AskDefine | Define zealot

The Collaborative Dictionary

Zealot \Zeal"ot\, n. [F. z['e]lote, L. zelotes, Gr. ?. See Zeal.] One who is zealous; one who engages warmly in any cause, and pursues his object with earnestness and ardor; especially, one who is overzealous, or carried away by his zeal; one absorbed in devotion to anything; an enthusiast; a fanatical partisan. [1913 Webster] Zealots for the one [tradition] were in hostile array against zealots for the other. --Sir J. Stephen. [1913 Webster] In Ayrshire, Clydesdale, Nithisdale, Annandale, every parish was visited by these turbulent zealots. --Macaulay. [1913 Webster]

Word Net



1 a member of an ancient Jewish sect in Judea in the first century who fought to the death against the Romans and who killed or persecuted Jews who collaborated with the Romans
2 a fervent and even militant proponent of something [syn: partisan, drumbeater]



  • IPA: /ˈzɛlət/ (plural /ˈzɛləts/)


First coined 1638, from ζηλωτής < ζήλος < ζηλόω.


  1. one who is zealous, one who is full of zeal for his own specific beliefs or objectives, usually in the negative sense of being too passionate; a fanatic
  2. a member of the Zealot movement


  • 1733: For modes of faith, let graceless zealots fight; / His can't be wrong whose life is in the right — Alexander Pope, Essay on Man, Epistle III, 1733


zealous person
member of the Zealot movement
Zealotry was a movement in first century Judaism, described by Josephus as one of the "four sects" at this time. The term Zealot, in Hebrew kanai (קנאי, frequently used in plural form, קנאים), means one who is zealous on behalf of God. The term derives from Greek ζηλωτής (zelotes), "emulator, zealous admirer or follower". The Zealots were a religious group and were frequently in rebellion.


The Zealots were a Jewish political movement in the 1st century which sought to incite the people of Iudaea Province to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the country by force of arms during the Great Jewish Revolt (CE 66-70). When the Romans introduced the imperial cult, the Jews unsuccessfully rebelled. The Zealots continued to oppose the Romans due to Rome's intolerance of their culture and on the grounds that Israel belonged only to a Jewish king descended from King David.
Josephus's Jewish Antiquities states that there were three main Jewish sects at this time, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. The Zealots were a "fourth sect", founded by Judas of Galilee (also called Judas of Gamala) and Zadok the Pharisee in the year 6 against Quirinius' tax reform, shortly after the Roman state declared what had most recently been the territory of the tribe of Judah a Roman Province, and that they "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." (18.1.6)
According to the Jewish Encyclopedia article on Zealots:
Following Josephus ("B. J." ii. 8, § 1; "Ant." xviii. 1, §§ 1, 6), most writers consider that the Zealots were a so-called fourth party founded by Judas the Galilean (see Grätz, "Gesch." iii. 252, 259; Schürer, "Gesch." 1st ed., i. 3, 486). This view is contradicted, however, by the fact that Hezekiah, the father of Judas the Galilean, had an organized band of so-called "robbers" which made war against the Idumean Herod">Herod the GreatIdumean Herod ("B. J." i. 10, § 5; "Ant." xiv. 9, § 2), and also during the reign of Herod, if not long before by the fact that the system of religious and political murders practised by the Zealots was in existence during the reign of Herod, if not long before...
In either case, it has also been argued that the group was not so clearly marked out (before the first war of 66-70/3) as some have thought.
The Crisis under Caligula (37-41) has been proposed as the first open break between Rome and the Jews.
Two of Judas' sons, Jacob and Simon, were involved in a revolt and were executed by Tiberius Alexander, the procurator of Iudaea province from 46 to 48.
The Zealots had the leading role in the Jewish Revolt of 66. They succeeded in taking over Jerusalem, and held it until 70, when the son of Roman Emperor Vespasian, Titus, retook the city and destroyed Herod's Temple during the destruction of Jerusalem.
The Zealots objected to Roman rule and sought violently to eradicate it; Zealots engaged in violence were called the Sicarii. They raided Jewish habitations and killed Jews they considered collaborators, while also urging Jews to fight Romans and other Jews for the cause. Josephus paints a very bleak picture of their activities as they instituted what he characterized as a murderous "reign of terror" prior to the Jewish Temple's destruction.
According to Josephus, the Zealots followed John of Gischala, who had fought the Romans in Galilee, escaped, came to Jerusalem, and then inspired the locals to a fanatical position that led to the Temple's destruction.


