It can dispatch Paul, as well as many others, on embassies of recruitment and fund-raising abroad. It can organize riots and public disturbances.
It can plot assassinations (such as that attempted on Paul at the end of Acts and, subsequently, that of Ananas). It can put forward its own legitimate alternative candidate for the position of the Temple's high priest. It can capture and hold strategically important fortresses such as Masada. Most significantly of all, it can galvanize the entire population of Judaea around it and instigate a full-fledged revolt against Rome - a revolt which leads to a major conflict of seven years' duration and necessitates the intervention not of a few detachments, but of an entire Roman army.
Given the range and magnitude of these
activities, it is clear that traditional images of the Essenes and
of the 'early Church' are woefully inadequate. It is equally clear
that the movement which manifested itself through the Qumran
community and the 'early Church' also manifested itself through
other groups generally deemed to be separate - the 'Zadokites', for
example, the Zealots and the Sicarii.
The militant Zealots and Sicarii will prove similarly to be
variations on the same theme, manifestations of the same movement.
This movement is militant, nationalistic, revolutionary, xenophobic
and messianic in character. Although rooted in Old Testament times,
it coalesces during the Maccabean period of the 2nd century BC; but
the events of the 1st century of the Christian era will imbue it
with a new and particularly ferocious momentum. At the core of the
movement lies the question of dynastic legitimacy - legitimacy not
just of the ruling house, but of the priesthood. In the beginning,
indeed, priestly legitimacy is the more important.
Solomon is anointed by Zadok, thereby becoming 'the Anointed One', the 'Messiah' - 'ha-mashi'ah' in Hebrew. But the high priests were themselves also anointed and were also, in consequence, 'Messiahs'. In Old Testament times, then, the people of Israel are, in effect, governed by two parallel lines of 'Messiahs', or 'Anointed Ones'.
This, of course, explains the references in the
Dead Sea Scrolls to 'the Messiah(s) of Aaron and of Israel', or 'of
Aaron and of David'. The principle is essentially similar to that
whereby, during the Middle Ages in Europe, Pope and Emperor were
supposed to preside jointly over the Holy Roman Empire.
For the next 160-odd years, Palestine was to be ruled by a succession of Hellenistic, or Greek-oriented, dynasties. The priesthood, during this period, spawned a bewildering multitude of claimants, many of whom adapted, partially or completely, to Hellenistic ways, Hellenistic life-styles, Hellenistic values and attitudes. As is often the case in such circumstances, the general liberalizing tendency engendered a 'hard-line' conservative reaction.
There arose a movement which deplored the relaxed,
heterodox and 'permissive' atmosphere, the indifference to old
traditions, the defilement and pollution of the ancient 'purity',
the defiance of the sacred Law. This movement undertook to rid
Palestine of Hellenized collaborators and libertines, who had, it
was felt, by their very presence, desecrated the Temple.
In effect, as Eisenman has said, Mattathias thus became the first 'Zealot'.4
Immediately after his action in the Temple, he raised the cry of revolt:
Thereupon, he took to the countryside with his sons,
Judas, Simon, Jonathan and two others, as well as with an entourage
called the 'Hasidaeans' - 'mighty warriors of Israel, every one who
offered himself willingly for the Law' (1 Mace. 2:42). And when
Mattathias, a year or so later, lay on his deathbed, he exhorted his
sons and followers to 'show zeal for the Law and give your lives for
the Covenant of our fathers' (1 Mace. 2:50).
It is, in effect, the equivalent of the modern 'retreat'. In the New
Testament, of course, the supreme exemplar of self-purification in
remote solitude is John the Baptist, who 'preached in the
wilderness' and ate 'locusts and honey'. But it must be remembered
that Jesus, too, undergoes a probationary initiatory experience in
Their first act, on capturing the Temple, was
to 'purify' it by removing all pagan trappings. It is significant
that though the Maccabeans were simultaneously de facto kings and
priests, the latter office was more important to them. They hastened
to regularize their status in the priesthood, as custodians of the
Law. They did not bother to call themselves kings until the fourth
generation of their dynasty, between 103 and 76 BC.
Phineas was said to be a priest and a grandson of Aaron, active after the Hebrews had fled Egypt under Moses and established themselves in Palestine.
