Zealots in the 1st Century

In his essay entitled “Prophetic Movements and Zealots,” James D.G. Dunn discusses the Zealot movement. He explains that the Zealot movement was a violent revolutionary movement against Rome that emerged in Jerusalem during the winter of A.D. 66-67.[1] Thus, when Luke 6:14-16 list the twelve apostles and mentions in v. 15, Σίμωνα τὸν καλούμενον Ζηλωτὴν (Simōn ton kaloumenon Zēlōtēv) meaning Simon the one being called a Zealot, Dunn argues that this is not referring to Simon being part of the Zealot movement because this movement developed much later.[2] From this perspective, Simon being called a Ζηλωτής (Zēlōtēs) Zealot was an extra personal name used to distinguish him from Simon Peter [3] and to describe him as zealous or ethusiastic for God and his law.[4] However, Dunn also mentions that “the fourth philosophy” movement had similar, yet non-violent, views as the Zealot movement.[5] The fourth philosophy movement was a Pharisaism division led by certain teachers (e.g. Judas the Galilean, Saddok, etc.) who took a firm, proactive attitude against Roman rule.[6] This movement developed in response to the census and taxation implemented by the Roman official Quirinius in A.D. 6-7.[7] The views of the fourth philosophy continued for the next several decades and then bubbled up to form the Zealotism that Josephus describes as leading to the war.[8] Therefore, while Simon may not have been called a Zealot in the A.D. 66-67 (and beyond) sense of the term, Simon may have been called a Zealot in the fourth philosophy sense, meaning that he had a strong zeal for the God of Israel and a fiery political zeal against Rome.  

[1] James D.G. Dunn, “Prophetic Movements and Zealots” in The World of the New Testament: Cultural, Social, and Historical Contexts,eds. Joel B. Green and Lee Martin McDonald (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2017), 247. [2] Ibid., 250. [3] BDAG, “Ζηλωτής” [4] TDNT, “Zēlos, Zēloō, Zēlōtēs.” [5] Dunn, “Prophetic Movements and Zealots,” 248. [6] DNTB, “Revolutionary Movements, Jewish.” [7] Dunn, “Prophetic Movements and Zealots,” 248. [8] Ibid., 248-249.

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