II Thessalonians 2 and the Man of Lawlessness


(This is an overhauled version of a study I posted in 2011 when I mistakenly thought that Nero was the man of lawlessness, a.k.a. “man of sin.” I now believe that the man of lawlessness was a Zealot leader, and at the end of this study I present my top two candidates for who this man was. A PDF version of this study is also provided below.)

Scripture text for this study: II Thessalonians 2:1-12

Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.

Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, 10 and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved. 11 And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, 12 that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.

Outline

A. Background and Introduction
B. Verses 1-2
C. Verses 3-4
D. Verses 5-7
     1. The Mystery of Lawlessness
     2. The Restrainer
E. Verse 8
F. Verses 9-12
G. Top Two Candidates for the Man of Lawlessness
     1. Eleazar ben Simon
     2. John Levi of Gischala
H. Summary and Conclusion

Background and Introduction

Looking at Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, he wrote to a church that was experiencing persecution (II Thess. 1:4-7). Paul spoke of their “persecutions and tribulations,” but also their patience, faith, and endurance (verse 4). He spoke of their suffering and troubles (verses 5-6), but also promised that those who troubled them would be repaid with tribulation (verse 6) and that they would receive rest “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God” (verses 7-8).

If this prophecy is still not fulfilled, as many believe and teach today, then none of those believers lived to experience that relief. Also those who troubled them have not yet been repaid with tribulation, according to this idea.

The persecution experienced by the Thessalonians was evidently coming from the Jews. It also appeared to be directed by religious leaders in Jerusalem, where the man of lawlessness would later make his headquarters:

For you, brothers and sisters, became imitators of God’s churches in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they might be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit. The wrath of God has come upon them at last” (I Thess. 2:14-16; see also Acts 17:1-13).

It’s believed that II Thessalonians was written around AD 52. Great judgment came upon the Jews 14 years later during the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73). When we recall the words of Jesus, it’s no surprise that Paul expected his first century readers to personally experience relief from their afflictions. Jesus had likewise promised to come in His kingdom, in judgment, with His angels, and in His Father’s glory while some of His 12 disciples were still alive (Matthew 16:27-28). Paul viewed the coming judgment upon apostate Israel as a good development for the spread of the gospel among the nations.

The “man of lawlessness” and the “mystery of lawlessness” were direct concerns for the believers living in Thessalonica in Paul’s day. What was already happening in Jerusalem, and what would soon reach a crisis level, affected their lives in a significant way.

VERSES 1-2

Paul wrote to a church that was apparently entertaining concerns that they had missed Christ’s coming, for Paul wrote: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come” (II Thess. 2:1-2). We must consider the nature of their expectation about these things. For if their expectation of the Lord’s coming was that it would bring an end to the world, or that it would result in the instant removal of all believers from the planet, it’s hard to imagine how they could be led to believe that these things had already occurred. If the Day of the Lord referred to “a rapture,” and they thought it may have already occurred, why would Paul still be around? As David Lowman, a Presbyterian pastor, has written,

“Now, if on the other hand, the Thessalonians believed the Day of the Lord to be the coming judgment against apostate Israel, then asking about that event would make sense. And if they had friends or relatives in the Judean area it would easily explain their concern that the Day of the Lord had passed.”

David points out that the Greek word for the phrase “gathered together,” episunagoge, used in II Thess. 2:1, appears three times in the New Testament: [1] in Matthew 24:31 (“…and He will send out His angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other”; see our study of this passage), [2] here in this passage, [3] and in Hebrews 10:25 (“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near”).

VERSES 3-4

Paul stated that two events had to occur before the day of the Lord would come: [1] the rebellion, and [2] the revealing of the man of lawlessness.

The Greek word “apostasia” in verse 3 is rendered by most modern translations as “the rebellion” or “the revolt.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it’s a word that can mean either [a] revolt (rebellion) or [b] defection/departure (falling away). Did Paul predict a spiritual falling away? This is a popular idea, but this word can also indicate a social or political rebellion. We know from the Jewish historian Josephus and other sources that in AD 66 AD a large-scale rebellion rose up in Israel through the efforts of the Zealots, leading to Rome declaring war on Israel. This rebellion began about 14 years after Paul wrote this letter, although the seeds of that rebellion were already taking root by the time of Paul’s writings and there had been smaller outbreaks even earlier. So in verse 3, Paul made the argument that Christ’s coming in judgment against Israel would not take place before the great rebellion led by the Zealots had already begun.

What is the significance of the title “man of lawlessness”? Some may be tempted to simply see this man as a reckless leader with no regard for local or international laws. However, the “law” that was held in the highest regard in Paul’s world was the Mosaic Law, the Law of Moses. It’s very likely that Paul was saying that this man would trample on the Law of Moses and freely commit sins under the law. The fact that he would sit in the temple is another clue to the meaning of “lawlessness” because the temple was central to the practice of Mosaic Law. This would also confirm that he was revealed while the law was still being practiced (Hebrews 8:13), i.e. before the temple was destroyed in AD 70.

We can also note the close relationship between “lawlessness” and “rebellion” in these verses. The Zealots were about to lead a massive rebellion against Rome, and Paul’s readers knew this had been their goal for some time. So the man of lawlessness would naturally come from their ranks. Josephus, who chronicled that rebellion in Wars of the Jews, ran out of adjectives to describe how wicked it was and how profoundly the Zealots violated the Law for which they were supposed to be so zealous.

Verse 4 says that the man of lawlessness “opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God.” The temple known to the Thessalonians, and which was famous throughout the Roman Empire, was burned and destroyed in AD 70, only about 18 years after Paul wrote this letter. At the end of this study, we will look at what took place in the temple during its final years, and what I believe fulfilled this prophecy.

Briefly, though, I would like to address the popular belief that a third temple must soon be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and that a future antichrist figure will then be enthroned in that temple. Is there any way that the Thessalonian believers would have understood Paul’s words this way? They knew from Jesus’ own prophecies that the temple (the one they knew and most likely had visited) would be destroyed in their own generation (Matthew 23:29-24:1, 24:3, 24:34; Luke 19:41-44, Luke 21:5-33, etc.).

There are no clues in the text pointing to a different temple than that one being involved in this prophecy. How strange it would have been for them to think that Herod’s temple would later be replaced in order for a lawless individual to proclaim his divinity in a new temple. Even more strange would be the fact that they wouldn’t need to be concerned about him because he was many centuries away from appearing. Yet Paul clearly wrote to them about the lawless one as if he would directly impact their lives or the lives of those they cared about.

Such a rebuilt temple in the 21st century would also certainly not be “the temple of God.” Those who are trying to initiate this project today are hoping to resume old covenant sacrifices, which would be a rejection of Christ and His work on the cross. It’s a tragedy that many professing Christians in America today are passionate about seeing such a project come to pass in modern Israel and have donated millions of dollars to see it happen, even though it would raise tensions and could cause a major war to break out.

VERSES 5-7

Paul reminded the Thessalonians that he had already discussed with them in person about the man of sin, the coming rebellion, etc. (verse 5). We are not given many details of that earlier conversation. Apparently, Paul had privately discussed with them the identity of the man of lawlessness and the entity that was restraining him, because he says, “And YOU KNOW what is restraining him NOW so that he may be revealed in his time” (verse 6). This again points to a first-century fulfillment, as does Paul’s next statement: “For the mystery of lawlessness is ALREADY at work. Only he who NOW restrains it will do so until he is out of the way” (verse 7).

James Stuart Russell, whose book, “Parousia,” in 1878 has been cited favorably by Charles Spurgeon and (more recently) R.C. Sproul, wrote the following about the immediate relevance of this subject to the Thessalonians (p. 179):

“Is it not obvious that whoever the man of sin may be, he must be someone with whom the apostle [Paul] and his readers had to do? Is he not writing to living men about matters in which they are intensely interested? Why should he delineate the features of this mysterious personage to the Thessalonians if he was one with whom the Thessalonians had nothing to do, from whom they had nothing to fear, and who would not be revealed for ages yet to come? It is clear that he speaks of one whose influence was already beginning to be felt, and whose unchecked and lawless fury would [before] long burst forth

The Mystery of Lawlessness

I would like to suggest that the “mystery of lawlessness” was a reference to the Zealot movement which had been gaining steam since Hezekiah the Zealot rose up in 47 BC, and especially since his son, Judas the Galilean (Acts 5:37), led a failed rebellion in AD 6. (See this post for a detailed overview of that movement and its key leaders.) The goal of this movement was to regain for Israel the full independence which had been won by the Maccabees from 164 – 142 BC, but which was lost after Pompey the Great invaded in 63 BC and Herod the Great began to rule over Judea in 37 BC. Their long-planned rebellion finally exploded into a full-scale war around August AD 66, according to Josephus (Wars 2.17.2), and it resulted in Jerusalem being filled with abominations (Wars 2.17.10).

The Restrainer

I would also like to suggest that the restrainer was, collectively, the Jewish high priests who led the peace movement in Jerusalem. Josephus, in Wars of the Jews, wrote a great deal about how they were a thorn in the side to the Zealots, at times preventing the Zealots from fully doing as they pleased. When the Jewish-Roman War began in AD 66, this peace movement was led by Ananus ben Ananus and Jesus ben Gamaliel. Their long speeches against the Zealots can be seen in Wars 4.3.10 and Wars 4.4.3. Josephus said that Ananus “preferred peace above all things,” was “a shrewd man in speaking and persuading the people,” and “had already gotten the mastery of those who opposed his designs or were for the war” (Wars 4.5.2).

In late AD 67 the Zealots appointed a fake and completely unqualified high priest, Phannias, who essentially became their puppet (Wars 4.3.6-8). At this point, the people of Jerusalem “could no longer bear the insolence of this procedure, but did altogether run zealously, in order to overthrow that tyranny…” (Wars 4.3.9). In the speech of Ananus (Wars 4.3.10), he pledged to lead the people in an all-or-nothing attack against the Zealots, not sparing his own body. Ananus and his followers actually gained the upper hand against the Zealots, forcing them into the inner temple and gaining control of the rest of the city (Wars 4.3.12), but their progress came undone because of the trickery of John Levi of Gischala (Wars 4.3.13-14). More details about what happened can be seen in this post.

Ananus and Jesus were both killed, along with other priests, during the Zealot Temple Siege of February-March AD 68. I believe this was when the restrainer was taken “out of the way.” Their deaths marked a significant turning point for Jerusalem, according to Josephus:

“I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city… to say all in a word, if Ananus had survived they had certainly compounded matters… And the Jews had then put abundance of delays in the way of the Romans, if they had had such a general as he was” (Wars 4.5.2).

After their deaths, the Zealots were unrestrained. They “fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats.” Others endured “terrible torments” before finally meeting their deaths. At least 12,000 died in that massacre (Wars 4.5.3). Josephus described how the Zealots increased their wickedness because the peace-loving high priests were no longer there to hinder them:

“[T]he zealots grew more insolent, not as deserted by their confederates, but as freed from such men as might hinder their designs, and put some stop to their wickedness. Accordingly they made no longer any delay, nor took any deliberation in their enormous practices, but made use of the shortest methods for all their executions, and what they had once resolved upon, they put in practice sooner than anyone could imagine…” (Wars 4.6.1).

VERSE 8

Paul said that once the restrainer was “taken out of the way” (verse 7), “the lawless one [would] be revealed, whom the Lord [would] consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (verse 8; NKJV). Do the words “will consume…and destroy” mean that the lawless one would be killed? Or, as John Noe suggested in a 2002 article, is it possible that they meant something other than immediate death? This is an important question to consider as we look at a couple of candidates for the man of lawlessness at the end of this article.

The Greek word rendered as “consume” in verse 8 is “analisko.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it means “to use up, i.e. destroy: consume.” It’s used two other times in the New Testament: Luke 9:54 and Galatians 5:15. Vine’s Expository Dictionary offers the following explanation for this word:  

“to use up, spend up, especially in a bad sense, to destroy,” is said of the destruction of persons, (a) literally, Luke 9:54 and the RV marg. of 2 Thessalonians 2:8 (text, “shall slay”); (b) metaphorically, Galatians 5:15 “(that) ye be not consumed (one of another).”

The Greek word rendered as “destroy” above is “katargeo.” According to Strong’s Concordance, it means “to be (render) entirely idle (useless), lit. or fig.:-abolish, cease, cumber, deliver, destroy, do away, become (make) of no (none, without) effect, fail, loose, bring (come) to nought, put away (down), vanish away, make void.” The Vine’s entry for this word can be seen here (redirected from here).

Different Bible versions vary in how they translate these two Greek words that describe what would happen to the lawless one. The following chart is based on the 25 versions listed at Bible Hub:

BIBLE VERSION

TRANSLATION OF “ANALISKO”

TRANSLATION OF “KATARGEO”

1. New International Version Overthrow Destroy
2. New Living Translation Kill Destroy
3. English Standard Version Kill Bring to nothing
4. Berean Study Bible Slay Abolish
5. Berean Literal Bible Consume Annul
6. New American Standard Bible Slay Bring to an end
7. King James Bible Consume Destroy
8. Holman Christian Standard Bible Destroy Bring to nothing
9. International Standard Version Destroy Rendering him powerless
10. NET Bible Destroy Wipe out
11. New Heart English Bible Kill Destroy
12. Aramaic Bible in Plain English Consume Destroy
13. God’s Word Translation Destroy Put an end to
14. New American Standard 1977 Slay Bring to an end
15. Jubilee Bible 2000 Consume Remove
16. King James 2000 Bible Consume Destroy
17. American King James Version Consume Destroy
18. American Standard Version Slay Bring to nought
19. Douay-Rheims Bible Kill Destroy
20. Darby Bible Translation Consume Annul
21. English Revised Version Slay Bring to nought
22. Webster’s Bible Translation Consume Destroy
23. Weymouth New Testament Sweep away Utterly overwhelm
24. World English Bible Kill Destroy
25. Young’s Literal Translation Consume Destroy

Here are the results from these 25 Bible versions:

Analisko

Katargeo

Consume (9x) Destroy (11x)
Kill (5x) Bring to nothing/nought (4x)
Slay (5x) Bring to an end/put an end to (3x)
Destroy (4x) Annul (2x)
Overthrow (4x) Abolish (1x)
Sweep away (1x) Remove (1x)
Rendering him powerless (1x)
Utterly overwhelm (1x)
Wipe out (1x)

VERSES 9-12

Paul said in verses 9-12 that the coming of the lawless one would be accompanied by power, signs, lying wonders, the working of Satan, and unrighteous deception. God would also send delusion to those who “did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”

In Antiquities of the Jews and Wars of the Jews, Josephus wrote about a phenomenon taking place in the Jewish world before and during the Jewish-Roman War, especially in Judea and Galilee. During this time, said Josephus, there were “a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants [Zealots] to impose on the people.” Here Josephus described the close working relationship between the Zealots and false prophets. Many of the people, he said, were persuaded “by these deceivers,” who were “such as belied God himself” (Wars 6.5.2-3).

In Antiquities 20.8.6 Josephus wrote the following about numerous false prophets who deceived the Jews during the time of the Procurators Felix (52-58 AD) and Festus (59-62 AD). He mentioned their lying wonders, and showed that they shared the war agenda of the Zealots:

“These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God… And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them.”

In Wars 2.13.4-6 Josephus wrote more about the various false prophets and deceivers who worked on behalf of the Zealots to persuade the people to revolt. They “deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration” and “prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen.” In Wars 7.11.1 Josephus wrote about one of the Sicarii (a branch of the Zealots) who led many astray with his promises of signs and wonders:

“And now did the madness of the Sicarii, like a disease, reach as far as the cities of Cyrene; for one Jonathan, a vile person, and by trade a weaver, came thither and prevailed with no small number of the poorer sort to give ear to him; he also led them into the desert, upon promising them that he would show them signs and apparitions. And as for the other Jews of Cyrene, he concealed his knavery from them, and put tricks upon them.”

Jonathan also “taught the Sicarii to accuse men falsely” (Wars 7.11.2), which was a work of Satan (Revelation 12:10).

Other sources could also be called upon, such as “The Zealots” by Martin Hengel, but these citations should be enough to show that the rebellion led by the Zealots was indeed accompanied by deception, lying wonders, magic and tricks, false prophets, claims of signs and wonders, and the working of Satan.

Top Two Candidates for the Man of Lawlessness

In this passage, Paul specifically stated that the man of lawlessness was one who:

[1] “opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (verse 4);
[2] “the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (verse 8).

During the Jewish-Roman War, there were two Zealot leaders who took their place in the temple:

[1] The first one made the temple, including the inner court, his headquarters for about 3.5 years (from the fall of AD 66 until April AD 70). He was killed in Jerusalem in AD 70. That was Eleazar ben Simon.
[2] The second one took over the inner court about five months before the temple was destroyed, precisely when the Roman general, Titus, arrived and began his siege against Jerusalem (from April – August AD 70). He was captured, taken to Rome, and sentenced to life in prison. That was John Levi of Gischala.

Source: Mark Mountjoy, New Testament Open University (June 9, 2015)

The following is a profile of both of these men and their careers as leaders of the Zealot movement.

Eleazar ben Simon

Eleazar ben Simon came from a priestly family (Wars 4.4.1.225) and was the nephew of Simon Bar Giora (Wars 6.4.1). Eleazar was first introduced by Josephus in Wars 2.20.3 as a war hero in the victory over Cestius Gallus in November AD 66. According to Josephus, he “had gotten into his possession the prey they had taken from the Romans, and the money they had taken from Cestius, together with a great part of the public treasures.”

Soon after this victory, the rebels appointed 10 “generals for the war” (Wars 2.20.3-4). Josephus spoke of Eleazar ben Simon as a natural choice for one of those positions due to his bravery and success in the battle against Cestius Gallus. Instead he was kept out of that office because of his terrible temper and the extreme loyalty of his followers, but he managed to become the main leader of the Zealots anyway:

“They did not ordain Eleazar the son of Simon to that office… because they saw he was of a tyrannical temper; and that his followers were, in their behavior, like guards about him. However, the want they were in of Eleazar’s money, and the tricks by him, brought all so about, that the people were circumvented, and submitted themselves to his authority in all public affairs” (Wars 2.20.3).

This was still true almost 1.5 years later, in early AD 68. Josephus said that among the Zealot leaders, he was “the most plausible man, both in considering what was fit to be done, and in the execution of what he had determined upon” (Wars 4.4.1). Eleazar joined forces with John Levi at this time, and, after killing Ananus ben Ananus and other high priests in February-March AD 68 AD, together they seized control of the entire city of Jerusalem (Wars 4.4.1 – 4.6.3).

Eleazar made the temple his headquarters for nearly 3.5 years, from late AD 66 until he was defeated by John Levi’s forces in mid-April AD 70. Josephus said that it was “Eleazar, the son of Simon, who made the first separation of the zealots from the people, and made them retire into the temple” (Wars 5.1.2). Around December AD 67, Eleazar and the other Zealots made the sanctuary of the temple “a shop of tyranny” by casting lots to select a fake high priest named Phannias. He was chosen against his will from a village in the countryside, fitted with “a counterfeit face” and the sacred garments, and “upon every occasion [they] instructed him what he was to do” (Wars 4.3.6-8).

In the spring of AD 69, Eleazar “was desirous of gaining the entire power and dominion to himself” and he “revolted from John [Levi].” He and his followers “seized upon the inner court of the temple” and made use of the sacred things in there (Wars 5.1.2). At this time, he led one of three Zealot factions, with the other factions being led by John Levi and Simon Bar Giora (Wars 5.1.1, 4; Revelation 16:19).

Eleazar ben Simon was tricked and defeated by John Levi’s forces in mid-April AD 70, just as the Roman general Titus began his siege. This happened at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Eleazar opened the gates to the inner court of the temple

“and admitted such of the people as were desirous to worship God into it. But John made use of this festival as a cloak for his treacherous designs, and armed the most inconsiderable of his own party, the greater part of whom were not purified, with weapons concealed under their garments, and sent them with great zeal into the temple, in order to seize upon it; which armed men, when they were gotten in, threw their garments away, and presently appeared in their armor… These followers of John also did now seize upon this inner temple, and upon all the warlike engines therein, and then ventured to oppose Simon. And thus that sedition, which had been divided into three factions, was now reduced to two” (Wars 5.3.1).

After this treachery, Josephus records that Eleazar ben Simon’s 2,400 men stopped opposing John Levi and joined forces with him, but Eleazar remained as their commander:

“John, who had siezed upon the temple, had six thousand armed men, under twenty commanders; the zealots also that had come to him, and left off their opposition, were two thousand four hundred, and had the same commander that they had formerly, Eleazar, together with Simon the son of Arinus” (Wars 5.6.1.250). 

Eleazar ben Simon is mentioned one last time in Wars of the Jews. Josephus described the state of affairs as of the 8th of Av (late July or early August) in AD 70 when two of the Roman legions completed their banks. Josephus mentioned that Eleazar was still involved in the fighting at this time: “Of the seditious, those that had fought bravely in the former battles did the like now, as besides them did Eleazar, the brother’s son of Simon the tyrant” (Wars 6.4.1).

Eleazar’s death is not mentioned in Wars of the Jews, but there is also no mention of his survival or capture (unlike the other two main Zealot leaders, John Levi and Simon Bar Giora). Various online sources seem to be unanimous that Eleazar died in AD 70 around the time when the temple was burned and destroyed.

John Levi of Gischala

John Levi was from Gischala in Galilee. Josephus wrote extensively about him in his book, “The Life of Flavius Josephus.” John was not a Zealot from the beginning. At one point, when the people of Gischala wanted to revolt against the Romans, John tried to restrain them and he urged them to “keep their allegiance to [the Romans]. However, Gischala was then attacked, set on fire, and demolished by non-Jews from neighboring regions. At that point, John became enraged, “armed all his men,” joined the battle, but also rebuilt Gischala “after a better manner than before, and fortified it with walls for its future security” (Life 10.43-45).

In Wars of the Jews, John was first mentioned in Wars 2.21.1 as “a treacherous person,” a “hypocritical pretender to humanity,” and as one who “spared not the shedding of blood” and “had a peculiar knack of thieving.” According to Josephus, John gathered together a band of four hundred men mostly from Tyre, who were greatly skilled “in martial affairs,” and they “laid waste all Galilee.” These things took place while Josephus was “engaged in the administration of the affairs of Galilee,” beginning around December AD 66, since he had been appointed as a general for the war (Wars 2.20.3-4).

Josephus said that John Levi became wealthy through an oil scheme, and he also wanted to “overthrow Josephus” and “obtain the government of Galilee” for himself. He had a number of “robbers” under his command. He spread a rumor that Josephus was planning to give Galilee to the Romans and engaged in other plots against him (Wars 2.21.2), including a murder attempt that Josephus barely escaped (Wars. 2.21.6).

John escaped to Jerusalem in November AD 67, a year and three months after the Jewish-Roman War began. He and his followers immediately told tall tales about their fight with the Romans at Gischala:

“Now upon John’s entry into Jerusalem, the whole body of the people were in an uproar, and ten thousand of them crowded about every one of the fugitives that were come to them, and inquired of them what miseries had happened abroad, when their breath was so short, and hot, and quick, that of itself it declared the great distress they were in; yet did they talk big under their misfortunes, and pretended to say that they had not fled away from the Romans, but came thither in order to fight them with less hazard; for that it would be an unreasonable and a fruitless thing for them to expose themselves to desperate hazards about Gischala, and such weak cities, whereas they ought to lay up their weapons and their zeal, and reserve it for their metropolis. But when they related to them the taking of Gischala, and their decent departure, as they pretended, from that place, many of the people understood it to be no better than a flight; and especially when the people were told of those that were made captives, they were in great confusion, and guessed those things to be plain indications that they should be taken also. But for John, he was very little concerned for those whom he had left behind him, but went about among all the people, and persuaded them to go to war, by the hopes he gave them. He affirmed that the affairs of the Romans were in a weak condition, and extolled his own power. He also jested upon the ignorance of the unskillful, as if those Romans, although they should take to themselves wings, could never fly over the wall of Jerusalem, who found such great difficulties in taking the villages of Galilee, and had broken their engines of war against their walls.

These harangues of John’s corrupted a great part of the young men, and puffed them up for the war; but as to the more prudent part, and those in years, there was not a man of them but foresaw what was coming, and made lamentation on that account, as if the city was already undone; and in this confusion were the people…” (Wars 4.3.1-2).

Soon after this, Phannias was chosen by lots and installed as a fake high priest and a puppet of the Zealots (Wars 4.3.6-8). Ananus ben Ananus and the other priests shed tears as they watched this mockery take place. Ananus gathered a multitude of the people and gave a speech rebuking them for allowing the Zealots to fill the temple with abominations, plunder houses, shed the blood of innocent people, etc. Ananus said that nothing they could undergo from the Romans would be harder to bear than what the Zealots had already brought upon them. He urged them to rise up together against the Zealots, and said that he was willing to die leading them in that effort (Wars 4.3.10).

Ananus and his followers attacked the Zealots and tried to trap many of them in the temple complex (Wars 4.3.12). John Levi pretended to share their opinion and “at a distance was the adviser in these actions.” He consulted with Ananus and other moderate leaders every day and “cultivated the greatest friendship possible with Ananus, but “he divulged their secrets to the zealots.” His deceit became so great that “Ananus and his party believed his oath” to them, and “sent him as their ambassador into the temple to the zealots, with proposals of accommodation” (Wars 4.3.13).

John betrayed Ananus and falsely claimed that he had invited the Roman general, Vespasian, to conquer Jerusalem (Wars 4.3.14). In response, the Zealot leaders, Eleazar ben Simon and Zacharias ben Phalek, requested help from the Idumeans, who lived south of Judea, and the Idumeans quickly prepared an army of 20,000 directed by four commanders (Wars 4.4.2). The day they arrived (in late February AD 68) they were prevented from entering the city, but the next day they managed to hunt down and kill Ananus and Jesus (Wars 4.5.2).

