Barabbas or Jesus Barabbas (a Hellenization of the Aramaic bar abba בר אבא, literally "son of the father" or "Jesus, son of the Father" respectively) is a figure mentioned in the accounts of the Passion of Christ, in which he is an insurrectionary whomPontius Pilate freed at the Passover feast in Jerusalem, instead of releasing Jesus.
- 1Biblical account
- 3Literary License
- 5Possible parable
- 6Modern views
According to all four canonical gospels there was a prevailing Passover custom in Jerusalem that allowed or required Pilate, the praefectus or governor of Judea, to commute one prisoner's death sentence by popular acclaim, and the "crowd" (ochlos), "the Jews" and "the multitude" in some sources, were offered a choice of whether to have either Barabbas or Jesus released from Roman custody. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the account in John, the crowd chose Barabbas to be released and Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified. Pilate is portrayed as reluctantly yielding to the insistence of the crowd. A passage found only in the Gospel of Matthew has the crowd saying (of Jesus), "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children."
Matthew refers to Barabbas only as a "notorious prisoner". Mark and Luke further refer to Barabbas as one involved in a stasis, a riot. Robert Eisenman states that John 18:40 refers to Barabbas as a lēstēs ("bandit"), "the word Josephus always employs when talking about Revolutionaries".
Three gospels state that there was a custom at Passover during which the Roman governor would release a prisoner of the crowd's choice; Mark 15:6, Matthew 27:15, andJohn 18:39. Later copies of Luke contain a corresponding verse (Luke 23:17), although this is not present in the earliest manuscripts, and may be a later gloss to bring Luke into conformity.
The custom of releasing prisoners in Jerusalem at Passover is known as the Paschal Pardon, but this custom (whether at Passover or any other time) is not recorded in any historical document other than the gospels.
Portrait of Barabbas by James Tissot (1836–1902)
Barabbas's name appears as bar-Abbas in the Greek texts of the gospels. It is derived ultimately from the Aramaic בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, "son of the father". Some ancient manuscripts of Matthew 27:16–17 have the full name of Barabbas as "Jesus Barabbas" and this was probably the name as originally written in the text. Early church father Origen was troubled by the fact that his copies of the gospels gave Barabbas' name as "Jesus Barabbas" and declared that since it was impossible he could have had such a holy name, "Jesus" must have been added to Barabbas' name by a heretic. It is possible that later scribes, copying the passage, removed the name "Jesus" from "Jesus Barabbas" to avoid dishonour to the name of Jesus the Messiah.
Abba has been found as a personal name in a 1st-century burial at Giv'at ha-Mivtar, and Abba also appears as a personal name frequently in theGemara section of the Talmud, dating from AD 200–400. It could be argued that these findings support "Barabbas" being used to indicate the son of a person named Abba or Abbas (a patronymic).[original research?]
Fulton Oursler, in his novel, The Greatest Story Ever Told, portrays Barabbas as a friend of St. Joseph, who was the husband of Mary and the stepfather of Jesus. Joseph's friend, originally known as Samuel, is a member of a group dedicated to the overthrow of Roman rule. Samuel, acquainted with the story of Jesus' birth, tells Joseph that he is choosing the name "Jesus Barabbas."
See also: Blood curse
The story of Barabbas has special social significance because it has historically been used to lay the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus on the Jews, and to justify antisemitism—an interpretation, known as Jewish deicide, dismissed by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2011 book Jesus of Nazareth, in which he translates "ochlos" in Matthew as "crowd", rather than to mean theJewish people.
This practice of releasing a prisoner is said by Magee and others to be 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 MacDonald, in The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark, notes that an episode similar 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 suitors to reclaim his throne. 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. However, this theory is rejected by other scholars.
According to historian Max Dimont, the story of Barabbas as related in the gospels lacks credibility from the Roman standpoint, as it presents the Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, backed by overwhelming military might, being cowed by a small crowd of unarmed civilians into releasing a prisoner condemned to death for insurrection against the Roman empire. A Roman governor who had done that could have faced execution himself.
Benjamin Urrutia, co-author of The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, agrees with a well known theory in biblical scholarship as presented for instance by Hyam Maccoby, which says 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. Maccoby concludes that some of the acts attributed to Barabbas must then historically have been committed by Jesus, a view shared by Peter Cresswell. Urrutia opposes the notion that Jesus may have either led or planned a violent insurrection. 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 does not say who the leader was, but does tell of Pilate's crucifixion of Jesus just two paragraphs later in a passage whose authenticity is heavily disputed.