ZEALOTS (Hebrew, Ḳanna'im):
By: Kaufmann Kohler
Zealous defenders of the Law and of the national life of the Jewish people; name of a party opposing with relentless rigor any attempt to bring Judea under the dominion of idolatrous Rome, and especially of the aggressive and fanatical war party from the time of Herod until the fall of Jerusalem and Masada. The members of this party bore also the name Sicarii, from their custom of going about with daggers ("sicæ") hidden beneath their cloaks, with which they would stab any one found committing a sacrilegious act or anything provoking anti-Jewish feeling.Origin and Meaning of the Name.
Following Josephus ("B. J." ii. 8, § 1; "Ant." xviii. 1, §§ 1, 6), most writers consider that the Zealots were a so-called fourth party founded by Judas the Galilean (see Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 252, 259; Schürer, "Gesch." 1st ed., i. 3, 486). This view is contradicted, however, by the fact that Hezekiah, the father of Judas the Galilean, had an organized band of so-called "robbers" which made war against the Idumean Herod ("B. J." i. 10, § 5; "Ant." xiv. 9, § 2), and also by the fact that the system of organized assassination practised by the Zealots was in existence during the reign of Herod, if not long before (see below). The name "Ḳanna'im" (; not "Kenaim" as given in Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." 1886, s.v. "Zẹloten") occurs twice in the Talmud: in Sanh. ix. 11 and in Ab. R. N. vi. (where the other version has ["Sicarii"]; see Schechter's edition, pp. 31 and 32). The former passage contains a statute, evidently of the Maccabean time, declaring that "Whosoever steals the libation cup [Num. iv. 7 or curses one with the aid of the Holy Name [Lev. xxiv. 16, Sifra] or has sexual intercourse with a Syrian [heathen] woman shall be felled by the Ḳanna'im or Zealots." This is explained in the Talmud (Sanh. 82a, b; Yer. Sanh. ix. 27b) to mean that, while the acts mentioned are not causes for criminal procedure, they fall into the same category as did the crime of Zimri the son of Salu, whom Phinehas, because "he was zealous for his God," slew flagrante delicto (Num. xxv. 11-14). Phinehas is set up as a pattern, being called "Ḳanna'i ben Ḳanna'i" (a Zealot, the son of a Zealot), inasmuch as he followed the example of Levi, the son of Jacob, who avenged the crime perpetrated upon Dinah by killing the men of Shechem (Sifre, Num. 131; Sanh. 82b; comp. Book of Jubilees, xxx. 18, 23, where Levi is said to have been chosen for the priesthood because he was zealous in executing vengeance upon the enemies of Israel, and Judith ix. 2-4, where Simeon as ancestor of Judith is praised for his zealous act).Phinehas the Model Zealot.
This unfailing "zeal for the Law" became the standard of piety in the days of the Maccabean struggle against the Hellenizers. Thus it is asserted that when Mattathias slew the Jew whom he saw sacrificing to an idol, "he dealt zealously for the law of God, as did Phinehas unto Zimri the son of Salu"; and Mattathias' claim of descent from Phinehas implies that, like the latter, he obtained for his house the covenant of an everlasting priesthood (I Macc. ii. 24, 26, 54). Mattathias' call, "Whosoever is zealous of the Law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me" (ib. verse 27; comp. verses 43-45), whether authentic or not, is practically a recognition of a league of Ḳanna'im or Zealots, no matter when or by whom the First Book of Maccabees was written. Similarly Elijah also is lauded for his zeal for the Law (ib. verse 58; comp. I Kings xix. 10, 14; Ecclus. [Sirach] xlviii. 2); and later haggadists declared Phinehas and Elijah to have been the same person (Targ. Yer. to Ex. vi. 18; Pirḳe R. El. xxix., xlvii.). That Phinehaswas regarded during the Maccabean reign as the type of true (priestly) piety, in contradistinction to the Hellenizing Sadducees typified by Zimri, may be learned from the warning said to have been addressed by King Jannæus on his deathbed to his wife: "Fear not the Pharisees nor the Sadducees [non-Pharisees], but the hypocrites who conduct themselves like Zimri and expect the reward of Phinehas" (Soṭah 22b).