As part of the unrestrained behavior of the Zealots after the death of Ananus, John Levi began to tyrannize, didn’t want anyone to be his equal, and gradually put together “a party of the most wicked” of all the Zealots and started his own faction (Wars 4.7.1). By the time that there were “three treacherous factions in the city” (Wars 5.1.4), John had the second largest contingent of Zealot fighters (Wars 5.6.1):

[1] Simon Bar Giora: 10,000 men and 50 commanders; 5000 Idumeans and eight commanders
[2] John Levi: 6,000 men and 20 commanders
[3] Eleazar ben Simon: 2,400 men

As we’ve already seen, John’s forces tricked and killed Eleazar ben Simon in mid-April AD 70 (Wars 5.3.1), just as Titus was laying siege to Jerusalem. He then had access to the inner court of the temple and didn’t hesitate to commit sacrilegious acts during the siege (fulfilling Revelation 6:6):

“But as for John, when he could no longer plunder the people, he betook himself to sacrilege, and melted down many of the sacred utensils, which had been given to the temple; as also many of those vessels which were necessary for such as ministered about holy things, the caldrons, the dishes, and the tables; nay, he did not abstain from those pouring vessels that were sent them by Augustus and his wife; for the Roman emperors did ever both honor and adorn this temple; whereas this man, who was a Jew, seized upon what were the donations of foreigners, and said to those that were with him, that it was proper for them to use Divine things, while they were fighting for the Divinity, without fear, and that such whose warfare is for the temple should live of the temple; on which account he emptied the vessels of that sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt-offerings, and which lay in the inner court of the temple, and distributed it among the multitude, who, in their anointing themselves and drinking, used [each of them] above an hin of them” (Wars 5.13.6).

Toward the end of the siege, as Jerusalem was on fire, John joined “the tyrants and that crew of robbers” whose last hope was to hide “in the caves and caverns underground” (Wars 6.7.3; Revelation 6:15-17). Due to great hunger, he surrendered to the Romans, was taken captive, and was “condemned to perpetual imprisonment” (Wars 6.9.4). Among the captives who were carried off to Italy for a triumphal parade, John was considered to be their second leader, after Simon Bar Giora, “the general of the enemy” (Wars 7.5.3, Wars 7.5.6).

Summary and Conclusion

The Thessalonians were told by Paul that before Christ would come, a rebellion would begin and the man of lawlessness would be revealed (verses 1-3). Paul told them that “the mystery of lawlessness” was already at work in their first century world (verse 7). They were also told that something was restraining it (verse 7) and that they knew what it was (verse 6). Paul kept these details to a minimum in his letter because he was reminding them of what he had already told them in person about these things (verse 5). The man of lawlessness would exalt himself above God, sit “as God” in the temple (verse 4), and his coming would be accompanied by power, signs, lying wonders, deception, and the working of Satan (verses 9-12). However, at the Lord’s coming, the man of lawlessness would be consumed and destroyed (verse 8).

The Zealots had been planning a rebellion for about 100 years when Paul wrote his letter, and smaller uprisings had already taken place. Their grand rebellion began in AD 66 and one of their leaders, Eleazar ben Simon, took his place in the temple at that time, even controlling the inner court. Under his watch, many abominations took place, much blood was shed, the sacred temple items were abused, and a fake high priest was installed. When Titus and the Romans arrived in April AD 70, another Zealot leader, John Levi, tricked him and took his place in the inner court of the temple, committing abuses there as well. During and before the rebellion, according to Josephus, the activities of the Zealots and their close partners, the false prophets, were marked by deception, lying wonders, magic and tricks, and the working of Satan. Around August AD 70, John was captured and then given a life sentence in a Roman prison, but Eleazar was killed.

I personally lean toward Eleazar ben Simon being the man of lawlessness because [1] he made the temple his central command post for the entire first half of the Jewish-Roman War (3.5 years) [2] he oversaw so many lawless acts in the temple for an extended period of time, and [3] he was killed at the time of the temple’s destruction. What are your thoughts?

A PDF version of this study can be accessed and downloaded here: II Thessalonians 2 and the Man of Lawlessness.

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An Overview of the Zealot Movement and 12 Key Leaders (PDF Format)


Below I have provided a 32 page downloadable PDF of a study titled, “An Overview of the Zealot Movement and 12 Key Leaders.” I believe this information is valuable not only for understanding Jewish history around the time of Christ, but also for a better understanding of:

  • the man of lawlessness of II Thessalonians 2
  • Daniel 7
  • and the book of Revelation

This study is adapted from a previous post, “Revelation 13:3 and the Wounded Head of the Zealot Movement.The following is an outline of the study you can find in the PDF below:

Outline

A. Introduction                                                                                                    Page 1
B. An Overview of the Zealot Movement                                                          Page 2
C. Hezekiah the Zealot and His Family Dynasty                                               Page 4
D. 12 Key Leaders (from 47 BC to AD 73)                                                         Page 6
            1. Hezekiah (47 BC)                                                                                 Page 7
            2. Judas the Galilean (Hezekiah’s Son) and Zadok (AD 6)                    Page 8
            3. Jacob, Simon, and Jair (Sons of Judas)                                               Page 11
            4. Eleazar ben Ananias (AD 66)                                                              Page 12
            5. Eleazar ben Jair (AD 66 – 73)                                                              Page 14
            6. Menahem (AD 66)                                                                                Page 16
            7. Eleazar ben Simon  (AD 66 – 70)                                                        Page 19
            8. John Levi of Gischala (AD 66 – 70)                                                     Page 21
            9. Simon Bar Giora (AD 66 – 70)                                                            Page 24
E. The Wounded Head of the Beast                                                                  Page 30

Here is a downloadable PDF of this study. Please feel free to share it with others:

An Overview of the Zealot Movement and 12 Key Leaders (by Adam Maarschalk)

Who Can Make War with the Beast? (Revelation 13:4)


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

Review of Rev. 13:3

In the previous post we looked at Revelation 13:3 and the deadly wound of one of the beast’s heads. That post included an extensive overview of the Zealot movement and 12 key leaders of that movement, and I proposed that the seven heads belonged to the family dynasty of Hezekiah the Zealot.

There are also seven kings. Five have fallen 1. Hezekiah (47 BC)
  2. Judas of Galilee (led rebellion from AD 6-8)
  3. Jacob (son of Judas; crucified around AD 47)
  4. Simon (son of Judas; crucified around AD 47)
  5. Jair (son of Judas; father of Eleazar)
one is 6. Eleazar ben Jair (rebel leader from AD 66-73)
and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time” (Rev. 17:10). 7. Menahem (rebel leader for only a month in AD 66)

I also proposed that the wounded head was Menahem, who came “in the state of a king to Jerusalem” in late August AD 66 and quickly became the leader of the Jewish revolt (Wars 2.17.8). Menahem masterminded a series of victories for the Zealots, had the support of most of Jerusalem’s population (Martin Hengel, The Zealots, p. 363), and was probably “the only man possessing the necessary authority and experience to organize a lasting resistance to the Romans” (Hengel, p. 365). However, he was killed only a month later and many of his followers left Jerusalem and went to Masada. Menahem’s death weakened the Zealots and strengthened the moderate forces who wanted to compromise with Rome.

The Beast’s Great Recovery

Here is what Revelation 13:3-4 says about the healing of the beast’s head wound and the dramatic reaction throughout the land of Israel (note that some translations say “earth” or “land” rather than “world”):

3 “And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast, saying, ‘Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?’”

Verse 3 begins with the devastating death of one of the beast’s heads, but ends with a dramatic recovery that amazes the people and solidifies their loyalty to the beast. Before Menahem’s death the Zealots boldly carried out the following acts of war:

  • The massacre of the Roman garrison at Masada by the Zealots
  • The massacre of the Roman garrison at the Antonia Fortress in Jerusalem by the Zealots

Such acts certainly invited the retaliation of the Romans. This was no time for the Zealots to lose their most capable leader, Menahem, but that’s what happened. Then two months later their movement received new life when the following took place:

  • The Zealots achieved a stunning victory over the forces of the Syrian general, Cestius Gallus, who was commissioned by Rome to crush the Jewish rebellion.
  • Eleazar ben Simon and his uncle, Simon Bar Giora, emerged as war heroes – especially Simon Bar Giora who was regarded by many as “their king” (Wars 4.9.4; Wars 7.2.2) just like Menahem was.

Why does Revelation 13:4 apply to Israel so much better than it could possibly apply to Rome? Here’s what we see when we look at the big picture:

1. The beast would be recognized as a victor of war. “Who is able to make war with him?” (Rev. 13:4).
2. The beast would then receive authority to continue for 42 months and overcome the saints (Rev. 13:5-7).
3. The beast would then be captured and killed by the sword (Rev. 13:10).
4. The beast would ultimately end up in the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20) and the birds would be filled with the flesh of his followers (Rev. 19:21).

If we examine any historical overview of the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66 – AD 73), what will we see? Who started out victorious but ended up in misery and defeat? Was it Rome, or was it Israel? The reality is that Rome was embarrassed at the beginning of the war, but was thoroughly victorious in the end. Israel shocked everyone at the beginning with its victories, but was brutally destroyed in the end. Israel, not Rome, followed the pattern outlined above. Let’s take a closer look now at those initial victories.

Romans Massacred at Masada and Jerusalem

According to Josephus, the war officially began in August AD 66 when the governor of the temple, Eleazar ben Ananias, “persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner.” At the same time, 60 miles away from Jerusalem, the Zealots “made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery, and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it” (Wars 2.17.2). Days later they joined with the Sicarii and burned the house of the high priest (Ananias), the palaces of Agrippa and Bernice, and the city archives (Wars 2.17.6). The next day “they made an assault upon Antonia, and besieged the garrison which was in it two days, and then took the garrison, and slew them, and set the citadel on fire” (Wars 2.17.7). These things took place before the death of Menahem.

On the same day that Menahem was killed, the Zealots tricked the remaining Roman soldiers in Jerusalem into laying down their weapons, taking an oath to spare their lives. As soon as the Romans were unarmed, the Zealots violently murdered all of them, except for one person who promised to become a Jew and be circumcised (Wars 2.17.10). This was in September AD 66. For the first time since 63 BC, when Pompey the Great invaded Judea, Jerusalem had no Roman presence. Except for the brief appearance of Cestius Gallus’ armies two months later, it would remain that way for the next 3.5 years until Titus arrived in April AD 70.  

The Shocking Defeat of Cestius Gallus

In the two months that followed the death of Menahem, some of the surrounding nations and cities turned on the Jews who lived among them. Tens of thousands of Jews were killed in Caesarea, Alexandria, Scythopolis, Syria, and other places (Wars 2.18.1-9). The Syrian general Cestius Gallus also came into Galilee with the 12th legion and other Roman forces and began to subdue that nation (Wars 2.18.9-2.19.1). He then approached Jerusalem while the Feast of Tabernacles was taking place. This was in November AD 66 and by this time the people of Jerusalem “were kept under by the seditious” (Wars 2.19.4), meaning that they were under the control of the Zealots.

While Cestius Gallus and his forces were still about six miles from Jerusalem, some of the Jews left the feast and preemptively attacked the Romans, killing 515 of them. Only 22 Jews were killed in that battle. Simon Bar Giora also attacked the Roman armies from behind while they were retreating and he “carried off many of the beasts that carded the weapons of war” (Wars 2.19.2).

Three days later Cestius Gallus launched an attack against Jerusalem. According to Josephus, he had at least two opportunities to capture the city and end the revolt, but he failed to do so. Five days later, Cestius Gallus retreated from the city “without any reason in the world” (Wars 2.19.7) and the Zealots chased after his armies. They attacked the rear “and destroyed a considerable number of both their horsemen and footmen” before chasing them much further and scoring additional victories. The ancient history site, Livius, gives this summary of what happened:

“In October 66, the governor of Judaea, Gessius Florus, needed military support to regain control of Jerusalem. The Twelfth [Roman Legion Fulminata] (supported by subunits from IIII Scythica and VI Ferrata) came, saw, and returned, when its commander saw that his force was not strong enough. On his way back, he was defeated by one of the leaders of the Jewish Zealots, Eleaser son of Simon. Humiliation was added to the disgrace: the legion lost its eagle standard.”

In the end the Zealots “themselves lost a few only,” but killed 5,680 of the Romans. They captured the war engines of the Romans “and came back running and singing to their metropolis,” i.e. Jerusalem (Wars 2.19.9). This is when they “got together in great numbers in the temple, and appointed a great many generals for the war” (Wars 2.20.3-4), and 10 main generals in particular.

After this defeat, Cestius Gallus sent men to Nero, who was in Achaia (Greece) “to inform him of the great distress they were in” (Wars 2.20.1). In his Preface to Wars of the Jews (Preface 8.21), Josephus wrote that “Nero, upon Cestius’s defeat, was in fear of the entire event of the war,” and in Wars 3.1.1 he said that “when Nero was informed of the Romans’ ill success in Judea, a concealed consternation and terror, as is usual in such cases, fell upon him.”

In another book, Josephus wrote that the Zealots “were so far elevated with this success that they had hopes of finally conquering the Romans” (Life 6.24). Similarly, he said this in Wars 3.2.1:

“Now the Jews, after they had beaten Cestius, were so much elevated with their unexpected success, that they could not govern their zeal, but, like people blown up into a flame by their good fortune, carried the war to remoter places.”

Like a Return to the Maccabean Era

To those hungry for war, it apparently seemed as if they had entered a new “Maccabean Era,” and that they were about to relive the time when the Maccabees gained full independence for Israel. Perhaps the greatest moment in the Zealots’ victory over Cestius Gallus and his armies occurred at the Bethoron Pass, where the Zealots trapped the Romans and attacked them at both ends of the pass. According to Josephus, they even could have “taken Cestius’s entire army prisoners” if the sun hadn’t set (Wars 2.19.8). About 230 years earlier, a similar battle had been fought at the same location with the Maccabees emerging victorious. The Jewish Encyclopedia, in a 1906 article written by Kaufmann Kohler, pointed out this same parallel:

“…the Romans were everywhere over-powered and annihilated, Simon bar Giora being one of the heroic leaders whom none could resist. The whole army of Cestius, who had brought twelve legions from Antioch to retrieve the defeat of the Roman garrison, was annihilated by the Zealots under the leadership of Bar Giora and Eleazar ben Simon the priest. The Maccabean days seemed to have returned; and the patriots of Jerusalem celebrated the year 66 as the year of Israel’s deliverance from Rome, and commemorated it with coins bearing the names of Eleazar the priest and Simon the prince

The year 67 saw the beginning of the great war with the Roman legions, first under Vespasian and then under Titus; and Galilee was at the outset chosen as the seat of war. The Zealots fought with almost superhuman powers against warriors trained in countless battles waged in all parts of the known world, and when they succumbed to superior military skill and overwhelming numbers, often only after some act of treachery within the Jewish camp, they died with a fortitude and a spirit of heroic martyrdom which amazed and overawed their victors.”

Mi Kamokha Ba’elim Hashem

Another parallel to the Maccabees may connect directly with the words John used in Revelation 13:4 (“Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”). Eliezer Segal, a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Calgary, writes about an explanation behind the name “Maccabee” which is commonly taught in Jewish education:

“…many of us were taught in school that the name Maccabee is an acronym for the Biblical verse Mi kamokha ba’elim Hashem, ‘Who is like unto thee among the mighty, O Lord!’ As generations of schoolteachers have told the story, Judah [Maccabee] carried these inspiring words upon his standard as he marched off to battle.”

Rabbi Ken Spiro, a licensed tour guide with the Israel Ministry of Tourism, adds that this expression is both an acronym for “Maccabee” and “the battle cry of the Jewish people.” Attributed to Judah Maccabee around 165 BC, this expression is strikingly similar to the expression used in Revelation 13:4 concerning the beast. It’s very possible that Revelation 13:4 reflected the excited hope that the Zealots were about to obtain full independence for Judea the way the Maccabees did about 230 years before their time.

A year after the victory over Cestius Gallus, another Zealot leader breathed more life into the idea that Israel and Jerusalem were invincible and that it was a matter of time before independence would be theirs once again. In November AD 67 John of Gischala came to Jerusalem after escaping his town of Gischala, which was captured by the Romans, and he soon became a main leader of the Zealots there. John pretended that he and his men had not fled from the Romans, but that they had merely intended to join the fight for Jerusalem. John then gave many of the Jews hope that the Romans were weak, ignorant, and unskilled, and that they barely managed to capture the villages of Galilee. John proclaimed that the Romans could never fly over the walls of Jerusalem and capture their city:

“But for John, he…went about among all the people, and persuaded them to go to war, by the hopes he gave them. He affirmed that the affairs of the Romans were in a weak condition, and extolled his own power. He also jested upon the ignorance of the unskillful, as if those Romans, although they should take to themselves wings, could never fly over the wall of Jerusalem, who found such great difficulties in taking the villages of Galilee, and had broken their engines of war against their walls. These harangues of John’s corrupted a great part of the young men, and puffed them up for the war…” (Wars 4.3.1-2).

———————————–

In the next post we will look at Revelation 13:5-8 and the 42 months that the beast made war with the saints and had authority over every tribe, tongue, and nation.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

Revelation 13:3 and the Wounded Head of the Zealot Movement


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

In the previous post we looked at Revelation 13:1-2. We considered how the beast in John’s day had Babylonian, Persian, and Greek traits. We also looked at how the Zealots and Jewish leaders in the first century followed the same pattern as Satan, who gave his power, throne, and authority to the beast. They frequently accused others, especially the brethren, just like Satan did (Rev. 12:10).

This post will examine Revelation 13:3 and the wounded head, and it includes an extensive overview of the Zealot movement and 12 key leaders of that movement. This is a long post, but even if you disagree that Zealot-led Israel was the beast of Revelation, I believe you’ll find it to be resourceful and informative.

Revelation 13:3

I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.”

The seven heads of the beast are first mentioned in Revelation 13:1, and are later spoken of in more detail in Revelation 17:9-11. Here in verse 3, John tells his readers that one of those heads would be mortally wounded. Although I would prefer to wait until we reach Revelation 17 to discuss the seven heads, it’s necessary to do so at this point in order to try to identify the wounded head. It’s in Revelation 17 that John told his readers that:

  • five of the seven heads had already fallen;
  • one was;
  • one hadn’t come yet, and he would only “continue a short time”;
  • the beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.”

An Overview of the Zealots/Sicarii

In this post I will propose that the seven heads were seven leaders of the Zealot movement, which Josephus also called “the Fourth Philosophy.” While examining an overview of the movement and its key figureheads, we will consider who the seven heads of the beast were. My proposal is that they all belonged to the family dynasty of Hezekiah (mid-1st century BC) which dominated the Zealot movement for 120 years. This post will discuss the following Zealot/Sicarii leaders (members of Hezekiah’s family dynasty are in bold font):

1. Hezekiah (mid-1st century BC)
2. Judas the Galilean (early 1st century AD; son of Hezekiah)

3. Zadok the Pharisee (early 1st century AD: worked with Judas)
4. Jacob (mid-1st century AD; son of Judas)
5. Simon (mid-1st century AD; son of Judas)
6. Jair (mid-1st century AD; son of Judas)
7. Eleazar ben Ananias (AD 66)
8. Eleazar ben Jair (AD 66-73)
9. Menahem (AD 66; son or grandson of Judas)
10. Eleazar ben Simon (AD 66-70)
11. John Levi of Gischala (AD 66-70)
12. Simon Bar Giora (AD 66-70; uncle of Eleazar ben Simon)

Ray Vander Laan is an author and a teacher who “has been actively involved in studying and teaching Jewish culture” since 1976. In his book, “Life and Ministry of the Messiah,” he includes the following outline of the Zealot movement’s key leadership (p. 130). Even though Eleazar ben Simon, John Levi of Gischala, and Simon Bar Giora held positions of great power in Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War, Ray’s outline of the Zealot leadership is limited to the family dynasty of Hezekiah:

Here Ray lists seven Zealots, all within the family of Hezekiah, extending from 47 BC to AD 73, a period of 120 years:

  1. Hezekiah
    2. Judah (son of Hezekiah)
    3. Jacob (son of Judah)
    4. Simeon (son of Judah)
    5. Yair (son of Judah)
    6. Eleazar ben Yair
    7. Menahem

In 1961 Martin Hengel, a German historian and professor, published a book titled, “The Zealots: Investigations into the Jewish Freedom Movement in the Period from Herod I until 70 A.D.” Hengel listed these same seven Zealots on page 332 of his book, where he outlined “the dynasty that began with Hezekiah the ‘robber captain’”:

The Zealot movement is defined by Wikipedia as follows:

“The Zealots were originally a political movement in 1st century Second Temple Judaism which sought to incite the people of Judaea Province to rebel against the Roman Empire and expel it from the Holy Land by force of arms, most notably during the First Jewish–Roman War (66-70). Zealotry was the term used by Josephus for a ‘fourth sect’ during this period.”

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin (a Jewish scholar, lecturer, author, and senior associate of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership) gives the following summary of the political undercurrents which fueled the Zealots’ opposition toward Rome. This summary is adapted from his 1991 book, “Jewish Literacy,” and is archived at the Jewish Virtual Library:

No one could argue with the Jews for wanting to throw off Roman rule. Since the Romans had first occupied Israel in 63 B.C.E., their rule had grown more and more onerous. From almost the beginning of the Common Era, Judea was ruled by Roman procurators, whose chief responsibility was to collect and deliver an annual tax to the empire… Equally infuriating to the Judeans, Rome took over the appointment of the High Priest… As a result, the High Priests, who represented the Jews before God on their most sacred occasions, increasingly came from the ranks of Jews who collaborated with Rome…

The Jews’ anti-Roman feelings were seriously exacerbated during the reign of the half-crazed emperor Caligula, who in the year [AD] 39 declared himself to be a deity and ordered his statue to be set up at every temple in the Roman Empire. The Jews, alone in the empire, refused the command… Only the emperor’s sudden, violent death saved the Jews from wholesale massacre…

In the decades after Caligula’s death, Jews found their religion subject to periodic gross indignities, Roman soldiers exposing themselves in the Temple on one occasion, and burning a Torah scroll on another…

In the year 66, Florus, the last Roman procurator, stole vast quantities of silver from the Temple. The outraged Jewish masses rioted and wiped out the small Roman garrison stationed in Jerusalem. Cestius Gallus, the Roman ruler in neighboring Syria, sent in a larger force of soldiers. But the Jewish insurgents routed them as well. This was a heartening victory that had a terrible consequence: Many Jews suddenly became convinced that they could defeat Rome, and the Zealots’ ranks grew geometrically…

When the Romans returned, they had 60,000 heavily armed and highly professional troops. They launched their first attack against the Jewish state’s most radicalized area, the Galilee in the north [in 67 AD]. The Romans vanquished the Galilee, and an estimated 100,000 Jews were killed or sold into slavery… The highly embittered refugees who succeeded in escaping the Galilean massacres fled to the last major Jewish stronghold—Jerusalem. There, they killed anyone in the Jewish leadership who was not as radical as they. Thus, all the more moderate Jewish leaders who headed the Jewish government at the revolt’s beginning in 66 were dead by 68—and not one died at the hands of a Roman. All were killed by fellow Jews… The scene was now set for the revolt’s final catastrophe.

Zealots and Sicarii

The Sicarii were famous for hiding their daggers in their cloaks and using them to secretly target their enemies during the festivals (Antiquities 20.8.10). Some sources make a sharp distinction between the Zealots and the Sicarii, while others do not. It seems fair to say that the Sicarii were part of the Zealot movement, but not all Zealots were Sicarii. Thus, “Zealot” was an umbrella term for the revolutionaries who rebelled against Rome.

Some sources say that those who belonged to the family dynasty of Hezekiah were all Sicarii. Wikipedia designates the Sicarii as “a splinter group of the Jewish Zealots.” The Sicarii are mentioned in Acts 21:38, where Paul was asked if he was the Egyptian who had led 4000 assassins (or “dagger-bearers”) into the wilderness. According to Encyclopedia Judaica,

“The name [‘Sicarii’] derived from the Latin word sica, ‘curved dagger’; in Roman usage, sicarii, i.e., those armed with such weapons, was a synonym for bandits. According to Josephus, the Jewish Sicarii used short daggers, μικρἁ Ξιφίδια (mikra ziphidia), concealed in their clothing, to murder their victims, usually at religious festivals (Wars, 2:254–5, 425; Ant., 20:186–7). The fact that Josephus employs the Latin sicarii, transliterated into Greek as σικαριοι (sikarioi) suggests that he adopted a term used by the Roman occupation forces; his own (Greek) word for ‘bandit,’ which he more generally uses to describe the Jewish resistance fighters, is λησταί (lestai).”

Sicarii.” Encyclopaedia JudaicaEncyclopedia.com. 4 Mar. 2017.

Photo Source: Pinterest (Sicarii Dagger)

A classic article by the Israeli historian, Menahem Stern (1925-1989), “Zealots and Sicarii,” proposed a distinction between the Sicarii and the Zealots in terms of their loyalty:

“The Sicarii continued to be loyal to the dynasty of Judah the Galilean, their last leaders being Menahem and Eleazar b. Jair, who were scions of that house; in contrast the Zealots showed no particular loyalty to any house or dynasty.”

This article also pointed out that a “revolutionary government” was set up in Jerusalem near the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), but lasted for only about six months. This was the same temporary government that, just after the Jews defeated Cestius Gallus in November AD 66, appointed 10 Jewish generals to lead the inevitable war with Rome (Wars 2.20.3-4):

“Just before the war, ‘a kind of enmity and factionalism broke out among the high priests and leaders of the Jerusalem populace’ who joined hands with ‘the boldest revolutionaries’ to carry out their high-level power feuds (Ant. 20:180, cf. Pes. 57a)… And significantly, the first revolutionary government formed in Jerusalem in 66 C.E. and lasting about six months was composed of high priests, noble priests, and lay nobility: the roster of noble rebels is long. These rebellious aristocrats joined the struggle for a variety of motives, including desire to protect their local power and influence, a feeling of genuine outrage at abuses by the Roman procurators, and infection by the messianic fervor and eschatological hopes pervading Judea before the war.”

This revolutionary government soon gave way to the Zealot leaders who seized control of Jerusalem over the following 3.5 years: Eleazar ben Simon, John Levi of Gischala, and Simon Bar Giora. Momentarily we’ll look at these three characters, but let’s start at the beginning and look at 12 Zealot/Sicarii leaders, beginning with Hezekiah.

