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"Give us Barabbas!", from The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, 1910

In the Christian narrative of the Passion of Jesus, Barabbas, according to Greek texts Jesus bar-Abbas,[1] (Aramaic: בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, "son of the father"), was the insurrectionary whom Pontius Pilate freed at the Passover feast in Jerusalem.

The penalty for Barabbas' crime was death by crucifixion, but according to the four canonical gospels and the Gospel of Peter there was a prevailing Passover custom in Jerusalem that allowed or required Pilate, the praefectus or governor of Judaea, to commute one prisoner's death sentence by popular acclaim, and the "crowd" (ochlos) — which has become "the Jews" and "the multitude" in some translations — were offered a choice of whether to have Barabbas or Jesus Christ released from Roman custody. According to the closely parallel gospels of Matthew (27:15-26), Mark (15:6-15), and Luke (23:13–25), and the more divergent accounts in John (18:38-19:16) and the Gospel of Peter, the crowd chose Barabbas to be released and Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified. A passage found only in the Gospel of Matthew[2] has the crowd saying, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children".

The story of Barabbas has special social significances, partly because it has frequently been used to lay the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus on the Jews and justify anti-Semitism, forming the basis for allegations of Jewish deicide.


Barabbas' crime

Matthew[3] refers to Barabbas only as a "notorious prisoner." John 18:40 refers to Barabbas as a lēstēs, "bandit," "the word Josephus always employs when talking about Revolutionaries", Robert Eisenman observes.[4] Mark and Luke[5] further refer to Barabbas as one involved in a stasis, a riot. In his 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI mentions Barabbas in this context: "Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation like Barabbas or Bar-Kochba" (paragraph 4).

The sicarii and the ongoing revolt of Jews against foreign presence in Judea have been discussed by Robert Eisenman;[6] however, many historians maintain that the sicarii only arose in the 40s or 50s of the first century — after Jesus' execution.[7][8]

Various authors contend Barabbas's crime would translate today as terrorism.[9][10][11] Some people such as Gerry Adams[12], however, have argued that he was a freedom fighter campaigning for autonomy from Roman imperialism. He is called a terrorist in the Contemporary English Version of the Bible.[13][14]

Comparative investigations

Three gospels all state unequivocally that there was a custom at Passover during which the Roman governor would release a prisoner of the crowd's choice: Mark 15:6; Matt. 27:15; John 18:39. The corresponding verse in Luke (Luke 23:17) is not present in the earliest manuscripts and may be a later gloss to bring Luke into conformity.[15] The gospels differ on whether the custom was a Roman one or a Jewish one.

An Ancient Roman celebration called Lectisternium (which the Roman historian Livy reports first occurred in the year 399 BC, and which lasted until well into Christian times[citation needed]) involved feasting and sometimes included at least the temporary removal of the chains from all prisoners. No custom of releasing prisoners in Jerusalem is recorded in any historical document other than the gospels.[16]

The Jubilee (Biblical) was an ancient Jewish custom held every 50 years. Part of the festivities included cancelling debts and releasing prisoners[17] Pilate may have offered to free Jesus in order to honour this tradition.

Barabbas's name

According to early Greek texts, Barabbas' full name was Jesus Barabbas.[1] Later texts shorten his name to just Barabbas.

Abba has been found as a personal name in a First Century burial at Giv'at ja-Mivtar, and Abba also appears as a personal name frequently in the Gemara section of the Talmud, dating from AD 200-400.[18] These findings support "Barabbas" being used to indicate the son of a person named Abba or Abbas (name).

Abba means "father" in Aramaic, and appears both translated and untranslated in the Gospels. A translation of Bar-Abbas would be son of the father. Jesus often referred to God as "father", and Jesus' use of the Aramaic word Abba survives untranslated in Mark 14:36 (in most English translations). This has led some authors (named below) to speculate that "bar-Abbâ" could actually be a reference to Jesus himself as "son of the father".

Other interpretations

Hyam Maccoby and some other scholars have asserted that Jesus was known as "bar-Abba", because of his custom of addressing God as 'Abba' in prayer, and referring to God as Abba in his preaching.[citation needed] It follows that when the Jewish crowd clamored before Pontius Pilate to "free Bar Abba" they could have meant Jesus. Anti-Semitic elements in the Christian church, the argument goes, altered the narrative to make it appear that the demand was for the freedom of somebody else (a brigand or insurrectionist) named "Barabbas". This was, the theory goes, part of the tendency to shift the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus towards the Jews and away from the Romans.