Originally the name "Ḳanna'im" or "Zealots" signified religious fanatics; and as the Talmudic traditions ascribe the rigorous laws concerning marriage with a non-Jewess (Sanh. 82a) to the Hasidæan bet din of the Hasmoneans, so probably to the Zealots of the Maccabean time are due the rabbinical laws governing the relations of Jews to idolaters, as well as those concerning idols, such as the prohibition of all kinds of images (Mek., Yitro, 6) and even the mere looking upon them, or of the use of the shadow of an idol (Tosef., Shab. xvii.; 'Ab. Zarah iii. 8), or of the imitation of heathen (Amorite) customs (Shab. vi. 10; Tosef., Shab. vi.). The divine attribute "El ḳanna" (= "a jealous God"; Ex. xx. 5; Mek., Yitro, l.c.) is significantly explained as denoting that, while God is merciful and forgiving in regard to every other transgression, He exacts vengeance in the case of idolatry: "As long as there is idolatry in the world, there is divine wrath" (Sifre, Deut. 96; Sanh. x. 6; comp. I Macc. iii. 8).
Regarding the original Zealots or Ḳanna'im, the source from which Josephus derived his description of the Essenes, and which has been preserved in more complete form in Hippolytus, "Origenis Philosophumena sive Omnium Hæresium Refutatio," ix. 26 (ed. Dunker, 1859, p. 482; comp.
"Some of these [Essenes] observe a still more rigid practise in not handling or looking at a coin bearing an image, saying that one should neither carry nor look at nor fashion any image; nor will they enter a city at the gate of which statues are erected, since they consider it unlawful to walk under an image [comp. Sifra, Ḳedoshim, i.; Shab. 149a; Yer. 'Ab. Zarah iii. 42b-43b]. Others threaten to slay any uncircumcised Gentile who listens to a discourse on God and His laws, unless he undergoes the rite of circumcision [comp. Sanh. 59a; Sifre, Deut. 345]; should he refuse to do so, they kill him instantly. From this practise they have received the name of 'Zealots' or 'Sicarii.' Others again call no one Lord except God, even though one should torture or kill them."
It is only this last point which Josephus singles out as the doctrine of the Zealots of his day ("B. J." ii. 8, § 1; "Ant." xviii. 1, §§ 1-6) in order to give them the character of political extremists; the rest he omits. But even here he misstates the facts. The principle that God alone is King is essentially a religious one. It found expression in the older liturgy (comp. "Beside Thee we have no King," in "Emet we-Yaẓẓib"; "Rule Thou alone over us," in the eleventh benediction of the "Shemoneh 'Esreh"; "And be Thou alone King over us," in "U-Beken Ten Paḥdeka"; "We have no King besides Thee," in "Abinu Malkenu" and in "Yir'u 'Enenu"). Expressed in I Sam. viii. 7, and deemed by the Rabbis to be expressed also in Num. xxiii. 21 and Deut. xxxiii. 5 (see Targ. to Sifre, Deut. 346; Musaf of Rosh ha-Shanah; comp. also III Sibyllines, ii.; III Macc. ii. 4), it was to be pronounced in the "Shema'" twice a day (Ber. ii. 1; Friedmann in his edition of Sifre, p. 72b, note, erroneously ascribes the institution to the time of the Roman oppression). As early as 63
The reign of the Idumean Herod gave the impetus for the organization of the Zealots as a political party. Shemaiah and Abṭalion (Ptollion), as members of the Sanhedrin, at first opposed Herod, but seem to have preferred a passive resignation in the end (Josephus, "Ant." xiv. 9, § 4; xv. 1, § 1; xv. 7, § 10; xv. 10, § 4); though there were those who "could by no torments be forced to call him [Herod] king," and who persisted in opposing his government. Hezekiah and his so-called "band of robbers," who were the first to fall as victims under Herod's bloodthirsty rule ("B. J." i. 10, § 5; "Ant." xiv. 9, §§ 2-3), were by no means common robbers. Josephus, following his sources, bestows the name of "robbers" upon all the ardent patriots who would not endure the reign of the usurper and who fled with their wives and children to the caves and fortresses of Galilee to fight and to die for their conviction and their freedom ("Ant." xiv. 15, §§ 4-6; xv. 8, §§ 3-4; xvii. 10, §§ 5-8; xx. 8, §§ 5-6; "B. J." i. 18, § 1; ii. 13, §§ 2-4; iv. 4, § 3; and elsewhere). All these "robbers" were in reality Zealots. Josephus relates of one of them that he slew his wife and his seven sons rather than allow them to be slaves to the Idumean Herod ("Ant." xiv. 15, § 5; "B. J." i. 16, § 4); this man is possibly identical with Taxo, the Levite mentioned in the "Assumptio Mosis," ix. 1-7, as undergoing a martyr's death in a cave with his seven sons, saying: "Let us die rather than transgress the commands of the Lord of Lords, the God of our fathers; for if we do this our blood will be avenged before the Lord" (comp. Charles, "The Assumption of Moses," 1897, p. 36, who suggests the original reading ["the Zealot"] in place of , which he considers a corruption of the copyist; see also Schürer, "Gesch." 1st ed., iii. 3, 217, and Charles, l.c. pp. lv.-lviii.). Sepphoris inGalilee seems to have been the main fortress in which the Zealots concentrated their forces ("Ant." xiv. 15, § 4; xvii. 10, § 5).The Sicarii.
