Jesus, Judas and the Zealots
September 18, 2007
It’s sometimes interesting to look back and see what was the small things that made revolutionary changes to the way you are thinking. Kind of butterfly effect stuff. I remember a conversation which I had at some stage in High School, and one sentence a friend said, set in motion a process of change in my thinking continuing up to this day (however, that is a story for another day). And then, at some stage in my third year, I bought a lot of 2nd hand books from a guy, and he said that for every book I bought, I could take another one from an unlisted pile. I got about 80 books that day! One of the little books I took for free, was by Oscar Cullmann, Jesus and the Revolutionaries. Not well known, and probably not the type of book that will go down in history as one making this huge changes in theology. But in my life, it made a huge change.
The book tried to show how the zealots in the time of Jesus would have perceived Jesus. The Zealots were groups of people that believed that the Roman authority over Israel should be overthrown by force, and were willing to do something about this. They were a large enough group to start a war about 40 years after Jesus’ was crucified, which ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. This group of people also believed that the messiah would come, and that he will lead this battle against the Romans. Furthermore they believed that the institutional Jewish groups, Pharisees and Sadducees, were not doing God’s will, since they worked with the Romans.
Knowing something about this, and reading the Jesus story as we find it in the gospels, and then imagining yourself into this volatile time, you might see how easy it was for Zealots to think that Jesus might just be the one to fight for their cause. He might be the King of David, that came to liberate Jerusalem. He might be building up an army out of the thousands sometimes following him.
When I started to see the significance of this, I started re-thinking historical Jesus research. Trying to understand how these people must have thought about this Jesus when they heard him speak, trying to understand who Jesus really was. It set in motion a process in me which continue up to this day.
In The Secret Message of Jesus you will find some of this kind of thinking in easy-to-read format. Also, I watched the film Judas this weekend, and the film try and show something of this. Judas is portrayed a a Zealot who start following Jesus, believing that Jesus is the messiah he was searching for. But then Jesus start talking about peace, about turning the other cheek, and Judas begin to doubt if Jesus really is the one they are waiting for. This leads him, in the end, to be willing to turn Jesus in.
Haven’t looked into the historical reliability of the film, but it’s an excellent portrayal of the social tensions between Zealots and Institutional Jewish Religion, and the Roman Empire, and the Jesus followers, and a lot of things happening in that time. I will definitely recommend this film!