John P. Meier, The Marginal Jew,
v.3, ch. 30: Jesus in Relation to Competing Jewish Groups: The Zealots,
pp 565-567

(Detailed summary)

Was Jesus a Zealot?

The term Zealot can have two meanings.

  1. In the sense in which the Jewish historian Josephus uses it, it refers to an organized and armed group of rebels in revolt against the Roman government in Palestine. Such a group did not appear until the first Jewish revolt (66-70), more precisely during the winter of 67-68 in Jerusalem.

  2. In an older and broader sense, it refers to any Jew who is zealous in the practice of the Law and who insists that his countrymen do the same in order to separate themselves from the idolatrous and immoral Gentiles; in some cases violence and even murder were used to force the countrymen into strict observance of the Law.

Obviously, if we consider the first meaning of the word, we cannot give Jesus the title of Zealot or attribute to him any sympathy for the Zealots: this would be an anachronism, since these Zealots appeared long after his death. If we use the second meaning of the word, in this case we note that one of the members of the Twelve was a Zealot, Simon the Zealot. But we must hasten to add that, although Simon may have been involved with violent people before becoming a disciple, he had to change his behavior to accompany Jesus who ate and drank with sinners and tax collectors, and to join a group that included Levi, a tax collector.

What is this Law to which Jesus submitted while discussing it?

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