the insistence of the most important of the previous high priests, under the influence of these events, *Joshua b. Gamla and Anan b. Anan castigated those present for their indifference and explicitly incited them against the Zealots. In other words, they attributed to them those actions which they were denouncing. It is in this context that Josephus for the first time explains the name Zealot, which henceforth he uses frequently, "for so they called themselves, as though they were zealous in the cause of virtue and not for vice in its basest and most extravagant form" (War 4:161).
The existing leadership in Jerusalem decided to embark upon an open struggle against the attempts of the Zealots to seize the reins of power. Numbered among these chief opponents, in addition to Joshua b. Gamla and Anan, were Goryon b. Joseph and *Simeon b. Gamaliel (War 4:159). In a rousing address Anan incited the citizens of Jerusalem against the Zealots who had fortified themselves in the Temple, and the Temple Mount was besieged. The struggle was decided in favor of the Zealots only with the entry of thousands of Idumeans into Jerusalem who ranged themselves on the side of the Zealots (War 4:162–304).
The Zealots were now in control of Jerusalem (winter of 67–8 c.e.) and their chief opponents were put to death, among them Anan b. Anan, Joshua b. Gamla, Goryon b. Joseph, and the commander *Niger from Transjordan. Meanwhile, however, a split took place between the Zealots and the Idumeans (War 4:305–65).
At this stage of events John of Giscala was in alliance with the Zealots, although Josephus does not mention his activities either with regard to the fight which took place in Jerusalem or the execution of the leading opponents of the Zealots. It is possible that John contented himself with giving aid to them without involving himself personally in the fight against those with whom he had previously cooperated. The Zealots and John of Giscala were now the two main powers in Jerusalem, but this situation changed fundamentally when Simeon bar Giora wrested control of the Upper City and portions of the Lower City. As a result the capital was divided into three parts. Eleazar b. Simeon continued as the commander of the Zealots, fortifying himself and his men particularly in the Temple. They maintained their hold there as a result of a topographical advantage which made up for their numerical inferiority compared with the men of John (War 5:5–10). After the appearance of *Titus before the walls of Jerusalem in the spring of 70, however, John took the bold step of adding the Zealots to his command; using the excuse of the Festival of Passover, according to Josephus, he infiltrated his armed men into the Temple area and thus established his domination over them (War 5:98–105). From this time onwards the Zealots were under the overall command of John in the same way as the Idumeans accepted the command of Simeon bar Giora. Both of these groups, however, continued to maintain their separate identity (War 5:250) and in the battles which raged between the Romans and the Jews during the siege the Zealots, distinguishing themselves by their courage, achieved a prominence comparable to those who belonged to the other camps (War 6:92, 148).
The sources are silent as to the fate of Eleazar b. Simeon and *Zechariah b. Avkilus, the principal leaders of the Zealots. It would appear that they were killed, or died, before the final fall of the Temple. Of at least one of the outstanding Zealot fighters during the siege, Judah b. Ari, it is known that he escaped from Jerusalem and that many of the fighters rallied around him. In the forest of Jardes they were encircled by a unit of Roman cavalry, while the infantry were cutting down the trees to blaze a trail through the forest. All the Jewish fighters, among whom there must have been many of the Zealots from Jerusalem, fell in the battle, including their Zealot commander Judah (War 7:210–15). Their end was more similar to that of the Sicarii – despite the fact that it was not actually a case of mass suicide but the fall of heroes in the field of battle – than to the fate of Simeon bar Giora or John of Giscala, who fell alive into the hands of the Romans.
There seems little reason to doubt that the priests of Jerusalem were the fomenting element among the Zealots. Their essential base was always the Temple Mount and at least two of their principal leaders, Eleazar b. Simeon and Zechariah b. Avkilus, were priests (War 4:225). To them one may add, as will become clear below, *Eleazar b. Hananiah. Josephus also testifies that three more of their leaders were notables in Jewish society, "Judas the son of Chelcias, and Simon son of Esron, persons of might, along with a man of some distinction, Ezechias of Chobari" (War 5:6).
It would even appear that the very name Kanna'im has a priestly connection, in that they consciously regarded themselves as the spiritual descendants of the "Kanna'i" par excellence of Jewish tradition, Pinḥas (*Phinehas) the son of Eleazar (Num. 25:11).
As has been seen, at least immediately after the Roman victory in *Beth-Horon, the Kanna'im emerge as a recognized and definite factor, but it is possible to go further back and see as an act of the Zealots the decisive step which from the formal point of view marked the outbreak of the Revolt – the cessation of the daily sacrifice in honor of the Roman Emperor at the instigation of Eleazar b. Hananiah (War 2:409). It appears that despite the fact that he belonged to high priestly circles, his sympathies were all with the Kanna'im. It is not out of place to note that according to the talmudic tradition (Git. 56a) this symbolic and decisive act is connected with an individual who is known from Josephus as the second most prominent leader of the Zealots after Eleazar b. Simeon, namely Zechariah b. Avkilus: "Through the scrupulousness of R. Zechariah b. Avkilus our sanctuary was destroyed, our Temple burnt, and we ourselves were exiled from our land." The suggestion that the Zealots received considerable support from Bet Shammai has been put forward in the past and there is undoubtedly some basis for it.31 A consideration of the activity of Bet Shammai at the beginning of the Revolt as described in the halakhic sources fits in perfectly with what has been assumed as the ideology of the Kanna'im. Is it, however, possible to see the activities of the Kanna'im as the expression of a defined current and a consolidated group in the period prior to the Revolt?