It was for the sake of punishing the crimes of idolatry and bloodshed committed by Herod that the Zealots of Jerusalem first appeared with daggers ("sicæ") hidden underneath their cloaks, bent upon slaying the Idumean despot. Josephus relates ("Ant." xv. 8, §§ 1-4) that it was the introduction of Roman institutions entirely antagonistic to the spirit of Judaism, such as the gymnasium, the arena, and, above all, the trophies (that is, images to which homage was to be paid), which provoked the indignation of the people. Ten citizens of Jerusalem swore vengeance against Herod as an enemy of the nation, and, with concealed daggers, went into the theater, where Herod was supposed to be, in order to slay him there. Owing, however, to his system of espionage, Herod was informed of the conspiracy in time, and so escaped, while the conspirators suffered death with great torture, but gloried in their martyrdom. The people sympathized with them, and in their wrath tore to pieces the spy who had discovered the plot. Another outburst of indignation on the part of the Zealots occurred when Herod, toward the end of his life, placed a large golden eagle over the great gate of the Temple. Two masters of the Law, Judah ben Sarifai and Mattathias ben Margalot, exhorted their disciples to sacrifice their lives rather than allow this violation of the Mosaic law, which forbids as idolatry the use of such images; and forty young men with these two teachers at their head pulled down the golden eagle, for which act the entire company suffered the cruel penalty of death by fire inflicted by order of Herod ("B. J." i. 33, § 2; "Ant." xvii. 6, §§ 2-4).Judas, the Zealot Leader.
The spirit of this Zealot movement, however, was not crushed. No sooner had Herod died (4
It was under the leadership of Judas and of his sons and grandson that the Zealots became an aggressive and relentless political party which would brook no compromise and would have no peace with Rome. They were those who would bring about "the kingdom of heaven," that is, the kingship of God, "by force and violence" (Matt. xi. 12). Of Judas' three sons, Jacob and Simon fell as martyrs to their cause in opposing the Roman rule under Tiberius Alexander ("Ant." xx. 5, § 2); his other son, Menahem, was the chief leader of the revolt in 66, and was slain on account of his tyranny by rivals in his own party when, surrounded with royal pomp, he went up to the Temple to be crowned ("B. J." ii. 17, §§ 8-9; comp. ib. § 3 and "Vita," § 5). Rabbinical tradition alludes to Menahem's Messiahship when stating that the Messiah's name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah (Sanh. 98b); and according to Geiger("Zeitschrift," vii. 176-178), he is the one who went up with eighty couples of disciples of the Law equipped with golden armor and crying out: "Write upon the horn of the ox, 'Ye [yielding Pharisees] have no share in the God of Israel!'" (Yer. Ḥag. ii. 77b). His kinsman and successor at Masada was the Zealot leader Eleazar ben Jair ("B. J." ii. 17, §§ 9-10; vii. 9). In the speech attributed to him he declares that it is a glorious privilege to die for the principle that none but God is the true Ruler of mankind, and that rather than yield to Rome, which is slavery, men should slay their wives and children and themselves, since their souls will live forever (ib. 8, §§ 6-7). This is certainly not the language and conduct of the leader of a band of "robbers," as Josephus persists in calling this party. In their opposition to Rome the Zealots were clearly inspired by religious motives (Geiger, "Zeitschrift," v. 268 et seq.; Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 4, 259, 795-797).
