The term “ZEALOTS” was used to describe different people at different times. Some were merely passionate or zealous for a cause, which could be good or bad. One of Jesus’ disciples was a Zealot. This was Simon, the Zealot (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). Josephus used the word to describe the rebellious Jews in the war with Rome in AD 66-70. These ZEALOTS were filled with extreme passion to fight against the Roman oppression[See: Jewish VirtualLibrary. org; Jewish Encyclopedia. com; www. Josephus. org].
Josephus described the ZEALOTS as the “fourth Jewish philosophy,” which was founded by Judas the Galilean (in AD 6). Josephus believed that many of the problems that the Jews suffered during the war, including the burning of the temple, can be blamed on his teaching.
Previously Hezekiah, the father of Judas (not Iscariot), was executed by Herod in c.46 BC. He was the first to talk about military rebellion against Rome. His son, Judas, is considered the founder of the ZEALOTS in 6ad when they revolted against Rome over the census that was taken by Quirinius. The death of Judas is referred to by Gamaliel (Acts 5:37). The sons of Judas (James and Simon) continued the rebellion and were crucified in c.AD 47.
There were several factions of ZEALOTS involved in the Jewish-Roman rebellion. That war resulted in the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the temple in AD 70.
The Sicarii were a particularly violent group of rebels who fought in the time of Felix. Some of them were called “dagger men’’ or “assassins.” They killed the High Priest, Jonathan, and fled to the desert and defended Masada until AD 73.
Eleazar b. Ananias, the son of the High Priest Ananias, was the instigator of the rebellion by stopping the daily sacrifices for Caesar and all Gentiles in AD 66.
Menahem, a grandson of Judas of Galilee and a leader of the Sicarii, obtained weapons from Masada and came to Jerusalem to set himself up as the messianic king. He was killed by the Zealot forces of Eleazar b. Ananias.
The ZEALOTS were the extremists in Jerusalem, who tried to seize power after the fall of Galilee in AD 67-68. The Idumeans were another group of ZEALOTS who fought other Jews in Jerusalem. All of these separate ZEALOT forces fought against each other for power. They carried on terrorist activities of plunder and harassment against the Jewish people. They committed abominations and were completely lawless. (Wars 4.9.10).
The ZEALOTS killed many Jews among themselves. Both civil laws and religious laws were trampled underfoot by each of the factions of ZEALOTS. Josephus wrote: “it is probable one may find the Romans to be the supporters of our laws, and those within ourselves the subverters of them.” (Wars 4.3.10).
John of Gischala was an important leader of the ZEALOT rebels. He tried to take authority in Jerusalem, betraying people in the process, and eventually was captured by the Romans when Jerusalem fell. John’s ZEALOT soldiers were described as wicked assassins, even dressing like women and behaving like sodomites.
Eleazar b. Simon (or b. Ananias?) led his ZEALOT forces against others and attempted to take full control of all of Jerusalem. He was one of the leaders of the ZEALOTS who fought against John of Gischala. His forces controlled the Temple area. The moderates invited Simon bar Giora to help them, but he was just as wicked as the other ZEALOT leaders. He was able to take control of the south part of Jerusalem.
There were three groups of ZEALOT rebels in the city when Titus, the Roman General, began bringing his armies to destroy Jerusalem in the beginning of AD 69. Eleazar b. Ananias and his ZEALOTS held the Temple; John of Gischala and his ZEALOTS controlled the upper city; and Simon b. Giora and his ZEALOTS controlled the lower city.
Even though these separate groups fought against each other, they were united against Titus. They were fanatics, waging war on all who opposed them, even the moderate Jews.
Josephus called the ZEALOTS “wild beasts gone mad and eating its own flesh.” There were extreme abominations committed by the ZEALOTS in the Temple. Many priests and innocent worshippers were killed in the Temple by the ZEALOTS. Pools of blood were everywhere in the city and Temple(Wars 5.1.3).
By March, AD 70, Titus had an army of 80,000 soldiers. They began surrounding Jerusalem and bottled-up all of the ZEALOTS inside the city. The Temple was burned on August 10, AD 70. The war officially ended on September 8 AD 70 when the entire city was burned and destroyed. Josephus wrote: “Where is this city that was believed to have God Himself inhabiting therein? It is now demolished to the very foundations.” (Wars 7.8.7).
All of the Jews were either killed or taken as slaves to work in the mines, rock quarries, or on galley ships. Some were taken as prisoners to Rome for the triumphal festivities. These included the ZEALOT leaders, John of Gischala, and Simon b. Giora. Both were taken to Rome and used in the Triumph. Afterwards, Simon was dragged through the streets and abused by the crowds, and then thrown over the cliff at the Tarpeian Rock. John was given a life sentence and was kept in chains in prison until the end of his life.
(Eleazar b. Ananias or Eleazar ben Yair?) was one of the head leaders of the ZEALOTS. He was a relative of Menahem and escaped with some of Menahem’s men to Masada in September AD 66 after Menahem was killed. When Jerusalem fell in AD 70 more refugees fled to Masada. Those forces then held out for almost three years against the Romans. In May AD 73 the Romans broke through the fortress walls. All those soldiers and their families committed suicide to avoid capture.
Legend has it that Eleazar ben Yair reportedly gave the final speech of those ZEALOTS. “We were the very first that revolted, and we are the last to fight against them; and I cannot but esteem it as a favor that God has granted us, that it is still in our power to die bravely, and in a state of freedom.” Mop-up operations were then completely finished.