Shortly thereafter, their
numbers are devastated by plague. Phineas turns on one man in
particular, who has taken a pagan foreigner to wife; seizing a
spear, he promptly dispatches the married couple. God, at that
point, declares that Phineas is the only man to 'have the same zeal
as I have'. And He makes a covenant with Phineas. Henceforth, in
reward for his zeal for his God (1 Mace. 2:54), Phineas and his
descendants will hold the priesthood for all time.
No sooner was his position secure, however, than he proceeded to murder his wife and her brother, rendering the Maccabean line effectively extinct. He also removed or destroyed the upper echelons of the priesthood, which he filled with his own favorites and minions. These are the 'Sadducees' known to history through biblical sources and through Josephus. Eisenman suggests that the term 'Sadducee' was originally a variant, or perhaps a corruption, of 'Zadok' or 'Zaddikirn - the 'Righteous Ones' in Hebrew, which the priesthood of the Maccabeans unquestionably were.8
The 'Sadducees' installed by Herod were, however, very different.
They were firmly aligned with the usurping monarch. They enjoyed an
easy and comfortable life of prestige and privilege. They exercised
a lucrative monopoly over the Temple and everything associated with
the Temple. And they had no concept whatever of 'zeal for the Law'.
Israel thus found itself under the yoke of a corrupt illegitimate
monarchy and a corrupt illegitimate priesthood, both of which were
ultimately instruments of pagan Rome.
Whatever the terminology one uses, the religious and political situation in Judaea had, by the beginning of the 1st century AD, provoked widespread opposition to the Herodian regime, the pro-Herodian priesthood and the machinery of the Roman Empire, which sustained and loomed behind both. By the 1st century ad, there were thus two rival and antagonistic factions of 'Sadducees'.
On the one
hand, there were the Sadducees of the New Testament and Josephus,
the 'Herodian Sadducees'; on the other hand, there was a 'true' or
'purist' Sadducee movement, which repudiated all such collaboration
and remained fervently loyal to three traditional governing
principles - a priesthood or priestly 'Messiah' claiming descent
from Aaron, a royal 'Messiah' claiming descent from David and, above
all, 'zeal for the Law'.11
Given this fact, it becomes strained and disingenuous to argue - as
adherents of the consensus do - that there must be some distinction
between the Qumran community, who extol 'zeal for the Law', and the
Zealots of popular tradition.
Accompanied by a priest known as 'Sadduc' - apparently a Greek transliteration of 'Zadok', or, as suggested by Eisenman, Zaddik, the Hebrew for 'Righteous One' - Judas and his followers promptly raided the royal armory in the Galilean city of Sepphoris, plundering weapons and equipment for themselves. Around the same time - either just before or just after - Herod's palace at Jericho, near Qumran, was attacked by arsonists and burned down.13
These events were to be followed by some seventy-five years
of incessant guerrilla warfare and terrorist activity, culminating
in the full-scale military operations of AD 66-73.
Their movement, he says, constituted 'the fourth sect of
Jewish philosophy', and the youth of Israel 'were zealous for it'.16
From the very beginning, the movement was characterized by Messianic
aspirations. Sadduc embodied the figure of the priestly Messiah
descended from Aaron. And Judas, according to Josephus, had an
'ambitious desire of the royal dignity' - the status of the royal
Messiah descended from David.17
In its early days,
when the revolt still promised to be successful, Menahem is
described as making a triumphal entry into Jerusalem, 'in the state
of a king' - another manifestation of messianic dynastic
ambitions.18 In AD 66, Menahem also captured the fortress of Masada.
The bastion's last commander, known to history as Eleazar, was
another descendant of Judas of Galilee, though the precise nature of
the relationship has never been established.
Four thousand Jews died trying to defend the town. When their efforts proved futile, another five thousand committed suicide. This reflects something more than mere political opposition. It attests to a dimension of religious fanaticism.
Such a dimension is expressed by Josephus, who, speaking of the 'Zealots', says:
To acknowledge a Roman emperor as a god, which Rome demanded, would
have been, for the 'Zealots', the most outrageous blasphemy.20 To
such a transgression of the Law, death would indeed have been
The figure cited in the Gospels as 'Simon Zelotes', or 'Simon the Zealot', attests to at least one 'Zealot' in Jesus' immediate entourage; and Judas Iscariot, whose name may well derive from the Sicarii, might be another. Most revealing of all, however, is Eisenman's discovery - the original Greek term used to denote members of the 'early Church'.
