Judas ben Hezekiah and the Zealots
Born in 31 BCE, Judas is the son of Prince Hezekiah, nephew of Jacob ben Matthan, and thus a cousin of Joseph of the Bible. Judas and Joseph of the Bible were raised pretty much as brothers and were very close. However, note that this Joseph and our hero Yosef are not the same person. Yosef of Arimathea will know of Joseph and his family circumstances given his own cousin’s (Joshua of Arimathea's) half brother, Heli. Heli was married to Hanna before his own execution by Herod.
After the execution of his brother Jacob, Hezekiah opened up his home to his nieces and nephews (Joseph of the Bible, Ptomes, Cleopas), along with the youngest daughter of the then High Priest, Hanna bat Yehoshua III, who is the mother of Miriam.
Judas the Zealot is a roughneck. He is also very devout. Things have gotten so bad under Herod’s reign that he feels something has to be done to stop the corruption and demise of the Jewish nation. He, along with his father and uncle, have been an active guerilla leaders of a band of zealots residing in Galilee. In 12 BCE, Judas also becomes the personal guard for the exiled Crown Prince of Ireland. Yosef deliberately got himself ‘caught’ by Judas’ zealot band because he wanted to hire Judas and his men as protection for the city of Nazara which he was building within the borders of Galilee. In return, Yosef offered the Zealots gold, supplies, and an education for all of Judas’ men at the new school he was to build within Nazara. Judas is impressed with the man and his actions, and the two have been pretty much inseparable since.
Judas' father, Hezekiah, was named after one of the original zealot martyrs, killed in 47BCE whilst fighting Antipater, Herod’s father, for the rights of Jews to rule themselves. Hezekiah ben Matthan, like his namesake, Hezekiah ben Gurion, firmly believed it was not part of God’s covenant that Jews be destined to be slaves and pawns under the tyrannical rule of King Herod. They fought for the freedom of the Jews. Their ideology was not for political revolution, it was bound by the higher calling to preserve the integrity of Jewish life as taught by the Torah.
After King Aristobulus II had been poisoned by Pompey’s men, Hezekiah ben Gurion had gathered the remnants of the king’s army who were in the mountains of Galilee and carried on a very successful guerilla war against both the Romans and the Syrians. They were waiting for the opportunity to stage a full uprising against Rome. The pious men of Israel looked at Hezekiah as the avenger of their honor and liberty. Unfortunately Antipater, who was the governor of Judaea at the time, and his sons Herod (the eventual ruler of Galilee) and Joseph did not see this band as patriots at all. They beheaded Hezekiah and many of his followers, making them martyrs for Israel and in particular the Zealot sect.
Not all the Israelites were against interactions with the Gentiles or even the idea of foreign rule. The Sadducees, who came to believe there was no life after death, and even some Pharisees elite did not believe it was against God’s law to accept foreign rulers. This was for a couple of reasons. First, the elite knew quite well that both the Torah, which was ‘mysteriously found’ by Josiah in the late 7th century BCE (around 620ish BCE), and the Talmud which was brought back from Babylon after the Exile, were ‘clever interpretations of previous oral traditions’ compiled by scribes under the direct influence of foreign powers who wanted to insert a few moral lessons into the Jewish tradition. Some of the passages of these ‘scriptures’ were complete reprints of ancient Zoroastrianism text taken out of the Avesta. Since these holy scriptures were not then the ‘word of God’, they felt it was not necessary to execute the words explicitly.
Secondly, with regard to ‘foreign rulers’, many elite Jews – and in particularly the priests – became very wealthy as a result of having foreigners rule. Typically the foreign leaders used the priests’ unique status over the common people to their advantage and enacted programs whereby these priests were able to keep a percentage of the taxes collected from its citizens. So it didn’t take long for priests to recognize the distinctive advantage of having a foreign ruler in charge; they made money. Politics eventually ruled the situation and as priests became wealthier, they were less inclined to ‘fight’ this particular issue of foreigners in charge.
This is one of the primary reasons that the Zealots began to persecute the priests as well as the foreign rulers of Rome. The corrupt nature of many of the priests did not sit well with the Zealots, and they struck hard against them.
Zealots were pretty much everywhere in 1st century Israel, but their primary territory was in Galilee. There in the mountains, they were able to build secure fortresses in which they hid and fought their enemies.
Jacob and Hezekiah had another brother named Judas the Galilean who was also an active Zealot known for his role in leading a Jewish revolt in 6 CE against Herod’s new taxing legislation. Judas the Galilean dies in this skirmish in 6 CE.
There are a number of insurrections planned and carried out in late 1st century BC as well as the early 1st century CE. Some of these will be under the direct leadership of either Judas the Zealot, his father Hezekiah, or his uncle Judas the Galilean. Yosef Cu Cuileann and Joseph of the Bible will participate in some of these encounters. Judas honestly believes he has placed his allegiance with the true heir to the throne of Israel, Yosef of Arimathea.