Social Banditry? Galilean Banditry from Herod until the Outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt


Social Banditry, Jewish Revolt, Early Christianity


Scholarship on the fIrst Jewish revolt of 66-70 CE has advanced considerably since the publication of Martin Hengel's Die Zeloten in 1961.1 In it Hengel argued, based on his reading of Josephus, that the outbreak of the fIrst Jewish revolt against Rome was primarily the result of an established anti-Roman Galilean resistance movement known as 'the Zealots', who were an amalgam of various subgroups such as the 'Bandits', 'Sicarii', and 'Fourth Philosophy' . 2 Though Hengel's thesis had an immediate impact on subsequent scholarship, over time, many became wary of his conclusions. Solomon Zeitlin and later Morton Smith were among the fIrst who seriously challenged Hengel's work. 3 They convincingly demonstrated that 'the Zealots' never existed as an organized resistance group until sometime after the initial outbreak of the fIrst revolt, and that the 'Sicarii' and 'Zealots', who were virtually synonymous according to Hengel, were actually two distinct groups. More recently, Richard Horsley has attempted to show in a number of related articles and monographs that the Galilee was neither a hotbed of Zealotism nor were the various bandits who operated there members of the 'Fourth Philosophy' and consequently part of a longstanding Jewish resistance movement. 4 Horsley contends that Hengel's characterization of the Galilee was based on a misreading of Josephus and also had an apologetic agenda, as it served as a foil against which to portray the Galilean Jesus of Nazareth as an apolitical pacifIst who preached peace and passive resistance. 5

Original Publication Citation

“Social Banditry? Galilean Banditry from Herod until the Outbreak of the First Jewish Revolt.” Scripta Classica Israelica 27 (2008): 35–53.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date





Religious Education


Ancient Scripture

University Standing at Time of Publication

Associate Professor