They are called, quite explicitly, 'zelotai of the Law' -
that is, 'Zealots'.21
This priesthood maintains itself in a state of perpetual self-declared war with the Herodian dynasty, the puppet priests of that dynasty and the occupying Romans.
Depending on their activities at a given moment, and the perspective from which they are viewed, the priesthood and its supporters are variously called,
...and a number of other things - including, by their enemies, 'brigands' and 'outlaws'. They are certainly not passive recluses and mystics.
On the contrary, their vision, as Eisenman says, is 'violently apocalyptic', and provides a theological corollary to the violent action with which the 'Zealots' are usually associated.23
This violence, both political and
theological, can be discerned in the career of John the Baptist -
executed, according to the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, for
condemning the marriage of Herod Antipas to his niece because it 'is
against the Law for you to have her'. And, indeed, Eisenman has even
suggested that John the Baptist may have been the mysterious
'Sadduc' who accompanied Judas of Galilee, leader of the 'Zealots'
at the time of Jesus' birth.24
The ostensibly separate factions would have been, at most, like the variety of individuals, groups and interests which coalesced to form the single movement known as the 'French Resistance' during the Second World War. At most. For Robert Eisenman personally, any distinction between them is but a matter of degree; they are all variations on the same theme.
But even if some
subtle gradations between them did exist, they would still have been
unified by their joint involvement in a single ambitious enterprise
- the ridding of their land of Roman occupation, and the
reinstatement of the old legitimate Judaic monarchy, together with
its rightful priesthood.
In Alexandria, they attempted to mobilize the local Jewish population for yet another uprising against Rome. They met with little success, some six hundred of them being rounded up and handed over to the authorities. Men, women and children were tortured in an attempt to make them acknowledge the emperor as a god. According to Josephus, 'not a man gave in or came near to saying it'.
And he adds:
Here again is that strain of fanatical dedication - a dedication
that cannot be political in nature, that can only be religious.
In any case, the image of the 'Star' had certainly figured prominently among them during the period culminating with the first revolt.27
And, as we have noted, the same image figures repeatedly in the Dead Sea Scrolls. It derives ultimately from a prophecy in the Book of Numbers (24:17):
The 'War Rule' invokes this prophecy, and declares that the 'Star', or the 'Messiah', will, together with the 'Poor' or the 'Righteous', repel invading armies. Eisenman has found this 'Star' prophecy in two other crucial places in the Qumran literature.28
One, the 'Damascus Document', is particularly graphic:
Josephus, as well as Roman historians such as
Suetonius and Tacitus,
reports how a prophecy was current in the Holy Land during the early
1st century ad, to the effect that 'from Judaea would go forth men
destined to rule the world'.30 According to Josephus, the
promulgation of this prophecy was a major factor in the revolt of AD
66. And, needless to say, the 'Star' prophecy finds its way into
Christian tradition as the 'Star of Bethlehem', which heralds Jesus'
birth.31 As 'Son of the Star', then, Simeon bar Kochba enjoyed an
illustrious symbolic pedigree.
When these were rejected by the Romans, they would be collected and stored for use by the rebels. From the war of the previous century, Simeon had also learned that there was no point in capturing and holding fortresses such as Masada. To defeat the Romans, a campaign based on mobility, on hit-and-run tactics, would be necessary. This led to the construction of vast underground networks of rooms, corridors and tunnels. In the period prior to the revolt, Simeon used these networks for training.
Subsequently, once hostilities had begun, they served as bases and staging areas, enabling the rebels to launch a sudden lightning assault, then disappear - the kind of ambush with which American soldiers, to their cost, became familiar during the war in Vietnam.32 But Simeon did not confine himself solely to guerrilla operations. His army included many volunteers from abroad, many mercenaries and professional soldiers with considerable military experience. Indeed, surviving records discovered by archaeologists have revealed that a number of Simeon's officers and staff spoke only Greek.33
With such well-trained forces
at his disposal, he could, on occasion, meet the Romans in pitched
According to his
overall grand design, his troops were to be supported by forces from
Persia, where a great many Jews still resided and enjoyed the
sympathetic favor of the reigning dynasty. Just when Simeon most
needed these reinforcements, however, Persia itself was invaded from
the north by marauding hill tribes, who effectively pinned down
Persian resources, leaving Simeon bereft of his promised support.35
It is thus possible, despite the claims of Father de Vaux, that some, at least, of the Dead Sea Scrolls were deposited in Qumran as late as Simeon's time.