Simon the Zealot, A view of Zealotry I never knew of until now

Here’s a different kind of post for me (at least it has been awhile)—this is a post I posted at a blog I recently attempted to start, but is now defunct; I don’t think anyone ever read this post there, so I brought it over here.

Simon the ‘Zealot’

Here is something new I just learned about Simon the ‘Zealot’, and I bet it will be something new for you; unless of course you have read Richard Bauckham on this, or maybe other critical New Testament historians. I am currently reading Bauckham’s book Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, and in particular I am currently reading his chapter 12 entitled The Twelve. Here Bauckham is discussing the names of the Twelve and how they have come to be and function in the Gospel narratives; in the particular instance I am going to quote, Bauckham is talking about Simon the Zealot, and what in fact would have characterized Simon’s kind of zealotry situated as he was in his historical context (this point is contrary to how I have been taught, in the past, to think of Simon’s zealotry, and thus represents something new that I have learned about Simon the Zealot). Here is Bauckham:

[…] It is now widely recognized that, since a specific political party with the name Zealots does not appear in our sources until after the outbreak of the Jewish revolt in 66 CE, the term applied to Simon here must have the broader sense, current in this period, of “zealot for the law” (cf. Acts 21:20; 22:3, 19), often implying that such a person would take violent action to punish flagrant violation of the Torah. Such violence, however, would normally be aimed against fellow Jews rather than the Romans. We should probably presume that Simon already bore this nickname before becoming a disciple of Jesus. Meir points out that “the only instance in prerabbinic Judaism of an individual Israelite bearing the additional name of ‘the Zealot’  is found in 4 Macc 18:12, where Phinehas (the grandson of Aaron) is called ‘the Zealot of Phinehas’ (ton zeloten Phinees). Perhaps Simon’s nickname amounts to calling him “a new Phinehas.” However, although Phinheas was indeed, for Jews of this period, the archetypal “zealot,” the usage in 4 Maccabees 18:12 is probably a description rather than strictly a nickname. Another possible parallel that has not previously been noticed is the name of the owner inscribed on a stone jar from Masada. The two words (yhwsp qny) can be translated either as “Joseph (the) zealot” (qannay) or as “Joseph (the) silversmith” (qenay). [Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 104-05.]

This is an interesting tid bit of historical insight that helps me to re-think what kind of zealotry characterized Simon’s, Jesus’ disciple, and one of the Twelve Apostles. This would, interpretively, be significant to me in the sense that it would make even more sense for Simon to align with Jesus; only if he (Simon) believed that Jesus was the meaning and fulfillment of the ‘Torah’ in a very depth dimension kind of way. Such that Jesus’ person would finally make sense of the Torah in ways that Simon the ‘Zealot’ had never considered before; providing a Zealotry filled with a true knowledge of the God and Yahweh of the Torah which he felt he must defend with utter stridency.

For those unclear, the typical way of understanding Zealotry in relation to Simon, has usually been to think of him as someone who was looking for a Messianic figure to come in and overthrow the Roman empire (so an anti-Imperialist) [which Bauckham highlights as well in the quote above]. But in point of case, if Bauckham is correct, to be a zealot in the period that Simon, Jesus, and the others inhabited, would mean to be a vigorous defender of a text; God’s text given to the Jewish people. This insight, from Bauckham, definitely re-situates Simon’s person and aspirations; and it helps me, at least, to think about Simon in ways differently than I had been taught to, heretofore.

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