It is certain that Josephus, the primary and most important source, and the only one to describe the ideologies of the Jews at the close of the Second Temple, does not employ the word Zealots at all in respect to the previous events. One cannot, however, infer far-reaching conclusions from this silence, since even at the beginning of the Revolt he does not mention the formation of the sect, and it is only casually that he notes the connection between Eleazar b. Simeon and the Kanna'im, referring to them consistently only from Book iv of the War onwards. However, even the other sources shed little light on the subject. The reference of Avot de-Rabbi Nathan to them (arn1, ed. Shechter, 6, p. 32) is already to the days of the war and the siege of Jerusalem, while the statement of the Mishnah (Sanh. 9:6), "If a man stole a sacred vessel or cursed by kosem, or made an Aramean woman his paramour, the Zealots may fall upon him," is directed more to a way of life than to a group with a definite ideology. On the other hand, more weight can be given to the name Zealot given to Simeon, one of the disciples of Jesus, in Luke and Acts (Luke 6:15, Acts 1:13).
Nevertheless, without coming to any definite conclusion with regard to the first appearance of this name, the question can be raised of the initial emergence of an ideology firmly maintained by a specific group and active in the life of the Jews during the Second Temple period.
The historians of the 19th century took it as a fact that the Zealots were identical with the adherents of the Fourth Philosophy, and therefore constituted a division of the same movement to which the Sicarii belonged. This opinion was widely accepted by various scholars. On the other hand, in the 20th century certain scholars flatly denied any connection between the adherents of the Fourth Philosophy and the Zealot ideology, and even the emergence of a specific Zealot faction in the period preceding the Revolt. It must, in fact, be conceded that there is no clear evidence in the sources of any connection between the Fourth Philosophy and the Zealots during the Revolt, especially as the interpretation given to the sole reference to the followers of Menahem as "Zealots" (War 2:444) is open to doubt.
Despite this, however, there appears to be a certain connection between the two and the assumption, though far from decisive, is a reasonable one. As mentioned above, Josephus (Ant. 18:4; cf. 18:9) mentions as the two founders of the Fourth Philosophy Judah of Gamala in Gaulanitis and Zadok the Pharisee. Both the name Zadok and his appellation as a Pharisee suggest, on the one hand, that he belonged to the priestly circles and, on the other, that he was a well-known sage. In a hypothetical manner one can posit this Zadok as the formulator of that ideology which later characterized the Zealots of Jerusalem during the Revolt, whose leaders were the priests of the Temple and who were close to the Bet Shammai.
This assumption of a certain connection between the Zealots and the Fourth Philosophy also serves better to explain the decisive importance which Josephus ascribes to the Fourth Philosophy, on which he places the chief blame for the chain of disasters which befell the Jewish people, culminating in the destruction of the Temple. The limitation of the members of the Fourth Philosophy to the Sicarii, whose activity was impressive, in fact, only at the beginning of the Revolt, and even then it was not they who were responsible for the cessation of the daily sacrifice for the welfare of the Emperor, raises the question as to why Josephus found it necessary to underscore with so much emphasis the fateful guilt of the men of the Fourth Philosophy, to make it appear that they were responsible for all the disasters. It is perhaps possible here to add the two different versions of Avot de-Rabbi Nathan, in which Zealots are mentioned in one and the Sicarii in the other, and their mention in juxtaposition in the statement of the Church Father Hippolytus, although the passage is far from clear. And lastly, it should be mentioned that neither Zealots nor the Sicarii were prepared to be captured alive by the Romans.
In the light of these considerations it appears that one can posit, albeit with some caution, the hypothesis that there was indeed a certain connection and cooperation between the founders of the Zealots and of the Sicarii during the census of Quirinius, and that from the outset the difference between these two movements was a tangible one. This difference found its expression in the decisive schism which took place during the Revolt after a brief period of cooperation at its beginning.
What then was it that differentiated the Zealots from the Sicarii and the other groups who fought against the Romans for the freedom of Judea? The differences can be enumerated as follows:
1. Whereas the Sicarii obtained their initial inspiration from Gaulanitis and Galilee in the north, the Zealots were directed by a group of priests in Jerusalem, and it was the Temple which was their main stronghold.
2. The Sicarii continued to be loyal to the dynasty of Judah the Galilean, their last leaders being Menahem and Eleazar b. Jair, who were scions of that house; in contrast the Zealots showed no particular loyalty to any house or dynasty.
3. The Zealots were not of the opinion that the eschatological hopes of the Jews found their expression in the person of any of their leaders. Although Eleazar b. Simeon emerges as their outstanding leader, other leaders worked together with him, and the impression gained is that of collective leadership. Side by side with him stood personalities like Zechariah b. Avkilus and the brothers Simeon and Judah, the sons of Ari.
