Assassins

ASSASSINS (σικάριος, G4974, Lat. sicarius, meaning dagger men, murderers). A name given to and borne by fanatical Jewish nationalists who stood in the Maccabean tradition. Members of the band carried, hidden in their cloak, a dagger about the size of a Pers. scimitar and curved like a Rom. sica. Bold, courageous, and unscrupulous, bitterly opposed to the Rom. overlords and to all collaborators with them, they mingled in the crowds (esp. on feast days), watched for an opportunity to wield their concealed weapons, and did not hesitate to kill even in open daylight. Roman rulers in Pal. had a healthy respect for them, and their bodyguards had to be on the constant alert against them. The very name, Sicarii, inspired terror in the countryside.

It is not known at what precise point in history they originated. Josephus traces their origin as far back as the onerous census levied in the governorship of Quirinius (Luke 2:2). He wrote: “In those days the Sicarii banded together against those who consented to submit to Rome and in every way treated them as enemies, plundering their property, rounding up their cattle, and setting fire to their habitations, protesting that such persons differed not at all from Gentiles, by betraying in so cowardly a manner the hard-won liberty of the Jews and admitting their preference for the Roman yoke” (Wars VII. 8. 1).

There are occasional references to them in the historical record. A quisling, Jonathan, the son of the high priest Annas, was killed by them in cold blood. It appears that in the year a.d. 7 Judas the Galilean collected a band of the Sicarii and laid plans for an organized rebellion at Sepphoris, four m. distant from Jesus’ boyhood home at Nazareth. The uprising was ruthlessly suppressed, and 2000 of the rebels were crucified. It may be that the Lord had some early knowledge of them. During the governorship of Felix they were active, and he took strong measures against them. The Book of Acts records that when Paul stood trial for his life, Captain Lysias sought to identify him with an Egyp. leader who led 4000 of these Sicarii into the wilderness (Acts 21:38). These men who took the law into their own hands played a leading role in the Jewish Wars. They held Masada for a time and from that vantage point plundered the area. They eventually shifted their operations to Egypt and Cyrene and there continued their tactics of terror.

Bibliography

A. C. Headlam, “Assassins,” HDB, I (1908), 174; S. F. Hunter, “Assassins,” ISBE, I (1929), 288; C. Roth, History of the Jews (1954), 103-108; W. R. Farmer, “Assassins,” IDB, I (1962), 261; L. Hartman, “Assassins,” EDB (1963), 155.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Josephus (BJ, II, xiii, 3, xvii) relates that "there sprang up in Jerusalem a class of robbers called Sicarii, who slew men in the daytime, and in the midst of the city. This they did chiefly when they mingled with the populace at the festivals, and, hiding short daggers in their garments, stabbed with them those that were their enemies. The first to be assassinated by them was Jonathan the high priest, and after him many were slain daily" (see also Ant, XX, viii, 6, ix). The name is derived from Latin sica, "a dagger." The sicarioi were implacable in their hatred to Rome and to those Jews who were suspected of leaning toward Rome. They took a leading part in the Jewish rebellion and in the disturbance previous to it, and also in the faction quarrels during the war. After the war they continued their nefarious practices in Egypt and Cyrene whither they had fled. Lysias mistook Paul for `the Egyptian who .... led out into the wilderness the 4,000 men of the sicarioi’ (Ac 21:38).