In the Talmud, the Zealots are also called the Biryonim meaning "boorish" or "wild", and are condemned for their aggression, their unwillingness to compromise to save the survivors of besieged Jerusalem, and their blind-militarism. They are further blamed for having contributed to the demise of Jerusalem and the second Jewish Temple, and of ensuring Rome's retributions and stranglehold on Judea. According to the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin:56b, the Biryonim destroyed decades worth of food and firewood in besieged Jerusalem to force the Jews to fight the Romans out of desperation, an event that directly led to the escape of Yochanan ben Zakkai out of Jerusalem, who met Vespasian which led to the foundation of the Academy of Yavneh which produced the Mishnah.
The Zealots advocated violence against the Romans and their Sadducee Jewish collaborators, raiding for provisions and other activities that aided their cause.


main article Masada
After the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in AD 70, 960 Zealots took refuge by capturing the Roman fortress of Masada and taking no prisoners. Rome sent the Tenth Legion to attempt to retake the stronghold, but for three years they met with no success. It is estimated that they took over 1,000 casualties in the process. The Zealots continued to hold the fortress even after the Romans invented new types of siege engines. Finally, in the third year of the siege, Rome, unable to take the fortress intact, gave up and burned the walls down. When the Romans stormed in to capture the Zealots, they found that the fighters and their families had nearly all committed suicide rather than live a life of slavery.
One of their leaders, Elazar ben Yair escaped to the desert fortress of Masada and fought alongside the Sicarii Zealots until Masada was captured in 73. The Jewish Revolt was suppressed thereafter and the Zealots declined in power and finally faded into history
Today, members of some units of the Israel Defense Forces, climb Masada and declare "Masada Shall Not Fall Again", in Hebrew, at their graduation from basic training.


One particularly extreme group of Zealots was also known in Latin as sicarii, meaning "daggermen" (sing. sicarius, possibly a morphological reanalysis), because of their policy of killing Jews opposed to their call for war against Rome. Probably many Zealots were sicarii simultaneously, and they may be the biryonim of the Talmud that were feared even by the Jewish sages of the Mishnah.
The main differences between the Sicarii and the Zealots were: (1) the Jerusalem Zealots never attached themselves to one particular family and never proclaimed any of their leaders king; (2) the Sicarii had their original base in Galilee, while the Zealots were concentrated in Jerusalem; and (3) the Galilean Sicarii were fighting for a social revolution, while the Jerusalem Zealots placed less stress on the social aspect.


zealot in Arabic: زيلوت
zealot in Catalan: Zelotes
zealot in German: Zelot
zealot in Estonian: Seloodid
zealot in Spanish: Zelote
zealot in Esperanto: Zeloto
zealot in French: Zélotes
zealot in Korean: 열심당
zealot in Croatian: Zeloti
zealot in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Zelote
zealot in Italian: Zelota
zealot in Hebrew: קנאים
zealot in Lithuanian: Zelotai
zealot in Dutch: Zeloten
zealot in Japanese: 熱心党
zealot in Norwegian: Seloter
zealot in Polish: Zeloci
zealot in Portuguese: Zelota
zealot in Romanian: Zelot
zealot in Russian: Зелоты
zealot in Slovak: Zelóta (Jeruzalem)
zealot in Serbian: Зилоти
zealot in Finnish: Selootit
zealot in Swedish: Seloter
zealot in Yiddish: קנאות
zealot in Contenese: 奮銳黨人
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