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date: 11 December 2023



  • Martin Goodman


  • Jewish Studies

Zealots, a Jewish political group in the 1st cent. ce. According to Josephus the Zealots were one of the three factions who controlled Jerusalem in the last years of the Jewish revolt against Rome (ce 66–70). In 68 the Zealots attacked the existing leaders of the rebel Jewish state, seized control of the Temple and, despite reverses at the hands of other Jewish factions, maintained an independent role until the capture of Jerusalem by Titus in ce 70.

Josephus' depiction of the excesses of the Zealots when in power in Jerusalem is deeply hostile (BJ 4. 128 ff.), but he none the less described their leaders as priests of distinguished lineage (BJ 5. 6). Their supporters included country people from northern Judaea. They signalled a break from the previous leadership in Jerusalem by execution of political opponents and by appointing a high priest from a non-traditional family. The name zēlōtēs was apparently a self-designation (BJ 4. 160–1).

The relationship between the Zealots and other movements in 1st-cent. Jewish society as described by Josephus, especially the sicarii (‘dagger-men’) and the Fourth Philosophy (see jews), is debated. Members of all these movements at times sought religious justification for a strongly anti-Roman stance. Josephus sometimes suggested a connection between them and condemned them all equally, but at other times he was at pains to distinguish each group as separate.


  • M. Smith, Harvard Theological Review 1971, 1–19.
  • M. Stern, Encyclopedia Judaica Year Book (1973), 135–152.
  • R. A. Horsley and J. S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets and Messiahs (1985).
  • M. Hengel, The Zealots (Eng. trans. 1989).
  • J. J. Price, Jerusalem Under Siege (1992).