Simeon bar Giora
The program of the Zealots included the reform of the institution of the high priesthood. As soon as they were able to do so they went to the extreme in the direction of democratizing this office by completely abolishing the high priestly oligarchy which had stamped its impression on Jewish society from the time of Herod and, as mentioned above, chose the incumbent by lot. In the siege of Jerusalem during the spring and summer of 70 c.e., however, the leaders of the Sicarii are conspicuously missing, and the leaders of the Zealots were relatively unimportant; although prominent in the affairs of the capital, they did not hold the most important posts. The two commanders in besieged Jerusalem until its fall at the hands of Titus were *Simeon bar Giora of Gerasa and *John of Giscala. It is possible to a certain extent to trace the connections of Simeon with the Sicarii in Masada, as well as to detect the bond that was established during a certain period between John and the Zealots of Jerusalem. Nevertheless it is completely out of the question to maintain that Simeon definitely belonged to the Sicarii or that John became a member of the Zealots. All that it is possible to establish is that there was a certain identification between Simeon bar Giora and the Sicarii as regards their social outlook and that at a certain stage during the struggle John came to recognize clearly that the Zealots were his true allies in a consistent and effective stand against the Romans. Both Simeon and John are mentioned side by side with Eleazar b. Simeon as the commanders in Jerusalem, not only by Josephus but by the Roman historian Tacitus, who enumerates Simeon first and Eleazar last. Titus also regarded Simeon bar Giora as the leading commander and it was he who was chosen by the Romans to exemplify an enemy commander and lead the triumphal procession in Rome. The elevation of Simeon to the position of commander-in-chief was surprising when one takes into consideration his lowly origin and the existence of other individuals more firmly rooted in the tradition of an anti-Roman ideology. Internal developments in Jewish Ereẓ Israel and the abolition of the influential institutions which existed at the beginning of the Revolt, coupled with the charismatic personality of Simeon, go a long way towards explaining his advancement. It would also appear that from the outset Simeon exemplified the strength of certain rebel elements in Jewish Transjordan, an area which had already shown its love for freedom after the death of Herod, when uprisings which broke out in Ereẓ Israel were crushed out by Varus, governor of Syria. From Jewish Transjordan also came one of the important commanders at the outbreak of the Great Revolt, Niger (War 2:520, 566), a man with an outlook and social connections completely different from those of Simeon. The source of Simeon's strength, however, was by no means confined to Transjordan and gradually he became the spokesman of great masses throughout Jewish Ereẓ Israel. Despite the fact that there is no proof that Galileans joined his forces to any extent, it appears that his influence was decisive in the villages of Judea and Idumea. The suggestion has already been put forward that many of the Sicarii joined him – namely, those who did not fortify themselves in Masada. With the murder of Menahem and the departure of Eleazar b. Jair to this isolated stronghold they had lost their traditional leadership. It is a fact that no less than 10,000 out of the 23,400 fighters who defended besieged Jerusalem were directly under the command of Simeon, and to them are to be added 5,000 Idumean soldiers who were associated with them, as against only 6,000 men under the direct command of John of Giscala and 2,400 Zealots who accepted the leadership of Eleazar b. Simeon (War 5:248–50). It thus emerges that under Simeon there were about two-thirds of the total of the defenders of Jerusalem, and the Romans were naturally justified in regarding him as the commander of the enemy forces. As his name indicates, he was descended from proselytes, and he came from *Gerasa, an important Hellenistic city in Transjordan. The ruins of Gerasa and the inscriptions discovered there distinguish it from all the cities in the country and reveal the quality of its life as a Hellenistic city influenced by its Oriental background. Simeon was a young man when the Revolt broke out and was distinguished by his physical strength and courage ( ʾ αλκῇ δὲ σώματος καὶ τόλμῃ διαφέρων War 4:504). Simeon first acquired fame by his actions against the Roman army which had advanced against Jerusalem under the command of Cestius Gallus. He attacked them from the rear as they were making their way to the ascent of Beth Horon and carried away many of their pack animals as spoil to Jerusalem (War 2:521). When local commanders were appointed to the various districts of Ereẓ Israel by the temporary government, neither Simeon nor the chief hero of the fray, Eleazar b. Simeon, was among them. Already then Simeon had gathered around him many of the rebels in the most northerly toparchy of Judea, that of Acrabatene. In his activities in that area the extreme social policy of Simeon and his followers already became evident. According to Josephus he did not content himself with attacking people of wealth; he even subjected them to physical torture. When Anan b. Anan, who was at that time the central figure in the temporary government in Jerusalem, sent an army against him Simeon apparently could not maintain his position against the authorities in Jerusalem and escaped south to Masada, and henceforth Idumea became his field of action (War 2:652–54), whereas in Jerusalem itself and in the northern part of Judea access was barred to him as long as the temporary government, which had been set up immediately after the victory over Cestius Gallus, was in control.
At first Simeon was regarded with suspicion by the Sicarii in Masada, a fact which proves that under no circumstances can he be regarded as having been one of them. According to Josephus he was permitted access only to the lower part of the fortress. They nevertheless cooperated with him in the raids which he made in the vicinity, since they saw in him "a man of congenial disposition, and apparently to be trusted." New opportunities opened for him, however, when Anan b. Anan fell into the hands of the Zealots. In addition, he increased the number of his followers by proclaiming the emancipation of all slaves (War 4:503–6). His influence spread over all parts of Judea, in the north as well as Idumea, and the masses flocked to his banner, with the result that "his was no longer an army of mere serfs or brigands, but one including numerous citizen recruits, subservient to his command as to a king" (War 4:510). Simeon's growing influence throughout Judea and Idumea brought him into conflict with the Zealots in Jerusalem and with John of Giscala, to whom it became evident that he was depriving them of any hold in Judea beyond the capital. The opponents of the Zealots who escaped from Jerusalem, whatever their ideological outlook might be, found refuge with Simeon (War 4:353). An attempt of the Zealots to restrain Simeon was unsuccessful, but Simeon did not consider his army sufficiently strong to wrest control of Jerusalem, and instead he first tried to bring Idumea under his influence. His attempt to gain control of Herodion ended in failure, but he did succeed in conquering Hebron (War 4:510–37).
Meanwhile the tension between Simeon and the Zealots increased. The latter took Simeon's wife captive in the hope of exerting pressure against him, but, confounded by Simeon's furious reaction, they released her (War 4:538–44) and the conflict in Jerusalem paved the way for Simeon. It would appear that the impetus to invite him to Jerusalem as a counterweight against John and the Zealots came from the Idumeans, and in Nisan (Xanthicus) of 69 c.e. Simeon arrived at the gates of Jerusalem and gained control of a large section of the capital, though his attempt to force the Zealots out of their stronghold in the Temple Mount ended in failure (War 4:566–584). He continued, however, to hold sway over the whole of the Upper City and part of the Lower City, establishing his headquarters in the Tower of Phasael (War 5:169). During the period of the siege Simeon took the initiative in arranging a truce with John of Giscala with the aim of cooperation against their common enemy (War 5:278) and henceforth fought shoulder to shoulder with him. On the other hand he dealt harshly with the upper classes, whom he suspected of collaboration with the Romans. Among those put to death by him were Mattathias b. Boethus and three of his sons (War 5:527–33, 6:114), and he took part together with John in the defense of the Temple before it was destroyed by fire (6:72).
