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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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ZEALOT (Gr. ζηλωτής) occurs in Luke 6:15 and Acts 1:13 as the designation of Simon, one of the Twelve. In the lists given by Mt. and Mk. the equivalent ‘Cananaean’ (Καναναῖος) is used. The Zealots were the rigorous Nationalists, the party of violent opposition to Roman domination. Josephus (Ant. xviii. i. 6) calls them a ‘fourth sect of Jewish philosophy,’ and says that ‘Judas the Galilaean was the founder.’ He adds: ‘These men 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’; he speaks of their ‘immovable resolution’ and their indifference to suffering and death. These qualities were all abundantly illustrated in the final struggle at Jerusalem and at Masada. Edersheim (LT [Note: T Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah [Edersheim].] i. 237 ff.) dates the rise of the party from the accession of Herod the Great [Note: reat Cranmer’s ‘Great’ Bible 1539.] , and the activity of guerilla bands in Galilee under the leadership of one Ezechias. ‘It was in fact a revival of the Maccabean movement, perhaps more fully in its national than in its religious aspect.’ Plummer (‘St. Luke’ in ICC [Note: CC International Critical Commentary.] ) attaches more importance to the religious aspect of the movement:—‘The Zealots date from the time of the Maccabees as a class who attempted to force upon others their own rigorous interpretations of the Law.’ In the later stages of the Jewish history the party grew more violent. Its ringleaders were known as the Sicarii, and their overthrow of all moderating leadership sealed the doom of Jerusalem. There is no special difficulty in believing that a member of this party might be attracted to Jesus and become one of His chosen disciples. Galilee was the home of the party, and it naturally included in it men of very different types, from the religious fanatic to the partisan of revolution. Simon’s zealotry, purified by the knowledge of Jesus, might readily become true loyalty to the Kingdom of God. Edersheim gives us the additional explanation that, at the period when the ministry of Jesus began, ‘A brief calm had fallen upon the land. There was nothing to provoke active resistance, and the party of the Zealots, although existing, and striking deeper root in the hearts of the people, was, for the time, rather what Josephus called it, “the philosophical party”—their minds busy with an ideal, which their hands were not yet preparing to make a reality’ (op. cit. p. 243). We should, however, take note of the alternative possibility (see Plummer, loc. cit.) that Simon may have been called ζηλωτής ‘because of his personal character either before or after his call,’ as St. Paul (Galatians 1:14) styles himself περισσοτέρως ζηλωτὴςτῶνπαραδόσεων. See also Cananaean.

E. H. Titchmarsh.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Zealot'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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