In addition to Jesus, there were other people claiming to be the messiah in the first century. Each of this examples are from humble origins (shepherds, etc.), sought to set themselves up as kings, and developed a peasant following.
Under the procurator Fadus (44-46) a messianic prophet appeared. Theudas convinced many Jews he could part the Jordan River. The Romans attacked the crowd, killing many, and beheaded Theudas. (Antiq. 20.97-99, Acts 5:36). Theudas is known from Josephus (Antiq. 20.5.1 §97-98). In this passage, Theudas led a revolt during the reign of Fadus, A.D. 44-46. This is obviously a problem, since Gamaliel is giving this speech at least ten years before Theudas rebelled. For someone like Bruce Chilton, this makes the account in Acts anachronistic and unreliable, despite the
fact that Gamaliel’s standing in the Council is consistent with other sources (ABD 2:904). This problem is usually explained by noting that the name
Under the procurator Felix (52-60), prophets once again lead people into the wilderness promising that God was about to send signs of deliverance. Felix sent troops and once again killed large numbers. As Josephus says, “But the number of the robbers whom he caused to be crucified was incalculable, as also that of the citizens whom he arrested and punished as having been in league with them” (JW 2.13.2).
Another messianic pretender, known only as “The Egyptian” led a crowd in an attack on Jerusalem. Josephus reports 30,000 were in the crowd, but Acts 21:38 indicates only 4000 were involved. The Romans arrested many, but the Egyptian escaped. (JW 2.13.5, Acts 21:38).
Simon Bar Giora (Simon, son of the proselyte; died in A.D. 70). Simon represents the largest of the messianic movements (Josephus, JW, 4.9.3). He fought against the Romans and helped unite the Zealots to a certain extent. He eventually controlled Jerusalem, and took to wearing a white tunic and purple cape and called himself the “King of the Jews.” He eventually surrendered to the Romans and was taken to Rome and ceremonially executed.
Josephus, JW, 4.9.3 (503) And now there arose another war at Jerusalem. There was a son of Giora, one Simon, by birth of Gerasa, a young man, not so cunning indeed as John [of Gischala], who had already seized upon the city, (504) but superior in strength of body and courage; on which account, when he had been driven away from that Acrabattene toparchy, which he once had, by Ananus the high priest, he came to those robbers who had seized upon Masada. (505) At first they suspected him, and only permitted him to come with the women he brought with him into the lower part of the fortress, while they dwelt in the upper part of it themselves. (506) However, his manner so well agreed with theirs, and he seemed so trusty a man, that he went out with them, and ravaged and destroyed the country with them about Masada; (507) yet when he persuaded them to undertake greater things, he could not prevail with them so to do; for as they were accustomed to dwell in that citadel, they were afraid of going far from that which their hiding-place; (508) but he, affecting to tyrannize, and being fond of greatness, when he had heard of the death of Ananus, left them, and went into the mountainous part of the country. So he proclaimed liberty to those in slavery, and a reward to those already free, and got together a set of wicked men from all quarters.
The story of Simon Bar Giora has several similarities to the execution of Jesus, although Jesus never made his claim to be the king of the Jews as explicit as Simon did. Each of these men portrayed themselves as a new Joshua or David and managed to gain a following large enough to attract the attention of the Romans, and in each case the Romans treat these false prophets and messianic pretenders as rebels against Roman power.