Hezekiah

On page 313 of his book, “The Zealots,” Martin Hengel explained why a Jewish hero by the name of Hezekiah should be considered the first head of the Zealot movement:

“A historical outline of the Jewish freedom movement between the reign of Herod I and 70 A.D. has to begin at the point where Josephus speaks for the first time about Jewish ‘robbers,’ which is the most general term that he uses to include all the groups opposing foreign rule. We come across these ‘robbers’ quite abruptly in connection with the sending of the young Herod to Galilee as commander-in-chief.”

Hengel then cited the first occasion where Josephus spoke of these “robbers” in his works. In 46 BC Herod captured “the robber captain Hezekiah,” took him prisoner, and “had him put to death with many of his robbers” (see Josephus, Antiquities 14.9.2-3). In Wars 1.10.5, Josephus says that Hezekiah had “a great band of men.” It may be noteworthy that Josephus calls Hezekiah “the head,” the same term that John used in Revelation 13:1, 3; 17:3, 7, 9-11:

“Now Herod was an active man, and soon found proper materials for his active spirit to work upon. As therefore he found that Hezekias, the head of the robbers, ran over the neighboring parts of Syria with a great band of men, he caught him and slew him, and many more of the robbers with him; which exploit was chiefly grateful to the Syrians…”

Kaufmann Kohler, PHD, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Beth-El (New York) and President of Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati, Ohio), also agrees that the Zealot movement began in the time of Herod the Great and Hezekiah. He says that the Zealots were an “aggressive and fanatical war party from the time of Herod until the fall of Jerusalem and Masada. The members of this party bore also the name Sicarii… The reign of the Idumean Herod gave the impetus for the organization of the Zealots as a political party.” (Jewish Encyclopedia: Zealots).

Menahem Stern also saw Hezekiah as the founder of a movement which eventually spread throughout the entire Jewish Diaspora:

“Hezekiah and his son were the founders of a dynasty of leaders of an extremist freedom movement, a dynasty which it is possible to trace until the fall of Masada… They, the proponents of the Fourth Philosophy, were the first to raise the standard of revolt…and preached rebellion throughout the length and breadth of the Diaspora.”

1st Century Jewish Diaspora (Jewish Virtual Library)

The following description of “Hezekiah (The Zealot)” in The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906) reveals that his rebellion was in response to the actions of Pompey the Great, who conquered Judea in 63 BC. It also reveals that Hezekiah was beheaded:

He fought for Jewish freedom and the supremacy of the Jewish law at the time when Herod was governor of Galilee (47 B.C.). When King Aristobulus, taken prisoner by the Romans, had been poisoned by the followers of Pompey, Hezekiah (‘Ezekias’ in Josephus, ‘Ant.’ xiv. 9, §§ 2 et seq) gathered together the remnants of that king’s army in the mountains of Galilee and carried on a successful guerrilla war against the Romans and Syrians, while awaiting the opportunity for a general uprising against Rome. The pious men of the country looked upon him as the avenger of their honor and liberty. Antipater, the governor of the country, and his sons, however, who were Rome’s agents in Palestine, viewed this patriotic band differently. In order to curry favor with the Romans, Herod, unauthorized by the king Hyrcanus, advanced against Hezekiah, took him prisoner, and beheaded him, without the formality of a trial; and he also slew many of his followers. This deed excited the indignation of all the patriots. Hezekiah and his band were enrolled among the martyrs of the nation.”

Because many of the Jews were angry with Herod, an effort was made by the Sanhedrin to bring him to trial over what he had done to Hezekiah.

Judas the Galilean (Hezekiah’s son) and Zadok

Over the next half century, more robbers followed in Hezekiah’s trail throughout Galilee and Judea, but it was his son, Judas the Galilean, who took the movement to the next level. Kaufmann Kohler said this about the period after which Herod the Great repeatedly crushed the rebellions of Hezekiah and those who rose up after him:

“The spirit of this Zealot movement, however, was not crushed. No sooner had Herod died (4 C.E.) then the people cried out for revenge (“Ant.” xvii. 9, § 1) and gave Archelaus no peace. Judea was full of robber bands, says Josephus (l.c. 10, § 8), the leaders of which each desired to be a king. It was then that Judas, the son of Hezekiah, the above-mentioned robber-captain, organized his forces for revolt, first, it seems, against the Herodian dynasty, and then, when Quirinus introduced the census, against submission to the rule of Rome and its taxation.”

According to Josephus, “the Fourth Philosophy” was founded by Judas of Galilee. Martin Hengel, however, didn’t believe that Josephus provided evidence that Judas, rather than his father, was the founder. He pointed out that Josephus merely noted a “great increase” of robbers because of the exploits and teachings of Judas: “[All] that [Josephus] says of the founding of the fourth sect of philosophy by Judas the Galilean is that it led to a great increase in the scourge of robbers” (Hengel, p. 41).

Like the “robbers” before him, Judas seemed to concentrate his activities around Sepphoris (Antiquities 14.15.4 and Antiquities 17.10.5), the capital of Galilee which was not far from Nazareth. Here’s how Josephus described “the Fourth Philosophy” of the Zealots, and how Judas of Galilee laid the groundwork for this movement near the time of Jesus’ birth (Antiquities 18.1.1-6):

“1. NOW Cyrenius, a Roman senator… came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus’s money; but the Jews, although at the beginning they took the report of a taxation heinously, yet did they leave off any further opposition to it, by the persuasion of Joazar, who was the son of Beethus, and high priest; so they, being over-persuaded by Joazar’s words, gave an account of their estates, without any dispute about it. Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc [Zadok], a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt, who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty;

…so men received what they said with pleasure, and this bold attempt proceeded to a great height. All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree; one violent war came upon us after another, and we lost our friends which used to alleviate our pains; there were also very great robberies and murder of our principal men. This was done in pretense indeed for the public welfare, but in reality for the hopes of gain to themselves; whence arose seditions, and from them murders of men, which sometimes fell on those of their own people, (by the madness of these men towards one another, while their desire was that none of the adverse party might be left,) and sometimes on their enemies; a famine also coming upon us, reduced us to the last degree of despair, as did also the taking and demolishing of cities; nay, the sedition at last increased so high, that the very temple of God was burnt down by their enemies’ fire.

Such were the consequences of this, that the customs of our fathers were altered, and such a change was made, as added a mighty weight toward bringing all to destruction, which these men occasioned by their thus conspiring together; for Judas and Sadduc, who excited a fourth philosophic sect among us, and had a great many followers therein, filled our civil government with tumults at present, and laid the foundations of our future miseries, by this system of philosophy, which we were before unacquainted withal, concerning which I will discourse a little, and this the rather because the infection which spread thence among the younger sort, who were zealous for it, brought the public to destruction.

2. The Jews had for a great while had three sects of philosophy peculiar to themselves; the sect of the Essenes, and the sect of the Sadducees, and the third sort of opinions was that of those called Pharisees; of which sects, although I have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet will I a little touch upon them now…

6. But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord… And it was in Gessius Florus’s time that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and to make them revolt from the Romans” (See also Wars 2.8.1).

The Jewish Virtual Library adds this about Judas:

“He had put himself at the head of a band of rebels near Sepphoris and had seized control of the armory in Herod’s palace in the city. According to Josephus, he had even aspired to the throne (Ant., 17:271–2; Wars, 2:56). Though the rebels were defeated, Judah apparently succeeded in escaping (Jos., Ant., 17:289ff).”

Judas is mentioned in Acts 5 by Gamaliel when he addressed the council of the high priests and elders concerning Peter and the other apostles:

And he said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed…’” (Acts 5:35-37; see Antiquities 20.5.1 for the account of Theudas, the magician).

Robert Travers Herford (1860-1950), a British scholar of rabbinical literature, made an interesting comparison between Mattathias of the Maccabean revolt (167 BC) and Judas of Galilee nearly 175 years later:

“There is no certain trace of the Zealots as a party until the end of the reign of Herod; but even at the beginning of his reign there were those whose actions were of a kind precisely like the deeds of the somewhat later Zealots. Hezekiah, whom Josephus called a robber-chieftain, was put to death by Herod at the beginning of his reign. His son was that Judas of Galilee who was the real founder of the Zealot party; but Hezekiah only did much what Judas did, and the so-called robber-chieftain, though he failed, sounded the first note of the rebellion, which became the great war of A.D. 66-70.

It is no doubt true that the Zealot party took definite shape as an organised body under Judas, about the year A.D. 6, when the census was taken by of Quirinius; but their origin can be traced to an earlier date, with considerable probability. The Maccabean revolt had begun, in 167 B.C., by the sudden call of the priest Mattathias to resist the agents of the tyrant who would compel the Jews to disown their religion and disobey their God. Mattathias cried, ‘Whoso is zealous for the Torah…let him follow me’ (I Macc. ii. 27).

The word translated ‘zealous’ is (in Greek as well as in English) practically the same as the word ‘zealot.’ Moreover the Hebrew name ‘Kannaim,’ which was the name of the party as organised by Judas of Galilee, is used in a law which dates from the Maccabean times. It would seem probable that Judas, when he organised the Zealots into a party, made it his object to repeat the exploits of the first Maccabeans, by violent measures against all who were disaffected in their adherence to the Torah and ready to submit to the heathen king. The rebellion begun by Judas Maccabaeus had led to the liberation of the people from the foreign yoke and the establishment of an independent kingdom. That kingdom had only passed out of Maccabean hands when Herod acquired the throne; and the fact that every later attempt to recover it by his descendants found support amongst the people, shows that the memory of what the Maccabeans had done was still able to fire the popular mind in the time of Judas of Galilee.

(Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period [London: The Lindsey Press, 1928], pp. 66-67)

Less information seems to be known about Zadok, the Pharisee, who worked with Judas in heading “a large number of Zealots.”

Jacob, Simon, and Jair (sons of Judas)

Judas the Galilean had three sons: Jacob (also called James), Simon (also called Simeon), and Jair (or Jairus or Yair). While Tiberius Alexander was the Roman procurator of Judea (AD 46-48), he had Jacob and Simon crucifed because of the rebellions they led:

“…the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean of that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Cyrenius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified” (Antiquities 20.5.2).

It’s difficult to find information on Jair, but (as we will see) his son, Eleazar, was a prominent leader during the Jewish-Roman War who led the final rebel holdout at Masada until AD 73.

Zealots in Jesus’ Lifetime

One of the 12 disciples whom Jesus chose was a Zealot. Luke mentions “Simon called the Zealot” when he names the disciples (Luke 6:15), and “Simon the Zealot” is again included in his list of those who stayed in an upper room after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:13).

Barabbas was another Zealot. He was the “notorious prisoner” (Matthew 27:16) who was released by Pilate instead of Jesus (Matthew 27:16). Barabbas and “his fellow insurrectionists” had recently “committed murder in the insurrection” (Mark 15:7) which took place in Jerusalem (Luke 23:19).

Some scholars believe that the two thieves who were crucified on either side of Jesus were also Zealots. Mark 15:27 refers to them as “two robbers,” using the same term that Josephus often used to describe the Zealots. It’s also the same term that John used to describe Barabbas: “Now Barabbas was a robber” (John 18:40).

Herford believed that Judas Iscariot was also a Zealot. He pointed out that “the headquarters of the Zealots were in Galilee,” where Jesus spent a lot of His time and where He chose His first disciples: “Of all the types of Judaism…the Zealots are the only ones with whom Jesus would have much opportunity of coming in contact” when He was in Galilee (Herford, Judaism in the New Testament Period, p. 71). Gary J. Goldberg, editor of “The Flavius Josephus Home Page,” shares a similar idea: “Judas Iscariot is thought by some to have derived his name from the Sicarii, the terrorists prior to the war” (Goldberg, Causes of War).

Martin Hengel (p. 340) says that when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He apparently asked why He was being arrested as if He were a Zealot. “Then Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me?’” (Mark 14:48).

Eleazar ben Ananias (AD 66)

Eleazar ben Ananias was not in the family dynasty of Hezekiah and Judas the Galilean, but he was the son of Ananias the high priest. When the Jewish-Roman War began, he was the governor of the temple, (Antiquities 20.9.3Wars 2.17.2), the second highest position in the temple other than high priest. It’s suggested that he obtained this position in 62 AD. This position was known as “segan” (Aramaic) or “sagan” (Hebrew). According to Rabbi Hanina Segan ha-Kohanim (40-80 AD), “In case the high-priest became unfit for service, the ‘Segan’ [Deputy] should enter at once to do the service” (Talmud, Tractate Sota 42a).

Eleazar’s father, Ananius ben Nedebaios, was the high priest from roughly 46-52 AD. He’s the one who commanded Paul to be struck on the mouth during his appearance before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:2), prompting Paul to prophesy that Ananias would also be struck (verse 3). Ananius also gave evidence against Paul to the governor Felix at Caesarea (Acts 24:1). Ananias was pro-Roman, unlike his son, Eleazar.

When Albinus was the Roman Procurator of Judea (AD 62-64), Eleazar was kidnapped by the Sicarii and was eventually let go when their demand was met:

“But now the Sicarii went into the city by night, just before the festival, which was now at hand, and took the scribe belonging to the governor of the temple, whose name was Eleazar, who was the son of Ananus [Ananias] the high priest, and bound him, and carried him away with them; after which they sent to Ananias, and said that they would send the scribe to him, if he would persuade Albinus to release ten of those prisoners which he had caught of their party; so Ananias was plainly forced to persuade Albinus, and gained his request of him. This was the beginning of greater calamities; for the robbers perpetually contrived to catch some of Ananias’s servants” (Antiquities 20.9.3).

In the book, Final Decade before the End (p. 219), Ed Stevens says that Eleazar ben Ananias led a challenge against Roman troops in May AD 66. “When the Roman Procurator Gessius Florus brought his soldiers to Jerusalem to confiscate all the gold from the Temple,” Yosippon recorded the following:

“[Eleazar b. Ananius]… being a youth and very stout of heart, saw the evil that Florus did among the people. He sounded the shofar, and a band of youths and bandits, men of war, gathered around him, and he initiated a battle, challenging Florus and the Roman troops [Sepher Yosippon, ch. 59].”

In August AD 66 Eleazar made a decision which Josephus said marked “the true beginning” of the Jewish-Roman War. He put a stop to all the sacrifices and offerings of the Gentiles, something which had never been done since the days of Moses and Aaron:

“At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon. These relied much upon their multitude, for the most flourishing part of the innovators assisted them; but they had the chief regard to Eleazar, the governor of the temple” (Wars 2.17.2).

At that time, as this quote reveals, Eleazar was considered to be the chief leader of the temple guard and those in the temple complex who wanted to revolt against Rome. Josephus also mentioned that Eleazar and his colleagues hadbrought up novel rules of a strange Divine worship” (Wars 2.17.3).

He was mentioned again in Wars 2.17.5 as being among “the seditious” (the Zealots) who “had the lower city [of Jerusalem] and the temple in their power,” while “the men of power, with the high priests, as also all the part of the multitude that were desirous of peace, took courage, and seized upon the upper city [Mount Sion].” Under Eleazar, the seditious “joined to themselves many of the sicarii,” burned the palaces of Agrippa and Bernice as well as the house of Ananias the high priest, burned the contracts of creditors (“in order to gain the multitude of those who had been debtors”), drove the moderate leaders out of the upper city, and slaughtered the Roman garrison at the Fortress of Antonia (Wars 2.17.6-7).

Soon after this, Eleazar’s father, Ananius was killed by “Manahem, the son of Judas, that was called the Galilean” (Wars 2.17.8-9). Menahem “became the leader of the sedition” in September AD 66, according to Josephus, but only for about a month. “Eleazar and his party” avenged his father’s death and killed Menahem. In December AD 66, Eleazar was named as one of the 10 generals for war against Rome, and he was assigned to Idumea, a region south of Judea (Wars 2.20.4). It appears that, after this, Josephus never mentioned him again.

Eleazar ben Jair (AD 66–73)

A different Eleazar also played a key role in the Zealot cause near the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War. Eleazar ben Jair (or Jairus) was a grandson of Judas the Galilean, and part of Hezekiah’s family dynasty. Josephus mentioned him for the first time in Wars 2.17.9 as one of the people who tried to defend Menahem (his relative) after he had killed Ananias:

“A few there were of them who privately escaped to Masada, among whom was Eleazar, the son of Jairus, who was of kin to Manahem, and acted the part of a tyrant at Masada afterward.”

However, Josephus later provided information which shows that Eleazar played a key role in the Zealot cause before Menahem rose to prominence. This is what Josephus said when he introduced the topic of Masada’s overthrow in AD 73:

“This fortress was called Masada. It was one Eleazar, a potent man, and the commander of these Sicarii, that had seized upon it. He was a descendant from that Judas who had persuaded abundance of the Jews, as we have formerly related, not to submit to the taxation when Cyrenius was sent into Judea to make one” (Wars 7.8.1).

Here’s how Josephus described the Sicarii’s successful assault upon Masada in August AD 66, which resulted in the deaths of the Romans who had been stationed there. By inference, this is where Josephus first spoke of Eleazar ben Jairus:

“And at this time it was that some of those that principally excited the people to go to war made an assault upon a certain fortress called Masada. They took it by treachery, and slew the Romans that were there, and put others of their own party to keep it” (Wars 2.17.2).

Fortress of Masada, Built by Herod I (Source: National Geographic)

So when Menahem stole arms from king Herod’s armory at Masada to use in Jerusalem [Wars 2.17.8.433-434], Eleazar had already captured Masada, which was located about 60 miles southeast of Jerusalem. After trying to defend Menahem in Jerusalem in September AD 66, and fleeing to Masada when their operation failed, Eleazar apparently remained there until he led hundreds of others in a mass suicide in AD 73.

The Jewish Encyclopedia says that Eleazar succeeded Menahem “as master of Masada” and that he “took up the war of rebellion against Rome and carried it to the very end.” Masada was the final holdout in the Jewish-Roman War. Josephus said that the time came when “all the rest of the country was subdued” and “there was but one only stronghold that was still in rebellion,” i.e. Masada (Wars 7.8.1).

Eleazar built a wall around the entire fortress, and placed guards in various places (and later hastily built a second wall when the Romans were about to breach the first one). It was painful and difficult for Eleazar and his followers to obtain food and water (Wars 7.8.2), but they were determined not to surrender. However, the Roman commander, Silva, burnt down the second wall and Eleazar determined that all of them had to kill themselves rather than be captured, tortured, and killed by the Romans. His speeches to his followers are rather revealing, and can be seen in Wars 7.8.6-7, and the rather graphic details of how they committed mass suicide can be seen in Wars 7.9.1. Only a group of women, who had managed to hide themselves in an underground cavern, lived to tell the story of what happened at Masada (Wars 7.9.2).

Menahem (AD 66; grandson of Judas)

As we’ve already seen, Menahem was a relative (likely a cousin) of Eleazar ben Jairus. He was also a grandson* of Judas the Galilean and a part of Hezekiah’s family dynasty. (*Josephus referred to him as “the son of Judas,” but scholars believe he was actually Judas’ grandson.) Menahem was first mentioned by Josephus in Wars 2.17.8, where it’s said that he raided Herod’s armory at Masada, “returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem” and became the leader of the Zealot revolt. This was in late August AD 66:

“In the meantime, one Manahem, the son of Judas, that was called the Galilean, (who was a very cunning sophister, and had formerly reproached the Jews under Cyrenius, that after God they were subject to the Romans) took some of the men of note with him, and retired to Masada, where he broke open king Herod’s armory, and gave arms not only to his own people, but to other robbers also. These he made use of for a guard, and returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem; he became the leader of the sedition, and gave orders for continuing the siege.”

“The siege” was a reference to the Zealot/Sicarii assault on the Antonia Fortress, which began on the 15th of Ab (August) AD 66, resulting in the massacre of the Roman garrison that had been stationed there (Wars 2.17.7). Eleazar ben Ananias led the seditious in that attack, and they had also moved on to attack the very well-fortified palace and Agrippa’s soldiers.

Menahem, having taken over as leader, caught and killed many of Agrippa’s soldiers and set fire to their camp (Wars 2.17.8). He also overthrew “the places of strength” and killed the high priest, Ananias, and his brother. This puffed him up and made him “barbarously cruel,” so that “he thought he had no antagonists to dispute the management of affairs with him.”

Martin Hengel said that the revolution was greatly successful under Menahem and the Sicarii who followed him:

“The battle for Jerusalem was not decided until the Sicarii, who were tested in battle and were Menahem’s elite troops, had intervened. The entry of their lord into the city followed their initial successes. This was the sign that the revolution had really succeeded. The Zealots had worked for two generations towards and had now achieved their aim. Almost the entire population had joined in the Holy War against Rome” (The Zealots, p. 363).

However, Eleazar, the son of Ananias, plotted together with his party against Menahem. Part of Eleazar’s motivation was likely to avenge his father’s death, though Josephus gives other reasons (Martin Hengel also provides a good analysis on pp. 364-365 of “The Zealots”; a PDF of this book can be read or downloaded here). Eleazar and his men attacked Menahem while he was pompously worshipping in the temple, even though they knew their actions could cause the entire revolt to fail:

“They made an assault upon [Menahem] in the temple; for he went up thither to worship in a pompous manner, and adorned with royal garments, and had his followers with him in their armor. But Eleazar and his party fell violently upon him, as did also the rest of the people; and taking up stones to attack him withal, they threw them at the sophister, and thought, that if he were once ruined, the entire sedition would fall to the ground” (Wars 2.17.9).

Menahem and his men tried to resist, but they eventually fled and some were caught while others hid. Menahem was caught, taken alive and tortured, and then killed along with all of his captains. Many of the Sicarii were also caught and killed at this time, and other Sicarii fled to Masada where they were led by Eleazar ben Jairus. According to the Israeli historian, Menahem Stern,

“From this time on the Sicarii ceased to be the guiding factor in the events in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, they continued to exist and it was they who were destined to be the last to hold aloft the standard of rebellion… In addition, the considerable number of the warriors who fought under Simeon bar Giora at the time of the siege is easily explained on the assumption that many Sicarii were included in his army, since they felt themselves more in sympathy with him than with the other leaders in besieged Jerusalem. Their extreme social views bridged the gap between them and Simeon.”

Martin Hengel, author of “The Zealots” (p. 295), pointed out that Menahem’s “temporary stay as a leader in Jerusalem lasted barely four weeks,” from 15 Ab to 17 Elul in AD 66 (late August to late September). Indeed, Menahem’s quick rise to prominence and his death are recorded in just two consecutive small sections in Wars of the Jews (Wars 2.17.8-9). I believe that Menahem was the seventh king who had “not yet come” when John wrote Revelation, and who would only “continue a short time” (Revelation 17:10).

Seven Kings of Revelation 17:10 (Family Dynasty of “Hezekiah the Zealot”)

 

There are also seven kings. Five have fallen 1. Hezekiah (47 BC)
  2. Judas of Galilee (led rebellion from AD 6-8)
  3. Jacob (son of Judas; crucified around AD 47)
  4. Simon (son of Judas; crucified around AD 47)
  5. Jair (son of Judas; father of Eleazar)
one is 6. Eleazar ben Jair (rebel leader from AD 66-73)
and the other has not yet come. And when he comes, he must continue a short time” (Rev. 17:10). 7. Menahem (rebel leader for only a month in AD 66)

Martin Hengel said that it was evident Menahem “had both special authority and a position of power.” He added:

“He was probably not only the leader of one of the many ‘robber bands’ that were in control of the open country, but also the head of the Zealot movement in the whole of the country. His authority was based on his descent from the founder of the sect, Judas, on his own military power, which he had increased by his successful attack against Masada, and, last but not least, on his personal experience in battle and his own forceful personality” (The Zealots, p. 362).

Numerous sources say that Menahem was a Messiah figure, and even that he claimed to be the Messiah. Martin Hengel points out that, in the rabbinic Haggadah, Menahem was regarded as “the Messiah” (The Zealots, p. 295). This source also relates a legend in which a peasant heard Menahem’s mother say, “His omen is disastrous, because the Temple was destroyed on the day that he was born.” The peasant then answered, “We believe that, just as it (the Temple) was destroyed because of him, so too will it be rebuilt because of him.” Hengel interprets this legend as meaning that, to the Zealots who followed Menahem, the death of such a Messiah-figure in the temple was like sealing the doom of the temple itself.

According to the Dutch historian, Jona Lendering (at Livius),

“There is no need to doubt whether Menahem claimed to be the Messiah. He was a warrior, entered Jerusalem dressed as a king, quarreled with the high priest (who may have entertained some doubts about Menahem’s claim), and worshipped God in the Temple. We can be positive that Menahem wanted to be the sole ruler of a restored Israel.”

Kaufmann Kohler, Ph.D, a Rabbi and theologian, adds:

Rabbinical tradition alludes to Menahem’s Messiahship when stating that the Messiah’s name is Menahem the son of Hezekiah (Sanh. 98b); and according to Geiger (“Zeitschrift,” vii. 176-178), he is the one who went up with eighty couples of disciples of the Law equipped with golden armor and crying out: “Write upon the horn of the ox, ‘Ye [yielding Pharisees] have no share in the God of Israel!'” (Yer. Ḥag. ii. 77b).

In the immediate aftermath of Menahem’s death, the remaining Zealots “hoped to prosecute [the war] with less danger, now they had slain Menahem,” and the common people “earnestly desired” that they would stop attacking the Roman soldiers. Eleazar ben Ananias and his men made oaths to the soldiers that they would be spared, but it was a trick. After the soldiers laid down their swords and shields, the Zealots “attacked them after a violent manner, and encompassed them around, and slew them” (Wars 2.17.10).

Josephus adds that “men made public lamentation” when they saw this, and “the city was filled with sadness, and every one of the moderate men in it were under great disturbance.” At this time tragedies also came upon the Jews in Caesarea, Syria, Alexandria, and other places as cities and regions rose up against them. Soon, Cestius Gallus swept through Galilee in partnership with Agrippa and with thousands of soldiers, planning to capture Jerusalem and put down the rebellion. This plan was a terrible failure for Cestius Gallus, though, as we will see in the next post.

Was Menahem the wounded head of Revelation 13:3, 12? This question will be discussed at the end of this post.