As stated by Josephus ("B. J." iv. 3, § 9), they boastfully called themselves by the name of "Ḳanna'im" (Zealots) on account of their religious zeal. The right of the Ḳanna'im to assassinate any non-Jew who dared to enter the consecrated parts of the Temple was officially recognized in a statute inscribed upon the Temple wall and discovered by Clermont-Ganneau in 1871 (see Schürer, "Gesch." 1st ed., ii. 3, 274; comp. Josephus, "B. J." vi. 2, § 4; both Derenbourg and Grätz ["Gesch." iii. 4, 225] misunderstood the passage). "Ḳanna'im" was the name for those zealous for the honor and sanctity of the Law as well as of the sanctuary, and for this reason they at first met with the support and encouragement of the people and of the Pharisaic leaders, particularly those of the rigid school of Shammai. It was only after they had been so carried away by their fanatic zeal as to become wanton destroyers of life and property throughout the land that they were denounced as heretic Galileans (Yad. iv. 8) and "murderers" (; Soṭah ix. 9) and that their principles were repudiated by the peace-loving Pharisees.Their History.
When, in the year 5, Judas of Gamala in Galileestarted his organized opposition to Rome, he was joined by one of the leaders of the Pharisees, R. Zadok, a disciple of Shammai and one of the fiery patriots and popular heroes who lived to witness the tragic end of Jerusalem ("Ant." xviii. 11; Giṭ. 56a; Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 4, 259, 796, and I. H. Weiss, "Dor Dor we-Dorshaw," i. 177, against Geiger, "Zeitschrift," v. 268). The taking of the census by Quirinus, the Roman procurator, for the purpose of taxation was regarded as a sign of Roman enslavement; and the Zealots' call for stubborn resistance to the oppressor was responded to enthusiastically. The anti-Roman spirit of the Zealots, as Grätz has shown (l.c.), found its echo chiefly in the school of Shammai, whose members did not shrink from resorting to the sword as the ultimate authority in matters of the Law when antiheathen measures were to be adopted (Shab. 17a; Weiss, l.c. p. 186). A great many of the laws that are so strikingly hostile to idols and idolaters ('Ab. Zarah 20a; Tosef., 'Ab. Zarah, iii. 3; Sanh. 63b; and elsewhere) appear to have emanated from these times of warfare against Rome (Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 4, 471), though such views were expressed as early as the time of John Hyrcanus (see Jubilees, Book of).
The call for political activity was renewed with greater force when, after the death of Agrippa I. in the year 44, Judea became more emphatically a province of Rome and the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem was again deprived of its jurisdiction. Numerous bands of Zealots under the leadership of Tholomy, Amram, Hanibas (Taḥina ?), and Eleazar (see below) roamed through the land, fanning local strifes into wars of rebellion; but in every case they were ultimately defeated, and their leaders were either beheaded or banished for a time ("Ant." xx. 1, § 1). Soon afterward Jacob and Simon, sons of Judas the Galilean, as mentioned above, organized a revolt against Tiberius Alexander, and paid the penalty of crucifixion (47). But matters reached a climax under the procurators Cumanus, Felix, and Florus (49-64), who vied with one another in bloodthirsty cruelty and tyranny when the Zealot leaders, in their desperate struggle against the overwhelming power of an implacable enemy, resorted to extreme measures in order to force the people to action.Misrepresented by Josephus.
