“In 19 CE [AD], the time must have seemed right for action. Judas’ popularity soared, and the call against Rome was a strong rallying cry. God would deliver the Jews from the hands of the invaders just as He had done in the days of Judas Maccabee”.
Daniel T. Unterbrink
Mark Twain is alleged to have remarked: “History doesn’t repeat itself but it often rhymes”. That sure appears to be the case with Judas the Maccabee, and, close to two centuries later, Judas the Galilean.
Here I take some illustrative sections from Daniel T. Unterbrink’s “Judas the Galilean”:
…. In the year 4 BCE [BC], two learned teachers of the law gazed out upon their students, an army of young men thirsting for righteousness. Every day this throng of Israel’s future sat and listened to the wizened Matthias and his younger partner, Judas, preach the Kingdom of Heaven. The relationship between the two wise men can be argued as well as their ages, but the pattern of the Maccabees suggests that Matthias was the older father figure (or literal father) and Judas, the son. How they came to the Temple, to this point in the history of Israel can be deduced from what preceded them.
In 25 BCE …. A movement was forming that was based upon the distant exploits of Mattathias and his son Judas Maccabee (170 BCE). In this new Jewish sect. a leader named Matthias taught about the true meaning of God’s promises, freedom from pagan influences and the equality of all Jews. Whether or not Matthias began in Jerusalem or among the cities of Galilee, we will never know. But his teachings did bring him to Jerusalem by 4 BCE, along with his son, Judas.
…. According to the Slavonic Josephus, Matthias and Judas said this to their followers:
“Come, men of Judaea, now is the time for men to behave like men, to show what reverence we have for the Law of Moses. Let not our race be shamed, let us not bring disgrace on our Law-giver. Let us take as the model for [our] exploits Eleazar first and the seven Maccabee brothers and the mother who made men [of them]. For, when Antiochus had conquered and subjugated our land and was ruling over us, he was defeated by these seven youths and [their] old teacher and an old woman. Let us also be worthy of them, let us not prove weaker than a woman. But even if we are to be tortured for our zeal for God, a greater wreath has been plaited for us. And if they kill us, our souls as it leaves [this] dark abode will return to [our] forefathers, where Abraham and his offspring [dwell].” (After War 1.650) (Emphasis mine)
The passage emphasizes that the current freedom movement should be modeled upon the Maccabee uprising. Note that there is also an emphasis on family: a father, a mother and seven brothers. It is quite probable that Matthias was the father and Judas the son. However, it also implies that there were other brothers involved.
It is clear that Judas the Galilean had sons because Josephus mentioned the crucifixion of two sons, James and Simon, in Ant. 20.102 and the stoning of another son, Menahem, in War 2.433-434. It is quite probable that Judas also had brothers who helped carry on the movement when he himself was killed.
Included among the prisoners were the authors of the sedition, Matthias and Judas.
A trial of sorts was arranged, but the sentence had already been passed.
The sentence of death was the expected outcome. Herod had Matthias and his followers burnt alive. Josephus stated in the War that both rabbis were killed, but in Antiquities mentioned only the death of Matthias. What most likely occurred was the execution of the movement’s leader, Matthias, and a number of his followers. Those remaining, including Judas, were imprisoned in order to dangle their fate in the face of the seditious. In short, Judas was an insurance policy against any other rebellious acts against Herod. A second powerful motive in imprisoning Judas involved Herod’s desire for true mourning at his own death. Josephus stated that Herod planned to kill a great number of people at the time of his death so that there would be mourning throughout Israel. Judas and his followers may have been part of this plan. Either way, it was just a matter of time until Judas would meet the same fate as Matthias.
Judas and his fellow prisoners were spared an eventual death for only one reason: Herod the Great had died (4 BCE), and his insane orders of mass murder were not obeyed. In terms of stability, the death of this tyrannical yet able administrator rocked the country. But it also presented a great opportunity for those who had been persecuted and oppressed for so many years. Herod’s death coincided with the Passover feast, a time when pilgrims flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate Israel’s deliverance from Egypt. This left Herod’s son, Archelaus, with a dilemma: how could he gain firm control of the government without offending the masses?
The crowds sensed that Archelaus was not dealing from strength and that he might be swayed by their desires. They asked if he would ease their annual taxes and remove all taxes related to sales and purchases. These were very serious requests, for a king must have revenues to rule effectively. Even so, Archelaus assented to their will, pretending to agree to these requests. And a segment of the people, those who mourned the death of Matthias, asked one other favor: release those who had been imprisoned by Herod. And once again, Archelaus agreed. Judas was now a free man. (Some argue that Archelaus did not release prisoners as he promised. That may be true for his tax promises, for these promises could only be realized sometime in the future. But the release of prisoners could be made now. Josephus also mentioned that Archelaus replaced the High Priest upon the requests of the crowd. This plea, too, could be accomplished at the present and was therefore acted upon.)
Archelaus soon realized that any concession to the followers of Matthias and Judas was fruitless, for these fanatics could never be won over by friendly intentions. In this, he was correct, for this new movement had no intention of meekly following the Herodian dynasty. In fact, they wished to upset this structure in order to fully implement their theocracy. Predictably, tensions arose and the military slaughter began. Judas escaped with a group of disciples and headed to Galilee, to the city of Sepphoris.
Judas had witnessed the execution of Matthias and many of their students and had just fled from a massacre in Jerusalem. His thoughts must have been upon the security of the small group he now led. In a bold move, he attacked the armory with its large cache of weapons. His followers were now well armed and could defend themselves from all except the army of Archelaus. His reliance upon these weapons of man diminished as he witnessed the awesome power of Rome. Consistent with guerrilla warfare, Judas and his bandit followers blended into the countryside as the Roman army marched upon Sepphoris, burning it to the ground, enslaving all its inhabitants. Surely, this sight hardened Judas against Rome and the Herodian sycophants.
But safety depended upon guile and resourcefulness. The message of fealty to God and refusing to be a slave to human masters (Rome) was transmitted to eager ears throughout Galilee on a small-scale basis. Judas did not draw too much attention to himself by setting up base in any city. Instead, he moved throughout the countryside, always prepared for a quick getaway.