Simeon bar Giora, in contrast to the Sicarii in Masada and the Zealot leaders in Jerusalem, who either committed suicide or fell in the field of battle, did not die during the war. He was taken alive by the Romans and Titus even issued an order to save him for the triumph which he was going to organize in Rome (War 7:25–36). He was sent to his death in that triumph amidst the applause of the Romans, in accordance with Roman custom.
Simeon was beyond doubt the most charismatic figure among the leaders of the Revolt. According to Josephus, his soldiers were prepared to go through fire and water for him (War 5:309) "and his was no longer an army of mere serfs or brigands, but one including numerous citizen recruits, subservient to his command as to a king" (War 4:510). Simeon was first and foremost the leader of the lower classes in Transjordan, Judea, and Idumea. It would be difficult to accord Simeon the epithet of "sage" as Judah and Menahem, the leaders of the Sicarii, are referred to (σοφισταί), nor did his influence and prestige obtain any support from the tradition of a family which for generations had been held in esteem by the people.
The sources are almost completely silent with regard to individual figures who belonged to the camp of Simeon. There is mention of his nephew Eleazar, who distinguished himself in battle (War 6:227), and one of his outstanding aides was Hanan of Emmaus. Nothing, however, is known of the origin or social affiliations of the others, such as Ardala (6:360), Castor (5:322), Judah b. Judah (5:534), Judah b. Mareotes (6:148), Simeon b. Hosaiah (6:148), or Malachi (6:92). One can point to a number of the prominent lines of Simeon's social policy: his vigorous activity against the propertied classes already in the first stage of the war and his emancipation of the slaves. Side by side with these one must underscore the special relationship which he had with his followers.
In accordance with his policy in The Jewish War, Josephus tends to ignore the messianic-eschatological element in the Great Revolt. Nevertheless, messianic hopes were associated with Simeon and, as has been stated, in one place (War 4:510) Josephus points out that he was obeyed like a king. There is also a basis for the suggestion that there is a connection between the coins bearing the inscription " Li-Ge'ullat Ẓiyyon " ('To the redemption of Zion') and the eschatological hopes which were reposed in the personality of Simeon bar Giora. If, therefore, with regard to social outlook Simeon was close to the general spirit of the Sicarii, there was nevertheless room for disagreement between them in the question of the leadership, since many of the Sicarii found it difficult to recognize the leadership of someone who did not belong to the family of Judah the Galilean. Nevertheless the differences were straightened out to some extent as a result of the absence of a recognized Sicarii leader in Jerusalem after the death of Menahem. Nor should one overlook the fact that whereas the Sicarii leaders, Judah and Menahem, were "sages," the impression gained of Simeon is that of a man who could under no circumstances be regarded as such according to the ideas prevailing in the Second Temple period. The personality of Simeon bar Giora fits in well with the picture one has of many of the popular leaders in the preceding period, during the disturbances which took place after the death of Herod. As is known, at that time there appeared, in addition to Judah b. Hezekiah, who was active in Galilee and conquered Sepphoris, a number of other leaders whose field of action was Jewish Transjordan and Judea itself. One of them was Simeon, the slave of Herod, who was distinguished by his handsomeness, his physical stature and bodily prowess. He assumed the crown and gathered around him a number of followers who proclaimed him king. He also set on fire and looted the royal palace in Jericho. Simeon himself met his death in battle together with his supporters, most of them from Perea (Ant. 17:273–77, War 2:57–59).
Similar to Simeon's conduct and activities were those of another rebel against Herod's son, Athronges, a shepherd by calling and of lowly origin, who also distinguished himself in stature and courage. He also aspired to the throne and, aided by his four brothers, crowned himself. According to Josephus he took a determined line against the Romans as well as against the members of the Herodian house. He made Jews as well as non-Jews suffer if it was to his advantage. Of his activities his attack upon a Roman troop in *Emmaus is mentioned and thus his field of action was in the west of Judea. His activities came to an end as a result of the efforts of Archelaus after he had consolidated his position as ethnarch of Judea (And. 17:278–84; War 2:60–64).
There is a parallel between such figures as Simeon the slave of Herod, Athronges, and Simeon bar Giora. All of them were of lowly origin and all three aspired to the throne, and it is almost certain that this aspiration was connected with the messianic expectations which had become widespread among the people at the time and in the case of all of them these expectations had a social character.
