Jewish Sects (IX): Zealots and Herodians

Fred A. Shewmaker
Evansville, Indiana

Josephus referred to the Zealots as "the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy" as we noticed in the first article of this series. In that first article we classified the Zealots as a political party. However, we also observed that "the conduct of the various sects indicate that a religious sect would have definite political leanings while a political sect would be composed of those having definite religious views." This is true of the political party designated Zealots. We might even describe the Zealots as a sect very much preoccupied with Jewish nationalism. It would be very difficult to imagine a Jewish nationalist without "definite religious views."

Hezekiah, under whose leadership the Zealots arose, was martyred by Herod. Their appearance on the political horizon of Palestine came early in the Roman occupation. They "were particularly active in A.D. 6 during the revolt of Judas of Gamala, in Galilee, who maintained that compliance with the Roman demand for a census would constitute an act of enslavement 'among Palestinians."1 Josephus was apparently unaware of the role played by Hezekiah in the rise of the Zealots. This appears from his reference to Judas as their author.

They "were most influential in Galilee and later in Jerusalem, especially from the time of Herod (37 B.C. - A.D. 4) until the fall of Jerusalem (A.D. 70)."2

"They refused to pay taxes and considered it a sin to acknowledge loyalty to Ceasar."3 They "harassed the Roman administration with every means at their disposal."4 They "relentlessly opposed the Roman attempt to bring Judea under her idolatrous rule."5 Josephus wrote that they "agree in all things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty; and say that God is to be their only ruler and Lord."6

It was from among the Zealots that the extreme Sicarri arose. "They were called Sicarri from their custom of going about with daggers (sicae), hidden beneath their cloaks with which they would stab any person found committing a sacrilegious act or anything or provoking anti-Jewish feelings."7

The Zealots "regarded themselves as the defenders of the law and national life of the Jewish people."8 They "claimed the right to assassinate any Roman who dared to enter the consecrated parts of the Temple, a privilege which was officially recognized."9

In article three of this series we noticed the two "schools of legal thought among the Pharisees." One of these schools took its name from its foremost teacher, Shammi. Shammi was "bitterly opposed to the Romans." Pfeiffer wrote, "This viewpoint ultimately found expression in the Zealots, whose resistance to the Romans brought on the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70."10 Josephus wrote, "They do not value dying any kinds of death ... nor can any such fear make them call any man Lord."11

Prior to the rebellion of A.D. 66, the Zealots became popular with all classes of Jews. Their followers increased in number. They gained control in Jerusalem, removed the high priest, cast lots to elect his successor and fortified the city. The popularity of the Zealots after they gained control was short lived. They "terrorized their political opponents who had accepted foreign rule."12 The people then drove the Zealots into the inner court of the temple. During this conflict the Zealots were under the leadership of Eleazar Ben Simon. The Idumeans came to the aid of the Zealots and they were able to "regain control of Jerusalem, under the leadership of John of Gischala and resumed their acts of terror."13

"When the final seige of Jerusalem by the Romans began, the Zealots advocated and used most extreme measures, which brought about the collapse and destruction of the city in A.D. 70."14

One of our Lord's apostles was "Simon called Zealotes" (Luke 6:15). This designation appears to be a reference to Simon's party affiliation before he became a follower of Christ.

The other political party that we listed in the first article was the Herodians. Young wrote that they "favored Greek Customs."15

James Orr wrote that they were "supporters of the dynasty of Herod."16 Peloubet wrote that they "were supporters of the Herodian family as the last hope of retaining for the Jews a fragment of national government, as .distinguished from absolute dependence upon Rome as a province of the empire."17

The Pharisees counseled "with the Herodians against him, (Jesus--fas) how they might destroy him" (Mark 3:6). When Jesus was asked about paying tribute to Caesar, it was the Pharisees in league with the Herodians who presented the question. It would appear that these Pharisees were of the school of Shammi and thus opposed paying tribute to Caesar. The Herodians on the other hand would favor paying the tribute. They thought Jesus would have to side with one or the other. But Jesus dehorned the dilemma and disappointed their expectations by telling them to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21; Mark 12:17).

I found the study for this series very interesting and enlightening. It is my hope that these articles will help you, as I believe the study for and preparation of them has helped me, to have a greater insight into and better understanding of the many confrontations Jesus had with the representatives of the various Jewish sects.


1. Charles F. Pfeiffer, The Biblical World, (Grand Rapids: 1966), p. 331.

2. Ibid.

3. Charles F. Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, (Grand Rapids: 1963), p. 120.

4. Pfeiffer, Biblical World, p. 332. 5. Ibid., p. 33 1.

6. F. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, (London: 1842), p. 485 (B. XV111, Ch. I, Sec. 6).

7. Pfeiffer, Ibid., p. 332.

8. Ibid., p. 331.

9. Ibid.

10. Pfeiffer, Between the Testaments, p. 114.

11. Josephus, Ibid.

12. Pfeiffer, Biblical World, p. 332.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. Robert Young, Analytical Concordance of the Bible, (Grand Rapids) p. 477.

16. "Orr," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids: 1957). Vol. 111, p. 1383.

17. F. N. Peloubet, Bible Dictionary, (Athens, Ala.: 19471, p. 253.

TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 14, pp. 6-8
February 10, 1972