What are some great resources where I could learn more about the Jewish Zealots of the first century? I would like to learn more about their philosophy/ideology, their motivation, their contemporary rhetoric, their motivation and anything that describes what they believed they could achieve. Also, the historical roots that contributed to all this. I also want to understand their part in the Jewish-Roman wars that culminated around AD 70.

My high-level understanding is that they wished to expel the Romans by military force and that this group may have been the primary driver for the standoff at Masada in AD 72-73. Perhaps one of the historical roots might have been Maccabean Revolt and I also know that there was growing tension between the Romans and Jews in Palestine in the decades before AD 70.

I'm looking for online resources but also any books that would provide such information.


1 Answer 1


If there are other good primary sources I'm unaware of, it would be nice if someone would pipe up with them in the comments here. However, it looks like we only really have 2 primary sources for this movement.

The first is Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, which makes some brief mention of a new zealous sect of Jews, which he blames the Jewish Wars on. This incidentally served to absolve the 3 traditional sects of his co-religionists from responsibility for the wars to his largely Roman audience, who were still quite ticked about the whole affair.

The second is some various debatable mentions in The New Testament. In particular John (the latest-written of the Gospels) gave "The Zealot" as a surname for one of the disciples named "Simon" (to differentiate him from the other Simon, "Simon Peter"). The others however use a different Greek word, which has also been traditionally translated to "Zealot", but sometimes to "The Canaanite" (Cana being the name of the town in Galilee where the Miracle of the Water to Wine occurred).

Much of the rest of what we think we know about the Zealots seems to have been extrapolated from the information in these sources, and other things we know about the history of the area.

The upside of this is that its pretty easy to get hold of these primary sources. There's no dearth of free New Testament and Josephus translations online. I linked to one of the latter above.

The downside is that this isn't a lot of primary sources to hang the group's rhetorical hat on. It's debatable if the Biblical sources really meant that the Apostle was part of a political group, if the John references were a mistranslation of the earlier Gospels' references, if calling someone that meant the same thing during Jesus' time as it did to Josephus, and how scrupulously historically truthful Josephus was being.

However, the mainstream view seems to remain that the Zealots existed as a movement much as Josephus describes them (what else do we have to go on, really?), and that this Apostle Simon was at one point a member.

  • 3
    I would take Josephus with a huge grain of salt, as he was writing his books in Roman service.
    – sds
    Jun 1, 2023 at 19:03
  • 3
    @sds - He was also a Jew, writing at a time that his people were very unpopular in Rome. Still, he's about all we have. He's the streetlamp in the dark under which we have no choice but to search for our lost keys.
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 1, 2023 at 19:22
  • Thank you for the confirmation that there are no other primary sources. I figured that historians perhaps knew more than that from other sources. I'm already familiar with the the NT (which doesn't really tell us much), so I'll read through Antiquities.
    – GreenGiant
    Jun 2, 2023 at 20:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.