John of Giscala
To an entirely different social milieu belonged *John of Giscala (Gush Ḥalav in Galilee). Josephus, who is practically the sole source for him, displays a special animosity towards the personality of John. Whereas with regard to the individuals and the principles which animated the other freedom fighters he reveals an ideological opposition and blames them for the catastrophes which followed, and, as the near-official historian of the Flavian house he was obliged to denounce them with every kind of denunciation, with regard to John his criticism reveals a profound personal animosity. The roots of this animosity, which runs like a scarlet thread throughout the War, and even more so in his autobiography, the Life, are to be found mainly in his experiences while serving as commander of Galilee, where John was the most determined and unwavering of his opponents and did everything to have him deposed. This is undoubtedly the source of that hostility and the difference between his description of John and that of the other rebel leaders. The characteristics of John as presented by Josephus (War 2:585–88) reveal such unmistakable signs of contemporary rhetoric as to remind Thackeray, one of the most brilliant students of Josephus, of the description of Catilina by the Roman historian Sallust. "Poor at the beginning of his career, his penury had for a long time thwarted his malicious designs; a ready liar and clever in obtaining credit for his lies, he made a merit of deceit and practiced it upon his most intimate friends; while affecting humanity, the prospect of lucre made him the most sanguinary of men; always full of high ambitions, his hopes were fed on the basest of knaveries. For he was a brigand, who at the outset practiced his trade alone, but afterwards found for his daring deeds accomplices, whose numbers, small at first, grew with his success. He was, moreover, careful never to take into partnership anyone likely to fall an easy prey to an assailant, but selected good, strapping fellows, with stout hearts and military experience." Nevertheless, even Josephus does not attempt to implicate John as one of the inciters of the rebellion against Rome, as a person whose destructive ideology, on the lines of the Fourth Philosophy, was a factor in bringing about the conflagration. John is not mentioned at all as one of those who raised the standard of revolt against the Romans at its outset. On the contrary, when he saw that some of the inhabitants of Gush Ḥalav (*Giscala) were influenced by the ferment, he essayed to restrain them and demanded that they remain loyal to Roman rule (Life, 43). The developments which took place in Galilee, however, as in other regions, in the relations between the Jews and their non-Jewish neighbors caused him to change his attitude. Gush Halav itself was attacked by those non-Jews, who wrought havoc in it. John, who was already then a central figure in the town, armed his followers and made a counterattack against those who had caused the destruction in his town. He gained ascendancy over them and erected a wall around Gush Halav to protect it against similar assaults in the future (Life 44–45). It is also stated that John amassed a fortune through his successful business dealings, which were connected with the sale of the abundant olive oil from Galilee to the Jews of adjacent Syria who refused to use non-Jewish oil.
Josephus testifies that John maintained close contacts with influential circles in the important cities of Galilee such as Gabara, where one of his friends, Simeon, was active (Life 124) and *Tiberias. An important accretion of strength came to him from Jewish refugees from *Tyre (Life 372). Among his friends in Jerusalem was numbered Simeon b. Gamaliel (Life 192). In two parallel narratives in the War and in his Life Josephus gives the details of John's activity in Galilee prior to the appearance of the Roman army there under Vespasian in 67 c.e. Naturally his description revolves around the personal relations between himself and John. The latter even attempted to influence the leaders of the revolt in Jerusalem to depose Josephus from his post as commander of Galilee. The Life in particular gives details of this; of special importance in this episode is the revelation of the close relations and complete mutual understanding which existed between John and Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel. According to Josephus, Simeon on his part exercised his influence on the former high priests Anan b. Anan and Joshua b. Gamla to come out against Josephus and four emissaries were sent to Galilee for the purpose of deposing him. Their mission ended in complete failure, however, and Josephus continued to serve as commander of Galilee (Life 189–335).
A close examination of Josephus' accounts in his two works gives rise to serious doubts about their credibility, both with regard to the events in Galilee in general and his relationship with John in particular. Two things, however, are clear. One is that John played a leading role in the opposition to Josephus in Galilee and the other is that he cannot under any circumstances be regarded as the mouthpiece of the radical elements. It is known that he maintained excellent relations with Simeon b. Gamaliel, and his opposition to Josephus received the approval of Anan b. Anan.
It fell to John's lot to be the last of the fighters of Galilee. Whereas Josephus surrendered in Jotapata and the last Jewish strongholds in Galilee were captured by the army of *Vespasian and their defenders put to the sword or taken prisoner en masse, John succeeded in escaping from Gush Ḥalav at the head of his men and making his way to Jerusalem (War 4:84–111).
In Jerusalem John at first enjoyed prestige as the outstanding fighter against the Romans and the open opponent of Josephus, who had failed in the defense of Jotapata and whose surrender to the Romans cast suspicion on all his previous conduct of the war. As against this, the success of John in extricating himself with all his men, and bringing them to aid in the defense of Jerusalem, stood out prominently. The fact that he was at the head of an armed force wholeheartedly devoted to him, and subject to his personal command, gave him an advantage over all the other leaders in Jerusalem. The possibility that other refugees from Galilee joined him, since it is a fact that many Jews from Galilee fought in the defense of Jerusalem, including no less than 2,000 from Tiberias alone (Life 354), should be taken into consideration. After his arrival in Jerusalem, John maintained his old ties with the existing Jewish leadership. On the other hand, however, he benefited from the influence of Zealot circles who opposed that leadership, since they saw in him a man of energy and an uncompromising fighter against the Romans. According to Josephus he infused a spirit of courage and hope in the inhabitants of Jerusalem, "extolling their own power, and ridiculing the ignorance of the inexperienced; even had they wings, he remarked, the Romans would never surmount the walls of Jerusalem, after having had such difficulty with the villages of Galilee and having worn out their engines against the walls" (War 4:126–7). When the conflict broke out in Jerusalem between the Zealots and the traditional leadership under Anan b. Anan, John still belonged to the party of Anan but, in consequence of the prestige he enjoyed also among the Zealots, he was chosen by Anan as the intermediary between him and them. According to Josephus he betrayed Anan and it was he who encouraged the Zealots to call upon the Idumeans for aid against the existing leadership (War 4:208–23). Reference has already been made above to the development of the relations between John and the Zealots of Jerusalem which brought about close military cooperation between his men and the less numerous Zealots. In point of fact it was only the appearance of Simeon bar Giora which prevented the concentration of the high command in besieged Jerusalem in the hands of John. After his entry into the capital Simeon remained his sole rival and both served as commanders in the city.
