From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
"Give us Barabbas!", from The Bible and its Story Taught by One Thousand Picture Lessons, 1910

Barabbas (/bəˈræbəs/; Aramaic: ישוע בר אבאYeshua Bar ʾAbbaʾ, literally "son of the father") is a figure mentioned in the New Testament, in which he is an insurrectionary held by the Roman governor at the same time as Jesus, and whom Pontius Pilate freed at the Passover feast in Jerusalem, while keeping Jesus as a prisoner.

Biblical account[edit]

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. In one such instance, the "crowd" (ochlos), "the Jews" and "the multitude" in some sources, were offered the choice to have either Barabbas or Jesus released from Roman custody. According to the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew,[1] Mark,[2] and Luke,[3] and the account in John,[4] the crowd chose Barabbas to be released and Jesus of Nazareth to be crucified.[2] Pilate reluctantly yields 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."[5]

Matthew refers to Barabbas only as a "notorious prisoner".[6] Mark and Luke further refer to Barabbas as one involved in a στάσις (stasis, a riot), probably "one of the numerous insurrections against the Roman power" [7] who had committed murder.[8] Robert Eisenman states that John 18:40 refers to Barabbas as a λῃστής (lēstēs, "bandit"), "the word Josephus always employs when talking about Revolutionaries".[9]

Three gospels state that there was a custom that at Passover the Roman governor would release a prisoner of the crowd's choice; Mark 15:6, Matthew 27:15, and John 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.[10]

The custom of releasing prisoners in Jerusalem at Passover is known as the Paschal Pardon,[11] but this custom (whether at Passover or any other time) is not recorded in any historical document other than the gospels, leading some scholars to question its historicity.[12]


Portrait of Barabbas by James Tissot (1836–1902)

Barabbas' 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.[13] 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,[14] 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.[15]

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 the Gemara section of the Talmud, dating from AD 200–400.[16]


The story of Barabbas plays a role in antisemitism because it has historically been used to lay the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus on the Jews, and thereby used to justify antisemitic prejudice—an interpretation known as Jewish deicide. Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2011 book Jesus of Nazareth, dismisses this reading, in which he translates "ochlos" in Mark as "crowd", rather than to mean the Jewish people.[2][17][18]

Possible parable[edit]

This practice of releasing a prisoner is said by Magee[19] 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.[20] 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.[20] However, this theory is rejected by other scholars.[21]

Modern views[edit]

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.[14]

Benjamin Urrutia, co-author of The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, agrees with a well-known theory in biblical scholarship[14] 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.[22][23] 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 disputed.[24]

Art, literature, and media[edit]