Eleazar ben Simon (AD 66-70)

Eleazar ben Simon came from a priestly family (Wars 4.4.1.225), and was not part of the family dynasty of Hezekiah. He was the nephew of Simon Bar Giora (Wars 6.4.1), who will be discussed below. Eleazar was first introduced by Josephus in Wars 2.20.3 as a war hero in the victory over Cestius Gallus in November AD 66. According to Josephus, he “had gotten into his possession the prey they had taken from the Romans, and the money they had taken from Cestius, together with a great part of the public treasures.”

Soon after this victory, the rebels appointed 10 “generals for the war” (Wars 2.20.3-4). Josephus speaks of Eleazar ben Simon as a natural choice for one of those positions due to his bravery and success in the battle against Cestius Gallus. Instead he was kept out of that office because of his terrible temper and the extreme loyalty of his followers, but he managed to become the main leader of the Zealots anyway:

“They did not ordain Eleazar the son of Simon to that office… because they saw he was of a tyrannical temper; and that his followers were, in their behavior, like guards about him. However, the want they were in of Eleazar’s money, and the tricks by him, brought all so about, that the people were circumvented, and submitted themselves to his authority in all public affairs” (Wars 2.20.3).

This was still true almost 1.5 years later, in early AD 68. Josephus said that among the Zealot leaders, he was “the most plausible man, both in considering what was fit to be done, and in the execution of what he had determined upon” (Wars 4.4.1). John Levi of Gischala, who will be discussed next, joined forces with Eleazar ben Simon at this time, and, after killing Ananus ben Ananus and other high priests in February-March AD 68 AD, together they seized control of the entire city of Jerusalem (Wars 4.4.1 – 4.6.3).

Eleazar made the temple his headquarters for nearly 3.5 years, from late AD 66 until he was defeated by John Levi’s forces in mid-April AD 70. Josephus said that it was “Eleazar, the son of Simon, who made the first separation of the zealots from the people, and made them retire into the temple” (Wars 5.1.2). Around December AD 67, Eleazar and the other Zealots made the sanctuary of the temple “a shop of tyranny” by casting lots to select a fake high priest named Phannias. He was chosen against his will from a village in the countryside, fitted with “a counterfeit face” and the sacred garments, and “upon every occasion [they] instructed him what he was to do” (Wars 4.3.6-8).

In the spring of AD 69, Eleazar “was desirous of gaining the entire power and dominion to himself” and he “revolted from John [Levi].” He and his followers “seized upon the inner court of the temple” and made use of the sacred things in there (Wars 5.1.2). At this time, he led one of three Zealot factions, with the other factions being led by John Levi and Simon Bar Giora (Wars 5.1.1, 4; Revelation 16:19).

Source: Mark Mountjoy, New Testament Open University (June 9, 2015)

Eleazar ben Simon was tricked and defeated by John Levi’s forces in mid-April AD 70, just as the Roman general Titus began his siege. This happened at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Eleazar opened the gates to the inner court of the temple

“and admitted such of the people as were desirous to worship God into it. But John made use of this festival as a cloak for his treacherous designs, and armed the most inconsiderable of his own party, the greater part of whom were not purified, with weapons concealed under their garments, and sent them with great zeal into the temple, in order to seize upon it; which armed men, when they were gotten in, threw their garments away, and presently appeared in their armor… These followers of John also did now seize upon this inner temple, and upon all the warlike engines therein, and then ventured to oppose Simon. And thus that sedition, which had been divided into three factions, was now reduced to two” (Wars 5.3.1).

After this treachery, Josephus records that Eleazar ben Simon’s 2,400 men stopped opposing John Levi and joined forces with him, but Eleazar remained as their commander:

“John, who had siezed upon the temple, had six thousand armed men, under twenty commanders; the zealots also that had come to him, and left off their opposition, were two thousand four hundred, and had the same commander that they had formerly, Eleazar, together with Simon the son of Arinus” (Wars 5.6.1.250). 

Eleazar ben Simon is mentioned one last time in Wars of the Jews. Josephus described the state of affairs as of the 8th of Av (late July or early August) in AD 70 when two of the Roman legions completed their banks. Josephus mentioned that Eleazar was still involved in the fighting at this time: “Of the seditious, those that had fought bravely in the former battles did the like now, as besides them did Eleazar, the brother’s son of Simon the tyrant” (Wars 6.4.1).

Eleazar’s death is not mentioned in Wars of the Jews, but there is also no mention of his survival or capture (unlike the other two main Zealot leaders, John Levi and Simon Bar Giora). Various online sources seem to be unanimous that Eleazar died in AD 70 around the time when the temple was burned and destroyed.

John Levi of Gischala (AD 66-70)

John Levi was from Gischala in Galilee, and was not part of Hezekiah’s family dynasty. Josephus wrote extensively about him in his book, “The Life of Flavius Josephus.” John was not a Zealot from the beginning. At one point, when the people of Gischala wanted to revolt against the Romans, John tried to restrain them and he urged them to “keep their allegiance to [the Romans]. However, Gischala was then attacked, set on fire, and demolished by non-Jews from neighboring regions. At that point, John became enraged, “armed all his men,” joined the battle, but also rebuilt Gischala “after a better manner than before, and fortified it with walls for its future security” (Life 10.43-45).

In Wars of the Jews, John was first mentioned in Wars 2.21.1 as “a treacherous person,” a “hypocritical pretender to humanity,” and as one who “spared not the shedding of blood” and “had a peculiar knack of thieving.” According to Josephus, John gathered together a band of four hundred men mostly from Tyre, who were greatly skilled “in martial affairs,” and they “laid waste all Galilee.” These things took place while Josephus was “engaged in the administration of the affairs of Galilee,” beginning around December AD 66, since he had been appointed as a general for the war (Wars 2.20.3-4).

Josephus said that John Levi became wealthy through an oil scheme, and he also wanted to “overthrow Josephus” and “obtain the government of Galilee” for himself. He had a number of “robbers” under his command. He spread a rumor that Josephus was planning to give Galilee to the Romans and engaged in other plots against him (Wars 2.21.2), including a murder attempt that Josephus barely escaped (Wars. 2.21.6).

The Encyclopedia Judaica summarizes John’s last unsuccessful plot against Josephus (Wars 2.21.6-8) and his failed attempt almost a year later to save Gischala from the Romans (Wars 4.2.1-5):

“John dispatched a delegation to Jerusalem, demanding that Josephus be dismissed from his position for failing to fulfill his tasks loyally. This request was acceded to, according to Josephus, as a result of John’s bribery and exploitation of his friendship with Simeon b. Gamaliel. Emissaries were sent to dismiss Josephus from his command and advise the citizens of Galilee to support John. Josephus ignored all this and went so far as to threaten John’s supporters…

John’s efforts to organize Galilee for war were unsuccessful and, with the exception of his native city, the whole province fell to the Romans. In the winter of 67, when Titus was at the gates of Giscala and offered terms of surrender, John seized on the intervening Sabbath as a pretext for delaying negotiations and escaped to Jerusalem.

John of Giscala.” Encyclopaedia JudaicaEncyclopedia.com. 3 Mar. 2017.

John escaped to Jerusalem in November AD 67, a year and three months after the Jewish-Roman War began. He and his followers immediately told tall tales about their fight with the Romans at Gischala:

Now upon John’s entry into Jerusalem, the whole body of the people were in an uproar, and ten thousand of them crowded about every one of the fugitives that were come to them, and inquired of them what miseries had happened abroad, when their breath was so short, and hot, and quick, that of itself it declared the great distress they were in; yet did they talk big under their misfortunes, and pretended to say that they had not fled away from the Romans, but came thither in order to fight them with less hazard; for that it would be an unreasonable and a fruitless thing for them to expose themselves to desperate hazards about Gischala, and such weak cities, whereas they ought to lay up their weapons and their zeal, and reserve it for their metropolis. But when they related to them the taking of Gischala, and their decent departure, as they pretended, from that place, many of the people understood it to be no better than a flight; and especially when the people were told of those that were made captives, they were in great confusion, and guessed those things to be plain indications that they should be taken also. But for John, he was very little concerned for those whom he had left behind him, but went about among all the people, and persuaded them to go to war, by the hopes he gave them. He affirmed that the affairs of the Romans were in a weak condition, and extolled his own power. He also jested upon the ignorance of the unskillful, as if those Romans, although they should take to themselves wings, could never fly over the wall of Jerusalem, who found such great difficulties in taking the villages of Galilee, and had broken their engines of war against their walls.

These harangues of John’s corrupted a great part of the young men, and puffed them up for the war; but as to the more prudent part, and those in years, there was not a man of them but foresaw what was coming, and made lamentation on that account, as if the city was already undone; and in this confusion were the people…” (Wars 4.3.1-2).

Soon after this, Phannias was chosen by lots and installed as a fake high priest and a puppet of the Zealots (Wars 4.3.6-8). Ananus ben Ananus and the other priests shed tears as they watched this mockery take place. Ananus gathered a multitude of the people and gave a speech rebuking them for allowing the Zealots to fill the temple with abominations, plunder houses, shed the blood of innocent people, etc. Ananus said that nothing they could undergo from the Romans would be harder to bear than what the Zealots had already brought upon them. He urged them to rise up together against the Zealots, and said that he was willing to die leading them in that effort (Wars 4.3.10).

Ananus and his followers attacked the Zealots and tried to trap many of them in the temple complex (Wars 4.3.12). John Levi pretended to share their opinion and “at a distance was the adviser in these actions.” He consulted with Ananus and other moderate leaders every day and “cultivated the greatest friendship possible with Ananus, but “he divulged their secrets to the zealots.” His deceit became so great that “Ananus and his party believed his oath” to them, and “sent him as their ambassador into the temple to the zealots, with proposals of accommodation” (Wars 4.3.13).

John betrayed Ananus and falsely claimed that he had invited the Roman general, Vespasian, to conquer Jerusalem (Wars 4.3.14). In response, the Zealot leaders, Eleazar ben Simon and Zacharias ben Phalek, requested help from the Idumeans, who lived south of Judea, and the Idumeans quickly prepared an army of 20,000 directed by four commanders (Wars 4.4.2). The day they arrived (in late February AD 68) they were prevented from entering the city, but the next day they managed to hunt down and kill Ananus and Jesus (Wars 4.5.2). Their deaths marked a significant turning point for Jerusalem, according to Josephus:

“I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city… to say all in a word, if Ananus had survived they had certainly compounded matters… And the Jews had then put abundance of delays in the way of the Romans, if they had had such a general as he was” (Wars 4.5.2).

After their deaths, the Zealots and the Idumeans “fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats.” Others endured “terrible torments” before finally meeting their deaths. At least 12,000 died in that massacre (Wars 4.5.3). Then one of the Zealots told the Idumeans that they had been tricked, and that Ananus and the high priests never did plot to betray Jerusalem to the Romans. So the Idumeans regretted their actions, saw “the horrid barbarity of [the Zealots who] had invited them,” and left Jerusalem (Wars 4.5.5). The Zealots, no longer hindered by the high priests or even the Idumeans, then increased their wickedness (Wars 4.6.1). John Levi began to tyrannize, didn’t want anyone to be his equal, and he gradually put together “a party of the most wicked” of all the Zealots and started his own faction (Wars 4.7.1).

By the time that there were “three treacherous factions in the city” (Wars 5.1.4), John had the second largest contingent of Zealot fighters (Wars 5.6.1):

[1] Simon Bar Giora: 10,000 men and 50 commanders; 5000 Idumeans and eight commanders
[2] John Levi: 6,000 men and 20 commanders
[3] Eleazar ben Simon: 2,400 men

As we’ve already seen, John’s forces tricked and killed Eleazar ben Simon in mid-April AD 70 (Wars 5.3.1), just as Titus was laying siege to Jerusalem. He then had access to the inner court of the temple and didn’t hesitate to commit sacrilegious acts during the siege (fulfilling Revelation 6:6):

“But as for John, when he could no longer plunder the people, he betook himself to sacrilege, and melted down many of the sacred utensils, which had been given to the temple; as also many of those vessels which were necessary for such as ministered about holy things, the caldrons, the dishes, and the tables; nay, he did not abstain from those pouring vessels that were sent them by Augustus and his wife; for the Roman emperors did ever both honor and adorn this temple; whereas this man, who was a Jew, seized upon what were the donations of foreigners, and said to those that were with him, that it was proper for them to use Divine things, while they were fighting for the Divinity, without fear, and that such whose warfare is for the temple should live of the temple; on which account he emptied the vessels of that sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt-offerings, and which lay in the inner court of the temple, and distributed it among the multitude, who, in their anointing themselves and drinking, used [each of them] above an hin of them” (Wars 5.13.6).

Toward the end of the siege, as Jerusalem was on fire, John joined “the tyrants and that crew of robbers” whose last hope was to hide “in the caves and caverns underground” (Wars 6.7.3; Revelation 6:15-17). Due to great hunger, he surrendered to the Romans, was taken captive, and was “condemned to perpetual imprisonment” (Wars 6.9.4). Among the captives who were carried off to Italy for a triumphal parade, John was considered to be their second leader, after Simon Bar Giora, “the general of the enemy” (Wars 7.5.3, Wars 7.5.6).

Simon Bar Giora (AD 66-70)

Simon Bar Giora was not a member of Hezekiah’s family dynasty, but it seems that he fit in with them better than the other Zealot leaders around the time of the war who were not part of this dynasty. Simon was the uncle of Eleazar ben Simon. In Wars 6.4.1 Josephus refers to Eleazar ben Simon as “the brother’s son of Simon the tyrant.” He was originally from Gerasa (Wars 4.9.3). Martin Hengel remarks:

“As his name indicates, Simon Bar Giora was the son of a proselyte. He came originally not from the Jewish motherland, but from Gerasa in the Hellenistic Decapolis. This was a town which had dealt with its Jewish inhabitants not by killing them, but by simply expelling them from its territory. We do not know when Simon left his home town” (The Zealots, p. 374).

Cecil Roth, a Jewish historian from Britain (Oxford), said this in a 1960 article about Simon’s name:

“The form of the name “bar Giora” derives not from Josephus but from Tacitus, who in his brief account of the war refers to him under this name, although confusing him with his rival John of Gischala (‘Ioannes, quern et Bargioram vocabant’) . Josephus speaks of him always as “son of Giora” or the like. ‘Bar Giora’ is of course the form in the Aramaic language, already at this time current in Palestine. Giora is never met with as a proper name, but in Aramaic it means ‘proselyte,’ equivalent to the Hebrew Ger.”

Simon Bar Giora was first mentioned by Josephus in Wars 2.19.2, where he was credited with ambushing the rear of Cestius Gallus’ army in November AD 66 as they retreated from a surprise attack by the Jews: “Simon, the son of Giora, fell upon the backs of the Romans, as they were ascending up Bethoron, and put the hindmost of the army into disorder, and carried off many of the beasts that carded the weapons of war, and led Shem into the city.”

Then in Wars 2.22.2 Josephus says that Simon Bar Giora ravaged the Accrabene Toparchy (at the border of Judea and Samaria), harassing the houses of rich men, tormenting their bodies, and “affecting tyranny in his government” (early AD 67). When an army was sent against him by Ananus ben Ananus (see Wars 4.9.3), he joined “the robbers” (the Sicarii) at Masada “and plundered the country of Idumea with them, till both Ananus and his other adversaries were slain.”

Simon wasn’t spoken of in any detail again until Wars 4.9.3 (early AD 69), with one small exception. In the spring of AD 68, the Idumeans liberated about 2000 people from the prisons in Jerusalem before themselves leaving the city. Interestingly, those prisoners “fled away immediately to Simon” (Wars 4.6.1). This indicates the extent of his fame and influence even when he wasn’t in Jerusalem.

Josephus says that when Simon first came to Masada, the Sicarii were suspicious of him, but they began to trust him when they saw that “his manner so well agreed with theirs.” So “he went out with them, and ravaged and destroyed the country with them about Masada.” Simon was “fond of greatness.”

When he heard the report that Ananus had been killed (late February AD 68), he went into the mountainous part of Judea and “proclaimed liberty to those in slavery, and a reward to those already free, and got together a set of wicked men from all quarters” (Wars 4.9.3). The Jewish historian, Cecil Roth, said that it was as if Simon tried to apply Isaiah 61:1-2 to himself the way that Jesus did in Luke 4:16-21, except that for Simon “the Day of Vengeance for the Lord” had already arrived. In any case, it’s interesting that Simon, located at Masada, cast off restraint upon the death of Ananus just like the Zealots in Jerusalem did (Wars 4.6.1).

Simon, with “a strong body of men,” overran villages and became a threat “to the cities.” He had men of power, slaves and robbers, and “a great many of the populace” who “were obedient to him as their king.” According to Josephus, it was no secret that he was “making preparations for the assault of Jerusalem” (Wars 4.9.4). The Zealots were afraid that he would attack them and so they attacked him first, but unsuccessfully. Simon had 20,000 armed men. Before heading to Jerusalem, he “resolved first to subdue Idumea” (Wars 4.9.5).

When Simon marched into Idumea, he began by capturing the city of Hebron. Then he made “progress over all Idumea, and did not only ravage the cities and villages, but laid waste the whole country.” At that point, he had 40,000 followers besides his 20,000 armed men. As a result, “Idumea was greatly depopulated; and as one may see all the woods behind despoiled of their leaves by locusts, after they have been there, so was there nothing left behind Simon’s army but a desert” (Wars 4.9.7).

The Zealots made the mistake of kidnapping his wife, thinking that he would lay down his arms, but Simon “vented his spleen upon all persons that he met with,” shed a lot of blood, and got his wife back (Wars 4.9.8-10). Then he returned to Idumea and “driving the nation all before him from all quarters, he compelled a great number of them to retire to Jerusalem; he followed them himself also to the city” (Wars 4.9.10).

Meanwhile, in Jerusalem there was an uprising against John Levi “out of their envy at his power and hatred of his cruelty.” So, surprisingly, “in order to overthrow John, they determined to admit Simon, and earnestly to desire the introduction of a second tyrant into the city.” Simon, “in an arrogant manner, granted them his lordly protection… The people also made joyful acclamations to him, as their savior and their preserver” (Wars 4.9.11). According to Josephus, Simon “got possession of Jerusalem” around April AD 69 (Wars 4.9.12). Before long, he had “in his power the upper city, and a great part of the lower” (Wars 5.1.3). As we’ve already seen, he had more commanders and armed men with him than John Levi and Eleazar ben Simon had combined (Wars 5.6.1).

In the book, “Simon Son of Man,” published in 1917, the authors (John I. Riegel and John H. Jordan) pointed out the great influence that Simon Bar Giora had during the Jewish-Roman War (AD 66-73), even from its beginning. Although Josephus says that Simon only took control of Jerusalem in AD 69, it was his name that was printed on most of the coins issued by the Zealots beginning in 66 AD (pp. 256 – 259):

The study of Jewish numismatics throws much light upon the personality of Simon Bar Gi’ora and his relations with Eleazar and John during the siege of the Holy City… Of the 36 coins of the period of the great revolt illustrated in Madden’s History of Jewish Coinage, 29 bear the name of Simon. In so great a veneration was he held by his compatriots, even in their defeat, that during the reigns of Titus, Domitian, Trajan and Hadrian his fellow countrymen continued to strike coins bearing his emblems and his venerated name…

The prevailing form is the figure of a seven-branched date tree, with the name ‘Simon’ struck on the obverse, and a three-bunch cluster of grapes, or a similarly shaped tripartite vine leaf on the reverse, with the words ‘First’, ‘Second’ or ‘Third Year of the Deliverance of Israel.’ According to Josephus, Simon Bar Gi’ora did not enter Jerusalem until the third year of the war, yet we possess coins issued by Simon which bear the inscriptions, ‘Second,’ and even ‘First year of the Deliverance of Israel’

Josephus declares there was a bitter enmity existing between Simon Bar Gi’ora, Eleazar Son of Simon, and John, the three princes of the Jews during the siege. Yet, we have one silver coin bearing the name of Eleazar on the obverse and that of Simon on the reverse. This can only prove that Simon and Eleazar acted conjointly even to the extent of minting coins in common…

The coining of money is always the prerogative of the sovereign power in a state. The extant coinage issued in Jerusalem during the siege, struck from almost identical dies, shows how the sovereign power within was divided and mutually recognized. Of course, the number of extant coins bearing the name of Simon far outnumber those of his coadjutors in power, Eleazar and John, and in proportion as they do so they show the relative influence of each on the government of the state and how the sovereign power eventually became vested in the greatest of the three.”

Source: Simon Son of Man, Riegel and Jordan, p. 257

As the Roman siege began, John Levi was afraid of Simon Bar Giora (Wars 5.6.3). Sometime later, though, the two factions led by Simon and John decided to lay aside their differences and work together (with the result being that several times they “became too hard for the Romans” and Titus was even nearly killed):

“Both sorts, seeing the common danger they were in, contrived to make a like defense. So those of different factions cried out one to another, that they acted entirely as in concert with their enemies; whereas they ought however, notwithstanding God did not grant them a lasting concord, in their present circumstances, to lay aside their enmities one against another, and to unite together against the Romans. Accordingly, Simon gave those that came from the temple leave, by proclamation, to go upon the wall; John also himself, though he could not believe Simon was in earnest, gave them the same leave. So on both sides they laid aside their hatred and their peculiar quarrels, and formed themselves into one body” (Wars 5.6.4).

Simon and John worked together in the most sinister way, falsely accusing people of plotting against them, attempting to betray Jerusalem to the Romans, or attempting to flee to the Romans. Josephus says that they passed these victims back and forth between each other:

“For the men that were in dignity, and withal were rich, they were carried before the tyrants themselves; some of whom were falsely accused of laying treacherous plots, and so were destroyed; others of them were charged with designs of betraying the city to the Romans; but the readiest way of all was this, to suborn [hire] somebody to affirm that they were resolved to desert to the enemy. And he who was utterly despoiled of what he had by Simon was sent back again to John, as of those who had been already plundered by Jotre, Simon got what remained; insomuch that they drank the blood of the populace to one another, and divided the dead bodies of the poor creatures between them; so that although, on account of their ambition after dominion, they contended with each other, yet did they very well agree in their wicked practices” (Wars 5.10.4).

Yet the Jews had the highest regard for, and fear of, Simon. They were also very ready to take their own lives, if he would have given such a command: “Above all, they had a great veneration and dread of Simon; and to that degree was he regarded by every one of those that were under him, that at his command they were very ready to kill themselves with their own hands” (Wars 5.7.3).

Toward the end of the Roman siege of Jerusalem, John Levi and many others had already been captured by the Romans, but Simon was still underground and hoping to escape. Josephus recorded his bizarre behavior when he finally emerged dressed like a king, hoping to trick the Romans, but was captured and kept for the eventual celebration in Rome. Interestingly, he chose to come up out of the ground exactly where the temple had been:

“This Simon, during the siege of Jerusalem, was in the upper city; but when the Roman army was gotten within the walls, and were laying the city waste, he then took the most faithful of his friends with him, and among them some that were stone-cutters, with those iron tools which belonged to their occupation, and as great a quantity of provisions as would suffice them for a long time, and let himself and all them down into a certain subterraneous cavern that was not visible above ground. Now, so far as had been digged of old, they went onward along it without disturbance; but where they met with solid earth, they dug a mine underground, and this in hopes that they should be able to proceed so far as to rise from underground in a safe place, and by that means escape. But when they came to make the experiment, they were disappointed of their hope; for the miners could make but small progress, and that with difficulty also; insomuch that their provisions, though they distributed them by measure, began to fail them.

And now Simon, thinking he might be able to astonish and elude the Romans, put on a white frock, and buttoned upon him a purple cloak, and appeared out of the ground in the place where the temple had formerly been. At the first, indeed, those that saw him were greatly astonished, and stood still where they were; but afterward they came nearer to him, and asked him who he was. Now Simon would not tell them, but bid them call for their captain; and when they ran to call him, Terentius Rufus who was left to command the army there, came to Simon, and learned of him the whole truth, and kept him in bonds, and let Caesar know that he was taken. Thus did God bring this man to be punished for what bitter and savage tyranny he had exercised against his countrymen by those who were his worst enemies; and this while he was not subdued by violence, but voluntarily delivered himself up to them to be punished, and that on the very same account that he had laid false accusations against many Jews, as if they were falling away to the Romans, and had barbarously slain them for wicked actions do not escape the Divine anger, nor is justice too weak to punish offenders, but in time overtakes those that transgress its laws, and inflicts its punishments upon the wicked in a manner, so much more severe, as they expected to escape it on account of their not being punished immediately. Simon was made sensible of this by falling under the indignation of the Romans. This rise of his out of the ground did also occasion the discovery of a great number of others of the seditious at that time, who had hidden themselves under ground. But for Simon, he was brought to Caesar in bonds, when he was come back to that Cesarea which was on the seaside, who gave orders that he should be kept against that triumph which he was to celebrate at Rome upon this occasion” (Wars 7.2.2).

Among the leaders of the captives taken from Jerusalem, Simon was listed first by Josephus (Wars 7.5.3). The Israeli historian Menahem Stern pointed out that the Roman historian, Tacitus, also listed him first:

“Both Simeon and John are mentioned side by side with Eleazar b. Simeon as the commanders in Jerusalem, not only by Josephus but by the Roman historian Tacitus, who enumerates Simeon first and Eleazar last. Titus also regarded Simeon bar Giora as the leading commander and it was he who was chosen by the Romans to exemplify an enemy commander and lead the triumphal procession in Rome.”


“Judaea Capta” coin from AD 71 (Source)

This triumphal procession is described in Wars 7.5.1-7. Simon was called “the general of the enemy” and his execution was in “the last part of this pompous show…at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus.” A rope was put around his head and he was tormented as he was dragged along. All the people shouted for joy when it was announced that he had been killed (Wars 7.5.6). A Jewish Encyclopedia article written in 1906 by Richard Gottheil (Professor of Semitic Languages, Columbia University) and Samuel Krauss (Professor in Budapest, Hungary) states that he was hurled to his death from the Tarpeian Rock. However, Cecil Roth, the Oxford Jewish historian, stated in a 1960 article that Simon was “was dragged to the Mamertine Prison, where he was strangled in the subterranean chamber.”