Three men are singled out by Josephus and in rabbinical tradition as having shown boundless ferocity in their warfare against Rome and Romanizers: Eleazar b. Dinai, Amram ("Ant." xx. 1, § 1; 8, § 5), and Taḥina (Josephus has "Hanibas," not "Hannibal" as Grätz reads, and in "B. J." ii. 13, § 4, "Alexander"; comp. Soṭah ix. 9: Cant. R. iii. 5; Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 4, 431). Of Eleazar ben Dinai and Amram it is said in the last-cited passage that "they desired to urge the Messianic deliverance of Israel, but fell in the attempt." Regarding Eleazar ben Dinai (comp. Kil. v. 10) and Tahina (called also the "Pharisaic saint"), R. Johanan b. Zakkai relates in Soṭah l.c. that, on account of the frequent murders committed by them and which won them the epithet of "murderers," the Mosaic law concerning expiation for unknown slain ones ("'eglah 'arufah") was set in abeyance. Obviously Josephus misrepresents these Zealot leaders, who, while tyrannical and cruel, were certainly no "robbers." However, their dealings with property, especially that belonging to those suspected of friendliness to Rome, created anarchy throughout the land, as may be learned from the rabbinical legislation concerning the "siḳariḳon" (Giṭ. v. 6, 55b; Yer. Giṭ. v. 47b). One of these, named Doras and mentioned by Josephus (l.c.), has become, like Eleazar ben Dinai, proverbial in rabbinical literature (Men. 57a; Yer. Shab. 14a, where he is mentioned as a type of a voracious eater).Zealots Annihilate Cestius' Army.
As the oppression of the Roman procurators increased, so also the passion and violence of the Zealots grew in intensity, affecting all the discontented, while one pseudo-Messiah after another appeared arousing the hope of the people for deliverance from the Roman yoke ("Ant." xx. 5, § 1; 9, § l0; "B. J." ii. 13, § 5). It was quite natural that under the name of Sicarii all kinds of corrupt elements, men eager for pillage and murder, should join the party, spreading terror through the land. Finally the barbarities of Albinus and, above all, of Gessius Florus precipitated the crisis and played into the hands of the terrorists ("Ant." xx. 9-11; "B. J." ii. 14-15). The issue was between the peace party, which was willing to yield to cruel Rome, and the war party, which, while relying on God's help, demanded bold action; and under the leadership of the priestly governor of the Temple, Eleazar ben Anania, who refused to receive gifts from or offer sacrifice on behalf of Rome, the latter party prevailed ("B. J." ii. 17, § 2), another priest belonging to the Shammaite party, Zachariah b. Amphicalos, having decided in favor of Eleazar (Tosef., Shab. xvii. 6; Giṭ. 56a; Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 4, 453-458, 818). At this opportune time Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean, seized the fortress Masada in Galilee, killed the Roman garrison, and then drove the Romans out of other fortresses; and finally his kinsman and successor as master of Masada, Eleazar ben Jair, took up the war of rebellion against Rome and carried it to the very end ("B. J." ii. 17, §§ 2, 7, 10). True to the Shammaite principle that warfare against the heathen possessors of Palestine is permitted even on the Sabbath (Shab. 19a; Grätz, l.c. pp. 796-797), the war was carried on by the Zealots on that day ("B. J." ii. 19, § 2), and the Romans were everywhere over-powered and annihilated, Simon bar Giora being one of the heroic leaders whom none could resist. The whole army of Cestius, who had brought twelve legions from Antioch to retrieve the defeat of the Roman garrison, was annihilated by the Zealots under the leadership of Bar Giora and Eleazar ben Simon the priest. The Maccabean days seemed to have returned; and the patriots of Jerusalem celebrated the year 66 as the year of Israel's deliverance from Rome, and commemorated it with coins bearing the names of Eleazar the priest and Simon the prince (Bar Giora [?], or Simon ben Gamaliel as Grätz has it; "B. J." ii. 19, §§ 1 et seq., 20, §§ 1-5; Grätz, l.c. pp. 469-470, 509, 818-841).
The news of the victory of the Zealots in Jerusalemset the whole province of Galilee ablaze. Always a hotbed of revolution, it at once began an insurrection, and its thousands soon rallied round the fiery Zealot leaders John ben Levi of Giscala ("Gushḥalab"), Justus the son of Pistus, Joshua ben Saphia of Tiberias, and Joseph of Gamala ("B. J." ii. 21, § 1; iv. 4, § 13; "Vita," §§ 12, 27, 35-36). Only Sepphoris, a city full of aliens, obstinately refused to join the revolution. Josephus was sent by the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, composed chiefly of Zealots, for the purpose of prevailing upon the Sepphorites to abandon the cause of Agrippa II. and Rome, and to help Galilee work hand in hand with the authorities at Jerusalem in the liberation of Judea; but he deceived the Zealots and played into the hands first of Agrippa and then of Rome. His "De Bello Judaico" and his "Vita," written for the purpose of pleasing his Roman masters, are full of aspersions upon the character of the Zealots and their leaders.The Final Stage.