  • In Spanish, barrabás is a colloquial word for a bad or naughty person.[25] The word baraba has a similar meaning (vagabond, raff) in Slavic languages, especialy Serbian and Croatian[26].
  • In The Liars' Gospel, a 2012 novel by Naomi Alderman, Barabbas is one of the protagonists and Alderman depicts Barabbas rather than Jesus as the man who summons fishermen.[27]
  • The Belgian comics character Professor Barabas is named after the biblical character.[28]
  • 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."[29]
  • The 1961 movie Barabbas, based on the novel by Pär Lagerkvist, depicts the life of the biblical figure following the Crucifixion as he seeks salvation.[30]
  • Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's 1961 film King of Kings works out a fictionalized backstory of Barabbas' arrest, depicting him as a Zealot and a partner in crime of Judas Iscariot who incites and fails in a revolt to overwhelm Jerusalem's Roman garrison.[31] This portrayal recurs in the animated film The Miracle Maker, in which Barabbas is portrayed by Tim McInnerny.
  • Mikhail Bulgakov's posthumously-published novel The Master and Margarita concerns Pontius Pilate's trial of Yeshua Ha-Notsri (Jesus of Nazareth) and his reluctant but resigned submission to Yeshua's execution. Not intending to write a faithful depiction of the Gospels, Bulgakov refers to Bar-Rabban (as it is translated in most English editions) as one of three robbers, alongside Dysmas and Gestas. Though Pontius Pilate tries to get Joseph Kaifa, the Jewish leader, to pardon Yeshua, he is insistent on choosing Bar-Rabban instead; the irony is that Bar-Rabban is certainly guilty of the crime which Yeshua is accused of—inciting rebellion—and, moreover, killed a guard in trying to escape.
  • Son of the Father written by Andrew Stone and published by Ambassador International is a creative storytelling of Barabbas, the man released in the hours leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion.[32]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Evans, Craig A. (2012-02-06). Matthew. Cambridge University Press. pp. 452–. ISBN 9780521812146. Retrieved 27 May 2015.
  2. ^ a b c "Mark 15:6-15". Retrieved 2018-11-20.
  3. ^ "Luke 23:13-25". Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  4. ^ "John 18:38-19:16". Retrieved 2011-10-05.
  5. ^ Matthew 27:25.
  6. ^ Matthew 27:16.
  7. ^ Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges on Mark 15, accessed 11 December 2017
  8. ^ Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19.
  9. ^ 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).
  10. ^ Brown (1994), pp. 793–95.
  11. ^ Robert L. Merritt, 'Jesus (the nazarene) Barabbas and the Paschal Pardon', Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 104, No. 1 (Mar., 1985), pp. 57-68
  12. ^ Cunningham, Paul A. "The Death of Jesus: Four Gospel Accounts". Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College.
  13. ^ Evans, Craig A. (2012). Matthew (New Cambridge Bible Commentary). Cambridge University Press. p. 453. ISBN 978-0521011068.
  14. ^ a b c Dimont, Max I. (1992). Appointment in Jerusalem. ISBN 978-1585865468.
  15. ^ Warren, William (2011). "Who Changed the Text and Why? Probable, Possible, and Unlikely Explanations". The Reliability of the New Testament: Bart Ehrman and Daniel Wallace in Dialogue. Fortress Press. p. 118. ISBN 978-0800697730.
  16. ^ Brown (1994), pp. 799-800.
  17. ^ Pope Benedict XVI (2011). Jesus of Nazareth (Nazarene). Retrieved 2011-04-18.
  18. ^ "Pope Benedict XVI Points Fingers on Who Killed Jesus". March 2, 2011. Retrieved 2012-09-28. While the charge of collective Jewish guilt has been an important catalyst of anti-Semitic persecution throughout history, the Catholic Church has consistently repudiated this teaching since the Second Vatican Council.
  19. ^ "The Mystery of Barabbas". Retrieved 2018-04-16.
  20. ^ a b Alward, Joseph F. "Jesus and Barabbas". Retrieved 2012-09-28.
  21. ^ Brown (1994), pp. 811–14
  22. ^ Peter Cresswell, Jesus The Terrorist, 2009
  23. ^ Peter Cresswell, The Invention of Jesus: How the Church Rewrote the New Testament, 2013
  24. ^ Urrutia, Benjamin. "Pilgrimage", The Peaceable Table (October 2008)
  25. ^ (in Spanish) barrabás in the Diccionario de la Real Academia.
  26. ^ "Baraba | Veliki Rečnik".
  27. ^ Holland, Tom (6 September 2012). "The Liars' Gospel by Naomi Alderman – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 May 2014.
  28. ^ Van Hooydonck, Peter, "Willy Vandersteen: De Bruegel van het Beeldverhaal", Standaard Uitgeverij, 1995.
  29. ^ Fulton Oursler, The Greatest Story Ever Told at 80–83 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1954).
  30. ^ "Barabbas" – via
  31. ^ Carol A. Hebron, Judas Iscariot: Damned or Redeemed. A Critical Examination of the Portrayal of Judas in Jesus Films (1902 – 2014). (London Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2016).
  32. ^ "Son of the Father". Ambassador International.


  • Brown, Raymond E. (1994). The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 1. New York: Doubleday.