A 2007 article in Encyclopaedia Judaica says the following about Simon and his likely “king messiah” role:

“From extant information it would appear that Simeon b. Giora was the leader of a clear eschatological trend in the movement of rebellion against Rome, and possibly filled the role of ‘king messiah’ within the complex of eschatological beliefs held by his followers. His exceptional bravery and daring, mentioned by Josephus, undoubtedly attracted many to him, and won him preeminence among the rebel leaders. In contrast to the bitter hostility that existed between him and John of Giscala, there was a measure of understanding between him and the Sicarii at Masada.”

Bar Giora, Simeon.” Encyclopaedia Judaica. Encyclopedia.com. 3 Mar. 2017.

Martin Hengel, in The Zealots (pp. 290-298), agreed that Simon “made claims to Messianic dignity” (p. 297). According to Hengel, [1] Judas of Galilee [2] Menahem, and [3] Simon Bar Giora were all Messianic pretenders. He cited close similarities between Menahem and Simon Bar Giora in that they both marched into Jerusalem like kings, were both regarded by their followers as kings, and both dressed in royal garments when they were captured by their enemies.

Wounded Head

After this long overview of the Zealot movement and its various leaders, we come back to the question: “Who was the wounded head of Revelation 13:3?” Here, again, is what this verse states:

And I saw one of his heads as if it had been mortally wounded, and his deadly wound was healed. And all the world marveled and followed the beast.”

Several translations, by the way, including Young’s Literal Translation, say “all the earth marveled…” rather than “all the world marveled…” The Greek word for “the earth” (“ge”) can be translated as “the land.” That is, it was the land of Israel that marveled after the beast on account of its deadly wound being healed.

Almost 120 years after the uprising of Hezekiah, and 60 years after the uprising of Judas of Galilee, another head of the Zealot movement was crushed, which jeopardized the plans of the movement and destroyed its unity and momentum. That head was Menahem, who achieved victories at Masada, came into Jerusalem as a king, and became the leader of the Zealots, only to be killed about one month later. Martin Hengel says this about the ramifications of Menahem’s sudden death, which was especially untimely because it took place only about a month after the Jewish-Roman War officially began:

“This whole sequence of events led to a division in the ranks of the Zealot movement precisely at the moment when a consolidation of all its forces under a single leadership was required. It is probable that Menahem, the son of Judas, the founder of the sect, was the only man possessing the necessary authority and experience to organize a lasting resistance to the Romans based on the Zealot movement throughout the whole country

Menahem’s most faithful followers and especially the tribe of the Galilean Judas withdrew to Masada and took no further part in the subsequent course of the war… These men believed that the Temple had been desecrated by this bloody act [Menahem’s murder] and was therefore doomed to destruction. They remained faithful to their earlier views, however, and continued to follow Eleazar b. Ari (Jair), a grandson of Judas, as their leader until their mass suicide…in April 73 A.D. The groups of Zealots in the various parts of the territories settled by the Jews lost their common leader and therefore the bond that held them together. They consequently operated without any sensible plan and were deeply distrustful of the authorities in Jerusalem…

Menahem’s death had weakened the Zealots. Their weakness inevitably resulted in a strengthening in Jerusalem of the moderate forces inclined towards a compromise with Rome. There was therefore bound to be a renewed, intensified confrontation with the radical wing, which had been reinforced by the refugees from the frontier territories. The radicals, however, lacked leaders with universally recognized authority, with the result that there were struggles for power. These undermined the strength of the Jewish resistance.

The consideration of the Zealots as a solidly united party ends therefore with the murder of Menahem. It is true that Zealot ideas still persisted until the destruction of the city and even later, until the revolt of Bar Koseba. The ultimate aim of the sect, the ‘eschatological’ struggle of the entire people against Rome which had begun so promisingly, was, however, condemned to failure from the very beginning. The division of the movement into different groups at war with each other enabled Rome to achieve a victory even before the Holy War itself had properly commenced” (The Zealots, pp. 365-366).

The beast’s wound quickly began to heal when the Zealots achieved a surprise victory against Cestius Gallus about two months later in November AD 66 (Wars 2.19.1-9). The Zealots captured the military engines and other supplies from the Romans and “came back running and singing to their metropolis; while they had themselves lost a few only, but had slain of the Romans five thousand and three hundred footmen, and three hundred and eighty horsemen” (Wars 2.19.9). Eleazar ben Simon and Simon Bar Giora, nephew and uncle to one another, emerged as war heroes and played key roles in leading the revolt over the next 3.5 years. Martin Hengel remarks:

“Even though it would be wrong to place too high a value on the purely military success achieved against Syrian legions, which were notorious for their lack of discipline, the Jewish victory was nonetheless of decisive importance for the continuation of the fight for freedom. It led to even moderate groups of Jews either going over to the side of the war party or else leaving the city [Wars 2.20.1]. The radicals saw in this victory God’s confirmation of their cause and the beginning of the Holy War of annihilation against Rome. Typically enough, two of the new leaders who were, with their groups, to determine the fate of Jerusalem in the years ahead emerged for the first time during these battles before Jerusalem. The leader of a band, Simon Bar Giora, seized hold of the Roman baggage-train on the ascent of Beth-Horon and took it to Jerusalem, while a certain Eleazar b. Simon appeared as the leader of the radical and probably predominantly priestly ‘Zealots.’ To judge from the latter’s large share in the booty, he had played a leading part in the battle itself” (The Zealots, p. 369).

The Israeli historian, Menahem Stern, also emphasized the importance of Simon Bar Giora’s uprising for the Zealot movement after the sudden loss of Menahem and Eleazar ben Jair’s permanent flight to Masada. He saw Simon’s rise to the challenge as a satisfactory resolution after the Sicarii, the party of Hezekiah’s family dynasty, suddenly lacked “a recognized Sicarii leader in Jerusalem”:

“With the murder of Menahem and the departure of Eleazar b. Jair to [Masada, the Sicarii] had lost their traditional leadership. It is a fact that no less than 10,000 out of the 23,400 fighters who defended besieged Jerusalem were directly under the command of Simeon, and to them are to be added 5,000 Idumean soldiers who were associated with them, as against only 6,000 men under the direct command of John of Giscala and 2,400 Zealots who accepted the leadership of Eleazar b. Simeon (War 5:248–50). It thus emerges that under Simeon there were about two-thirds of the total of the defenders of Jerusalem, and the Romans were naturally justified in regarding him as the commander of the enemy forces.”

many of the Sicarii found it difficult to recognize the leadership of someone who did not belong to the family of Judah the Galilean. Nevertheless the differences were straightened out to some extent as a result of the absence of a recognized Sicarii leader in Jerusalem after the death of Menahem.”

Menahem was regarded as a king and a capable leader, but his sudden death came at a bad time for the Zealot movement and left a big hole in its leadership. The surprising victory over Cestius Gallus two months later brought healing to the movement. Before long, Simon Bar Giora brought further healing to the movement as he cozied up to the Sicarii, adopted their way of thinking, and had “men of power”, “slaves and robbers,” and “a great many of the populace” showing obedience to him “as their king” (Wars 4.9.4).
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In the next post we will look at Revelation 13:4, and why these questions were asked: “Who is like the beast? Who is able to make war with him?”

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

 

The Beast Empowered by the Dragon (Revelation 13:1-2)


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here. So far in this series we have examined the four kingdoms of Daniel 2, the four beasts of Daniel 7 (and the little horn), and Revelation 11.

Revelation 13 is probably cited more often than any other chapter when it comes to “the beast” of Revelation, and rightfully so. As you may have noticed in the introduction to this series, 46 percent of the verses in the book of Revelation (16 out of 35) which speak of a beast are in Revelation 13. This chapter actually speaks of two beasts, [1] the one briefly introduced in Revelation 11:7 and [2] a second beast which works closely with the first beast and is later called “the false prophet” (Revelation 16:13, 19:20, 20:10).

The first eight verses of this chapter (Revelation 13:1-8), as well as verse 18, describe “the beast.” We already saw that this beast was responsible for hunting down and killing the two witnesses in Jerusalem. Here we will see that this beast:

-rose up out of the sea
-had seven heads
-had 10 horns with 10 crowns
-had a blasphemous name
-had body parts of a leopard, a bear, and a lion
-received its power, throne, and authority from the dragon (Rev. 12)
-had a mortally wounded head that was healed
-received worship
-was admired for its victories in war
-had authority to continue for 42 months
-blasphemed God, His name, His tabernacle, and His saints
-warred against and overcame the saints
-had authority over every tribe, tongue, and nation
-worked closely with the second beast, later called “the false prophet
-was represented by an image, a mark, a name, and a number

Verses 11-17 describe a second beast that:

-came up out of the earth (also translated “land”)
-had two horns like a lamb
-spoke like a dragon
-worked in the presence of the first beast
-directed those in the land to worship the first beast
-performed great, deceiving signs
-oversaw the creation of an image to the first beast
-granted power to give breath to the image, which could speak and cause people to be killed
-allowed buying and selling only for those who had the mark, number, or name of the first beast

Revelation 13:1

Then I stood on the sand of the sea. And I saw a beast rising up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and on his horns ten crowns, and on his heads a blasphemous name.”

John was “on the island that is called Patmos” when he recorded his prophetic visions (Rev. 1:9). Patmos is in the Aegian Sea, which “is an elongated embayment of the Mediterranean Sea” (Wikipedia). Did John see the beast rise up out of that sea? Recall that Daniel saw “the Great Sea” stirred up (Daniel 7:2) and all four beasts coming “up from the sea” (Daniel 7:3). So Daniel clearly saw the beasts rising up out of the Mediterranean Sea. The Babylonian, Persian, and Greek kingdoms all formed to the east, north, and south of the Mediterranean Sea. The western border of the Judean kingdom was also the Mediterranean Sea.

The term “sea” can represent Gentiles or nations, as it does in Revelation 17:1, 15. (See also Psalm 65:7; Isaiah 17:12-13, 57:20, 60:5; Jeremiah 6:23; Luke 21:25.) As we saw in our study of Revelation 11:1-2, it was not only the Romans in John’s day who were “Gentiles.” The Idumeans and Galileans were also considered to be Gentiles. In Wars 4.3.2-4, Josephus spoke of large multitudes from various regions that “crept into Jerusalem” as the Jewish-Roman War was about to begin, and these multitudes followed the lead of the Zealot movement. The three main Zealot leaders, Eleazar ben Simon, John Levi of Gischala, and Simon Bar Giora, were Galileans. When Simon came to Jerusalem in April 69 AD, he brought an army of 40,000 with him, including many Idumeans (Wars 4.9.3-12).

Revelation 13:1 describes the beast as having seven heads. This is the same number of heads that the dragon (“called the Devil and Satan”) also had (Rev. 12:3, 9). John provides more details about the seven heads in Revelation 17:9-11, and he singles out one of the heads in Rev. 13:3. So when we cover those verses we will explore who the heads were and what roles they played. I believe they were heads of the Zealot movement, some in the decades prior to the Jewish-Roman War and others during the war.

This verse also describes the beast as having 10 horns (Rev. 12:3). Again, this is the same number of horns that the dragon had. John likewise gives more details about the 10 horns in Revelation 17:12-17 than he does in Revelation 13, so we will have that discussion later in this series as well. In the meantime, please feel free to refer to a post I wrote in July 2016 in which I propose that the 10 horns were 10 Jewish generals who were given authority in December 66 AD (Wars 2.20.3-4).

Our study of Daniel 7 also discussed the three horns that were plucked out by the little horn – details that are not found in the book of Revelation. If you read that part of the series, you’ll recall that I proposed that the little horn was Eleazar ben Simon and that the three plucked horns were [1] Ananus ben Ananus [2] Niger of Perea, and [3] Joseph ben Gorion. Their deaths are recorded in Wars 4.5.2 and Wars 4.6.1.

Revelation 13:2

Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard, his feet were like the feet of a bear, and his mouth like the mouth of a lion. And the dragon gave him his power, his throne, and great authority.”

Here John describes the beast as having the traits of the first three beasts that Daniel saw come up from the sea in Daniel 7:3-6. There are a couple of things to notice about John’s description:

1. The animals are listed in reverse order compared to how they were listed by Daniel.
2. The leopard trait is most dominant, representing the beast’s body. Only the feet and the mouth of the beast are like a bear and like a lion.

leopard-lion-and-bear

Photo Source

In Daniel’s vision, the lion represented Babylon (Daniel 7:4), the bear represented Medo-Persia (Daniel 7:5; 8:20), and the leopard represented Greece (Daniel 7:6; 8:21-22). In John’s vision, these same animals are listed in reverse order, referring to Greece, Medo-Persia, and Babylon, respectively.

[The leopard = Greece]: As John saw the beast of his own time period, he also looked back into Israel’s history and first saw the kingdom which had most recently held dominion over Israel – Greece. That kingdom was represented in almost the entire body of the beast: “Now the beast which I saw was like a leopard…” It’s no surprise that the Greek trait was most dominant in the Jewish beast of John’s day, considering that Greece/Macedonia was the kingdom which had held dominion over Israel as recently as 323 BC – 142 BC. The Greek language was dominant in the Roman Empire, and was the language into which the Septuagint was translated and the language in which most of the New Testament was written.

A Greek influence was also seen near the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War. When Vespasian captured part of Galilee in the summer of 67 AD, he “sat upon his tribunal at Taricheae, in order to distinguish the foreigners from the old inhabitants; for those foreigners appeared to have begun the war.” Some of those foreigners were from Hippos, which was “a Greco-Roman city” in the Decapolis that was “culturally tied more closely to Greece and Rome than to the Semitic ethnoi around” (Wikipedia). Josephus said that “the greatest part of [those foreigners] were seditious persons and fugitives, who were of such shameful characters that they preferred war before peace.” Most of the other foreigners were from Trachonitis and Gaulanitis, in the region of Batanea near Persia (Wars 3.10.10).

batanea

Photo Source

[The bear = Medo-Persia]: Only the feet of the beast were “like the feet of a bear.” It may be that the sicarii of John’s day best represented the Persian trait of the beast. The sicarii worked with the Zealots in rebelling, making war, and destroying Israel. As Josephus wrote about this group:

“And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who were robbers, grew numerous. They made use of small swords, not much different in length from the Persian acinacae, but somewhat crooked, and like the Roman sicae, [or sickles,] as they were called; and from these weapons these robbers got their denomination; and with these weapons they slew a great many; for they mingled themselves among the multitude at their festivals, when they were come up in crowds from all parts to the city to worship God, as we said before, and easily slew those that they had a mind to slay. They also came frequently upon the villages belonging to their enemies, with their weapons, and plundered them, and set them on fire” (Antiquities 20.8.10).

As we saw in the section just above, a good number of the foreigners that “appeared to have begun the war” (Wars 3.10.10) were from the region of Batanea, very close to Persia.

[The lion = Babylon]: Only the mouth of the beast was “like the mouth of a lion.” Mark Mountjoy of Atavist Bible Church said the following in a conversation in New Testament Open University:

“The Babylonian trait can be seen in the mouth of the Lion and can be explained by extreme pride and arrogance (big and pretentious talk – Wars 4.3.1:121-124) around the architectural beauty and security of Jerusalem (and in Josephus this attitude is attributed to John of Gischala – see Wars 4.3.1:126-127).”

Pride is what marked the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (Daniel 4:37). Here is the quote from Wars 4.3.1 that Mark referred to above, which describes what happened when John Levi escaped from Gischala (in Galilee) and came to Jerusalem in November 67 AD:

“Now upon John’s entry into Jerusalem, the whole body of the people were in an uproar, and ten thousand of them crowded about every one of the fugitives that were come to them, and inquired of them what miseries had happened abroad, when their breath was so short, and hot, and quick, that of itself it declared the great distress they were in; yet did they talk big under their misfortunes, and pretended to say that they had not fled away from the Romans, but came thither in order to fight them with less hazard; for that it would be an unreasonable and a fruitless thing for them to expose themselves to desperate hazards about Gischala, and such weak cities, whereas they ought to lay up their weapons and their zeal, and reserve it for their metropolis… But for John, he was very little concerned for those whom he had left behind him, but went about among all the people, and persuaded them to go to war, by the hopes he gave them. He affirmed that the affairs of the Romans were in a weak condition, and extolled his own power. He also jested upon the ignorance of the unskillful, as if those Romans, although they should take to themselves wings, could never fly over the wall of Jerusalem, who found such great difficulties in taking the villages of Galilee, and had broken their engines of war against their walls. These harangues of John’s corrupted a great part of the young men, and puffed them up for the war.”

In this regard, we can also note that Eleazar ben Simon, the Zealot leader who was in Jerusalem for the entire war (until he was killed in April 70 AD), was known for his “tyrannical temper” (Wars 2.20.3). A man like that may also very well have had a mouth like a lion.

Mark Mountjoy provides this summary of the Greek, Medo-Persian, and Babylonian traits of the beast (New Testament Open University; January 24, 2017):

“Here are some fascinating tid-bits: The Zealots correspond to the leopard traits of the beast. As thorough-going Hellenists they warred against each other just like Alexander’s generals fought tooth and nail after he died. Leopards hunt at night and are swift and stealthy. The Sicarii correspond to the bear traits. The small knife they carried and were infamous for (and even named after) came from Persia (the bear). Unlike the Zealots (who were swift and prone to infighting), the Sicarii were slow and, after the initial wins in Jerusalem, retired to Masada for the duration of the war. I would say that John Gischala and his initial leadership of the beast corresponds to the Babylonians. His boast about the Romans being unable to fly over the walls of Jerusalem even if they had eagle’s wings (Wars 4.3.1:121-127) makes one think of Nebuchadnezzar’s pride for the grand architecture and gardens of Babylon. And John Gischala, (like Belshazzar) went into the Holy Place and used God’s utensils and the priestly oil and wine in a sacrilegious way (Wars 5.13.6:562-565).”

[The dragon gave its power to the beast]: In the last part of verse 2 we see the statement that “the dragon gave him [the beast] his power, his throne, and great authority.” This statement takes us back to Revelation 12, where John saw “a great, fiery red dragon” that had seven heads, ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads (Rev. 12:2) just like the beast (Rev. 13:1). That dragon had his own angels (Rev. 12:7), was kicked out of heaven (Rev. 12:8), and was cast to the earth (Rev. 12:9). He was also called “that serpent of old”, “the Devil,” and “Satan” (Rev. 12:9).

Notice that the dragon’s primary activity was accusing the brethren: “Now salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down” (Rev. 12:10). This trait is another strong indication that the dragon gave his power, throne, and authority to a Jewish beast rather than to a Roman beast. The following Scripture passages demonstrate a repeated pattern among the Jewish authorities of accusing Jesus and His followers during the New Testament period (my thanks goes to Steven Haukdahl for initially sharing a similar list with me):

Matthew 12:10, 27:12, 27:37;
Mark 3:2, 15:3-4, 15:26;
Luke 11:54, 23:2, 23:10, 23:14;
John 8:6, 18:29;
Acts 22:30, 23:28-29, 24:2; 24:8, 24:13; 25:5, 25:11, 26:2, 26:7

Also note that Peter gave the following warning to his readers: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour” (I Peter 5:8). Interestingly, the prophet Zephaniah said this about Jerusalem in his day: “Her princes in her midst are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves that leave not a bone till morning” (Zephaniah 3:3). The Judaizers in Peter’s day, who were like “natural brute beasts,” apparently were known for bringing “a reviling accusation” against God’s people, which even the angels would not do (II Peter 2:11-12; Jude 8-10).

When the Zealots gained control of Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War, they displayed this same trait by frequently bringing accusations against the people, even killing those whom they merely suspected of having any sympathy toward Rome (Wars 5.1.5). During the Zealot siege of early 68 AD, the Zealots, with the help of the Idumeans, set up “fictitious tribunals and judicatures” to falsely accuse their enemies:

“And now these zealots and Idumeans were quite weary of barely killing men, so they had the impudence of setting up fictitious tribunals and judicatures for that purpose; and as they intended to have Zacharias the son of Baruch, one of the most eminent of the citizens, slain, – so what provoked them against him was, that hatred of wickedness and love of liberty which were so eminent in him: he was also a rich man, so that by taking him off, they did not only hope to seize his effects, but also to get rid of a man that had great power to destroy them. So they called together, by a public proclamation, seventy of the principal men of the populace, for a show, as if they were real judges, while they had no proper authority. Before these was Zacharias accused of a design to betray their polity to the Romans, and having traitorously sent to Vespasian for that purpose. Now there appeared no proof or sign of what he was accused; but they affirmed themselves that they were well persuaded that so it was… So two of the boldest of them fell upon Zacharias in the middle of the temple, and slew him…” (Wars 4.5.4).

After the Zealots eliminated the prominent men whom they considered to be threats, Josephus described how they suspected, targeted, and accused anyone and everyone:

“…and indeed there was no part of the people but they found out some pretense to destroy them; for some were therefore slain, because they had had differences with some of them; and as to those that had not opposed them in times of peace, they watched seasonable opportunities to gain some accusation against them; and if any one did not come near them at all, he was under their suspicion as a proud man; if any one came with boldness, he was esteemed a contemner of them; and if any one came as aiming to oblige them, he was supposed to have some treacherous plot against them; while the only punishment of crimes, whether they were of the greatest or smallest sort, was death” (Wars 4.6.1).

The Roman siege of Jerusalem began in mid-April AD 70. As it heated up, Simon and John worked together in the most sinister way, falsely accusing people of plotting against them, attempting to betray Jerusalem to the Romans, or attempting to flee to the Romans. Josephus says that they passed these victims back and forth between each other:

“For the men that were in dignity, and withal were rich, they were carried before the tyrants themselves; some of whom were falsely accused of laying treacherous plots, and so were destroyed; others of them were charged with designs of betraying the city to the Romans; but the readiest way of all was this, to suborn [hire] somebody to affirm that they were resolved to desert to the enemy. And he who was utterly despoiled of what he had by Simon was sent back again to John, as of those who had been already plundered by Jotre, Simon got what remained; insomuch that they drank the blood of the populace to one another, and divided the dead bodies of the poor creatures between them; so that although, on account of their ambition after dominion, they contended with each other, yet did they very well agree in their wicked practices” (Wars 5.10.4).

Josephus recorded many other instances of the Zealots and Jewish leaders accusing their enemies, including the following examples: Wars 1.5.3; 1.9.2; 1.10.1; 1.12.4-5 (“accused the brethren”); 1.16.7; 1.22.3; 1.23.1, 3, 4; 1.24.6, 8; 1.26.2-5; 1.27.1-3, 5-6; 1.29.2-3; 1.32.4, 6; 1.33.4; 2.2.1, 4-6; 2.6.1-2; 2.9.5-6; 2.14.3, 5; 2.21.2, 7; 4.4.3; 4.5.4; 4.6.17.2.1; 7.3.3; 7.10.1; and 7.11.1-3.

In the next post we will look at Revelation 13:3, the mortal wounding of one of the beast’s seven heads, and the healing of that wound. I will also present an overview of the Zealot movement, the movement which I believe was led by those seven heads.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

The Gentiles Trampled Jerusalem for 42 Months (Revelation 11:1-2)


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

So far in this series we have examined the four kingdoms of Daniel 2, the four beasts of Daniel 7, and the numerous details that Daniel was given about the fourth beast. This included the various roles of the “little horn” that rose up among the 10 horns of the fourth beast.

In Revelation 11:7, the fourth beast of Daniel 7 is introduced for the first time simply as “the beast.” It’s translated this way in all 25 versions at Bible Hub. It’s a very sudden introduction, so this should provoke the reader to look back to Daniel 7 to understand this entity’s background.

The reason for this is a grammatical rule known as “the rule of first mention.” This rule dictates that a writer should only use the article “the” when it’s clear to the reader what is being referred to. When introducing a subject for the first time, “a” is the proper article to use. Here’s an example:

An armed robbery took place this morning at J & M’s Pet Store. About an hour ago the police found a gun in a trashcan near the store. They believe it’s the gun that was used in the robbery.”

John expected his original audience to know the writings of Daniel, who prophesied about the fourth beast whose kingdom would be replaced by the kingdom of God. The Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary (1882) came to the same conclusion:

“This beast was not mentioned before, yet he is introduced as “the beast,” because he had already been described by Daniel (Da 7:3, 11), and he is fully so in the subsequent part of the Apocalypse, namely, Rev 13:1; 17:8. Thus, John at once appropriates the Old Testament prophecies; and also, viewing his whole subject at a glance, mentions as familiar things (though not yet so to the reader) objects to be described hereafter by himself. It is a proof of the unity that pervades all Scripture.”

In the next post, we will look at Revelation 11:7 in context, but first I’d like to examine Revelation 11:1-2 which speaks of the holy city, Jerusalem, being trampled by “the Gentiles” for 42 months. Just like the beast, this description is often thought to be about the Romans, but that idea doesn’t line up with history.

Gentiles in Revelation 11:1-2

In Revelation 11:1-2 John was told about a 3.5 year period of tragedy that was about to come upon:

Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod. And the angel stood, saying, ‘Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there. But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles, and they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.’”

The Greek word used here for “Gentiles” is “ethnos,” the counterpart of the Hebrew word “goy” in the Old Testament. In the past, I simply assumed that this must be a reference to the Romans who helped destroy Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. I marked out 3.5 years from the time that Nero dispatched Vespasian as his war general (early 67 AD) until Vespasian’s son, Titus, oversaw the burning of the temple in August 70 AD.

However, the Romans did not trample the city of Jerusalem for 42 months. They only trampled Jerusalem during the 5-month siege of Titus in 70 AD. The Jews successfully kicked the Romans out of Jerusalem in August 66 AD, and they only managed to return to Jerusalem for a few days in November 66 AD when Cestius Gallus unsuccessfully attacked the city. For the next 3.5 years the Romans did not enter Jerusalem.

During the 42 months before the Romans came, Jerusalem was indeed trampled, but it was by a different group of people. In early 68 AD Jesus ben Gamala, one of the former high priests, gave a speech in which he described what was happening to Jerusalem because of the Zealots:

“And this place, which is adored by the habitable world, and honored by such as only know it by report, as far as the ends of the earth, is trampled upon by these wild beasts born among ourselves” (Wars 4.4.3).