The year 67 saw the beginning of the great war with the Roman legions, first under Vespasian and then under Titus; and Galilee was at the outset chosen as the seat of war. The Zealots fought with almost superhuman powers against warriors trained in countless battles waged in all parts of the known world, and when they succumbed to superior military skill and overwhelming numbers, often only after some act of treachery within the Jewish camp, they died with a fortitude and a spirit of heroic martyrdom which amazed and overawed their victors. Josephus' own description of the tragic end of the last great Zealot leader, Eleazar ben Jair, and his men after the siege and final capture of Masada ("B. J." vii. 8-9) is the best refutation of his malicious charges against them.
At the siege of Jerusalem the Zealots were not deterred even by the defeat in Galilee and the terrible massacre of their compatriots; their faith in the final victory of the Holy City and its massive walls remained unshaken. But there were too much enmity and strife between them and the ruling body, the Sanhedrin, which they distrusted; and their own leaders were also divided. Instead of working after the clearly mapped-out plan of one powerful leader, they had their forces split up into sections, one under Simon bar Giora, another under Eleazar ben Simon and Simon b. Jair (Ezron), a third under John of Giscala, and a fourth, consisting chiefly of semibarbarous Idumeans, under Jacob ben Sosas and Simon ben Kathla ("B. J." v. 6, §§ 2-3; vi. 1). In order to force the wealthy and more peaceably inclined citizens to action, the Zealots in their fury set fire to the storehouses containing the corn needed for the support of the people during the siege ("B. J." v. 1, § 4). This tragic event is recorded in Ab. R. N. vi. (ed. Schechter, p. 32), the only Talmudical passage that mentions the Ḳanna'im as a political party. The second version (ed. Schechter, p. 31) has "Sicarii" instead, and agrees with Giṭ. 56, Lam. R. i. 5, and Eccl. R. vii. 11 in mentioning three rich men of Jerusalem who, being inclined to make peace with the Romans, had their storehouses burned by the Zealots: namely, Ben Kalba Shabua', Ben Ẓiẓit ha-Kassat, and Nicodemus (Nikomedes ben Gorion; see Grätz, l.c. pp. 527-528; Derenbourg, l.c. p. 284). In Eccl. R. vii. 11 the instigation of the burning of the storehouses is ascribed to the leader of the Zealots ("Resh Barione"; see the articles Abba Saḳḳara and Ben Baṭiaḥ).
Simon bar Giora and John of Giscala survived the fall of Jerusalem, and were taken as captives to Rome to glorify Titus' triumph; the former, with a rope around his head, was dragged to the Forum and cast down from the Tarpeian rock ("B. J." v. 5, § 6). Most of the Zealots fell under the sword or other instruments of death and torture at the hands of the Romans, and such as fled to Alexandria or Cyrenaica roused by their unyielding hostility to Rome the opposition of those eager for peace, until they too finally met the same tragic fate ("B. J." vii. 6, §§ 1-5; 10, §§ 1-4). It was a desperate and mad spirit of defiance which animated them all and made them prefer horrible torture and death to Roman servitude. History has declared itself in favor of the Pharisees, who deemed the schoolhouse (see Johanan ben Zakkai) of more vital importance to the Jews than state and Temple; but the Zealot, too, deserves due recognition for his sublime type of steadfastness, as George Eliot points out in her "Impressions of Theophrastus Such" (1879, p. 212).
Among the disciples of Jesus there is mentioned a Simon the Zealot (Luke vi. 15; Acts i. 13); for the same person Matt. x. 4 and Mark iii. 18 have "the Canaanite," obviously a corruption of ("ha-Ḳanna'i" = "the Zealot").
- Hamburger, R. B. T. ii. 1286-1296;
- Grätz, Gesch. iii. 4 and Index.