Josephus consistently attempts to place the blame for the desecration of the Temple squarely on the shoulders of John. According to him John requisitioned the wood which had been stored for Temple purposes in order to erect towers for military purposes (War 5:36). When he and his men seized control of the Temple from Eleazar and the Zealots, not only did they exploit the Passover for their own purposes, but the majority of his men were not even ritually clean when they penetrated the Temple precincts (War 5:100), and he concludes, "For he had unlawful food served at the table and abandoned the established rules of purity of our forefathers" (War 7:264). The main purpose of these accusations was to put John in as bad a light as possible. John fulfilled a task of primary importance in the defense of the fortress of Antonia. After its fall he sought refuge in the tunnels, but finally met a fate similar to that of Simeon bar Giora and fell into the hands of the Romans, unlike the Sicarii and the Zealots. But whereas Simeon was put to death by the Romans, John was sentenced to life imprisonment (War 6:434).
John of Giscala represents an outstanding example of the spread of the ideal of liberty into the widest sections of the people. A moderate and peace-loving man from Galilee, an intimate of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel and not unacceptable to the ruling oligarchy of the high priesthood (Anan b. Anan), he joined the revolt out of the necessity of the situation at the same time as even the recognized leaders of Jewish society (the heads of Bet Hillel and the high priestly circles) were swept into it by the general enthusiasm. In the course of events, when he came to Jerusalem after the collapse in Galilee, he felt a spiritual affinity to the Zealots there and joined them in their war against the existing leadership, but there is no need to assume that there was any decided ideological identification on his part with the Zealots.
Despite all of Josephus' attempts to besmirch him more than all the other individuals who were active at that period in Jerusalem, he hardly ascribes to him any special acts of cruelty, as he does to Simeon bar Giora. Nor is there any evidence of a socialistic revolutionary outlook or messianic-eschatological ideology in his personality. Nevertheless he was filled with the conviction that God would defend His city (War 6:98–99).
Although it cannot be denied that the picture given here of the various currents in the Jewish freedom movement is to a considerable extent hypothetical, one thing is nevertheless indisputably clear, namely, that the unifying factors among them outnumbered the divisive ones. From this point of view there is perhaps some justification for the view of those historians who are accustomed to speak generally of a Zealot movement which fearlessly raised the standard of revolt against the Roman Empire when it was at the height of its power.
The above classic article by Menahem Stern is reprinted unchanged because it remains the best ordering and interpretation of evidence in Josephus and in Christian, rabbinic, and pagan sources on the rise and spread of the Jewish revolutionary movements from the first century b.c.e. to the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem in the 70s c.e. This brief supplement is intended only to clarify, expand, and update certain aspects.
The only point in Stern's article which has to be corrected in light of subsequent scholarship is the final, concluding statement that "the unifying factors among [the Jewish revolutionary groups] outnumbered the divisive ones." Scholars today tend rather to see myriad partisan rivalries and societal fissures in Judea as contributing factors to the outbreak of the rebellion and the massive extent of the destruction it brought. Josephus has succeeded in obscuring the number and variety of revolutionary movements and leaders, and the ancient authors of the other sources had no interest in providing better information. But it seems clear now that the incidental mention of different rebels in Josephus and the New Testament, and the proliferation of small militia-type groups during Josephus' term as general in the Galilee, provide a glimpse into a much wider phenomenon. Moreover, these groups tended to compete with each other more often than they combined to oppose Roman rule in Judea. The chief victims of the Sicarii were all Jews, the recorded activity of other militants seems to have claimed mostly Jewish victims, and the in-fighting in the Galilee and Jerusalem not only resulted in high numbers of casualties but seriously hobbled the Jewish defensive strategy against the Roman attack. Josephus records in disgust and horror that the Sicarii primarily terrorized Jewish opponents, "saying that they were no different from non-Jews" (allophyloi): this redefinition of one's kinsmen as foreign is a psychological and rhetorical tactic typical of intense internal conflict.
Connected with this theme, recent work has also favored the picture of wide and enthusiastic participation by the Jewish upper classes in the rebellion. The Jewish ruling class was a heterogeneous group, whose members were in constant tension with each other and with the less privileged groups in Jewish society; this has been especially emphasized in recent studies of patronage in the countryside of Judaea and Galilee. Aristocrats formed their own factions or joined existing ones in order to gain control of the revolt and maintain their status and position overall. Their failure to unify as a class contributed to the widening fractures in Jewish society, and encouraged Rome to view the revolt as a grave threat. Just before the war, "a kind of enmity and factionalism broke out among the high priests and leaders of the Jerusalem populace" who joined hands with "the boldest revolutionaries" to carry out their high-level power feuds (Ant. 20:180, cf. Pes. 57a). Many aristocrats were to be found in the ranks of Simeon bar Giora's organization, and some of John of Gischala's closest associates, before he betrayed them, were also of the ruling class. Eleazar, son of the high priest Hananiah and sagan of the Temple, was apparently a member of or very close to the priestly party of the Zealots. And significantly, the first revolutionary government formed in Jerusalem in 66 c.e. and lasting about six months was composed of high priests, noble priests, and lay nobility: the roster of noble rebels is long. These rebellious aristocrats joined the struggle for a variety of motives, including desire to protect their local power and influence, a feeling of genuine outrage at abuses by the Roman procurators, and infection by the messianic fervor and eschatological hopes pervading Judea before the war (which was not, despite conventional belief, limited to the less educated masses).
At the same time, recent work has tried to illuminate, from very uncooperative sources uninterested in the topic, the social and economic hardships and struggles which contributed to the formation and continuing activity of revolutionary groups and the outbreak of rebellion. The aristocrats' inability and the Romans' conspicuous unwillingness to help control what was apparently a festering economic crisis, punctuated by periodic famine and agricultural failure (only dimly perceived in the literary and archaeological evidence), obviously drove some to join anti-establishment movements large and small. But this factor can be overstated, for economic destitution did not always lead to political rebellion; there is no reason to think that the economic situation in Judea was worse than in other peaceable areas of the empire, and the echoes of the slogans and platforms espoused by the Jewish rebel groups have nothing to do with economic injustice. Despite the fact that economic grievance indisputably contributed to the appeal of revolution, especially to the destitute and dispossessed, there is no sound basis for the model of the Jewish rebellion as two rebellions in one, an economic uprising by the peasant against the propertied classes and a national uprising against a foreign empire. Motives were complex, varied, combinatory, changing, and often indistinguishably tangled.