So, according to this testimony, it was the Zealots who trampled Jerusalem, and they had a reputation for behaving like wild beasts. In what sense were they “Gentiles,” though? Consider what [1] The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia and [2] The Jewish Encyclopedia say about the use of the word “goy” in Scripture: 

  1. “The Hebrew word goy (plural goyim) means ‘nation.’ In Biblical usage it is applied also to Israel: ‘Ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation’ (goy kadosh; Ex. 19:6).”

Source: “Gentiles,” The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, NY: The Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, Inc., 1941); Volume 4, p. 533.

  1. “In the Hebrew of the Bible ‘goi’ and its plural ‘goyyim’ originally meant ‘nation,’ and were applied both to Israelites and to non-Israelites (Gen. xii. 2, xvii. 20; Ex. xiii. 3, xxxii. 10; Deut. iv. 7; viii. 9, 14; Num. xiv. 12; Isa. i. 4, ix. 22; Jer. vii. 28).”

Source: “Gentile,” The Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, NY: Funk and Wagnalls Company, 1905); Volume 5, p. 615.

There were indeed multiple nations that trampled Jerusalem from the fall of 66 AD until the spring of 70 AD when the Romans were not in the city. Wikipedia gives this summary of those who fought the hardest against the Romans:

“During the Great Rebellion (66-70 CE) the Galileans and Idumeans were the most adamant fighters against Rome; they fought the Romans to the death when many Judeans were ready to accept peace terms.”

Galilee

Galilee was home to many Jews, but it was also associated with “the Gentiles.” When Jesus departed to Galilee after John the Baptist was put in prison, Matthew said that this prophecy from Isaiah was fulfilled:

“The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness saw a great light, and upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned” (Matthew 4:15-16).

The three main Zealot leaders (Eleazar ben Simon, John Levi, and Simon Bar Giora) who orchestrated so much bloodshed in Jerusalem were not from Judea. John was from Gischala (Galilee) and Simon was from Gerasa (Wars 4.9.3), which at the time was one of the cities of the Roman Decapolis and today is in Jordan. By the time that Simon “got possession of Jerusalem” in April 69 AD (Wars 4.9.12), he had an army of more than 40,000 people, including Idumeans, who he had gathered from the countryside.

Eleazar took possession of Jerusalem even earlier, in late 66 AD. According to Wikipedia, he was likely from Galilee:

“Historical evidence of Eleazar arises in 66 CE, when he crushed Cestius Gallus’ Legio XII Fulminata at Beit-Horon. Yet prior to this encounter, little is known about his early life and rise to power. It can be inferred, however, from the geopolitical scene of ancient Israel in the first century CE. that he grew up in Galilee, the center of Zealotry. Zealots were shunned by the High Priesthood in Jerusalem prior to the revolt. This disunity with other sects of Judaism confined Zealotry to its birthplace in Galilee. Yet when the revolt broke out in 66 CE, the Galilean zealots fled the Roman massacres and sought refuge in the last major Jewish stronghold: Jerusalem. Since Eleazar was placed in command of a large army of Jews in the battle against Cestius’ Legio, he had already risen to a position of power in the priesthood prior to his military success.”

In Wars 4.3.2-4, Josephus spoke of large multitudes from various regions that “crept into Jerusalem” as the Jewish-Roman War was about to begin. Josephus said that “the multitude that came out of the country were at discord before the Jerusalem sedition began” (see Revelation 6:4). He added:

There were besides disorders and civil wars in every city; and all those that were at quiet from the Romans turned their hands one against another. There was also a bitter contest between those that were fond of war, and those that were desirous for peace…

[T]he captains of these troops of robbers, being satiated with rapines in the country, got all together from all parts, and became a band of wickedness, and all together crept into Jerusalem… these very men, besides the seditions they raised, were otherwise the direct cause of the city’s destruction also… Moreover, besides the bringing on of the war, they were the occasions of sedition and famine therein. There were besides these other robbers that came out of the country, and came into the city, and joining to them those that were worse than themselves …”

In Wars 4.9.10 Josephus says that John Levi of Gischala corrupted “the body of the Galileans” in Jerusalem, who had given him his authority. Josephus went on to say of these Galileans that “their inclination to plunder was insatiable, as was their zeal in searching the houses of the rich; and for the murdering of the men, and abusing of the women, it was sport to them…”

The negative views that many Judeans had toward Galileans can be seen in the following Scripture verses: Matthew 26:73; Mark 14:70; John 1:46, 7:52.

Idumea

The Idumeans were known as Edomites who descended from Esau. In early 68 AD, the Idumeans were invited by the Zealots to come up to Jerusalem. An army of 20,000 led by four generals responded. Upon their arrival they slaughtered thousands of people within the gates of Jerusalem (Wars 4.5). Josephus referred to their actions as “foreign assistance” to the Zealot cause (Wars 4.4). According to Ezekiel, Amos, and Obadiah, the Edomites did the same thing during past calamities of Israel and Judah:

Because you have had an ancient hatred, and have shed the blood of the children of Israel by the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, when their iniquity came to an end…” (Ezekiel 35:5).

For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he pursued his brother with the sword, and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever” (Amos 1:11).

For your violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. In the day that strangers carried captive his forces, when foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem – even you were as one of them… You should not have stood at the crossroads to cut off those among them who escaped; nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained in the day of distress” (Obadiah 10-14).

See this article at the Bible History site for more information on the Edomites and Idumeans.

“Foreigners Appeared to Have Begun the War.”

About a year into the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD), the Roman general Vespasian stated his strong suspicion that “foreigners” had begun the war. Josephus then identified those foreigners and where they came from. It happened when Vespasian captured part of Galilee in the summer of 67 AD. He “sat upon his tribunal at Taricheae, in order to distinguish the foreigners from the old inhabitants; for those foreigners appeared to have begun the war.

Some of those foreigners were from Hippos, which was “a Greco-Roman city” in the Decapolis that was “culturally tied more closely to Greece and Rome than to the Semitic ethnoi around” (Wikipedia). Josephus said that “the greatest part of [those foreigners] were seditious persons and fugitives, who were of such shameful characters that they preferred war before peace.” Most of the other foreigners were from Trachonitis and Gaulanitis, in the region of Batanea near Persia (Wars 3.10.10).

batanea

Photo Source

Josephus said that those “foreigners” were fugitives, which means they were on the run. Who and where were they running from? I don’t know. Did some of them also converge on Jerusalem as Galilee, Perea, and other territories were captured by the Romans?

Pagans and Sons of Hell

There’s another sense in which even the Jews could be described as “the Gentiles.” Among the given meanings for the Greek word “ethnos” are the words “heathens” and “pagans.” In the book of Revelation John certainly describes a great deal of pagan activity happening in Jerusalem. Anyone who reads the descriptions of the Zealots given by Josephus will quickly see that their behavior was lawless, savage, and pagan, to say the least. Several decades earlier, Jesus had denounced the scribes and Pharisees for traveling “land and sea” to win disciples only to make them “twice as much a son of hell” as themselves (Matthew 23:15). Apparently, some of these “sons of hell” made Jerusalem and the temple into their own “shop of tyranny” (Wars 4.3.7).

In summary, it was not the Romans who trampled on Jerusalem for 42 months in 66-70 AD. Instead, Jerusalem was trampled by the Zealots, Galileans, Idumeans, etc. They were the Gentiles spoken of in Revelation 11:1-2. We will see more evidence of their trampling as we progress in this study.

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The next post will examine Revelation 11:3-13 and the two witnesses who were killed by the beast.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

Did All of the Judean Christians Flee to Pella?


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

In the previous post, “The Little Horn Persecuted the Saints (Daniel 7:21, 25),” we continued to examine the roles that Daniel 7 says the little horn of the beast was to play. That post highlighted the persecution and murders carried out by the Zealots against anyone who advocated for peace instead of war, and against anyone they even suspected of wanting to defect to the Romans. During the height of that persecution (66 AD – 70 AD), were Christians in Judea and Jerusalem, and did they get caught up in the midst of it? Or did they all flee to Pella in late 66 AD?

Were Christians in Jerusalem During the Jewish-Roman War?

According to Daniel 7:21-22, 25 the little horn would make war against the saints, persecute them, and prevail against them until “the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.” The saints would be in his hand for 3.5 years.

Revelation 13 gives some clues as to where these 3.5 years of persecution (Rev. 13:5-7) would take place. It would be directed toward those “who dwell in the land” (of Israel) who wouldn’t worship the beast (Rev. 13:8, 12). This requirement to worship the beast would be enforced by the beast that came “up out of the land” (a.k.a. “the false prophet”; Rev. 16:13, 19:20, 20:10). He would deceive “those who dwell in the land,” and he would work in the presence of the beast (Rev. 13:11-15). So Israel would be the geographical center of this persecution.

It should be safe to assume that the Christians didn’t support the war, and therefore they were at high risk of being killed if they were in Judea and Jerusalem from 66-70 AD. However, neither Josephus nor Tacitus specifically said that Christians were killed there during that time. As far as I’m aware, Josephus never singled out Christians, or distinguished between Jews and Christians, in any of his writings. He did not specifically say that Christians were killed along with Jews in Judea and Jerusalem prior to and during the first half of the Jewish-Roman War (66-70 AD).

The claim has been made that no Christians were killed when Jerusalem was destroyed, because they had all escaped to Pella (in modern Jordan). Who first made that claim, and what information was it based on? Assuming it’s true, does it simply mean that no Christians were killed during the siege of April-August 70 AD? Or does it mean, more broadly, that no Christians were killed in Jerusalem after the war began in 66 AD?

pella

Source: Wikipedia (Pella, Jordan)

Since Daniel 7:21, 25 says that the little horn persecuted and prevailed against the Christians for 3.5 years, and since Revelation 13 shows that Christians living in Israel were targets of this persecution, then these are important questions to consider. This is especially true if one is open to the idea that this persecution was carried out by the Zealots.

For a while, the Zealots persecuted and killed their opponents in Galilee, Samaria, Judea, Idumea, and perhaps elsewhere as well, but eventually they were isolated to Jerusalem as the Romans gradually captured those territories. Once the Zealots were isolated to Jerusalem, Josephus is clear that they continued to oppose and kill their opponents there as well (see the previous post). Were Christians among them?

Here are the words of Jesus warning His followers of a time when they would need to flee:

Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place (whoever reads, let him understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… For then there will be great tribulation…” (Matthew 24:15-16, 21).

But when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing where it ought not (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains… For in those days there will be tribulation…” (Mark 13:14, 19).

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her… For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:20-21, 23).

So Luke equates the abomination of desolation with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. When this happened, Christians were instructed to leave not only Jerusalem, but all of Judea, and not to go back in. The following are the earliest testimonies I’m aware of concerning Christians heeding this warning and fleeing to Pella and elsewhere (source: Preterist Archive):

Eusebius (263 – 339 AD)

[1] “But the people of the church in Jerusalem had been commanded by a revelation, vouchsafed to approved men there before the war, to leave the city and to dwell in a certain town of Perea called Pella. And when those that believed in Christ had come there from Jerusalem, then, as if the royal city of the Jews and the whole land of Judea were entirely destitute of holy men, the judgment of God at length overtook those who had committed such outrages against Christ and his apostles, and totally destroyed that generation of impious men” (Ecclesiastical History 3.5.3, 290’s AD).

[2] “After all those who believed in Christ had generally come to live in Perea, in a city called Pella of the Decapolis of which it is written in the Gospel and which is situated in the neighborhood of the region of Batanaea and Basanitis, Ebion’s preaching originated here after they had moved to this place and had lived there” (Panarion 30:2).

[3] “For when the city was about to be captured and sacked by the Romans, all the disciples were warned beforehand by an angel to remove from the city, doomed as it was to utter destruction. On migrating from it they settled at Pella, the town already indicated, across the Jordan. It is said to belong to Decapolis” (de Mens. et Pond., 15).

[4] “Now this sect of Nazarenes exists in Beroea in Coele-Syria, and in Decapolis in the district of Pella, and in Kochaba of Basanitis– called Kohoraba in Hebrew. For thence it originated after the migration from Jerusalem of all the disciples who resided at Pella, Christ having instructed them to leave Jerusalem and retire from it on account of the impending siege. It was owing to this counsel that they went away, as I have said, to reside for a while at Pella” (Haer 29:7).

Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis (315 – 403 AD)

“The Nazoraean sect exists in Beroea near Coele Syria, in the Decapolis near the region of Pella, and in Bashan in the place called Cocaba, which in Hebrew is called Chochabe. That is where the sect began, when all the disciples were living in Pella after they moved from Jerusalem, since Christ told them to leave Jerusalem and withdraw because it was about to be besieged” (Panarion 29:7:7-8).

“Their sect began after the capture of Jerusalem. For when all those who believed in Christ settled at that time for the most part in Peraea, in a city called Pella belonging to the Decapolis mentioned in the gospel, which is next to Batanaea and the land of Bashan, then they moved there and stayed” (Panarion 30:2:7).

Remigius, Bishop of Reims (437 – 533 AD)

[1] “[F]or on the approach of the Roman army, all the Christians in the province, warned, as ecclesiastical history tells us, miraculously from heaven, withdrew, and passing the Jordan, took refuge in the city of Pella; and under the protection of that King Agrippa, of whom we read in the Acts of the Apostles, they continued some time; but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans” [Thomas Aquinas (1841). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels; Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Matthew. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 1, p. 799-816)].

So the earliest known testimony about the Christians fleeing to Pella seems to belong to Eusebius, who wrote approximately 230 years after the flight took place. Some speculate that his reports were based on the writings of Hegesippus (110-180 AD), whose writings are now mostly lost. Here are a few things to note from these testimonies:

1. Eusebius said that the church in Jerusalem was warned to flee “before the war,” which Josephus said began in August 66 AD (Wars 2.17.2).
2. Eusebius said that the believers “generally” came to live in Pella of Perea. Epiphanius likewise said that they settled in Pella “for the most part.” This indicates that some believers escaped to other locations and/or that not all of the believers escaped.
3. When Remigius said “as ecclesiastical history tells us,” he appears to have been relying on the accounts of Eusebius.
4. Remigius revealed that Agrippa, who protected the Christians at Pella, was under the dominion of the Romans, and that the Jews he watched over were also under the dominion of the Romans.

Josephus does record a mass exodus out of Judea, but it’s difficult to tell exactly when it happened. It took place while Gessius Florus was the Procurator of Judea (64-66 AD). He behaved wickedly toward the Jews, causing the Zealots to gain the upper hand in Judea. According to Josephus, “he spoiled whole cities, and ruined entire bodies of men at once… entire toparchies were brought to desolation, and a great many of the people left their own country, and fled into foreign provinces” (Wars 2.14.2).

The earliest major attack of Jerusalem by the Romans took place in November 66 AD when Cestius Gallus led an army toward Jerusalem to try to put down the rebellion there (Wars 2.19.2-9). The Jews who were gathered there for one of the feasts “saw the war approaching to their metropolis” (Wars 2.19.2). Cestius and his army approached from the northeast of Jerusalem, first observing the city from Mount Scopus, one of the seven mountains of Jerusalem (Wars 2.19.4). It appears that Cestius approached Jerusalem and entered it from one direction, rather than surrounding the city. This also took place several months after the war had begun. (According to Eusebius, the believers were warned to flee before the war began.)

In order to reconcile the account of Eusebius with the words of Jesus, Jerusalem needed to be surrounded by armies prior to the war, which began in August 66 AD, according to Josephus. Was there an earlier instance of Jerusalem being surrounded, which prompted the believers to flee? Consider this account by Josephus, which took place in April – May 66 AD:

“A few days after that feast, on the one and twentieth day of the month Artemisius [Jyar], a certain prodigious and incredible phenomenon appeared: I suppose the account of it would seem to be a fable, were it not related by those that saw it, and were not the events that followed it of so considerable a nature as to deserve such signals; for, before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armor were seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities” (Wars 6.5.3).

Did Christians flee Jerusalem and Judea at that time? By the time Cestius Gallus arrived in November 66 AD, Josephus says this about the people in Jerusalem: “Now for the people, they were kept under by the seditious” (Wars 2.19.4), meaning that they were under the control of the Zealots. This would have been a dangerous environment for any remaining Christians. In other words, the Zealots were a danger and a threat to the people of Jerusalem well before the Romans were. It was also at this time that Josephus said that many of the Zealots “retired from the suburbs, and retreated into the inner part of the city, and into the temple.” They did this because they were “affrighted at the good order of the Romans.”

Many of the Zealots did briefly leave Jerusalem when Cestius Gallus approached the city, but only for a matter of days. They were seized by fear, ran out of Jerusalem, and some of the people opened the gates and invited Cestius Gallus in “as their benefactor.” However, Cestius was unaware that the Zealots had fled and he surprisingly passed on this opportunity to capture Jerusalem. Instead, the Zealots resumed their courage and began to attack the armies of Cestius Gallus, soon achieving a resounding victory. Presumably, Christians in Jerusalem also had an opportunity to flee Jerusalem during those several days when Cestius Gallus was retreating from Jerusalem and most of the Zealots were pursuing his forces. Here’s how Josephus summarized that chain of events:

“A horrible fear seized upon the seditious, insomuch that many of them ran out of the city, as though it were to be taken immediately; but the people upon this took courage, and where the wicked part of the city gave ground, thither did they come, in order to set open the gates, and to admit Cestius as their benefactor, who, had he but continued the siege a little longer, had certainly taken the city; but it was, I suppose, owing to the aversion God had already at the city and the sanctuary, that he was hindered from putting an end to the war that very day.

It then happened that Cestius was not conscious either how the besieged despaired of success, nor how courageous the people were for him; and so he recalled his soldiers from the place, and by despairing of any expectation of taking it, without having received any disgrace, he retired from the city, without any reason in the world. But when the robbers perceived this unexpected retreat of his, they resumed their courage, and ran after the hinder parts of his army, and destroyed a considerable number of both their horsemen and footmen…” (Wars 2.19.6-7).

Immediately after this defeat of Cestius Gallus, Josephus speaks of more Jews fleeing from Jerusalem: “After this calamity had befallen Cestius, many of the most eminent of the Jews swam away from the city, as from a ship when it was going to sink” (Wars 2.20.1).

Aside from the armies in the clouds which were seen surrounding cities in April – May 66 AD, there were also armies of Zealots roaming throughout Judea and Jerusalem. It’s possible that they surrounded Jerusalem prior to gaining such power that in November 66 AD they were able to “keep the people under” (Wars 2.19.4).

Concerning “abominations,” note that Josephus said that Jerusalem was full of them by September 66 AD, two months before the Romans arrived. This is when the Zealot leader Manahem and his followers were slain in the temple and other parts of the city:

The city was all over polluted with such abominations, from which it was but reasonable to expect some vengeance, even though they should escape revenge from the Romans…as likely themselves to undergo punishment for the wickedness of the seditious; for indeed it so happened that this murder was perpetrated on the sabbath day, on which day the Jews have a respite from their works on account of Divine worship” (Wars 2.17.10).

What about the fate of Christians during this time when Jerusalem was in the grip of the Zealots? It’s the later commentaries which say that not a single Christian died in Jerusalem’s destruction. The same compilation of quotes at Preterist Archives reveals that this claim was made by Henry Hammond (1659), Thomas Newton (1754), George Peter Holford (1805), John Gill (1809), Albert Barnes (1832), Adam Clarke (1837), and Charles Finney (1852).

Whether this claim is true or not, it seems to refer only to the siege of Titus beginning in mid-April 70 AD. In other words, they claimed that Jerusalem was empty of Christians by spring 70 AD, but they did not seem to claim that Jerusalem was empty of Christians by fall 66 AD. Henry Hammond (1659), for example, says that “when Titus came some months after and besieged the city, there was not one Christian remaining in it.” Of course, it’s good to ask how Hammond or anyone else living many centuries later could have known that to be the case.

According to these commentaries, not all of the Christians went to Pella. Thomas Newton (1754) and Adam Clarke (1837) both said that they also settled “in other places beyond the River Jordan.”

Thomas Newton was likely referring to the writings of Josephus when he said, “We do not read anywhere that so much as one of them [Christians] perished in the destruction of Jerusalem.” That’s true. Again, Josephus, who wrote in more detail about the Jewish-Roman War than anyone else, didn’t specifically mention Christians being killed in Jerusalem. He also didn’t say anything about Christians escaping to safety in Pella. The lack of such information from Josephus doesn’t necessarily mean that it didn’t happen. It just means that he didn’t discuss the status of Christians at all.

The language of Daniel 7:21, 25 indicates that there were still Christians in the grip of the Zealots during the period of 66-70 AD. Based on the descriptions given by Josephus, it was difficult, but not impossible, for local people to enter and exit Jerusalem during that time. For example, After the Idumeans joined the Zealots in slaughtering thousands in February – March 68 AD, Josephus said this:

“But because the city had to struggle with three of the greatest misfortunes, war, and tyranny, and sedition, it appeared, upon the comparison, that the war was the least troublesome to the populace of them all. Accordingly they ran away from their own houses to foreigners, and obtained that preservation from the Romans, which they despaired to obtain among their own people” (Wars 4.7.1).

Despite the Zealots watching “all the passages out of the city,” others also managed to conceal themselves and flee directly to Vespasian, the Roman general:

“Vespasian did, indeed, already pity the calamities these men were in, and arose, in appearance, as though he was going to besiege Jerusalem, – but in reality to deliver them from a [worse] siege they were already under” (Wars 4.7.3).

Even in the midst of the Roman siege (April – September 70 AD), there were Jews who found safety when they escaped to the Romans, as “Titus let a great number of them go away into the country, whither they pleased” (Wars 5.10.1). Later in the siege Josephus said this:

“Many also of the other nobility went over to the Romans, together with the high priests. Now Caesar not only received these men very kindly in other respects, but, knowing they would not willingly live after the customs of other nations, he sent them to Gophna, and desired them to remain there for the present, and told them, that when he was gotten clear of this war, he would restore each of them to their possessions again; so they cheerfully retired to that small city which was allotted them, without fear of any danger” (Wars 6.2.2).

Although many Christians apparently left Jerusalem before the war began, it’s possible that some didn’t heed Jesus’ warning to flee (Matthew 24:15-20, Mark 13:14-18, Luke 21:20-23) and perished. It’s also possible that others stayed, endured great difficulties, and managed to flee later.

Outsiders continued to travel to Jerusalem from far and wide for the annual festivals all the way up to April 70 AD, and many of these pilgrims were killed because of the fighting between the Zealot factions (Wars 5.1.3). It’s possible that Christians from other regions outside of Judea came to Jerusalem to participate in the festivals, failing to heed the warning of Revelation 18:4, and paid the price with their lives.

In summary, I don’t believe that the testimonies of Eusebius, Remigius, Hammond, Newton, etc. in any way dismiss the idea that it was the Zealots, especially under the leadership of Eleazar Ben Simon, who prevailed over the saints in Israel and Jerusalem for 3.5 years. On the other hand, the testimony of Remigius actually dismisses the idea that Nero fulfilled Revelation 13:5-7 by persecuting Christians in all parts of the Roman Empire for a period of 3.5 years (from 64 AD until his death in 68 AD).

Nero’s Government Helped Protect the Christians in Pella

Remigius stated that the Christians in Pella were under the protection of King Agrippa, “but Agrippa himself, with the Jews whom he governed, was subjected to the dominion of the Romans.” The fact that Christians escaped from Jerusalem to Pella in 66 AD indicates that Nero was not enforcing an empire-wide persecution of Christians at that time. It means that Nero’s government actually helped protect these Christians from the wrath of the Zealots. In fact, all of Perea, where Pella was located, was conquered by the Romans during the last six months of Nero’s life, but the Christians in Pella remained safe during that time.

The Roman general Vespasian’s victory over “Gadara, the metropolis of Perea” is recorded in Wars 4.7.3. Other parts of Perea were also conquered and Josephus says that “all Perea had either surrendered themselves, or were taken by the Romans” (Wars 4.7.6). This took place in the first half of 68 AD while Nero was still alive. If Nero was intent on killing Christians throughout the Roman Empire, then why did the Christians remain protected in Pella during this time when the Romans specifically targeted Perea and captured all of it? The far greater threat to their safety came from the Zealots who controlled Judea until most of that country was captured by the Romans, and who controlled Jerusalem for the entire first half of the Jewish-Roman War.

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The next post will begin to examine Revelation 11:1-13, where the beast is introduced for the first time in the book of Revelation.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

The Little Horn Persecuted the Saints (Daniel 7:21, 25)


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

In the previous post, “The Little Horn Changed Times and Law (Daniel 7:25),” we continued to examine the roles that Daniel 7 says the little horn of the beast was to play. As a review, Daniel 7:8, 21-22, 24-27 states that the little horn would:

[A] come up among the 10 horns
[B] subdue and pluck out three of the first horns
[C] have a mouth speaking pompous words
[D] make war against the saints
[E] be different than the other 10 horns
[F] “intend to change times and law”
[G] and prevail against the saints for 3.5 years until the coming of the Ancient of Days and the possession of the kingdom by the saints.

The two previous post looked at points A, B, C, E, and F). This post will look at points D and G – how the little horn made war against the saints and prevailed against them for 3.5 years, until it was time for the saints to possess the kingdom (Daniel 7:18, 22, 27; Matthew 21:43-44).

The Saints Given Into the Hand of the Little Horn (Daniel 7:21, 25)

In Daniel 7:21-22, Daniel watched the little horn “making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.” In Daniel 7:25, Daniel learned that this horn would “persecute the saints of the Most High… Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.”

So the picture here is of the saints being persecuted by the little horn who had them in his grip for a 3.5 year period leading up to Christ’s coming in judgment and in His kingdom (see Matthew 16:27-28 and II Timothy 4:1). Who were the saints? We must conclude that they were the followers of Christ, the ones who would inherit God’s kingdom (Matthew 8:11-12, 21:43, 25:34; Luke 12:32; I Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 3:29, 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5).

When I used to believe that the fourth beast of Daniel, and the beast of Revelation, was Rome/Nero, I never attempted to identify the 11th horn because I didn’t know who it could be. I knew it wasn’t Nero, because he was allegedly the sixth head of the beast (Revelation 17:10), and because the horns were allegedly the Senatorial provinces of Rome. Yet Nero was the only Roman authority who was known to have persecuted Christians around the time of the Jewish-Roman War.

