Jewish Nationalists

Judas the Galilean.  Archelaus took over as ruler of Judaea, Samaria and Idumaea on the death of his father, Herod the Great, in 4BC (see Matthew 2:22 and Map 2). When the Romans removed him from power and imposed direct Roman rule in 6AD, this prompted an uprising by extreme Jewish nationalists under Judas of Gamala (‘Judas the Galilean’) (see Acts 5:37). The followers of Judas regarded ‘God alone as leader and master’ and claimed that Jews shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar (see Mark 12:13-17). After Judas was killed, the rebellion soon died out.

Bandits.  By the time the first gospels were written between 60 and 62AD, these extreme Jewish nationalists were always referred to as ‘bandits’. They often rebelled against the Romans – like Barabbas, the ‘bandit’ who had led an insurrection in Jerusalem but was set free by Pilate (see John 18:40 & Luke 23:11). Sometimes they attacked members of the Jewish ‘establishment’ whom they accused of complicity with the Roman authorities – like the ‘bandits’ who attacked the man on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho in Jesus’s story of the ‘Good Samaritan’ (see Luke 10:30).


Desert beside the road from Jerusalem to Jericho

Desert beside the road from Jerusalem to Jericho


Sicarii. A group of these nationalists were known as the ‘Sicarii’ (‘daggermen’). These religious extremists carried daggers underneath their cloaks and murdered their opponents before disappearing amongst the crowds. Eleazor, a ‘bandit’ captured by Governor Felix, was one of these terrorists sent to Rome to stand trial for murder.

Zealots. Another group of extreme religious nationalists were known as ‘Zealots’.

Simon the Zealot, one of Jesus’s close circle of twelve ‘apostles’, was one of these religious extremists (see Matthew 10:4). By the time of the Jewish revolt in 66AD, the zealots had become the main religious group advocating war against the Romans. They seized the stronghold of Masada when war broke out and held it until the final capitulation in 73AD.


View from the rampart of Masada

View from the rampart of Herod's palace at Masada

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