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Nov 11, 2023

Every nation has fractionalized groups, each with its agenda. A history student often hears this comment: “The healthier a nation is, the more fractionalization exists.” Who knows whether this is wishful thinking, justification, or truth? History is recorded and re-recorded by winners writing from their agendas, so there is no way of knowing. What is true, regardless of the reasoning, is that nations have groups and, within each of them exists fractions known as ‘conservative’, ‘ultra¬conservative’, ‘liberal’, ‘right-wing’, ‘left-wing’, ‘extremist’, ‘fundamentalist’, ‘believer’, ‘nonbeliever’, ‘supremacist’, and so forth.

This historical truth was true for the Zealots as they had their bands of social bandits (who provided leadership for the Judaean peasants seeking justice); their bandit messiahs (who, with their charismatic personality, offered military leadership); and their Robin Hood brigands (who attacked the wealthy Jewish landowners and representatives of foreign influence). Robbers, who interestingly sometimes joined quite large bands filled with runaway slaves, military deserters, the malcontents, the hell raisers, and most importantly, the recently impoverished peasants were seeking a place of belonging. These hostile, rebellious private armies were fierce highwaymen who specialized in guerilla warfare, whereas the barjone or outlaws leaned toward terrorism, and the sicarii took care of assassinations. It did not matter to the Zealot Sect how small groups operated under their umbrella. If each defined itself without terribly overlapping one another, their disruption was welcomed. The Zealot leaders knew that it would take continual upset to keep the mighty Roman Empire off-balance. They also knew that each strike helped bring them much closer to their more immediate goal of war against the Romans and onto their goal of Palestine under ′a-donay.

Even within these subgroups there were those who would argue that they were not part of the Zealot Sect and had their character and independent means. The argument is both accurate and untrue. Each band had its role to perform within Jewish society, while each band served the purpose of the Zealot cause. While the average man knew only those of his group, leaders of the various bands knew of one another and, over time, got to know each other. Often, the regional Zealot leader brought together the other leaders whenever a particular job needed doing. For example, attacking a column of well-armed Roman soldiers required many rebel fighters. Taxes, collected for the Temple, traveled in heavily guarded caravans making their way up to Jerusalem. A large, well-trained, skilled group of those willing to rob but receive only a tiny share of the bounty was needed.

Not every outlaw would steal from the Temple, for they believed that even if the Highpriest and kohanim were corrupt, the Temple was of the LORD and did godly work despite the sin. But others felt no such qualms and eagerly joined the army of Temple thieves.

Causes required members of the various bands to share their expertise. It stood to reason that leadership among the Zealots required a single-minded focus. The leaders needed to plug every worthy incident into the big picture of a free nation. These Zealot leaders were strong and sound of body, mind, Faith, and fighting spirit. Excellent leaders possessed a smidgen of humor and compassion that stood in contrast the blood and gore.

Leadership rises through the ranks when one gathers resources over decades in preparation for the Great War. It does not ‘pop up’ overnight based upon a single heroic deed. Several occurrences must happen over time: Strangers must prove themselves. Familial history is essential. Widespread friendships serve multiple purposes. Being a leader among the Zealots meant a lifelong membership whose commitment to the Cause was absolute and total. The leaders must convince kohanim, scribes, sages, prophets, and sefers among the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes to protect their identity, keep their secrets, and lend a hand when needed. A dropped hint here, a word there, a deed set for the morrow, a written passage, oral teaching—each and all played their part. The stage is being set incident by incident, weapon by weapon, leader by leader.

Leaders underwent training and indoctrination. It takes time and dedication to create a leader, for there is nothing simple about this creation. The finished product is a person skilled in killing, able to execute—without remorse—terrorist acts which will slaughter innocents, create accurate town and terrain blueprints in the sand from memory, and incite the ignorant. A first-century leader was a politician, knew how to read and write with ease, was knowledgeable about scripture, and offered inspiration. He intuitively recognized hiding places for rebels, families, supplies, and weapons and could spot a potential friend, foe, and leader-in-the-making. He spoke meaningfully with few words; was able to endure the hardships of hunger, thirst, sleeplessness, separation from family and support; could keep secrets— even the great ones that tantalize; and was a spy and an observer. Here was a man who readily accepted the fact that his chosen life—required of him by ꞌel ꞌelohe yisrael—would be lonely, complex, rife with danger, and possibly short-lived. He will put the people he loves deeply in harm’s way. He often guides with unpopular decisions. To be a leader in the Zealot Sect is not for the faint-hearted. Inner strength, belief in oneself, making difficult decisions, standing firm against the opposition, winning against overwhelming odds, quick in thought, insightful; and on, and on goes the list of requirements. Realistically, few men will be equal to the task.

Those in command of the Zealot Sect search diligently throughout the ranks seeking their future replacements. Village, town, and city Zealot sympathizers keep an eye out for the potential among its male children. If one appears patriotic, his life becomes scrutinized. His loyalty to family, school attendance, desire to learn and experience, depth and width of friendships, degree of displayed fear, acts of diplomacy and compassion, and willingness to fight are all duly noted. When one child shows ‘potential’, they inform his father. His father can kill the interest right then and there. No child would receive welcome into the inner ranks without the full support of his father. It is a given that if the father gives a nod of approval, so will the boy’s mother. This approval is essential because there will be times within any given season when the chosen one will not be available for daily chores or attend his apprenticeship. It will be the responsibility of the parents to provide feasible rationales for their son's absences. No relative, indeed no friend, is ever to know the child’s whereabouts.

However, the planning of the war against the Romans would, by necessity, take decades and hundreds of subgroup leaders. The Zealots learned through their mistakes that a secret life was an absolute necessity. Their meetings were confidential and hidden from the eyes of outsiders. Their immediate plans would only be known to those needing to know; whereas future plans became readily shared as they offered hope against the despair of everyday living under domination. They met secretly in small numbers, keeping their talk low. No membership list ever existed. Members were purposefully unknown to one another from region to region.

If Rome learned of all this subterfuge, they would laugh themselves silly. They would view the secrecy and mock war games as children at play. They would not consider that the day would come—and it would, in the year 70 CE—when it would be necessary for them to destroy the city of Jerusalem and, often with their bare hands, tear down the individual stones of the Temple. Nor could they have known that, for two thousand years, history books would help hid their secrets, stupidity, and ignorance. They had to have known about the Zealot fighting groups, if not their cells. They had to have known how widespread the hatred toward them existed among the populace. They had to have known that an abused people would fight to the death. Rome’s surprise that it took so long to utterly destroy Jerusalem, its Temple, most of the Jewish citizens, along with their rituals and traditions, surprised no one else. Maybe, for civilized Rome, the adjectives fitted better than acceptance of their brutality against a people who wanted nothing more than to be left alone. When caught in the wrong, shift the blame or deny. This leadership model would be copied by other civilized countries who lacked the guts to admit wrongdoing.

Whether wrongdoing or not, the Zealots of the first century CE had no way of knowing that they were laying the groundwork for future Israeli modii operand! Nor could the first-century freedom fighters ever predict that future terrorist cells would copy from their indoctrination methods and end up terrifying—not a single country—but the entire world.