Josephus never touched the topic of persecution against Christians, but Tacitus, the Roman historian, did. He described Nero persecuting Christians in the city of Rome, but not anywhere near Jerusalem, and he didn’t say how long it lasted. Tacitus also listed the cause for that persecution as Nero’s desire to scapegoat the Christians for the arson that he himself was believed to have committed (Tacitus, Annals 15). The motive for that persecution, according to Tacitus, had nothing to do with a refusal to worship him, as should have been the case (see Revelation 13:15) if Nero was the beast (see Revelation 13:15). We’ll discuss this in much more detail when we look at Revelation 13.

So far Jerusalem has been the primary location where the little horn has played the various roles described in Daniel 7. Did this persecution of the saints also take place in Jerusalem? Did it take place during the 3.5 years leading up to mid-April 70 AD when Titus arrived in Jerusalem? If we look ahead to Revelation 13, we do see that the beast from the land, later called the false prophet (Rev. 16:13, 19:20), was active in the land of Israel. There in the land of Israel he worked in the presence of the beast, causing those who lived there to worship the beast, and killing anyone who wouldn’t worship his image (Rev. 13:11-15). So the persecution carried out by the beast (cf. Rev. 13:5-8) was indeed focused on the land of Israel.

Although Josephus never wrote about the persecution of Christians in particular, he did write about the Zealots and the false prophets working together to persecute and kill anyone who didn’t support their war efforts. This bloody persecution appears to have begun in the countryside.

The Persecutions of the Zealots

During the reign of Antonius Felix as Procurator of Judea (52-58 AD), Josephus says that the people of Judea were put to death if they didn’t agree to rebel against Rome:

“[A] company of deceivers and robbers got together, and persuaded the Jews to revolt, and exhorted them to assert their liberty, inflicting death on those that continued in obedience to the Roman government, and saying, that such as willingly chose slavery ought to be forced from such their desired inclinations; for they parted themselves into different bodies, and lay in wait up and down the country, and plundered the houses of the great men, and slew the men themselves, and set the villages on fire; and this till all Judea was filled with the effects of their madness. And thus the flame was every day more and more blown up, till it came to a direct war” (Wars 2.13.6).

In Antiquities 20.8.6 Josephus described the same thing happening during the reigns of Felix (52-58 AD) and Festus (59-62 AD):

These works, that were done by the robbers, filled the city [Jerusalem] with all sorts of impiety. And now these impostors and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would exhibit manifest wonders and signs, that should be performed by the providence of God… And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans, and said they ought not to obey them at all; and when any persons would not comply with them, they set fire to their villages, and plundered them.

Near the beginning of the Jewish-Roman War in 66 AD, bands of Zealots made their way to Scythopolis (in modern Jordan and Syria). There in one night they “cut the throats” of more than 13,000 Jews who preferred their own safety over relating to the Zealots (Wars 2.18.3).

In February 68 AD, the former high priest Jesus ben Gamala gave a speech in which he said that the Zealots had been using their swords as “the arbitrators of right and wrong” (Wars 4.4.3). After the Zealots and Idumeans had succeeded in killing the high priests (Wars 4.5.2), they then turned and slaughtered many of the common people by the sword, but delayed slaughtering others in hopes that they would join the war effort:

“[The] zealots and the multitude of the Idumeans fell upon the people as upon a flock of profane animals, and cut their throats; and for the ordinary sort, they were destroyed in what place soever they caught them. But for the noblemen and the youth, they first caught them and bound them, and shut them up in prison, and put off their slaughter, in hopes that some of them would turn over to their party; but not one of them would comply with their desires, but all of them preferred death before being enrolled among such wicked wretches as acted against their own country. But this refusal of theirs brought upon them terrible torments; for they were so scourged and tortured, that their bodies were not able to sustain their torments, till at length, and with difficulty, they had the favor to be slain.” (Wars 4.5.3).

After the Idumeans left Jerusalem, the Zealots aimed to kill anyone who tried to flee from their control, blocking their escape from Jerusalem and assuming that anyone who tried to escape was in support of Rome. The Zealots also killed those who tried to bury these victims. As we saw before, Eleazar ben Simon was the leader of the Zealots in Jerusalem at this time, although John Levi of Gischala also worked with him from about mid-68 AD until early 70 AD:

“And indeed many there were of the Jews that deserted every day, and fled away from the zealots, although their flight was very difficult, since they had guarded every passage out of the city, and slew every one that was caught at them, as taking it for granted they were going over to the Romans; yet did he who gave them money get clear off, while he only that gave them none was voted a traitor. So the upshot was this, that the rich purchased their flight by money, while none but the poor were slain. Along all the roads also vast numbers of dead bodies lay in heaps, and even many of those that were so zealous in deserting at length chose rather to perish within the city; for the hopes of burial made death in their own city appear of the two less terrible to them. But these zealots came at last to that degree of barbarity, as not to bestow a burial either on those slain in the city, or on those that lay along the roads; but as if they had made an agreement to cancel both the laws of their country and the laws of nature, and, at the same time that they defiled men with their wicked actions, they would pollute the Divinity itself also, they left the dead bodies to putrefy under the sun; and the same punishment was allotted to such as buried any as to those that deserted, which was no other than death” (Wars 4.6.3).

Some did manage to conceal themselves and flee to the Romans, and this brought them greater safety:

“Vespasian did, indeed, already pity the calamities these men were in, and arose, in appearance, as though he was going to besiege Jerusalem, – but in reality to deliver them from a [worse] siege they were already under” (Wars 4.7.3).

From 69 AD to early 70 AD, when three factions (led by Eleazar Ben Simon, John Levi, and Simon Bar Giora) were fighting against each other (Wars 5.1.4), those who came to Jerusalem for the various festivals were often killed inadvertently:

“For notwithstanding these men [the Zealots] were mad with all sorts of impiety, yet did they still admit those that desired to offer their sacrifices, although they took care to search the people of their own country beforehand, and both suspected and watched them; while they were not so much afraid of strangers, who, although they had gotten leave of them, how cruel soever they were, to come into that court, were yet often destroyed by this sedition; for those darts that were thrown by the engines came with that force, that they went over all the buildings, and reached as far as the altar, and the temple itself, and fell upon the priests, and those that were about the sacred offices; insomuch that many persons who came thither with great zeal from the ends of the earth, to offer sacrifices at this celebrated place, which was esteemed holy by all mankind, fell down before their own sacrifices themselves, and sprinkled that altar which was venerable among all men, both Greeks and Barbarians, with their own blood; till the dead bodies of strangers were mingled together with those of their own country, and those of profane persons with those of the priests, and the blood of all sorts of dead carcasses stood in lakes in the holy courts themselves” (Wars 5.1.3).

This gives added significance to the words recorded in Revelation 18:4, urging the people of God to come out of Babylon, the old covenant system: “Come out of her, My people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive her plagues.” During this time, if there were Christians in Galatia, Ephesus, Smyrna, Philadelphia, etc. who were persuaded by the teachings of the Judaizers, they may have traveled up to Jerusalem for the feasts and been struck down by the “darts, and javelins, and stones” thrown by the “engines of war” of the Zealot factions (Wars 5.1.3).

Although the Zealot factions were fighting and killing each other, they still united on one thing – killing those who wanted peace with the Romans:

“And now, as the city was engaged in a war on all sides, from these treacherous crowds of wicked men, the people of the city, between them, were like a great body torn in pieces. The aged men and the women were in such distress by their internal calamities, that they wished for the Romans, and earnestly hoped for an external war, in order to their delivery from their domestical miseriesnor could such as had a mind flee away; for guards were set at all places, and the heads of the robbers, although they were seditious one against another in other respects, yet did they agree in killing those that were for peace with the Romans, or were suspected of an inclination to desert them, as their common enemies. They agreed in nothing but this, to kill those that were innocent” (Wars 5.1.5).

Even during the Roman siege of April – August 70 AD the Zealots “threatened death to the people, if they should any one of them say a word about a surrender. They moreover cut the throats of such as talked of a peace” (Wars 5.8.1). Also John Levi and Simon Bar Giora, “with their factions, did more carefully watch” for people to escape Jerusalem “than they did the coming in of the Romans; and if any one did but afford the least shadow of suspicion of such an intention, his throat was cut immediately.” Still, some did escape to the Romans and “Titus let a great number of them go away into the country, whither they pleased” (Wars 5.10.1).  Josephus adds that there were “a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants [Zealots] to impose on the people…to keep them from deserting” (Wars 6.5.2).

In this summary of persecution carried out by the Zealots against those who wished for peace or tried to abandon them, one thing that stands out is how many times Josephus said that the Zealots “cut the throats” of their enemies. This calls to mind Revelation 20:4, which indicates that “those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God” were those “who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.” Since the Zealots used swords, rather than mere knives, it’s also not difficult to imagine that their throat-cutting could have meant that they beheaded their enemies. From the summary above, note that the persecution and throat-cutting of the Zealots spanned the entire 3.5 years leading up to the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

DATE SITUATION REFERENCE
Fall 66 AD More than 13,000 Jews in Scythopolis had their throats cut because they preferred their own safety over relating to the Zealots. Wars 2.18.3
February 68 AD Jesus ben Gamala says in a speech that the Zealots had been using their swords as “the arbitrators of right and wrong.” Wars 4.4.3
Feb/March 68 AD The Zealots and Idumeans fell upon the common people of Jerusalem and cut their throats. Wars 4.5.3
Spring 68 AD The Zealots killed poor people who tried to leave Jerusalem, and also killed anyone who tried to bury those they killed. Wars 4.6.3
December 69 AD The leaders of the three Zealot factions agreed on “killing those that were for peace with the Romans, or were suspected of an inclination to desert them, as their common enemies.” Wars 5.1.5
Spring 70 AD The Zealots cut the throats of anyone who talked about peace. Wars 5.8.1
Summer 70 AD The Zealots cut the throats of anyone suspected of wanting to escape Jerusalem. Wars 5.10.1

In the next post, which will conclude our study of Daniel 7, we will evaluate the historical accounts concerning the Judean Christians who fled to Pella. We’ll consider whether or not some Christians may have remained in Jerusalem/Judea. We will even see that Nero’s government protected the Christians who fled to Pella.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

The Little Horn Changed Times and Law (Daniel 7:25)


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

The previous post, “Daniel 7: The Fourth Beast, 10 Horns, Three Horns, and a Little Horn,” began to examine Daniel 7, as well as “the little horn” and the various roles that he was to play. As a review, Daniel 7:8, 21-22, 24-27 states that the little horn would:

[A] come up among the 10 horns
[B] subdue and pluck out three of the first horns
[C] have a mouth speaking pompous words
[D] make war against the saints
[E] be different than the other 10 horns
[F] “intend to change times and law”
[G] and prevail against the saints for 3.5 years until the coming of the Ancient of Days and the possession of the kingdom by the saints.

The previous post looked at several roles of the little horn (A, B, C, and E), and the majority of this post will look at how he intended to change times and law (F).

The Body of the Fourth Beast Destroyed and Burned (Daniel 7:11)

In Daniel 7:9-10, Daniel saw a throne scene in which “thrones were put in place, and the Ancient of Days was seated,” and a court was also seated and books were opened. Verse 11 then comes back to the little horn and the fourth beast, saying,

I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame.”

In this series I am making the case that the fourth beast/kingdom of Daniel and “the beast” of the book of Revelation was Zealot-led Israel. The language used here in this verse certainly fits, considering that Israel was destroyed in the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73, and considering that Jerusalem and the temple were burned with fire (fulfilling Matthew 22:7; II Peter 3:7, 10, 12; Revelation 17:16; 18:8-9, 18; 19:20).

This does not fit Rome, which many say was the fourth beast of Daniel and “the beast” of the book of Revelation. Rome was not slain, destroyed, or burned during the Jewish-Roman War, when the kingdom of God was set up (Daniel 2:35, 44; Matthew 16:27-28, 21:43; Revelation 11:15). In fact, the Roman Empire achieved even greater heights during the second century AD.

The Lives of the Other Beasts Were Prolonged (Daniel 7:12)

In Daniel 7:12, Daniel noted a sharp contrast between the downfall of the fourth beast and the downfall of the previous three beasts:

As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time.”

Whereas the fourth beast was slain, destroyed, and burned (Daniel 7:11), the other three beasts lost their dominion but lived on “for a season and a time.” When Babylon was conquered by Medo-Persia in 539 BC, Babylon lost its dominion, but remained as a colony of Medo-Persia. When Persia was conquered by Greece in 330 BC, Persia lost its dominion, but remained as a province of the Seleucid Empire ruled by one of Alexander the Great’s four generals. Greece likewise lived on after the Maccabee victories of 164-142 BC. The principal cities of Babylon, Persia, and Greece were not burned and leveled, their religious systems didn’t collapse, etc.

When Israel and Jerusalem fell in 70 AD, however, there was great physical and religious devastation. Israel, the fourth beast, was slain, destroyed, burned. Although Israel briefly rose up again about 65 years later in the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 AD), its sacrificial system was buried and laid to rest. Its priesthood was gone. According to Josephus, Israel was not merely “taken” as it had been five times previously, but this was its second “desolation” (see Revelation 18:19):

“And thus was Jerusalem taken, in the second year of the reign of Vespasian, on the eighth day of the month Gorpeius [Elul]. It had been taken five times before, though this was the second time of its desolation; for Shishak, the king of Egypt, and after him Antiochus, and after him Pompey, and after them Sosius and Herod, took the city, but still preserved it; but before all these, the king of Babylon conquered it, and made it desolate, one thousand four hundred and sixty-eight years and six months after it was built” (Wars 6.10.1).

Jerusalem, aside from its towers and a wall, was also leveled to the ground, just as Jesus predicted:

For the days will come upon you when your enemies will build and embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side, and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:43-44).

“Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency…and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side… but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind” (Wars 7.1.1).

The Romans had also cut down everything in an 11.25 mile radius around the city, so that to visitors Judea and the former suburbs of the city appeared as a desert wasteland:

“And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in one and twenty days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs round about, as I have already related. And truly the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change: for the war had laid all the signs of beauty quite waste: nor if any one that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding” (Wars 6.1.1).

The contrast in Daniel 7:11-12 makes a lot of sense when Israel is viewed as the fourth beast, but would make no sense if Rome was the fourth beast. Let’s try it, though, just for argument’s sake:

“…I watched till the Roman Empire was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. As for Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time” (Daniel 7:11-12; Rome as the fourth beast).

It doesn’t work. When the kingdom of God was set up and given into the hands of the saints in the first century (Daniel 2:35, 44; Daniel 7:18, 22, 27; Matthew 16:27-28, 21:43; Revelation 11:15), Rome did not have its dominion taken away at that time. Rome was not burned, slain, or destroyed. The Roman Empire came out of the Jewish-Roman War stronger than it was before the war. That time of kingdom transition was great devastation for Israel, not Rome.

The Kingdom Given to the Saints (Daniel 7:17-18, 21-22, 26-27)

The transition from the fourth kingdom to the everlasting kingdom of the saints was already seen in Daniel 2:35, 44. This transition is repeated three times in Daniel 7:

Those great beasts, which are four, are four kingdoms which arise out of the earth. But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever” (Daniel 7:17-18).

I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom” (Daniel 7:21-22).

But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him” (Daniel 7:26-27).

In all of this, it’s clear that the downfall of the fourth beast and the 11th horn coincides with the saints inheriting the kingdom of God. As I noted in the introduction to this series, we also see this transition in Matthew 21:42-44.

Jesus said to them, ‘Did you never read in the Scriptures: “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone…?” Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it. And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder’” (Matthew 21:42-44).

Israel and Jerusalem suffered defeat and destruction during the Jewish-Roman War (66-73 AD). They were ground to powder by the falling stone of Daniel 2:34-35, 45. Yet out of that tragedy has come the awesome, redemptive, and enduring news that this stone is a great mountain, the kingdom of God. It’s a kingdom that has no end (Luke 1:33).

The 11th Horn Would Change Times and Law (Daniel 7:25)

Coming back to the little horn, we see a statement in Daniel 7:25 that the 11th horn would “intend to change times and law.” I welcome any ideas from readers on this point, but I would like to propose that two key actions taken during the Jewish-Roman War seem to fit this description. Neither action had ever taken place since the days of Moses and Aaron:

[1] the decision to no longer receive gifts or sacrifices for foreigners
[2] choosing an unqualified and fake high priest who was not of Aaron’s bloodline.

The following description by Josephus is quite revealing about what transpired during the Jewish-Roman War due to “the fourth philosophy” of the Zealots. Josephus said that their philosophy spread like an infection as the Jewish revolt blew up into a flame in 66 AD (Wars 2.13.6, Wars 2.14.6). It resulted in the type of great changes described in Daniel 7:25.

“[T]he sedition at last increased so high, that the very temple of God was burnt down by their enemies’ fire. Such were the consequences of this, that the customs of our fathers were altered, and such a change was made, as added a mighty weight toward bringing all to destruction, which these men occasioned by their thus conspiring together” (Antiquities 18.1.1).

Eleazar ben Simon had a big hand in altering the customs of the Jews, but the first big move was made in Jerusalem by a different Eleazar just a few months before he was reassigned to Idumea and his role as leader of the Zealots shifted to Eleazar ben Simon (we will discuss this shift below). It was Eleazar ben Ananias who made the first big move in August 66 AD when he put a stop to all the sacrifices and offerings of the Gentiles, something which had never been done since the days of Moses and Aaron:

“At the same time Eleazar, the son of Ananias the high priest, a very bold youth, who was at that time governor of the temple, persuaded those that officiated in the Divine service to receive no gift or sacrifice for any foreigner. And this was the true beginning of our war with the Romans; for they rejected the sacrifice of Caesar on this account; and when many of the high priests and principal men besought them not to omit the sacrifice, which it was customary for them to offer for their princes, they would not be prevailed upon. These relied much upon their multitude, for the most flourishing part of the innovators assisted them; but they had the chief regard to Eleazar, the governor of the temple.

Hereupon the men of power got together, and conferred with the high priests, as did also the principal of the Pharisees; and thinking all was at stake, and that their calamities were becoming incurable, took counsel what was to be done. Accordingly, they determined to try what they could do with the seditious by words, and assembled the people before the brazen gate, which was that gate of the inner temple [court of the priests] which looked toward the sun-rising. And, in the first place, they showed the great indignation they had at this attempt for a revolt, and for their bringing so great a war upon their country; after which they confuted their pretense as unjustifiable, and told them that their forefathers had adorned their temple in great part with donations bestowed on them by foreigners, and had always received what had been presented to them from foreign nations; and that they had been so far from rejecting any person’s sacrifice (which would be the highest instance of impiety,) that they had themselves placed those donation about the temple which were still visible, and had remained there so long a time; that they did now irritate the Romans to take arms against them, and invited them to make war upon them, and brought up novel rules of a strange Divine worship, and determined to run the hazard of having their city condemned for impiety, while they would not allow any foreigner, but Jews only, either to sacrifice or to worship therein. And if such a law should be introduced in the case of a single private person only, he would have indignation at it, as an instance of inhumanity determined against him; while they have no regard to the Romans or to Caesar, and forbid even their oblations to be received also; that however they cannot but fear, lest, by thus rejecting their sacrifices, they shall not be allowed to offer their own; and that this city will lose its principality, unless they grow wiser quickly, and restore the sacrifices as formerly, and indeed amend the injury [they have offered foreigners] before the report of it comes to the ears of those that have been injured.

And as they said these things, they produced those priests that were skillful in the customs of their country, who made the report that all their forefathers had received the sacrifices from foreign nations. But still not one of the innovators would hearken to what was said; nay, those that ministered about the temple would not attend their Divine service, but were preparing matters for beginning the war…” (Wars 2.17.2-4)

To be clear, Eleazar ben Ananias was not the same person as Eleazar ben Simon, who was one of the three main Zealot leaders during the first half of the Jewish-Roman War, along with John Levi of Gischala and Simon Bar Giora. Various sources seem to confuse these two Eleazars, and as a result they have attributed certain roles and actions to the wrong person.

For example, the Encyclopedia Judaica says that Eleazar ben Ananias was Captain of the Temple “and continued to hold that position until the destruction of the Temple.” This is not true, however, according to Josephus. Around December of 66 AD, Eleazar ben Ananias was named as one of the 10 generals for war against Rome, and he was assigned to Idumea, a region south of Judea (Wars 2.20.4). At this same time, Eleazar ben Simon, the war hero credited with defeating Cestius Gallus, was quickly gaining power in Jerusalem and the people “submitted themselves to his authority in all public affairs” (Wars 2.20.3). Eleazar ben Simon gained and kept control of the inner court of the temple until he was killed at the beginning of the Roman siege in April 70 AD (Wars 5.3.1).

Likewise, on page 219 of Final Decade Before the End (a great resource), Ed Stevens cites Hegesippus (110-180 AD) and Yosippon (10th century AD), who say that after “blocking Roman access to the temple,” Eleazar ben Ananias “then seized control of the temple and used it as his fortress…from that point forward” (Heg. 2:10, 5:1; Yos. 61). Hegesippus even claimed that this same Eleazar “was on Masada after the temple was burned” (Heg. 5:53). Here he apparently confuses Eleazar ben Ananias with a third Eleazar – Eleazar ben Jairus, who fled to Masada in September 66 AD (Wars 2.17.9) and later committed suicide there with around 700 others in 73 AD (Wars 7.8.1).

The confusion over Eleazar ben Ananias and Eleazar ben Simon is the seventh problem covered by Tal Ilan and Jonathan J. Price in their article, “Seven Onomastic Problems in Josephus’ “Bellum Judaicum” [Wars of the Jews]. They write about the strange disappearance of “Eleazar ben Ananias,” who played such a large role at the beginning of the Jewish Revolt, but is never mentioned again by Josephus. They also write about the sudden appearance of Eleazar ben Simon at this same point in Wars of the Jews.

Indeed, both Eleazars are mentioned in Wars 2.20.3-4, one for the last time and the other for the first time. I would like to suggest that the baton of Zealot leadership in Jerusalem was handed off at this time (around December 66 AD) from Eleazar ben Ananias to Eleazar ben Simon.

Eleazar ben Ananias Eleazar ben Simon
August 66 AD In Jerusalem

“…but they had the chief regard to Eleazar, the governor of the temple” (Wars 2.17.2)

Location not Certain

(Not yet mentioned by Josephus)

December 66 AD Left Jerusalem

Appointed as a general for Idumea (Wars 2.20.4)

Stayed in Jerusalem

“…the people were circumvented, and submitted themselves to his authority in all public affairs” (Wars 2.20.3)

February 68 AD Presumably in Idumea

(No longer mentioned by Josephus)

In Jerusalem

“leaders of the Zealots… These leaders were Eleazar, the son of Simon, who seemed the most plausible man of them all, both in considering what was fit to be done, and in the execution of what he had determined upon…” (Wars 4.4.1)


Although Eleazar ben Ananias initiated the cessation of sacrifices for Gentiles, Eleazar ben Simon was the one who enforced this new rule as he made his headquarters in the temple for the next 3.5 years until his death in April 70 AD. The following, for the sake of clarity, is an overview of the lives of Eleazar ben Ananius and Eleazar ben Simon (all of the primary Zealot leaders will be discussed when we come to Revelation 13):

Eleazar ben Ananius

Eleazar ben Ananius was the governor of the temple, (Antiquities 20.9.3, Wars 2.17.2), the second highest position in the temple other than high priest. It’s suggested that he obtained this position in 62 AD. This position was known as “segan” (Aramaic) or “sagan” (Hebrew). According to Rabbi Hanina Segan ha-Kohanim (40-80 AD), “In case the high-priest became unfit for service, the ‘Segan’ [Deputy] should enter at once to do the service” (Talmud, Tractate Sota 42a).

Eleazar’s father, Ananius ben Nedebaios, was the high priest from roughly 46-52 AD. He’s the one who commanded Paul to be struck on the mouth during his appearance before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:2), prompting Paul to prophesy that Ananias would also be struck (verse 3). Ananius also gave evidence against Paul to the governor Felix at Caesarea (Acts 24:1). The Pulpit Commentary says that he “was a violent, haughty, gluttonous, and rapacious man, and yet looked up to by the Jews.” When Eleazar was the commander of the temple, he was anti-Roman, but his father, Ananias was pro-Roman (one of the complaints of the Zealots was that the Herodian dynasty appointed high priests who were sympathetic to Rome).

In Final Decade before the End (p. 219), Ed Stevens says that Eleazar ben Ananias led a challenge against Roman troops in May 66 AD. “When the Roman Procurator Gessius Florus brought his soldiers to Jerusalem to confiscate all the gold from the Temple (May AD 66),” Yosippon recorded the following:

[Eleazar b. Ananius]… being a youth and very stout of heart, saw the evil that Florus did among the people. He sounded the shofar, and a band of youths and bandits, men of war, gathered around him, and he initiated a battle, challenging Florus and the Roman troops [Sepher Yosippon, ch. 59].

In The Wars of the Jews by Josephus, Eleazar ben Ananias was first mentioned in Wars 2.17.2, as we have already seen, in connection with the events of August 66 AD, which Josephus said were the true beginning of the Jewish-Roman War. He was mentioned again in Wars 2.17.5 as being among “the seditious” (the Zealots) who “had the lower city [of Jerusalem] and the temple in their power,” while “the men of power, with the high priests, as also all the part of the multitude that were desirous of peace, took courage, and seized upon the upper city [Mount Sion].”

Soon after this, Eleazar’s father Ananius was killed by “Manahem, the son of Judas, that was called the Galilean” (Wars 2.17.8-9). Manahem had gone to Masada, broken open king Herod’s armory, stolen arms for his own people and “other robbers,” and “returned in the state of a king to Jerusalem.” Josephus says that Manahem “became the leader of the sedition” (the Zealot movement), but this only lasted for about a month. After Manahem killed Ananias, “Eleazar and his party” avenged his father’s death and killed Manahem.

The last time that Eleazar ben Ananias was mentioned by Josephus was in Wars 2.20.4. There it was said that he was appointed as one of the 10 generals of war. He was one of three commanders assigned to Idumea, south of Judea. This was around December 66 AD, soon after the surprising Jewish victory over Cestius Gallus in November 66 AD. Presumably Eleazar ben Ananias left Jerusalem at this point and took up residence in Idumea. Josephus never mentioned him again.

