Judas of Gamla and the “Fourth Sect” of Judaism – The “Zealots”


By Joe Bartling


Most everyone with a Christian or Jewish education has heard of the “Pharisees”, the “Sadducees”, and even the “Essenes”.  But there was a “Fourth Sect” of Second Temple Judaism founded by Judas the Galilean, or Judas of Gamala, according to Flavius Josephus, as documented in “Antiquities – Book 18″, Chapter 1, Verse 6” that relates the following:

But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord. And since this immovable resolution of theirs is well known to a great many, I shall speak no further about that matter; nor am I afraid that any thing I have said of them should be disbelieved, but rather fear, that what I have said is beneath the resolution they show when they undergo pain. And it was in Gessius Florus’s time that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and to make them revolt from the Romans. And these are the sects of Jewish philosophy.

Judas of Gamala led a movement, called “kana’im” in Hebrew (קנאים), “zealots” in English, inciting the people of Judea to rebel against the Roman Empire, and expel it from the Holy Land with force.  Judas proclaimed the Jewish state as a republic recognizing God alone as king and ruler and His laws as supreme.  Judas led an armed insurrection against the “census” called by Quirinius in the land of Iuadea in 6CE, who was appointed legate governor of the Roman province of Syria, when the Roman province of Iudaea was included for the purposes of the census.  Iudaea did not originally include the areas of the Galilee and the Golan.  .

This “census” is the same census that is referred to in the Christian Gospel of Luke:

Luke 2:1 “And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.”

Luke 2:2 “(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)”

Luke 2:3-5 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

Josephus does not mention the death of Judas, but his death is mentioned in Acts, 5:37, in a speech by Gamaliel,who lists other messianic movements that had gone down in failure, suggesting the movement led by Jesus would have a similar fate.

“After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.”

A sub-group of the Zealots were the “Sicarii”, or “dagger-men”, named after the daggers they concealed under their garments, with which they attacked Romans and Roman sympathizers.

According to Josephus, two of Judas’ sons, James and Simon,  were executed at the command of Governor Tiberius Julius Alexander (Antiquities 20, 100-103).

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