When social hierarchies weaken and the state power proves inefficient, banditry often arises (especially when socio-political instability is exacerbated by economic hardship). Brigandage and piracy were a problem which accompanied the Roman Empire throughout its entire history, particularly in peripheral, less fully Romanized, and less stable areas. The rebels in first-century Judea are routinely labeled leistai, "brigands," by Josephus, and there is little doubt that this quasi-legal label, applied indiscriminately to both prominent named and smaller unnamed bands, reflects the official Roman perspective, which viewed political upstarts as no more than criminals and troublemakers to be exterminated, and treated them accordingly. Josephus, when he became a historian, found that this attitude conveniently reflected his personal animus against the militant groups, especially when they attacked wealthy local magnates (but he also absurdly calls his personal enemy John of Gischala a leistes, even though John was well-to-do and well-connected, War 2:587). But the term may conceal a much more complex reality than can be teased out of the sources, and much recent work has been devoted to distinguishing between common criminals and "social bandits" on Hobsbawm's model. The problem is one of perception. Josephus' leistai did not of course present themselves as common robbers, nor were they perceived as such in the popular imagination, even less so by the other individuals whom they recruited to their ranks. Moreover, whatever "social bandits" existed in Judea seemed to have been infected by, and in turn to have exploited, the growing popular outrage against the Roman Empire and concomitant spreading messianic ideology. Social banditry is (according to the model) a rural phenomenon, yet some of the main revolutionaries – especially the Zealots – seem to have been active in an urban setting. Careful distinctions have to made, and the concept of social banditry as a political act will be found to apply only to the partially visible groups who make brief and enigmatic appearances in the sources. The concept contributes very little to understanding the Zealots and Sicarii, who were selective groups founded and led by literate ideologues who engaged in overtly political terror; the Zealots, as Stern has made clear, were a highly specialized group of mostly priests.
No writings by the Zealots or Sicarii have survived to round out and deepen the picture, no genuine voice of a revolutionary ideologue can be heard directly; belief and actual rhetoric must be filtered out of the considerable distortions and omissions of the existing sources. It remains true that "… there is no direct expression outside Josephus of the ideology of revolt" (Rajak 2002, 177). Yet much recent scholarship has attempted to appreciate the full force of the messianic character and apocalyptic beliefs and professions of many of the revolutionaries, and their impact on the prewar Jewish population at large. The scant indications in Josephus of the messianic nature and eschatological message of many of the rebels – the Sicarii if not the Zealots, and the many "prophets" and unnamed militants mentioned by Stern – combined with the relatively substantial but enigmatic corpus of apocalyptic and messianic texts from the period (e.g., Psalms of Solomon, Assumption of Moses, Sibylline Oraclesiii and iv, et al.), have been marshaled to create a picture of pervasive messianism throughout Palestinian Jewish society in the first century. But, except for the messianic texts from Qumran (of which the sectarians played no known role in the war), it is not possible to associate any known apocalyptic text with a revolutionary group. Nor should one expect to do so. There is no reason to believe that known groups such as the Zealots or even the Sicarii with their "fourth philosophy," or unnamed groups, wrote their own manifestos or inspirational texts. Messianists who repeated the widely known prophecy of the next world ruler arising from Judea (recorded by Josephus, War 6:312) needed to cite no more than Numbers 24:17, or the eschatological visions in the book of Daniel. It can be said from the available evidence that messianic hopes affected all societal sectors, definitely motivated many of the revolutionary groups agitating for war with Rome, and drove the diehards in Jerusalem to expect salvation until the very end. On the other hand, Josephus tried to demonstrate in his life and writings that it was possible to be a strongly believing Jew and accept accommodation with the Roman Empire, postponing eschatological hopes for an undetermined, distant future.
[Jonathan Price (2nd ed.)]
