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Zealots

Zealots (zĕlˈəts) [key], Jewish faction traced back to the revolt of the Maccabees (2d cent. B.C.). The name was first recorded by the Jewish historian Josephus as a designation for the Jewish resistance fighters of the war of A.D. 66–73. This term applied to them because of their fervent veneration of the Torah and detestation of non-Jews and Jews lacking in religious fervor. The Zealots were organized as a party during the reign (37 B.C.–4 B.C.) of Herod the Great, whose idolatrous practices they resisted. Later (c.A.D. 6), when Cyrenius, the Roman governor of Syria, attempted to take a census, the Zealots, under Judas of Galilee and the priest Zadok, arose in revolt against what they considered a plot to subjugate the Jews. Thereafter the Zealots expressed their opposition by sporadic revolts and by violence against Jews who conformed to Roman ways. The Zealots played a role in the unsuccessful revolt in which the Temple was destroyed (A.D. 70) by the Romans. The Zealot garrison at Masada, a mountaintop fortress near the Dead Sea, was captured by the Romans only after its 900 defenders had committed mass suicide (A.D. 73) rather than be captured.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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