Eleazar ben Simon

Eleazar ben Simon was first introduced by Josephus in Wars 2.20.3 (just before Josephus mentioned Eleazar ben Ananias for the last time). Eleazar ben Simon was the nephew of Simon Bar Giora, one of the three main Zealot leaders. In Wars 6.4.1, Josephus referred to him as “the brother’s son of Simon the tyrant.”

In Wars 4.4.1 Josephus said that Eleazar ben Simon was the main leader of the Zealots at this point. This was in early 68 AD, shortly after John Levi of Gischala, the other main Zealot leader, had fled his hometown and come up to Jerusalem. Josephus said regarding Eleazar ben Simon that he was “the most plausible man” of the Zealot leaders, “both in considering what was fit to be done, and in the execution of what he had determined upon.” Josephus also said that it was “Eleazar, the son of Simon, who made the first separation of the zealots from the people, and made them retire into the temple” (Wars 5.1.2).

John Levi joined forces with Eleazar and, after killing Ananus ben Ananus and the other high priests in February-March 68 AD, together they seized control of the entire city of Jerusalem. In spring or summer 69 AD Simon Bar Giora seized control of the upper city of Jerusalem and parts of the lower city. John Levi maintained control of part of the lower city and the outer court of the temple, and Eleazar ben Simon controlled the inner court of the temple.

three-main-zealot-leaders

Source: Mark Mountjoy, New Testament Open University (June 9, 2015)

Then a short time before the Roman siege began on April 14, 70 AD, Eleazar ben Simon turned against John because, according to Josephus, “he could not bear to submit to a tyrant [John] who set up after him” (Wars 5.1.2). There were then “three treacherous factions in the city” (Wars 5.1.4; Revelation 16:19). This was the breakdown of the three armies (Wars 5.6.1):

[1] Simon Bar Giora: 10,000 men and 50 commanders; 5000 Idumeans and eight commanders
[2] John Levi: 6,000 men and 20 commanders
[3] Eleazar ben Simon: 2,400 men

Eleazar ben Simon was killed by John Levi’s forces on April 14, 70 AD, just as the Roman general Titus began his siege. This happened at the Feast of Unleavened Bread. Eleazar opened the gates to the inner court of the temple

“and admitted such of the people as were desirous to worship God into it. But John made use of this festival as a cloak for his treacherous designs, and armed the most inconsiderable of his own party, the greater part of whom were not purified, with weapons concealed under their garments, and sent them with great zeal into the temple, in order to seize upon it; which armed men, when they were gotten in, threw their garments away, and presently appeared in their armor… These followers of John also did now seize upon this inner temple, and upon all the warlike engines therein, and then ventured to oppose Simon. And thus that sedition, which had been divided into three factions, was now reduced to two” (Wars 5.3.1).

During the first half of the Jewish-Roman War (Fall 66 AD – Spring 70 AD), Eleazar ben Simon was the Zealot leader who controlled the inner court of the temple. His location and position allowed him to oversee and regulate the activities which took place there.

Phannias, the Fake High Priest of the Zealots

The second major custom to be altered had to do with the high priesthood. In Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus gave an account of the high priests from Aaron until his own time, taking note of the strict rule that every high priest had to be a blood descendant of Aaron. This rule was broken by the Zealots (“the seditious”) during the Jewish-Roman War:

“AND now I think it proper and agreeable to this history to give an account of our high priests; how they began, who those are which are capable of that dignity, and how many of them there had been at the end of the war. In the first place, therefore, history informs us that Aaron, the brother of Moses, officiated to God as a high priest, and that, after his death, his sons succeeded him immediately; and that this dignity hath been continued down from them all to their posterity. Whence it is a custom of our country, that no one should take the high priesthood of God but he who is of the blood of Aaron, while every one that is of another stock, though he were a king, can never obtain that high priesthood. Accordingly, the number of all the high priests from Aaron, of whom we have spoken already, as of the first of them, until Phanas, who was made high priest during the war by the seditious, was eighty- three” (Antiquities 20.10.1).

In Wars 4.3.6-8, Josephus provided the details of how the Zealots committed this treachery. This took place around December 67 AD. Keep in mind that Eleazar ben Simon was the main leader of the Zealots at this time (Wars 4.4.1), controlling the inner court of the temple:

Now the people were come to that degree of meanness and fear, and these robbers to that degree of madness, that these last took upon them to appoint high priests. So when they had disannulled the succession, according to those families out of which the high priests used to be made, they ordained certain unknown and ignoble persons for that office, that they might have their assistance in their wicked undertakings; for such as obtained this highest of all honors, without any desert, were forced to comply with those that bestowed it on them

These men made the temple of God a strong hold for them, and a place whither they might resort, in order to avoid the troubles they feared from the people; the sanctuary was now become a refuge, and a shop of tyranny. They also mixed jesting among the miseries they introduced, which was more intolerable than what they did; for in order to try what surprise the people would be under, and how far their own power extended, they undertook to dispose of the high priesthood by casting lots for it, whereas, as we have said already, it was to descend by succession in a family. The pretense they made for this strange attempt was an ancient practice, while they said that of old it was determined by lot; but in truth, it was no better than a dissolution of an undeniable law, and a cunning contrivance to seize upon the government, derived from those that presumed to appoint governors as they themselves pleased.

Hereupon they sent for one of the pontifical tribes, which is called Eniachim, and cast lots which of it should be the high priest. By fortune the lot so fell as to demonstrate their iniquity after the plainest manner, for it fell upon one whose name was Phannias, the son of Samuel, of the village Aphtha. He was a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but that did not well know what the high priesthood was, such a mere rustic was he! yet did they hail this man, without his own consent, out of the country, as if they were acting a play upon the stage, and adorned him with a counterfeit thee; they also put upon him the sacred garments, and upon every occasion instructed him what he was to do. This horrid piece of wickedness was sport and pastime with them, but occasioned the other priests, who at a distance saw their law made a jest of, to shed tears, and sorely lament the dissolution of such a sacred dignity.

So the times and the law of the Jews were significantly changed by these actions which Eleazar ben Simon had a major hand in carrying out. If you have any further insights into how the times and law were changed by the little horn, please feel free to share them.

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In the next post, we will look at how the little horn persecuted the saints for 3.5 years right up until the time that the kingdom was given into their hands.

All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.

Daniel 7: The Fourth Beast, 10 Horns, Three Horns, and a Little Horn


This post continues the series, “The Beast of Revelation Was Zealot-Led Israel.” The introduction and outline to this series can be seen here.

The previous post, “Rome Congratulated Israel on Becoming the Fourth Kingdom of Daniel 2,” concluded our study of Daniel 2. Daniel 7 features another prophetic dream, but this time it was Daniel himself who had “a dream and visions” (verse 1). Whereas Nebuchadnezzar saw a statue with four parts, Daniel saw four beasts. The meaning was the same, though, in that Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel were both shown four kingdoms. It’s the fourth beast (kingdom) which plays a significant role in the book of Revelation.

In our study of Daniel 2, a lot of space was given to the progression from the first kingdom to the fourth kingdom. Most of that information will not be repeated in this post, but we will instead focus primarily on the key details that Daniel was given about the fourth beast. Here is Daniel’s vision of the four beasts as recorded in Daniel 7:

Daniel 7:2-8, 11-12, 16-27 (Daniel’s Vision of Four Beasts)

Daniel spoke, saying, “I saw in my vision by night, and behold, the four winds of heaven were stirring up the Great Sea. And four great beasts came up from the sea, each different from the other. The first was like a lion, and had eagle’s wings. I watched till its wings were plucked off; and it was lifted up from the earth and made to stand on two feet like a man, and a man’s heart was given to it.

“And suddenly another beast, a second, like a bear. It was raised up on one side, and had three ribs in its mouth between its teeth. And they said thus to it: ‘Arise, devour much flesh!’

“After this I looked, and there was another, like a leopard, which had on its back four wings of a bird. The beast also had four heads, and dominion was given to it.

“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold, a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, exceedingly strong. It had huge iron teeth; it was devouring, breaking in pieces, and trampling the residue with its feet. It was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns. I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words…

11 “I watched then because of the sound of the pompous words which the horn was speaking; I watched till the beast was slain, and its body destroyed and given to the burning flame. 12 As for the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away, yet their lives were prolonged for a season and a time…

16 I came near to one of those who stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me and made known to me the interpretation of these things: 17 ‘Those great beasts, which are four, are four kingdoms which arise out of the earth. 18 But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.’

19 “Then I wished to know the truth about the fourth beast, which was different from all the others, exceedingly dreadful, with its teeth of iron and its nails of bronze, which devoured, broke in pieces, and trampled the residue with its feet; 20 and the ten horns that were on its head, and the other horn which came up, before which three fell, namely, that horn which had eyes and a mouth which spoke pompous words, whose appearance was greater than his fellows.

21 “I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, 22 until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom.

23 “Thus he said: ‘The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all other kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, trample it and break it in pieces. 24 The ten horns are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom. And another shall rise after them; He shall be different from the first ones, and shall subdue three kings. 25 He shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and law. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time.

26 ‘But the court shall be seated, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and destroy it forever. 27 Then the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people, the saints of the Most High. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey Him.’

An Overview of the Four Beasts

In Daniel 7:3-8, Daniel saw four beasts which differed in how they appeared and what they represented. Since we already identified and discussed the four kingdoms in our study of Daniel 2, we will only briefly take note of what Daniel sees here:

[1] Babylon was the first beast that was like a lion with eagle’s wings. Babylon was also compared to a lion in Jeremiah 4:7, and compared to an eagle in Ezekiel 17:3, 12. Nebuchadnezzar was specifically called a lion in Jeremiah 50:17 (“Israel is like scattered sheep; the lions have driven him away. First the king of Assyria devoured him; now at last this Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has broken his bones”).

The man with the heart who stood on two feet was most likely Nebuchadnezzar, who brought the Babylonian Empire to its highest height. His heart was “changed from that of a man” to “the heart of an animal” (Daniel 4:16) until he regained his reason (verse 36) and once again had a man’s heart. The plucking of the eagle’s wings could refer to the ceasing of Babylon’s conquests and/or to the humiliation of Nebuchadnezzar and his temporary loss of the kingdom (Daniel 4:31-33).

[2] Medo-Persia was the second beast that was like a bear. The fact that it was raised up on one side likely refers to Persia being more dominant than Media. The three ribs could refer to three major territories that this empire conquered: Babylon, Lydia, and Egypt.

[3] Greece/Macedonia was the third beast that was like a leopard with four wings of a bird on its back. The angel Gabriel revealed to Daniel that the male goat was the kingdom of Greece (Daniel 8:21). In Daniel 8:5-6 this goat is seen running with great speed and power (as leopards are known to do, and as Alexander the Great was also known to have done). Jerome (347-420 AD) said,

“Nothing was more swift than the conquest of Alexander, from Illyricum and the Adriatic sea, unto the Indian ocean, and the river Ganges; he rather ran through the world by victories than by battles, and in six years subdued part of Europe, all Asia even unto India” (John Gill’s Commentary on Daniel 7; 1746-1763).

This beast’s four heads represented the four generals (Cassander, Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Lysimachus) who oversaw four parts of the kingdom (Daniel 8:22) after the death of Alexander the Great (verse 21).

[4] Israel was the fourth beast that was exceedingly strong and had huge iron teeth and 10 horns. As we saw in the last post, in 164 BC the Maccabees secured a great victory for Israel over Antiochus Epiphanes and the Macedonian kingdom. In 142 BC Israel was granted full independence, received congratulations from Rome, and its kingdom expanded. Israel enjoyed this independence for the next 79 years, and was then semi-autonomous all the way up to the Jewish-Roman War.

This beast would use its feet to devour, break in pieces, and trample residue. It was different than the three beasts that came before it. A little horn would come up among its 10 horns, would pluck out three of the first horns by the roots, and would have a mouth speaking pompous words.

The Fourth Beast

It’s this fourth beast that we will focus on in the rest of our study of Daniel 7. After this part of Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:1-8) he goes on to learn that the fourth beast would be a fourth kingdom, and it would be slain “and given to the burning flame” (Daniel 7:11, 23). He also learns that the little horn would make war against the saints and “intend to change times and the law” (Daniel 7:21, 24-25). The little horn would prevail against the saints for 3.5 years until the Ancient of Days would come and the saints would possess the kingdom (Daniel 7:21-22, 25-27). We will examine these details one at a time.

Devouring, Breaking, and Trampling (Daniel 7:7)

The following excerpt comes from the Jewish Virtual Library regarding the strength of the Maccabees, known as “the Jewish Hammer,” in their victory over the Macedonians:

“The family of Mattathias became known as the Maccabees, from the Hebrew word for ‘hammer,’ because they were said to strike hammer blows against their enemies. Jews refer to the Maccabees, but the family is more commonly known as the Hasmoneans.

Like other rulers before him, Antiochus underestimated the will and strength of his Jewish adversaries and sent a small force to put down the rebellion. When that was annihilated, he led a more powerful army into battle only to be defeated. In 164 BCE, Jerusalem was recaptured by the Maccabees and the Temple purified, an event that gave birth to the holiday of Chanukah

It took more than two decades of fighting before the Maccabees forced the Seleucids to retreat from the Land of Israel. By this time Antiochus had died and his successor agreed to the Jews’ demand for independence. In the year 142 BCE, after more than 500 years of subjugation, the Jews were again masters of their own fate…

The kingdom regained boundaries not far short of Solomon’s realm and Jewish life flourished.”

Wikipedia says that the Maccabees “reasserted the Jewish religion, partly by forced conversion” and “expanded the boundaries of Judea by conquest.” Likewise, I Maccabees 14:4-24 says that Simon Maccabee “took Joppe for a haven, and made an entrance to the isles of the sea. And he enlarged the bounds of his nation, and made himself master of the country… the fame of his glory was renowned even to the end of the earth.”

The Hasmonean kingdom of Israel apparently became oppressive to its subjects. In 63 BC Pompey the Great intervened in a Judean civil war, the Judean kingdom lost some of its land, became semi-autonomous, and some of the cities that had been under Judea became autonomous and formed the Decapolis. According to Wikipedia, “The people of the Decapolis cities welcomed Pompey as a liberator from the Jewish Hasmonean kingdom that had ruled much of the area.”

As we saw in our study of Daniel 2, by 40 BC Herod the Great, the Edomite founder of the Herodian Dynasty in Israel, was doing his own “devouring, breaking, and trampling.” We also saw how Herod divided the land of Israel into five parts, and how after his death his sons divided it further.

When we look at Revelation 13 and 17 later in this series, we will examine how the Zealots did all kinds of “devouring, breaking, and trampling” in the land, in Jerusalem, and in the temple complex.

“Different from All Other Kingdoms” (Daniel 7:7, 23)

How was Israel/Judea, as the fourth kingdom, different than the three kingdoms which preceded it? Like the other kingdoms, the Maccabees (Hasmoneans) expanded their territory by political conquest. Unlike the other kingdoms, the Hasmonean kingdom also expanded through forced religious conversions.

I would speculate, though, that the primary difference between Israel/Judea and the other kingdoms was its widespread religious authority. The high priesthood in Jerusalem held authority over Jews living in “every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5), some of whom would travel to Jerusalem three times a year for the major festivals (Passover, Weeks/Pentecost, and Tabernacles).

Ten Horns of the Beast (Daniel 7:7, 20, 24)

Daniel observes that the fourth beast had 10 horns (verse 7). In verse 20 Daniel asked about those 10 horns and it was revealed to him that they “are ten kings who shall arise from this kingdom” (verse 24). Daniel wasn’t told anything else about those 10 horns, but in Revelation 17:12-17 John learns that they [1] would “receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast” [2] would “give their power and authority to the beast” [3] would make war with the Lamb but be overcome by the Lamb [4] would “hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire” [5] and would “give their kingdom to the beast until the words of God are fulfilled.” We’ll examine the 10 horns in more depth later in this series when we come to Revelation 17.

In a post I wrote in July 2016 I proposed that the 10 horns were the 10 Jewish generals who were given authority in December 66 AD. After the Jews defeated Cestius Gallus in November 66 AD, these generals were chosen to lead Israel in preparing for the inevitable war with Rome. In Wars 2.20.3-4 Josephus lists 10 generals and the territories they were to oversee in preparation for war with Rome:

1. Joseph, the son of Gorion (Governor of Jerusalem)
2. Ananus, the high priest (Governor of Jerusalem)
3. Jesus, the son of Sapphias, one of the high priests (Idumaea)
4. Eleazar, the son of Ananias, the high priest (Idumaea)
5. Niger of Perea, the then governor of Idumea (Idumaea)
6. Joseph, the son of Simon (Jericho)
7. Manasseh (Perea)
8. John, the Esscue (toparchy of Thamna; “Lydda was also added to his portion, and Joppa, and Emmaus”)
9. John, the son of Matthias (toparchies of Gophnitica and Acrabattene)
10. Josephus, the son of Matthias (both the Galilees; “Gamala also, which was the strongest city in those parts, was put under his command”)

An 11th Horn, “A Little Horn”

In the following sections we will see that Daniel was told a great deal about another character spoken of as “a little horn.” This person is not spoken of in the book of Revelation by this title, but only here in Daniel 7. According to Daniel 7:8, 21-22, 24-27 this person would:

[A] come up among the 10 horns
[B] pluck out three of the first horns
[C] have a mouth speaking pompous words
[D] make war against the saints
[E] be different than the other 10 horns
[F] “intend to change times and the law”
[G] and prevail against the saints for 3.5 years until the coming of the Ancient of Days and the possession of the kingdom by the saints.

A Little Horn Coming Up Among the 10 Horns (Daniel 7:8, 20-21, 24-26)

As Daniel was considering the 10 horns, he saw a little horn coming up among them. He had “eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words” (Daniel 7:8). Even though he was “little,” his “appearance was greater than his fellows” (Daniel 7:20). At this point, I believe this 11th horn was either Eleazar ben Simon (my top choice) or John Levi of Gischala (my second choice). Both were prominent leaders of the Zealots in Jerusalem during the Jewish-Roman War of 66-73 AD. (We will take a closer look at the Zealots in our study of Revelation 13.)

If Eleazar was the 11th horn, how did he “come up among” the 10 horns? Josephus wrote in Wars 2.20.3 that it was surprising that Eleazar was not appointed as one of the 10 generals for the war because he was credited with leading the victory against Cestius Gallus in November 66 AD. However, the reason he was not chosen with the other 10 was because of his “tyrannical temper.” Still the people in Jerusalem submitted to his authority anyway:

“…for they did not ordain Eleazar the son of Simon to that office [as one of the 10 generals], although he had gotten into his possession the prey they had taken from the Romans, and the money they had taken from Cestius, together with a great part of the public treasures, because they saw he was of a tyrannical temper, and that his followers were, in their behavior, like guards about him. However, the want they were in of Eleazar’s money, and the subtle tricks used by him, brought all so about, that the people were circumvented, and submitted themselves to his authority in all public affairs.”

If John of Gischala was the 11th horn, how did he “come up among” the 10 horns? Around this same time, John tried to convince the authorities in Jerusalem to remove Josephus from the position of governor of the Galileans, and to give that position to him instead. Gischala was John Levi’s native city, but it was located in Galilee, and John was displeased when he found out that Josephus had been appointed as the governor of Galilee:

“But the hatred that John, the son of Levi, bore to me, grew now more violent, while he could not bear my prosperity with patience. So he proposed to himself, by all means possible, to make away with me; and built the walls of Gischala, which was the place of his nativity. He then sent his brother Simon, and Jonathan, the son of Sisenna, and about a hundred armed men, to Jerusalem, to Simon, the son of Gamaliel, in order to persuade him to induce the commonalty of Jerusalem to take from me the government over the Galileans, and to give their suffrages for conferring that authority upon him” (Life of Flavius Josephus, 38 [189]).

Soon afterward, though, Josephus had a dream in which he was told that John’s schemes against him would not succeed and that he would live to fight the Romans (Life, 42). John Levi eventually made it to Jerusalem in November 67 AD (Wars 4.2.4), and before long he was able to seize control of part of the city.

Three Horns Plucked Out by the Roots (Daniel 7:8, 20, 24)

Daniel 7:8 states that “before” (i.e. in front of) the little horn “three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots.” Verse 20 says that they “fell,” and verse 24 says that the little horn would “subdue” them.

Josephus records the deaths of three of the 10 generals at the hands of Eleazar ben Simon and John of Gischala. Their deaths took place during the Zealot siege of Jerusalem in February/March 68 AD:

[1] Ananus ben Ananus, governor of Jerusalem and a former high priest
[2] Niger of Perea
[3] Joseph ben Gorion.

Ananus was killed in early 68 AD when the Zealot leaders tricked the Idumeans into coming up to Jerusalem. This happened after John of Gischala first pretended to befriend Ananus, who was vehemently against the Zealots and their war agenda. Ananus was the leader of “the moderates,” those who took a moderate position regarding Rome. With false pretenses, John discussed plans with Ananus and then secretly passed them along to the other Zealot leaders. He also lied to the Zealots and claimed that Ananus was plotting to invite the Roman general Vespasian to take over Jerusalem (Wars 4.3.13-14).

So John convinced Eleazar ben Simon and the other Zealots to help him send a letter to the Idumeans (south of Judea), urging them to come up to Jerusalem and defend the city (Wars 4.4.1). An army of 20,000 Idumeans, led by four commanders (see Revelation 9:13-17) then came up to Jerusalem (Wars 4.4.2). Together with the Zealots, they killed thousands of people, filling the outer court of the temple with blood (Wars 4.5.1). They then specifically hunted down the high priests and killed Ananus, among others (Wars. 4.5.2).

When the Idumeans left Jerusalem, Josephus says that the Zealots thirsted “chiefly after the blood of valiant men, and men of good families; the one sort of which they destroyed out of envy, the other out of fear; for they thought their whole security lay in leaving no potent men alive; on which account they slew Gorion*, a person eminent in dignity, and on account of his family also… Nor did Niger of Peres escape their hands… so did they slay him” (Wars 4.6.1).

* The Gorion family was wealthy and well-known, and Nicodemus (John 3) was from this family. In Wars 2.17.10 Josephus specifically mentions “Gorion the son of Nicodemus.” In Wars 2.20.3 Josephus states that “Joseph the son of Gorion” was a governor of Jerusalem and one of the 10 generals for the war against Rome. A footnote for this section says,

“From this name of Joseph the son of Gorion, or Gorion the son of Joseph, as B. IV. ch. 3. sect. 9, one of the governors of Jerusalem, who was slain at the beginning of the tumults by the zealots…”

In Wars 4.3.9 we read about “Gorion the son of Josephus” growing tired of the Zealots and opposing them. The footnote above states that this is the same person. This makes sense because Josephus had already named Nicodemus as the actual father of Gorion. According to Martin Hengel, author of “The Zealots” (p. 367), Josephus had a habit of stating names differently and changing them around in his works.

Then in Wars 4.6.1 he speaks of the death of “Gorion” at the hands of the Zealots. As the footnote states, this must be the same Gorion (or “Joseph the son of Gorion”) mentioned just a little bit earlier in Wars 4.3.9.

In the October 1993 – January 1994 edition of the Jewish Quarterly Review (University of Pennsylvania Press, pp. 189-208), Tal Ilan and Jonathan J. Price published an article titled “Seven Onomastic Problems in Josephus’ “Bellum Judaicum [Wars of the Jews]. Ilan and Price highlighted this same problem (#6) and seemed to come to the same conclusion.

So far, outside of Wars 4.6.1 and the footnote for Wars 2.20.3, I have been unable to find any other record of how or when Joseph ben Gorion, the governor of Jerusalem, died. If anyone has such information, please do share it. It would be good to have an even stronger confirmation that Josephus was speaking of the same person, despite the name getting switched around.

So, from the list of 10 generals (10 horns) above, the three horns who were killed by the Zealots were #1, #2, and #5. All three were killed in Jerusalem.

A Mouth Speaking Pompous Words (Daniel 7:8, 11, 20)

According to Daniel 7:8, 11, and 20, the little horn would speak “pompous words.” This likely corresponds with Revelation 13:5, which says that the beast “was given a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies.” Concerning Eleazar ben Simon, Josephus says that he “was of a tyrannical temper” (Wars 2.20.3), but Josephus doesn’t seem to say much else about the way Eleazar spoke. Concerning John of Gischala, Josephus does include an example of John boasting and talking big. This was when John escaped from Gischala (of Galilee) when that city was captured by the Roman general Titus in November 67 AD:

“Now upon John’s entry into Jerusalem, the whole body of the people were in an uproar, and ten thousand of them crowded about every one of the fugitives that were come to them, and inquired of them what miseries had happened abroad, when their breath was so short, and hot, and quick, that of itself it declared the great distress they were in; yet did they talk big under their misfortunes, and pretended to say that they had not fled away from the Romans, but came thither in order to fight them with less hazard; for that it would be an unreasonable and a fruitless thing for them to expose themselves to desperate hazards about Gischala, and such weak cities, whereas they ought to lay up their weapons and their zeal, and reserve it for their metropolis. But when they related to them the taking of Gischala, and their decent departure, as they pretended, from that place, many of the people understood it to be no better than a flight; and especially when the people were told of those that were made captives, they were in great confusion, and guessed those things to be plain indications that they should be taken also. But for John, he was very little concerned for those whom he had left behind him, but went about among all the people, and persuaded them to go to war, by the hopes he gave them. He affirmed that the affairs of the Romans were in a weak condition, and extolled his own power. He also jested upon the ignorance of the unskillful, as if those Romans, although they should take to themselves wings, could never fly over the wall of Jerusalem, who found such great difficulties in taking the villages of Galilee, and had broken their engines of war against their walls.

These harangues of John’s corrupted a great part of the young men, and puffed them up for the war; but as to the more prudent part, and those in years, there was not a man of them but foresaw what was coming, and made lamentation on that account, as if the city was already undone; and in this confusion were the people” (Wars 4.3.1-2).

On this point, there seems to be more evidence pointing toward John as the little horn. As we consider all the points collectively, each reader can look at the evidence and decide whether Eleazar, John, or even another individual best fits the descriptions that Daniel was given.

In the next post, we will continue to look at Daniel 7 and other details concerning the little horn.

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All of the posts in this series can be found at this page.