W.R. Farmer, Maccabees, Zealots and Josephus (1956); H.H. Rowley, in: zawb 77 (1958), 184–92; C. Roth, The Historical Background of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1958); idem, in: Judaism, 8 (1959), 33–40; idem, in: jss 4 (1959), 332–55; M. Hengel, Die Zeloten (1961); S. Zeitlin, in: jbl 81 (1962), 395–8; M. Stern, in: The Great Man and his Age, The Historical Society of Israel (1963), 70–78 (in Hebrew); G. Baumbach, in: Theologische Literaturzeitung 90 (1965), 727–40; idem, in Festschrift Leonhard Rost (1967), 11–18; B. Salomonsen, in: New Testament Studies 12 (1965–6), 164–76; S.G.F. Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots (1967); idem, The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth (1968); K. Wegenast, in: Pauly-Wissowa 2-e Reihe 9 (1967), 2474–99; H.P. Kingdon, in: New Testament Studies 17 (1970/1), 68–72; M. Smith, in: htr 64 (1971), 1–19; S. Applebaum, in: Journal of Roman Studies 61 (1971), 155–70; M. Borg, in: jts 22 (1971), 504–12; G.R. Driver, The Judaean Scrolls (1965); Y. Yadin, The Excavation of Masada 1963/4 (1965); idem, Masada: Herod's Fortress and the Zealots' Last Stand (1966); idem, in: jss, 4 (1959), 332–55; C. Daniel, in: Numen, 13 (1966), 88–115 (Fr.); K. Kohler, Festschrift zu Ehren des Dr. A. Harkavy (1908), 6–18; F.J. Foakes Jackson and K. Lake, The Beginnings of Christianity 1 (1920), 421–5; J.W. Lightley, Jewish Sects and Parties in the Time of Jesus (1925), 324–95. add. bibliography: Of the mass of work on Zealots, Sicarii, and other Jewish revolutionaries that has come out since Stern's article, most important is the English translation of M. Hengel's fundamental book: The Zealots. Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod i until 70 a.d., trans. D. Smith (1989), which, however, uses "Zealots" to mean all revolutionaries and sees messianism as perhaps too much of a determining ideology. M. Stern's other article, "Sicarii and Zealots," in: M. Avi-Yonah and Z. Baras (eds.), World History of the Jewish People, 8 (1977), 263–301, should also be consulted. Also of fundamental importance is the English translation of Schuerer: E. Schuerer, The History of theJewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, 1–3, rev. and ed. G. Vermes, F. Millar et al. (1973–87), esp. 2:598–606. general: M. Black, in: O. Betz, K. Hacker and M. Hengel (eds.), Josephus-Studien. Untersuchungen zu Josephus, dem antiken Judentum und dem Neuen Testament Otto Michel zum 70. Geburtstag gewidmet (1974), 45–54; L.I. Levine, in: Cathedra, 6 (1976), 39–60 (Heb.); D.M. Rhoads, Israel in Revolution: 6 – 74 c.e. (1976); S.J.D. Cohen, Josephus in Galilee and Rome. His Vita and Development as a Historian (1979); P. Vidal-Naquet, in: Yale French Studies, 59 (1980), 86–105; E.M. Smallwood, The Jews under Roman Rule (1981); U. Rappaport (ed.), Judea and Rome – The Jewish Revolts (1983); U. Rappaport, in: jjs, 33 (1982), 479–93; idem, in: I.L. Levine, The Jerusalem Cathedra, 3 (1983), 46–55; G. Jossa, in: Vichiana (Studi in memoria di Franceso Arnaldi ii), n.s. 12 (1983), 224–34; V. Nikiprowetzky, in: L.H. Feldman and G. Hata (eds.), Josephus, the Bible and History (1989), 216–36; J.J. Price, Jerusalem Under Siege: The Collapse of the Jewish State, 66 – 70 c.e. (1992); I. Ben-Shalom, The School of Shammai and the Zealots' Struggle against Rome (Heb., 1993); M. Smith, in: W. Horbury, W.D. Davies and J. Sturdy (eds.), Cambridge History of Judaism, 3 (1999), 501–68. ON "bandits" and revolutionaries, with specific reference to the jewish revolt: R.A. Horsley, in: jsj, 10 (1979), 37–63; idem, in: Journal of Religion, 59 (1979), 435–58; idem, in: cbq, 43 (1981), 409–32; B.D. Shaw, in: Past & Present, 105, 3–52 and in: jjs, 44 (1993), 173–203; B. Isaac, in: hscp, 88 (1984), 171–203; S. Freyne, in: J. Neusner et al., The Social World of Formative Christianity and Judaism. Essays in Tribute to Howard Clark Kee (1988), 50–68; T.L. Donaldson, in: jsj, 21 (1990), 19–40. The classic founding discussion of bandits in modern historiography is E. Hobsbawm, Bandits (1969). on the social and economic factors leading to the revolt: P.A. Brunt: in: Klio, 59 (1977), 149–53; M. Goodman, in: jjs, 33 (1982), 417–27; idem, in: jjs, 36 (1985), 195–99; idem, in: A. Kasher, U. Rappaport, and G. Fuks (eds.), Greece and Rome in Eretz Israel (1990), 39–55; E. Bammel, in: E. Bammel and C.F.D. Moule (eds.), Jesus and the Politics of His Day (1984), 109–28; U. Rappaport, in: A. Kasher et al., Man and Land in Eretz-Israel in Antiquity (Heb., 1986), 80–86; M. Goodman, The Ruling Class of Judaea. The Origins of the Jewish Revolt against Rome A.D. 66 – 70 (1987); H. Kreissig, in: L.H. Feldman and G. Hata (eds.), Josephus, the Bible and History (1989), 265–77; S. Schwartz, in: F. Parente and J. Sievers (eds.), Josephus and the History of Graeco-Roman Period (1994), 289–307; E. Gabba, in: W. Horbury, W.D. Davies, and J. Sturdy (eds.), Cambridge History of Judaism, 3 (1999), 84–167. on messianism and apocalypticism as the background to the revolt and ideology of the various revolutionary movements. I. Gruenwald, in: anrw, ii.19.1 (1979), 89–118; L.I. Levine, in: Z. Baras (ed.), Messianism and Eschatology (Heb., 1983), 135–52; G.W.E. Nickelsburg, in: D. Hellholm (ed.), Apocalyptism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East (1983), 641–54; R.A. Horsley, in: Nov. Test., 27 (1985), 334–48; R.A. Horsley and J.S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus (1985); J. Barton, Oracles of God: Perceptions of Ancient Prophecy in Israel after the Exile (1986); R. Gray, Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus (1993); J.J. Collins, in: L.H. Schiffman (ed.), Archaeology and History in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1990), 25–51; idem, The Scepter and the Star: the Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other Ancient Literature (1995); idem, Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1997); A.I. Baumgarten, in: G. Stanton and G. Stroumsa (eds.), Tolerance and Intolerance in Early Judaism and Christianity (1998), 38–60; W. Horbury, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (1998); J. Zimmerman, Messianische Texte aus Qumran (1998); T. Rajak, in: A.M. Berlin and J.A. Overman (eds.), The First Jewish Revolt: Archaeology, History and Ideology (2002), 164–88, with considerable further bibliography.