Benjamin Urrutia, co-author of The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, agrees with Maccoby and others who say that Yeshua Bar Abba or Jesus Barabbas must be none other than Jesus of Nazareth, and that the choice between two prisoners is a fiction. However, Urrutia opposes the notion that Jesus may have either led or planned a violent insurrection. Jesus was a strong advocate of "turning the other cheek" - which means not submission but strong and courageous, though nonviolent, defiance and resistance. Jesus, in this view, must have been the planner and leader of the Jewish nonviolent resistance to Pilate's plan to set up Roman Eagle standards on Jerusalem's Temple Mount. The story of this successful resistance is told by Josephus — who, curiously, does not say who was the leader, but does tell of Pilate's crucifixion of Jesus just two paragraphs later in a passage whose authenticity is heavily disputed.


A possible parable

This practice of releasing a prisoner is said by Magee and others to be an element in a literary creation of Mark, who needed to have a contrast to the true "son of the father" in order to set up an edifying contest, in a form of parable.

Dennis R. MacDonald, in the The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, notes that a similar episode to the one that occurs in Mark — of a crowd picking one figure over another figure similar to the other — occurred in The Odyssey, where Odysseus entered the palace disguised as a beggar and defeated his wife's suiters to reclaim his throne.[19] MacDonald suggests Mark borrowed from this section of The Odyssey and used it to pen the Barabbas tale, only this time Jesus- the protagonist- loses to highlight the cruelty of Jesus' persecutors.[19] However, this theory too is rejected by other scholars.[20]

See also


  1. ^ a b "Textual Variants, Matthew 27:15-18". 
  2. ^ Matthew 27:25.
  3. ^ Matthew 27:16.
  4. ^ Contemporaries combining insurrection and murder in this way were sicarii, members of a militant Jewish movement that sought to overthrow the Roman occupiers of their land by force (Eisenman 177-84, et passim).
  5. ^ Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19.
  6. ^ Eisenman, Robert (1997). James the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls. 
  7. ^ Brown, Raymond E. (1994). The Death of the Messiah: From Gethsemane to the Grave: A Commentary on the Passion Narratives in the Four Gospels. 1. New York: Doubleday/The Anchor Bible Reference Library. pp. 688–92. ISBN 0-385-49448-3. 
  8. ^ Meier, John P (2001). A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. 3. New York: Doubleday/The Anchor Bible Reference Library. pp. 210. ISBN 0-385-46993-4. 
  9. ^ Travis, Stephen H. (2004). The Bible in Time: An exploration of 130 passages providing an overview of the Bible as a whole. Clements Publishing. pp. 200. ISBN 1894667476. 
  10. ^ Boice, James Montgomery; Philip Graham Ryken (2002). Jesus on Trial. Crossway Books. pp. 79. ISBN 1581344015. 
  11. ^ McBride, Alfred A.; Virginia C. Holmgren, O. Praem (1998). To Love and Be Loved by Jesus. Our Sunday Visitor Publishing. pp. 113. ISBN 087973356X. 
  12. ^ The Bible: A History 21 February 2010 Channel 4
  13. ^ "Bible Gateway Contemporary English Version, Matthew 27:16". 
  14. ^ "Bible Gateway Contemporary English Version, John 18:40". 
  15. ^ Brown (1994) supra pp. 793-95.
  16. ^ Philip A. Cunningham, Executive Director. "Death of Jesus". Boston College: Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College. 
  17. ^ Leviticus 25:9
  18. ^ Brown (1994) supra pp. 799-800.
  19. ^ a b Jesus and Barabbas
  20. ^ Brown (1994) supra pp. 811-14

External links

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

Meaning: son of Abba or of a father

A notorious robber whom Pilate proposed to condemn to death instead of Jesus, whom he wished to release, in accordance with the Roman custom (Jn 18:40; Mk 15:7; Lk 23:19). But the Jews were so bent on the death of Jesus that they demanded that Barabbas should be pardoned (Mt 27:16; Acts 3:14). This Pilate did.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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