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Barabbas or Jesus Barabbas (literally "son of the father" or "Jesus, son of the Father" respectively) is a figure in the account of the Passion of Christ, in which he is the insurrectionary whom Pontius Pilate freed at the Passover feast in Jerusalem, instead of Jesus Christ.
The penalty for Barabbas' crime was death by crucifixion, but according to the four canonical gospels and the non-canonical 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 sources — were offered a choice of whether to have either Barabbas or Jesus Christ released from Roman custody. According to the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and the accounts in John 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 has the crowd saying, "Let his blood be upon us and upon our children".
The story of Barabbas has special social significances, because it has historically been used to lay the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus on the Jews, and to justify anti-Semitism—an interpretation, known as Jewish deicide, dismissed by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2011 book Jesus of Nazareth, in which he corrects the modern translation of "ochlos" in Matthew to mean the Jewish people.
Matthew refers to Barabbas only as a "notorious prisoner". Mark and Luke further refer to Barabbas as one involved in a stasis, a riot. John 18:40 refers to Barabbas as a lēstēs ("bandit"), "the word Josephus always employs when talking about Revolutionaries", Robert Eisenman observes.
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; and John 18:39. Later copies of Luke contain a corresponding verse (Luke 23:17), though it is not present in the earliest manuscripts, and may be a later gloss to bring Luke into conformity. The gospels differ on whether the custom was a Roman one or a Jewish one, as part of the Jubilee.
No custom of releasing prisoners in Jerusalem is recorded in any historical document other than the gospels. An Ancient Roman celebration called Lectisternium involved feasting and sometimes included a temporary removal of the chains from all prisoners. However, J. Blinzler associates Barabbas' release with a passage in the Mishna Peshahim 8,6 which says that the Passover lamb may be offered 'for one whom they have promised to bring out of prison'. (J. Blinzler, The Trial of Jesus, 1959, pp218ff.)
Barabbas's name appears as bar-Abbas in the Greek texts. It is derived ultimately from the Aramaic בר-אבא, Bar-abbâ, "son of the father". According to some ancient New Testament manuscripts and the early biblical scholar Origen, the full name of Barabbas may have been Jesus Barabbas, and it appears as such in the margin of some translations of Matthew 27:16-17.
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. These findings support "Barabbas" being used to indicate the son of a person named Abba or Abbas (a patronymic).
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".
In his novel All Who Came Before, Biblical Scholar Simon Perry takes Bar-Abbas as a title meaning 'son of the father'. The central character is also the son of a rabbi (leading to a word-play with "Bar-Rabbas"). Bar-Abbas is a well intentioned believer whose actions in a Jewish resistance movement make him a kind of Dietrich Bonhoeffer figure. His heroics, and the type of resistance he sought, are what led the crowds to call for his release over the more passive resistance offered by Yeshua of Nazareth.
It is interesting then to compare Barabbas' name to Jesus, who often referred to His father, that is, God. Jesus is also known as the 'Son of the Father'. So which 'Son of the Father' would the crowd choose to be released.
Benjamin Urrutia, co-author of The Logia of Yeshua: The Sayings of Jesus, agrees with Hyam Maccoby and others[who?] 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 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.
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 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 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.
Depictions in fiction
- Barabbas: A Dream of the World's Tragedy, a 1907 novel by Marie Corelli
- Barabbas, a 1928 play by the Belgian dramatist Michel de Ghelderode
- Barabbas, a 1946 novel by Emery Bekessy
- Barabbas, a 1950 novel by Nobel Prize winner Pär Lagerkvist
- Barabbas, a 1953 Swedish film adaptation of the 1950 novel directed by Alf Sjöberg
- Barabbas, a 1961 film adaptation of the 1950 novel, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Anthony Quinn as Barabbas
- The Gospel According to Barabbas, a 1982 novel by Salvatore Grillo
- Barabbas, a 1999 novel by Marvin Harris
- All Who Came Before, a 2011 novel by Simon Perry
- Barabbas and the Sword of Sacrifice, a 2012 novel by John Marcus Tompkins
- Barabbas, a 2012 Italian TV adaptation of the 1950 novel, directed by Roger Young and starring Billy Zane as Barabbas.
- In Nikos Kazantzakis' book The Last Temptation of Christ, Barabbas is the leader of the Zealots. He later murders the resurrected Lazarus.
- The Liars' Gospel, a 2012 novel by Naomi Alderman
- "Matthew 27:15-26". biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- "Mark 15:6-15". biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- "Luke 23:13-25". biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- "John 18:38-19:16". biblegateway.com. Retrieved 2011-10-05.
- Matthew 27:25.
- Pope Benedict XVI (2011). Jesus of Nazareth. Retrieved 2011-04-18.
- "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."
- Matthew 27:16.
- Mark 15:7; Luke 23:19.
- 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).
- Brown (1994), pp. 793–95.
- Leviticus 25:9
- Cunningham, Paul A. "The Death of Jesus: Four Gospel Accounts". Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College.
- Brown (1994), pp. 799-800.
- Perry, Simon (2011). All Who Came Before. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf and Stock.
- Urrutia, Benjamin. "Pilgrimage", The Peaceable Table (October 2008)
- Alward, Joseph F. "Jesus and Barabbas". Retrieved 2012-09-28.
- Brown (1994), pp. 811–14
- "BARABBAS". Palatin Media. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
- Brown, Raymond E. (1994) The Death of the Messiah, Vol. 1. New York: Doubleday
- John Dominic Crossan, "Crowd control": identity, purpose and size of "the crowd" in Mark and its adapted purposes in Luke and John, on the occasion of the Mel Gibson film of 2004.
- Barabbas and "the crowd" in the ballet stage
- Paul-Louis Couchoud & Robert Stahl, "Jésus Barabbas", in Premiers écrits du Christianisme (Paris, 1930), pp. 139–161. English transl. Jake Jones IV, "Jesus Barabbas", in Radikalkritik, Classics.