Zealots: name of a group of Jewish, anti-Roman fighters in Jerusalem, during the war of 66-70.
The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus refers to several groups of anti-Roman fighters:
- The Sicarians, a mixed group that was important in the years after the death of king Herod the Great, and continued to fight until after the fall of Jerusalem (a/o Masada and Egypt); they consisted of Jews and non-Jewsnote[Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, 2.434.] and were not active during the siege of Jerusalem
- A group led by Eleazar, commander of the temple guard
- A group led by Eleazar, son of Simon, who is called "zealous"
- The nationalist group of John of Gischala
- The messianic group of Simon bar Giora
The last-mentioned groups were present in Jerusalem, prevented its inhabitants from opening the gates for the Romans, and appointed a new high priest. Josephus calls them Zealots, "fanatics". It is not completely clear whether this has something to do with the zeal of Eleazar son of Simon. This lack of clarity must reflect the confused circumstances of those days.
Josephus' view - essentially blaming social bandits for the fall of Jerusalem and presenting the Jewish nation as innocent - has given rise to the popular concept of Zealotism as a permanent religious resistance against Rome. This, however, confuses the Zealots (documented in 66-70 only) with the Sicarians. Moreover, Josephus fails to document a continuity of resistance: he cannot mention examples of resistance in the period between 4 CE and 36 CE. That this was in fact a peaceful period, is confirmed by Tacitus (sub Tiberio quiesnote[Tacitus, Histories, 5.9.]).